The Heart River Fight
as Recorded in a Pictograph by One of the Hocąk Scouts

by Cenąžį́ga (“Standing Buffalo” = David McCluskey)

The Heart River Fight   Cenąžį́ga (“Standing Buffalo” = David McCluskey)

A. General Sully's camp on the left bank of Hard River from which camp the company of Winnebagoes were sent across the river.
B. The Winnebagoes skirmishing with a party of Sioux.
C. General Sully's entire force after crossing Hard River were assailed by a number of Sioux. General Sully's forces formed in hollow square to repulse the Sioux, (etc.).
D. The camp of the Sioux. The woman and children escaping over the hills. One squaw was left in the camp and with her papoose is seen. One of the Sioux previously wounded was found dead and was scalped, a representation of which operation the artist has given.1

Notes to the Text

1 Antonio Zeno Shindler, Old Negative 188-. Negative 3808, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution, NAA INV 10075900.

    Joel E. Whitney
Gen. Alfred Sully   Gen. Minor T. Thomas

Commentary. "David McCluskey" — he is listed in as a private in Stufft's Independent Company, Indian Scouts, US Volunteers. Their commanding officer was Captain Christian Stufft. He is also listed in error in the same unit under the name "David McLuskey." His Hocąk name, derived from sources used by Waggoner,1 was Cenąžį́ga, from ce, "buffalo"; nąžį́, "to stand, he stands"; and -ga, a definite article used almost exclusively for personal names.

"Hard River" — what is meant is the Heart River, which originates north of the Badlands of North Dakota. Colonel Minor T. Thomas (1830-1897), in command of the 8th Regiment of Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, recounts the progress of the expedition: "On July 19th, the whole command having been supplied with sixty days' rations, and every pound of surplus clothing and equipments stored away, the march again commenced into what was then an unexplored country. Our route lay up the Cannon Ball River for several days, and then across to the Heart and up that to its head. ... On July 26th we corralled our train on Heart River, and, leaving it under a strong guard, started northward in search of the Indians ..."2 The result was the Battle of Killdeer Mountain. The Army then turned south and west in pursuit of the retreating Sioux. It is not the Battle of Killdeer Mountain which is portrayed in the pictograph, but the Battle of the Badlands, which took place about a week later. Therefore, the river shown on the map is not actually the Heart River, which the command followed to its source, but the Little Missouri River, which at this point runs south to north through the Badlands. Col. Thomas says, "The next day we toiled among the rocks, up and down, and across a seemingly endless mass of obstructions, and at last, as the sun was going down, the heart of the Bad Lands was reached by striking the Little Missouri River."3

Judge Nicholas D. Hilger and Family

"B" — the August 7, 1864, diary entry by Judge Nicholas Hilger (28 Oct 1831 - 12 Aug 1913) says,

We moved up along the Little Missouri about one mile, fording it twice, and turning to the west entered a narrow and deep crevasse that was barely wide enough for the wagons to pass through. This we followed upward from the river, in a zig-zag course for about three miles, and emerged as though out of the ground upon a high bluff about one mile westward from our last camp.

Just as we emerged from this under-ground passage, so to speak, our Indian guide was shot through the body. He was immediately picked up by Richard Hoback, now a resident of Helena, who was a member of Company H, Minnesota Mounted Infantry, and carried to headquarters where the wound was dressed by the surgeons. At this critical moment a complete rout seemed inevitable, for the other Indians accompanying us, not knowing the way through the mysterious pass, all turned back on the run and frightened the led-horses which had been placed in charge of every fourth trooper, who by a resolute stand averted a general stampede in which disaster would have been assured.4

April Baumgarten
The Badlands Along the Little Missouri River

Sergeant Richard Hoback, who later settled in North Dakota, and was at this time in command of a squad of Company H, 2nd Minnesota Cavalry, gives a more detailed account:

When the young guide was shot the Indian scouts, about two hundred in number, with their chief at their head, in a panic came rushing back upon the cavalry horses which had been moving forward immediately in their rear. This left our front open to the attack of the hostiles, who swept down towards the exposed point in a body. The one company in our front doubled up and came in upon us with the scouts; whereupon I pushed through the rout to where the chief was, and, cocking the hammer of my carbine, drew the gun down upon him and told him to halt the scouts immediately or I would kill him then and there, he at once obeyed the order, and then said that the guide had been killed at the front and that he with the scouts were on their way to report the turn of affairs to General Sully. Forcing them to keep their position in the van I caught up the guide, whom some of the scouts had brought in, and carried him back some distance to an open place where I left him in the care of two troopers. There he lay until General Sully reached him with his ambulance. This halt of the scouts enabled the troops, who were advancing on either flank, to come in and cover the front, thereby saving the command from what might well have been an irretrievable disaster.5

Indian warfare was typically seesaw, so the conclusion that it was a panic may have been an exaggeration, as it may be noted that the lead man, the Blackfoot guide, had been rescued by Hocąk scouts charging back the other way.

Bob Neugebauer
Square Butte, N46.86696° W103.69714°

"C" — the National Park Site has this to say about the incident depicted here:

Sioux warriors attacked Sully's encampment near Square Butte, halfway between present-day Medora and Sentinel Butte, North Dakota on August 7. Continuous small-scale combat continued over the next two days as the Sioux harassed the slow-moving, extended column of troops winding through the labyrinthine badlands.6

"scalped" — a closer examination suggests that the victim was beheaded. An instance of this ancient practice is attested by their own company commander, Capt. Stufft: "I immediately ordered the men to dismount, every fourth man holding horses, and made a charge on the enemy, firing into the dense thicket, killing 2 Indians and wounding 1, which my Winnebago boys afterward killed, scalped, and beheaded."7

For more on the Sully Campaign, see The Man who Fought against Forty.

Byron H. Gurney   Byron H. Gurney
Gen. Alfred Sully   The Prairie Battery during the Sully Expedition, which was Supported by the Winnebago Scouts

Notes to the Commentary

1 Linda M. Waggoner, Sibley's Winnebago Prisoners: Deconstructing Race and Recovering Kinship in the Dakota War of 1862," Great Plains Quarterly, 33, #1 (Winter, 2013): 37, #11.
2 William H. Houlton, "Narrative of the Eighth Regiment," in Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861-1865, Volume 1 (St. Paul: Pioneer Press, 1890) 389.
3 Houlton, "Narrative of the Eighth Regiment," 391.
4 Judge Nicholas Hilger, "General Alfred Sully's Expedition of the 1864 Battle with the Combined Tribes of Sioux Indians Among the Bad Lands of the Little Missouri from the Diary of Judge Nicholas Hilger," in Contributions to the Historical Society of Montana (Ft. Collins: Rocky Mountain Publishing Company, 1896) 318.
5 Hilger, "General Alfred Sully's Expedition," 318, note.
6 Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, "The US Army and the Sioux - Part 2."
7 The Rebellion Record: A Diary of American Events, with Documents, Narratives, Illustrative Incidents, Poetry, Etc., Volume 11, ed. Frank Moore (New York: D. Van Nostrand, 1868) 419.


"Pictographic History of Battle of Hard River Showing General Sully's Soldiers and Winnebago Scouts Fighting Sioux's Battle; Horses, and Topography Depicted 1864 Drawing/Pictograph," in "Battle between General Sully's company of soldiers and Winnebago scouts, and the Sioux (Dakota), at "Hard River" (Heart River), 1864." Manuscript 5967, National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution. Drawing dated 1869.