John Finerty was born in Galway, Ireland on 10th September, 1846. He emigrated to the United States in 1864 and immediately enlisted in the 94th New York Infantry and took part in what was left of the American Civil War.
After the war he moved to Chicago where he worked as a journalist for The Chicago Republic (1868-72), Chicago Tribune (1872-75) and the Chicago Times. During the Indian Wars Finerty accompanied General George Crook during the Battle of the Rosebud. This resulted in the book, Warpath and Bivouac.
In 1878 he went to Mexico and became the first American journalist to interview Porfirio Diaz. He also reported on the wars against the Utes (1879) and the Apaches (1881). In 1882 Finerty married Sadie J. Hennessey.
Finerty founded the Chicago Citizen and served in Congress as an Independent Democrat (March, 1883 to March, 1885). A passionate supporter of Irish independence, Finerty was President of the United Irish Societies of Chicago.
John Finerty died on 10th June, 1908.
I found General Crook at his headquarters, busily engaged in reading reports from officers stationed on the Indian frontier. He was then a spare but athletic man of about forty, with fair hair, clipped close, and a blond beard which seemed to part naturally at the point of the chin. His nose was long and aquiline, and his blue-gray eyes were bright and piercing. He looked, in fact, every inch a soldier, except that he wore no uniform.
At that period General Crook seemed to be a man of iron. He endured heat, cold, marching and every species of discomfort with Indian-like stolidity. If he felt weariness, he never made anybody the wiser. While apparently frank to all who approached him, he was very uncommunicative except to his aides. He was also a born Nimrod, and always rode far in advance of the column, attended by a few officers and an orderly or two, chasing whatever species of game he might happen to find. Looking back at his conduct of that time I cannot help thinking that luck was greatly on his side, because, as we very soon found out, the General might have run into a strong war party of the Sioux any day, and then nothing could have saved him and his few attendants. He was frequently warned of the risk he ran, but paid no attention to the advice.
The Sioux had no legitimate claim to the Big Horn region. A part of it belonged originally to the Crows, whom the stronger tribe constantly persecuted, and who, by the treaty of 1868, were placed at the mercy of their ruthless enemies.
Other friendly tribes, such as the Snakes, or Shoshones, and the Bannocks bordered on the ancient Crow territory, and were treated as foemen by the greedy Sioux and the haughty Cheyennes. The abolition of the three forts named fairly inflated the Sioux. The finest hunting grounds in the world had fallen into their possession, and the American Government, instead of standing by and strengthening the Crows, their ancient friends and allies, unwisely abandoned the very positions that would have held the more ferocious tribes in check. The Crows had a most unhappy time of it after the treaty was ratified. Their lands were constantly raided by the Sioux. Several desperate battles were fought and, finally, the weaker tribe was compelled to seek safety beyond the Big Horn River.
The white man's government might make what treaties it pleased with the Indians, but it was quite a different matter to get the white man himself to respect the official parchment. Three-fourths of the Black Hills region and all of the Big Horn were barred by the Great Father and Sitting Bull against the enterprise of the daring, restless and acquisitive Caucasian race. The military expeditions under Generals Sully, Connor, Stanley and Custer, all of which were partially unsuccessful, had attracted the attention of the country to the great region already specified. The beauty and variety of the landscape; the immense quantities of the noblest species of American game; the serrated mountains and forest-covered hills; the fine grazing lands and rushing streams, born of the snows of the majestic Big Horn peaks; and, above all else, the rumor of great gold deposits, the dream of wealth which hurled Cortez on Mexico and Pizarro on Peru, fired the Caucasian heart with the spirit of adventure and exploration, to which the attendant and well-recognized danger lent an additional zest.
The expedition of General Custer, which entered the Black Hills proper - those of Dakota - in 1874, confirmed the reports of gold finds, and thereafter a wall of fire, not to mention a wall of Indians, could not stop the encroachments of that terrible white race before which all other races of mankind, from Thibet to Hindostan and from Algiers to Zululand, have gone down. At the news of gold the grizzled '49s shook the dust of California from his feet and started overland, accompanied by daring comrades, for the far-distant Hills; the Australian miner left his pick half buried in the antipodean sands and started, by ship and saddle, for the same goal; the diamond hunter of Brazil and of the Cape; the veteran prospectors of Colorado and western Montana; the Tar Heels of the Carolina hills; the reduced gentlemen of Europe; the worried and worn city clerks of London, Liverpool, New York, or Chicago; the stout English yeoman, tired of high rents and poor returns; the sturdy Scotchman, tempted from stubborn plodding after wealth to seek fortune under more rapid conditions; the light-hearted Irishman, who drinks in the spirit of adventure with his mother's milk; the daring mine delvers of Wales and of Cornwall; the precarious gambler of Monte Carlo - in short, every man who lacked fortune, and who would rather be scalped than remain poor, saw in the vision of the Black Hills, El Dorado.
Colonel Royall, commanding the whole of the horse and mounted on a fast-going charger, regulated the time of the column, and we marched like greased lightning. Were I to live to the age of the biblical patriarchs I can never forget the beauty of that scene. A friend and myself allowed the soldiers to file somewhat ahead in order that we might enjoy a complete view. The cavalry rode by twos, the intervals between the companies, except those which formed the rear guard behind the pack mules, being just sufficient to define the respective commands. The wagons, 120 in all, with their white awnings and massive wheels, each drawn by six mules, covered the rising ground in advance of the horsemen, while the dark column of infantry was dimly discernible in the van, because Crook always marched out his foot, for obvious reasons, an hour or two ahead of his horse. We used to joke about the infantry and call them by their Indian nickname of "walk-a-heaps," but before the campaign was over we recognized that man is a hardier animal than the horse, and that shank's mare is the very best kind of a charger.
The Sioux never put their dead under ground. This grave was a buffalo hide supported by willow slips and leather thongs, strapped upon four cotton-wood poles about six feet high. The corpse had been removed either by the Indians themselves or by the miners who had passed through a few days before. Around lay two blue blankets with red trimmings, a piece of a jacket all covered with beads, a moccasin, a fragment of Highland tartan, a brilliant shawl and a quantity of horse hair.
We got into camp at old Fort Philip Kearny about noon, and were located in a most delightful valley at the foothills of the Big Horn Mountains. This is a celebrated spot. Here it was that Colonel Carrington founded the fort made bloodily famous by the slaughter of Fetterman, Brown, Grummond and eighty-three soldiers on December 22, 1866. The world has heard the story how the wood party was attacked down Piney Creek, half a mile from the post. How Fetterman and the rest, being signaled, went to their relief. How a party of Indians decoyed them beyond the bluffs and then fell upon them like an avalanche, killing every man and mutilating every body except that of Metzker, a bugler, who fought with such desperate valor that the Indians covered the remains with a buffalo robe as a token of their savage respect. They attempted to take this brave bugler alive, but he killed so many of the warriors that he had to be finished. This much Red Cloud's people subsequently told our soldiers.
In repelling the audacious charge of the Cheyennes upon his battalion the undaunted Colonel Henry, one of the most accomplished officers in the army, was struck by a bullet which passed through both cheek bones, broke the bridge of his nose and destroyed the optic nerve in one eye. His orderly, in attempting to assist him, was also wounded, but, temporarily blinded as he was and throwing blood from his mouth by the handful, Henry sat his horse for several minutes in front of the enemy. He finally fell to the ground, and as that portion of our line, discouraged by the fall of so brave a chief, gave ground a little, the Sioux charged over his prostrate body, but were speedily repelled, and he was happily rescued by some soldiers of his command.
Several hours later, when returning from the pursuit of the hostiles, I saw Colonel Henry lying on a blanket, his face covered with a bloody cloth, around which the summer flies were buzzing fiercely, and a soldier keeping the wounded man's horse in such a position as to throw the animal's shadow upon the gallant sufferer. There was absolutely no other shade in that neighborhood. When I ventured to condole with the Colonel he merely said, in a low but firm voice: "It is nothing. For this are we soldiers!" and forthwith he did me the honor of advising me to join the army! Colonel Henry's sufferings when our retrograde movement began, and, in fact, until - after a jolting journey of several hundred miles by mule litter and wagon - he reached Fort Russell, were horrible, as were, indeed, those of all the wounded.
The skull of one poor squaw was blown, literally, to atoms, revealing the ridge of the palate and presenting a most ghastly and revolting spectacle. Another of the dead females, a middle-aged woman, was so riddled by bullets that there appeared to be no unwounded part of her person left. The third victim was young, plump, and, comparatively speaking, light of color. She had a magnificent physique, and, for an Indian, a most attractive set of features. She had been shot through the left breast just over the heart and was not in the least disfigured.
Ute John, the solitary friendly Indian who did not desert the column, scalped all the dead, unknown to the General or any of the officers, and I regret to be compelled to state a few - a very few - brutalized soldiers followed his savage example. Each took only a portion of the scalp, but the exhibition of human depravity was nauseating. The unfortunates should have been respected, even in the coldness and nothingness of death. In that affair, surely, the army were the assailants and the savages acted purely in self defense. I must add in justice to all concerned that neither General Crook nor any of his officers or men suspected that any women or children were in the gully until their cries were heard above the volume of fire poured upon the fatal spot.
Their horses - nearly every man had an extra pony - were little beauties, and neighed shrilly at their American brethren, who unused to Indians, kicked, plunged and reared in a manner that threatened a general stampede. "How! How!" the Crows shouted to us, one by one, as they filed past. When near enough, they extended their hands and gave ours a hearty shaking. Most of them were young men, many of whom were handsomer than some white people I have met. Three squaws were there on horseback, wives of the chiefs.
The head sachems were Old Crow, Medicine Crow, Feather Head, and Good Heart, all deadly enemies of the Sioux. Each man wore a gaily colored mantle, handsome leggings, eagle feathers, and elaborately worked moccasins. In addition to their carbines and spears, they carried the primeval bow and arrow. Their hair was long, but gracefully tied up and gorgeously plumed. Their features as a rule were aquiline, and the Crows have the least prominent cheek bones of any Indians that I have yet encountered. The squaws wore a kind of half-petticoat and parted their hair in the middle, the only means of guessing at their sex. Quick as lightning they gained the center of our camp, dismounted, watered and lariated their ponies, constructed their tepees or lodges, and like magic the Indian village arose in our midst. Fires were lighted without delay and the Crows were soon devouring their evening meal of dried bear's meat and black-tailed deer.
Even while his comrades are shouting their congratulations up comes Jack Finerty, who seeks his items on the skirmish line, and uses pencil and carbine with equal facility. Finerty wants the name of the man who killed the Indian and learning from the eager voices of the men that it is Paddy Nihil, he delightedly heads a new paragraph of his dispatch 'Nihil Fit' shakes hands and his brother Patlander, and scurries off to take a hand in the uproar on the left.