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Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth University of New Mexico Press John H. Monnett

31st August 2012 History Books 9 Comments

The Powder River country of what is now north central Wyoming was one of the most resource-rich regions of the northern plains in the nineteenth century. As U.S. mining interests and white settlement to the north in Montana Territory increased, conflict arose between the United States and the Lakota and Cheyenne nations. On December 21, 1866, the struggle climaxed when a well-organized force of Lakota, Northern Cheyennes, and Arapahos attacked and destroyed a detachment of forty-nine infantrymen and three officers of the 18th Infantry, twenty-seven troopers of the 2nd Cavalry, and two civilians under the command of Captain William Judd Fetterman near Fort Phil Kearny. The Battle of Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed or Hundred in the Hand, as the event is still called, was the worst defeat the U.S. Army had suffered in the Great Plains, only to be exceeded by the Battle of Little Big Horn a decade later.

Because none of the soldiers lived to tell what happened, the Fetterman fight has fostered a body of myth and speculation. In this study, John H. Monnett provides a groundbreaking examination of the conflicts that ensued in the Powder River Country during the nineteenth century and clarifies events and personalities that have become distorted in the annals of Western history. Monnett examines military interests as well as the geopolitical importance of the area and takes into account the environmental history of the conflict as it relates to hunting ranges, vital wood and water resources, and access to trade avenues.

Monnett takes a closer look at the struggle between the mining interests of the United States and the Lakota and Cheyenne nations in 1866 that climaxed with the Fetterman Massacre.

John H. Monnett is a professor of Native American history at the Metropolitan State College of Denver. He is the author of several books, including Massacre at Cheyenne Hole: Lieutenant Austin Henely and the Sappa Creek Controversy and Tell Them We Are Going Home: The Odyssey of the Northern Cheyennes.

Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth

  • 9 responses to "Where a Hundred Soldiers Were Killed: The Struggle for the Powder River Country in 1866 and the Making of the Fetterman Myth University of New Mexico Press John H. Monnett"

  • Cindy J Stone
    4:29 on August 31st, 2012
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    Keenan does an outstanding job of defining this epic fight during the Indian Wars. His ability to blend the story factually with accounts from participants and archology makes for fascinating reading and will be a book one keeps for further reference. One should have this book in hand when he/she visits the sight/monument.

    While only a brief moment in the half century of Indian Wars–it proved the value of breech loading rifles to the US Army as a means to counter being outnumbered during battle. The same senario worked at Beecher Island and didn’t work on the Little Big Horn when the Army’s Indian opponents had acquired a higher ratio of repeating arms than in the past.

    Highly recommended book!!!!

  • Cynthia Rowland
    5:58 on August 31st, 2012
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    I was somewhat leery of this book, after reading that the author was a prof of NA history,… fearing it would be an PC apologist for the NA viewpoint. It is not. I am no stranger to the Fetterman fight, having read Dee Brown’s “the Fetterman Massacre”, Shannon Smith’s “Give me 80 Men”, “The Bloody Bozeman” by Johnson, etc. I found this book to be a highly readable, interesting account, which summerizes and dissects many other earlier accounts of the Fetterman disaster. Monnett does a wonderful job, carefully, delicately dissecting the battle and participants with a sharp scalpel…and reveals the truths of what actually happened and did not happen. He also delves into the motives of the various participants who survived (just as Ms. Smith above). One of the great epic stories of annihilation of U.S. army troops, by indigenous peoples using little more than bow and arrows! (only 6 of the 81 found with gunshot wounds) This book presents both sides of the fight with neutrality/reality. Easy to read, hard to put down!
    This is really the Rosetta stone of the Fetterman fight, which I feel sure will be in any serious library of western studies. I highly recommend this book!!

  • Friendly_Gaia
    23:58 on August 31st, 2012
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    This is the second book in the last year (see also Give Me Eighty Men by Shannan Smith) that attempts to clear Captain William J. Fetterman of foolishly leading his men into an ambush where all were killed by an overwhelming number of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians on December 21, 1866. In my opinion, on that score, they succeed. It appears that the rash actions of Lt. George W. Grummond are responsible for the disaster.

    While I enjoyed the book and know the ending (same as with Custer’s defeat), I do wish the author had written the book by allowing the events to unfold before my eyes rather than constantly reminding me that Fetterman gets killed, therefore including information throughout the text that would have been better suited to its own chapter at the end.

    There are some typos/errors but I didn’t take notes as I usually do (to include them here) and some parts I felt could have been better presented. However, overall, I do recommend the book.

  • Stephen F
    19:08 on September 1st, 2012
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    Now in a newly revised edition (copyright 2000) incorporating additional details discovered about the titular fight, Jerry Keenan’s The Wagon Box Fight: An Episode Of Red Cloud’s War is a complex historical analysis of a singularly crucial wartime battle. With black and white photographs, diagrams, exhaustive notes, a bibliography of primary sources and an index, The Wagon Box Fight spares no resource in its in-depth analysis. Very highly recommended for historical recreationists, 19th century military buffs, Native American studies, western historians, or anyone with a keen interest in the juncture of American history that formed the background for “Red Cloud’s War”.

  • Karl Jackson
    23:33 on September 1st, 2012
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    For those of us who have spent time reading about “The Fetterman Fight” on December 21, 1866, outside of Fort Phil Kearny in Wyoming we can be prepared to read a defense of William Judd Fetterman’s conduct. Author John Monnett makes his case in which either Lt. George Grummond or Capt. Frederick Brown may have been more to blame than Fetterman. The fact is we are never going to know where the blame lies. Commander Henry Carrington was the only one alive who could defend himself, and he did his best to exonerate himself. The author also states that there is no evidence to definitely support Crazy Horse’s participation in acting as a decoy to lead the soldiers beyond Lodge Trail Ridge. He may very well have taken part as other books state, but author Monnett says we don’t have any actual proof. The native Americans didn’t want forts in the Powder River country, and concentrated their harassment on Fort Phil Kearny to disrupt supplies along the Bozeman Trail to Fort Reno and Fort C. F. Smith located south and north of Fort Phil Kearny respectively. The United States army certainly didn’t provide adequate support to these forts, and to be assigned to either of these out-of-the-way forts was not an assignment to relish. I found the book to be an interesting read regarding the history of Fort Phil Kearny, and the photographs were a valuable addition. The reader must just realize that we are not going to get a definitive answer as to who was to blame regarding the fiasco that took place on December 21, 1866. Fetterman has received enough blame from previous sources. Perhaps it’s fitting that we should read a defense of this man who was unable to speak up in his own behalf.

  • dpolice
    0:45 on September 2nd, 2012
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    As a long time student of custer’s battle, I had no real experience with Fetterman’s battle, only the version history gave me. I find the arguements common sense and generally well supported. I was amazed at all the resourses which exist for a book on this battle. I thouroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone.

  • InEurope
    2:56 on September 2nd, 2012
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    Don’t let the mildly comicbook cover, and the small size of this book fool you, this is a very well written, well detailed account of the Wagon Box fight and also touches enough on the Fetterman fight to relate it to the WBF of a year later. This book is a real eye opener, as to what a tiny bit of technology can do to turn the tide in full blown warfare, live and die situation! I highly recommend this book,I only wish I had the same content in a hardback copy of quality binding…the content is worth every penny of the cost. History in the pages!!

  • Barry O.
    19:53 on September 2nd, 2012
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    This vivid and readable history is a re-examination of the so-called Fetterman fight, near Fort Phil Kearney, in the Powder River country of what is now Wyoming in the year 1866. The basic facts are as uncontested as they were grim for the immediately post-Civil War US Army, and glorious for the warriors of the joint Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe who drew a large party of soldiers and cavalry into skillfully laid ambush, annihilating them to the last man. It was a bloody nose for the Army, which had established the fort to protect travel along the Bozeman Trail – and which now had proved that they couldn’t even protect themselves. It would be the worse massacre of American soldiers in the Indian Wars until Little Big Horn, a decade later.

    At least as interesting as the recitation of events, as reconstructed from archeological findings, old letters, memoirs and official reports, and the tales of the victorious survivors told to researchers decades later is the authors’ examination of how certain myths and conventional wisdoms grew out of the tangled circumstances of the Fetterman fight: was Captain Fetterman a reckless and hot-blooded fool whose impulsive pursuit of a decoy led more than eighty men to their deaths? Was it really another officer who was actually responsible for leading them into a trap? How much of that legend grew from the fort commander’s attempts to paint his own efforts in the best possible light? Colonel Henry Carrington was a political general, and an administrator with no combat experience in the war just concluded; his junior officers were. How much resentment and ill-feeling that must have caused in his isolated command, in the bitter winter of 1866? At the end of it all, he was the only one left living to tell his side of it, leading to ambiguities that have kept historians and enthusiasts happily occupied ever since.

    A couple of ironies – the territory disputed was only lately come to be the possession of the various Lakota divisions. It had formerly been controlled by the Crows. And it has usually been stressed in this kind of history that it was destruction of the buffalo herds that drove the Plains tribes to the wall. Being deprived of hunting for food and for skins was an open threat to their way of life. But the author points out a more subtle threat – that of the insatiable demand for wood – both for construction and for fires as white settlement progressed. Thirty years of emigrant traffic and settlement along the various trails west had devastated groves of trees for miles alongside those trails. The subsequent devastation to the environment threatened the Plains tribes at least as much as the decimation of buffalo herds.

    Celia Hayes
    The Adelsverein Trilogy

  • Ben Folds
    0:34 on September 3rd, 2012
    Reply to comment

    Well-written but dry and scholarly look at the Fetterman story. Research for this book must have been very deep.
    If you are a student of Fort Phil Kearny and Powder River history then this is a must read.

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