Hayfield Fight

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring Sioux Nation Forts

Fought on August 1, 1867, three miles from Fort C.F. Smith, Montana, Territory, the battle pitted a determined stand of 31 soldiers and civilians against more than 700 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. Fortified behind a barrier of a low log corral, the combined soldier/civilian force withstood six hours of attacks before relief finally arrived to disperse the warriors. Known as the Hayfield Fight, the site is located about three miles from Fort C.F. Smith, Montana. The site is on private land, marked by a monument and plaque.

The following is from the book, Indian Wars, by Bill Yenne.

On August 1, about eight hundred warriors attacked hay-cutters near Fort C.F. Smith. Lieutenant Sigismund Sternberg, heading a twenty-man 27th Infantry Regiment guard detail organized a defense and returned fire with their new breech-loading Springfields. The Lakota started a grassfire, but it blew back away from the troopers' defensive position. Private Charles Bradley was sent for help, and he managed to get through to the fort and return with a howitzer-equipped relief column. The Lakota withdrew, and the Hayfield Fight ended with Lieutenant Sternberg and one other soldier killed in action.

The following version is from the book, Encyclopedia of Indian Wars, by Gregory F. Michno:

1 August 1867,Yellowtail, Montana: After the annual Sun Dance in 1867, many bands of Lakotas and Cheyennes decided to attack the posts on the hated Bozeman Trail. About two and a half miles northeast of Fort C.F. Smith, on the Bighorn River, a willow-and-log stockade protected the employees of A.C. Leighton, contracted to cut hay for the fort.

On the morning of 1 August, 20 enlisted men of various companies of the 27th Infantry, under Lt. Sigismund Sternberg, guarded 6 civilians cutting hay. At about 11 a.m., more than 800 warriors descended upon the stockade. After a failed decoy, the Indians charged in and were surprised by the amount of fire the soldiers could muster with their new Springfield-Allin Breech-loaders. Falling back, the warriors set fire to the hay upwind. The flames were within 20 feet of the stockade when a providential change in wind direction moved the blaze away.

The Indians attacked again. Lt. Sternberg admonished his command, "Stand up, men, and fight like soldiers!" They were his last words, for just then he caught a bullet in the head. Sgt. James Norton took command, but he too was hit. Then Pvt. Thomas Navin of F Company was killed. By default, civilian Al Colvin took over. Colvin was a whirlwind, firing his 16-shot Henry rifle incessantly from all around the perimeter.

Pvt. Charles Bradley of Company E volunteered to ride to Fort Smith for help. Though knocked off his horse by a blow from a pursuing warrior, Bradley reached the post. Lt. Col. Luther P. Bradley was slow in responding; it was 4 p.m. before he sent out Capt. Thomas B. Burrowes with Company G and a howitzer, and shortly afterward, Lt. Reuben N. Fenton with Company H. The relief force got to the hay stockade at sundown. By then the Indians had given up the attack. Perhaps 450 Indians still hovered on the bluffs, and Burrowes drove them off. In the gathering night, the exhausted defenders rode back to Fort Smith.

Sternberg and Navin were killed, and 3 other soldiers were wounded, as was 1 civilian. About 8 warriors were killed and 30 wounded.

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