George Crook

George Crook

George Crook was born on 23rd September, 1829, near Taylorville, Ohio. After being educated at West Point he was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the 4th Infantry. His first post was at Benicia Barracks in California. In 1853 he was moved to Fort Jones. Later he was sent to Fort Vancouver, Washington where he saw action against the Yakima. He also fought as a member of the Union Army during the American Civil War.

On 28th July, 1866, Crook was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was given command of the District of Boise in Idaho. Over the next five years Crook was involved in action against the Paiute. In one skirmish in September, 1867, eight of his men were killed at Pitt River.

Crook was given command of the Department of Arizona in June 1871. He was considered a great success in this difficult job and was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. During this period he employed Al Sieber as his chief of scouts.

In 1875 Crook was appointed commander of the Department of Platte and over the next couple of years was involved in massive operations against the Sioux and Cheyenne. On 17th June 1876, Crook and about 1,000 troops, supported by 300 Crow and Shoshone, fought against 1,500 members of the Sioux and Cheyenne tribes. The battle at Rosebud Creek lasted for over six hours. This was the first time that Native Americans had united together to fight in such large numbers.

Crook was seen as America's most successful commander in the Indian Wars. As well as a good commander of his troops, Crook showed a genuine sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans. They recognised this and he was affectionately known as Chief Grey Wolf. In 1882 he was sent to Arizona to deal with the Apache. The following year he led the Sierra Madre Expedition in Mexico.

George Crook by Matthew Brady (c. 1875)
George Crook by Matthew Brady (c. 1875)

In May 1885, Geronimo went on the warpath. Crook tried to persuade the Apache leader to take part in peace negotiations. Crook was criticised for the way he was dealing with the situation and as a result he asked to be relieved of his command. General Nelson Miles replaced Crook and attempted to defeat Geronimo by military means. This strategy was also unsuccessful and eventually he resorting to Crook's strategy of offering a negotiated deal. In September 1886 Geronimo signed a peace treaty with Miles and the last of the Indian Wars was over.

Crook was promoted to the rank of Major General, and in April, 1888, was given command of the Division of Missouri. George Crook died of a heart attack in Chicago on 21st March, 1890.

Primary Sources

(1) General George Crook, Autobiography (1889)

I at once commenced reloading my old muzzle loader, when the guide at the tops of the bluffs yelled, "Look out for the arrows!" I looked up, and saw the air apparently full of them. Almost simultaneously one hit me in the right hip. When I jerked it out the head remained in my leg, where it remains still. There were a couple of inches of blood on the shaft of the arrow when I pulled it out. The Indians doing the firing were some who had previously swum across, and had secreted themselves in the rocks. They set up a yell when I was hit.

I at once commenced the ascent through a shower of arrows. The ascent was so steep that I had to pull myself up by catching hold of bunches of grass, rocks, and such things as I could get hold of. In one bunch of grass I caught hold of two arrows that had been shot at me. The wonder was that I was not hit oftener. By the time I reached the top the perspiration stood out on me in large drops, and I was deathly sick.

As soon as I was able, we returned to our camp at the ferry. I had to ride on horseback and suffered most excruciating pain during the journey. When I reached camp, my groin was all green.

The nearest doctor was at Fort Jones, 120 miles distant, but I was in hopes I could get along without having to send for the doctor, fearing that I would be relieved, as Captain Judah was inimical to me, and if he found out that I preferred being in the field to Fort Jones, he would certainly order me back, for that was just about his caliber.

I stood it for a couple of days, but my leg got so much worse that I sent Dick Pugh in to Fort Jones after the doctor. When the news of my being wounded reached Fort Jones, much excitement prevailed. The whole command was ordered out, and as usual they got drunk, Judah included, who fell by the wayside, and Lt. Hiram Dryer, and Dr. C. C. Kearney with all the available men came out.

By the time they reached me I was a little better, but the doctor saw nothing to do except let things take their course. The doctor thought the arrow might have been poisoned, as these Indians were noted for using poison in their arrows.

They would poison them in this way: They would catch a rattlesnake, and when they would kill a deer or an antelope, they would take the fresh liver, and let the rattlesnake bite it until it would get full of poison. Then they would run the shafts of the arrows through it. On the shafts were small grooves to hold the poison. Under the most favorable circumstances this poison would retain its strength about one month, but during moist weather it would not last over a few days.

(2) General George Crook, report to General E. D. Townsend (23rd June, 1876)

When about forty miles from here on Rosebud Creek, Montana, on the morning of the 17th instance, the scouts reported Indians in the vicinity and within a few moments we were attacked in force, the fight lasting several hours. We were near the mouth of a deep canon, through which the creek ran. The sides were very steep, covered with pine and apparently impregnable. The village was supposed to be at the other end, about eight miles off. They displayed a strong force at all points, occupying so many and such covered places that it is impossible to correctly estimate their numbers. The attack, however, showed that they anticipated that they were strong enough to thoroughly defeat the command.

During the engagement I tried to throw a strong force through the canon, but I was obliged to use it elsewhere before it had gotten to the supposed location of the village. The command finally drove the Indians back in great confusion, following them several miles, the scouts killing a good many during the retreat. Our casualties were nine men killed and fifteen wounded of the Third Cavalry; two wounded of the Second Cavalry; three men wounded of the Fourth Infantry, and Captain Henry, of the Third Cavalry, severely wounded in the face. It is impossible to correctly estimate the loss of the Indians, many being killed in the rocks and others being gotten off before we got possession of that part of the field, thirteen dead bodies being left.

We remained on the field that night, and having nothing but what each man carried himself we were obliged to retire to the train to properly care for our wounded, who were transported here on mule-litters. They are now comfortable and all doing well.

I expect to find those Indians in rough places all the time and so have ordered five companies of infantry, and shall not probably make any extended movement until they arrive.

(3) General George Crook, report as Commander of the Department of the Platte (30th October, 1876)

As a soldier the Indian wears the uniform, draws pay and rations, and is in all respects on equal footing with the white man. It demonstrates to his simple mind in the most positive manner that we have no prejudice against him on account of his race, and that while he behaves himself he will be treated the same as a white man. Returning to his tribe after this service, he is enabled to see beyond the old superstition that has governed his people, and thinks and decides for himself. It is a measure of humanity, and commends itself to us, as it shortens the war, and saves the lives of both white men and Indians.

(4) General George Crook, Army and Navy Journal (29th June, 1878)

In regard to the Bannocks, I was up there last spring, and found them in a desperate condition. I telegraphed, and the agent telegraphed for supplies, but word came that no appropriation had been made. They have never been half supplied.

The agent has sent them off for half a year to enable them to pick up something to live on, but there is nothing for them in that country. The buffalo is all gone, and an Indian can't catch enough jack rabbits to subsist himself and his family, and then, there aren't enough jack rabbits to catch. What are they to do?

Starvation is staring them in the face, and if they wait much longer, they will not be able to fight. They understand the situation, and fully appreciate what is before them.

The encroachments upon the Camas prairies was the cause of the trouble. These prairies are their last source of subsistence. They are covered with water from April till June or July, and there is a sort of root which grows in them, under water, which is very much like a sweet potato. A squaw can gather several bushels a day of them. Then they dig a hole and build a fire in it. After it is thoroughly heated, the roots are put in and baked, and when they are taken out they are very sweet and nice.

This root is their main source of food supply. I do not wonder, and you will not either that when these Indians see their wives and children starving, and their last source of supplies cut off, they go to war. And then we are sent out to kill them. It is an outrage.

All the tribes tell the same story. They are surrounded on all sides, the game is destroyed or driven away; they are left to starve, and there remains but one thing for them to do - fight while they can. Some people think the Indians do not understand these things, but they do, and fully appreciate the circumstances in which they are placed.

(5) General George Crook, evidence to Congress on the Indian Bureau (June, 1879)

I have had twenty-six years' experience with the Indians, and I have been among tribes where I spoke their language. I have known the Indians intimately - known them in their private relations - I think I understand the Indian character pretty well. They talk about breaking up their tribal relations. The Interior Department have frequently issued letters, etc., looking to that. It might as well try to break up a band of sheep. Give these Indians little farms, survey them, let them put fences around them, let them have their own horses, cows, sheep, things that they can call their own, and it will do away with tribal Indians.

When once an Indian sees that his food is secure, he does not care what the chief or any one else says. The great mistake these people make is that they go to looking after the spiritual welfare of the Indians before securing their physical. Of course, that is a thing to come after awhile.

If you will investigate all the Indian troubles, you will find that there is something wrong of this nature at the bottom of all of them, something relating to the supplies, or else a tardy and broken faith on the part of the general government.

(6) General George Crook, letter to General Philip H. Sheridan (1st April, 1886)

It has been my aim throughout present operations to afford the greatest amount of protection to life and property interests, and troops have been stationed accordingly. Troops cannot protect property beyond a radius of one-half mile from their camp. If offensive movements against the Indians are not resumed, they may remain quietly in the mountains for an indefinite time without crossing the line, and yet their very presence there will be a constant menace, and require the troops in this department to be at all times in position to repel sudden raids; and so long as any remain out they will form a nucleus for disaffected Indians from the different agencies in Arizona and New Mexico to join.

That the operations of the scouts in Mexico have not proved as successful as was hoped is due to the enormous difficulties they have been compelled to encounter from the nature of the Indians they have been hunting, and the character of the country in which they have operated, and of which persons not thoroughly conversant with both can have no conception. I believe that the plan upon which I have conducted operations is the one most likely to prove successful in the end. It may be, however, that I am too much wedded to my own views in the matter, and as I have spent nearly eight years of the hardest work of my life in this department, I respectfully request that I may now be relieved from its command.

(7) General George Crook, speech in Boston (26th February, 1887)

The Indian is a human being. One question today on whose settlement depends the honor of the United States is, 'How can we preserve him?' My answer is, 'First, take the government of the Indians out of politics; second, let the laws of the Indians be the same as those of the whites; third, give the Indian the ballot. But we must not try to drive the Indians too fast in effecting these changes. We must not try to force him to take civilization immediately in its complete form, but under just laws, guaranteeing to Indians equal civil laws, the Indian question, a source of such dishonor to our country and of shame to true patriots, will soon be a thing of the past.

(8) General George Crook, speech to Sioux warriors (October, 1888)

The white men in the East are like birds. They are hatching out their eggs every year, and there is not room enough in the East, and they must go elsewhere; and they come out West, as you have seen them coming for the last few years. And they are still coming, and will come until they overrun all of this country; and you can't prevent it, nor can the President prevent it. Everything is decided in Wash- ington by the majority, and these people come out West and see that the Indians have a big body of land that they are not using, and they say, 'we want the land.'

(9) (10)John F. Finerty, Warpath and Bivouac (1890)

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.

(10) Lieutenant Kennon recorded in his diary a meeting between General George Crook and Chatto (2nd January, 1890)

We reached the little station of Mount Vernon just before 8 a.m. Country poor, sandy and a growth of small pine. A road took us up to the barracks. An ambulance happened to be at the station, and a sergeant, who resented our getting in until he found out that the 'old gentleman' was General Crook.

The approach to the Barracks, with great green trees on either side was very pretty. The post is walled in by a wall from 12 to 16 feet high, without flanking arrangements. It is situated on a knoll, and above the 'backwater' of the Tombigbee.

We drove direct to the CO's house, rang, and were admitted. No one but the servant was up. Soon Mrs. Kellogg came down, and later the Colonel. There was also a daughter or niece. They were not expecting us. Did not know we were coming, apologized, etc., which was not necessary.

A young Indian with long, black hair saw the General, and before we had finished breakfast. Chihuahua was outside, waiting. He seemed overjoyed to see the General. Kaetena joined him, and we walked over to the Indian village, which was just outside the gate of the fort. They live in little log cabins which had been built for them. At the gate was a considerable number of Indians waiting for us. Chatto came out, and went up to the General, and gave him a greeting that was really tender. He took him by the hand, and with his other made a motion as if to clasp him about the neck. It was as if he would express his joy, but feared to take such a liberty. It was a touching sight.

The Apaches crowded about the General, shaking hands, and laughing in their delight. The news spread that he was there, and those about us shouted to those in the distance, and from all points they came running in until we had a train of them moving with us.

(11) Lieutenant John Bourke, diary entry (6th August, 1890)

General Crook takes his cup of coffee, soaks in it a handful of hardtack, retires to a nook, sits down, and gets through his meal in silence. He is remarkably abstemious, rarely drinks coffee or tea, except when on a trip in the mountains, can scarcely ever be prevailed upon to touch whiskey, and then never more than a spoonful - in brief he is the most abstemious man I have ever been associated with.

We have no books with us this time, but to him the great book of nature lies always open. He knows the course of rivers and the trend of mountains as if by instinct, and can find his way through dark and tangled forests with the certainty of an aborigine. If there be any game near, his keen eye detects its track, his steady foot follows it, and his unerring rifle brings it down. If the stream on which we camp is trout-bearing, his skill as a fisherman will lure the finny tribe where all others fail.

(12) General Charles D. Roberts, diary entry (21st March, 1890)

The General was feeling about as usual last night, and went to the theater. This morning he got up as usual, and went into a dressing room, as is his custom, to exercise with dumb-bells. Suddenly Mrs. Crook was aroused by hearing him call to her in a loud voice, 'Mary! Mary! I can't breathe!' and on running to him found him lying on a sofa and gasping for breath. She raised him, but he only said, 'I am choking,' and quietly, without a struggle, expired. He was dead before a doctor could reach him. The cause of his death was heart failure.

(13) Chief Red Cloud in conversation with Father craft, a Catholic missionary (January, 1891)

General Crook came; he, at least, had never lied to us. His words gave the people hope. He died. their hope died again. Despair came again.