One hundred and fifty years ago, the meager number of Union forces in Helena were finally getting reinforcements amid a countryside of eager and willing Confederates ready to pounce at the first opportunity. As the commanding general took leave from his Helena post, General Buford’s command was under the capable hands of Colonel William Crooks.
Crooks was a graduate of West Point and served during the war in the 6th Minnesota. According to a dispatch sent to Major General Fredrick Steele, Crooks, “seems to be a man of a great deal of dash and one to be relied on, judging from manner.” The dispatch noted, “He has little or no cavalry.” With Colonel Dobbins camped on Big Creek, twenty miles distant, Crooks was well-aware that the enemy consisted of between 600-2,000 men.
The dispatch continued, “The arms Shelby got from above are supposed to be from the Sturgis fight. Seventeen hundred muskets, 100,000 rounds of cartridges, and two pieces of artillery were crossed in flats (this is known) and have gone west. It is Colonel Crooks’ opinion that Shelby intends crossing the White, above Devall’s Bluff, and make south with his conscripts.”