Search billions of records on

Records Relating to Investigations of the Ft. Philip Kearny (or Fetterman) Massacre
Testimony of Lt. Wm. H. Bisbee
M740 roll 1 of 1
National Archives & Records Administration

Captain Wm. H. Bisbee, being duly sworn, testified as follows.

Question   What is your name and occupation?
Ans.   Wm. H. Bisbee, 1st Lieutenant and Brevet Captain in the 27th Infantry, U.S.A., aid-de-camp and Acting Assistant Adjutant General on General Cooke's staff.
Ques.   State what you know regarding Indian difficulties at Fort Phil Kearney.
Ans.   I left old Fort Kearney with Colonel Carrington and the 2nd Battalion 18th Infantry and reached Fort Phil Kearney July 16th four days after the arrival of Colonel Carrington, with four companies.

I was Adjutant of the battalion of which Captain Henry Haymond had command.

By the changes in Posts in the Mountain District, I was detained there, and early in the month of August was appointed Post Adjutant of Fort Phil Kearney, and also commanded Company "E". I retained the position of Adjutant of the Post until I left, December 10th 1866. The day that we arrived there with the remaining four companies of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, we found Colonel Carrington and all the Officers at the Post in full dress, and in council with a band of, I presume, Cheyenne Indians.

The four companies which I came with encamped on the bottom about five hundred yards from the site selected for Fort Phil Kearney. Early next morning, about 5 o'clock, about seven Indians dashed in among a herd of about eighty or more mules, and drove off the entire herd. I feel positive there was but one citizen herder out. Captain Haymond got away, starting about half an hour after, with about ten men following, mounted. Others followed in a straggling manner to the number of about fifty or sixty. They pursued, but did not recapture any of the mules. They were prevented doing so by a superior force of Indians, who fought them and killed and wounded seven of our men. During the fight, a squaw, wife of an Indian trader called French Pete, surrendered and reported that her husband with a party of four men, who had left our camp on their way to Virginia City, were all murdered that morning. This was about six miles from our camp.

My impression is she reported that about one thousand Sioux Indians had been there the day before, and beat the Cheyennes who had been at the Fort the day before, because they would not join them.

My idea of the council held the day before with the Cheyenne Indians, was that it was simply to create a friendly feeling between that tribe and the troops. These Cheyenne Indians visited the camp in a friendly manner several times after. The troops were wholly engaged in building the post at Fort Phil Kearney and performing guard duty, during the whole of my presence at the Post.

During the month of July, August and September, small bodies of Indians frequently appeared on the surrounding hills, and whenever opportunity offered, stampeded herds, and murdered soldiers. In the neighborhood of one hundred and fifty to two hundred horses and mules, and about fifty head of cattle were captured by the Indians during my stay there. I don't remember that any soldier or citizen was killed guarding herds. There were perhaps eight or ten soldiers found killed and mutilated in the vicinity of the camp during my stay, independent of the twelve mentioned before. The herds were at first about a mile and a half from the post, and were gradually driven in as the Indians became more bold. There was usually a guard of six soldiers to the herd. Usually one or two men were posted on high hills overlooking the herd and surrounding country.

Captain Ten Eyck of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry, was in command of the Post, up to about the 1st of October. Colonel Carrington was present, and at all times exercised immediate control of the troops. Captain Brown, during the month of September, in recapturing sixty beef cattle, forced a severe skirmish with the enemy, and had several horses wounded. It was the general impression of the Post that the Indians committing committing [sic] these depredations were Sioux Indians.

On the morning of December 6th the wood train, corralled about two miles from the post, was reported attacked. Brevet Lieutenant Colonel Fetterman, with about thirty men of the 2nd Cavalry under the immediate command of Lieutenant Bingham, of the 2nd Cavalry, started for its relief. Colonel Carrington started about the same time, with about thirty mounted infantry, going up in the direction of the Big Horn road, with the evident intention of getting in the enemy's rear. Colonel Fetterman, on reaching the wood train with his party, found the Indians there, who slowly retired a short distance on his approach. Lieutenants Brown and Wands there joined him. They followed the Indians some distance, but finally halted by the Indians charging. For some unaccountable reason, Lieutenant Bingham and all but fourteen men fell back to the right and rear, taking the direction in which Colonel Carrington's party was supposed to be.

The Indians finally fled before Colonel Fetterman. Colonel Carrington's party went a short distance up Big Horn road, and it was reported that the men straggled and became scattered there, and that no fight occurred save an occasional shot here and there. It is said Lieutenant Bingham joined Colonel Carrington's party. From there Lieutenants Bingham and Grummond detached themselves and, with four or five enlisted men, gave chase to a few scattering Indians who appeared on their right. It is said they chased one or two of these Indians some two miles, and finally came upon one dismounted Indian, and endeavored to cut him down with the sabre, their arms not being loaded. They suddenly discovered themselves surrounded by something like one hundred and fifty Indians, and attempted to reach the nearest hill. Lieutenant Bingham, in going around a ravine, was killed there. Colonel Carrington returned to the Post about 4 o'clock P.M. bringing in the bodies of Lieutenant Bingham, and Sergeant Bowers. This is all I, at present, recollect of the troubles with the Indians.
Ques.   During your stay at Fort Phil Kearney, were there any orders issued about guards protecting the herds?
Ans.   There may have been, but I do not recall any one at present.
Ques.   What was the usual number of wagons that went out to get wood, and what was the number of the escort?
Ans.   From twenty to fifty wagons, and a regular detail of a non commissioned officer and eight men as a guard, together with company details to cut wood, all armed, and numbering all included, twenty or twenty five men, exclusive of the teamsters.
Ques.   Were any commissioned Officers ever detailed?
Ans.   No Sir.
Ques.   What distance did they go for wood?
Ans.   About six or seven miles.
Ques.   Was any order ever issued requiring the men to keep a certain amount of ammunition in their cartridge boxes?
Ans.   I believe there was.
Ques.   How many rounds?
Ans.   I think forty. This was a standing post order.
Ques.   Was there ever any order issued requiring daily inspections, to see if the men had that number of rounds?
Ans.   I don't remember any order to that effect. It was customary for Company Commanders to inspect, under arms, each evening at retreat, under an existing battalion order.
Ques.   How many times a week were the men paraded for inspection?
Ans.   The companies always turned out under arms at all roll calls, except in inclement weather. A casual inspection of cartridge boxes would be made at retreat, but usually in a very loose manner.
Ques.   How long a time have you known to elapse without any inspection of arms or ammunition?
Ans.   I can't recollect. One company might be inspected and another not. It was all done irregularly.
Ques.   What was the state of feeling among the Officers, were they harmonious, or was there ill feeling existing towards each other, and towards the Commanding Officer?
Ans.   Almost without exception, it was harmonious, except a general feeling of disgust towards Colonel Carrington, in command of the troops.
Ques.   What was the state of discipline in the garrison?
Ans.   Very poor.
Ques.   Were the orders issued by the Commanding Officer of the Post and district generally enforced?
Ans.   They were not.
Ques.   In what order did the parties or troops move out, when going out to attack Indians?
Ans.   On the 6th of December they were gotten together as speedily as possible and moved out in a body. Before this, troops were in the habit of dashing helter skelter over the stockade whenever an Indian appeared, without regard to orders, and generally before the Commanding Officer knew there were Indians about, or had issued any orders. Frequently bodies of twenty or thirty mounted men would dash out without orders, on receipt of reports that Indians were driving off herds.
Ques.   Were matters conducted there in an orderly manner, or in a disorderly and irregular manner.
Ans.   Irregular and disorderly, generally.