Lt. Thomas Van Etten describes the Battle of Birch Coulee

"I was in the fight at 'Birch Coulee'…when the Indians attacked our camp at daybreak and fought us all that day and night until the next day when we were reinforced and the savages retired. Our company was engaged with some cavalry in scouting and had pitched our camp little dreaming of the terrific volley of bullets that would awaken some of us to death in the morning. At the first fire they killed all our horses eighty in number, which saved our lives as being encamped on the prairie within rifle shot of a ravine from which the Indians fired at us while we had no shot at them. We immediately threw ourselves upon the ground behind the carcasses of the horses and in this manner fired at the savages. Whenever one of our men would raise his head in sight of an Indian a bullet would either hit it or whistle very near it. I laid upon my bellie upon the ground all day and in this manner fired whenever I could get sight of an Indian. The Indians are all good shots, fight naked, and are very skillful with a rifle. I never was under fire before, and I tell you a peculiar sensation comes over me while one hears the bullets whistling around ones ears, and sees his comrades lying dead and wounded around him, some groaning, others cursing the hour they had enlisted while others upon whom the hand of death was about to fall would call to his side a comrade and give him some trinket or momento to give to his friends or relatives…. When the fight was over fourteen of my comrades were dead and forty-five wounded five of whom have since died. Our company only numbered seventy men in the fight…."


Source:
From the private collection of Marlin Peterson


Memories of War U.S. Military Non-Combatants Dakota "Peace Party" Dakota Soldiers