Friday, September 17, 2010

Army Scouts - Forsyth's Scouts and the Battle of Beecher's Island

A little known fight between 48 Army Scouts and 3 Army Officers, one of which was a Army Surgeon, against a mixed group of between 400 and 700 Cheyenne and Arapaho, and perhaps Sioux warriors, occurred 142 years ago today. This fight, called the defense of Beecher’s Island, took place near present day Wray (Yuma County), Colorado from 17 to 25 September 1868, near the "Dry Fork of the Republican River", sometimes called the "Delaware Creek" and also called the "Arikaree River".

Due to Indians attacks on the Railroad and wagon trains, General Phillip Sheridan, on August 24th, 1868, gave the order for the Army to organize 50 frontiersmen, to be used as Scouts against the hostile Indians. These Scouts were organized and placed under Brevet Colonel George A. Forsyth, with Lieutenant Beecher, Third Infantry, as his subordinate.

The Scouts were paid $50.00 per month with most of the scouts receiving an additional $25.00 per month for furnishing their own horse and saddle. Scout's carried the following individual equipment: Spencer repeating rifle or carbine with 140 rounds of rifle ammunition, Colt's Single Action Army revolver with 30 rounds of revolver ammunition, Blanket, Saddle and Bridle, Lariat, picket-pin, Canteen, Haversack, Seven days' cooked rations, Butcher knife, Tin plate and cup. Furthermore, the Scouting expedition was equipped with four pack mules carrying camp kettles, Picks and shovels (to dig for water), 4,000 rounds of rifle and revolver ammunition, Medical supplies, and, Extra rations of salt and coffee.

A total of 57 Scouts were hired, called Forsyth’s Scouts, from Fort Harker and Fort Hays, Kansas. A total of these 48 Army Scouts were present for the scouting expedition which culminated with the Beecher ’s Island fight.

Forsyth’s element, while on patrol attempting to locate Indians, encountered a large Indian force which forced them to occupy a defensive position on what came to be known as Beecher’s Island. Additional Indian forces converged to help in the attack. All of the Scouts animals were either killed or run off.

During the 8 or 9 day fight, a total of five Scouts were killed, another later dying of wounds received. Colonel Forsyth was wounded very badly. Lieutenant Beecher and Army Surgeon (Doctor) Moores were both killed as well. It is estimated that the combined Indian force suffered at least 70 dead and over 100 wounded. The successful defense was attributed to the rifle marksmanship skills of the Army Scouts.

A couple of Scouts snuck past the Indian’s surrounding the island and were successful in making their way to Fort Wallace for help, where a relief column that comprised of Company H of the famed 10th US Cavalry - Buffalo Soldiers - under Lt. Col. Carpenter arrive to relieve Col. Forsyth, led by eight other Forsyth Scouts who were previously detailed to another Scouting mission, plus nine Scouts of the 10th Cavalry.

Forsyth Scouts were formally disbanded on December 31, 1868.

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