10 October 1864, Sterling, Colorado: Cheyennes were appearing more and more boldly along the Denver Road in the fall of 1864. On 9 October, people at Wisconsin Ranch, a few miles south of present-day Sterling, Colorado, saw a warrior in full war regalia. By sundown, word of the sighting reached Capt. David H. Nichols, Company D, 3rd Colorado Cavalry, at Valley Station on the South Platte River, about five miles downstream from Wisconsin Ranch. A local man, Sam Ashcraft, told Nichols of a spring in the sand hills, about 12 miles southeast, where the Cheyennes might be camped. Nichols decided to "have a little surprise party."
Leaving at 2 a.m., Nichols, accompanied by 2 nd Lt. Lewis H. Dickson and 40 men, with 2 civilians as guides, arrived at the spring about sunup on 10 October. They found two lodges containing at least six warriors, three women, and a teenage boy. Nichols dashed in and opened fire, and the Cheyennes, led by Big Wolf, returned the fire. By the time the Indians raised a white flag, it was too late. Nichols had his men wipe out the band.
The soldiers scalped most of the dead. By a pool of water, they found a dead woman bent over a child, who looked up at the soldiers. "Boys, don't kill it," Morse Coffin, a Colorado Volunteer, said. The soldiers didn't, but one of the civilian guides did.
Nichols's men took ten horses and a mule. They also recovered the scalp and clothes of a white woman and documents attesting to Big Wolf's good character and friendship for whites.