Major Joel Elliott

 

Joel Haworth Elliott, a fellow Hoosier, was born October 27, 1840 in Centre Township, Wayne County, Indiana. Major Joel Elliott was killed at the Battle of Washita on November 27, 1868. Major Elliott was part of the 7th US Cavalry under the command of General George Armstrong Custer.

Joel Elliott was born into a pacifist Quaker family and lived on the family farm until the age of 21. During the US Civil War Joel Elliot chose to enlist in the Indiana Volunteer Cavalry on August 28, 1961. This caused a deep chasm between him and his Quaker family and community. Cavalryman Elliott fought in many battles and sustained a very serious gunshot wound to his chest in June 1864 at Guntown, Mississippi. He was later commissioned a Captain in the 7th Indiana Cavalry on October 21, 1863. Before the end of the war he was promoted to the rank of Major in the 7th US Cavalry.

Following the conclusion of the US Civil War, Major Elliott served under General George Armstrong Custer with the 7th US Cavalry in Kansas. In October 1867, while General Custer was serving a one year suspension from duty following a court martial, Major Joel Elliott was placed in command of the 7th US Cavalry. That same month Major Elliott took 150 7th US Cavalry Troopers and an artillery battery from the 4th US Cavalry to Medicine Lodge Creek to meet with five Plains Indian tribes to sign a peace treaty. After two days travel the US Army arrived at Medicine Lodge Creek on the morning of October 14th. The US Army contingent had escorted over 200 wagons, including in excess of 30 that contained gifts (bribes) for the Indians. October 28th the Kiowa, the Comanche, the Kiowa-Apache, the Cheyenne, and Arapahos signed the "Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty."

The Battle of Washita took place on November 27, 1868 when the US 7th Cavalry attacked Chief Black Kettle’s camp on the Washita River. In addition to remaining a controversial battle until this day, it also fueled an internal 7th US Cavalry controversy that still lingers. During the battle Major Elliott headed east with nearly twenty men, without General Custer’s knowledge, to pursue fleeing Warriors along women and children. Prior to leaving the remainder of his command, Major Elliott cried out "Here's for a brevet or a coffin!". Rest assured Major Elliott and his entire party got the coffin.

Major Elliott and his men ran into a mixed party of Warriors from villages who were rushing to Chief Black Kettle's aid. The soldiers were annihilated in a single charge. Evidence showed the Troopers dismounted and tied their horses together, forming a tight semi-circle defensive formation. After being killed by the Indian defenders, Major Elliott and his command were brutally mutilated. A post-mortem physician report said of Major Elliott: "Two bullet holes in the head, one in the left cheek, right hand cut off, left foot almost cut off...deep gash in right groin, deep gashes in calves of both legs, little finger of left hand cut off, and throat cut.".

After Major Elliott’s Troopers were discovered missing, the controversy in the 7th began. It centered around those who were "Benteen men" and those who were "Custer men". Captain Frederick Benteen was an avid Custer hater and made claims that General Custer fled the scene without sending a search party to look for Major Elliott. In 1869 Captain Benteen wrote in a letter, published in a St Louis Newspaper, that General Custer had abandoned Major Elliott. Sergeant John Ryan stated that when General Custer discovered Major Elliott missing he immediately sent Captain Myers and Troopers in the direction that Major Elliott had departed in. Captain Myers returned with no sign of Major Elliott or his men.

A very large group of Indians from other camps were still rushing to Chief Black Kettle’s aid and massing to counter attack on the surrounding hills. With the objectives of the US Army met, General Custer withdrew the 7th. General Custer's withdrawal prior to learning the fate of Elliott and his Troopers created a deep resentment within the 7th Cavalry that never healed and I believe helped seal his fate at the Little Big Horn (a future article rest assured). As the controversy grew the officers who disliked General Custer continued to further the abandonment version of Major Elliott’s demise. Many enlisted men took General Custer’s side. Trooper Charles Windolph remembered no one in the US 7th Cavalry blaming Major Elliott's death on General Custer.

General Custer was very loyal to those in the "Custer Clan" and those who supported him. Major Elliott appeared to be a General Custer supporter in a letter written to journalist Theodore Russell Davis on October 31, 1868. In his letter Major Elliott stated "Genl. Custer is to command our column. He is already here. The regiment is in much better shape than I ever saw it before.". For General Custer to abandon an admirer and fellow US Army Officer would be totally out of character for him.

Major Elliott should be remembered as a US Army combat veteran who gave his life in service to his county regardless of your views on the Washita Battle. Just like the many Indian casualties, he felt he was doing the right thing. Please don’t apply our 21st century values to Major Elliott, nor his Indian foes who killed and mutilated him. It was a different time with different values and we can’t change them, but we can learn from them and strive to make a better world.

 

Major Joel Elliott

 

The last photo of Major Elliott was this group shot of the US 7th Cavalry Brass.

 

Major Joel Elliott's

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