Plains Folk

Sully’s Rock


Henry F. Hughes was a farm boy from Mt. Pleasant, in Cass County, Nebraska Territory. His father was born in Pennsylvania, his mother in Ohio. Henry was the oldest of three children born to the household in Ohio during the 1840s and 1850s. A fourth child was born in Nebraska in about 1856.

At age eighteen Henry joined the 2nd Nebraska Volunteer Cavalry. His enlistment records are a little garbled in the documents, but he enlisted in November or December, 1862, and served until December, 1863.

Not having had enough of military service, Henry enlisted again, in the 1st Nebraska Volunteer Cavalry, serving from August 1864 to July 1866, rising to the rank of sergeant. He came home to Mt. Pleasant and lived out his life there, to be buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in a year unknown.

Now, I’ll tell you why I’m going on about this evidently none-too-notable farmer and soldier from Nebraska. During his service with the 2nd Nebraska in 1863, young Private Hughes marched up the Missouri River with Brigadier General Alfred Sully parcel to the operations against the Indians of Dakota Territory.

Somewhere a little south of present-day Bismarck Sully and his troops—drawn from the 2nd Nebraska, 6th Iowa, and 7th Iowa volunteer cavalry regiments—along with his scouts and wagons, left the Missouri and proceeded generally southeast, across the Missouri Coteau.

Near the east face of the Coteau, at a place that would become known as Whitestone Hill, the force fell upon a largely undefended encampment of Yanktonais and allied Dakotas and Lakotas. Whitestone Hill, because of the heavy casualties to noncombatants, is the most infamous engagement of the Dakota War in Dakota Territory.

The route of Sully’s army across the Coteau has been generally known, or rather extrapolated, depicted on maps with suspiciously broad strokes. We can calculate fairly precisely the departure point from the river, and we have an endpoint at Whitestone Hill. In between, all we have known is that for at least the latter part of the journey, Sully was guided by the Yanktonais scout, Sunka Witco, Fool Dog.

Until now, I think. Because a couple of weeks ago Gerald, my guide to this part of the state, took me out to what is referred to by a few local residents as Sully’s Rock—a sandstone boulder on which soldiers from the army of 1863 carved their names.

The names are only partially decipherable, but clearly readable still is the legend, “Harry Hughes.” I can imagine the youthful exuberance that would have caused him to scratch his name into sandstone.

Also, by using this point, I think I can pretty much settle the route taken by Sully across country. 1863 was a drought year. I believe the army stayed close to a watercourse, and now I know which one it was. Which is all I am going to say on the subject right now.

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