When Captain Strout was informed that a party of Indians were camped about three miles off there was considerable excitement among the boys, but few slept that night. The old condemned Belgian guns furnished Captain Strout’s men by Uncle Sam to scare the red men with, and which most of the men thought they would have no use for, were quickly examined, and it was found that only about one in five had ammunition that would fit, and the boys were kept busy till daylight preparing ammunition that might soon be needed. By the time it was fairly daylight, breakfast was called, and while they were yet eating, they heard the firing of guns about two miles off, and knowing that they were the only white men nearer than Forest City or Hutchinson, it was no hard matter to guess where the firing came from. On such an invitation it is needless to say breakfast was cut short off, and all made ready for a march. Strout had but five mounted men and these were ordered to advance and keep a half a mile in advance of the company and teams. Albert Sperry one of the five was to keep about two hundred yards in advance of the other four.
The mounted men had proceeded about two miles in a southerly direction, when they discovered the bright barrels of guns glistening on a hill about a mile ahead, and on the farm preempted by the widow Baker just opposite Kelley’s Bluff. Our men continued to advance until within a quarter of a mile when they halted, and sent word back to Captain Strout that the Indians were just ahead and to prepare for a fight.
As soon as the company came up the men were formed in open line and ordered to advance, which they did until they came within about two hundred yards of where the Indians had been seen, when the Indians opened fire on the company, which the company promptly returned.
About the third volley, private Getchell fell mortally wounded by a ball through the head. About this time a party of mounted Indians were discovered approaching us in the rear, on the road we had just traveled, and as they came down over the rolling prairie single file with horses and ponies at full speed, whooping and yelling as only wild Indians can, it made a picture long to be remembered by those who saw it.
Instantly the second Lieutenant was ordered back with twenty men to protect the rear of the train.
Fearing to make a charge most of the mounted Indians rode around and formed on the right of the company, and a lake being on the left, Strout with his little band of sixty three men were completely surrounded.
After fighting some time, without any particular damage to either party, reminding the commander of what the Frenchman said of some of the first great battles of the rebellion, where nobody was killed on either side, “that it was one very civil war” but fearing Mr. Sioux Indians would soon receive reinforcements from another band known to be less than five miles off, the captain ordered a charge in the direction of Hutchinson with fixed bayonets.
This order was immediately obeyed under the lead of Lieutenant Clarke, every man came up to the scratch like old veterans. So says the official report.
This was probably the bravest act of the day when we take into consideration that Captain Strout’s company was mostly made up of business and commercial men and dapper-fingered clerks from Minneapolis and St. Paul, many of them hardly knowing enough about fire arms to load their own pieces, but the red men on the south did not like close quarters, and scattered in all directions, and for a time it seemed as though the little unpleasantness had ceased, and the teamsters think ing the road clear, started their teams on the run for Hutchinson, leaving all the company that were not fortunate enough to climb behind, and the boys thinking it would be a poor show for broken legged men, all hands started pellmell after the teams, and for a short time it seemed as though it was a “Bull Run” on a small scale, and that, too, after they had beat the red man on a bayonet charge.
The men did not want it understood that they were running away from the Indians, at all, at all, but when they made the bayonet charge they came very near not stopping till they got to Hutch inson, which reminds us again of an incident at “Bull Run,” when one of the boys of a Vermont Regiment was ordered to retreat; he obeyed orders and (no counter order being received,) he kept on retreating until he reached the north Der-by line and only halted then, in order that he might not do violence to international law.
The Captain and his few mounted men soon brought the boys to a halt, and order was restored in less time than it usually took McClellan to reorganize the army of the Potomac.
The Indians seeing the Company on the run, put after them in full uniform, that is to say, they divested themselves of all that makes the man, to-wit, “good clothing.”
Many of them when first seen, had on black cloth suits and “biled” shirts. Before proceeding any further in the description of the “days doings,” we wish to mention one bright and noble oasis in the catalogue of Indian character usually made up of ambush and treachery. While the skirmish was hottest and just before the charge was made, one of the Indians, supposed to have been Little Crow, deliberately stepped upon the top of a fence, about one hundred and fifty yards in front of the Company, and waving his blanket, gave some orders to the Indians in our rear.
Strout asked for some good marksman to take him off. Two or three of his boys tried and all missed him, when the whole Company was ordered to fire at him, but it seems to have been fore-ordered that he was not to die on that fence, for he. stood the torrent of, and received the whole volley of sixty-three old Belgian bullets unscathed, where upon Mr. Indian coolly stepped down’ from the fence, made a graceful bow, with a waive of the hand, as much as to say “thank you gentlemen.” The whole affair was so bold and graceful that our men could hardly refrain from giving the old red-skin three rousing cheers.
About this time order was restored among the men, private Jesse V. Branham Jr., one of the three volunteer scouts from Forest City the night before, having stopped to load his gun, was shot from behind, the ball passing through his left lung. Fortunately he did not fall, but had strength enough to walk until he overtook the teams. He was supposed to be mortally wounded, but on the contrary he is now on his pegs and in fact healthy, residing at Litchfield. From this time a running fight was kept up for about seven miles, during which time Stone of Minneapolis and another private whose name we do not now recollect, were killed, and about one third of the entire company wounded.
When the company halted at Cedar Mills for water and a little rest for the wounded, they found they had lost three men killed and left on the ground.
The remains were afterward buried by the 3d Regiment boys.