During the fierce decades of Indian fighting after the Civil War, 416 soldiers received the Medal of Honor for personal bravery. Not one of the recipients of those medals was above the rank of Major. Most of the recipients were typically obscure Indian fighters, but all had an interesting story.
Private Jeremiah J. Murphy of the 3rd U.S. Cavalry was a courageous and lucky fighter. On a bitterly cold day in March of 1876, Jeremiah Murphy was part of a column attacking the village of Crazy Horse. Murphy, detailed with five other men to form a picket line, suddenly found his tiny force cut off from the main column. One by one the men with him were cut down as they tried to fight through.
Finally Murphy stood alone. He prepared to make a final run for it when one of his comrades, lying wounded, called to him "Murphy for mercy's sake do not leave me in their hands." Murphy turned back, hoisted the injured man onto his shoulder and tried to carry him to safety. Sioux bullets whined around them, the stock of Murphy's carbine was smashed by one slug, and then the injured man took another round, this one fatal.
Reluctantly Murphy put down his burden and set about trying to save himself. The main force watched in amazement as Murphy, now unarmed, raced back through the Indian warriors. When at last he reached the column, the border of his uniform was torn with bullets, but Murphy, astonishingly enough, was unscratched.
Sergeant Charles L. Thomas, 11th Ohio Cavalry was sent out to locate a column of 1400 soldiers that had been attempting to quell the Sioux warriors in the Powder River basin. The soldiers had not been heard from in ten weeks. Thomas and two Pawnee scouts road out at 8:00 in the morning. One day later they reached the Powder River and the Sioux. Bands of Indians began chasing them and for hours Thomas and the two Pawnees fought off the pursuers. At sundown, after 36 hours in the saddle Thomas sighted the lost column, surrounded by Sioux. The men were scurvy-ridden and completely out of food and not one officer know which direction to take to safety. Once inside their encampment, the sergeant used one of his remaining 17 bullets to shoot his pain racked exhausted horse. Then he mounted a fresh horse and rallied the demoralized men. They formed a fighting formation so strong that the Sioux gave way and Thomas led them 150 miles down the Powder River to a supply camp.