Sam Colt and His Nation-Changing Revolver

ON SEPTEMBER 3, 1855, on land that would one day become part of Nebraska, General William S. Harney ordered 600 US soldiers to attack a camp of Sioux Indians. His men pushed the Indians north directly into an ambush laid by mounted dragoons, who charged them “with sabre and revolver, ” and then chased them down for miles as they fled. “As I looked around, I could see the soldiers galloping after groups of old men, women, and children who were running for their lives. […] [They were] shot right down,” a Sioux woman named Cokawin later recounted.

Harney and others hailed their victory and recounted tales of heroism, but a second lieutenant from the Corps of Topographical Engineers who had accompanied Harney saw things differently: “I was disgusted with the tales of valor in the field, for there were few who killed anything but a flying foe.” Harney’s men, the second lieutenant noted, left a battlefield of “wounded women and children, crying and moaning, horribly mangled by the bullets.” Eighty-six Sioux died that day in what would become known as the Harney Massacre.

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