Skip to comments.The Fate Lt. Lyman Kidder
Posted on 05/12/2006 1:23:24 PM PDT by robowombat
July 1867 "M" Company 2nd Cavalry
2nd Lieut. - Lyman S. Kidder Sergeant - Oscar Close Corporal - Charles Haines Private - Roger Curry Private - Michael Cornell Private - William Floyd Private - Michael Gorman Private - Michael Haley Private - N.J. Humphries Private - Michael Lawler Private - Charles Taltin Sioux Scout - Red Bead
Died in the Performance of their duty on or about July 2, 1867, in combat with Sioux and Cheyenne Indians.
On June 1, 1867, Lt. Col. G.A. Custer left Fort Hays, Kansas with 1100 men of the Seventh Cavalry to quell an Indian uprising which had threatened white settlers for three years.
Custer patrolled north to Fort MacPherson on the Platte River near present day North Platte, Nebraska, then south to the forks of the Republican River where Benkleman, Nebraska is located today.
Although Custer could see smoke signals during the day and flaming arrows at night, he failed to engage the hostiles because of his large force.
At this time, General William T. Sherman commanded the forces at Fort Sedgewick near Jelesburg, Colorado, ninety miles northwest of Custers camp on the Republican. On June 29, 1867, dispatches for Custer were entrusted to Lt. Lyman S. Kidder, who left the Fort with a ten man patrol and a Sioux Indian Guide named Red Bead.
Lt. Kidder was 25 years of age and was temporarily posted at Fort Sedgewick. He had served in the Civil War, been discharged and re-enlisted twice. He loved the military life.
Custer, restless at the river camp, decided to move his troops and scout further south, then northwest.
Seven days later upon his arrival at Riverside Station forty miles west of Ft. Sedgewick, Custer telegraphed the Fort new orders. It was then he learned of the Kidder patrol.
Custer was concerned for the small party and immediately set out to backtrack his trail.
Custers advance party on the backtrail found a dead horse and the spot where the Kidder party had left the main trail at the gallop. Signs and evidence of a running battle a miles east along Beaver Creek lead to a dry ravine north of the creek. There the remains of the patrol were found.
The bodies were mutilated, partially burned and all but the scout had been scalped. Custer ordered burial in a common grave on a hill above the ravine.
The patrol was found on July 12, 1867. It was believed the massacre had been carried out about ten days earlier.
Authorities concluded that Lt. Kidder, on reaching Custers abandoned camp on the Republican, assumed Custer had moved the large force to Fort Wallace, some eighty miles south. The small patrol was overtaken on the trail south by a large war party known to have been raiding in the area around Ft. Wallace in late June, 1867.
Lt. Kidders father, a judge living in Dakota Territory, arrived at Ft. Wallace in February of 1868 to recover and claim his sons body.
Lt. Fred Beecher led the detail from Ft. Wallace to the massacre site to remove all the bodies. Despite the bitter cold and snow, and the fact that the grave had been desecrated, Judge Kidder was able to identify his sons body by a scrap of shirt Kidders mother had made. Judge Kidder returned to Minnesota and buried his son in the family plot at St. Paul.
The other remains were taken to Ft. Wallace and interred where they remained until the 1880s when Ft. Wallace was abandoned. They were moved with military honors to Ft. Leavenworth, where they remain today.
Ironically, the dispatch to Custer from General Sherman Chastised Custer for disobeying orders.
Lt. Frederick Beecher was 26 years of age in 1868. He was a Civil War veteran and the nephew of the Abolitionist, Henry Ward Beecher.
In 1866 he had been assigned to duty at Ft. Hays and then to Ft. Wallace, where he built many of the buildings for protection against the constant raids of Sioux and Cheyenne.
In August of 1868, five months after his involvement with the Kidder party, Beecher was chosen second in command of the Forsyth Scouts. This company was to patrol 900 square miles besieged by hostile tribes.
The Scouts, led by Col. George Forsyth, were ambushed by 1000 warriors on the Arickaree fork of the Republican River in northeastern Colorado on September 17, 1868. Lt. Beecher lost his life on that day.
The Kidder Massacre monument is located on land owned by Kuhrt Farms. The residence is faced in native stone quarried on the grounds. The "turret" in the style of castles in Germany was added in 1930. The senior Kuhrt Family had immigrated from Germany in the 1880s.
On August 3, 1969, The Friends of the Library of Goodland, KS, held a dedication ceremony for the historical marker and monument indicated on the map.
This information was compiled by a Sherman County Historical Society Member, Marilyn Cooper from the book, "Find Custer!, The Kidder Tragedy" by Randy Johnson and Nancy P. Allen.
As Custer saw the event:
Let us now turn our attention to Lieutenant Kidder and his detachment. The third night after leaving the Platte my command encamped in the vicinity of our former camp near the forks of the Republican. So far nothing had been learned which would enable us to form any conclusion regarding the route taken by Kidder. Comstock, the guide, was frequently appealed to for an opinion which, from his great experience on the Plains, might give us some encouragement regarding Kidder's safety. But he was too cautious and careful a man, both in word and deed, to excite hopes which his reasoning could not justify. When thus appealed to he would usually give an ominous shake of the head and avoid a direct answer.
On the evening just referred to, the officers and Comstock were grouped near headquarters discussing the subject which was then uppermost in the mind of every one in camp. Comstock had been quietly listening to the various theories and surmises advanced by different members of the group, but was finally pressed to state his ideas as to Kidder's chances of escaping harm.
"Well, gentlemen," emphasizing the last syllable as was his manner) "before a man kin form any ijee as to how this thing is likely to end, thar are several things he ort to be acquainted with. For instance, now, no man need tell me any p'ints about Injuns. Ef I know anything, it's Injuns. I know jest how they'll do anything and when they'll take to do it; but that don't settle the question, and I'll tell you why. Ef I knowed this young lootenint-I mean Lootenint Kidder-ef I knowed what for sort of a man he is, I could tell you mighty near to a sartainty all you want to know; for you see Injun huntin' and Injun fightin' is a trade all by itself, and like any other bizness a man has to know what he's about, or ef he don't lie can't make a livin' at it. I have lots uv confidence in the fightin' sense of Red Bead the Sioux chief, who is guidin' the lootenint and his men, and ef that Injun kin have his own way thar is a fair show for his guidin' 'em through all right; but as I sed before, there lays the difficulty. Is this lootenint the kind of a man who is willin' to take advice, even ef it does cum from an Injun? My experience with you army folks has allus bin that the youngsters among ye think they know the most, and this is particularly true ef they hev just cum from West P'int. Ef some of them young fellars knowed half as much as they b'lieve they do, you couldn't tell them nothin'. As to rale book-larnin', why I 'spose they've got it all; but the fact uv the matter is, they couldn't tell the difference twixt the trail of a war party and one made by a huntin' party to save their necks. Half uv 'em when they first cum here can't tell a squaw from a buck, just because both ride straddle; but they soon larn. But that's neither here nor thar. I'm told that the lootenint we're talkin' about is a new-comer and that this is his first scout. Ef that be the case it puts a mighty onsartain look on the whole thing, and twixt you and me, gentlemen, he'll be mighty lucky ef he gits through all right. To-morrow we'll strike the Wallace trail and I kin mighty soon tell ef he has gone that way.
But little encouragement was to be derived from these expressions. The morrow would undoubtedly enable us, as Comstock had predicted, to determine whether or not the lieutenant and his party had missed our trail and taken that leading to Fort Wallace.
At daylight our column could have been seen stretching out in the direction of the Wallace trail. A march of a few miles brought us to the point of intersection. Comstock and the Delawares had galloped in advance, and were about concluding a thorough examination of the various tracks to be seen in the trail, when the head of the column overtook them. "Well, what do you find, Comstock?" was my first inquiry. "They've gone toward Fort Wallace, sure, was the reply; and in support of this opinion he added, "The trail shows that twelve American horses, shod all round, have passed at a walk, goin' in the direction of the fort; and when they went by this p'int they were all right, because their horses were movin along easy and there are no pony tracks behind 'em, as wouldn't be the case ef the Injuns had got an eye on em." He then remarked, as if in parenthesis, "It would be astonishn' ef that lootenint and his lay-out gits into the fort without a scrimmage. He may; if he does, it will be a scratch ef ever there was one, and I'll lose my confidence in Injuns."
The opinion expressed by Comstock as to the chances of Lieutenant Kidder and party making their way to the fort across eighty miles of danger unmolested was the concurrent opinion of all the officers. And now that we had discovered their trail, our interest and anxiety became immeasurably increased as to their fate. The latter could not remain in doubt much longer, as two days' marching would take us to the fort. Alas! we were to solve the mystery without waiting so long.
Pursuing our way along the plain, heavy trail made by Robbins and Cooke, and directing Comstock and the Delawares to watch closely that we did not lose that of Kidder and his party, we patiently but hopefully awaited further developments. How many miles we had thus passed over without incident worthy of mention, I do not now recall. The sun was high in the heavens, showing that our day's march was about half completed, when those of us who were riding at the head of the column discovered a strange-looking object lying directly in our path, and more than a mile distant. It was too large for a human being, yet in color and appearance, at that distance, resembled no animal frequenting the Plains with which any of us were familiar. Eager to determine its character, a dozen or more of our party, including Comstock and some of the Delawares, galloped in front.
Before riding the full distance the question was determined. The object seen was the body of a white horse. A closer examination showed that it had been shot within the past few days, while the brand, U.S., proved that it was a government animal. Major Elliot then remembered that while at Fort Sedgwick he had seen one company of cavalry mounted upon white horses. These and other circumstances went far to convince us that this was one of the horses belonging to Lieutenant Kidder's party. In fact there was no room to doubt that this was the case.
Almost the unanimous opinion of the command was that there had been a contest with Indians, and this only the first evidence we should have proving it. When the column reached the point where the slain horse lay, a halt was ordered to enable Comstock and the Indian Scouts to thoroughly examine the surrounding ground to discover, if possible, any additional evidence, such as empty cartridge shells, arrows, or articles of Indian equipment, showing that a fight had taken place. All the horse's equipments, saddle, bridle, etc. had been carried away, but whether by friend or foe could not then be determined.
While the preponderance of circumstances favored the belief that the horse had been killed by Indians there was still room to hope that he had been killed by Kidder's party and the equipments taken away by them; for it frequently happens on a march that a horse will 'be suddenly taken ill and 'be unable for the time being to proceed farther. In such a case, rather than. abandon him alive, with a prospect of his recovering and falling into the hands of the Indians to be employed against us, orders are given to kill him, and this might be the true way of accounting for the one referred to.
The scouts being unable to throw any additional light upon the question, we continued our march, closely observing the ground as we passed along. Comstock noticed that instead of the trail showing that Kidder's party was moving in regular order, as when at first discovered, there were but two or three tracks to be seen in the beaten trail, the rest being found on the grass on either side.
We had marched two miles perhaps from the point where the body of the slain horse had been discovered, when we came upon a second, this one, like the first, having been killed by a bullet, and all of his equipments taken away. Comstock's quick eyes were not long in detecting pony tracks in the vicinity, and we had no longer any but the one frightful solution to offer: Kidder and his party had been discovered by the Indians, probably the same powerful and blood-thirsty hand which had been resisted so gallantly by the men under Robbins and Cooke; and against such overwhelming odds the issue could not be doubtful.
We were then moving over a high and level plateau unbroken either by ravines or divides, and just such a locality as would be usually chosen by the Indians for attacking a party of the strength of Kidder's. The Indians could here ride unobstructed and encircle their victims with a continuous line of armed and painted warriors, while the beleaguered party, from the even character of the surface of the plain, would be unable to find any break or depression from behind which they might make a successful defense. It was probably this relative condition of affairs which had induced Kidder and his doomed comrades to endeavor to push on in the hope of finding ground favorable to their making a stand against their barbarous foes.
The main trail no longer showed the footprints of Kidder's party, but instead Comstock discovered the tracks of shod horses on the grass, with here and there numerous tracks of ponies, all by their appearance proving that both horses and ponies had been moving at full speed. Kidder's party must have trusted their lives temporarily to the speed of their horses-a dangerous venture when contending with Indians. However, this fearful race for life must have been most gallantly contested, because we continued our march several miles farther without discovering any evidence of the savages having gained any advantage. How painfully, almost despairingly exciting must have been this ride for life! A mere handful of brave men struggling to escape the bloody clutches of the hundreds of redvisaged demons, who, mounted on their well-trained war ponies, were straining every nerve and muscle to reek their hands in the life-blood of their victims. It was not death alone that threatened this little band. They were not riding simply to preserve life. They rode, and doubtless prayed as they rode, that they might escape the savage tortures, the worse than death which threatened them. Would that their prayer had been granted!
We began leaving the high plateau and to descend into a valley through which, at the distance of nearly two miles, meandered a small prairie stream known as Beaver Creek. The valley near the banks of this stream was covered with a dense growth of tall wild grass intermingled with clumps of osiers. At the point where the trail crossed the stream we hoped to obtain more definite information regarding Kidder's party and their pursuers, but we were not required to wait so long. When within a mile of the stream I observed several large buzzards floating lazily in circles through the air, and but a short distance to the left of our trail. This, of itself, might not have attracted my attention seriously but for the rank stench which pervaded the atmosphere, reminding one of the horrible sensations experienced upon a battle-field when passing among the decaying bodies of the dead.
As if impelled by one thought Comstock, the Delawares, and half-a-dozen officers detached themselves from the column and separating into squads of one or two instituted a search for the cause of our horrible suspicions. After riding in all directions through the rushes and willows, and when about to relinquish the search as fruitless, one of the Delawares uttered a shout which attracted the attention of the entire command; at the same time he was seen to leap from his horse and assume a stooping posture, as if critically examining some object of interest. Hastening, in common with many others of the party, to his side, a sight met our gaze which even at this remote day makes my very blood curdle. Lying in irregular order, and within a very limited circle, were the mangled bodies of poor Kidder and his party, yet so brutally hacked and disfigured as to be beyond recognition save as human beings.
Every individual of the party had been scalped and his skull broken-the latter done by some weapon, probably a tomahawk-except the Sioux chief Red Bead, whose scalp had simply been removed from his head and then thrown down by his side. This, Comstock informed us, was in accordance with a custom which prohibits an Indian from bearing off the scalp of one of his own tribe. This circumstance, then, told us who the perpetrators of this deed were. They could be none other than the Sioux, led in all probability by Pawnee Killer.
Red Bead, being less disfigured and mutilated than the others, was the only individual capable of being recognized. Even the clothes of all the party had been carried away; some of the bodies were lying in beds of ashes, with partly burned fragments of wood near them, showing that the savages had put some of them to death by the terrible tortures of fire. The sinews of the arms and legs had been cut away, the nose of every man hacked off, and the features otherwise defaced so that it would have been scarcely possible for even a relative to recognize a single one of the unfortunate victims. We could not even distinguish the officer from his men. Each body was pierced by from twenty to fifty arrows, and the arrows were found as the savage demons had left them, bristling in the bodies. While the details of that fearful struggle will probably never be known, telling how long and gallantly this ill-fated little band contended for their lives, yet the surrounding circumstances of ground, empty cartridge shells, and distance from where the attack began, satisfied us that Kidder and his men fought as only brave men fight when the watchword is victory or death.
As the officer, his men, and his no less faithful Indian guide had shared their final dangers together and had met the same dreadful fate at the hands of the same merciless foe, it was but fitting that their remains should be consigned to one common grave. This was accordingly done. A single trench was dug near the spot where they had rendered up their lives upon the altar of duty. Silently, mournfully, their comrades of a brother regiment consigned their mangled remains to mother earth, there to rest undisturbed, as we supposed, until the great day of final review. But this was not to be so; while the closest scrutiny on our part had been insufficient to enable us to detect the slightest evidence which would aid us or others in identifying the body of Lieutenant Kidder or any of his men, it will be seen hereafter how the marks of a mother's thoughtful affection were to be the means of identifying the remains of her murdered son, even though months had elapsed after his untimely death.
On the evening of the day following that upon which we had consigned the remains of Lieutenant Kidder and his party to their humble resting place, the command reached Fort Wallace on the Smoky Hill route. From the occupants of the fort we learned much that was interesting regarding events which had transpired during our isolation from all points of communication. The Indians had attacked the fort twice within the past few days, in both of which engagements men were killed on each side. The fighting on our side was principally under the command of Colonel Barnitz, whose forces were composed of detachments of the Seventh Cavalry. The fighting occurred on the level plain near the fort, where, owing to the favorable character of the ground, the Indians had ample opportunity to display their prowess both as warriors and horsemen.
One incident of the fight was related, which, its correctness being vouched for, is worthy of being here repeated. Both parties were mounted and the fighting consisted principally of charges and countercharges, the combatants of both sides becoming at times mingled with each other. During one of these attacks a bugler boy belonging to the cavalry was shot from his horse; before any of his comrades could reach him a powerfully built warrior, superbly mounted on a war pony was seen to dash at full speed toward the spot where the dying bugler lay. Scarcely checking the speed of his pony, who seemed to divine his rider's wishes, the warrior grasped the pony's mane with one hand and, stooping low as he neared the bugler, seized the latter with the other hand and lifted him from the earth, placing him across his pony in front of him. Still maintaining the full speed of his pony, he was seen to retain the body of the bugler but a moment, then cast it to the earth. The Indians being routed soon after and driven from the field, our troops, many of whom had witnessed the strange and daring action of the warrior, recovered possession of the dead, when the mystery became solved. The bugler had been scalped