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Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Leo E. Oliva
In 1867, General Winfield S. Hancock led a punitive expedition onto the Kansas Plains to confront the Indians with war or peace. As a result of the expedition, controversy arose as to whether or not Hancock's actions during the campaign precipitated an Indian war. Evidence tends to support the hypothesis that Hancock was following the military policy of his superiors and was not the sole perpetrator of an Indian outbreak in 1867. Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer also accompanied the expedition and commanded troops of the Seventh Cavalry which pursued Indians through Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado Territory. Custer's scout was ineffective in apprehending or punishing any of the elusive warriors of the Plains. However, Custer did desert his command at Fort Wallace to rendezvous with his wife at Fort Riley which resulted in his court-martial and suspension from duty for one year. The Indians played an important part in causing the demise of the campaign which was designed to chastise them. Their thorough knowledge of the terrain and military tactics of hit-and-run warfare compounded the problems or the United States Army which lacked the man power to conduct an aggressive offensive campaign against the Indians. Considering all factors, the Hancock-Custer expedition as an offensive weapon against the Indians was probably doomed before it began. However, the expedition did bring about some positive results. During the campaign, Hancock conducted an inspection tour of the military posts and mail stations within his Department of the Missouri. Hancock made reports to his superiors about the conditions at the forts and stations. He also recommended construction for defensive purposes at various sites and directed his limited troops to strategic positions to shore up the defensive network against the Indians. Even though the efforts of Hancock and Custer did not result in the capture or punishment of any Indians, a better system of defense against the redmen did evolve from the activities of the campaign.
Copyright 1974 Timothy Zwink
Zwink, Timothy, "The Hancock-Custer Expedition of 1867" (1974). Master's Theses. 1551.