Fort Mitchell Cemetery

Some Account of the Re-interment of Soldiers Originally Buried There and the so called "Horse Creek Battle Ground"

The following is quoted from the Scottsbluff Republican of September 6, 1918:

Back in the sixties the government maintained a small fort at a point about four miles west of where Scottsbluff now stands. It was known as Fort Mitchell, but nothing remains there to-day to designate the site it once occupied. In 1865 occurred an uprising of Indians at what has ever since been known :is "Horse Creek Battle Ground," which is situated about seven miles southeast of Henry A detachment of soldiers was sent from Fort Mitchell to subdue the warring Indians. A number of soldiers, including the captain, were killed and they were buried in a plot of ground near the fort, and which today is a part of the Hall [R. S. Hunt] farm.

The Nebraska State Historical Society some time ago obtained and recorded an account of the establishing of Fort Mitchell and a description of its site. In volume XVII of the Society's publications I made the following statement:

In August and September, 1864, Captain Shuman, of the Eleventh Ohio Cavalry, built Camp Shuman at a point three miles west of the Scott's Bluff gap. The post was afterward named Fort Mitchell, for General Robert B. Mitchell, then commander of the district. At the same time minor fortifications were built at Ficklin's and Mud Springs. Ficklin's was nine miles east of Scott's Bluff, and Mud Springs, at the north end of "Jules" Stretch," was eight miles easterly from Courthouse Rock. This new route or cut-off was named for Jules, the ranchman.

On January 19, 1910, Mr. Robert Harvey in a report for the committee of the Society on marking historic sites gave the following description of the situation of Fort Mitchell:

Mr. Sowerwine, a pioneer of Gering and a Pike's Peak emigrant, who had traveled over the Oregon Trail through Mitchell Pass, volunteered to show me the old site which is in the northeast corner of the southwest quarter of section 20, township 22 north, range 55 west, on the high bank of the west side of the Platte river, and about three and a half miles west of the town of Scott's Bluff. The wagon road from Scott's Bluff crosses the river and a narrow stretch of low bottom, and ascends through a cut to the second bench, about twenty feet above the river. Before it has reached the summit, a lane turns south to the home of Mr. R. S. Hunt, the owner of the land. Along this lane, and just inside the wire fence on the left, is the northwest corner of the old stockade, 228 feet from the center of the wagon road. That part of the fort now discernible was apparently the adobe stockade, and though now fallen, trampled upon and rounded over, its outline is clearly defined. The enclosure was in the form of a trapezium, no two sides parallel, yet so nearly a rectangle that it might be so considered. The north and south ends are each 90 feet in length, the west side 140 feet, and the east side 120 feet. The east side lies parallel to the edge of the bluff, and the west side is parallel to the lane fence, which protects it from the effects of travel in the lane. The large double gate was evidently on the south side at the southwest corner, and the road leading down the bluff to the ford is about 150 feet from the gate. The wooden parts of the structure were apparently burned, as the ground is thickly strewn with charcoal. The only evidence I found indicating military occupation vas a brass army button, a hub of an army wagon, and numerous fragments of broken window glass, apothecary bottles, and others of stronger make and of different colors, evidently from the sutler's store. Having an instrument with me I took the following bearings from the southwest corner of the stockade:

The west wall bears north 30° west; the south wall bears north 67½° east; the perpendicular wall rock on the northeast side of Scott's Bluff bears south 43° 45' east.

On the range of bluffs to the southwest are two small buttes in close proximity to each other. The east one is the smaller and has a very sharp peak, which bears south 47° 35' west. The bearing of the north wall is north 72° east. About a quarter of a mile southwest is a low knoll which is said to be the burial ground, and that there were two graves. Upon visiting the spot, I found what were said to be headstones of native rock. I am of the opinion that if interments were made there, the bodies have been removed. I found a grave, however, thirty-five feet to the northeast, on the slope of the knoll surrounded with small stones.

In July, 1916, Mr. Sheldon, now secretary of the Historical Society, took photographs of the landscape of the vicinity, including the site of the fort.

On October 21, 1918, Mr. R. S. Hunt wrote to me as follows: I moved to this farm in April, 1904. I was told that there were six or eight graves on the farm on a knoll about a quarter of a mile a little south and west of the site of old Fort Mitchell. It was all hearsay from neighbors as to the exact number of graves and nobody knew who the dead were.

I corresponded with the G. A. R. and the war department at Washington, but there seemed to be no available records of any soldiers buried here.

Finally, about 1912 or 1913, a neighbor from Iowa was visited by his father, a Mr. Billings, who was with this Captain W. D. Fouts when he was killed. He was positive as to his being buried here. At the time Captain Fouts was killed two or three other soldiers were killed, too, but this man was not certain that they were buried here, in fact, he thought they were not.

After I got this definite information I corresponded with the war department again telling what I had learned. That directed their search to the Iowa records and they found the record of Captain Fouts. Then I was to find his remains. I didn't have time so referred them to undertakers in Scottsbluff, Wilcox & Co. They promptly took up the remains and sent them to the Fort McPherson National Cemetery. That accounts for the paper record of his interment. As to other soldiers buried here, there seems to be no record or at least none that can be found. At the time of the removal of Captain Fouts they looked for other bodies. One was found, but it was the remains of a child.

The past spring the remains of two more adult bodies were found and turned over to Wilcox & Co.

I think Mr. Heil was mistaken as to the time the two soldiers were sent from here. We looked for some last fall, but found none. During the winter the wind blew away a great deal of the earth from the place where the bodies were interred and in farming over it my men run onto the bones. Then I called Wilcox & Co. and they procured what they could and as I said as to their disposal of them I know nothing.

As to where Captain Fouts was killed I am not certain, but I think Mr. Billings said it was up the river from Fort Mitchell some twenty-five miles. This is the extent of what I am able to do for you. On October 9, 1918, Mr. L. A. Heil, superintendent of Fort McPherson National Cemetery, wrote to me as follows:

Yours of October 3, 1918, duly at hand, and I have searched all the data available in this office, and find nothing of the deceased soldiers you mention. But the following memorandum is found in the pocket of the interment register:

'Disinter the remains (human bones) of four deceased soldiers now buried on the farm of Mr. R. S. Hunt, three and one-half miles distant from Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

'Encase the same in tin-lined boxes 24"xl2"xl0", to be hermetically sealed, and otherwise comply with the laws of the state of Nebraska governing the disinterment of dead human bodies.

'After the bodies are properly encased, the boxes are to be marked as follows:

'Superintendent Ft. McPherson National Cemetery, 'Maxwell, Nebraska,

Weight lbs., and delivered to the railroad agent at Haig, Neb. The old graves are to be refilled. 'June 14, 1915.'' There is no record as to when or what part of the cemetery these bodies are buried, or whether they were ever buried. There is a proper record of the interment of Captain Wm. D. Fouts, 7th Iowa Cavalry, killed by Indians in battle in Dakota, June 14, 1865, and reinterred in this cemetery June 20, 1915. There is no record of interments from Fort Mitchell in this cemetery."

On October 28 Superintendent Heil wrote again: Yours of recent date at hand, and in reply permit me to state that I have searched the Interment Register of this cemetery from its establishment, and find very little that throws any light on the information which you desire.

Herewith I enclose an exact copy of the interments therein found, including the duplicates. I therefore see no means of arriving at any satisfactory data of those you seek.

The early records of this cemetery are very vague and unsatisfactory. I have been superintendent here only since July 7, 1918, and can only refer to matters as I find them on the records. The Record.

John Anderson, Pvt., Co. C, 7th Iowa Cav., died Sept. 18, 1864, Ft. McPherson.
Fred Dyer, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. McPherson.
Benj. Groms, Sgt., Co. A, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. McPherson.
Lieut. Heath, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. Kearny.
B. M. Lyons, Corp., Co. C, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. McPherson.
C. B. Lellen, Pvt., Co. C, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. McPherson.
A. Newton, Pvt., Co. D, 7th Iowa Cav., Ft. McPherson.
Wm. D. Fouts, Capt., Co. D, 7th Iowa Cav., died June 14, 1865; reinterred June 20, 1915, from Scottsbluff, Nebr.; killed in battle Horse Creek, Dak.

Grave 801 is marked "Four Unknown." No date of interment, names, organization, or other means of identification, either on the headstones or Interment Register."

The quartermaster-general in his report to the secretary of war, dated September 14, 1915, stated that during the year four known soldiers were removed from Scott's Bluff to the Fort McPherson National Cemetery. It seems probable that these were remains of deceased soldiers of the garrison of the fort.

On October 8, 1918, Mr. Earl H. Gans of Wilcox & Go., Scottsbluff, wrote me as follows:

Three years ago when the body of the captain was found, the government gave us instructions that in case any more bodies were found to notify them.

Some weeks ago Mr. Hunt was doing some work near where the body of the captain was found. He notified us and we found two graves. We found small pieces of the box and two skeletons. The names as far as we know are unknown, also the military organization. The government furnished us with complete paper, permits, etc., and ordered the remains sent to McPherson National Cemetery, Maxwell, Neb.

The remains were shipped in metal lined boxes.

In the fall of 1863 eight companies of the Seventh Regiment Iowa Volunteer Cavalry were detached from their field of action in the Civil War to protect settlers on the trans-Missouri plains from hostile Indians, and they arrived at Omaha on September 19. On June 11, 1865, Captain William D. Fouts, in command of Company D and small detachments of A and B, of that regiment, in all four commissioned officers and 135 enlisted men, left Fort Laramie in charge of about 1,500 reputed good' Indians who were sent to Julesburg to separate them from the influence of bad Indians. These wards being "ostensibly friendly," were indulged with a good equipment of bows and arrows as well as guns. On the night of the 13th Captain Fouts and his command camped on the east bank of Horse Creek and the Indians on the opposite side. Early in the morning of the 14th Captain Fouts crossed the creek to get the Indians started on the march when they shot him dead. His body was found stripped and mutilated. The Indians then "fled two or three miles to the Platte."

Captain John Wilcox, of Company B, had started the wagons on their way eastward at sunrise. After going two miles the train halted for the Indians to close up. Just then firing was heard in the Tear, and soon a messenger brought news of the revolt. Thereupon Captain Wilcox dispatched a courier on a swift horse to get help from Fort Mitchell, eighteen miles distant, in the meantime dividing his command, consisting of parts of companies A and B and ordering sixty-five of them to dig rifle pits outside the wagon corral, and the remaining seventy to mount the best horses available and proceed to the scene of action. They found the squaws and papooses swimming the river. The 500 warriors attacked the soldiers who, being so greatly outnumbered, retreated to their defenses at the wagon train. When Captain Shuman arrived with a small reinforcement at about nine o'clock, the united command followed the Indians, but finding that they had all crossed the river, it was thought imprudent for so small a force to attempt the passage of the swollen stream in the face of the overwhelming number of the enemy. Captain Fouts' command lost four killed, himself and three privates and four wounded. Captain Wilcox, who made the official report of the affair, estimated the loss of the Indians at twenty to thirty. He related that, "After repairing the telegraph line, broken by the Indians during the action, and interring our dead, (except Captain Fouts, whom we afterward interred at Fort Mitchell), we took up our line of march and arrived at Fort Mitchell a little after night-fall."

The exact place where Captain Fouts was subjugation. The moral, or immoral, quality of policy and process is a different consideration. , Albert Watkins

Nebraska AHGP

Source: Nebraska History and Record of Pioneer Days, Volume I, Number 1, Published Monthly by the Nebraska Historical Society, February 1918.

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