Wild West

SIOUX AMBUSH AT MASSACRE CANYON

Captain Charles Meinhold may well have hoped to complete his assignment without incident as he led the sweat-stained troopers of Company B, 3rd U.S. Cavalry, plodding methodically across the monotonous broken plains of southwest Nebraska. Tasked to monitor nominally peaceful reservation Indians then hunting in the area, Meinhold’s patrol along the Republican River also served to curb rowdy frontiersmen and protect surveyors then busily delineating homesteads for white settlers. There was little relief from the oppressive heat and humidity during the tedious march. Five days of probing south from Fort McPherson had proved uneventful. But as the soldiers busied themselves about camp at the mouth of Blackwood Creek on Aug. 5, 1873, Meinhold’s routine patrol unraveled.

Galloping frantically toward the troopers late that morning were a young white man and three Pawnee elders bearing shocking details of a brutal massacre just upriver. Underscoring their agitation, a column of blood-spattered, bedraggled refugees slowly staggered into view from the west. As Meinhold struggled to comprehend their anguished accounts, it became clear an overwhelming force of Sioux (Lakota) warriors had attacked the hapless Pawnees, slaughtering several men alongside many women and children.

Although the vicious attack had left the Pawnees dazed and demoralized, their chiefs assured Meinhold they could rally to counterattack the Sioux, if only the soldiers would assist them. The captain wisely declined, explaining that his 49 troops could accomplish little against the host of warriors the chiefs had described. He advised the Pawnees to continue down the Republican and regroup near the settlement of Red Willow, some 20 miles farther east, while he investigated.

After a westward march of a dozen miles, Meinhold’s troopers approached a shallow canyon that contained the first bloody evidence of the brutal struggle—mutilated bodies that lay as they had fallen, filling the canyon with a reeking carnage. Meinhold’s worst fears were confirmed.

Civilian contract surgeon David F. Powell later wrote

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