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Records Relating to Investigations of the Ft. Philip Kearny (or Fetterman) Massacre
Testimony of Gen. Philip St. George Cooke
M740 roll 1 of 1
National Archives & Records Administration

Brigadier General P. St. Geo. Cooke, being duly sworn, testified as follows.

By a change in the Military Department, in August 1866, I became the Commander of what is known as the present Department of the Platte. Prior to that, in March, General Pope had ordered three posts to be established on the road from Laramie, to Virginia City.

A little before the change in the department was officially made known, early in August last, there came information of attacks upon emigrants on this road, with a considerable loss of life, so that General Sherman put me in command in anticipation of the troops along the Platte, and commanded me to push forward reinforcements to this route to Montana, where Indian hostilities were flagrant. It was then, I believe, I ordered up two companies of Cavalry, but found only one of them available. Colonel Carrington had marched up and occupied Fort Reno about the first of July, under my orders, with two companies of his battalion, then went on about sixty miles and established Fort Phil Kearney, on the waters of Powder River, with four companies, and sent on, in August, I believe, the last two companies of his battalion, which established the Fort called C.F. Smith on the Big Horn.

The whole tenor of my correspondence with Colonel Carrington, by telegraph almost exclusively, during the summer and fall, and which is on file at department head-quarters, shows a state of war, defensive on our part, I may say, indicating that the Indians of that country, chiefly Sioux, consider themselves in a desperate case, endeavoring to break up and stop that route of migration which they believed would destroy their last best hunting ground. My impression is that the most of those Indians, at first at least, had refused to come in at the Laramie Treaty.

That treaty, held before I was in command of that country, I know but little or nothing of, and have never seen its text. One of Colonel Carrington's earliest reports related to a party of Cheyenne Indians at the post, who were apparently friendly, but indicated his purpose to make an expedition to their village as the only way to test it, and I cautioned him against making risky detachments.

He afterwards apparently attached importance to these instructions, accounting this for his quiescence under many assaults or attacks by the tribes around him.

That was a new regiment or battalion, and I became confirmed in any apprehension that there was great want of discipline at those posts, and especially at Fort Phil Kearney. I had broken it up early in the fall, depriving Colonel Carrington of his command of it as a district, and considerable time before the massacre, had determined as soon as I well could to relieve him of the command of the Post, and to prepare the way for it, had sometime before ordered away from Fort Laramie, which I did not wish him to command, to Fort Casper, the headquarters of the 1st Battalion, which had then become understood to be his regiment proper, the 18th Infantry.

Previous to this massacre I had received recruits for two additional companies for that 2nd Battalion on the road and sent them forward, a late fall march, with Brigadier General Wessels, Lieutenant Colonel of the 18th Infantry, to forts Reno and Phil Kearney, so that the garrison of Reno at the time was three companies, and the other company had arrived at Phil Kearney, making its garrison five companies of Infantry and one of Cavalry, with a couple of howitzers.

The first work he performed there was to surround the whole post with a pretty strong stockade, and build two block houses, as we call them. As soon as I heard by telegraph of the massacre, on the 27th or 28th of December, I ordered nearly all the garrison of Fort Laramie, four companies of Infantry under Major Van Voast, and two companies of 2nd Cavalry, to proceed immediately to report to General Wessels at Fort Reno, and instructions to him to take command virtually of the district, and leaving one of the new companies of Infantry at Reno, to march with the rest of the reinforcements and relieve the whole line, ordering Colonel Carrington to turn over the command of Fort Phil Kearney to him, and proceed at once to Fort Casper.

Colonel Carrington's report to me of a skirmish of the 6th of December, when Lieutenant Bingham was killed, together with official reports of other officers on that occasion, convinced me of great want of discipline and management, to say the least, on the part of Colonel Carrington. He was out on this occasion, and the circumstances, as detailed to me, indicated misconduct.

As I have been asked for my impressions and opinion[s], they were sufficiently indicated in an official report which I made, having been called upon by Lieutenant General Sherman, in the long absence of official information, for my surmise, in that I supposed the Indians had made an ambush within five or six miles of the post, and had decoyed out a detachment and let them into it, and that this detachment was in fact, a disorderly mob, which went out in haste, at their will, and very irregularly. These last particulars have received some confirmation in a letter from an officer stationed there now.

Question   State whether the companies there were not greatly in want of officers, and if so, the cause.

Ans.   The post at Fort Phil Kearney, was deficient in officers, but not so much so, I believe, as the other posts of the Department. There was, I believe, at least one Officer to a company, besides the Commander and several staff Officers.

Perhaps the chief cause of the deficiency was original vacancies not being promptly filled. I had repeatedly urged my superiors to remedy this deficiency of officers in the department, by any and all means possible.
Ques.   The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, in a letter to the Secretary of the Interior, dated February 4th 1867, says that "all our present difficulties can be traced to the order of General Cooke, of 31st July, forbidding the traders from selling Indians arms and ammunition".

What induced the issuing of the order from Headquarters of the Department of the Platte, prohibiting the sale of arms and ammunition to Indians, and what, in your judgement has been the effect of the same?

Ans.   My inducement was my instructions of my next Commander, Lieutenant General Sherman, endorsed on a letter of General Grant, Commanding theArmy, of July 23rd, 1866, which letter asserts that the measure is a co-operation with the orders of the Indian Department to its Agents.

This all appears by an official copy of General Grant's letter with instructions to me endorsed on them, and of my Department orders of July 30th now presented, and which I make a part of this answer. The Indian difficulties in question, commenced seriously, as I have stated, before my Department embraced Fort Laramie and other parts of the Platte where, or near which the Indian traders have their stores, and consequently had not then been issued to them (or the Agent at Fort Laramie,) and did not apply to them. And it is my belief that there were no traders near the new posts on the Montana road, to which it applied, had there been time, which there was not, before the hostilities commenced. Thus the order, good or bad, could not have influenced the difficulties in question.

How the Commissioner of Indian Affairs could write this [injurious?] statement, when he had a copy of my order, (which is printed in the same document with his letter or report) stating that it was to "co-operate in the enforcement of (his own) instructions," is beyond my most charitable comprehension.

Headquarters Armies of the United States
Washington, July 23rd, 1866.

Maj. Genl. W.T. Sherman
Comd'g. Military Div. Mississippi


Information having been received at these Headquarters that unauthorized persons are frequently improperly selling arms and ammunition to Indians within your Military Division, and the Commissioner of Indian Affairs having instructed Indian Agents to prohibit traders from selling those articles to the Indians, it is deemed advisable for the military authorities to co-operate in the enforcement of this order. You will therefore issue such instructions to the various Military Commanders in your Mil. Div. as will prevent military traders from selling or disposing of arms or ammunition.

Very respectfully
Your Obd't. Serv't.

U.S. Grant
Lieut. General

R.W. Sawyer
Asst. Adjt. Genl.

Headquarters Dept. of the Platte
Omaha Neb. March 7th 1867.

A true copy.

H.G. Litchfield
Bvt. Major, Act'g. Asst. Adjt. Genl.

Headquarters Mil. Div. Miss.
St. Louis, Mo. July 26th, 1866.

Respectfully referred to Brig. Genl. P.St. Geo. Cooke, U.S.A. commanding Dept of the Platte, who will please cause such orders to issue as will prevent Military traders from sellling or disposing of arms or ammunition, as within expressed.

By order of

Maj. Genl. W.T. Sherman
(sd) R.W. Sawyer
Asst. Adjt. Genl.

Headquarters Department of the Platte
Omaha Neb.
July 31st, 1866.

General Order
No. 10

On information received that unauthorized persons sell arms and ammunition to Indians, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs has instructed Indian Agents to prohibit traders from selling those articles to the Indians and all commanders of troops within the Department will co-operate in the enforcement of these instructions, and will take vigilant and decisive measures for the prevention of all sales, barter or gift of arms or ammunition to Indians within reach of their power.

By order of Brig. Genl. Cooke

H.G. Litchfield
Brevet Major U.S.A.

(sd) H.G. Litchfield

Brevet Major General P. St. Geo. Cooke appeared and offered the following additional testimony.

Since I first testified, my attention has been called to the fact that although General Grant's letter to Lieutenant General Sherman tells him "The Commissioner of Indian Affairs having instructed Indian Agents to prohibit traders from selling arms &c" yet at the close he uses the expression "Military traders".

Partly because it is a term or expression I never saw used, or heard before, I did not catch its possible meaning, as would now appear, overlooking it. I issued the order as a mere act of obedience, and thinking it a prudent temporary measure.

This is all strongly indicated in the order professing to be in co-operation with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and it seems strange that he, or some other, had not called my attention to it, if he thought it likely to lead to such fatal consequences as he has attributed to it, six months after its date.

The order has probably in some quarters caused inconvenience or hardship to Indians, and I regret it, but there is sufficient proof that it was not brought to bear on the bands whose hostilities began before the date of General Grant's letter.