The Bates Battlefield, Wyoming. July 4, 1874.

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Pat Holscher
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We (my two kids and I) were fortunately recently to be able to tour one of Wyoming's little known battlefields recently, thanks due to the local landowner who controls the road access letting us on. We very much appreciate their generosity in letting us do so.

ImageIMGP0930 by Pat Holscher

The battlefield is the Bates Battlefield, which is on the National Registry of Historic landmarks, but which is little viewed. There's nothing there to tell you that you are at a battlefield. There are no markers or the like, like there is at Little Big Horn. You have to have researched the area before you arrive, to know what happened on July 4, 1874, when the battle was fought. And even at that, accounts are confusing.

Fortunately for the researcher, a really good write up of what is known was done when Historic Site status was applied for. Rather than try to rewrite what was put in that work, we're going to post it here. So we start with the background.
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And on to the confusion in the accounts, which we'd note is common even for the best known of Indian battles. Indeed, maybe all of them.
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The text goes on to note that the Arapaho raided into country that what was withing the recently established Shoshone Reservation, which we know as the Wind River Indian Reservation. It also notes that this was because territories which the various tribes regarded as their own were fluid, and it suggest that a culture of raiding also played a potential part in that. In any event, the Shoshone found their reservation domains raided by other tribes. Complaints from the Shoshone lead, respectively, to Camp Augur and Camp Brown being established, where are respectively near the modern towns of Lander and Ft. Washakie (which Camp Brown was renamed).

The immediate cause of the raid was the presence of Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, and Sioux parties in the area in June and July 1874 that had an apparent intent to raid onto the Reservation. Ironically, the Arapaho, who were involved in this battle, had separated themselves from the Cheyenne and the Sioux and had no apparent intent to participate in any such raids. They thereafter placed themselves in the Nowood River area. Indian bands were known to be in the area that summer, and they were outside of those areas designated to them by the treaties of 1868.

Given this, Cpt. Alfred E. Bates, at Camp Brown, had sent scouts, including Shoshone scouts, into the field that summer to attempt to locate the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho bands. On June 29, Shoshone scouts reported at Camp Brown that they'd sited an Arapaho village. We here pick back up from the text:
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The expedition took to the field on July 1, 1874, and remarkably, it traveled at night.
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A few days later, they found what they were looking for.
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Let's take a look at some of what Bates was seeing:
ImageIMGP0931 by Pat Holscher
This is the valley which was below the ridge that Bates was traveling up, the night he found the Arapaho village when he passed it by. It's not clear to me if he backtracked all the way back past this point and came back up this valley, or if he came from another direction. Based upon the description, I suspect he rode all the way back and came up from this direction, but from the high ground, not down here in the valley.
ImageIMGP0934 by Pat Holscher
Here's the spot that Bates referenced as being the area where two ravines joined. Not surprisingly, in this wet year, the spot is fairly wet. But to add to that, this area features a spring, known today, and probably dating back to the events of this battle, as Dead Indian Springs. The "gentle slope" from which Cpt. Bates made his survey, is in the background.
ImageIMGP0935 by Pat Holscher
And here we look up that second ravine, with its current denizens in view.
ImageIMGP0933 by Pat Holscher
And here we see the prominent bluff opposite of where Cpt. Bates reconnoitered. It was prominent indeed.

Bates chose to attack dismounted down the slope of the hill he was on, described above, with thirty troopers and twenty Shoshones. At the same time, Lt. Young, meanwhile, attached down the valley from above it on the watercourse, in an apparent effort to cut the village off and achieve a flanking movement.
ImageIMGP0936 by Pat Holscher
The slope down which Bates and his detail attacked, and the draw down which Young attacked.
ImageIMGP0937 by Pat Holscher
The draw down which Young attacked.
ImageIMGP0938 by Pat Holscher
The slope down which Bates attacked is depicted above.

The fighting was fierce and the Arapaho were surprised. They put up a good account, however, and were even able to at least partially get mounted. Chief Black Coal was wounded in the fighting and lost several fingers when shot while mounted. The Arapaho defended the draw and the attack, quite frankly, rapidly lost the element of surprise and became a close quarters melee.
ImageIMGP0939 by Pat Holscher
The slope down which Bates attacked.
ImageIMGP0940 by Pat Holscher
ImageIMGP0941 by Pat Holscher
ImageIMGP0942 by Pat Holscher
The valley down which Young attacked.
ImageIMGP0943 by Pat Holscher
High ground opposite from the slope down which Bates attacked.

Fairly quickly, the Arapaho began to execute the very move that Bates feared, and they retrated across the draw and started to move up the high ground opposite the direction that Bates had attacked from. Young's flanking movement had failed.
ImageIMGP0944 by Pat Holscher
The high ground.
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ImageIMGP0945 by Pat Holscher
The opposing bluff.
ImageIMGP0946 by Pat Holscher
ImageIMGP0947 by Pat Holscher
ImageIMGP0948 by Pat Holscher
ImageIMGP0950 by Pat Holscher
Bates then withdrew.

Bates' command suffered four dead and five or six wounded, including Lt. Young. His estimates for Arapaho losses were 25 Arapaho dead, but as he abandoned the field of battle, that can't be really verified. Estimates for total Arapaho casualties were 10 to 125. They definitely sustained some losses and, as noted, Chief Black Coal was wounded in the battle.

Bates was upset with the results of the engagement and placed the blame largely on the Shoshone, whom he felt were too noisy in the assault in the Indian fashion. He also felt that they had not carried out his flanking instructions properly, although it was noted that the Shoshone interpreter had a hard time translating Bates English as he spoke so rapidly. Adding to his problems, moreover, the soldiers fired nearly all 80 of their carried .45-70 rifle cartridges during the engagement and were not able to resupply during the battle as the mules were unable to bring ammunition up. This meant that even if they had not disengaged for other reasons, they were at the point where a lock of ammunition would have hampered any further efforts on their part in any event (and of course they would have been attacking uphill).

After the battle the Arapaho returned to the Red Cloud Agency. Seeing how things were going after Little Big Horn, they came onto the Wind River Reservation in 1877 for the winter on what was supposed to be a temporary basis, and they remain there today. They were hoping for their own reservation in Wyoming, but they never received it. Black Coal went on the reservation with him, and portraits of him show him missing two fingers on his right hand. His people soon served on the Reservation as its policemen. He himself lived until 1893.

Alfred E. Bates, who had entered the Army as a private at the start of the Civil War at age 20. Enlisting in the Michigan state forces, he soon attracted the attention of a politician who secured for him an enrollment at West Point, where he graduated in the Class of 1865. He missed service in the Civil War but soon went on to service on the plains. His name appears on two Wyoming geographic localities. He rose to the rank of Major General and became Paymaster of the Army, dying in 1909 of a stroke.


Pat

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Thanks Pat.
I had heard of the fight but had no details.
It is much clearer now :clap: :thumbup: :clap:
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Nice account and documentation, Pat - thanks, very interesting. Out of curiosity, did you see evidence of artifacts e.g. cartridge cases, etc.? Some sites I've been to that are not open to the general public still have such evidence, and it's always interesting to see that in order to help form a picture of how things maybe played out during the battle. Nice account and photos Pat!
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Pat Holscher
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FtValleyPS wrote: Mon Jul 22, 2019 5:25 am Nice account and documentation, Pat - thanks, very interesting. Out of curiosity, did you see evidence of artifacts e.g. cartridge cases, etc.? Some sites I've been to that are not open to the general public still have such evidence, and it's always interesting to see that in order to help form a picture of how things maybe played out during the battle. Nice account and photos Pat!
Unfortunately, we really weren't there long enough to look to see if anything was there.

The back story to that is that this location is really remote, and by the time we got to the location it was late afternoon and we didn't have as much time as we'd hoped to have. We'd like to go back some time in the future and get a better look around. Suffice it to say, we didn't note anything of that type.

Having said that, there's almost certainly some sort of remnants of the battle. Of note the soldiers fired almost all 80 of their cartridges in the battle and part of the reason that a withdrawal was necessary is that a resupply of ammunition failed. That suggest that it ran for some time. It also suggest that the return fire must have been pretty substantial as well.
Pat

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Interesting overall. In as much as he was well aware of the potential risk, one wonders why Bates did not grasp the opportunity himself by sending a team to command those heights?
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Joseph Sullivan wrote: Tue Jul 23, 2019 11:44 am Interesting overall. In as much as he was well aware of the potential risk, one wonders why Bates did not grasp the opportunity himself by sending a team to command those heights?
Indeed, while it's playing armchair general on my part, I think this battle was pretty poorly fought from the Army's prospective.

The valley is a big, deep, Y shaped valley in which the Arapaho had camped near the junction of the Y, where there's a spring. They were negligent in not having somebody out on the bluffs themselves in the form of sentries, but that seems to have been a common oversight for Indian camps. It stands in interesting comparison to some remaining camps I've seen, identifiable by their tepee rings, that are on bluffs and whatnot where viability must have been the deciding factor in choosing the campground. Of course, Black Coal may have wanted to avoid being seen and the valley is really deep and in fact the Army detail, operating at night, had at first bypassed them without detecting them. But for some lost ponies, they wouldn't have been found.

Anyhow, it would not have been hard for Bates to send a detail around to ride around the head of the valley and down the opposing bluff and have seized it, and he'd have then absolutely controlled the entire valley. He did send a detail part way to go to the head of the draw and attack down it, so he had split his forces anyway. It wasn't the best planning on his part. Indeed, he may have been better off with one big consolidated mounted attack down the hill he was on, which is steep but not so steep you couldn't ride down it, which would have put a big shock on the camp all at once. As it was, his detail at the head of the valley had to ride quite a ways down the valley to encounter the camp while his skirmishers came down the hill dismounted.

A couple of other interesting features of this battle are that the Arapaho recovered from a surprise attack really quickly, which is impressive. And the battle either went on for a surprising amount of time under fairly close quarter conditions, given the amount of ammo expended, or the soldiers fired off their ammo amazingly quickly, or there was a protracted period of exchanges of gun fire. With the average trooper having fired over 60 rounds, it seemingly went on for some time.

Which brings me to the next comment. Not only are the first hand accounts of the battle in disagreement with each other, the Army side seems to have been fairly quick to excuse a pretty poor performance, something that seems typical with a lot of the battles of this period.

Of note, I know that there was a second battle in very close proximity to this one, but with the 2nd Cavalry taking on the Sioux and the Cheyenne, about which I haven't been able to find much. I'll have to see if I can, and see if I can find its location. Also, Bates contributed his name to a large basin in the county I live in, which is quite some distance away, with it being named due to one of his troopers being killed by a grizzly bear and it being thought the location thereby merited a name, although not that, apparently, that of the victim of the bear.

Finally, Bates had been in Wyoming in the 2nd Cavalry sufficiently early to have been at Ft. Phil Kearney at the time of the Fetterman Fight, and was one of the officers whose criticisms of the situation there were noted.
Pat

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