Prologue Magazine

Lead the Way: Researching U.S. Army Indian Scouts, 1866–1914

Summer 2009, Vol. 41, No. 2 | Genealogy Notes

By Trevor K. Plante

A group of Apache Scouts drill with rifles at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.

A group of Apache Scouts drill with rifles at Fort Wingate, New Mexico.

A year after the fighting ended in the Civil War, Native Americans began serving as enlisted Indian Scouts in the U.S. Army. There were several types of scouts: those who enlisted as Indian Scouts for brief terms and those hired as scouts by the U.S. Army. Sometimes an individual may have served at different times as a hired scout and an enlisted scout, but never at the same time. In addition to enlisted and hired scouts, some Native Americans served in Regular Army infantry and cavalry regiments in short–lived Indian companies in the 1890s.

Native Americans had a long history of military service, having served in various local and militia units for the United States from the Revolutionary War through the Civil War. For more information on Indian service prior to the Civil War, consult James P. Collins’s "Native Americans in the Antebellum U.S. Military" (Prologue, Winter 2007).

The Army Reorganization Act of 1866 authorized the President "to enlist and employ in the Territories and Indian country a force of Indians not to exceed one thousand to act as scouts, who shall receive the pay and allowances of cavalry soldiers, and be discharged whenever the necessity for further employment is abated, at the discretion of the department commander." One of the most significant measures in the act was that Indians would receive the same pay as white cavalry soldiers.


Enlistment Papers

Among the Army enlistment papers, there is a separate series of Indian Scout enlistment papers (Enlistment Papers, Indian Scouts, 1866–1914, entry 92, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s–1920, Record Group [RG] 94). The Index to Enlistment Papers, Indian Scouts, 1866–1914 (entry 93, RG 94), contains four geographically based indexes: Arizona Indian Scouts; New Mexico Indian Scouts; Northern Indian Scouts; and Texas, Indian Territory and Oklahoma. These indexes are arranged alphabetically by the name of the scout and show the individual’s enlistment number. The enlistment papers are arranged by initial letter of the person’s name and then by the enlistment paper number.

The Indian Scout enlistment paper index can be challenging to use in some cases. The scout can be listed under the Native American phonetic spelling of his name (with no translation) or under the English translation of his name. For example, the name "Ceth ton e ki" appears in the index of Arizona Scouts with no translation, and the name "Eagle Claw" appears in the Northern Indian Scouts index with no corresponding Indian name. In other cases, both the English translation and Native American name are listed together, such as the name "Tatanka Cigala," which appears in parentheses next to the name Little Bull in the Northern Indian Scouts index.

In some cases the indexes provide the English translation first and then the Indian name; in other cases the names are reversed. For instance, if you are looking for Lone Buffalo, you will not find his name listed under "L" but under "T," under the name "Ta–tun–ka–ma." Appearing next to the name "Ta–tun–ka–ma" is the name Lone Buffalo in parentheses.

Once you’ve identified the initial letter of the scout’s name and the enlistment number, it is then possible to pull and view the original document. The enlistment papers provide the name of the scout, birthplace, age, physical description, and term of service (number of years or months for which the person is enlisting). Most Native Americans were enlisted as Indian Scouts for very short terms, usually three or six months at a time. Because of this practice, it is not uncommon for a scout to have multiple enlistments.

A good example of a scout with multiple enlistments is Sharp Nose, an Arapahoe chief, who has 20 numbered enlistment papers listed in the Northern Indian Scout Index. His first enlistment paper, in which he enlisted for three months, is dated October 27, 1876. His last enlistment paper, for a six–month enlistment, is dated May 20, 1890.

Enlistment for Indian Scout Sharp Nose

It was not uncommon for Native Americans to be enlisted as Indian Scouts for very short terms, usually three or six months at a time. Sharp Nose enlisted more than 20 times, serving between 1876 and 1890. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s–1917, RG 94)

In some cases, Indian Scout enlistment papers are located in the series of enlistment papers for Regular Army enlisted men in RG 94, entry 91. This series is arranged alphabetically within two time frames: 1798–1894 and 1894–1912. If you do not find the scout you are researching in the Indian Scout index, consult the Regular Army Enlistment Paper series. The enlistment papers only present the beginning of the story. To learn more, you will need to consult the Registers of Enlistments.

Registers of Enlistments

The Registers of Enlistments usually provide information on the beginning and the end of the scout’s service. The information is taken from the scout’s enlistment paper. Each scout will have a single line entry within the register. Entries for each man may show when, where, and by whom he was enlisted; period of enlistment; place of birth; age at time of enlistment; physical description; and possibly additional remarks such as discharge information, including date and place of discharge, rank at the time, and if the scout died in service. The registers have been reproduced on National Archives Microfilm Publication M233, Registers of Enlistments in the U.S. Army, 1798–1914. Two rolls of microfilm cover Indian Scouts: roll 70, 1866–1877, and roll 71, 1878–1914.

By consulting the registers, we find that Sharp Nose was mustered out of the Army on January 31, 1877, at Camp Robinson, Nebraska, with the rank of first sergeant at the end of his first enlistment as an Indian Scout. One shortcut in using the registers is to focus on the scout’s enlistment paper number. For example, the first enlistment paper for Sharp Nose is #394. In the "S" section of the registers you will find information about his first enlistment on line #394. In this way, you can use the 20 numbered enlistment papers to track Sharp Nose’s 14 years of service as an Indian Scout.

While tracking Sharp Nose’s numbered enlistments, an interesting thing happens. Between enlistment numbers 1404 and 1464 the register has an additional listing for him under number 1435. Under number 1404 he enlisted for six months at Fort Washakie, Wyoming Territory, on November 20, 1888. He was discharged on May 19, 1889, at the same fort. The enlistment that was not indexed (number 1435) shows that he enlisted on May 20, 1889, for six months at Fort Washakie filling in the missing piece until his next enlistment (number 1464) on November 20, 1889, for six months. His next enlistment, at the age of 50, is his last. Sharp Nose was discharged on November 19, 1890, at Fort Washakie, after serving his last six months as an Indian Scout.

Muster Rolls

Geronimo at Fort Sill

Geronimo at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he enlisted as an Indian Scout for three years on June 11, 1897. As his enlistment paper shows, he was 63 years old at the time. (Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives)

The muster rolls provide additional information on the scout’s service by showing where the detachment of scouts was during the reporting period as well as providing remarks on individual scouts during the same period, such as indicating if they were discharged, deserted, or died while in service. The muster rolls for organizations of Indian Scouts for the period 1866 to 1912 are filed together in RG 94, entry 53, Regular Army Muster Rolls, and are primarily filed by state: Arizona, California, Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Within this arrangement, some are broken down by company or by military post.

Carded Medical Records

Some medical records relating to Indian Scouts may be found in RG 94. In entry 529 you will find carded medical records covering the years 1821 to 1885, and in entry 530 are carded medical records for 1894 to 1912. These cards include information relating to Indian Scouts admitted to hospitals for treatment and may include information such as name, rank, organization, age, race, birthplace, date entered service, cause of admission, date of admission, hospital to which admitted, and disposition of the case. If you are researching several Indian Scouts at a particular post, you might wish to consult the hospital registers found in RG 94, entry 544. Regular Army Indian Scouts appear as patients in post hospital registers. The registers generally show the name of the patient, the date of admission, the nature of the ailment, and the date and nature of the disposition of the case.

Court–Martial Case Files

Several transcripts of trials involving Indian Scouts can be found in court–martial case files in Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army), RG 153, entry 15.

The most famous case involved the trial of several Apache scouts. In the autumn of 1881, the Army ordered the arrest of an Apache medicine man, Nakaidoklini, for inciting the San Carlos Reservation Indians in Arizona. On August 30, 1881, Eugene Carr, the colonel of the Sixth U.S. Cavalry stationed at Fort Apache, marched into Nakaidoklini’s village with two troops of cavalry, 85 men, and a detachment of 23 White Mountain Apache scouts. After making the arrest, the cavalry force headed back to Fort Apache. While bivouacked for the night, the troopers were attacked by Nakaidoklini’s followers. In the ensuing Battle of Cibicue Creek, the Apache scouts mutinied and fired upon the Regulars, killing an officer and several enlisted men. Nakaidoklini was killed by two troopers, and Colonel Carr was able to remove his force and return to Fort Apache without any further bloodshed.

In November 1881 the Apache scouts who mutinied at Cibecue Creek were tried for mutiny and murder at Fort Grant, Arizona Territory. The transcripts of their trials, in which several scouts were sentenced to death, are found in file QQ–2821.

Medical record of Ash-te-Ahu-ee's gunshot wound

This carded medical record relating to Indian Scouts shows that Private Ash-te-Ahu-ee suffered a gunshot wound and was sent to the post hospital at Fort Bowie, Arizona Territory. (Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s–1917, RG 94)

Records of U.S. Army Continental Commands, 1821–1920 (RG 393)

Departmental records found in Part I of RG 393 provide additional information about Indian Scouts such as letters and reports on various expeditions during this period. U.S. Army post records found in Part V of RG 393 also provide additional sources on scouts. In some cases you will find series containing Indian Scout morning reports, descriptive books, enlistment papers, returns, and clothing accounts. These records appear more frequently at posts where Indian Scouts served for several years, such as Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota; Fort Apache, Arizona; Fort Huachuca, Arizona; Fort Niobrara, Nebraska; Fort Ringgold, Texas; Fort Sully, South Dakota; Fort Supply, Oklahoma; and Fort Wingate, New Mexico.

Pension Files

Pension files are an excellent source of information on Indian Scouts, not only about the scout, but also about his family and others with whom he may have served or who knew him or his wife. Indian Scouts and their widows became eligible for pensions with the passage of an act on March 4, 1917, relating to Indian wars from 1859 to 1891.

To identify if a scout or his widow applied for a pension, you will need to consult Microfilm Publication T289, Organization Index to Pension Files of Veterans Who Served Between 1861 and 1900. Indexes relating to Indian Scouts are found on rolls 754 and 755. You can also check T288, General Index to Pension Files, 1861–1934. This publication is arranged alphabetically. In T289 the pension numbers for Indian Scouts are usually located at the bottom of the index card and not in the middle as is usual. Although most of these pensions have a number, they are not found in the Civil War and later pension files but rather are located in the Indians War series of pensions, which are arranged alphabetically.

A good example of a pension supplying abundant genealogical information on several people is the file for Holy Bear, the widow of Indian Scout Little Bull. The pension file contains several depositions from people supporting her claim.

In the deposition dated May 21, 1923, Holy Bear, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, states that, "My age is 72 or 73 years." She claims that she is the widow of Little Bull, and that they "were married according to our Indian custom" prior to his service as an Indian Scout. She was also with him when he died during the spring or summer of 1879. Holy Bear also provides information about her family. Her father’s name was Visitor, and her mother was Hornet. She had a son with Little Bull named Harry (Henry) Little Bull and was raising his daughter Bessie since the death of her mother. She also points out that she is called Holy Bear No. 2 on the agency records because there is another woman with that name who also has a land allotment. In addition to Holy Bear’s testimony, other depositions in the file also provide great genealogical information.

One of the individuals providing a deposition for Holy Bear’s claim was Moses Red Feather. He stated, "I am now pensioned as an Indian Scout. I had three enlistments." He went on to provide information about his service and that he served with Little Bull during his last two enlistments. "The only wife Little Bull ever had, that I ever knew or heard of, was Holy Bear, and the only husband Holy Bear ever had that I ever knew or heard of, was Little Bull." Later he mentions, "I know she has not married since he died and she has not lived as the wife of any man since he died." This is an important point for the pension office. If Holy Bear had married another man after the death of her husband, she would have been ineligible to claim a pension based on Little Bull’s service. To further support Holy Bear’s claim, Moses Red Feather states, "She has been considered a moral woman all the time since Little Bull died. I never knew or heard of her letting other men ‘run after her’." He also points out that Holy Bear sometimes goes by the name Wing.

Pension application of Holy Bear

Pension application files can provide excellent genealogical information. In this deposition, Holy Bear, the widow of Indian Scout Little Bull, provides the names of her parents and those of her son and grand daughter. (Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

Interesting testimony was also provided by William Garnett, the man who interpreted for Holy Bear during her deposition with the special examiner from the Bureau of Pensions. He was 68 years old and claimed he was an interpreter at the Pine Ridge Indian Agency. He had been an interpreter since 1873 and stated, "I was an interpreter for the U.S. Army officers during the Cheyenne and Sioux Indian Campaigns of 1876, 1877, and 1878." He also testified that he knew Little Bull was an Indian Scout who was married to Holy Bear and that he was "sure he enlisted two or three times."

A chief of Holy Bear’s tribe also came forward to testify on her behalf. Joseph Red Shirt stated that he was 77 years old and a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe. He also pointed out, "I have been Chief of my tribe since 1878." He went on to state, "I am pensioned as an Indian Scout, under certificate no. 8,783. I served as an Indian Scout under the name of Yellow Shirt during my first service. My name was interpreted wrong by the interpreter when I enlisted. I served as Sergt. In Co. B, from October 27, 1876 to January 31, 1877. Then under my own name, Red Shirt, as Corpl. from March 26 to June 25, 1877. Again under my name, Red Shirt, as Corpl. from January 6, to April 26, 1878." He furnished discharge certificates proving service for those dates and also provided three discharge certificates showing service during the Wounded Knee campaigns of 1890, 1891, and 1892.

Indian Scouts can also be found on Microfilm Publication T318, Index to Indian War Pension Files, 1887–1926. Sometimes index cards for Indian Scouts bearing the same name are cross referenced, but many times they are not. In the T289 index, claimants with the same name are often cross–referenced.

In Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15, entry 61, you will find Records Supporting Claims for Service During the Indian Wars, 1892–1931. This series relates to both Indian service and non–Native American service, and several files relate to Indian Scouts. Some are copies of muster rolls for different detachments of Indian Scouts, and one useful file provides a list of "Scouts Who Died While in the Service." The information is taken from the Registers of Enlistments of Indian Scouts who served from 1866 to 1914. Several alphabetical lists record the scout’s name, date, place, and cause of death.

Headstone Application Files

Headstones were provided by the government to Indians who served as enlisted Indian Scouts and to those who served in the Regular Army Indian Companies in the 1890’s. Consult Microfilm Publication M1916, Applications for Headstones for U.S. Military Veterans, 1925–1941. M1916 is arranged alphabetically, but the Native Americans are grouped under the "I" section under "Indian Scouts," which is found on roll 58. The headstone applications are arranged alphabetically within the Indian Scout section. You will find several units listed as: Indian Scouts, Negro Indian Scouts, or Seminole–Negro Indian Scouts. In addition, you will also find Native Americans who served in Company I or Troop L of the infantry and cavalry regiments during the 1890s. Their units are not listed as Indian Scouts but rather the company/troop and regiment in which they served. Note that there are a few headstone applications in the Indian Scouts section for Native Americans who served during World War I.

List of Indian Scouts who died in service

One particularly informative file provides lists of Indian Scouts who died in service including their names and dates, places, and causes of death. (Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, RG 15)

The headstone applications sometimes provide additional information such as enlistment and discharge information. For example, the headstone application for Red Fox submitted in 1935 shows that he was a private in Company D, Indian Scouts, U.S. Army, and died on May 20, 1911. He is buried in Episcopal–Cherry Creek Cemetery in Cherry Creek, South Dakota. At the top of the card you will find that he enlisted on April 15, 1877, and was discharged June 30, 1877. Also at the top of the card is a typed note showing that his widow, All White, was drawing a pension. You might also note that although Red Fox died in 1911, a headstone was not applied for until 1935.

In some rare cases, a reference to a pension can be found, as in the headstone application for Kayitah or Kaytah. The headstone application, submitted in 1934, shows that he was a private in Company E, Indian Scouts, U.S. Army; died on February 15, 1934; and is buried at Mescalero Agency in Mescalero, New Mexico. The card also shows that he enlisted on July 7, 1886, and was discharged on October 25, 1886. Of importance to genealogists is a typed notation "SC 12620," which is his pension file number.

More information on burial and headstones before 1925 may be found in the quartermaster document file found in entry 89, General Correspondence, 1890–1914, in Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General, RG 92. To locate the appropriate document file number, first consult the name and subject index found in entry 84. In some cases you can find a headstone application such as the one submitted by Indian Agent, G. W. Hoffman, dated May 20, 1911, for 13 Indian Scouts buried at Fort Berthold, North Dakota. The application provides the scouts’ English and Native American names, gives their dates of death, and shows that all are buried at the cemetery at Fort Berthold. An accompanying letter, in the file with the application, is from the at–large member of Congress from North Dakota, who stresses that most of the men are Arikara Indians who served in the Indian Wars.

Records of U.S. Regular Army Mobile Units

In Records of U.S. Regular Army Mobile Units, 1821–1942, RG 391, entries 2053 through 2060 contain several series relating to Indian Scouts: descriptive books for Companies A, B, C, and F, 1872–1886; descriptive lists for a battalion consisting of Companies A, B, C, and D, 1882–1884; muster rolls, 1877–1888; descriptive rolls of Warm Spring and Chiricahua Apache Indian Bands, 1884–1885; and a descriptive book for a detachment of Seminole Indian scouts, 1889–1893. The descriptive books contain rolls and lists of noncommissioned officers, men discharged, and deaths. These and the muster rolls show each scout’s name, age, physical description, and place of birth; the date and location of enlistment and the officer by whom he was enlisted; payroll information; and remarks, which usually indicate the date of discharge. Other series include letters sent and register of letter received by Company A and letters and telegrams sent by Company C.

Medals of Honor

Bloody Knife, one of Lt. Col. George A. Custer's scouts

Bloody Knife, one of Lt. Col. George A. Custer's scouts with the Seventh Cavalry was killed at the battle of the Little Big Horn. (106-YX-84)

Several Indian Scouts were awarded the Medal of Honor. The files relating to the recommendations for the Medal of Honor award or the action or campaign for which Indian Scouts were honored are found in the letters received by the Adjutant General’s Office, which have been reproduced on Microfilm Publications M666, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1871–1880, and M689, Letters Received by the Office of the Adjutant General (Main Series), 1881–1889. For a list of Indian Scouts who were awarded the Medal of Honor, including the related file citations, see the sidebar accompanying this article.

The files relating to Seminole Negro Indian Scouts who received the Medal of Honor can be found on roll 2 of Microfilm Publication M929, Documents Relating to the Military and Naval Service of Blacks Awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor From the Civil War to the Spanish–American War.

SCOUTS (Hired)

Quartermaster Records

In addition to enlisting Native Americans as Indian Scouts, the U.S. Army also hired scouts. When researching scouts hired by the U.S. Army, consult RG 92, entry 238, Reports of Persons and Articles Hired. This series contains records relating to Army quartermasters who hired individuals for specific jobs such as scouts, guides, and interpreters and includes records relating to both Native Americans and non–Indians. Most Native Americans who were hired by the Army were used as scouts. Records relating to leaders of various scouts are also found in this series such as Al Sieber, chief of the Apache scouts, and Frank North, who led the Pawnee scouts. Some famous guides of Western lore are also present in the records, such as J. B. "Wild Bill" Hickok and William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody.

The first step to accessing the records in entry 238 is to consult RG 92, entry 232, Card Index of Names of Scouts Mentioned in Entry 238 (Reports of Persons and Articles Hired). This series is arranged by name of scout. A finding aid that lists the names of scouts in this index, along with the corresponding file citations, is located in the Finding Aids Room at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C.


War Department General Order No. 28, issued March 9, 1891, authorized Native Americans to be enlisted in the Regular Army and serve in Indian Companies within Regular Army infantry and cavalry regiments. The order stipulated that Company I of Infantry Regiments (excluding the 24th and 25th) and Company L of Cavalry Regiments (excluding the 9th and 10th) would contain Indian soldiers. Each existing regiment of cavalry and infantry, except the Buffalo Soldiers (black regiments), would contain one Indian Regiment. A maximum of 55 Indians were authorized for each company or troop. This change was not well received by the Army, and although the general order authorized a maximum of 1,485 Indians for Regular Army service, the actual number of recruits only reached a little over half that number at 780. The Indian Company "experiment" proved to be a complete failure in the eyes of the Army, and the men of Company L of the Seventh Cavalry were the only Indian soldiers who served out their entire enlistments, serving until 1895.

The enlistment papers of Native Americans who served in the Regular Army Indian Companies are filed with those of the rest of the Regular Army enlisted men in RG 94, Entry 91, Regular Army Enlistment Papers, 1798–1912, and not in the Indian Scout Enlistment Papers series. Entry 91 is arranged alphabetically by the name of the soldier within two time frames: 1798–1894 and 1894–1912. The enlistment paper generally shows the soldier’s name, place of enlistment, date of enlistment, by whom enlisted, age, place of birth, personal description, and regimental assignment.

Regular Army Indian soldiers are listed in the main section of the Registers of Enlistments arranged by year, then initial letter of the name, and then roughly by the enlistment date. The registers are also keyed to the number found on the enlistment paper. For example, enlistment paper number 267 for Little Cloud (Mariyaciqula) shows that he enlisted on August 21, 1891, and was assigned to Company I, Second Infantry. Using the enlistment paper number we can more easily find him in the Registers of Enlistments. The register shows that he was discharged on May 7, 1894, at Fort Omaha, Nebraska, with the rank of corporal. A typed notation shows "Headstone Case Mar. 28, 1935." Using the headstone information found in his enlistment paper file provides us with a rough idea of when the headstone was applied for. By consulting M1916, we find that Little Cloud died April 28, 1934, and is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. The application is dated April 28, 1935. The case was sent to the Adjutant General’s Office on March 25, 1935, and the enlistment paper was consulted on March 28, 1935.

To identify pension applications for service in the Indian Companies, consult T318, Index to Indian War Pension Files, 1887–1926. There we discover that Little Cloud’s pension application number is S.O. 1627162. Again, the number is important only as a cross–reference since the Indian War pensions are filed alphabetically and not by the pension application number. Also, you will not find pension index cards for Indians who served in the Indian Companies in the Indian Scouts section of T289.

You will find a few record books relating to Indian company units in RG 391, particularly for Troop L, Third Cavalry, and Company I, 12th Infantry.

Additional information can be found in the Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United State Relating to American Indians. This publication relates to records in the custody of the National Archives and is a good starting point for anyone researching Native American genealogy. Also consult Thomas W. Dunlay’s Wolves for the Blue Soldiers: Indian Scouts and Auxiliaries with the United States Army, 1860–90, and Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1890, by Robert M. Utley, two secondary sources that provide valuable information on Indian Scouts and the campaigns in which they participated

Native Americans went on to serve in the U.S. Army in other roles other than scouts and eventually joined other branches of the military. The most famous example is the Navajo Code talkers who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II.

Trevor K. Plante is a reference archivist (subject area expert) in the Textual Archives Services Division at the National Archives and Records Administration who specializes in 19th– and early 20th–century military records. He is an active lecturer at the National Archives and a frequent contributor to Prologue.


Articles published in Prologue do not necessarily represent the views of NARA or of any other agency of the United States Government.