War for the Bozeman Rail
Throughout the Civil War, warfare with the Apaches continued. Wars also broke out with the Shoshoni, Bannock, Utes, and Northern Paiutes—also called the Snakes—in parts of Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. Wars erupted with the Navajo in the Southwest and with the combined forces of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in Colorado. All of these wars ended badly for the Indians, although, as one official observed, “Ten good soldiers are required to wage successful war against one Indian.”
One of the few conflicts from which the Indians emerged victorious broke out just after the end of the Civil War. Military authorities had anticipated that the collapse of the Confederacy would free up many troops for service in the West. What actually happened is that the Union army rushed to demobilize, and the army of the West shrunk rather than expanded. A modest force under Colonel Henry B. Carrington was sent to protect the Bozeman Trail, a major route of western migration through Wyoming and Montana. The trail was being menaced by Oglala Sioux led by Red Cloud, who was determined to resist white invasion of his people’s land. Carrington was not popular with his officers, who felt that he devoted too much time to building forts and not enough to fighting Indians.
One subordinate, Captain William J. Fetterman, boasted that with 80 men, he could ride through the entire Sioux nation. On December 21, 1866, Fetterman was given his chance to make good on the boast. Sent with a detachment of 80, his mission was to relieve a wood-hauling wagon train that was being harassed by Indians. Fetterman found himself Lip against 1,500 to 2,000 warriors led by Crazy Horse, and his command was wiped out in what came to be called the Fetterman Massacre.
A peace commission concluded a treaty with Red Cloud on April 29, 1868, promising (among other things) to abandon the Bozeman Trail—which (the commissioners well knew) was about to be rendered obsolete by the transcontinental railroad.