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Battle of Ash Hollow
Part of the First Sioux War, American Indian Wars
Battle of Ash Hollow.jpg
An 1878 depiction of the Battle of Ash Hollow.
DateSeptember 3, 1855
LocationAsh Hollow, Nebraska
Result United States victory
Brulé  United States
Commanders and leaders
Little Thunder United States William S. Harney
~250 ~600
Casualties and losses
86 killed 27 killed

The Battle of Ash Hollow, also known as the Battle of Blue Water Creek, was an engagement of the First Sioux War, fought on September 2 and 3, 1855 between United States Army soldiers under Brigadier General William S. Harney and a band of the Brulé Lakota along the Platte River in present-day Garden County, Nebraska. The battle, which the American force won while killing Brulé women and children as well as warriors, was a punitive expedition for the so-called "Grattan Massacre" in August 1854 and for raids by Lakota in its wake during the year following.


The battle was the defining engagement of a short war between the United States and the Sioux over disputes concerning violations of the Treaty of Fort Laramie. In this battle, 600 soldiers attacked 250 Sioux, killing 86 people. In March 1856, without jurisdiction to do so, commanding General William Harney negotiated a peace treaty to stop further bloodshed with the Sioux and create a centralized tribal government among the Lakota by which leaders could be held accountable.

While the battle was hailed by many newspapers as a heroic victory over the Indians, critics decried it as "outright butchery".[citation needed] Some others claimed that the battle was fought only to justify growth in the American army, which was pushed for by then Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.


The events were catalyzed by a Mormon emigrant's losing a cow while traveling with his party on the Oregon Trail; the animal wandered into a Brulé Lakota camp. A Sioux named High Forehead killed the cow for food. The Mormon farmer reported the cow as stolen to Army officers at Fort Laramie.

The fort's commander sent out an inexperienced officer, Lieutenant John Lawrence Grattan, said to be contemptuous of the Indians, to arrest High Forehead, although such matters related to livestock and relations with settlers were supposed to be handled by the Indian Agent. Grattan vowed to take the wanted Indian "at all hazards" and took along thirty men and artillery.[1] Grattan pressed the chief to surrender the Sioux man. One of his soldiers shot the chief Conquering Bear in the back and killed him. In the ensuing battle, the Sioux killed Grattan and twenty-nine of his men. One soldier survived the fighting but died later in the Fort Laramie hospital.[citation needed]

President Franklin Pierce vowed to avenge the Grattan Massacre, as it was called by the press. The War Department appointed Harney in command with instructions to "whip the Indians."[citation needed] In the ensuing debate, Grattan was blamed for the fracas in which he was killed.

The expedition finally set out in August 1855. On September 1, 1855, the expedition caught up with a Sioux encampment along the Platte River in a place known as Blue Waters. Harney sent a regiment in a long night flanking maneuver to set up a blocking position against which he would drive the Sioux. The flanking maneuver was led by Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke and Captain Henry Heth.

Harney moved up in the morning to drive the Sioux against Cooke and Heth. He first attempted to parlay with the Sioux chief, Little Thunder, but his demands to hand over the men responsible for the Grattan attack were rebuffed. The Sioux felt justified in having killed Grattan and his men as they had shot first.[citation needed] During the parlay, several Sioux braves discovered Cooke's men.


Upon the Sioux discovery of Cooke's men, Harney opened the fight by attacking the Sioux camp. Some of the Sioux took refuge in caves along the river. Harney had his men fire into the caves, where they killed many women and children. A large group of mounted warriors made for an escape route away from Cooke’s and Harney’s forces, but Heth saw them and led his forces to block the escape route.[citation needed]

The warriors managed to break through Heth's men, but were pursued on horseback by cavalry with Heth in the lead. They had a running fight for about five miles, which lasted several hours. At some point, Heth got so far ahead of his men that he was presumed killed in action. His death was reported in newspapers around the country, and he later took satisfaction in the obituaries his friends had written.[citation needed] The American forces were victorious and took prisoners.

Among other American participants of the battle was Gouverneur K. Warren, who noted in his diary the horror of killing women and children.[citation needed] He later became a Union general during the American Civil War.

Afterward, the army made a wide sweep of the surrounding Sioux country but encountered no further resistance. The Sioux called Harney "The Butcher" for the battle at Blue Water, "the Hornet" for invading their territory, and "the Big Chief Who Swears" for his handling of the treaty.[2] Following this battle, there were about ten years of peace between the United States and the Sioux, who tried to ignore the many emigrants on the Oregon Trail.


  1. Beck (2004), pp. 46-47
  2. Utley (1967), p. 119


  • Utley, Robert M. (1967). Frontiersmen in Blue: The United States Army and the Indian, 1848-1865. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0-8032-9550-6. 
  • Beck, Paul Norman (2004). The First Sioux War: The Grattan Fight and Blue Water Creek, 1854-1856], University Press of America
  • David Eggenberger, An Encyclopedia of Battles: Accounts of Over 1560 Battles from 1479 B.C. to the Present
  • James S. Robbins, Last in Their Class, Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point, New York: Encounter Books, 2006, pp. 146–158.
  • "The Battle of Blue Water", Nebraska History

Coordinates: 41°17′55″N 102°07′22″W / 41.29861°N 102.12278°W / 41.29861; -102.12278

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