Digging history

Aug 27th, 2009 | By | Category: August 27, 2009, Campus News, Issue

Summer field school unearths battle site

Peter Bleed, Doug Scott and UNL students are helping bring an 1865 Indian war battle site in western Nebraska into focus.

During the final three weeks of UNL’s Summer Field School in Archaeology – an annual summer course that immerses students in the study of historic sites – the researchers led 10 students in an exploration of what is believed to be the Rush Creek battle site near Broadwater, Neb.

Bleed, a professor in archaeology and geography, Scott, an adjunct professor in archaeology and geography, and another group of students discovered the site at the end of the 2008 Summer Field School.

Rush Creek was a battle that helped ignite the Indian Wars of 1865. Rush Creek was a follow-up to battles pitting a combined group of Native American tribes against settlers and U.S. Army troops at Julesburg, Colo., and Mud Springs. A portion of the 2008 Summer Field School focused on the Mud Springs site, which is also in western Nebraska.

Local residents helped lead the researchers to the possible Rush Creek site. Area landowners gave permission for the UNL team to search for artifacts. After a couple of passes with metal detectors, the research team unearthed a few rounds from atop a small hill.

“That got us excited about the potential of this site,” said Bleed. “Of course, it happened on the very last day and we had to wait to see what else was out here.”

From June 22 to July 10, the 2009 field school research team probed the site with passes of metal detectors. Each detection site was marked and recorded per archaeological standards – with students digging for the metal pieces and logging the finds by type (ranging from modern soda cans to spent rounds) and exact location on the Global Positioning Systems.

Between the 2008 and 2009 summer field seasons, the researchers found more than 225 archaeological pieces that are helping define the Rush Creek battle site.

“Based on what we found, we’re pretty sure that we have the correct location for Rush Creek,” said Bleed. “Now, we need to take what we have found, study the findings and see if we can better define just what happened here in 1865.”

Additional research of the Rush Creek site may be needed. However, Bleed and Scott believe they have enough evidence to have the Rush Creek location marked as a historic site.

— Story and Photos by Troy Fedderson, University Communications

Battle of Rush Creek | Feb. 8-9, 1865

The Rush Creek battle site pitted members of the Cheyenne and Sioux tribes against pursuing U.S. Army forces.

On Feb. 8, 1865, federal forces searching for Native American tribes that attacked Julesburg, Colo., and Mud Springs – an important Nebraska stopping point for settlers – stumbled across the Cheyenne and Sioux in a valley of the North Platte River near the mouth of Rush Creek, near modern day Broadwater, Neb. Today, Rush Creek is known as Cedar Creek.

The federal troops did not observe the Cheyenne and Sioux camp, which was about five miles north. However, as the Army troops approached the river, Cheyenne and Sioux warriors moved to surround their pursuers.

The Cheyenne and Sioux numbers are estimated at about 2,000.

The federal force of 185 soldiers immediately went to work on a defensive position, carving breastworks out of the sandy soil.

The Native American warriors pushed for an immediate advantage, but fell back and held the soldiers in check. Reports from the battle scene include details of hand-to-hand combat, a charge of 16 mounted soldiers and double-shot rounds from a howitzer.

The 2009 UNL Summer Field School group found pieces of at least one cannon shot, numerous shells and a handful of bullets – including a .36 caliber round fired from a pistol.

The two forces continued to skirmish on Feb. 8. The battle ended on Feb. 9.

Federal reports recorded three dead, 16 wounded and seven disabled from frostbite suffered during night marches. The federal report also estimated total Native American losses between 100 and 150. However, that number varied from later reports from George Bent, a former Confederate soldier who grew up a member of the Cheyenne tribe and participated in the Indian Wars of 1865. Bent later remembered no dead and two wounded among the Native Americans.

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