Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
3 May 1864; Sterling Colorado: After Lt. Dunn's fight near Fremont's Orchard, Maj. Jacob Downing of the 1 st Colorado Cavalry took over at Camp Sanborn. On 18 April Downing received word that Cheyennes had attacked a ranch on the South Platte River. He took 60 men downstream but found no Indians. He scouted up and down the river for over a week, with the same result. Finally on 1 May, at Kelley's Station (American Ranch), Downing captured a half-Sioux man named Spotted Horse and induced him to lead the soldiers to a Cheyenne camp in Cedar Canyon.
The next day Downing set out with 40 men of Companies C and H of the 1 st Colorado Cavalry. On the morning of 3 May the command found the 14-lodge camp. The inhabitants were on their way north, led by the aged chief Bull Rib, and in fact knew nothing about the ranch siege. Downing's attack caught them totally by surprise, but they fought back well. With his bow and arrows, Bull Rib's son Lame Shawnee killed a Pvt. Isner of C Company, took his rifle, and wounded another, a Pvt. Wilcox, also of C Company. When the Indians took shelter in the rocks of the canyon, Downing could not get at them. After three hours, with his ammunition running low, Downing pulled out, taking about 100 ponies with him.
One soldier was killed and one wounded in the fight. Two Cheyenne women and two children were killed.
Downing hoped to return with some howitzers and finish the job, but he settled for bringing back 80 men a week later. By then the Cheyennes, of course, were gone. Downing burned the lodges.
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