The 7th Cavalry captain on the day of Wounded Knee: "I shall give up predicting about Indians when they are Ghost dancers after today’s work...the 7th needn’t be ashamed of today’s record"
ALS signed “W. S. Edgerly, Captain 7th Cavalry,” four pages on three sheets, 8 x 10, December 29, 1890. Letter home to his wife, written in the immediate aftermath of the Wounded Knee Massacre, in which he participated. On December 29, 1890, the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment attempted to disarm Lakota Indians near Wounded Knee Creek on the Lakota Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The tense situation soon erupted into violence that left 250-300 Lakota men, women, and children dead and 25 cavalrymen dead. In the days that followed, another 7 of the 51 wounded Lakota died, as did 6 of the 39 wounded troopers. It was the largest domestic massacre in United States history.
Captain Winfield S. Edgerly, a West Point graduate who commanded Troop G, wrote this riveting account of the events that same evening to his wife at Fort Riley in Kansas. It displays all of the unit pride and racism that led to the conflict, as well as the poignant cost, as he grieves for a fallen fellow captain and his newly widowed wife, also at Fort Riley.
In full: "I shall give up predicting about Indians when they are Ghost dancers after today’s work.
Brewer and I sat on our horses in front of the tents and watched the surrounding and disarming of those and said 'The jig is up and this means Riley for us in a week or two.' I never felt much surer of anything in my life than that we would have no fight until a couple of Indians commenced dancing the ghost dance and then all at once one of them commenced tossing dust in the air and I said 'It has come' and before I could dismount my Troop a terrific battle was going on I had the horses put in a ravine and the men in skirmish line in about a minute and they behaved beautifully and shot to kill. I didn’t see a single case of lack of bravery and saw several Indians bite the dust from G. Troop bullets. As soon as the heavy firing was over I was ordered to go after the escaped Indians and when I was about a mile or two from camp and we had just captured nineteen men women and children I first heard of poor Wallace’s death and Garlington’s wound. I didn’t hear of Hawthorne’s wound until after I got back to camp. Garlington is hit in the right elbow and Hawthorne in the groin. We don’t know yet how serious either of them is but just as soon as I find out I will let you know.
Everybody behaved beautifully as far as I saw or have heard and the 7th needn’t be ashamed of today’s record. I have been thinking of Mrs. Wallace a great deal today and pity her from the bottom of my heart. Give her my love and tell her I will write her about the noble way her gallant husband died. We didn’t have a man scratched in G Troop altho’ we had two horses killed and holes shot in our guidon and the men’s clothing. Serg’t Campbell rec’d a bad wound in the face and I understand tonight that twenty five of our people were killed outright and three of the wounded died on their way in here. The Indians lost more than one hundred bucks and a great many squaws and papooses.
I found Jackson and Donaldson at the end of a ravine, where I went after runaway Indians as I told you, and they had the nineteen Indians corralled. Lieut. Taylor with his scouts was under my command and thro’ his interpreter we got them to surrender after they had killed one of Jackson’s men, Defreide. A spent bullet hit Donaldson’s belt and he has the bullet and Doctor Hoff was hit in the belt twice but not hurt. When the report of our fight got here the Indians here were very much excited and a large number of them including some of Little Mound’s and Two Strike’s bands left, presumably for the bad lands.
I am afraid that means a Winter campaign for us and only this morning I felt so sure of a speedy and happy home coming. Nowlan came in while I was writing the above and just left it is now 12.40 and I must get some sleep. Good bye. God bless us all together and bring us happily together very soon. I thank Him for my preservation and for you."
He adds a postscript: "Good Love Kiss. Dec. 30. Morning. Boots and saddles have sounded again. They say the 9th Cav’y wagon train has been attacked. Your Loving Husband, Winfield." Accompanied by the original mailing envelope, postmarked at “Pine Ridge Agency, Dak.,” and addressed in Edgerley's hand to "Mrs. W. S. Edgerly, 7th Cav., Fort Riley, Kansas." In fine condition, with splitting to the intersecting folds.