Friday, June 25, 2021

Lt. Col. Royall and the Battle of the Rosebud by Zina Abbott

         I’m pleased to announce that today is release day for my latest romance novel, A Bride for Quentin. Since I am on the road this week, for today’s post, I will share with you some of my author’s notes for this book.

         I realize many romance readers do not like to spend a lot of time reading scenes from history. They would rather get straight to the huggy-kissy stuff. However, I like a little conflict and action in my stories.

         As for the Battle of the Rosebud Creek, I began my research as part of developing backstory for Quentin Thompson, my hero in this book. Those who have read some of my later Sweethearts of Jubilee Springs books will recognize him as the telegraph operator who works at the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad depot in Jubilee Springs.

         I always tried to portray Quentin as an intelligent, capable person in his early thirties. So, why would someone like him end up in a job like telegraph operator which, although a valuable skill and service, was sort of dead-end? Why should he choose to live in a remote mining town where men greatly outnumbered women instead of trying for a job in a larger city like Denver? I chose for him a U.S. Army career, but needed to find a reason compelling enough for him to end his career and become a telegraph operator.

         The Battle of the Rosebud Creek was part of the Yellowstone and Little Big Horn campaign—the same one where, in a battle less than two weeks later, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer, several members of his family, and his entire command perished.

1868 Fort Laramie Treaty

          What started the whole mess was the decision of the United States government to change the terms of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty in which the Lakota Sioux won major concessions from the United States in the form of a large reservation which included the Black Hills in the Dakota Territory plus
Sitting Bull
a large area of "unceded territory" in what became Montana and Wyoming. Both areas were for the exclusive use of the Indians. Except for government officials, whites were forbidden to trespass. All remained well and good until, in 1874, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills was confirmed by Lt. Col. Custer and his expedition. At that point, the U.S. attempted to buy the Black Hills from the Indians.

To accomplish this, the U.S. ordered all bands of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne to come to the agencies on their reservations by January 31, 1876 to negotiate the sale. A few bands did not comply. After the deadline of January 31 passed, the government sent the Army to force Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and other chiefs to bring their followers onto the reservation. The first military expedition against those bands of Natives took place in March 1876. Known as the Battle of Powder River, it ended in failure.

         The next expedition designed to get these tribal people onto their reservations was the Little Bighorn and Yellowstone campaign. It was a three column plan with one column under Col. John Gibbon, who led a force coming from the west, and the other under Gen. Alfred Terry, who came from the east. The third column was Gen. Crook’s forces coming north from Fort Fetterman.

Three columns of the Little Bighorn Yellowstone Campaign

          My husband and I visited the Little Big Horn Battle site, and I spent considerable time (and more money than my husband was happy about) in the bookstore. There were scads of books about the Little Big Horn battle itself and about Custer, his family, and some of the men with him—some who were with Major Reno or Captain Benteen. I do not recall seeing many books about the Rosebud battle.

General Crook
          In my more recent online research, I learned that many contemporaries of both Lt. Col. Custer and General Crook thought, of the two men, Gen. Crook was the better Indian fighter. For one thing, he made a point to know the different tribes and enlisted the aid of those tribes who considered the tribe(s) Gen. Crook was tasked with subduing as their enemies. However, it is also a widely held opinion that the Battle of the Rosebud Creek was not an example of Gen. Crook at his best. Many of are the opinion that, if after the end of this battle, Gen. Crook had continued north, he might have arrived at the Little Bighorn River in time to have made a difference and possibly saved Lt. Col. Custer and his men.

         However, others point out that there were reasons Gen. Crook set up a position not far from the Rosebud battlefield--about sixty miles from the Little Bighorn--and rested his command for several days. He had a large number of wounded, many of whom were not well enough to be moved right away. He did not have enough wagons to transport his wounded back to Fort Fetterman from which his command departed weeks earlier. His supplies and ammunition were too low to continue an extended campaign.

         What grabbed my attention was the reason there were as many deaths and injuries from the Battle of the Rosebud Creek. It came down to a decision made by Gen. Crook’s second in command, Lt. Col. William Royall.

Lt. Col. William Royall

         William Royall had fought in the Mexican-American War and was a Civil War veteran. Assigned as an officer of the 5th Cavalry for over thirty years, he was assigned as commander of Fort Dodge in December 1875. Shortly afterward, he was transferred to the 3rd Cavalry and received his promotion to lieutenant colonel. He was transferred to the Department of the Platte .administered out of Sidney, Nebraska.  From January to March 1876, he was detailed to serve on a board established by the War Department to determine the best way to distribute supplies to the west.

         While in the midst of those duties, Gen. Crook specifically applied for Lt. Col. Royall to command the cavalry during the upcoming campaign against the Sioux in the summer of 1876. The commander to that point, Colonel John J. Reynolds, was in the process of court martial regarding actions taken the previous January. Rather than fight the court martial, Reynolds chose to resign.

         Lt. Col. Royall returned to the department, and spent April and May purchasing horses for the campaign.

         A battalion of the 2nd Cavalry was added to his command once the expedition was under way, which put him in command of fourteen companies of cavalry. Royall had command of these companies during the battle of the Rosebud on June 17, 1876. He took personal command of several companies during the fight.

         Although on the way to join up with two other columns that were part of the Little Bighorn and Yellowstone campaign, Gen. Crook and his troops were attacked by a superior force of Northern Cheyenne and Sioux and some allies. They barely had time to position themselves on two ridges to the north and west of Rosebud Creek.

Battles of Rosebud and Little Bighorn

          Rosebud Creek runs from west to east for a short distance before it bends and flows north to flow into the Yellowstone River. Not far from the bend of the backward “L” of this creek there are two roughly parallel ridges running from northwest to southeast. Between these two ridges ranging between one mile to a half-mile apart is a valley with Kollmar Creek running through it.

         Gen. Crook, his mounted infantry, Crow and Shoshoni allies, supply wagons and pack mules, trappers, and other non-combatants positioned themselves on the northern ridge. Lt. Col. Royall directed his command to take position on the southern ridge. During this battle that took place on June 17, 1876, he took personal command of several companies during the fight.

Believed to be the only photo of Crazy Horse

Some apologists state Lt. Col. Royall “…made an independent attack without informing General Crook, which caused some difficulties in managing the battle.”

         Others claim that Gen. Crook, seeing that Royall’s position was in danger of being overwhelmed by larger fighting force, ordered Royall to abandon the ridge on which he established his position and withdraw to “Crook Ridge.”

         Royall sent only one company to join Gen. Crook. He later claimed he was too hotly engaged with the enemy to withdraw. However, as the battle progressed, Royall’s position grew increasingly worse. He was forced to withdraw. He tried to get his men across Kollmar Creek, but enemy fire was too heavy to allow it. He next tried to lead his command southeast along the ridge line.

         A large group of Sioux and Cheyenne broke off from engaging Gen. Crook’s men and charged down Kollmar Creek until it joined Rosebud Creek to cut off Lt. Col. Royall’s retreat.

Chief Plenty Coups-Crow

         What saved the cavalry from receiving even more casualties than they did was the bold attack by the Crow and Shoshoni against the Northern Cheyenne and Sioux, driving the latter back.

         Although, at one point, they were surrounded on three sides by enemy, as the cavalry approached Gen. Crook’s position, the infantry, armed with rifles with a longer range engaged the enemy, which allowed many cavalrymen to make it to the ridge.

         Based on the information I’ve found so far, I concluded the “independent attack without informing General Crook, which caused some difficulties in managing the battle” amounted to Lt. Co. Royall disobeying a direct order from his commanding officer. The result was that his men suffered a greater number of casualties—both deaths and injuries—than other units involved in this battle. That is how I wrote it in the scene with my purely fictional character, First Lieutenant Quentin Thompson.

Battle of the Rosebud - end of battle

          After the expedition disbanded in Nebraska in October, Lt. Col. Royall was appointed to the position of acting assistant inspector general for the Department of the Platte until September 1882.

Image on Crazy Horse Find-a grave

         The campaign to engage the Northern Cheyenne and the Sioux in order to force them onto their reservations continued until November with engagements that became known as “The Horsemeat March” and the “Dull Knife Battle”. The tribes were forced to their reservations, and new terms imposed to the detriment of the Native people.

         In my story, I cite what happened at the Battle of the Rosebud Creek plus the ongoing treatment of the Native American tribes as the reason Quentin eventually resigns.


A Bride for Quentin is now available. To find the book description and purchase link, please CLICK HERE.

1 comment:

Julie Lence said...

So much history, Zina! I thoroughly enjoyed learning through your eyes and what you learned in history books. I remember Custer and a few other names from history class in school, but back then, classes didn't delve too much into battles and who did what, other than to talk about Custer. Thank you for sharing.