Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee: The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry

Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee: The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry

Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee: The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry

Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee: The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry


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In the aftermath of the December 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, U.S. Army troops braced for retaliation from Lakota Sioux Indians, who had just suffered the devastating loss of at least two hundred men, women, and children. Among the soldiers sent to guard the area around Pine Ridge Agency, South Dakota, was twenty-two-year-old Private Hartford Geddings Clark (1869–1920) of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry. Within three days of the massacre, he began keeping a diary that he continued through 1891. Clark’s account—published here for the first time—offers a rare and intimate view of a soldier’s daily life set against the backdrop of a rapidly vanishing American frontier.

According to editor Jerome A. Greene, Private Clark was a perceptive young man with wide-ranging interests. Although his diary begins in South Dakota, most of its entries reflect Clark’s service at Fort Niobrara, located amid the sand hills of north-central Nebraska. There, beginning in February 1891, five troops of the Sixth Cavalry sought to protect area citizens from potential Indian disturbances. Among his hard-drinking fellow soldiers, “Harry,” as Clark was called, stood out as a teetotaler. He was also an avid horse racer, huntsman, and the leading pitcher on Fort Niobrara’s baseball team.

Beyond its descriptions of a grueling training regimen and off-duty entertainment, the diary reveals Clark’s evolving perception of Native peoples. Although he initially viewed them as savage enemies, Private Clark’s attitude softened when the army began enlisting Indian men and he befriended a Lakota soldier named Yellow Hand, who shared Clark's love of sports.

Drawing on his extensive knowledge of nineteenth-century military history, Greene offers a richly annotated version of Private Clark’s remarkable original text, replete with information on the U.S. Army’s final occupation of the American West.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806156408
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 10/20/2016
Series: Frontier Military Series , #35
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 216
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Jerome A. Greene is retired as Research Historian for the National Park Service. He is the author of numerous books, including Stricken Field: The Little Bighorn since 1876, Battles and Skirmishes of the Great Sioux War, 1876–1877: The Military View; Lakota and Cheyenne: Indian Views of the Great Sioux War, 1876–1877; and Morning Star Dawn: The Powder River Expedition and the Northern Cheyennes, 1876, all published by the University of Oklahoma Press.

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Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee

The 1891 Diary of Private Hartford G. Clark, Sixth U.S. Cavalry

By Jerome A. Greene


Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-5640-8


January 1891

Wounded Knee Creek, 2nd Ranch, Thursday, January 1st, 1891, So. Dakota.

I begin this year to write up a diary for every day in the year, telling all, or all the leading things, that occur where I am. Also the place I am in.

January of the New Year opened up lively. The headquarters and eight troops of the 6th Cavalry are encamped near White River, at Yellow Bird's Ranch — eight hundred Indians are encamped at White Clay Creek twelve miles from here. At 1:30 P.M. today heavy firing was heard in the vicinity of White Clay Creek [sic: White River]. Gen. Carr immediately ordered Major Tupper's command (1st Battalion) and Troops A, H, & G, out to the scene — Some few minutes later two soldiers were discovered in the distance riding very fast to camp. They soon arrived and informed the officer in command that K Troop of this regiment, who were on their way to join us, were surrounded, and they and their wagon train were being attacked by a band of over two hundred Indians. The couriers went on to inform Gen. Carr of the trouble.

Volley after volley were heard quite distinctly. The troops moved on at a dead charge, which was kept up for six miles. This brought us to the brow of a small hill, and through the smoke could be discerned K Troop engaging a large band of Indians — their wagons were drawn close together, and they themselves were behind rifle pits, which they had dug. We and Major Tupper's command formed a skirmish line, and were engaging them [the Indians] on the right, while K Troop poured a destructive fire into them from the front. Indian after Indian could be seen, or rather was seen to fall, and were immediately dragged off by their companions. By this time Gen. Carr and the rest of the command arrived and made a flank movement to surround the Indians. The Indians, seeing this movement, ran away. K Troop was then escorted into camp, and as night was coming on and the Indians were not in any great body, and [as] all the camp supplies were totally unprotected, it was thought best to return [to camp]. Strange to say, no soldiers were killed and none were wounded. A government horse, also a citizen scout's horse, were shot. It is expected a big fight will occur here in a day or two. Let her go, that is what I enlisted for, to fight, and I just as live [to] go out like today as not. It is exciting.

Today was the day of my first Indian fight, and it made me mad to hear those red devils yell. The more they would yell, the more I would feel like killing them all or seeing them killed.

Friday, Wounded Knee Creek, So. Dakota, Jan. 2nd, 1891.

We expected today to hear "Boots and Saddles" call go any minute, and do now at 9 P.M., to go to help some troops of cavalry that were engaged in fighting Indians. Sleep with all of our clothes on tonight, sure pop. Nothing of any consequence occurred today.

I am on picket guard in a log cabin about a mile from camp, watching for Indians, which are thought will attack the camp tonight. So as I am not in post now, I thought I would write today's diary, as I carry the pen and book with me.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dakota, Saturday, January 3rd, 1891.

Off we went on the gallop today to ascertain what the firing was about a[t] three miles from camp, and found it was Cheyenne Indian scouts killing cattle on the prairie. We also brought in about two hundred Indian ponies, which were abandoned by Indians. No Indian attack last night as was expected. Troop out scouting every day, and our [G Troop's] turn tomorrow. Hope we go, because I like to ride and see hostiles, now that I am broken in to skirmishing with them. Horse threw me, or rather fell over with me, this morning.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dakota, Sunday, January 4th, 1891.

On the first page of this book it would have been alright, perhaps, if I said we arrived at this camp the 28th of December, 1890. The night of December 27th, 1890, we spent out of doors, without any tents over us, at White River, about forty miles from [our present] Wounded Knee camp. That was an awful cold night for me, with one blanket of my own and one other I borrowed. We marched to White River, or a point on White River, (White River extends many miles) about 6 P.M. from the camp on Cheyenne River, at the mouth of Rapid Creek, a distance of about thirty miles.

We laid in camp [today] all day waiting orders.

I was on stable guard today, and also am on tonight, walking by the horses two hours at a time and four hours off. Very cold day and night.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dakota, Monday, January 5th, 1891.

This morning the third battalion, Major Adam in command, and comprising G, A and H troops, went up White Clay Creek nineteen miles after some Indians that were reported there. When we got there, our birds had flown. We found an Indian warrior and his squaw in a shack (house), and the warrior being very sick from a wound he received at the fight of January 1st 1891 at a point on White River [at the mouth of Grass Creek].

We got back to camp about dark, after seeing nothing in the shape of a redskin, we making a march today of thirty-eight miles, and [I] am ready any moment for Indians.

Gabriel (my horse) felt gay all day, but caused me no trouble to speak of. Elegant day.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dak., Tuesday, January 6th, 1891.

Escorted the wagons to get hay and wood today, going a distance of only nine miles. The horses feel rather stiff after yesterday's march. Nothing exciting today; only a runaway that caused little fun.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dak., Wednesday, January 7th, 1891.

Laid in camp all day. Had some fun with my horse by riding him bareback. I made a bridge over the creek today so as I could get over to get wood hand[il]y.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dak., Thursday, January 8th, 1891.

Laid in camp all day, I being on picket guard about one mile away from camp in an old log house deserted by one of the Indian owners. I visited the house of Big Turnip and got a hair mattress, which will keep me a little warmer nights. I have got quite a lot of Indian relics.

Two scouts came in and said there were about forty Indian warriors coming towards the camp, and Lt. Gray, who was in charge of us (the pickets) had a fit — he acted like a big fool. He told the sergeant he never [before] was under fire and he did not know how he would behave. Well, he made us [board?] up the windows in the shack and cut loop holes and fix the doors, etc., so much it made me tired, doing all this and about five hundred soldiers a mile away at the camp. Well, I was wishing the forty braves would come, for we could (six privates, one sergeant, and one corporal and one lieutenant) have stood off two hundred Indians in that place until the troops came. Well, we got all fixed up and the shave tail (that is what they call officers like Gray) began asking the sergeant what he would do, etc. Sergt. Strupp is an old Indian fighter, being thirty years very near in this service, fighting Indians and train robbers, etc. Well, Sergt. Strupp says, "I would do that same as any of the boys would do, make good Indians of them." Indians out here are not good Indians until they are dead. Well, to make a long story short, the Indians did not come, but I wanted them to just to see Lt. Gray give orders. I think he would have had fits instead.

Wounded Knee Camp, So. Dakota, Friday, January 9th, 1891.

Off we went this morning to meet a wagon train coming from Pine Ridge Agency with ammunition and supplies, making a round trip march of thirty miles. We met the wagons escorted by a company of infantry, which went back after meeting us, wagons and all. We had wagons with us, so put the loads of supplies, etc., on our wagons. Of course, we had to walk all the way or at least make the horses walk so not to get ahead of the wagons, as Indians were liable to jump us and the wagon train [at] any time.

I like, and always did like, to go out and keep up the dead jump, but we have a great deal of fast riding. That is the name of this regiment[:] "The Galloping Sixth."

Expect to break camp here tomorrow morning. Another fine day.

2nd Wounded Knee Camp on White Clay Creek, S.D., Saturday, January 10th, 1891.

A march of twelve miles brought us to a hollow between two steep hills, where we will camp for the night. We passed a church, or so-called mission house, which had been burned down by marauding Indians. It was still smoking; probably the fire took place the night before. We also passed dead horses and cattle, which had been killed by Indians.

Today I managed to get hold of an Indian's scalp, which a Cheyenne scout brought in, and I will hang it up over my bed to kindle a strong temper against the Indians. Why would not I? I have seen deeds done by Indians, which would make fidgety people like Mrs. Scott shiver and throw up both hands and holler. Such are the scenes to see anyway when the Sioux Indians are on the warpath. Goodnight.

3rd Wounded Knee Camp on White Clay Creek, S.D., Sunday, January 11th, 1891.

Moved five miles further up the creek today after breaking camp and camped here for the night. Called Camp Hiawatha. While going over a poorly constructed bridge today a large six-mule government wagon went over the side, mules and all, into the water below, about 15 feet — that delayed us, and is the reason we made but five miles. We finally got the wagon out, and none of the mules were hurt very bad. Still, it delayed us enough to let us get caught in a blizzard, and that meant another chance for me to play freeze out.

3rd Camp at Wounded Knee on White C[lay] Creek, S.D., Monday, January 12, 1891.

Today we marched twenty miles the round trip. We went up to what is called Wounded Knee Post Office.

We visited one battalion of the 9th Cavalry, and had dinner with the buffalo soldiers, and they treated us very nicely. We also passed over the battleground where the 7th Cavalry fought Big Foot and his warriors. There lay in death the old and young of both sexes that were not [yet] buried, also about seventy-five dead horses and ponies. I got a pair of leggings off one of the warriors' legs — everybody was looking out for relics. Big Foot and gang were encamped there on what is called Porcupine [sic: Wounded Knee] Creek, and Capt. Wallace of K Troop of the 7th Cavalry went in their camp for the purpose of disarming them, [while] the rest of the command, about three other troops, were stationed on a hill about one-half mile from them. Capt. Wallace ordered twenty Indians at a time to move at a certain point and then give up their arms. Two or three very old muskets were given up, but they kept their Winchester rifles, and at just a signal, which was given by the medicine man (Big Foot), the Indians pulled their Winchester rifles from under their blankets and opened a deadly fire into K Troop, which were on their flank. That fire was very destructive to K Troop, killing about thirty men besides Capt. Wallace. Then the reserves, which were stationed on a hill, came down leaving the Hotchkiss guns at the right place, and began firing on the Indians. Consequently, about every one of the Indians were killed — men, women and children. That wiped out Big Foot and his gang of devilish warriors. One hundred and sixty-five dead Indians are buried in one hole — the rest laying on the ground, not buried yet. [I am] reading a piece today in an eastern paper about the troops out here taking the guns away from the Indians, and then massacring them, put in by some affectionate and tender-hearted person that would like probably to have a few of the redskins for pets. It is all right for them to write in papers that kind of reading while in New York or Boston or some eastern place, seated around a nice fire and in a comfortable room, but let them spend the winter in southern Dakota [sic: South Dakota], under a tent, and live every moment thinking you are going to be butchered by them. I guess they would change their minds. What do they [in the East] know about what the Indians do there[?] Comparatively nothing. If they were out in this part of the country, and see the deeds done by them (Indians) while on the warpath, it would make them wish they were back among the more civilized class in the East. There would have been hundreds of more Indians killed if it was not for the Interior Department sending orders not to fire upon them until fired upon.

Such were the orders of President Harrison, also. But just put the Indian question into the hands of soldiers, and then there would be some excitement, I guess. Well, I guess that will do for today.

3rd Camp at W.K. at White Clay Creek, Tuesday, January 13th, 1891.

Laid in camp all day — nothing of any interest occurred. Lazareth [sic: Lazarus], Lash and myself went up to Fast Thunder's ranch to see if we could get some chickens or turkeys to cook, but somebody had been there before and gobbled all the gobblers, so we went into the shack and got a few Indian relics to remember Mr. Fast Thunder by and returned to camp just in time to be present for retreat.

3rd Camp at W.K. on W.C.C., So. Dak., Wednesday, January 14th, 1891.

Laid in camp all day. Couriers came in with some important messages for Major Adam, who is in command of this battalion, consisting of A, H, & G Troops.

I guess, or at least think it means we will break camp early tomorrow morning and start towards Pine Ridge [Agency], as I believe all the Indians are going in or have gone in, and the troops (all of them that are out in the campaign) are closing up all around them and after they get to Pine Ridge there is going to be a wholesale disarming or slaughter, one or the other. If the Indians give up their arms, all will be well; if otherwise, there will be a good many good Indians (dead ones). Some seem to think there will be a big fight, because there are over eight thousand Indians and only about four thousand and five hundred troops out here. Let her go. There is one consolation: The Indians cannot wipe out the whole U.S. Army, but the army can wipe out the whole Indian population, if need be.

3rd Camp at W.K. on White Horse Creek, Thursday, January 15th, 1891.

Broke camp early this morning and made only six miles to White Horse Creek, and joined F, K, I, E, C, and D troops [Sixth Cavalry] and tomorrow will probably make Pine Ridge. While moving here we saw hundreds of Indians going in to Pine Ridge, they being nearly starved, otherwise they would never be going in. Hunger and cold together drove them in, only to come out again with more devilish spirits next spring.

Soon as we struck or camped at this creek, I was detailed from picket guard to be stationed up on a hill, a very tall hill, to watch the Indians as they were going to and fro pretty thick, but all seemed to be friendly. While on top of this hill, and on the very topmost [part] of it, I stepped on some earth that seemed to be hollow, and I thought I had struck a hidden cave belonging to Indians or robbers, as I have seen such in other camps. I took my gun stock and dug away the earth for about six or eight inches and found a wooden box about six feet long and about two feet wide, strongly bound all around with weeds, etc. I also found one beside of it bound the same way, only a smaller box about two feet long and one foot wide. Then I said to myself, I have found a hidden treasure, so [I] took my knife and cut the weeds or brush that held the box covers on and lifted up the cover of the large one first and I did not find much of a treasure. I found an Indian corpse, that of a squaw with everything imaginable in it, such as beads, knives, forks, beadwork, etc.; and in the smaller box was the remains of a papoose, with all the baby's trinkets in it. So I put the covers on and fixed the graves up the best I could to make them look like they had not been disturbed, and continued to walk my post, or at least look out, for there was little walking to be done there.


Excerpted from Soldiering in the Shadow of Wounded Knee by Jerome A. Greene. Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Publishing Division of the University. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations,
January 1891,
February 1891,
March 1891,
April 1891: Fort Niobrara, Nebraska,
May 1891,
June 1891: Fort Niobrara, Nebraska,
July 1891: Fort Niobrara, Nebraska,
August 1891,
September 1891,
October 1891,
November 1891,
December 1891,

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