Another Disastrous December – the Fetterman Massacre

December 21 marks the 145th anniversary of the Fetterman Massacre, which took place near Fort Phil Kearny, in present-day Wyoming.

fort phil kearny
Map of Fort Phil Kearny
fetterman memorial
Memorial near where Capt Fetterman died

Fort Kearny was built along the Bozeman Trail, although the establishment of a fort here was never agreed to by Red Cloud at the 1866 council at Fort Laramie.

The fort’s commanding officer was Colonel Henry Carrington, a member of the 18th US Infantry during the Civil War. With him at Fort Kearny were his wife, Margaret and their son. (Click map to enlarge)

The site of the fort was not well-chosen, as bands of Lakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne could easily watch the soldiers within the fort. In addition, they constantly harassed the wood-cutting crews and travelers along the Bozeman. Eventually,  travel along the trail completely stopped.

Carrington was at odds with several of his officers because they didn’t consider him aggressive enough in dealing with the constant attacks; one of his most vocal his detractors was Captain William J. Fetterman, another Civil War veteran with extensive combat experience in the war, but no knowledge of Indian fighting.

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On December 21, 1866, Indians attacked a party of wood-cutters then attempted to trick the soldiers into following them into a waiting trap.

Fetterman led a party to pursue the escaping Indians. He was warned not to cross Lodge Pole Ridge, as support from the fort would be impossible once the men were out of sight. Lured by Crazy Horse, Fetterman crossed the ridge in pursuit, where he was attacked by an estimated 2,000 Indians. Fetterman and all of his command were killed.

fetterman tombstone
Fetterman tombstone at the Little Bighorn National Cemetery

A rescue party led by Captain Tenedor Ten Eyck recovered the badly mutilated bodies.  The only body left intact was that of  bugler Adolph Metzger, who had  fought off his attackers using his bugle as a bludgeon.  Metzger’s body had been covered with a buffalo robe – – some think as a tribute to his bravery.  A bugle believed to belong to Metzger  is on display at the Jim Gatchall Museum in Buffalo, Wyoming.

Events of the massacre, the building of Fort Phil Kearny and the abandonment of the fort shortly after the massacre can be read in Margaret Carrington’s book, Absaraka, home of the Crows. After Margaret’s death in 1870, Carrington remarried Frances Grummond, widow of one of the men who died with Fetterman.

Casualties from the Fetterman massacre were reinterred at the Little Bighorn National Cemetery.

To Learn More About the Fetterman Massacre

Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth

Sioux Dawn (a work of fiction, but based on historic research)

Give Me Eighty Men: Women and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight

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