"Monumental Journey"
July 16, 1867

Jerry Thomas Print Monumental Journey
Jerry Thomas Print

     At sunset, July 15, 1867, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and a detachment of the Seventh U.S. Cavalry began a march on the Smoky Hill Stage Route eastward to Fort Hays, from Fort Wallace in western Kansas. The column consisting of 72 troopers, 4 officers, 2 ambulances, and a supply wagon was to traverse the 150 miles to Fort Hays in as rapid a pace as possible.

     Two days earlier, six companies of the Seventh Cavalry had arrived at Fort Wallace, ending a grueling 705 mile march that had begun on June 1 at Fort Hays. The march had proceeded north through Nebraska and then had swung back south to Fort Wallace. Orders had been "to hunt out and chastise the Cheyennes, and that protion of the Sioux who are their allies, between the Smoky Hill and the Platte."

     This campaign took its toll upon the regiment. Rugged terain and extreme heat had exhausted men and animals. Men deserted the column and the Indians proved to be elusive.

     Upon arriving at Fort Wallace, Custer found a shortage of supplies. Many men were sick and traffic along the Smoky Hill/Butterfield Overland Stage Route had stopped as a result of attacks by Indians. He also could find no message from his wife, Elizabeth, who he had left at Fort Hays.

     Word of a flash flood and an outbreak of cholera at Fort Hays caused Custer to fear for Elizabeths safety. Thus, he decided to form an escort to open the trail to Fort Hays. There he hoped to secure supplies for Fort Wallace and find his beloved Libby.

On July 16, the column reached Monument Station. Here they rested, cooked coffee and then moved on. Two miles down the road they came upon

     Theodore Davis, an artist with Harpers Weekly who was on the march wrote, "the monument rocks are considered the most remarkable on the plains; at a distance it is difficult to realize that they are not the handiwork of man, so perfectly do they resemble piles of masonry."

     One of the earliest reports of "THE MONUMENTS" occurred on the Fremont surveying expedition of 1842. Fremont reported that the rocks were piled with buffalo bones by the Indians, who evidently also considered them to be one of natures wonders.

     Custers column halted at "THE MONUMENTS" where they were met by a supply train bound for Fort Wallace under the command of Capt. Frederick Benteen. After helping themselves to the supplies, they would move on.

     At Downers Station, stragglers of the column were attacked by Indians. One man was killed and another wounded. For some reason, Custer decided not to pursue the hostiles. Instead, he pushed forward, reaching Fort Hays at 3 a.m. on July 18. The 150 mile march had been made in only 55 hours, including all halts.

     Custer, after finding Elizabeth gone from Fort Hays, would eventually travel to Fort Harker and finally Fort Riley, where Elizabeth was waiting.

     He would later be arested and court-martialed on several counts which would include leaving his command at Fort Wallace without proper authority, over marching the command, and failure to take measures to repulse the Indians at Downers Station.

     This picture faithfully recreates an actual historical moment detailed and painstakingly researched by artist Jerry Thomas. It commemorates one of the most fabled American horse cavalry units, the Seventh U.S., led by Col. George A. Custer, as they halted at the monument rocks, awaiting the supply team escorted by Capt. Frederick Banteen

     This limited edition artwork is reproduced on this page to give you some idea of the picture and print Jerry is working on for the Fort Larned Old Guard to help in there effort to purchase a 160 acre tract of land in Ness County, Kansas that contains the remains of a large Cheyenne and Sioux Indian village.

     Through the efforts of the Fort Larned Old Guard, we the people who love the old west the most, have the opportunity to preserve it for all future generations!

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