Date: Aug. 1, 1867. Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Wars.
Location: About three miles northeast of Fort Smith
Tribes: Sioux, Northern Cheyenne
What’s there: The battlefield site is on private property, but respectful visitors are allowed to stop and read the small National Park Service stone monument marking the spot. It’s about three miles east of Fort Smith, near Cottonwood Camp on the Bighorn River. On County Road 40A, cross the Bighorn Canal and look for NE Warman Loop. The marker is in a field near both roads.
The story: Now a mecca for trout anglers, Fort Smith was one of three installations built after the Civil War to provide safe passage for gold miners headed to Montana from Wyoming on the Bozeman Trail. Naturally, the trail and what it brought didn’t sit well with the Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapaho, who raided the remote outpost frequently in the summer of 1867. Finally, in mid-summer, a band of about 800 warriors attacked 20 soldiers and nine civilians in a hay field and log corral about three miles from the fort. Though the battle could be heard inside the fort, no support was sent to the corral. Despite the Indians’ clear numbers advantage, the battle was a stalemate due largely to the soldiers' impenetrable cover in the walled corral and new weaponry that had just arrived from Europe. As daylight waned, the Indians gave up and left.
The significance: Fort Smith commander Lt. Col. Luther Bradley didn’t make much of the fight, and it’s a relative footnote in Indian Wars history. But even though the Indians didn’t suffer significant casualties (eight dead, 30 wounded), their inability to take the fort forced them to rethink their strategy. After the Hayfield Fight and a similar skirmish a day later in present-day Nebraska, the Indians abandoned full military-style attacks along the Bozeman Trail and for the next decade only conducted occasional raids. The battle also bears some renown for the introduction of the “1866” rifle, which was rarely used after the Hayfield Fight because the soldiers weren’t fond of them.