Major Frank North
The pioneers of Nebraska owe a great debt of gratitude to the Pawnee scouts and their gallant white leader, Major Frank North. During the Sioux and Cheyenne wars on the Nebraska frontier, from 1864 to 1877, these brave Indians, by their courage and vigilance, defended our border, saving the lives of hundreds of settlers. In all the campaigns the Pawnee scouts were at the front. They knew the country through years of buffalo hunting. They knew the ways and the camping grounds of their old enemies, the Sioux, Cheyennes and Arapahoes. In their memories were the old wars of their fathers, and the blood of friends killed by a cruel foe. Spurred by these memories they led the way to the hostile camps. They stampeded the enemy's ponies, fought bravely in every battle and never stopped at hunger or hardship in the long hard rides. The story of the Pawnee scouts and their service to the people of Nebraska is one never to be forgotten.
When the sudden storm of the Sioux and Cheyenne war broke on the Nebraska border in the summer of 1864, the white people were taken by surprise. This was during the war between the North and the South, when many of the settlers had enlisted and left their families without protection. Hundreds of settlers and emigrants were killed, ranches and wagon trains burned, stock run off and butchered. As the story of the murders and burnings was brought in, there was terror in all the settlements. Everywhere the Indians were reported as being just at hand. Many settlers left their homes and fled to the Missouri River while others gathered at central ranches and hastily threw up intrenchments.
The few United States soldiers on our frontier were not experienced in fighting Indians. A call was made for Pawnee scouts. Frank North was then twenty-four years old and a clerk at the Pawnee agency in what is now Nance County. He had settled at Columbus in 1858, lived among the Pawnees, learned their language and gained their confidence. He was made first lieutenant of the first company of Pawnee scouts, and soon after became captain, then major and remained their leader until they were mustered out of service.
Their first important achievement was in General Connor's campaign in 1865. On August 22d, Captain North with forty scouts struck the trail of twenty-seven Sioux of Red Cloud's band, who had just killed a party of fifteen soldiers. He followed the trail all day and all night, overtook the Sioux at daybreak and scalped every warrior, bringing back the horses and mules they had stolen. This was the first victory over the Sioux in this war. A few days later the Pawnee scouts led General Connor's army to a great camp of fifteen hundred hostile Arapahoes under Chief Black Bear. A complete victory was won, in which over two hundred Arapahoes were slain, and seven hundred ponies and all the tepees captured. The village with all its goods was burned and the destitute Arapahoes were glad to come in to Fort Laramie and make peace.
In 1867 Captain North was made major of a battalion of four companies of Pawnees, fifty Indians in each company. They were armed with the new Spencer repeating rifles or "seven shooters" and their special duty was to protect the workmen in building the Union Pacific Railroad. The hostile Indians had nearly stopped its construction by killing men, burning stations and running off stock.
The Pawnee battalion took up this work with delight. It had 300 miles of road from Plum Creek (now Lexington), in Dawson County to the Laramie Plains, to protect. The Sioux were completely surprised when they found their old enemy the Pawnees on their trail, with good horses and rifles and the United States back of them. After one or two sharp skirmishes, in which they were chased long distances with loss, their raids on the railroad became rare.
August 1,1867, the Cheyenne chief "Turkey Leg" with his band tore up a culvert four miles west of Plum Creek and ditched a Union Pacific freight train. They killed the trainmen, broke open the cars, stole everything they could take and burned the train. Captain Murie with one company of Pawnee scouts, chased old Turkey Leg out of the state, killing fifteen warriors and capturing the chief's nephew and a squaw. This discouraged Turkey Leg so much that he came into North Platte, gave up the six white prisoners he had in exchange for his nephew and the squaw, made peace, and became a good Indian.
The Sioux Chief Tall Bull with a hostile band roamed over western Kansas and Nebraska for a long time, murdering, robbing, burning and dodging the soldiers sent after him. On July 12,1869, Major North and the Pawnee scouts guided General Carr with the Fifth Cavalry to Tall Bull's camp hidden in the sandhills between the Platte and the Frenchman's Fork, just west of the Nebraska state line. The battle of Summit Springs which followed completely wiped out Tall Bull and his band. Fifty-two warriors were killed, and the camp with over four hundred horses and mules captured. Two white women prisoners were in Tall Bull's tent. When he found the soldiers were upon him he killed one and wounded the other. The one wounded was a German woman whose husband had been murdered in Kansas. In the captured camp was a great deal of rich plunder taken from white people, including jewelry and over $1,500 in twenty-dollar gold pieces. This fell into the hands of soldiers and Pawnee scouts. Later when it was found that much of this gold had been taken from the dead husband of the wounded woman the white soldiers brought in $300 and the Pawnee scouts $600 and placed this sum in her hands on the battlefield.
The defeat of Tall Bull's band was one of the greatest blessings to the Nebraska border. The Nebraska legislature passed a vote of thanks to General Carr's command, especially mentioning Major North and the Pawnee scouts.
For two years the Pawnee scouts continued to guard and patrol the Union Pacific Railroad, making it possible to run regular trains to the Pacific Ocean. In January, 1871, the scouts were mustered out of service while Major North remained as scout and guide.
In the summer of 1876 the Sioux under Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse were again on the warpath. General Custer and all his command were killed on the Little Big Horn in Montana. There were seven or eight thousand Sioux under Red Cloud and Spotted Tail in what is now Dawes and Sioux counties, Nebraska, near Fort Robinson. It was feared that they would break away and join the hostile Indians. General Sheridan ordered Major North to go to Indian Territory, where the Pawnee tribe now lived, and to enlist one hundred scouts to serve against the Sioux. There was great excitement on the Pawnee reserve when Major North came. He found the Pawnees very poor. All of them wanted to go with him. He picked out his one hundred men and was followed for eighty miles by others begging to enlist.
With these one hundred scouts Major North reached Fort Robinson, October 22,1876, and without resting was ordered to march forty miles with a regiment of cavalry. After an all night march they surprised Red Cloud's camp near Chadron at daybreak and captured it without a shot. All the ponies of Red Cloud's band, over 700, were taken by the Pawnees to Fort Laramie and sold, while the Indians were marched on foot to Fort Robinson and kept to the end of the war. It was a bitter disgrace for the proud Sioux to have their ponies taken away from them by their old Pawnee enemies and Red Cloud never forgot it.
In November, General Crook ordered Major North and the Pawnee scouts to march north for a winter campaign against the Sioux and Cheyennes. The Indian scouts brought news that they had found a large Cheyenne camp in a pocket of the Big Horn mountains so well concealed that it would be impossible to approach it in daylight. General McKenzie was ordered by General Crook to make a night march with 800 white cavalry and 70 Pawnee scouts. All night the soldiers rode over a terribly rough and dangerous region with their Pawnee guides at the head. Toward morning they heard the sound of Indian drums.
The Cheyennes were dancing a scalp dance over the return of a successful war party. About daybreak the warriors, tired with dancing, went to sleep. A little later the Pawnees and soldiers burst into their camp. The Cheyennes fought desperately, for they were fighting for their homes and their winter living. Most of them escaped to the rough ground from which they fired on the troops. All the Cheyenne ponies, 650 in number, were taken by the Pawnees. General McKenzie ordered all the Cheyenne lodges, all their rich buffalo robes and winter provisions to be piled and burned to ashes, and the Cheyennes saw them burn. A heavy snowstorm came on and General McKenzie marched back, taking with him the Indian ponies and leaving the band destitute.
The miserable Cheyennes with their women and children made their way on foot to the camp of Crazy Horse on Powder River. Over forty of their number died from exposure and starvation on the way. Stern Crazy Horse shut his doors in their face. He was so angry because they had permitted themselves to be outwitted and surprised that he would give them no help. There was nothing for the Cheyennes to do but to drag themselves across the cold plains to Fort Robinson and surrender to the whites.
All the cold winter the war went on. General Crook never rested nor gave the enemy rest. There was no chance for the Sioux that winter to hunt buffalo or elk The terrible cavalry and the Pawnee scouts, their old enemies, were on their trail. In the spring the starving and ragged remnants of the once proud Sioux of the plains came in and surrendered on Nebraska soil at Fort Robinson. It was a great day for the Pawnee scouts when they were mustered out of service May 1, 1877, and returned to Indian Territory to tell the story of Red Cloud's ponies and Crazy Horse's surrender.
After the war was over Major North engaged with W. F. Cody (Buffalo Bill) in cattle ranching on the Dismal River in western Nebraska. Thousands of their cattle ranged the sand hills. Their ranch door was open wide without price to all honest travelers, but cattle and horse thieves, white or red, soon learned to dread the fearless spirits and ready rifles waiting for them there. Many are the stirring and true stories told of Frank North in those ranching days.
In 1882 the people of Platte County elected Major North to the Nebraska legislature. He died at Columbus March 14, 1885, aged forty-five years, leaving a wife and daughter. All the people of Nebraska mourned his loss, for he was not only a brave soldier but kind and just and true in all his life.
Only a few of the famous Pawnee scouts who followed Major North and kept the Nebraska border in the stormy years of war and frontiering now survive. Those whom I saw on their reservation in Oklahoma were a fine group of sturdy men with strong fearless faces. Their eyes light up when the name of Major North is mentioned, and looking up into the sky they speak with deepest love and admiration his Pawnee name, "Pani-LeShar."