The Battle of Beecher Island Room

Forsyth's Scouts

In the late summer of 1868 Major George A. Forsyth was directed by Major General Philip H. Sheridan, the new commander of the Department of the Missouri,  to recruit an group of frontier hearty men to serve as scouts. The 50 enlisted men where officially quartermaster employees. As such they were paid one dollar per day plus and an additional 35 cents per day for supplying their own horses. Many of them were Civil War Veterans and experienced plainsmen who had above average marksmanship skills. Forsyth and his second in command, Lieutenant Frederick H. Beecher and the group left Fort Hays on August 29th and headed west and arrived at Fort Wallace on September 5th.  Within a few days Forsyth received word about a raid against a freight train near the settlement of Sheridan, Kansas. Forsyth and company quickly pick up the trail and gave pursuit.  The trail led towards the headwaters of the Republican River. As they continued, the trail grew steadily broader until there was no doubt that they were tracking a significant number of Natives. Although short of supplies, Forsyth pressed forward and on September 16th the scouts set up camp on the north bank of the Arickaree River opposite of a small island. He directed he men to leave their horse saddle and posted additional sentries as he believed they were closing in on the hostiles.

The Battle of Beecher Island

The massacre of Black Kettle's people at Sand Creek in 1864 and Hancock's burning of the village at Pawnee Forks in 1867 raised alarm in the Cheyenne with the scouts coming near their women and children.  On September 17th a large war party of several hundred Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapaho warriors attacked the scout camp at dawn. The scouts quickly moved to the small island and formed a defensive perimeter. They worked in pairs to dig a safe position in the damp sand. That first day the warriors executed several massed charges against Forsyth's scouts. On second day a few half hearted assaults and long range rifle fire kept the scouts pinned down. Having shielded their families and provided them sufficient time to move from the area, the warriors moved out of the area.  Early in the fight, Forsyth had solicited volunteers to go for help. Two of the scouts were able to reach Fort Wallace, 85 miles to the south and summon aid. On September 25th Captain Carpenter and the 10th Calvary rescued the desperate defenders on the ninth day. Forsyth and 15 scouts were wounded in the fighting, and five of his men were killed including Lieutenant Beecher. Native American casualty counts were not certain. Forsyth estimated 35 killed and 100 wounded. Sources later acknowledged only six Cheyenne, two Sioux, and one Arapaho confirmed deaths. Prominent Northern Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose, was among the casualties.

Thirty years after the historical battle, two of the surviving scouts and a member of the rescue party returned to the battle site and with the help of local community members erected a monument. In 1899 a reunion was held to commemorate the battle and has been held every year since.

On Display 

1863 Mountain Howitzer Cannon 

The 1863 Mountain Howitzer Cannon is one of the two cannons that were originally donated to the Beecher Island Memorial Association by the United States Arsenal at Rock Island, Illinois in October 1916.  They were secured through the efforts of Congressman Tumberlake at the last session of Congress in 1916. Although the Mountain Howitzer Cannon was not used in the Battle of Beecher Island, it was used in the Civil War and afterwards on the Western Plains.  Today, there are very few of these cannons that still exist.  The cannon is mounted on a replica carriage, in order for a better understanding of its historical use.

Artist IRENE SELONKE: Forsythe's Fight Painting

An incredibly detailed painting, entitled Forsythe's Fight on the Arickaree, features Captain Allison Pliley, one of the army scouts involved in the Beecher Island Battle.  Mrs. Patricia M. Lorenz, granddaughter of Captain  Pliley, commissioned it in 1966, two years before the centennial anniversary of the battle. While historical inaccurate, artist Irene Selonke created a remarkable and vivid mural using acrylic on canvas. Irene Selonke is an artist of note. Her work has been exhibited at the Lever House, New York, the Merrill Chase Galleries in Chicago and the Garden of the Gods Gallery in Colorado Springs.  She has been recognized as one of the "Women Artists of the West" and is listed in the "Who's Who in American Artists, 1971" and "World Who's Who of Women".