When I think of the Cavalry, I think of the Old West. The idea of men heading off to war mounted on horses, in today’s world seems completely crazy. In reality, it was precarious enough in the days of the Cowboys and Indians, but even more so with guided missiles, tanks, roadside bombs, and suitcase bombs…just to name a few. I realize that those weapons have evolved slowly, but the Cavalry probably rode horses well past the point when it was safe for them to do so. Nevertheless, the reality is that many of the men had no desire to give up their horse for the alternative in 1941, but that was what they were told to do, and so they did…many with tearful sadness to show for it. They followed their orders, with minimal grumbling, because things like that could get a guy in trouble. Still, the goodbyes were tearful, even if the tears had to be held until the soldier was alone.
Of course, we know, as did they, that the weapons that were being lobbed at them were far more sophisticated than they had been in the early years, but they had come to trust their horse to get them out of the place that found themselves in. In reality, that was becoming harder and harder for the horse. Remember that any weapon that was lobbed at the rider, was also lobbed at the horse. It was hard to hit one and miss the other. A tank on the other hand was often invincible against many of the weapons back when the tank was invented. It was in the best interest of the soldier to give up his mount, but it was fully understood that it was also one of the hardest things they would ever have to do.
Troop F stationed at Douglas, Wyoming would be one of the last troops to be required to give up their horses. Their horses were stunning black Morgan horses, and this troop was proud of their horses, and their duties. One duty of which they were especially proud was when they escorted the Governor at state events. The riders were in their dress white uniforms, and even the horses were dressed up in white. The horses were so proud of their duties, and they knew them better than the rookies who were riding them. When the men presented their shining sabers, the horses would prance sideways in an elaborate display of discipline. For the men who worked with the beautiful horses daily, the thought of never mounting up again was…well, devastating.
Nevertheless, in the end, the men lost their horses to the modern world and modern machines. While it was not the preferred situation, the men knew that times were changing and they would either have to change with the times, or become dinosaurs of the past. I suppose that most of them would continue on, because that is what soldiers do. They came to serve their country, and they would not let their final dismount be their final act in the service.
I don’t always think of myself as living in a historic area, although I should, because during the days of the Old West, at least, much history happened here. In fact, on this day, July 28, 1865, twenty year old Caspar Collins…a gutsy lieutenant from Dogwood Knob and Hillsboro, Ohio led 20 men to fight a battle against 1,000 to 3,000 Indians, just outside Platte Bridge Station, which was near Casper, Wyoming, where I live. The battle had been coming, and everyone knew it. The Lakota Sioux and the Cheyenne Indians had been attacking the United States Army for a couple of months now. The Indians had raided outposts and stagecoach stations over a wide area of Wyoming. On this day back in 1865, the Indians assembled their warriors and descended on Platte Bridge Station. The Platte River bridge was guarded by 120 men near the bridge, and another 28 soldiers guarded a wagon train a few miles away. The Indians killed 29 soldiers, while only losing 8 warriors in the raid.
In reality, the Army was unprepared for this attack or the ones leading up to it. Colonel Thomas Moonlight had led a 500 Cavalry force out to seek out and punish the raiding Indians on May 26, 1865. He hung to minor Oglala leaders…Two Face and Black Foot. He left them hanging for days. I’m sure this infuriated the Indians. On June 3, the army began to worry that the 1,500 Lakota, mostly Brulé, and Arapaho who were living near Fort Laramie, might become hostile. So they decided to move them about 300 miles east to Fort Kearny in Nebraska. The Indians protested that Fort Kearny was in the territory of their traditional enemies, the Pawnee. The next day, near present day Morrill, Nebraska, most of the Indians refused to accompany the soldiers and began crossing the North Platte River, assisted by Crazy Horse and a band of Oglalas on the other side. Attempting to stop them, Captain William D. Fouts and four soldiers were killed. Informed of the disaster, Moonlight departed Fort Laramie with 234 cavalry to pursue the Indians. He traveled so fast that many of his men had to turn back because their horses were spent. On June 17, near present day Harrison, Nebraska, the Lakota raided his horse herd and relieved him of most of his remaining horses. Moonlight and his men had to walk 60 miles back to Fort Laramie. He was severely criticized by his soldiers for being drunk and not setting a guard on his horses. On July 7, Moonlight was relieved of his command and mustered out of the army.
The Platte River bridge was a key crossing point of the North Platte River for wagon trains of emigrants traveling the Oregon and Bozeman Trails. The Indians wanted to stop traffic on the Bozeman Trail which led through the heart of their hunting territory. The bridge had been constructed in 1859 and was almost 1,000 feet long and 17 feet wide. On July 20, Indian leaders made their final decision to launch an attack against the bridge. The warriors gathered and set out southward from the mouth of Crazy Woman Creek on the Powder River. The Platte River Bridge was 115 miles south. The army was the largest they had ever seen. It was estimated to number 3,000 men. U.S. army accounts state that the wagons were forced into a hollow where they held out for four hours, using fire from Spencer rifles to repel assaults until a large group closed on foot and overwhelmed the defenders, killing all.
Then came the attack of Platte Bridge Station. The battle that left 29 men dead…including Lieutenant Caspar Collins, and at least 10 more men seriously injured. The battles before had involved maybe 1000 Indians. This battle was different…this one involved 3000. They were seriously outnumbered, but Lieutenant Caspar Collins went out to fight anyway. The day after the battle, the Indian army broke up into small groups and dispersed. A few remained near the Oregon Trail for raiding but most returned to their villages in the Powder River country for their summer buffalo hunt. Indians lacked the resources to keep an army in the field for an extended period of time. The Army officially renamed Platte Bridge Station to Fort Caspar to honor Collins, using his given name to differentiate the post from an existing fort in Colorado named after Collins’ father.