Award-Winning Author to Present at Rockpile Museum
The Campbell County Rockpile Museum will host American historian and award-winning author Shannon D. Smith, who will be presenting her work concerning the Fetterman Massacre of 1866.
Smith’s book, “Give Me 80 Men: Woman and the Myth of the Fetterman Fight,” seeks to dispel a long-standing myth surrounding Capt. William J. Fetterman, a young army officer supposedly used as a scapegoat following a particularly bloody skirmish on the Bozeman Trail.
According to the Wyoming State Historical Society (WSHS), Fetterman was assigned to Fort Phil Kearny, on the east flank of the Bighorn Mountains near present-day Story, Wyoming, arriving at his post Nov. 3, 1886.
Fetterman has long been seen as a reckless army officer with a thirst to prove his battle prowess.
Prior to Smith’s work, history portrayed Fetterman as arrogant, attributing him of saying “Give me 80 men and I can ride through the whole Sioux Nation.”
As his story goes, on Dec. 21, 1886, Fetterman reportedly led a detachment of 80 soldiers into an Indian ambush during Red Cloud’s War, just out of sight of Fort Phil Kearny.
Fetterman and all of his men were massacred.
The WSHS says that the Indian numbers were so great that some merely watched the skirmish from the surrounding hills. On the ground, Indians shot their counterparts, resulting in many friendly casualties.
According to some historians, it was Fetterman’s war mongering and arrogance that got him and his men killed.
But Smith’s work offers a different perspective.
Based on testimony and written records by the women of Fort Phil Kearny, it was not Fetterman’s brashness that resulted in his demise;, it was his commitment to fellow Army soldiers.
In an article written by Smith published by WyoHistory.org, a project facilitated by WSHS, Fetterman is portrayed as gallantly marching a company of men to assist a detachment of Army cavalrymen, led by the relatively green and ambitious Lt. George Grummond, who were besieged by Indian forces.
Smith dispels the account of Col. Henry B. Carrington, who was commander of Fort Phil Kearny at the time, who claims that Fetterman and Grummond disobeyed orders by leading an attack on Red Cloud’s forces.
Fetterman was a well-respected and seasoned military officer when he marched his men outside the protective walls of the Fort to relieve a party of woodcutters who were under attack by Red Cloud’s forces. Fetterman had been given orders not to pursue the Indian forces.
But Grummond, Smith writes, having secured permission to lead a group of cavalrymen to assist Fetterman, is believed to have ridden his men more than a mile ahead of Fetterman. His men were the first to be attacked.
While no one knows for sure what Fetterman was thinking, Smith says it’s highly possible that Fetterman led his men out of sight and safety of the fort to support Grummond’s men, not because he wanted to prove himself.
As the executive director of Wyoming Humanities, the Wyoming affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Smith enjoys delving into the past.
Growing up in Gordon, Nebraska, less than 20 miles from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Smith earned her undergraduate degree in computer science from the University of Nebraska in 1982.
After decades of working in the software industry in Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York City, she returned to the University of Nebraska and earned her graduate degree in American History in 2001.
After earning her degree, she taught at the Oglala Lakota College on the Pine Ridge Reservation for nearly a decade.
Her presentation begins at 6 p.m. on April 23 and is free and open to the public.