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Presettlement Wildlife and Habitat of Montana:
An Overview

Annotation Of Expeditions And Individuals Recording Natural History Notes

Powder River Campaigns and Sawyers Wagon Road Expedition, 1865:

The Powder River Campaigns were an attempt by the U.S. Army to punish plains Indians for a series of attacks on white settlers. The orders were not to receive overtures of peace and submission from the Indians but to attack and kill every male over 12 years of age. This was a well supplied military expedition with over 2,000 men. The goal was to proceed north from Fort Conners at the headwaters of the Powder River in Wyoming and engage the Indians on the lower Tongue and Powder Rivers. Coinciding with this operation was a wagon train, headed by James A. Sawyer, scouting a road route from Nebraska to Virginia City, Montana. The plan was for the army to engage the Indians while the wagon train passed through hostile territory. There are several independent accounts of this entire operation, none of which have much natural history information outside of comments on amount of grass available for forage and amount of timber along the river bottomlands. It is important to note that the army's operation along the Powder River was nearly a complete failure due, in part, to bison having previously eaten all the grass. The condition of the Army's horses and mules rapidly deteriorated from lack of forage and over 600 horses and mules died during a two day period in an early September storm. Figure 20 shows the routes taken by this expedition.

Brown, M.H.  1969.  The plainsmen of the Yellowstone: A history of the 
     Yellowstone Basin.  Bison Books, Univ. of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Hafen, L.R., A.N. Hafen, eds.  1961.  Powder River Campaigns and Sawyers 
     Expedition of 1865.  The Far West and Rockies Historical Series, 
     1820-1875.  Arthur A Clark Co., Glendale, CA, 396 pp.

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