Battle of Canyon Creek Photo Tour, by Bob Reece
Benteen Makes His Charge
A very special thanks to Friends member James Thorn
for providing all photos.
To the left of Merrill Ridge was better ground for a cavalry to make
its charge. Benteen approached Sturgis with the idea of moving his
troops over that ground toward the mouth of the canyon to intercept
and capture the pony herd. He was willing to gamble that his troops
could reach the canyon before the main body of Nez Perce. Sturgis
liked the plan and so ordered, while Merrill’s troops should mount up
and move to the north/northwest in support of Benteen from the Nez
Perce sharpshooters quickly establishing themselves on buttes
overlooking the Canyon Creek area. So began the second phase of the
Battle of Canyon Creek.
Area 5, View SE/S: Benteen held in reserve along
this area of Merrill Ridge while Merrill’s troops engaged the
Area 4, View SE/S: Benteen leading Companies G and
M descended Merrill Ridge in this general area and then charged
north, following close or along the current Buffalo Trail
Road, where James Thorn snapped these photos.
Area 5, View SE/S: Plowed farmland now
covers the area where Benteen’s battalion made its charge from Merrill
Ridge, which is seen in the distance.
Area B, View S: The wayside exhibit was
behind Mr. Thorn when he snapped this photo. Calamity Jane Horse Cache is
the butte at right. Open plain is area of Benteen’s charge. On horizon
is west side of Merrill Ridge. Lipp Road seen at bottom.
That error we noted earlier of Sturgis dismounting and forming the
skirmish line now glaringly rises. In its move forward down the
northeast face of the ridge and about three miles of flushing out the
Nez Perce warriors, the skirmish line became widely separated from the
horse holders. Not only spatial, but moving about three miles over
rough terrain while fighting took a physical toll on the soldiers, so
it took longer than hoped for the cavalrymen to remount and make their
move in support of Benteen. That delay gave the warriors all the time
they needed to reestablish new positions on the bluffs north and
southwest of Canyon Creek.
Meanwhile, Benteen crossed to the north side of Canyon Creek, but
snipers from higher ground put a stop to his plan. The fast skirmish that followed, with another
effective Nez Perce rearguard, resolved Benteen to pull his troops
back to the south side of the creek. He had little choice, as there
was still no sign of Sturgis and the support as planned. One can only
wonder if Benteen experienced fleeting memoires of Reno’s experience
in the valley of the Little Bighorn, just a year before, as he waited
for Custer to come to his aid while under constant attack from the
Lakota and Cheyenne.
There was one brief moment of optimism when the Crow scouts managed to
capture a large number of the Nez Perce horses. It quickly faded,
however, into more frustration as Benteen’s battalion observed most of
the Nez Perce pony herd enter the mouth of the canyon. All signs were
in favor of the Nez Perce making a great escape.
Area 7, View E: This wide open plain east of the mouth of
Canyon Creek is the area the Nez Perce people and their pony herd
passed through to escape into the canyon’s mouth.
Area 6, View E: Bluffs north of Canyon Creek.
Area B, View N: Bluffs north of Canyon
Creek. Warriors positioned themselves for sniper fire upon Benteen’s
Area 7, View NW: Another view of the bluffs north of
Canyon Creek. The wayside exhibit is seen at center.
One of the wayside exhibits depicts Nez
Perce warriors positioned on the northern bluffs with Benteen’s
Battalion approaching as the horse herd just makes it inside the mouth
of the canyon.
Area B, View SW: The rather daunting
Calamity Jane Horse Cache butte provided plenty of sniper nests for
Nez Perce sharpshooters to buy time
for their people making for the protective canyon walls.
NEXT – THE FIGHT FOR THE BLUFFS AND THE CANYON