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September 17: Fighting the Cheyenne

September 16, 2015

The three-day Battle of Beecher Island, coming after Civil War veteran Colonel George Forsyth and fifty hand-picked frontiersmen, veterans, and hunters sought to kill Plains Indians of various tribes who had murdered some 79 settlers in a series of raids in modern-day Arkansas and Colorado, got underway on this date in 1868. The Indians had been provoked by the completion of the transcontinental railroad, which brought thousands of permanent white settlers into Indian territory (with them came slaughter of the buffalo), and by numerous military campaigns aimed at them. Among the avenging whites this time was Sigmund Shlesinger, an immigrant from Hungary, described by one of the squad’s officers as “a Jew, small with narrow shoulders, sunken in chest, quiet manner and piping voice, but little knowledge of firearms and horsemanship; he was indeed unpromising as a son of Mars.” The group was soon facing a frontal assault by 600 Cheyenne warriors, including Roman Nose, a well-known chief who was killed in the battle. Among the whites, six were dead and seventeen wounded on that first day, but as the warfare continued, the repeating rifles of Forsyth’s group overwhelmed the Indians. Shlesinger was responsible for scalping three of them. He was honored with a poem by Forsyth in his book, Frontier Fights and Thrilling Days of Army Life.

“When the weary dozed on duty,/ Or the wounded needed care,/ When another shot was called for,/ The little Jew was there.” —George Forsyth