Death at Pebble Creek Part 2

After the chief’s blood curdling yell of challenge, we continue quoting George McAnulty from the Trail of the Loup.

“The Indians opened fire…for ten minutes the roar of musketry was like that in other days experienced at Rosebud Creek, the lonely bluffs of the Loup echoing the sharp crack of the rifles as white men and red engaged in mortal combat.”

“The Indians now divided half of them crawling along to our rear. While we were under the bank (of the river) we could return their fire without exposing ourselves. The first we knew of their intentions we were greeted by a volley from the southeast. At this juncture Marion Littlefield arose to fire. He exposed his head to the enemy and just as he pressed his trigger of his needle-gun there was an answering report and he fell dead on the bank of the river”.

The death of Littlefield marked the end of the battle. The pioneers returned to McClimans’ with his body. The Indians withdrew, driving their herd of captured Pawnee ponies estimated to be about fifty in number. We may add parenthetically that one account specifies that Buckskin Charley, the settlers’ spokesman, turned down the Chief’s generous enough pre-battle offer of several head of these ponies in payment for the property wrongfully taken.

The settlers later returned to the scene of the battle and killed two badly wounded Indian horses left on the battlefield. The number of Indian casualties is unknown. The Grand Island newspapers reported three fatalities among the Indians, but we must remember that casualties were generally reported to be higher than actual by both the participants and the press. The settler account had to rely on battle observations or blood spots on the field. No bodies were left to count.

It was traditional for Teton Sioux to remove their dead to preclude the mutilations generally administered by their enemies, both white and red. Such loss of scalps, fingers or other body parts (for war trophies and souvenirs) was thought to cause subsequent spiritual consternation in any afterlife. Preventing dead comrade’s remains from falling into enemy hands is pretty universal among warring people. Such retrieval may be a tribute of the fallen comrade’s memory and is also an element promoting group esprit de corps.

We know McAnulty’s account that the fighting spirit of the pioneer posse was broken by the death of Littlefield. His body was returned to his relatives near Sutton. He was subsequently buried northeast of there at Farmer Valley Cemetery in southern Hamilton County. His stone may be seen there today. We may well overlook the spelling of ‘Pebble Creek’ with one ‘b’. After all, the battle seemed (and was) far away and on a distant frontier from the relatively well-settled and populous Clay and Hamilton Counties.

The writer’s own maternal grandfather, (John Herrick, 1868-1962) recounted to me many times, his personal experience in this matter. He was six years old at the time and was with his father in Sutton when the McCliman’s wagon brought the Littlefield body into town. My grandfather’s father had homesteaded in Clay County in 1871, following service as a Mounted Infantryman during the recent Civil War. He ran a livery barn in the village of Ong. His little son, John accompanied him on drayage trips to nearby communities. This memory of the dead trapper killed by Indians ‘way up north on the Loup’ made a deep and lasting impression on my grandfather. Little did he realize back in 1874 that several years later he would also homestead in this far off region and live out most of his long life here, dying at the old family farm near Sioux Creek west of Burwell at age 93.

Another interesting sidelight of the Battle of Pebble Creek is the story of the disposition of Marion Littlefield’s rifle. He was armed with a Springfield ‘needle-gun’, a breech-loading, single-shot trapdoor action rifle of caliber .50-70 when the .44 caliber bullet of a Henry or Winchester multi-shot lever-action repeater went squarely through the center of his forehead. Littlefield’s ‘needle-gun’ (the colloquial name given to this class of weapon by frontiersmen throughout the Plains) was placed in McClimans’ wagon with the body.

When the body of Littlefield was returned to his relatives, they gave the rifle to McClimans in gratitude for hauling the remains home (more than 100 miles in mid-winter). The rifle remained in the McClimans family and was pictured being held by Richard’s son, A.R. McClimans in the June 16, 1937 edition of the Ord Quiz. This was part of a full-page article detailing the unveiling of the Littlefield monument north of Burwell. This marker is on the property of Mr. Gil Stahlecker on the scenic, public Pebble Creek Road.

During the 1940’s, the Littlefield rifle was acquired by Ed Cram of Burwell, an avid gun collector. Upon Ed’s death, his nephew Dr. Roy Cram inherited the rifle as part of the collection. In late 1977, Fort Hartsuff Park Superintendent Lindsay was approached by Dr. Cram regarding proper disposition of this historic firearm. An agreement was reached, and on January 16, 1978, almost 104 years to the day of the battle, the Littlefield rifle was donated and became part of the permanent display of Fort Hartsuff.

We were especially pleased to receive this historic rifle. Granted, no United States soldiers were involved in the Battle of Pebble Creek. However, one of the results of that battle was that a committee was formed to petition congress for a permanent military presence in the Loup Valley. The result of the committee’s effort, inspired by the fear and insecurity engendered by the Pebble Creek Battle, was that a permanent fort was established within nine months of the battle. So the Battle of Pebble Creek was a major factor in the formula which led to the establishment of Fort Hartsuff, “Post on the North Fork of the Loup River”.