The main lecture of the evening was given by society member Hamish Paterson on the Fetterman Disaster of 1866, an incident in the war between the US and its native inhabitants that provided one of the more outstanding examples of the US Army's inept handling of the kind of guerrilla warfare conducted by the Indians.
The Fetterman Disaster took place in the shadow of the Little Big Horm Mountains in what is now the State of Wyoming. In addition to the end of the American Civil War, the previous year had seen the end of the the Indian War of 1864-65, which had been triggered by the infamous Sand Creek Massacre of 1864. The treaties that were negotiated in the aftermath of this war were worthless because both sides lacked the means and the will to keep them. The result was that Colonel Henry B Carrington, OC 18th US INfantry Regiment, who had been sent to the Powder River area to build forts, found he had to fight an active enemy.
Carrington's problems were aggravated by the hostility of the Department of Platte commander, the lonely and embittered Brevet Major General Philip St George Cooke, a southerner who had chosen the Union side in the civil war and had cut himself off from family and friends by doing so.
Carrington's problems did not end there. He had spend the previous five years behind a desk, and his lack of experience in battle alienated his veteran subordinates. To make things worse, the bulk of his men were recruits and their weapons both obsolescent and of dubious effectiveness. On the other hand Carrington's opponents were the Sioux Indians, variously described as the world's finest light cavalry. Their tactics of harassment and hit-and-run raids baffled and frustrated Carrington's officers, who had become accustomed to the convential fighting of the civil war.
This frustration widened the rift between Carrington and his officers, and the situation worsened with the arrival of Captain (Brevet Lt-Colonel) Willian J Fetterman, an officer with a fine combat record whose success had gone to his head. Fetterman was contemptuous of both Carrington and the Sioux, and boasted that with 80 men he could ride through the whole Sioux nation.
On 6th December 1866 Carrington attempted to deal with a Sioux raiding party and learned how dangerous it could be to stray too far from his fort. A second raid on 19th December was successfully dealt with, but two days later fate decreed that Fetterman should get both his 80 men and his chance to ride through the Sioux nation.
Instead he rode straight into an ambush. With the help of 40 000 arrows, it took the Sioux less than an hour to destroy Fetterman's force. He and his second-in-command shot each other to ensure the Sioux would not capture them alive.
Eight months later a force only half the size of Fetterman's, but equipped with breach-loading rifles and in a strong defensive position, succeeding in driving off a Sioux force that outnumbered them 50 to one.
An interesting human sequel to the whole sorry affair was that after the death of his first wife Carrington married the widow of Lt Grummond, an officer who had been killed in the Fetterman disaster.
The Museum is appealing for books -- any books -- that can be sold to supplement its funds. Society members who have books they would like to donate are asked to deliver them to the Museum library.