General George Crook: Civil War Veteran, Commander in the Indian War Campaigns, and Humanitarian
It’s not often that we find military men in history who not only excelled in the campaigns they led, but were also kind to their adversaries and kept every promise they ever made. Such was the leadership and character of General George Crook.
Crook was born on a farm in Montgomery County near Dayton, Ohio to Thomas and Elizabeth Matthews Crook. Congressman Robert Schenck nominated George to the United States Military Academy. He graduated in 1852, ranking near the bottom of his class. I think greatness may come for some as they mature, so I didn’t let this little factoid influence me, but it woke me up to the understanding that where a person ranks in their class has very little to do with their character. I knew a different George who used to frequent the ER drunk and high on drugs. He had a master’s degree in English and bragged about it. All I saw was a waste of an education I would have loved to have had. He contracted AIDS from dirty needles, was homeless, and ended up dying in the street. So much for class rank. Just sayin’. But back to my article.
He was assigned to the 4th U.S. infantry as brevet second lieutenant, and served in California from 1852–61. He also served in Oregon and northern California to fight against several Native American tribes. Crook commanded the Pitt River Expedition of 1857 and was severely wounded by an Indian arrow. Fort Ter-Waw in what is now Klamath, California, was established by George Crook.
Crook was promoted to first lieutenant in 1856, and then to captain in 1860. With the beginning of the American Civil War, Crook was ordered east and in 1861 and made colonel of the 36th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. He led it on duty in western Virginia.
In the meantime, he married Mary Tapscott Dailey, from Virginia.
He commanded the 3rd Brigade in the District of the Kanawha where he was wounded in a small fight at Lewisburg, VA. After his wounds healed, Crook returned to command of his regiment during the Northern Virginia Campaign. He and his regiment were part of John Pope's headquarters escort at the Second Battle of Bull Run.
After the Union Army's defeat at Second Bull Run, Crook and his regiment were attached to the Kanawha Division at the start of the Maryland Campaign. On September 12 Crook's brigade commander, Augustus Moor, was captured and Crook assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, Kanawha Division. Crook led his brigade at the battle of South Mountain and near Burnside's Bridge at the battle of Antietam. (Just a little reminder here. The battle of Antietam was one of the bloodiest in the history of the United States with a loss of life greater than all our wars combined.) He received a promotion to the rank of brigadier general on September 7, 1862. During these early battles he developed a lifelong friendship with one of his subordinates, Col. Rutherford B. Hayes of the 23rd Ohio Infantry. I hope that name is familiar since he became President of the United States some time later.
I could wax on here in great detail about the Civil War battles and how Crook led his men or how he ended up a prisoner of the Confederates in February, 1865 until he was traded back to the Union Army, but that would over shadow the thing I really wanted to speak to in this article, and that would be the campaigns Crook led against the Indians on the western frontier.
At the end of the Civil War, George Crook received a brevet as major general in the regular army, but reverted to the permanent rank of major. Only days later, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, serving with the 23rd Infantry on frontier duty in the Pacific Northwest. In 1867, he was appointed head of the Department of the Columbia.
George Cook upon graduation from West Point
Crook successfully campaigned against the Snake Indians in the 1864-68 Snake War, where he won nationwide recognition. Crook had fought Indians in Oregon before the Civil War. He was assigned to the Pacific Northwest to use new tactics in this war, which had been waged for several years. Crook arrived in Boise City to take command on December 11, 1866. The general noticed that the Northern Paiute used the fall, winter and spring seasons to gather food, so he adopted the tactic recommended by a predecessor George B. Currey to attack during the winter. Crook had his cavalry approach the Paiute on foot to attack at their winter camp. As the soldiers drew them in, Crook had them remount; they defeated the Paiute and recovered some stolen livestock.
Crook used Indian scouts as troops as well as to spot enemy encampments. While campaigning in Eastern Oregon during the winter of 1867, Crook's scouts located a Paiute village near the eastern edge of Steens Mountain. After covering all the escape routes, Crook ordered the charge on the village while intending to view the raid from afar, but his horse got spooked and galloped ahead of Crook's forces toward the village. Caught in the crossfire, Crook's horse carried the general through the village without being wounded. The army caused heavy casualties for the Paiute in the battle of Tearass Plain. Crook later defeated a mixed band of Paiute, Pit River and Modoc at the battle of Infernal Caverns in Fall River Mills, California.
Tonto Basin Campaign
(A little side note here: The "0" Mile General Crook Trail Marker is located in the place where in 1871 General George Crook established a military supply trail which connected Forts Whipple, Verde and Apache. The marker is located close to the Fort Verde Administration Building at 125 E. Hollamon St. Camp Verde, Arizona.)
President Ulysses S. Grant next placed Crook in command of the Arizona Territory. Crook's use of Apache scouts during the Yavapai War brought him much success in forcing the Yavapai and Tonto Apache onto reservations. In 1873 Crook was appointed brigadier general in the regular army, a promotion that passed over and angered several full colonels next in line.
Great Sioux War
From 1875 to 1882 and again from 1886 to 1888, Crook was head of the Department of the Platte. Crook served against the Sioux during the Great Sioux War of 1876-77. He fought the Lakota at the Battle of the Rosebud. On 28 May 1876, Brigadier General George Crook assumed direct command of the Bighorn and Yellowstone Expedition at Fort Fetterman. Crook had gathered a strong force from his Department of the Platte. Leaving Fort Fetterman on 29 May, the 1,051-man column consisted of 15 companies from the 2d and 3d Cavalry, 5 companies from the 4th and 9th Infantry, 250 mules, and 106 wagons. On June 14, the column was joined by 261 Shoshone and Crow allies. Based on intelligence reports, Crook ordered his entire force to prepare for a quick march. Each man was to carry only 1 blanket, 100 rounds of ammunition, and 4 days' rations. The wagon train would be left at Goose Creek, and the infantry would be mounted on the pack mules.
On June 17, Crook's column marched northward along the south fork of Rosebud Creek. The Crow and Shoshone scouts became apprehensive. Although the column had not yet encountered any sign of Indians, the scouts seemed to sense their presence. The soldiers, particularly the mule-riding infantry, had tired from the early morning start and the previous day's 35-mile march. Crook stopped to rest his men and animals after two hours march. Although he was deep in hostile territory, Crook made no special provisions for defense.
The Crow and Shoshone scouts remained alert while the soldiers rested. About 30 minutes later, the soldiers heard the sound of intermittent gunfire coming from the bluffs to the north. As the intensity of fire increased, a scout rushed into the camp shouting, "Lakota, Lakota!" The Battle of the Rosebud began. The Sioux and Cheyenne had fervently engaged Crook's Indian allies on the high ground just to the north. Heavily outnumbered, the Crow and Shoshone scouts fell back toward the camp, but their fighting withdrawal gave Crook time to deploy his forces. Rapidly firing soldiers drove off the attackers but used up much of the ammunition meant for use later in the campaign. Low on ammunition and with numerous wounded, the General returned to his post. Historians debate whether Crook's pressing on could have prevented the killing of the five companies of the 7th Cavalry Regiment led by George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The way I look at it, Crook saved his men from unnecessary death. I can’t see where his men could have made a difference in the outcome since they were low on ammunition. But that’s just me.
Crook commanded the Department of the Platte from 1875 to 1882, with headquarters at Fort Omaha in North Omaha, Nebraska. During this period, in 1879, he spoke on behalf of the Ponca tribe and Native American rights during the trial of Standing Bear v. Crook, in which the federal judge affirmed that Standing Bear had some of the rights of US citizens. That same year his home, now called the General Crook House, was completed.
General George Crook with two of his Indian scouts
By 1882, Crook had returned to command in Arizona. The Apache had taken up arms against the U.S. army under the leadership of Geronimo. Crook repeatedly forced the surrender of the Apache but saw Geronimo escape. As a mark of respect, the Apache nicknamed Crook Nantan Lupan, which means "Grey Wolf". Nelson A. Miles replaced Crook in command of the Arizona Territory and brought an end to the Apache Wars. He had Geronimo, the Chiricahua Apache band, and the Chiricahua scouts, who had served the U.S. Army, transported as prisoners of war to Florida. Crook was reportedly furious that the scouts, who had faithfully served the Army, were imprisoned as well and telegrammed numerous protests to Washington. It is said the scouts, along with most of Geronimo's band, were forced to spend the next 26 years in captivity before they were finally released.
After years of campaigning in the Indian Wars, Crook won steady promotion back up the ranks to the permanent grade of Major General, and President Grover Cleveland placed him in command of the "Military Division of the Missouri" in 1888.
After the Indian wars, Crook served in Omaha again as the Commander of the Department of the Platte from 1886 to 1888. While he was there, his portrait was painted by artist Herbert A. Collins.
He spent his last years speaking out against the unjust treatment of his former Indian adversaries. He died suddenly in Chicago in 1890 while serving as commander of the Division of the Missouri. Crook was originally buried in Oakland, Maryland.
Red Cloud, a war chief of the Oglala Lakota (Sioux), said of Crook, "He, at least, never lied to us. His words gave us hope."
In 1898, Crook's remains were transported to Arlington National Cemetery where he was reinterred on November 11.
In honor of his tremendous service both in the battles he commanded in the Civil War and the Indian Wars, there are many memorials to General George Crook. Here are some of them:
Bronze of Gen. Crook at Fort Omaha.
His good friend and Union Army comrade, President Rutherford B. Hayes, named one of his sons George Crook Hayes in respect of his commanding officer. Crook County in Wyoming and Oregon were named for him, as was the town of Crook, Colorado.
"Crook City", an unincorporated place in the Black Hills, of South Dakota was named for his camp there in 1876. Crook Mountain is near there, between Deadwood and Sturgis, SD. Crook City Road also passes through there from Whitewood, SD heading toward Deadwood, SD.
Crook Peak in Lake County, Oregon, in the Warner Mountains is named after him; near where the general set up Camp Warner (1867–1874) to subdue the Paiute Indians. Crook Mountain, a peak in the Cascade Range, was also named for him.
Cañon Pintado Historic District, 10 miles south of Rangeley, Colorado, has numerous ancient Fremont culture and Ute petroglyphs, first seen by Europeans in the mid-18th century. One group of carvings has several horses, which locals call Crook's Brand Site, as they claim the horses carry the general's brand. The Ute adopted the horse in the 1600s.
Forest Road 300 in the Coconino National Forest is named the "General Crook Trail." It is a section of the trail which his troops blazed from Fort Verde to Fort Whipple, and on to Fort Apache through central Arizona.
Numerous military references honor him: Fort Crook (1857 – 1869) was an Army post near Fall River Mills, California, used during the Indian Wars, and later for the protection of San Francisco during the Civil War. It was named for then Lt. Crook by Captain John W. T. Gardiner, 1st Dragoons, as Crook was recovering there from an injury. California State Historical Marker 355 marks the site in Shasta County. Fort Crook (1891 – 1946) was an Army Depot in Bellevue, Nebraska, first used as a dispatch point for Indian conflicts on the Great Plains, then later as an airfield for the 61st Balloon Company of the Army Air Corps. It was named for Brig. Gen. Crook due to his many successful Indian campaigns in the west. The site formerly known as Fort Crook is now part of Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division is nicknamed "Grey Wolf" in his honor, in a variation of his Apache nickname meaning "Grey Wolf".
The General Crook House at Fort Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska is named in his honor, as he was the only Commander of the Department of the Platte to live there. The Crook Walk in Arlington National Cemetery is near George Crook's gravesite.
The PBS Historical Website
Arlington National Cemetery webpage for George Crook
Today in History news letter
Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media: