by James Horsley
Traditionally, while the location of friendly Indians was generally
known, the location
of hostile Indians was generally not known, for they, unlike friendly
not report their whereabouts to the government. As the stated intent of
the military was to subjugate the hostile Indians, one of the military's
primary objectives was
to locate such tribes. Logically speaking, since hostile Indians did
their location to the military, the only way to find them was either
or by finding their trails--preferably those of war parties--so that
they could follow those
trails to their source, their villages, and attack those villages.
As Sheridan (1888) explained: "another important matter was to secure competent guides for the different columns of troops, for...the section of country to be operated in was comparatively unknown."
One such scout was William F. Cody (Buffalo Bill). Sheridan noted in his autobiography that Cody had informed him that according to General Hazen the Indian villages had fled to "the south of the Arkansas." Sheridan related that, "the information brought me by Cody on his second trip from Larned indicated where the villages would be found in the winter, and I decided to move on them about the 1st of November. Only the women and children and the decrepit old men were with the villages, however--enough, presumably, to look after the plunder--most of the warriors remaining north of the Arkansas to continue their marauding."
In his autobiography, Sheridan recounted the incidents--including the need to follow a trail--that culminated in the attack on the Washita River. He said that he had left Fort Hays on the 15th of November, running into severe weather conditions--"the first night out a blizzard struck us and carried away our tents..."
After crossing a creek called Beaver Creek, Sheridan said, "we struck a trail, leading to the northeast, of a war party that evidently came up from the head-waters of the Washita River. The evening of November 21 we arrived at the Camp Supply depots, having traveled all day in another snow-storm that did not end till twenty-four hours later." (p. 312)
Sheridan directed Custer to move immediately against these Indians. "Custer was ready to start by the 23rd, and he was then instructed to march north to where the trail had been seen near Beaver Creek and follow it on the back track, for, being convinced that the war party had come from the Washita, I felt certain that this plan would lead directly to the village." (p. 312)
Custer, in his autobiography, explained that:
After remaining at Camp Supply six days, nothing was required but the formal order directing the movement to commence. This came in the shape of a brief letter of instructions from the department headquarters. Of course, as nothing was known positively as to the exact whereabouts of the Indian villages, the instructions had to be general in terms. In substance, I was to march my command in search of the winter hiding-places of the hostile Indians, and wherever found to administer such punishment for past depredations as my forces were able to. (Custer, 1962, p. 213-4)
According to Sheridan, the snow storm proved to be a major hindrance for Custer.
The difficulties attending a winter campaign were exhibited now with their full force, as the march had to be conducted through a snow-storm that hid surrounding objects, and so covered the country as to alter the appearance of the prominent features, making the task of the guides doubly troublesome... The next day the storm ceased, and the weather was clear and cold. The heavy fall of snow had of course obliterated the trail in the bottoms, and everywhere on the level; but, thanks to the wind, that had swept comparatively bare the rough places and high ground, the general direction could be traced without much trouble. (Sheridan, 1888, p. 312)
The "guides" Sheridan refers to were Indian scouts. To find the hostile camps, non-white scouts were used, namely, Osage Indians, enemies of the Cheyenne. They were called the "Osage Trailers." The Osage, as well as the Kaws, were employed as scouts because they were enemies of the non-reservation Plains tribes. They were primarily employed to trail hostile Indians. Custer explained:
To these smaller tribes it was a welcome opportunity to be permitted to ally themselves to the forces of the government, and endeavor to obtain that satisfaction which acting along they were powerless to secure. The tribes against which we proposed to operate during the approaching campaign had been particularly cruel and relentless in their wanton attacks upon the Osages and Kaws, two tribes living peaceably and contentedly on well-chosen reservations in southwestern Kansas and the northern portion of the Indian Territory. No assistance in fighting the hostile tribes was desired, but it was believed, and correctly, too, that in finding the enemy and in discovering the location of his winter hiding-place, the experience and natural tack and cunning of the Indians would be a powerful auxiliary if we could enlist them in our cause. (Custer, 1962, p. 209)
Dodge, Sherman's personal aid noted in his book Our Wild Indians that one of the most valuable skills on the frontier was "trailing."
In the wilder regions of country, where there are no roads the term 'trail' is applied by Indians and frontiersmen alike to the old beaten paths worn by the feet of their ponies and the dragging lodge-poles, and to the track or spoor of any animal. These are, however, differently designated, the beaten track being habitually spoken of as an 'old trail.' When, therefore, as Indian or frontiersman speaks of a trail, he habitually means the marks left on the ground by the recent passage of as animal or party. 'Sign' in frontier language means any evidence that something has been on that ground. The ashes of a fire, fragments of clothing, as empty can, footprints of men or animals, are all 'sign.' A trail is a succession of these marks or signs. A 'trail' is made up of sign... Trailing is the art of evolving trail from sign. The requisites of a good trailer are sharp eyes, perfect knowledge of the appearance and character of the sign made by whatever is being trailed; and, when trailing Indians, a thorough knowledge of the country and the habits of the Indians. To all people who live on the frontier, or in a sparsely settled country, some knowledge of trailing is absolutely necessary... In over thirty-two years' experience I have never yet seen one who was better than a mere schoolboy, when compared with Indian trailers. (Dodge, 1959, p. 562-3)
In the afternoon of that second day, Sheridan recalled, the scouts picked up a fresh trail at the site of the Canadian River. "Custer's scouts (friendly Osages) brought back word that, some miles ahead, they had struck fresh signs, a trail coming into the old one from the north, which, in their opinion, indicated that the war party was returning to the villages." This trail, afterward determined to be that made by members of a band Cheyennes under Chief Black Kettle and by some Arapahos, "led into the valley of the Washita." Here was found Black Kettle's village, which they attacked at dawn, waiting all night to do so. "The sleeping and unsuspecting savages were completely surprised by the onset." (Sheridan, 1888, p. 315).
In describing the merits of the attack, Sheridan said that:
The blow struck was a most effective one, and fortunately, fell on one of the most villainous of the hostile bands that, without any provocation whatever, had perpetrated the massacres on the Saline and Solomon, committing atrocities too repulsive for recital, and whose hands were still red from their bloody work on the recent raid. Black Kettle, the chief, was as old man, and did not himself go with the raiders to the Saline and Solomon, and on this account his fate was regretted by some. But it was old age only that kept him back, for before the demons set out from Walnut Creek he had freely encouraged them by "making medicine," and by other devilish incantations that area gone through with at war and scalp dances. When the horrible work was over he undertook to shield himself by professions of friendship, but being put to the test by my offering to feed and care for all of his band who would come in to Fort Dodge and remain there peaceably, he defiantly refused. The consequences of this refusal was a merited punishment, only too long delayed. (pp. 318-9)
At Dodge, it may be recalled, Sheridan stated that several chiefs came to him to discuss the terms of the new treaty. One of these chiefs must have been Black Kettle. Sheridan recorded that "A few hours after my arrival a delegation of prominent chiefs called on me and proposed a council, where they might discuss their grievances, and thus bring to the notice of the Government the alleged wrong done them." However, as Sheridan related, he refused to enter into discussions. "But this I refused," he said, "because Congress had delegated to the Peace Commission the whole mater of treating with them, and a council might lead only to additional complications. My refusal left them without hope of securing better terms, or of even delaying matters longer." (p. 285-6) Because this rejection led to widespread denunciations of the treaty by the Indians, Sheridan was fearful that hostilities would break out. While not willing to meet formally with the Indians, Sheridan said that he showed his "willingness to temporize a good deal" by feeding them and by allowing his "mediators" to mingle with them. He did not mention in his initial description of the Fort Dodge meeting, however, offering Black Kettle and his band to "come into Fort Dodge and remain there peaceably." Instead, he said the "whole matter of treating with them" was out of his jurisdiction. (pp. 283, 319)
In his autobiography, Custer also noted that finding their way became difficult as the storm increased.
The snow continued to descend in almost blinding clouds. Even the appearance of daylight aided us but little in determining the direction of our march. So dense and heavy were the falling lines of snow, that all view of the surface of the surrounding country, upon which the guides depended to enable them to run their course, was cut off... None of the command except the Indian guides had ever visited the route we desired to follow, and they were forced to confess that until the storm abated sufficiently to permit them to catch glimpses of the landmarks of the country they could not undertake to guide the troops to the point where we desired to camp that night. (p. 216)
However, Custer reported that he was able to proceed to his desired destination without following the trail.
There was but one course to pursue now that the guides could no longer conduct us with certainty and that we to be guided--like the mariner in mid-ocean--by the never failing compass. There are few cavalry officers but what carry a compass in some more or less simple form. Mine was soon in my hand, and having determined as accurately as practicable, from my knowledge of the map of the country, the direction in which we ought to move in order to strike Wolf Creek at the desired camping ground, I became for the time guide to the column, and after marching until about two p.m. reached the valley of Wolf Creek, where a resting place for the night was soon determined upon." (pp. 218-9)
After the snow storm, Custer observed that "The snow did not add to our discomfort particularly, save by increasing the difficulty of obtaining food and sufficient fuel." In fact, his destination appears to have become more defined, for at this point he wrote: "Our purpose was to strike the Canadian River in the vicinity of 'Antelope Hills,' which are famous and prominent landmarks in that region, and then be governed in our future course by circumstances." (p. 219)
On reaching the Canadian River, with most of the expedition now completed, the party discovered a fresh trail crossing the river, which lead them to Black Kettle's camp, the first Indian camp along the Washita. Custer related how the troops waited all night in the snow outside the camp. They heard the tinkling of pony bells and the cry of a child. At dawn they attacked.
Sheridan related that by 9 a.m. "the entire camp was in his (Custer's) possession and the victory complete. Black Kettle and over one hundred of his warriors were killed, and about fifty women and children captured; but most of the non-combatants, as well as a few warriors and boys, escaped in the confusion of the fight."
Custer burned Black Kettle's village and shot about 900 Indian ponies. While he was doing this, according to Sheridan, "the Indians from the villages down the Washita were gathering constantly around him till by mid-day they had collected in thousands." According to Sheridan, Custer retreated, fearing they would be overwhelmed by this gathering force. The troops arrived several days later at Camp Supply. It was found that Major Elliott and 19 of his men had not returned and were feared lost. Subsequent search confirmed those fears, for their bodies were found several days later near the Washita battlefield. (Sheridan, 1888, p. 328)
The appearance of the gathering warriors at the Washita battle site as noted by Sheridan was also related by Custer. However, Custer wrote that the retreat was preceded by a day that included such activities as shooting the Indians' horses, getting "married" to as Indian "maiden," visiting the wounded and fainting as attack against the Indians, who fled.
Custer explained that following the fight he saw a small band of Indians collect on a knoll, which later grew to a hundred, as confirmed through field-glasses. He described them as being mounted in full battle dress. However, their presence was expressed by Custer as being a puzzle:
All this seemed inexplicable. A few Indians might have escaped through our lines when the attack on the village began, but only a few, and even these must have gone with little or nothing in their possession save their rifles and perhaps a blanket. Who could these new parties be, and from whence came they?
Custer said that he interrogated one of the women prisoners and was informed much to his "surprise" that "just below the village we then occupied, and which was a part of the Cheyenne tribe, were located in succession the winter villages of all the hostile tribes of the southern plains with which we were at war, including the Arapahos, Kiowas, the remaining band of Cheyennes, the Comanches, and a portion of the Apaches..." He said he was informed that the villages extended about 12 miles down the Washita.
In the face of "greatly superior numbers" Custer asked rhetorically, "What was to be done?" Custer related that he posted his men for as attack, forming a circle around the village, issuing a fresh supply of ammunition. Instead of charging or retreating, however, he took this time to pull down the lodges and "collect the captured property in huge piles preparatory to burning." He said that "When everything had been collected the torch was applied, and all that was left of the village were a few heaps of blackened ashes."
Custer said that the Indians "whether enraged at the sight of this destruction or from other cause" then began to attack. He said that his men then mounted and counter- attacked, driving the Indians away. However, the Indians remained in the vicinity as "they would go no further than they were actually driven." It was now about 3 p.m. The attack had begun at dawn. With the "enraged" Indians still near, Custer decided to shoot all the 875 ponies. Prior to doing this, Custer said the captive women pleaded for their protection, with one of the women asking Custer to hold the hand of a 17-year-old woman. He agreed, listening to the older women apparently administer a "benediction." Custer asked the interpreter what was the meaning of the recital and was informed that he had just been married to the younger women. He told the interpreter to inform her that he could not marry her as he was already married. Following this episode, Custer visited the wounded. Eventually, evening came.
"As it was now lacking but as hour of night, we had to make as effort to get rid of the Indians, who still loitered in strong force on the hills," Custer reasoned. To get rid of the Indians, instead of retreating, Custer "set out down the valley in the direction where the other villages had been reported, and toward the hills on which were collected the greatest number of Indians." Custer said that the column moved forward, "with colors flying and band playing." The Indians, however, "never offered to fire a shot or retard" their advance, "fully impressed with the idea no doubt that our purpose was to overtake their flying people and herds and administer the same treatment to them that the occupants of the upper village had received." After reaching a point about seven miles below the battle site, Custer faced his command about, reached the original battleground by 10 p.m. and bivouacked at 2 a.m. Eventually, they returned to Camp Supply. (Custer, 1962, p. 245-70)
Custer failed to mention that the "hostile" Indians were those members of the various Indian tribes who had been directed by the government to the Fort Cobb area to demonstrate their peaceful disposition and to secure protection from military attack. Possibly one reason these Indians did not attack his troops was because they had come to the Washita River with their families to surrender.
Sheridan said news of the battle was "joyfully received," since he "knew that the immediate effect of a victory would be to demoralize the rest of the hostiles, which of course would greatly facilitate and expedite our ultimate success." (Sheridan, 1888, p. 319)
The only official reporter with the winter campaign was De B. Randolph Keim, a correspondent for the New York Herald . Paul Hutton, in his introduction to Sheridan's Troopers on the Borders , noted that Keim had developed a close relationships with Generals Sheridan, Sherman and Grant. (After Grant's election as president, he was the only correspondent allowed weekly interviews with the president.) (p. vii) According to Keim, Custer was operating under orders regarding his troops' ultimate destination. Keim wrote that, "The instructions issued for the expedition were brief and simple: To proceed south, in the direction of the Antelope hills, thence towards the Washita river, the supposed winter seat of the hostile tribes; to destroy their villages and ponies; to kill or hang all warriors, and bring back all women and children." As Keim observed, "this, in a nut-shell, was the Sheridan policy towards refractory savages, not only to break their power, but also to afford them a salutary lesson of 'two parties playing at the same game.'" (p. 103)
Keim did not accompany Custer on the actual march to the Washita. He stayed at Camp Supply with Sheridan. However, he made some important observations: that on the departure of the expedition on November 23 the "storm was till at its height" and that the "snow lay upon the ground to the depth of twelve inches" and that the "camp was buried in snow." There was no mention of finding a trail to backtrack.
Keim confirmed Sheridan's description of the march. He said that when the expedition left camp, it was headed in a southerly direction. He said that at the intersection of the "Texas boundary line with the main Canadian, and tending in a south-easterly direction, Custer struck a fresh Indian trail of about one hundred warriors." (p. 112)
When Black Kettle's village was located, Keim related how Custer waited until dawn to attack. "The charging squadron came galloping madly from all directions upon the fated village... Some of the warriors fled to the river and began fighting, at the same time standing waist deep in the water; others took to a ravine near by. The squaws fled towards the high hills south of the village." (p. 116) Following the battle, Keim reported that: "The loss sustained by the savages, was one hundred and three warriors left on the ground." (p. 120)
Keim mentioned in his book that "On the return march, no Indians were seen. They were, evidently, in great alarm at the just and terrible punishment meted out to the Cheyennes. Night and morning the captives set up their mourning songs, but received no response from lurking warriors." (p. 119)
The captive women and children were "50 squaws and their children" in number, according to Keim. (p. 122) That more than just warriors suffered in the battle is touched on by Keim when he mentions that the women captives all expected to be killed and that the children "not over eight years of age" demonstrated considerable fortitude from "wounds accidentally received in the fight." "During such painful operations as probing and cleansing the wounds the little sufferers placed their hands over their heads and closed their eyes, submitting without a murmur. One little girl, with a bullet-hole through her body on the left side, sat up as if in perfect health." (p. 125).
Bent's version of the battle tallies in many parts with Sheridan's and Custer's version. Bent appears to substantiate that at least some Kiowas were present in the defense of Black Kettle. According to Bent, "Runners were sent with the news to the Kiowas and Comanches farther down the river. Men from these villages rode quickly to the battlefield, meeting on the way the way the women and children fleeing from Black Kettle's camp." (Hyde, 1968, p. 321)
But Bent's version departs in some important instances. He related that Black Kettle and others had gone to see Hazen because they had become "alarmed at the reports of the hostile intentions of General Sheridan." He said "Black Kettle told General Hazen that his band was camped on the Washita, forty miles east of the Antelope Hills, and he assured Hazen that the Cheyennes and Arapahos south of the Arkansas were and had been peaceful." He mentioned while Hazen was sympathetic, he insisted that Black Kettle should deal directly with Sheridan, who was personally in command of the troops. Bent noted that, "This was a queer situation for Black Kettle (who was always for peace with the whites), as Sheridan had already taken the field against all the Indians south of the Arkansas."
Bent said that on the morning of November 26 Custer claimed that he struck the trail of a war party of Cheyennes who had been raiding on the Smoky Hill. However, these Cheyennes were not of Black Kettle's band, according to Bent.
"This party going to Black Kettle's village has made it appear that Black Kettle's band was hostile, though these Cheyennes were not of his band," he explained. "A war party of Kiowas who had been against the Utes also passed through Black Kettle's village and one, at least, of this party stayed with friends in the Cheyenne camp and took part in the fight which followed."
Bent further related that he was not with Black Kettle's camp at the time of the battle, having gone with his wife "when they crossed the Arkansas River on their way south" to visit his people near Fort Lyon, Colorado. "This probably saved us from the same fate that befell Black Kettle and his wife. Though Custer did not know it, Black Kettle's village was the farthest west of a series of Indian villages. About seven miles below Black Kettle was a big village of Arapahos, under Little Raven, and seventy lodges of Cheyennes; below these were villages of the Kiowas and Comanches." (p. 315)
Bent related the attack as he had heard it, having not been present when Custer struck:
Many of the Indians, men, women and children, rushed from the lodges to be shot down by exultant soldiers and in a short time the village was in the hands of the whites. Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, both rushed out of the lodge at the first booming of the guns. Black Kettle mounted a horse and helped his wife up behind him and started to cross the Washita River, but both the chief and his wife fell at the river bank riddled with bullets; the horse was also killed at the same time. Red Shin tells me that the soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and that their bodies were all splashed with mud by the charging soldiers...Ben Clark, who was interpreter at Fort Reno for many years and died last year, was chief of scouts during this battle and saved the lives of a party of fugitive Cheyenne women, one of whom, then a young girl, afterward became his wife. He told me that during the fight a Mexican who used to live with my father came up with a little girl in his arms and asked the soldier to save her. A sergeant took the child, then telling the Mexican to run, shot him in the back." (pp. 315-7)
In his diary, Albert Barnitz mentioned that mail service was available to Custer's expedition while in the field and marching toward Black Kettle's camp. He wrote to his wife on Nov. 21, 1868, that he was sending her a letter via "Bradly, the scout, as he sat upon his horse, waiting, while a detachment of 150 mounted men were moving out to escort him 40 miles on his way toward Fort Dodge tonight."
Barnitz, who was wounded in the attack on Black Kettle's village, noted on Nov. 21 that "It has commenced to snow since I have returned from General Sheridan's camp...and if it continues I suppose it will greatly facilitate the tracking up of our 'Indian Friends' when we start after them." On Nov. 22 he noted "Considerable snow fell last night, and sleet, alternating with snow and rain today." On Nov. 23 he wrote from "Camp on Middle River" that "The regiment broke camp at 'Camp Supply' this morning...and marched through a blinding snow storm, with the wind in our faces, and through the soft snow a foot in depth to this point...where we went into camp." On Nov. 24 he wrote that "Snow and occasional sleet & rain all last night... Morning very cold. Snow a foot deep"
On Nov. 26, after marching three days, he wrote that:
The morning was excessively cold, and a dense fog prevailed... As the snow was a foot deep, with a hard crust, which broke beneath our feet, walking was exceedingly difficult and tiresome. After proceeding about two miles I saw a bear track, the first I had seen, and shortly afterwards the Osage Indians who were with us called our attention to a trail resembling a 'buffalo path' which was covered with snow, but which had evidently been missed during the prevalence of the snow storm, as the snow in the path was not so deep as elsewhere, whereas it should have been deeper, if the path had been made by buffaloes...From all these considerations it was obvious that we were in close proximity to Indians, or at least that the valley had recently been traversed by a considerable body of them, but whether a war party or a hunting party we could not tell. After proceeding about a mile further we came to a timbered tributary of the Canadian and proceeding cautiously up its bank for a short distance we found where the Indians had encamped, during the storm, and had cut down cottonwood trees, to browse their ponies... We now crossed the stream, and returned to the Canadian, whither the paths led, and after continuing up the stream for a mile further we came suddenly upon a plain, fresh trail, which had obviously been made in the afternoon of the previous, by a war party of from one to two hundred Indians. It was know to be a war party from the fact that the Indians had no dogs with them, whereas hunting parties are always accompanied by dogs. The trail led southeast.
Barnitz noted that:
The command was now formed by fours...stoppers taken from the muzzles of the carbines, magazines loaded, levers tested, to see whether they were frozen fast...and then a couple of couriers...were started back to General Custer, with intelligence that we had found a trail, and would follow it rapidly until we received further orders.
Barnitz said the trail led up a steep mountain, through timbered sand-hills along a stream and eventually hit the Washita River, "and the trail now became quite difficult on account of the sinuous character of the stream, which runs in a deep channel, and which we were obligated to cross and recross very often."
He said that:
Shortly after midnight we began to discover the traces of 'tepee' poles, which entered the trail from the left, and followed down in the direction we were going. The traces of tepee poles at length became quite numerous, always entering our trail from the left, from which it was obvious that a village, traces of which Gen. Custer had found about ten miles below our encampment on the Canadian was moving in the same direction as the war party which we were following.
They eventually came upon as Indian village situated over a ridge. "Gen.. Custer stated that the scouts, in advance had reported that the valley in advance was filled with ponies, and that the tinkling of a little bell could be distinctly heard." He said they waited all night, making plans for the attack.
The advance was to be made from all directions--all were to go in with a rush and this was particularly enjoined upon all the officers, by Gen.. Custer, as he fully realized the importance of concentration. The plan of attack having been announced, the columns were ordered to move at once to their respective positions.
He described the eventual attack:
We had just reached the edge of a shallow ravine beyond which we could see the clustered tepees, situated among wide-branching cottonwood trees, when a shot was fired in the village, and instantly we heard the band on the ridge beyond it strike up the familiar air 'Garry Owen' and the answering cheers of the men, as Custer, and his legion came thundering down the long divide, while nearer at hand on our right came Benteen's squadron, crashing through the frozen snow, as the troops deployed into line at a gallop, and the Indian village range with unearthly war-whoops, the quick discharge of fire-arms, the clamorous barking of dogs, the cries of infants and the wailing of women. (pp. 208-225)
News of the attack was carried across the nation. The Dec. 3 Rocky Mountain News carried the dispatch under the heading: "By Telegraph. Morning Report. Reported Fight with Indians. Black Kettle's Band Annihilated." The same story appeared in the December 2 New York Tribune under the heading "The Indian War. Gen. Custer Engaged with Black Kettle's Band--One Hundred and Fifty Indians Killed--Capt. Hamilton Killed--Losses on Both Side." It carried the dateline "In the Field, Indian Territory, Nov. 28 via Hays City, Dec. 1." It said, in part, that:
The Cheyenne village of Black Kettle's band was captured yesterday morning at daylight by the 7th Cavalry Regiment, under Gen. Custer, on the north fork of the Witchela River. One hundred and fifty Indians were killed, and the bodies left in our possession, and 53 taken as prisoners. An immense amount of property was destroyed, consisting of 51 lodges, nearly 1,000 horses and mules, arms, ammunition, horse equipment, robes, provisions, etc.
Capt. Louis Hamilton was killed in the first charge. Brevet Lieut. Col. Barnitz was seriously if not mortally wounded. Major Elliott is missing. One man of the 7th was killed and 14 wounded.
The tribe is badly crippled. The Indians, including women and boys, fought with great desperation from the cover of bushes and grass. When driven out of the village many of the wounded affected their escape.
The victory was complete and will be a wholesome lesson to the Cheyennes. Black Kettle, the principal chief, was killed. The casualties are Major George L.H. Elliott, Capt. Louis M. Hamilton and 19 enlisted men killed; and the wounded are Brevet Lieut. Col. Albert Barrietz, Captain 7th Infantry, supposed mortally; Brevet Lieut. Co. T.W. Custer (Custer's brother) and Second Lieut. J.M. Marsh, slight, and 11 enlisted men. Col. Benton had a horse shot under him. General Custer returns here, will refit, and again take the field.
Cheyenne and Arapaho agent Wynkoop, en route to Fort Cobb to take over the command from General Hazen, submitted his letter of resignation two days after the Battle of the Washita and prior to knowing the outcome of that battle. He wrote to Taylor, commissioner of Indian affairs, explaining why:
On December 3 three separate stories appeared in the New York Tribune . All were under the general heading of "The Indian War." The first was under the heading "Official Report of the Recent Battle on the North Canadian River." It carried the dateline St. Louis, Dec. 2 and was a dispatch from "P.H. Sheridan, Major Gen. Commanding, to Major Gen. W. A. Nichols, A.A.G., Military Department of the Missouri:"
Gen. Sheridan, who dates his report "In the Field, Department of the North Canadian River, at the junction of Beaver Creek, Indian Territory, Nov. 29," says:
General: I have the honor to report for the information of the Lieutenant General the following operations of Gen. Custer's command. On the 23rd of November I ordered him to proceed with 11 companies of the Seventh calvalry in a southerly direction toward the Antelope Hills in search of hostile Indians. On the 26th he struck the trail of a war party of Black Kettle's band returning from the north, near where the eastern line of the panhandle of Texas crossed the main Canadian. He at once corralled his wagons and followed in pursuit over to the headwaters of the Washita, and after a desperate fight, in which Black Kettle was assisted by the Arapahos, under Little Raven, and the Kiowas, under Satanta, we captured the whole camp, killing the chief, Black Kettle and 102 warriors, whose bodies were left on the field, all their stock, ammunition, arms, lodges, robes and 53 women and their children. Our losses was Major Elliott, Capt. Hamilton, and 19 enlisted men killed, and Brevet Lieut. Col. Barnetz, Brevet Lieut. Col. J. W. Custer, Second Lieut. E. Marsh and 11 enlisted men wounded. Little Raven's band of Arapahos and Santanta's band of Kiowas were encamped six miles below Black Kettle's camp. About 800 to 900 hundred of the animals captured were shot, the balance being kept for military purposes. The highest credit is due to Gen. Custer and his command. They started in a furious snow storm, and traveled all the while in snow about twelve inches deep. Black Kettle's and Little Raven's families are among the prisoners. It was Black Kettle's band that committed the first depredations on the Saline and Solomon Rivers in Kansas. The Kansas Regiment has just come in. They missed the trail and had to struggle in the snow storm. The horses suffered much in flesh, and the men were living on buffalo meat and other game for eight days. We will soon have them in good condition. If we can get one or two more good blows there will be no more Indian troubles in my department. We will be pinched in ability to obtain supplies, and nature will present difficulties in our Winter operations; but we have stout hearts, and will do our best. Two white children were recaptured. One white woman, and a boy ten years old, were brutally murdered by the Indian women when the attack commenced.
The next story was under the heading "Prediction of Sheridan's Success" and carried a Washington, December 2 dateline. It included one comment in reference to Wynkoop and another comment by Sheridan.
Gen. Sheridan's forces are moving from New Mexico, Fort Hayes and fur other points, in separate columns, to the Southern country, where the climate is mild, and to which Indians are resorting for Winter sojourn. Gen. Sheridan is establishing a base of supplies on the Canadian River. The indications are that his plan of operations will be successful, and that he will summarily punish the Indians. The Indian Agent Mr. Wynkoop is apprehensive that innocent Indians may suffer in the campaign, as no discrimination can be made by the Commanding General.
Lieut Gen. Sherman, in transmitting to Gen. Townsend Gen. Sheridan's report, says:
This gives Gen. Sheridan a good initiation. I understand his supply depot to be on Rabbit Ear Creek, a little west of south from Fort Dodge, whence he can direct operations and his very presence there will give assurance that the troops will act with energy, and that nothing will be done but what is right. The bands of Black Kettle, Little Raven, and Santanta are well-known to us, and are the same that have been along the Smoky Hill for the past five years, and as Gen. Sheridan reports, embraces the very same men who first began this war on the Saline and Solomon Rivers.
The last story was under the heading "The Property Captured by Gen. Custer" and carried a St. Louis, December 2 dateline:
Gen. Sheridan issued field order, No. 6, in which he thanks his troops and congratulates Gen. Custer on his recent victory over the Indians. The following described property was captured at Indian Village: Eight hundred and seventy-five ponies; 1,123 buffalo robes and skins; 535 pounds of powder; 1,050 pounds of lead; 4,000 arrows; 700 pounds of tobacco, besides rifles, pistols, bows, lariats, and as immense quantity of dried meats and other provisions.
Custer had given a similar report from the field on November 28:
The lodges and all their contents were in our possession within ten minutes after the charge was ordered... The entire village, numbering forty-seven lodges of Black Kettle's band of Cheyennes, two lodges of Arapahos, two lodges of Sioux; fifty one lodges in all, under command of their principal chief, Black Kettle, who fell into our hands. By actual and careful examination after the battle, the following figures give some of the fruits of our victory: The Indians left on the ground and in our possession the bodies of one hundred and three of their warriors, including Black Kettle himself, whose scalp is now in possession of one of our Osage guides. We captured in good condition eight hundred and seventy-five horses, ponies and mules; two hundred and forty-one saddles, some of very fine and costly workmanship; five hundred and seventy-three buffalo robes, three hundred and ninety buffalo skins for lodges, one hundred and sixty untanned robes, two hundred and ten axes, one hundred and forty hatchets, thirty-five revolvers, forty-seven rifles, five hundred and thirty-five pounds of powder, one thousand and fifty pounds of lead, four thousand arrows and arrow-heads, seventy-five spears, ninety bullet molds, thirty-five bows and quivers, twelve shields, three hundred pounds of bullets, seven hundred and seventy-five lariats, nine hundred and forty buckskin saddle bags, four hundred and seventy blankets, ninety-three coats, seven hundred pounds of tobacco. In addition, we captured all their winter supply of dried buffalo meat, all their meal, flour, and other provisions, and in fact, everything they possessed, even driving the warriors form the village with little or no clothing. We destroyed everything of value to the Indians, and have now in our possession, as prisoners of war, fifty three squaws and their children.
Custer did not record finding any evidence linking Black Kettle with the attacks on the Saline and Solomon rivers.
Two days later, under the heading of "The Indian War" with a Washington, Dec. 4 datelines, the December 5 New York Tribune carried the following dispatch:
The Indian Bureau has not as yet received any dispatches for the Plains, giving the particulars of the late successful fight of Gen. Custer with the Indians. It is affirmed that the fight occurred upon the reservation that the Government set aside for the Indians, and that the tribe who were destroyed have not committed any depredations. If this proves to be true, it is held that it will surely bring on a general Indian war. Further intelligence is waited for by the prominent officials with no little degree of anxiety .
Following the attack on Black Kettle's village, Custer returned to Camp Supply with the captives, remaining there over a week. On December 8 he again headed south, this time in accompanied by Sheridan and Keim. His purpose was to re-visit the battle field and attempt to discover what had happened to Major Elliott. From the battle field he would then proceed to Fort Cobb. Because the events following the strike on November 27 by Custer cast light on the nature of that conflict, several eye-witness versions by different authors will be given.
As they left, feelings evidently were running high. Scout John S. Morrison, in a letter to Wynkoop on December 14, 1868, mentioned that: "Generals Sheridan and Custer have started on a new expedition. The officers say that he is going direct to Fort Cobb, swearing vengeance on Indians and Indian agents indiscriminately." (Carroll, ed., 1978, p. 87)
From Fort Cobb, December 7, Hazen sent Sherman a report in which he stated that the fight had made it possible to distinguish the "status of the people." "About half the Kiowas under Satanta go with the hostile party, while the remainder, under Black Eagle, remain here, or rather about twenty miles up the Washita." He went on to say that:
I have never had faith in Satanta, and if he finally gets a drubbing with the rest, it will be better for everybody. I think by large presents of sugar and coffee he might have been bought for peace, but not for a valuable or lasting one. Black Eagle is probably sincere, and when he moves close in, as he promises to do, and I can keep them from communicating with the outside bands, about all will have been done that can be hoped for till the military power has done its work thoroughly. The prevailing sentiment of the people who have gone out to the hostile camp is no doubt warlike, and although they profess passive peace, will likely be found in the next fight. I am more strongly of the opinion than ever that General Sheridan should do his work thoroughly this winter, and that it will then be lasting. If he could throw a sub-depot of supplies directly south of the Antelope Hills, operating from there with cavalry without wagons, by quickly succeeding expeditions, there can be little doubt of the result. To suppose the late battle decisive, and cease offensive operations, would be very unfortunate.
The locations of the tribes and the population of each camp were designated on a map, showing the Washita River, marked with letters A,B, and C, for "Washitas and affiliated bands, 970," F and D, for "Comanches, 1,300" and G for the "Kiowas and Apaches, 1,400." Letter H, located at the fork of the Red River and Sweet Water Creek, marked the site of the camp of the "Arapahos, Cheyennes, about one-third of the Kiowas and Mo-a-cou's band of the Comanches."
Hazen also noted that a "Kiowa post, in from their camp, reports Satanta not gone; that four inferior chiefs, with about one-third of the Kiowas, having been stampeded by the battle, and would probably all come back and all come in." He said he was satisfied with what he had accomplished and that he could "now send to Big Mouth (Arapaho,) who was in with Black Kettle, that he can now come in with his immediate family or band, some twenty lodges, and remain at peace, without the fear of making a boarding-house for the winter, only to turn out fighters for the summer." The report also noted that "The Kiowas all say and repeat that one Beat, a half-breed guide with the troops, in communicating with the Indians, told them (the Kiowas) that this (Cobb) was only a trap to get them together, when they would be made prisoners and dealt with in bad faith." (Carroll, ed., 1978, pp. 226-7)
David Spotts, a cavalryman with the Nineteenth Kansas volunteer cavalry, wrote about the march south. He and his companions were one of the five columns that had converged on the Washita area, but lost their way due to the storm. In his diary, Spotts mentioned that he heard about the attack on the Washita in the camp talk. Writing from Camp Supply on December 2 he said that: "We have some of the particulars of the fight today. The troops left here on Monday of last week and came onto a trail leading south which they followed until Thursday night when the Osage scouts reported a camp not far ahead. They waited in the snow for the plan of attack to be outlined and about 3 a.m. the four battalions were given orders to attack on four side of the camp at once."
While still in the filed and prior to the Washita attack, Spotts wrote on November 11 that, "We must be near Wichita. General Sheridan is somewhere on the North Canadian with Gen. Custer and his 7th Cavalry and we are to meet them at their headquarters. As soon as we join them we are to proceed against the hostile Indians supposed to be only a few miles from where the cavalry are now located. (Spotts, 1928, pp. 67, 51)
He noted on December 10 that they reached the site of the Washita attack and that on the following day they did not march, but that "all, who can leave, go over to the battle ground." On December 12, he commented that they had passed several abandoned villages, the "frames of their tepees, made of willows, are left behind. There are pieces of broken saddles, broken lodge poles, pieces of canvas and blankets."
On December 17, he said that at 10 o'clock a scout notified them that Indians were ahead with a flag of truce, messenger from Kiowa chiefs Satanta and Lone Wolf. "The Indians wanted to parley, but Gen. Custer was in favor of attacking them. Gen. Sheridan wanted to hear what they had to say, thinking perhaps it was possible to induce them to go on a reservation peaceably."
He noted that by holding Satanta hostage, they were able to force the tribe to return to Fort Cobb. On December 18 he mentioned that "There are a good many Indians here (Fort Cobb) already and we are told they are Comanches, but no Cheyennes as they went west or southwest after the fight with Black Kettle and were somewhere near the Wichita Mountains." On this day, he made the observation that he had "noticed a squaw riding in as ambulance with the Seventh and learned that it is Black Kettle's sister, Mahwissa, captured in the fight on November 27, who says she can get the Cheyennes to go on a reservation."
Spotts said that he was curious to learn how the Kiowas lived and visited a Kiowa camp near the fort. He said the tents were widely scattered along the south bank of the Washita, sometimes three or four close together. The visited one tent, watching several boys shooting arrows.
We visited another tent where two squaws were engaged in painting pictures. They had the walls of their tent covered with skins of various sizes and on each was a painting of some kind. On one that seemed most beautiful was a picture, in colors, of mountain scenery, a small lake, with an Indian village near the shore on one side. The two women occasionally spoke to each other, but said nothing to us and we went on to the next people we saw. An old squaw and two old men were making a frame of wicker work for an addition to their tepee. (Spotts, 1928, pp. 72-86)
While the army was headed down the Washita River toward Fort Cobb, the nature of the attack began to be debated in the press. In the December 9 Leavenworth Evening Bulletin , a brief story mentioned that: "Gen. S. Sandford and Tappan, and Col. Taylor of the Indian Peace Commission, unite in the opinion that the late battle with the Indians was simply an attack upon peaceful bands, which were on the march to their new reservations." The article also mentioned that the House was attempting to have the Indian Bureau transferred to the War Department.
In a collection of diverse stories about various Indian tribes, the December 14 New York Tribune carried an extract of Wynkoops letter of resignation under the heading "The Indians of the Plains." Preceding a reprint of a portion of that letter, it made the following comment:
Col. Wynkoop, agent for the Cheyenne and Arapahos Indians, has published his letter of resignation. He regards Gen. Custer's late fight as simply a massacre, and says that Black Kettle and his band, friendly Indians, were, when attacked, on their way to their reservation. The Colonel speaks of Col. Chivington's engagement at Sand Creek, and of Gen. Hancock's expedition and its results.
The following day the Tribune noted that:
Col. Wynkoop, late agent of the Arapaho Indians, is to be in Washington tomorrow to settle his accounts with the Department. His resignation is still in the hands of Commissioner Taylor, not having been presented to the Secretary of the Interior, and consequently not yet accepted. Bids for furnishing annuity goods to the Indians are to be opened at the Indian Office today.
The December 17 Tribune carried several articles concerning the attack by Custer.
One was a letter by Peace Commissioner Colonel S.F. Tappan. He stated that the attack was just one of a series that began at Sand Creek.
The Cheyennes cannot forget the assassination and mutilation of 120 of their own women and children at Sand Creek in 1864 while in the employ and under the protection of the Government; they cannot fail to remember their acceptance of an invitation in the Spring of 1867 to came into Fort Larned, Kansas, with their families, to confer with a prominent officer of the army [Hancock], and the advantage taken of their confidence to destroy their village and force them to war. The other tribes are not so stupid as not to understand all these things, to comprehend their intent, and apprehend their import. To them it is a proclamation of a determination on the part of the whites to exterminate them all--men, women and children. I will not insult the intelligence of any man by asking what he would do under like circumstances. We all know what he should do, and the Indian is not wanting in courage, manly spirit, and common sense. The practice of holding an entire race responsible for the alleged criminal acts of a few, must be speedily abandoned, or an alarming state of war will continue to exist on the Western border, involving the death of hundreds if not thousands of enterprising, industrious, and deserving pioneers, who have settled there in fancied security, depending upon the Government for peace and safety. Yet they find proceedings tolerated that exposes them to their greatest peril, for it is the policy of the Indians in war, to strike their enemy at their weakest point [i.e. border settlements]. The border settlers deserve better treatment, and should not be sacrificed to a spirit of aggression on the part of some, and a desire on the part of many to make money--men ever ready (and too often successful) to provoke an Indian war, merely to gratify their ruling passion.
Rev. H. B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota, was quoted in an accompanying article, saying in part that:
We cannot longer conceal this inequity. Every American who has the slightest sense of honor ought to demand that this foul blot on the country shall be done away. It will be hard to undo the past and regain the confidence of the Indians, but if we enter on the work in the fear of God and give Him the will, He will find us the way. The evils of our present system are a lack of efficiency in our Indian Bureau, a lack of virtue in the servants and the entire absence of all proper oversight.
However, The Rocky Mountain News held an entirely different view. On December 20, 1868, it carried the following story under the heading "Gen. Sheridan to Gen. Sherman--The Late Indian Battle--Another Wound for Ned Wynkoop's Sensitive Conscience:"
A letter from General Sheridan to General Sherman gives some interesting information in regard to the Indians lately defeated by General Custer. The trails of the war parties who have been committing depredations were traced directly to Black Kettle's camp, and much plunder, taken from the houses robbed in Kansas last fall, as well as many mails and other property taken from thence, were found in the camp. Thirteen Cheyenne, two Sioux, and one Arapaho chief were killed. General Sheridan thinks fight is pretty well knocked out of the Cheyennes. He thinks the Government makes mistakes in giving these Indians quantities of food, as the country is literally covered with game.
Under the headline "Wynkoop and Friendly Indians" the December 21 Leavenworth Evening Bulletin offered the following satirical editorial ridiculing Wynkoop:
One Wynkoop, Indian Agent, says the Cincinnati Times , for the Cheyennes and Arapahos, has resigned. The resignation of an Indian Agent is an astonishment to the nation. Indian Agents seldom do so. They got their appointment for a far different purpose. But this Wynkoop appears as an exception. He actually sends in his resignation and refuses to do the Indian business and the Indians any longer.
The cause of Wynkoop's resignation is humanity. He protests, with tears, that he can never consent to gather his tribes together to have them massacred by white soldiers and friendly Indians. If, while he and his people are in the very process of peacefully doing their Indians, an unchristian squad of cavalry can swoop down upon them to do them too--and that in a manner the very reverse of peaceful--why, then, what is the inducement for Wynkoop and his people to go on trying to pacificate them with annuities of horse-blankets, powder, calico, whisky, revolvers, axes, whisky, rifles, and whisky?
Wynkoop asserts, on his honor as an Indian Agent, that the band of Black Kettle, which Custer did such execution on recently, was friendly to the United States, and was then actually on its way to Ft. Kearney to draw rations, when the murderous Sheridanites under Custer dashed in upon them and intercepted their annuities in that shocking manner. Wynkoop affirms this, and Murphy confirms it; Murphy being another Indian Agent. The provoking interference of the War Department with Indian Affairs soured Wynkoop beyond endurance, and he threw up his commission. It is not stated that Murphy, the aforementioned, carried his indignation to quite that length. It is not recorded of him that he has yet resigned; and it may be assumed that he has determined to worry it through, and see the Indians out.
But let us examine a little this alleged cause of the extraordinary conduct of Wynkoop. If Black Kettle and his band were in reality friendly to the United States--before they were killed,--the onslaught was indeed a most deplorable act, and, if done intelligently, a most reprehensible outrage. Wynkoop's desperate indignation would indicate that he believed it to be the latter. But these Black Kettle Cheyennes were established in a permanent village, and did not appear to be moving toward Fort Kearney; or moving all. They were bountifully provisioned, and had ponies enough to mount twice their number of warriors for raids upon white settlements. They must have been lying on their arms and expecting an attack, or they could not have sprung up from sleep and made such a fight as they did. The fact, too that the first thing they though of when they got their eyes open was battle, and that they kept it up desperately for hours exhibits these amiable Black Kettles in a very lamblike attitude with reference to peace. Another proof of friendliness was the character of some of the plunder captured from them. There were 140 hatchets, 35 revolvers, 41 rifles, 335 pounds of powder, 1,050 pounds of lead, 800 pounds bullets, 90 billet molds with large stores of bows, arrows, spears and other implements that friendly Indians are always supposed to take with them when they go to receive annuities.
The Omaha Weekly Herald held a critical view of the "Indian War." On December 23 it made a satirical comment by first quoting a passage from an article in the New York Tribune . The quote was: "Very well-contrived and complete measures have just been taken to extend the Indian war by the unprovoked murder of Yellow Smoke, a Chief of the Omahas." The Herald , however, said that Yellow Smoke was a friendly Omaha chief and his murder would have no effect on extending or restricting the present Indian war. The newspaper said it would have been much better to have said the following: "well contrived and complete measures have just been taken to extend the Indian war by the unprovoked murder of Black Kettle and a hundred of his band by Custer while they were on their way to their Reserve under a treaty of peace with the agents of the Government pledged to their protection."
The Herald , in an entirely different story in the same issue--about the trial of Jefferson Davis--incidentally gave an insight into that newspaper's political views of Colorado and Chivington. It is mentioned here because it identified Denver with the practice of arbitrary punishment and cited the name of Chivington as a synonym for blood thirsty. It commented regarding Davis that "The Puritans were anxious to hang him... It is easy to talk about hanging people. It is easy to do the hanging in such places as Denver even without benefit of clergy." For those who wanted to see Davis hung, the newspaper made a sarcastic comment: "The Loyal 'blood hounds of Zion' of the Chivington persuasion will please 'rise and sing' the doxology."
Signs began to be evident in the press that the Peace Commission was crumbling. On December 22, 1868, the Leavenworth Evening Bulletin reported that "The Indian Peace Commission, which was to have assembled here this week, will not meet until early in January. Gen. Sherman writes that it will be impossible for him to come to Washington before the 5th of January. Other members of the Commission also write in a similar tone."
While operating south of the Arkansas in Indian Territory, Custer wrote his report on December 22 about the expedition from Camp Supply to Fort Cobb. He recorded his investigation of the battle site:
A thorough examination of the immediate battle-ground failed to discover anything worthy of special report, except that the Indians bodies were found which had not previously been reported in my first dispatch, and which went to prove, what we are all well aware of now, that the enemy's loss in killed warriors far exceeded the number (one hundred and three) first reported by me.
Custer did not mention finding any evidence connecting Black Kettle's village, or any other village, with the attacks along the Saline and Solomon. One would assume that such evidence would be "worthy of special report." Custer also made the following observations:
The forest along the banks of the Washita from the battle-ground to a distance of twelve miles was found to have been one continuous Indian village. Black Kettle's band being above, then came other hostile tribes, camped in the following order: Arapaho under Little Raven, Kiowas under Satanta and Lone Wolf, and the remaining bands of Cheyennes, Comanches, and Apaches. Nothing could exceed the disorder and haste with which these tribes had fled from their camping grounds. They had abandoned thousands of lodge poles, some of which were still standing as when used; immense numbers of camp kettles, cooking utensils, coffee-mills, axes, and several hundred buffalo robes were found in the abandoned camps adjacent to that of Black Kettle's village, but which had not been visited before by our troops.
Custer was able to estimate the number of lodges encamped along the Washita at the time of his attack: "By actual examination and estimate it was computed that over six hundred lodges and seen standing along the Washita during the battle and within five miles of the battle-ground."
He reasoned that it was from these camps that the warriors had come following the attack on Black Kettle's village, warriors who he claimed outnumbers his forces three to one and which he "fought until defeated by the Seventh Cavalry, about 3 p.m. on the 27th ultimo."
Custer noted in his report that the next day they headed down the Washita River toward Ford Cobb:
At daylight on the following morning the entire command started on the trail of the Indian villages, nearly all of which had moved down the Washita toward Ford Cobb, where they had reason to believe they would receive protection.
Custer related that as they proceeded down the Washita, his Osage scouts reported a party of Indians ahead of them "bearing a flag of truce." In addition, a scout from that group delivered a message to Custer, saying that he was from Fort Cobb. The message was as follows:
To the Officer, commanding troops in the Field:
Indians have just brought in word that our troops today reached the Washita some twenty miles above here. I sent this to say that all the camps this side of the point reported to have been reached are friendly, and have not been on the war path this season. If this reaches you, it would be well to communicate at once with Satanta or Black Eagle, chiefs of the Kiowas, near where you now are, who will readily inform you of the position of the Cheyennes and Arapahos, also of my camp.
Custer said that he conferred with the group of Indians, was informed that they were Kiowas under Loan Wolf and Satanta, and that they would agree to proceed to Fort Cobb. Custer said that he issued rations at camp and did "no act that might be construed as unfriendly." However, during the night the village fled, leaving only the two chiefs behind.
I then placed Lone Wolf and Satanta, the head chiefs of the Kiowas and two head chiefs of the Apaches, under guard, determined to hold them as hostages for the faithful fulfillment of the promise which they and their people has been under for several months, and which was one of the stipulations of the last treaty made with them.
At the same time I knew it was the intention of the department commander to assemble all the hostile tribes in the vicinity of Fort Cobb, by force, if necessary, in order that they might learn the decision of the government regarding past offenses, and the treatment they might expect in future.
Immediately following this statement, he launched into a criticism of Hazen for protecting the Kiowa from attack:
The communication received through scouts from Brevet Major General Hazen, United States Army, superintendent of the Southern Indian agency, in which it was stated that "all the camps this side of the point reported to have been reached are friendly, and have not been on the war path this season," occasioned no little surprise upon the part of those who knew the hostile character of the Indians referred to. We had followed day by day the trail of the Kiowas and other tribes, leading us directly from the dead bodies of our comrades, slain by them, within the past few days, until we overtook them about forty miles form Fort Cobb. (Carroll, ed., 1978, p. 245)
Custer also mentioned as proof that they were hostile the "testimony of Black Eagle" which "plainly states that the Kiowas and Comanches took part in the battle of the Washita," plus testimony from "a very intelligent Cheyenne squaw, sister of Black Kettle," who had pointed out, he claimed, the location of Satanta's village and who had reported it was Satanta's village in which the bodies of the two white captives had been found. (pp. 231-7)
Custer reported in greater detail about holding Satanta and Loan Wolf hostage:
It was only after receiving information that their village was attempting to escape to the mountains it was deemed necessary to resort to summary measures to compel these refractory chiefs to fulfill their promise... I gave them until sunrise the following morning to cause their people to come in... If no such evidence appeared, both these chiefs were to be hung at sunrise to the nearest tree... By sunrise several of the leading Kiowas came to my; camp and reported the entire village on the move, hastening to place themselves under our control.
Custer observed that they submitted themselves to military control: "not to make a treaty and propose terms of settlement, but begging us to pronounce the terms upon which they can be allowed to resume peaceful relations with the government."
He named those tribes that had surrendered and those who were attempting to surrender:
Of the five tribes which were hostile at the opening of this campaign three were already in our power, being virtually prisoners of war. The remaining two, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, were the principal sufferers in the battle of the Washita, and are no doubt the most anxious of all to abandon the warpath. They are supposed to be concealed in the mountains forty of fifty miles from this point, awaiting the results of the present negotiations with the three tribes now assembled here.
Custer said that he had sent Black Kettle's sister and a leading Apache chief as message bearers to the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and expected that they would "unconditionally come in and place themselves under the control of the command, willing to accede to any terms that may be proposed to them." Custer summed up the status of the Indians at that point:
The tribes now here have discarded their arrogant ideas, in the indulgence of which the numerous treaties recently entered into have encouraged them. They now seem to realize that the government, and not a few thieving, treacherous chiefs of predatory bands of savages, backed up and encouraged by unprincipled and designing Indian agents, is the source of all authority. The chiefs now here have repeatedly informed me that they no longer claim the right to propose terms regarding the future course of the government toward them, but are not only ready but anxious to accede to any rule marked down for their control and guidance. (Carroll, ed., 1978, pp. 231-7)
Custer not only described the trip down the Washita to Fort Cobb in his report, but also in his autobiography. In his Life on the Plains he noted that he, Sheridan and the command left the Washita battle site and "started on the trail of the Indian villages, nearly; all of which had moved down the Washita toward Fort Cobb, where they had good reason to believe they would receive protection."
Custer wrote that:
The Arapahoes and remaining band of Cheyennes left the Washita Valley and moved across in the direction of Red River. After following the trail of the Kiowas and other hostile Indians for seven days over almost impassable country...my Osage scouts came galloping back on the morning of the 17th of December, and reported a party of Indians in our front bearing a flag of truce. (p. 290)
Custer described the incident of being given the letter from Hazen, stating that Hazen had been duped by the Indians:
If gentlemen of the experience and military education of General Hazen, occupying the intimate and official relations to the Indians which he did, could be so readily and completely; deceived as to their real character, it is not strange that the mass of people living far from the scene of operations and only possessing such information as reaches them in scraps through the public press, and generally; colored by interested parties, should at times entertain extremely erroneous impressions regarding the much-vexed Indian question. (p. 291)
In his various transcriptions of the expedition down the Washita, Custer made the following points:
According to Sheridan's version of the expedition to Fort Cobb, they eventually reached the valley of the Washita and followed a trail about two miles from the "destroyed village." In an open level space they found the "dead and frozen bodies of the entire party," who, they concluded had been surrounded by the Indians.
From the meadow where Elliott was found we rode to the Washita, and then down the river through the sites of the abandoned villages, that had been strung along almost continuously for about twelve miles in the timber skirting the stream. On every hand appeared ample evidence that the Indians had intended to spend the winter here, for the ground was littered with jerked meat, bales of buffalo robes, cooking utensils, and all sorts of plunder usually accumulated in permanent Indian camp.
They also found hundred of ponies that had been shot to keep them from falling into the military's hands, according to Sheridan shot because they were "too weak to be driven along in the flight." He observed that: "The wholesale slaughter of these ponies was a most cheering indication that our campaign would be ultimately successful, and we all prayed for at least a couple of months more of cold weather and plenty of snow."
On reaching what they considered the Kiowas village, they found the body of Blinn and her child. "These captives had ben taken by the Kiowas near Fort Lyon the previous summer, and kept close prisoners until the stampede began, the poor woman being reserved to gratify the brutal lust of the chief, Satanta; then, however, Indian vengeance demanded the murder of the poor creatures, and after braining the little child against a tree, the mother was shot through the forehead..." (Sheridan, 1888, p. 328-331)
After exploring the battle field, Sheridan, Custer and his command proceeded to Fort Cobb.
They continued down the Washita for several days, coming to a point "on the Washita where all signs indicated that we were nearing some of the villages." Sheridan wrote that they then made preparations to attack those villages.
"Wishing to strike them as soon as possible, we made a very early start next morning, the 17th. A march of four of five miles brought us to a difficult ravine, and while we were making preparations to get over, word was brought that several Indians had appeared in our front bearing a white flag and making signs that they had a communication to deliver."
Sheridan said that they signaled back that they would receive the message. An Indian brought a letter from General Hazen at Fort Cobb. "The letter showed that Hazen was carrying on negotiations with the Indians, stated that all the tribes between Fort Cobb and my column were friendly, but the intimation was given that the Cheyennes and Arapahos were still hostile, having moved off southward toward the Red River."
"Of course," Sheridan wrote, "under such circumstances I was compelled to give up the intended attack, though I afterward regretted that I had paid any head to the message, because Satanta and Lone Wolf proved, by trickery and double dealing, that they had deceived Hazen into writing the letter. (332-4)
What Sheridan was referring to was the fact that as the Kiowas got closer to Fort Cobb, they found that all the Indians--men, women and children--had fled, leaving only the two chiefs Satanta and Lone Wolf in their possession.
"Indeed, they had already started for the Wichita Mountains, so I put the screws at once by issuing an order to hang Satanta and Loan Wolf, if their people did not surrender at Fort Cobb within forty-eight hours." He noted that threat paid off. As Sheridan related, "the result was that the whole tribe came in to the post within the specified time." He commented, however, that "the two manacled wretches thus saved their necks; but it is to be regretted that the execution did not come off; for some years afterward their devilish propensities led them into Texas, where both engaged in the most horrible butcheries." (p. 337)
In describing the coming in of the remainder of the tribe and the resulting reunion of the chiefs with their families, Custer noted that "the meeting between the captive chiefs and their more fortunate comrades occasioned an exhibition of more feeling and sensibility than is generally accredited to the Indian." He mentioned that:
A bevy of school girls could not have embraced each other after a twenty-four hours' separation with greater enthusiasm and demonstrations of apparent joy than did these chieftains, whose sole delight is supposed to be connected with scenes of bloodshed and cruelty.
However, Custer wanted to make sure that his description did not form a basis of the reader's opinion about the Indian people. He wrote that:
I trust no gentle minded reader, imbued with great kindness of heart, will let this little scene determine his estimate of the Indian character; for be it understood, not one of the chiefs who formed the group of which I am writing but had participated in acts of the most barbarous and wanton cruelty. It was a portion of these chiefs who had led and encouraged the band that had subjected the Box family; to such a horrible fate, of which Major Hancock made full report at the time. (Custer, 1962, p. 309)
While deliberating what to do with the two chiefs, on December 19, 1868, Sheridan wrote to the War Department about his expedition down the Washita to Fort Cobb.
We then took up the trail of the Indians, and followed it down the Washita for a distance of 76 miles and 36 from Fort Cobb, where we came near the camp of the Kiowas, who were unconscious of our presence, but discovered it late in the evening, and hastened to Fort Cobb, and next morning presented a letter from General Hazen declaring them friendly. I hesitated to attack them, but directed them to proceed with their families to Fort Cobb. This they assented to, and nearly all the warriors came over and accompanied the column, for the purpose of deceiving me while their families were being hurried towards the Washita mountains, but suspecting that they were attempting to deceive me, as they commenced slipping away one by one, I arrested the head chiefs, Lone Wolf and Satanta, and on my arrival at Fort Cobb, as I suspected, there was not a Kiowa; so I notified Lone Wolf and Satanta that I would hang them tomorrow if their families were not brought in today, and I will do so.
Sheridan outlined his planned course of action, mentioning to Sherman that "I will take some of the starch out of them before I get through with them." He said that the Cheyennes, Arapahos, one band of Comanches, and the 50 lodges of the Kiowas were at that time at the western base of the Washita mountains.
The following is what I propose to do, and I have submitted it to General Hazen, who approves. I will first punish the Kiowas, if they come in; if not I will hang Lone Wolf and Satanta. I will send out Black Kettle's sister tomorrow, ordering the Cheyennes and Arapahos to come in and receive their punishment, which will be severe. She says they will come in, as they are now willing to beg for peace, and have done so already since Custer's fight.
He ended by saying that;
The Indians for the first time begin to realize that winter will not compel us to make a truce with them. I am a little sorry that I did not hit the Kiowas, but I did not like to disregard General Hazen's letter, and perhaps we can do as well by other modes. (Carroll, ed., p. 50-1)
What did Sheridan mean when he said: "I will first punish the Kiowas, if they come in; if not I will hang Lone Wolf and Satanta"? Apparently, what he was saying is that if the Kiowas came into the reservation to surrender, he would either kill or imprison them. If they didn't, he would execute their chiefs. What could Sheridan have meant by saying that, "I will send out Black Kettle's sister tomorrow, ordering the Cheyennes and Arapahos to come in and receive their punishment, which will be severe. She says they will come in, as they are now willing to beg for peace, and have done so already since Custer's fight"? Why were the Cheyennes and Arapahos not coming in, if they were begging for peace? What did he mean that he ordered them to come in to "receive their punishment"?
A partial explanation is found in the January 5, 1869 Rocky Mountain New under the heading Santanta and Lone Wolf Prisoners--Savages Growing Humble." It said in part that:
General Sheridan, after a consultation with Gen. Hazen, proposes when the Kiowas come in, to punish those know to have been connected personally in acts of murder. He will send out to the Kiowas, Cheyennes and Comanches, and command them to come in, and submit them to like treatment. If they refuse he will carry on the war to the Wichita mountains. A private letter to Gen. Sherman says the Kiowas are coming in, and the Cheyenne have been very humble since their punishment by Custer. He has no doubt the Arapahos will also come in, and surrender, and abide by the terms, after which he has no fear of their renewing hostilities.
The newspaper apparently has interpreted Sheridan's remarks to mean that if the Kiowas came in the guilty would be punished. How they would be punished was not explained.
Custer noted in his autobiography that with the surrender of the Kiowas, "the Indian question, so far as the Kiowas were concerned, was regarded as settled, at least for the time being and it became our next study how to effect a similar settlement with the Cheyennes and Arapahos, who had fled after the Battle of the Washita, and were then supposed to be somewhere between the Washita Mountains and the western border of Texas, north of the headwaters of the Red River."
On December 20, Custer sent an Apache chief and a female Cheyenne captive as emissaries "to carry a message of friendship to the two tribes." At midnight December 31, a delegation of 21 Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs arrived at Fort Cobb, asking permission to bring their people in because they were starving. On January 2, Sheridan and Custer held a council at Fort Cobb with the chiefs of the Apaches, Kiowas, Comanches, Cheyennes, and Arapahos, during which the tribes agreed to maintain peaceful relations with the government. (Custer, 1962, p. 311)
However, for some reason the Cheyenne and Arapaho did not come in.
On December 18 Major A.W. Evans, his column converging on the Canadian River area from the direction of Fort Bascom, New Mexico, struck an Indian trail the led to the west side of the Wichita Mountains. On Christmas Day on the North Fork of the Red River near the Washita Mountains, he discovered and attacked an Indian village, which he burned, killing 25 Indians.
To keep a closer watch on the tribes in the vicinity of the Wichita Mountains, Custer sent an officer to reconnoiter a potential site for a new post near the juncture of Medicine Bluff Creek and Cache Creek, some 40 miles south of Fort Cobb and just east of the Wichita Mountains. On February 16, Satanta and Lone Wolf were released from imprisonment. On February 23 Sheridan, accompanied by Keim, began his return to Camp Supply. Custer remained to continue his search for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. He found a few, but never brought in the tribes. (Hoig, 1976, pp. 164-183)
The attack by Evans was similar to the attack against Black Kettle. The Indians were caught by surprise and were almost annihilated. Sheridan reported it as follows:
The Kiowas were now in our hands, and all the Comanches too, except one small band, which, after the Custer fight, had fled toward the headwaters of the Red River. The party was made up of a lot of very bad Indians--outlaws from the main tribe--and we did not hope to subdue them except by a fight, and of this they got their fill; for Evans, moving from Monument Creek toward the western base of the Wichita Mountains on Christmas Day, had the good fortune to strike their village. In the snow and cold his approach was wholly unexpected, and he was thus enabled to deal the band a blow that practically annihilated it. Twenty-five warriors were killed outright, most of the women and children captured, and all the property was destroyed. Only a few of the party escaped, and some of these made their way to Fort Cobb, to join the rest of the tribe in confinement; while others, later in the season, surrendered at Fort Bascom.
Sheridan explained his attempt to get the Cheyennes to surrender:
This sudden appearance of Evans in the Red River region also alarmed the Cheyennes and Arapahos, and their thoughts now began to turn to submission. Food was growing scarce with them, too, as there was but little game to be found either in the Wichita Mountains or on the edge of the Staked Plains, and the march of Carr's column from Antelope Hills precluded their returning to where the buffalo ranged. Then, too, many of their ponies were dead or dying, most of their tepees and robes had been abandoned, and the women and children, having been kept constantly on the move in the winter's storms, were complaining bitterly of their sufferings.
In view of this state of things they intimated, through their Comanche-Apache friends at Fort Cobb, that they would like to make terms. On receiving their messages I entered into negotiations with Little Robe, chief of the Cheyennes, and Yellow Bear, chief of the Arapahos, and despatched envoys to have both tribes understand clearly that they must recognize their subjugation by surrendering at once, and permanently settling on their reservations in the spring.
Unlike the Kiowas, however, the Cheyenne and Arapahoes never came into the reservation. Sheridan said the chiefs could not persuade the tribes to deliver themselves up.
News of the attack was carried in the December 31, 1868 New York Tribune , under the heading, "The Indian War. Another Battle with the Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes." The following bulletin appeared with a dateline of Topeka, Kansas, December 31:
Reports, thought to be trustworthy, have reached here, in effect that our troops have had another battle with the Indians, near the Washita Mountains, in which many Indians were killed, and Satanta, Chief of the Kiowas, and Little Raven, Chief of the Arapahoes, were taken prisoners. The Indians engaged were the Kiowas, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes. The particulars of the fight cannot be reported, the official messenger having lost his mail while crossing the Arkansas River.
The same bulletin was carried across the nation. In the Rocky Mountain News on January 2, 1869, it ran under the heading "Another Battle--Satanta and Little Raven Captured--a Decisive Victory."
Another report of the engagement was carried in the January 27, 1869 Leavenworth Evening Bulleting . It said that six companies of calvalry and two of infantry had been travelling in the direction of Antelope Hills.
On reaching a point near Kiowa Creek, forty-one miles east of the depot, a trail of about fifty lodges of Cheyenne Indians was struck, which was followed over to the north fork of Red River, thence down that stream, the trail constantly increasing until it became very large. The trail was hotly pursued, the Indians abandoning all their surplus property. The trail led into a canyon near the junction of Elm Creek and the Salf Fort of Red River, where Col. Evans made a detour to pass around the canyon into which the trail led, and which brought him at noon on Christmas day into a large village of Comanches of sixty lodges, just south of the junction of Salt Fork with Elm Creek, which was totally destroyed.
The descriptions by Custer and Sheridan claim that they were trying by negotiations to persuade the Cheyenne and the Arapahos to surrender at Fort Cobb. However, the news reports reveal that Sheridan's troops under Evans were actively pursuing and fighting the Cheyenne and Arapaho.
Just before Christmas on December 24, 1868, Wynkoop appeared before the American Geographical and Statistical Society at the Cooper Institute. It was reported in the New York Tribune on page one. The article was under the headline "Our Indian Difficulties." It began by reporting a letter that was read by the secretary of the society to those attending the meeting from Rev. H. B. Whipple, Episcopal Bishop of Minnesota. The letter was as follows:
My Dear Friends: I did not think it would be necessary to write you so soon again on behalf of the poor Indians. I beg you, as you pity God's poor killed creatures, to ask the Executive Committee of your Indian Commission, to employ some competent fearless person to investigate the recent events connected with our Indian war. I have not the proof, or I would appeal over my own signature, to the people of America, to stop this system of iniquity. You cannot cure by wrong; you cannot atone for robbery by murder. It is my firm belief that every provision of the treaty made with the Indians by the Peace Commission was violated and they left to destitution last Spring, and that, by failure of Congress to make early appropriations, were compelled they to leave their reservation and go the Buffalo ranges to escape death.
Second: That our refusal to give them either food, or the means (arms, etc.) to kill game, was regarded as a violation of the treaty.
Third: That as early as August or September, officers of the United States so far forgot every principle of humanity and fear of God, as to issue an order that no mercy should be shown to women and children, and that expeditions should be fitted out to strike a blow on the families of Indians.
Forth: That it will be found that at least a portion of the Indians killed recently, Black Kettle and his party were friendly Indians.
Fifth: That even if they had been several acts of hostility committed by individual Indians of peaceable bands, and by hostile bands, this shameless disregard of justice has been the most foolhardy course we could have pursued.
I need not go on. You know and the whole world knows the sin of the original cause of strife is at our door. We are guilty before God of winking at robbery; we know it, Congress knows it, the people know it. Will we escape the sure retribution of God's eternal justice by seeking to murder every Indian?
I said you must have a fearless man to examine and plead for the Indian. You will come in contact and conflict with men who are honored by the whole people. Congress will whitewash it all over; the press and people and army will act on the principle: "Dead men tell no tales." Humankind like to throw mud on people they have wronged.
Nothing could show as plainly as recent events that the reform of the Indian Bureau will not come through the army. Dear brothers, time is short, eternity is long, God is just. We must be up and doing, and God will help us.
Wynkoops address was then reported:
Gentlemen: In reference to your first question as to what induced me to resign the office I held as agent of the Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians, I would state that the causes have already been set forth in my official communication to the Department of the Interior, to which publicity has been given, but I have no objection to recapitulate. After hostilities had been existing for a short time with the Indians of the Upper Arkansas, and particularly with those of my agency, I received an order from the office of the Indian Bureau to proceed to Fort Cobb on the Washita River, or to that vicinity, and congregate at the point I might select, such Indians as were disposed to be friendly, to subsist and take care of the same, to act in cooperation with Gen. Hazen, who was detailed by the War Department on special duty of a like character. While en route to Fort Cobb I learned that the different columns of troops who were in the field were making that locality their objective point; that a volunteer regiment from Kansas was marching in the same direction, with the expressed determination to kill all Indians they might meet, under any circumstances. Knowing, if I fulfilled my instruction, I was only acting as a decoy to induce these Indians to present themselves in a locality where they were liable to be fallen upon at any moment and murdered, had nothing left me but to resign the commission I held, or else, by following my instructions, become an accessory to the crime, which I knew must be the inevitable consequence, under the state of affairs that then existed, of congregating the Indians at the point mentioned.
In regard to the causes of the Indian war which has existed, at intervals, since 1863, speaking alone from my own personal knowledge, I would say, without hesitation that the initiative has in every instance been taken by our own people. Ten years ago I was one of a party of 17 adventurers who started from the Territory of Kansas to seek their fortunes in the region of the Rocky Mountains that was then known as the Pike's peak country, now the Territory of Colorado. During our journey thither we passed through numerous bands of Indians, viz.: Kiowas, Comanches, Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Apaches. Thousands of them were camped along the Arkansas River, all the way to the Rocky Mountains. We were treated hospitably by them and with the utmost kindness; we were the vanguard of an army of emigrants, who were soon to take possession of their hunting grounds, and it would have been but a simple effort for them to have crushed us at that time had they felt so disposed. But, on the contrary when the nucleus which we formed had gathered together hundreds of gold seekers at the mouth of Cherry Creek where now stands the city of Denver and the Indians knew that the supposed treasures of these mountains would attract thousands who must necessarily encroach upon their rights, still their intercourse was of the most pacific character. As the emigration continued to flow in during the years '58, '59, '60, '61 and '62, I know of no instance in which the friendly relations, existing between the Indian and the white man were interrupted. But during the year 1863 that country was cursed with the presence of a man in power, the commander of a military District, in which was included the Territory of Colorado, whose position gave him absolute sway, and whose name is synonymous with infamy, Col. J. M. Chivington. Having had his command reduced by frequent calls of troops to take the field against those who were endeavoring to dissever our Union, found that it was necessary to do something to retain him in the most exalted position he had ever held--that of a commander of a military district where troops were not really required. He, therefore, thought it was politic to inaugurate an Indian war. Finding a good opportunity, on the pretense that a certain hunting party of Cheyenne Indians had run off some stock which they had found on the prairie, and at the time were driving toward a ranch to return to their lawful owners, he ordered a detachment of his troops to make an attack upon them.
They naturally defended themselves, and the consequence was a skirmish, in which some lives were lost; and from that arose the cry of an Indian war. Under the orders of this monster, the troops then took the field to kill all Indians that they might meet. The Indians, in retaliation for the wrongs had been imposed upon them, naturally committed depredations whenever they had an opportunity; but after this state of affairs had existed for a couple of months, under the influence of the older and wiser heads of their race, retired from the highways and the vicinity of the settlements, and sued for peace. An armistice existed for a short time, and then came the fearful massacre of Sand Creek, with the details of which almost every one is familiar, where Indian women and children were murdered in cold blood by United States troops and their bodies mutilated in the most horrible manner. I will pass from this sickening reminiscence to the time when the Government first awoke to the realization of the state of Indian affairs--which attention had before been distracted by our intestine warfare--and the matter appeared of such moment that a Committee of the United States Senators was appointed to investigate. The Committee consisted of Senator Foster and Doolittle and Representative Ross, and their report, to which publicity has been given, not only shows that these poor Indians were the aggrieved but that the white man was rapacious in his cruelty. As a result of the report of the said Committee a Peace Commission was appointed to treat with these wronged Indians, which Commission, numbering among its members such honored names as Gens. Harney, Sanborn, and Kit Carson, met and held council at the mouth of the Little Arkansas, in Kansas, in the month of October, 1865, made such a treaty as was perfectly satisfactory to the Indians, and which the Government should have sustained; but when the said treaty was submitted to the United States Senate there were such amendments made prior to its ratification, as entirely changed the face of the document; not withstanding their knowledge that the Government had not fulfilled its promises, the Indian bore bravely up under their wrongs, and remained in amity with their white brothers. From the date of the treaty, in October, 1865, up to the Spring of 1867, there was no overt act committed by them as a people; but in April, 1867, Major Gen. Hancock made an expedition into the Indian country, and without just cause, destroyed by fire a village of 300 lodges of Cheyennes and Sioux, with all the property they contained, leaving their women and children destitute, in a starving condition, and with out shelter on the open prairie; in consequence of which the hand most injured became hostile, and good reason had they in my opinion to follow the war-path.
A Commission was again appointed to make a treaty with these Indians, which took place in October, 1867, on Medicine Lodge Creek, 80 miles south of the Arkansas River. The treaty then made was a good one, did honor to the gentlemen of the Commission, and was satisfactory to the Indians. But here again was the Government to blame for not immediately fulfilling their portion of the requirements of the treaty. The Secretary of the Interior and the Commissioners of Indians Affairs unceasingly urged Congress to take some action in regard to the said document, but no attention was paid to their solicitations, and the Indian became wearied and heart-sick in waiting, and finally, when the annuities reached him, he was denied what he most coveted, arms and ammunition. Some of the wilder spirits, incensed at treatment which they supposed to be most unjust started on the war-path against the whites, but they were the outlaws of their tribe, and were so declared by those chiefs whom I saw after they had committed their depredations. Their whole race should not have been made responsible for the evil doings of a few, for the head men of their tribe, with whom I held council, considered that those outlaws had done more injury to their own people than to mine, and were willing and anxious to deliver them up to us to be handed over to justice; but the troops were in the field and the Indians in flight before the same could be consummated.
In answer to your question of how the late troubles might have been avoided, I would state that notwithstanding the wrongs the Indians had suffered at the hands of Col. Chivington in the massacre of their women and children, and also in the destruction of their village by Gen. Hancock, had Congress made the appropriation that was asked by the Department of the Interior to be used in subsisting these Indians, the war that is now existing would have been prevented. The withholding of arms and ammunition disabling them from procuring game for subsisting their families, which game was becoming more scarce every day, and the neglect to supply them with the absolute necessaries of life, drove some to desperation.
In reply to your questions as to my views of the remedy, to me it is a very simple one. Let us, when we make pledges to these untaught savages who, like children, judge of good faith by performance, redeem those pledges, never fail to fulfill our contracts, and the cure will be complete. It matters but little in which Department the Indian Bureau may be. As it exists at present I do not know how it can be bettered. I have failed to see, so far, how the Department of the Interior or the office of the Indian Bureau has been to blame for any of our Indian troubles; let the sympathies of the people of this great country be aroused for the Indian as they have been for the African, and irrespective of Indian Bureaus or Congress, there will be such a radical change in the condition of the Indian as will be of incredible benefit to him in the future, and consequently the whole country.
On January 11, 1869, Wynkoop wrote Taylor again, informing him about the peaceful disposition of Black Kettle and asking him to find some way for the military to provide for Black Kettle's widow, who was now reportedly a prisoner at Fort Hays. He wrote:
Sir: I have the honor to call your attention to the fact that the widow of Moke-te-va-to, or Black Kettle, late chief of the Cheyennes, is now a prisoner in the hands of the military, and to respectfully suggest that as long as it is acknowledged by the department that her murdered husband was guiltless of any acts of hostility, but on the contrary, notwithstanding his wrongs, was invariably the friend of the white man, that some measures be taken to release her from captivity, and have her conveyed to the abode of her daughter, the wife of George Bent, now residing on the Purgatory River in Colorado...Black Kettle's life was in danger at the hands of his own people, in consequence of his striving with all his energy to bring them off of the war-path. In a conversation with Colonel Murphy he said that he expected to be killed on account of the position he had taken and begged that, as a reward for his self-devotion in the cause of the whites, if his wife was left a widow, that we take care of her and let her live among us... No one knows better than yourself how the government is indebted to Black Kettle. His wife was all to him, and he to her, both having lost their immediate relatives, murdered at Sand Creek. They were never separated. She was like his shadow, every by his side, his faithful helpmate, comforting him when disgraced and degraded by his people for being too good a friend to us... Her captors need have no fear of her breaking her "parole," bearing upon her person the scars of ten wounds received at the Chivington massacre. Her arm in not mighty. Let us not hesitate to take advantage of anything, however slight, to help wipe out the foul, red stain now upon our escutcheon. (Carroll, ed., 1978, p. 85)
On January 26, 1869, Wynkoop again wrote Taylor :
I am perfectly satisfied, however, that the position of Black Kettle and his immediate relatives at the time of the attack upon their village was not a hostile one. I know that Black Kettle had proceeded to the point at which he was killed with the understanding that it was the locality where all those Indians who were friendly disposed should assemble...
He then added this comment:
I do not know whether the government desired to look at this affair in a humane light or not, and if it only desirest to know whether it was right or wrong to attack the village referred to, I must emphatically pronounce it wrong and disgraceful. (p. 87)
On January 29, 1869, General W.A. Nichols, division headquarters, informed Brevert Brig. Gen. Chauncey McKeever, in charge of Fort Hays, that "the widow of Black Kettle" was to be "released and delivered over to George Bent."
Two weeks later, McKeever wrote Nichols:
General: In reply to your communication...in reference to the squaw of Black Kettle, late chief of the Cheyennes, I have the honor to state that she is not in confinement at Fort Hays, and cannot, therefore, be delivered to George Bent. I am informed by the interpreter that the Cheyenne women, now prisoners at Fort Hays, state that Black Kettle's squaw was killed at the battle of the Washita, November 27, 1868.
Harper's Weekly on January 2, 1869, discussed the "Indian War," probably coming closest to the truth of the situation.
The Indian question is evidently a very difficult question. It is also a very uninteresting, and few care to understand it. No genius has ever yet succeeded in throwing a halo about the actual red man, and the figures that do duty for him in romance and poetry are as near life as the state sailor or Yankee, and no nearer. The popular theory of the Indians is that they are vermin, and that the only policy to be seriously advocated is extermination. Yet a very little knowledge of the facts will show that they are peculiarly exposed to cruel oppression and extortion of every kind. Their very forlornness invites knavery, and as, when pushed to extremity, they are sure to take some sudden and terrible revenge, their enemy persecutes them with impunity, counting upon his own escape under cover of the feeling of horror which the violence will awaken.
In that same issue it gave an overview of the Indian War:
The Indian Peace Commission of 1867 accomplished greater harm than benefit. Treaties were entered into with the Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, Comanches and at the recommendation of the Commission the Powder River country was abandoned. This latter action was construed as the result of timidity on the part of the Government, and immediately the Sioux extended their depredations to the Pacific Railroad, on the Platte, while the Indians south of the Arkansas attempted to drive the whites out of the Smoky Hill country. Last August the Cheyennes took the war-path, and the valleys of the Saline and Solomon rivers became the theater of relentless savage war. It was at first supposed that the Cheyenne were about to attack a hostile tribe, but soon the mask was laid aside, and in less than a month one hundred whites fell victims to the tomahawk and scalping knife. The chiefs of the Arapahos had promised to proceed to Fort Cobb and get their annuities, and thence withdraw to the reservation. Instead of fulfilling their promises, they began a series of depredations on the lines between Fort Wallace and Denver in Colorado Territory. The Kiowas and Comanches about the same time entered into an agreement at Fort Zarah to remain at peace, and left with that impression fixed on the minds of those who represented the Government. The next information was that the Kiowas and Comanches had joined the Cheyennes and Arapahos. General Sheridan taking the practical view of the condition of affairs within the limits of his department at once transferred his headquarters to the field, and commenced preparations for a determined war. General Sully's fight near this point, Forsyth's gallant fight on the Arikaree fork of the Republican, Carpenter's and Graham's fight on the Beaver branch of the Republican, General Carr's decisive fight in the same vicinity, and General Custer's annihilation of Black Kettle's band in the battle of the Washita, besides a number of small engagements, is the fighting record of three months. It was be a low estimate to say that at least 300 warriors have been killed since the war broke out. Two hundred and fifty are officially accounted for.
On January 3, 1869, the Leavenworth Evening Bulletin noted that "The next bill on the Speaker's table to be considered when Congress re-assembles is that from the Senate allowing the Kansas Pacific R.R. to extend its line to Denver, granting additional aid for that purpose. It is likely to pass after some modifications by the House Pacific R.R. Committee."
With a dateline, Camp on Washita River, I.T., Dec. 11, 1868, the January 4 New York Herald carried a dispatch from Kiem under the heading "Indian War. Visit to the Scene of the Recent Battle. Discovery of the Bodies of Major Elliott and Fifteen Soldiers. A Horrible Scene of Mutilation." It told the story about the expedition from Camp Supply to Fort Cobb, noting that "Among the articles picked up during the day in the remains of the Indian village was a silver medal, about the size of a quarter of a dollar, and laid in a blue velvet case."
On the same front page, the Herald ran a story with the headline "The Indians Demand an Investigation of the Late Battle with Black Kettle." It was as follows:
Mr. Nathaniel G. Taylor, Commissioner of Indians Affairs, has just received the following address from the delegates of the Cherokee, Choctaw and Creek nations of Indians, requesting an examination into the circumstances attending the late battle with Black Kettle's band, as a plea of the simplest justice to the poor red man--
To Hon. Commissioner of Indian Affairs--
The undersigned delegates and representatives of the Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw nations appeal to the government of the United States through you, for a fair and thorough investigation of the recent "battle" between the United States regular troops under command of General Custer and Black Kettle's band of Indians, men, women and children.
We are informed and believe that this "battle" which has been heralded through the press form one end of the land to the other as a great victory over hostile Indians, was in reality a brutal massacre of friendly Indians, and that of the 103 officially reported killed more than one-half were women and children. Information has reached us, also, that some of the slain were Cherokees, who were in company with Black Kettle's band for the purpose of trade and traffic; Cherokees, too, who had done good service for the cause of the Union in the late war. Further than this, we learn that Black Kettle and these same Indians had just returned from Fort Cobb where they had been reserved and treated as "friendly Indians" by the United States authorities there, and were at the time of the attack relying in confident assurance of the protection and good will of the government.
While we do not assert positively the truth of the foregoing statements, we believe them to be true and have taken steps to procure reliable proof thereof. Will not the government of the United States as the guardian of its Indian wards, do as much? The following facts are undisputed, however, and alone ought to demand a rigid examination of the matter:--
First--This band of Indians was under the lead of Black Kettle, a chief conspicuous among all the chiefs for the plains as the friend of the white man. It is alleged by same that he had recently become "disaffected." In what solitary acts had he shown his disaffection?
Second--The battle took place in a portion of the Seminole nation ceded by the treaty of 1866, in the very heart of the Indian territory, and in that section of the same which had been specially provided by the government as the asylum and final home of those Indians.
Third--The Indians massacred by the troops of the United States were encumbered by their woman and children and a large number of extra ponies, and a considerable amount of property not necessary and never used on the war path.
Justice to the Indians we respectfully submit, requires that all the facts of this unfortunate affair should be laid before the world.
On the same front page of the Herald , immediately to the right of "The Indian War" article, was a story on the railroads, including the Kansas Pacific, under the headline: "The Great Railroad Imbroglio at Washington." It reported in part that:
The Leavenworth, Pawnee and Western Railroad Company, now know as the Union Pacific Eastern Division, chartered by the Kansas Territorial Legislature in 1855, has already had granted it, direct and indirect, aid amounting, it is estimated, to $32,000,000, or thereabouts; yet the company have got a bill through the Senate granting it about $1,000,000 more. A close examination into this last named job reveals new and really startling features. The granting of an enormous subsidy by Congress to a company incorporated by a border Territorial Legislature has been thought bad enough, in all conscience--just about as bad as whisky frauds; but a far more reckless disposition of the people's lands and bonds appears to have been made. It is alleged by highly respected gentlemen, under oath, that the company in question--the company that has been receiving million upon millions of dollars government subsidy--is a mere clique of speculators without any known legal organization whatever. Here is the history of the affair, as set forth in a memorial, accompanied by affidavits, now before the House Judiciary Committee of Congress:--
Following were extracts of a petition that attempted to demonstrate that the railroad was composed of two organizations: "one based upon and representing the stockholding interests of the company, the other representing possession only, and that forcibly and unlawfully obtained."
Under the heading "Washington. Grant and Sherman Council" the Sunday February 27 New York Herald noted that:
General Sherman came early and was accommodated with a desk in the same room with General Grant. Both entered into a long conversation on the condition of Indian affairs, and while they were thus engaged, who should stride up but General
Benjamin F. Butler, who, above all other men, has the knack of hitting the right moment for everything he does. Smoking a cigar, just as Grant was doing, and with the brim of his broad felt hat turned skywards, Butler, with one hand in the great coat pocket, as usual, shuffled over to where the great masters of military science were sitting and made himself at home in an instant. He had called on just the business which was already under discussion, and for the brief time he spent, the conversation ran along smoothly and instructively. Butler and Grant were a unit on the question of keeping down the Indian expenditures. Grant was perhaps more earnest and emphatic, and declared himself entirely opposed to the present system of wholesale pauper provision for the Indian tribes. Butler nodded assent, thought there was widespread extravagance in the policy now pursued and that Indian affairs needed a through overhauling as the internal revenue. So thought Grant, so thought Sherman. Butler put a question or two to Sherman, took a fresh cigar from Grant, clapped his broad brimmed hat on his head and made his way down stairs.
On the front page of the January ll, 1869 Leavenworth Evening Bulletin a story appeared on "Custer's Indian Captive. Conduct of the Squaws--Demeanor of the Wounded--Passion for Hard Tack." It noted that "The well squaws are still encamped with the cavalry, and seem to be contented with their lot." It also related that "Among the trophies brought in was a handsome lodge, which belong to General Custer. Today this was unloaded from the wagon, and having sent for several squaws, the general had the lodge put up in true Indian style."
Next to this article was one titled a "Mock Klu Klux." It said that a Tennessee gentlemen narrated the following:
One night the negroes on my place invited a number of their color from the neighborhood, for the purpose of having an old-fashioned 'jig,' as they called it., Well, they got well to dancing, when up rode about a dozen Klu Klux, who dismounted and came in, speaking kindly to the negroes, and telling them to go on with the dance, as if they had just dropped in to witness it. Assured by this that they were not to be unfairly dealt with, the Africans kept up the jig until a late hour, some of the Klu Kluxes occasionally joining in the mazy whirl. Presently the leader of the masked men ordered a large wash-kettle to be brought to him, which being done, he had it partly fitted with water and placed on the fire. As soon as the water got well to boiling, he deliberately pulled something out of a sack that looked exactly like a negroes's head freshly cut off. This gory looking object he coolly held up, to the gaze of the dancers, and then placed it in the kettle remarking, as he did so that he would presently have a nice kettle of soup. Another Klu Kluxer than took a survey of the contents of the kettle, and observed that the head was small, and that there would not be enough to go around; whereupon a third Klu Kluxer remarked that there was "plenty more handy," and drawing out a knife from under his coat, about a yard long, made at the dancers with a fearful swing of his terrible blade. Such a scattering never was seen. The negroes went out of the windows head first, making night hideous with their cries and screams, and nearly breaking their necks as they ran wildly against trees, fences and everything that happened to be in their way. Nest morning none of them would go back to their houses unless I would go with them. Upon looking into the kettle, we found a block of soft wood, shaped precisely like a negroes head, with the top covered with sheep's wool, tacked on with carpet tacks. Ever after all the boys on my place got out of the way whenever they heard of the Klu Klux coming into our neighborhood.
Under the heading "The Indian War. Gen. Sheridan's Report Upon the Capture of the Comanche Village--the Savages Sue for Peace--Destitution Among the Tribes" the New York Tribune ran a letter Jan 10 from Sheridan to Major General W. A. Nichols, commander of the Missouri. Written from Fort Cobb, it said in part:
General: ...The destruction of the Comanche village by Colonel Evan's command on Christmas day gives the final blow to the backbone of the Indian Rebellion. At twelve o'clock on the night of the 31st December a delegation of the chief fighting men of the Arapaho and Cheyennes (twenty-one in all) arrived at this place on foot, their animals not being able to carry them. They said they ruled the village, they begged for peace and permission for their people to come in, asking for no terms, but for a paper to protect them from the operations of our troops while en route. They report the tribes in mourning for their losses, their people starving, their dogs all eaten up and no buffalo. We had forced them into the canyons on the eastern edge of the Staked plains, where there is no small game or buffalo. They are in a bad fix and desire to surrender unconditionally. I acceded to their terms and will punish them justly, and I can scarcely make an error in any punishment awarded, for they all have blood upon their hands.
What Sheridan meant by "acceding" to their terms to surrender and his statement that he would "punish them justly, and I can scarcely make an error in any punishment" is unclear. Sheridan then went into a defense of the attack on Black Kettle:
Yesterday we received a few papers, the first we have had for a month, and I see it alleged by Indian agents that Black Kettle's band was on their reservation at the time they were attacked. This is a falsehood. The reservation extends but 30 miles up the Washita from Fort Cobb. The battle took place 120 miles up the river. It is also alleged the band was friendly. No one could make such an assertion who had any regard for the truth. The young men of this band commenced the war. I can give their names. Some of Black Kettle's were out depredating at Fort Dodge when the village was wiped out, the mules taken from the trains and carried off. Our murdered couriers' photographs, stolen from the scene of the outrages on the Solomon and Saline rivers, were found in the camp, and in addition I have their own illustrated history, found in the captured camp, showing the different fights or murders in which this tribe was engaged, the trains attacked, the haying parties attacked about Fort Wallace, the women, citizens and soldiers killed. It is at the service of any one desiring information on the subject. It should be known, also, that I invited Black Kettle and his family to come in through the Arapaho chief, Little Raven, in my interview with that chief at Fort Dodge in September last. They did not come.
With regard to Sheridan's comment that Black Kettle's village was not in his reservation at the time of the attack, in order to comply with the directive to proceed to the area of Fort Cobb, Black Kettle had to pass through his new reservation and continue south to the Washita. The site of the camp appears to have been in the Kiowas reservation. However, both reservations were in the larger confines of Indian Territory, a reservation itself. The Washita River, as well as Fort Cobb, were in Indian Territory. Ironically, Sheridan was in error as to the location of the Cheyenne's reservation. It was not 30 miles north of Fort Cobb, but several hundred miles north. It was not that Black Kettle had not reached his reservation, as Sheridan implied, but, as mentioned, he had gone beyond it to reach the Washita.
A deputation of Quakers appeared before the Senate Indian Committee on January 18, 1869, according to the New York Tribune . The group urged the adoption of peaceful measures toward the Indians, said they were decidedly opposed to the transfer of the Indian Bureau to the War Department, and did not like the manner Sheridan and the military officers were dealing with the Indians.
An editorial comment in the February 20 Leavenworth Evening Bulletin predicted that all the troubles with the Indians would soon pass.
Ere long a cordon of hardy frontiersmen will encompass our south-western border sufficiently strong to withstand any incursion of the wild or hostile tribes, and to insure speedy punishment to the petty thieves who may harass our far Western country. Our people are hard working, quiet and energetic, and detest all contention and strife with either red or pale-face, but when, in the course of things, our government purchases from the Indian his right to the soil and all that is thereon, and the time has elapsed for them to remove from said land, and it is thrown open for settlement--then we, the settlers residing on such land, as well as every other person--consider the Indian title extinguished.
Headline in the newspapers concerning the Indians began to diminish. The Leavenworth Evening Bulletin carried a brief story with St. Louis, February 26 dateline, noting that a letter form Sheridan in the field stated that "the Cheyennes and Arapaho report another fight between Col. Evans' command and the Indians, at a point ten days travel west of Washita mountains, about Jan. 20th, in which eight Indians were killed, and their village destroyed."
In the March 25, 1869 Leavenworth Evening Bulletin the following brief story appeared about the Kansas Pacific Railway. It mentioned a business connection regarding the railroad between the president of the Kansas Pacific and former Colorado Gov. Evans.
The Kansas Pacific Railway is now the legal designation of that railroad which has hitherto labored under the name of Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division." ...In this connection it may be mentioned that there are rumors that General Perry, President of the Kansas Pacific, and Gov. Evans, President of the Colorado company, have united their efforts and feel confident that they will be able to connect Sheridan, the present terminus of the Kansas Pacific, and Denver, beginning work very soon.
In celebration of the completion of the transcontinental railroad, a double-page spread in the May 29 Harper's Weekly pictured the Union Pacific coming through the Rockies, proceeding over a trestle, with the left side of the track bordered by telegraph lines, showing settlers and miners waving their hats at the approach of a smoking locomotive, while a band of Indians on the other side of the tracks looked on forlornly, some turning their horses to ride away.
A pen and ink drawing of almost photographic quality in the March 29 Harper's Weekly showed a lavishly furnished, ornate dining car, with well dressed male and female passengers eating at booths and conversing while being served tea by waitresses.
Separated by several pages was another pen and ink drawing of a vast line of Indians receiving rations at Medicine Bluff Creek. The drawing showed the Indians standing in a file that stretched several miles over several ranges of hills. Men in coats and top hats, apparently traders, were handing them parcels. The article noted that the tribes were "Comanche, Kiowas, Apache and Arapaho Indians...assembled prior to their location on the reservation allotted them."
Harper's Weekly on May 29, 1869 commented under the heading "The Pacific Railroad" that the last rail was laid at Promontory Point, Utah, May 10. The magazine noted that the transcontinental railroad "will populate our vast territory and be the great highway of the nations; their merchants will cross it to trade with us. But there in another aspect in which we view it as a blessing, and in connection with which we esteem it of still greater importance. It will preserve the nation of these States."
A full page drawing showing Indians relocating their camp, carried the headline "Indians Moving" in the May 21, 1989 Harper's Weekly . It said in part:
Such a procession makes a very picturesque spectacle, moving helter-skelter over the plains, warriors, squaws, young ones, dogs, and ponies, all mingled together. Perhaps no sight is more grateful to the Western settler than that of these aborigines obeying the general law of "Westward ho!" The further and quicker they go the better, in the estimation of the white interlopers, until they meet the tide of white civilization advancing Eastward from the Western coast, when the northernmost Territories will be the only place of refuge for such as refuse to die or become civilized.
On September 17, 1868, Harper's Weekly praised progress toward humanity in war, pointing out that the King of Germany, as his troops marched into France on August 7 of that year, issued a proclamation that stated: "We war against soldiers, not citizens. Therefore the latter may continue secure in person and property so long as they abstain from hostile acts, and we grant them protection as a matter of right." The magazine said that declaration "is the tide-mark of humanity in war, if we except the instructions to our Union armies in 1863 in regard to the protection of private property not essential to martial necessities and for the acquisition of which due provision was made... It is the glory of Germany, in a war in which she is really fighting the battle of civilization against anarchy, to act worthily of the great cause by a policy of the highest humanity."
Years later, controversy still surrounded what became known as the "Battle of the Washita." But it was not with regard to the battle, but rather whether the Kiowas were friendly. Custer, in his Life on the Plains , pointed out that not only was he correct in attacking Black Kettle's village, but that he should have attacked the Kiowa, too, but had been wrongly restrained from doing so by General Hazen, who had claimed the Kiowas were friendly and under his protection.
General Hazen published "Some Correction of Life on the Plains" in the Army and Navy Journal of May 30, 1874, which was a defense of his actions with regard to protecting the Kiowas from the attack of Custer. Hazen made a number of observation.
He pointed out that Sherman had given him the following written orders on October 13, 1868:
...I want you to go to Fort Cobb, and to make provision for all the Indians who come there to keep out of war, and I prefer that no warlike proceedings be made from that quarter. The object is for the War and Interior Departments to afford the peaceful Indians every possible protection, support and encouragement, whilst the troops proceed against all outside of the Reservation, as hostile; and it may be that General Sheridan will be forced to invade the Reservation in pursuit of hostile Indians; if so, I will instruct him to do all he can to spare the well-dispose; but their only safety now is in rendezvousing at Fort Cobb...
Further, Hazen said:
The entire controversy rests on the question, whether the Kiowas that were at Fort Larned were in the battle or not. To be told that they were, with the exception of a few travelers .. is as preposterous as to be told that I was there myself, directing them in the fight. I had been on the spot for nearly six weeks with ample assistance, and our entire attention had been devoted to these people and our knowledge of them had been very accurate. Mrs. Blinn and child referred to in General Custer's article as having been found murdered in the Kiowa camp, were captured by the Arapahos with whom they lived until killed on the morning of the battle by an Arapaho in the Arapaho camp. The Kiowas never having been in any way responsible in this case. The Kiowas never having been in any way responsible in this case.
In other communications, Hazen noted that:
My retained return of provision shows that on the 26th, the date of the fore-gong note, the battle being at sunrise of the 27th, one hundred miles away, I issued rations to nine-tenths of the Kiowas under my charge. And that night Satanta, Satank, Lone Wolf and nearly all the main Kiowa chiefs slept in my tent. I had breakfast prepared for them, and they left for their camp next morning, the 27th, about 10 or 11 o'clock, several hours after the battle was fought.
He also said that:
I had spent several days with Gen. Sheridan before going to Cobb, and there was the most perfect accord in our purposes. It was above all things requisite and agreed upon that Fort Cobb should not be made a place where, under the shadow of an Indian agency, those Indians requiring punishment could shield themselves when chastisement drew near. And it was perfectly understood that while I did all in my power to keep those Indians, included in our agreement of Larned, from going to war, I should leave those at war to be dealt with by military power, and this I held to most strictly.
He pointed out that:
The humane element of the country, then in the ascendant upon the Indian question was already greatly exercised by the death of Black Kettle, and had I not sent notice, as I did, after the Indians themselves had requested me to do so, and any portion of my camps with their women and children, been attacked, an investigation would certainly have followed.
Hazen quoted a letter written to him by Philip McCusker, interpreter for the Kiowas and Comanches. McCusker noted that "On the approach of Gen. Sheridan the Kiowas stampeded, not because they had been in the battle of the Washita, but, like all wild Indians, they were alarmed at the approach of so large a body of troops knowing they had destroyed a Cheyenne village a short time before."
As Hazen noted, McCusker had summed up the problem as such:
On your assuming charge of the Kiowas and Comanches, I took the earliest opportunity of laying the foregoing facts before you for your information and guidance, and was glad to hear that it was your determination to punish all Indians who could be proven guilty of murder committed since the last treaty in '67. You said it was your intention to give them a fair trial, and when murder or other crimes could be clearly proven, you would have them punished as white men were punished for the same crimes; and further, that you intended to teach them that present immunity from punishment would not excuse of shield them, but that they would be punished for their crimes no matter what length of time might have passed between the commission of the crime and their apprehension. This I regard as the only intelligent solution of the Indian question, and had your plan been carried out, the many murders and outrages that have been committed in the last five year would never have happened, and the Indian war that has just commenced would never have begun. (Custer, 1962, pp. 383-406)
With regard to the fate of Mrs. Blinn, according to the Kansas Daily Tribune , February 14, 1869, charges were made that she was killed by Custer's troops during the attack. Former Comanche-Kiowa agent Colonel Jesse Leavenworth testified before a Senate committee on Indian affairs that she was shot by troops as she ran toward them. (Hoig, 1976, p. 211)
With the background of the battle delineated, I will attempt to answer whether the Washita attack was a battle or a massacre. I will first review what historians have concluded about the attack on Black Kettle's village.
One of the most balanced analysis of the attack and the events surrounding it is Stan Hoig's The Battle of the Washita: the Sheridan-Custer Indian campaign of 1867-79 . Several references have already been made to it. He recounted that Generals Sherman and Sheridan formulated the idea of a winter campaign as a strategy of attacking the hostile Indians while they were off guard. A winter campaign, he reasoned, had the element of surprise. Moreover, the weather prohibited the Indians from raiding and from easily fleeing escape. Winter also reduced the strength of the Indians' horses, which relied on grass, as opposed to military horses, which could be fed grain. Grain had the advantage of being portable and could be transported by the military.
Hoig described the establishment of Camp Supply and the recruitment of Osage scouts for the purpose of following the trails of hostile war parties, stating that the intent was to find a trail in that region made by a war party, to follow the trail to the hostile village and to attack that village.
Hoig stated in his introduction that the battle was, in actuality, a massacre. That the event was a massacre "is hardly deniable by any accepted use of the word 'massacre,'" he noted, defining massacre as an attack that "utilized the element of complete surprise against a people who did not consider themselves to be at war and in which troops, who had orders to kill anyone and everyone before them, made no attempt to allow surrender." Hoig said that despite this observation, the incident had come down through history as the "Battle of the Washita" and that he would use this term in his title "in deference to long-standing use." (p. xiii)
However, in the face of this apparent rejection of the attack as a battle, Hoig refrained from stating a conclusion at the end of his study, letting the reader make up his or her own mind. "And what of Custer?" he asked. "Was he hero or villain?" Hoig pointed out that the war faction--namely Sherman, Sheridan, Custer, Hazen and others--made vigorous defenses of the Washita attack, denying a comparison of it to Sand Creek. He said that their points could be summed up as follows.
l. War was justified due to the attacks made by the Cheyenne against settlements on the Solomon River in August 1868.
Paul Hutton, however, believed the battle was not a massacre. Chapter three, in Phil Sheridan and His Army , is titled "Battle of the Washita: 'Kill or Hang All Warriors.'"
Hutton described how Sheridan's troopers began to move across the southern plains, while the Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas, and Comanches retreated toward Antelope Hills. He noted that John Smith, a government interpreter, had warned the Indians that the government was laying a trap for them and to avoid Forts Learned and Cobb. He also noted that Wynkoop, "the horror of Sand Creek in mind," declined to obey an order to gather his charges at Fort Cobb, resigning his post. He mentioned that Hazen offered numerous tribes sanctuary at the Fort Cobb vicinity, including Kiowa and Comanche bands, but refused this sanctuary to Black Kettle's band, a member of the Cheyenne tribe, who were considered hostile. Hutton said Hazen did so because he had been advised by Sherman that Sheridan might invade the reservation in pursuit of hostiles. According to Hutton, Hazen feared that by granting protection to Black Kettle's band another Sand Creek could result. (p. 53)
Hutton noted that on November 19 as Sheridan's troops headed south they found just above Camp Supply at Bear Creek a good-sized trail leading to the northeast, concluding it was a large war party coming up from the headwaters of the Washita River.
"Sheridan's already optimistic mood was further bolstered by this discovery," Hutton stated. "He was positive that his plan of a winter campaign would succeed if only the Indians could be located. Now here was their trail, clear and fresh before him." On November 22 it began to snow. As Hutton observed, "the officers were pleased, for the snow would make it easy to track their enemies." (pp. 61-62)
Hutton related that on November 23 Custer started on the campaign with orders from Sheridan "to proceed south in the direction of the Antelope Hills, thence towards the Washita River, the supposed winter seat of the hostile tribes; to destroy their villages and ponies; to kill or hang all warriors, and bring back all women and children." (p. 63)
He noted that it continued to snow until November 24. On November 26, Custer's column discovered the fresh trail of an Indian war party estimated to number one hundred warriors. "The heavy now made following the Indians relatively easy," Hutton said. (p. 67)
Hutton described the attack on the Washita, noting that "Black Kettle's village had been only one part of a great Indians encampment spread along the Washita consisting of Kiowas and Arapahos." He said that, "Custer would have liked to chastise all these Indians, but with his men exhausted and supplies and forage depleted, he had to fall back on his supply caravan." (p. 68)
Hutton said that later, after revisiting the Washita battlefield, Sheridan and Sherman headed down the Washita toward Fort Cobb, receiving the message from Hazen that the Kiowas, who were approaching his column under a white flag, were friendly. "Custer wanted to attack...but Sheridan would not unleash Custer," since "Hazen was Sherman's personal appointee, and Sheridan had been ordered to cooperate closely with him," he observed. (p. 83)
When news of the attack reached the East, numerous sources decried it as a massacre. According to Hutton, Superintendent of Indian Affairs Thomas Murphy said that "innocent parties have been made to suffer for the crimes of others." Samuel F. Tappan, a member of the peace commission, demanded an end to the present war policy against the Plains Indians. William Griffenstein, a Fort Cobb Indian trader, told Custer he had attacked friendly Indians on the Washita, resulting in Sheridan ordering him out of Indian Territory, threatening to hang him if he returned. James S. Morrison, a scout, wrote Wynkoop that twice as many women and children as warriors had been killed. The New York Times published a letter describing Custer as taking "sadistic pleasure in slaughtering the Indian ponies and dogs" and alluded to killing innocent women and children. (p. 96)
Hutton pointed out that Sheridan responded by referring to Black Kettle and his band as "murderers and rapers of helpless woman." He said in his annual report to the War Department that "I do not know exactly how far these humanitarians should be excused on account of their ignorance, but surely it is the only excuse that gives a shadow of justification for aiding and abetting such horrid crimes." (p. 99)
"Although the fight on the Washita was most assuredly one-sided, it was not a massacre. Black Kettle's Cheyennes were not unarmed innocents living under the impression that they were not at war. Several of Black Kettle's warriors had recently fought the soldiers, and the chief had been informed by Hazen that there could be no peace until he surrendered to Sheridan. The soldiers were not under orders to kill everyone, for Custer personally stopped the slaying of noncombatants, and fifty-three prisoners were taken by the troops. The reports of Sheridan and Custer on the Battle of the Washita did not accurately reflect the tragic nature of that sad affair, but neither did the harsh epithet of massacre that was leveled by their critics." (p. 102)
Robert M. Utley in Cavalier in Buckskin: George Armstrong Custer and the Western military frontier , also mentioned the Custer followed the "back trail" and that "to the south, in the Washita River Valley, some six thousand Cheyennes, Arapahos, Kiowas and Comanches had laid out their winter camps." He said that, "Like all the other bands camped on the Washita, Black Kettle's could not be characterized according to the white people's simplistic labels of 'peaceful' or 'hostile.' These Indians were neither, and they were both. Some wanted peace, others war, and the latter defied their chiefs to raid the Kansas settlement."
He noted that down the Washita from the camps at the old military post of Fort Cobb, General Sherman had set up an agency to oversee "such Indians as wanted to settle on their new reservations and abide by the Medicine Lodge treaties." He said that to Hazen "fell the difficult task of deciding which Indians should be judged peaceful and which hostile."
Utley pointed out that the "back trail that Custer had intended to follow lay hidden beneath the snow" but that another, fresh trail was discovered at the "crossing of the Canadian near the landmark Antelope Hills." He said the trail was followed to Black Kettle's camp, where at dawn it was attacked. "So sudden and overwhelming was the attack of eight hundred horsemen from four directions that Custer had possession of the village within ten minutes."
He described how following the attack, they were surrounded by "fresh warriors, of unknown numbers" but by "throwing out skirmishers to fend off the sallies of warriors against his lines" he began the destruction of the village "in keeping with the precepts of total war." "As the men pursued their grim assignment," Utley claimed, "they also found and laid before Custer photograph albums, unopened mail, and other household items that testified to the romps of Black Kettle's young men through the Kansas settlements.
He said that "under attack by growing numbers of enemy fighter, Custer decided that he must pull out without further delay" and that "as dusk approached...with colors flying and the bland playing 'Ain't I Glad to Get Out of the Wilderness' the companies advanced boldly down the Washita Valley toward the other Indian villages." He explained that this disconcerted the warriors, who drew off to defend their homes. As darkness fell, Custer turned and countermarched. (pp. 64-70)
Utley noted that such warfare created a moral dilemna:
The Washita typified a reality of Indian warfare that all frontier commanders had to face, staining their public image and, foremost, inducing personal stress through shaken moral codes. Total war subjected women, children, and old people to death or cruel suffering. Surprise attack on an Indian village, centerpiece of the strategy of total war, inevitably struck down noncombatants. Women and children were killed at the Washita, rarely deliberate, except by the Indians scouts, but accidentally in the tumult of combat and in self defense. The destruction of property, food, and transportation, followed by weeks of fearful flight to avoid the soldiers, forced women and children to endure terrible hardships. Most officers, including Custer, lamented such measures but believed them a necessary evil. The Washita and the subsequent dispute over the character of the Kiowas also exposed the fallacy of neat classifications of peaceful and hostile. No chief claimed a deeper or more consisted commitment to peace than Black Kettle, yet his young men raided Kansas. (p. 77)
Carl C. Rister in Border Command: General Phil Sheridan in the West claimed like Utley that evidence was found in Black Kettle's camp linking his village to hostilities, saying that "troopers found...in warrior lodges...photographs, daguerreotypes, clothing, and bedding which had been taken from the homes of the Saline and Solomon settlers during the recent raid."
Rister said that it was possible that Black Kettle's influence "was for peace, and that he could not control his young men who sought the war trails, as he so often said." But Rister concluded,
if this were true, he made the mistake of being among recent raiders when Custer attacked his camp. Sheridan stated that he had given the old chief a chance to claim protection and substance from General Hazen when in September he had held a council with him and other chiefs at Fort Dodge, and that still later Black Kettle was known to have made "war medicine" with the braves. Hazen thought that Black Kettle was for peace but that he did not represent his band. Custer believed that he was too active in battle to be friendly. (p. 129-30)
Richard White, in It's Your Misfortune and None of My Own: a History of the American West , noted that following the Medicine Lodge Treat of 1868, Cheyennes, on the way to attack the Pawnees, turned aside and swept though settlements along the Saline and Solomon rivers, killing 15 men and raping 5 woman. In return, the military made the south plains a "free fire zones where they would shoot at any band they might encounter." Sheridan, according to White, ordered all friendly Indians to gather at the Washita River, and prepared to attack any Indians who refused to come in. He noted that Black Kettle journeyed to the Washita, "seeking to include his band among the friendlies," but since many of his young men "were raiding", the military "rebuffed him." He made camp on the Washita and "once more awoke to the clamor of soldiers charging at dawn." (pp. 97-98)
In the index White lists the attack as "The Washita River Massacre." (p. 644) However, he states that in general with regard to the military's relation to the Indians, "the goal of this fighting was the subjugation and not the extermination of Indian peoples. Indeed, it is possible to go further than this and say that perhaps the most effective sympathizers with the Indians in the western United States came to be military officers. This was not true of the high command--Generals Sherman and Sheridan despised Indians." (p. 338)
Sherman, in fact, swept aside all criticism of the Washita incident. According to Robert Athearn, in William Tecumseh Sherman and the Settlement of the West , Sherman told his officers to pay no attention to the furor being raised.
"This you know is a free country, and people have the lawful right to misrepresent as much as they please, and to print them, but the great mass of our people cannot be humbugged into the belief that Black Kettle's camp was friendly with its captive women and children, its herds of stolen horses and its stolen mail, arms, power, etc., trophies of war. I am well satisfied with Custer's attack, and would not have wept if he could have served Satanta's and Bull Bear's band in the same style. I want you all to go ahead; kill and punish the hostile, rescue the captive white women and children, capture and destroy the ponies, lances, carbines, etc. etc. of the Cheyennes, Arapaho and Kiowas; mark out the spots where they must stay, and then systematize the whole (friendly and hostile) into camps with a view to economically support until we can try to get them to be self supporting like the Cherokees and Choctaws." (p. 274)
Athearn also noted that Wynkoop had officially referred to Black Kettle as "the murdered Black Kettle." Sherman termed this statement out of place and condemned Wynkoop for having resigned and gone "two thousand miles away to lecture on the perfidy of our people and the innocence of the Indians," instead of remaining with the Cheyennes and Arapahos as their agent. (p. 274) Athearns in the index refers to the attack as "Washita, battle." (p. 371)
Prucha, in the Great Father (1984), in writing about that period, noted that Generals Sherman and Sheridan had decided on a winter campaign to drive the various tribes to their reservations in Indian Territory, "and they determined to harry and kill those who refused to settle down, with none too great care in separating those who were actually hostile from those who hoped to remain at peace." He then briefly described the Washita incident as an attack against a sleeping Cheyenne village. He did not describe it as either a battle or a massacre. (p.496)
Grinnell, in The Fighting Cheyennes (1956), told the story of the battle from accounts of eye witnesses, both white (military) and Indian. According to Grinnell, Custer followed a trail going to Black Kettle's village on the Washita. This account, Grinnell states, came from Custer's report to Sheridan on the battle. However, Grinnell concluded that "Black Kettle was a striking example of a consistently friendly Indian, who, because he was friendly and so because his whereabout was usually known, was punished for the acts of people whom it was supposed he could control." (p. 309)
A critical look at the battle was taken by a former peace commissioner, George W. Manypenny, in Our Indian Wards . (1880) Manypenny pointed out, for instance, that the existence of evidence (scalps, mail bags and Indian drawings) supporting the contention that Indians had been engaged in depredations and hostility was not mentioned by Sheridan or by Custer in any of the reports made immediately following the attack on the Washita, nor in the news articles by the New York Herald reporter, but eventually were claimed to exist by Sheridan when his attack on the Washita came under question.
Manypenny concluded that the Washita attack was an instance of misrepresentation: "It does seem that sufficient evidence has been produced to satisfy every candid and fair minded person that Black Kettle was not engaged in any of the excesses on the Solomon...and that General Sheridan's statements to the contrary are deliberate misrepresentations." (p. 255)
Dee Brown, in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (1970), mentioned the attack on the Washita, did not refer to it as a battle (nor as a massacre), did not mention that a trail was followed, but noted that Custer was ordered by Sheridan to go to the Washita near Antelope Hill to attack the Indians in their village on the Washita, "the supposed winter seat of the hostile tribes." (164)
Wooster (1988) observed that "when the cold weather killed the grasses on the southern plains and forced the scattered bands of Indians together, columns struck from New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas." Wooster mentioned that Hazen offered food and protection to all Indians who came in to Fort Cobb. "Those who did not seek out Hazen were considered hostile." (p. 132)
According to Wooster, "experience had by now convinced some officers that attacks had to threaten the homes and villages of hostile Indians and if necessary kill all those who resisted, be they men, women, or children." He mentioned that Sherman noted that, as pursuit of mobile Cheyenne and Sioux warriors was almost impossible, "the only mode of restraining them is by making them feel that we can reach their families and property." (p. 127) He quoted Sherman as viewing the expedition as an opportunity for total warfare: "I want you to go ahead, kill and punish the hostile,...capture and destroy the ponies, lances, carbines, etc., etc., of the Cheyennes, Arapahos, and Kiowas." Wooster noted that the campaign "shattered Indian morale and left thousands destitute." (p. 132)
According to Smith in On Officers' Row (1990), in general there were three alternatives for federal Indian policy: 1. set aside the country west of the Kansas settlements and east of California and Nevada for Indians alone, 2. place Indians on reservations and use armed forces to keep them there or 3. exterminate them. Smith contends that the United States Indian policy during the last half of the nineteenth century was to put the Native American on reservations. (p. 93)
Smith pointed out, however, that if Indians did not go onto reservations officers in high command, such as Sheridan and Sherman, often took it as a personal affront, creating "the desire to thrash soundly those natives who challenged officers' authority." (p. 101)
In writing to her aunt after the Battle of the Washita, Elisabeth Custer, the wife of General Custer, observed that "current rumors" that her husband and others "are cruel in their treatment of Indians" were not just in that her husband and others "only do what they are ordered to do." (p. 129) Smith concluded that while not "robots directed from Washington," most officers felt that the role of the military was essentially to bring "civilization" to the frontier--and if this meant dispossessing the Indians of their land and their lives, so be it. (p. 132)
Colonel Richard I. Dodge, Sherman's aide, in his book The plains of the great west and their inhabitants , described the attack on the Washita as follows:
The United states troops, under the late General Custer, captured and destroyed the united winter camp of the Cheyennes under 'Black Kettle,' of the Arapahos under 'Little Raven,' and the Kiowas and Comanches under 'Satanta,' 'Satanka,' and 'Lone Wolf.' The result of this fight was 103 warriors left on the ground and the capture of a large number of prisoners, together with 875 Indians ponies, and the whole of the winter supplies of the Indians... The decisive character of the victory, and the severe blow sustained by the Cheyennes, may be judged from the number of 'big' chiefs, war chiefs, and headmen killed in the battle of the Washita." (xxix)
According to Dodge, the three principal causes of wars with the Indians were nonfulfillment of treaties by the United States Government, frauds by the Indian agents and encroachments by the whites. (xii) In Our wild Indians, he equated the history of the military with the history of the territorial acquisition of the United States.
"The history of the Army of the United States is a history of the territorial expanse of our country. Bold and determined as were the bands of stalwart pioneers, who, reckless of personal danger, pushed far beyond the extremest limits of the so-called frontiers, they could have done little towards the advancement of that frontier, but for other bands, scarcely stronger numerically, but bound together by a bond stronger than iron, more impervious than the rock: discipline." (p. 268)
He theorized that it was the American Indian who most impeded the advancement of the frontier.
The history of the colonies is a record of conflict, and while the Republic was yet in its swaddling clothes, those of its citizens most remote from the centres of wealth and power have been constantly confronted with a foe, acute, wily, and terrible, not only in his destructive force, but in his vindictive energy of action.
Wild and free, burning for an opportunity for personal distinction, the Indian of each tribe came to look upon every man, not of that tribe, as his personal and tribal enemy. The settlement of strangers either white or read, upon lands claimed by that tribe was an invasion and an insult; and the interlopers were at once enemies, unless they had properly purchased the right to be there, either by presents, or by marriage with its women." (p. 469)
However, another group of people, the frontiersmen, became so "infatuated" with this land, wanting it for their very own, that they even opposed the occupancy of the land by other settlers, Dodge posited.
Men who had once tasted the sweets of solitude, freedom, or 'elbow-room' as they called it, became so infatuated with it as to be impatient of crowding even by one of similar tastes and habits settled twenty miles away. This appears an exaggeration, but having witnessed its outcropping in most vindictive form on many occasions, and even within a year of this writing, I can personally vouch for the existence of the feeling among a class of frontiersmen." (p. 469)
It was the army that made the advancement of the settlers possible and who helped make and secure the establishment of towns in the face of the challenged right to possession of this country.
Naturally the Indians felt this crowding even more than the pioneers, and they continually resented it. Isolated as were the whites they could have effected no permanent lodgement in the country of the savages, but for the small bodies of troops, which, locating themselves in advance, held the Indians in check, and became rallying-points in times of danger; nuclei of towns when that danger passed. Since the establishment of our government, the army has been the bulwark of civilization... It has for a hundred years stood like a wall of adamant between the weak and scattered settlements and the savage foe; giving a continent to civilization and rendering possible an immigration unequalled in the history of the world... The army has been the real pioneer." (p. 469-70)
The first example Dodge gives of the Army's protection of the settlers was the Battle of the Washita.
About twelve P.M. of the nighty of the 26th November, 1868, Custer discovered on the banks of the Washita River, the camp of hostile Cheyennes under Black Kettle... Black Kettle's camp was the upper one of a series of camps of five different tribes of hostile savages, which extended for many miles along the river, and contained not less than three thousand fighting men." (p. 470-471)
The book contains two plates of the battle. One shows Black Kettle's village under attack, with the inscription "Gen. Custer's surprise of an Indian camp of over two thousand warriors. The camp extended for more than twenty miles long the Washita River, and consisted of Cheyenne, Araphoe, Kiowa and Commanche Indians." (p, 243) The other plate is titled "Heroism and death of Sergeant-Major Kennedy" with the explanation that "Sergeant Kennedy was the last to die of Major Elliott's entire command of twenty men. A crowd of exultant savages quickly surrounded him, determined to take him alive and reserve him for all the horrors of the torture. Realizing this, he saw that his only hope of escaping such a terrible fate was in exasperating the Indians to kill him at once. Seeming to surrender, he advanced toward the Chief, who approached him with hands thrust out, exclaiming, 'Howa?' 'How?' Quick as thought Kennedy ran his sword through the Chief's body. One instant of terrified surprise on the part of the Indians, and then Kennedy fell, his body riddled by twenty bullets. The merciful death had come to him." (p. 473)
In a chapter titled "The Indian Situation" Dodge recommended as a solution that the treaty systems and tribal relations be abolished and the Indians individually "be absorbed in the great family of American citizens," noting that presently (1877) the Indians, whose population together would comprise a city the size of Cincinnati, held under treaty stipulations over 42 million acres, enough land to support all of the United States. He said that at present the Indian was amenable to neither civil or military law, but only to the "law of retaliation," that they were "prisoners of war, confined against their will on restricted areas" and that they were being kept "always hungry; sometimes on the verge of starvation." In spite of this, he pointed out, their level of violence has been much lower than whites. "I believe the records will show that more outrages on life and property have been perpetrated during the last year by whites in the two State of Kentucky and Missouri than in the same time by all the Indians in all the length and breadth of our extended frontier." (650)
He said that the newspapers were "much to blame for the exaggerated feeling against Indians. The local paper of a frontier town will carefully avoid any mention of the daily or nightly killings by its inhabitants; but let a frontiersman be killed, or even scared by Indians, and column after column is devoted to the minutest, and most generally imaginary, details. This can readily be accounted for, each little frontier town desiring the presence of troops, not for protection, but for the money they spend."
He mentioned that the "Eastern papers should so readily take up this cry, giving a line to a murder by a Kentucky gentleman, a column to a murder by an Indian, can only be accounted for by the desire for sensation." (p. 651)
Dodge criticized Indian policy as it existed at that time, saying that it sought to abolish tribal authority but substituted nothing to govern life or conduct, that they were not subject to any civil or military law, but only the "law of retaliation," that they were prisoners of war, confined against their will on restricted areas, that in treating with them as tribes all individual obligations were ignored, that by blaming all for the crimes of a few one took away from the well-disposed all incentive to good behavior, that keeping them penned up on reservations limited their aspirations, and that it was most blameworthy to have kept them always hungry, sometimes on the verge of starvation. (p. 649)
Sherman, in a forward to Our Wild Indians , disagreed in part to Dodge's thesis.
I do not agree with you and the world generally in accusing our ancestors and the General Government with a deliberate purpose to be unjust to and to defraud these people. I think a persual of the statutes and of the many treaties exhibit a purpose to deal with them liberally; but so rapid has been our development that violence was sure to happen. Our wisest and best statesmen did not and could not foresee the future. Mr. Van Burean, in 1838, in urging the Cherokees, Creeks and Choctaws to exchange their possessions in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi for lands west of Arkansas, announced, as he believed truthfully, that there they could never again be disturbed by white neighbors, because the land was not suitable for white men, but admirably adapted to Indian life. So in 1868, the Indian Peace Commission, composed of four most humane and honorable citizens, and three army officers (Generals Harney, Terry, and Sherman), had no conception that in ten years the region north of Laramie and east of the Rocky Mountains could become habitable to the white race... If our Indian policy has failed, we should seek for the cause elsewhere, in the nature of things, rather than in a systematic desire to do wrong.
In the treatment by the National Government of the Indian, the military and civil officers of Government have generally been diametrically opposed, the former believing the Indians to be as children, needing counsel, advice, and example, coupled with a force which commands respect and obedience from a sense of fear, the latter trusting mostly; to moral suasion and religious instruction. The absolute proof produced by you that the Indian has a strong religious bias but is absolutely devoid of a moral sense as connected with religion, more than ever convinces me that the military authorities of the United States are better qualified to guide the steps of the Indian towards that conclusion which we all desire, self-support and peaceful relations with his neighbors, than the civilian agents, most of whom are members of some one of our Christian churches.
As you are perfectly aware the treaty system began at an early period of our history when the white settlers and Indian tribes were more nearly equal than now, and my recollection is that this system was first discountenanced on motion of General A.H. Terry, by the Indian Peace Commission of 1868-9. Still, as long as distinct tribes like the Sioux, Cheyennes, Kiowas, Arapahoes, Utes and Apaches are assigned to specific reservations, there must always exist something like a treaty or bargain, so that both Indians and whites may understand their true relations.
My recollection also is that the same Peace Commission recommended to Congress to provide for each group of Indian reservations something like a territorial government, with a code of laws applicable to each member of the tribe; with a governor, courts, and executive officers to enforce the laws as against individual criminals, instead of as now, resorting to war to punish a whole tribe for the individual acts of a few." (p. xxxix)
According to Knight (1960), "Generally, Keim reported the campaign credibly from the overview of headquarters, but he did a flat job of reporting; that is, he relied almost entirely upon second-hand reports, which he handled accurately enough, but there was neither breadth nor depth to his reporting."
However, Knight remarks that "there is one point on which neither Keim nor any other Western War correspondent can be fairly criticized, and that is not reporting the whole story. This they could not do, because the other side--the Indian side--was not know to them. Their competence can be assessed only on the basis of how reliably they handled the information that was available to them at the time, and how logically they criticized men and events coming under their observation."
Knight claims that the Battle of the Washita is a case in point. He said that Custer reported it as a victory, that it went into the records as a victory and that it went into Keim's dispatches as a victory.
But is was not so regarded from the Indian point of view. Long years had to elapse and much work by amateur and professional historians had to be done before even a part of the Indian side of the various campaigns could be told. Reflecting the Indian point of view, one writer concluded that Custer was repulsed at the Washita, because he retreated under cover of darkness after sacking only the smallest village of several.
And then there was the matter of the defeat of Elliott's command. Some felt that Custer had abandoned Elliott. Keim concluded, according to Knight, that "although Elliott's fate might appear as a 'gross abandonment' by Custer, the latter's withdrawal was justified by the laws of war: his men had lost their overcoats, which had been left behind when they charged and later were taken by the Indians...; his wagon train was protected by only eighty men; the loss of the wagons would mean destruction of his entire command and perhaps the failure of the whole campaign--in short, that Custer had to think of the regiment rather than a small detachment cut off in the heat of battle. (p. 102)
Is there any direct evidence that news was suppressed?
According to Hoig (1976) a letter that was critical of Custer's role vis-a-vis Elliott appeared in the St. Louis Democrat and later in the New York Times . A copy of the newspaper was sent to Custer while the regiment was in camp on Medicine Bluff Creek during January 1869. It read in part:
But does no one think of the welfare of Maj. Elliott and party? It seems not. But yes a squadron of cavalry is in motion. They trot; they gallop. Now they charge! The cowardly redskins flee the coming shock and scatter here and there among the hills scurry away. But is it the true line--will the cavalry keep it? No! No! They turn: Ah, 'tis only to intercept the wily foe. See! a gray troop goes on in the direction again. One more short mile and they will be saved. Oh, for a mother's prayers! Will not some good angel prompt them? They charge the mound--a few scattering shots, and the murderous pirates of the Plains go unhurt away. There is not hope for that brave little band, the death doom is theirs, for the cavalry halt and rest their panting steeds.
Hoig goes on to say that after reading the letter Custer called his officers together, newspaper in one hand and his riding quirt in the other, and said that he could tell the article had been written by one of the officers. Custer said that if he found out who it was he would give the guilty party a thrashing. A Captain Frederick W. Benteen stepped forward, said that the article had been taken from a letter he had written personally to a friend. Custer was "nonplussed," and growled that he would see Benteen later, stomping away. (162)
This episode is described by Benteen himself in a letter (Feb. 26, 1896) to Colonel Theodore W. Goldin. It provides evidence that Keim did not report events that were controversial. Both Benteen and Goldin were members of the Seventh Cavalry, Benteen being in command of a company and Goldin being an enlisted man, a private. Benteen describes the Elliott controversy this way:
At Fort Cobb, Ind. Ter. in winter of '68-'69, officers call was sounded one night from Regt. Hdqrts. I sauntered up, the other officers being mostly there when I arrived.
The officers were squatted around the inside of Custer's Sibley tent, (minus a wall), and Custer was walking around the center of tent with a rawhide riding whip in his hand. When all were assembled, he went on with a rambling story, stammering the while, that it had been reported to him that some one--or parties--had been belittling the fight at the Washita, &cc., &c., and that if he heard any more of it, or it came to his ears who had done so, he would cowhide them, switching his rawhide the while.
Being right at the doors of tent, I stepped out, drew my revolver, turned the cylinder to see that 'twas in good working order, returned it lightly to holster, and went within. At a pause in the talk I said, 'Gen. Custer, while I cannot father all the blame you have asserted, still, I guess I am the man you are after, and I am ready for the whipping promised.' He stammered and said, 'Col. Benteen, I'll see you again, sir!'
Doubtless you can imagine what would have happened had the rawhide whirred! The 'call' broke up, sine die, in silence, but no tears from whipping! I then went to Randolph Keim, reporter from N.Y. Tribune (the only man I had spoken to about the matter at all) and told him I wanted him to go with me at once to Custer's tent, taking his notes with him of all I had told him, as a whipping was due somebody, and I didn't want a word I'd said omitted.
Keim went with me, and though I 'd told him enough, Custer wilted like a whipped cur.
He evidently knew whom to whip! Now all of this kind of business was apt to result disastrously to me when Custer could so work it, but I was determined to 'stay right with' him; ...and the Custer power can be said to have commended to decline. Keim told Gen. Sheridan about the occurrence, and Sheridan gave Custer a piece of his mind about the matter." (Benteen, 1974, p. 281)
According to Knight, "If the Benteen account is accurate, Keim must have been not overly impressed. Not only did he not mention the incident, but he justified Custer's conduct of the battle and belittled the criticism that resulted from Elliott's fate." (p. 96).
If, as Knight claimed, the competence of a reporter "can be assessed only on the basis of how reliably they handled the information that was available to them at the time," then Keim can be criticized for his handling of this information. He withheld it.
Evidently, he suppressed other information also.
Knight states that:
Reporting the regiment's return, Keim said that the captives were camped about one hundred yards from Custer's tent, but did not mention an incident that later was handed down by the Cheyenne. As the Indians told it, Custer and his officers selected bed partners from among the women. A Cheyenne woman named Red Dress told the story and it was corroborated, according to account, by the wife of Big Horse, a Cheyenne chief. And Monahseetah, who spoke no English but traveled with Custer as an interpreter and who knew him as Yellow Hair, bore a fair-skinned papoose whom she named Yellow Swallow. (p. 95)
This is confirmed by Benteen in his letters (Carroll 1974):
Of course you have heard of an informal invitation from Custer for officers desiring to avail themselves of the services of a captured squaw, to come to the squaw round-up corral and select one! (?) Custer took first choice, and lived with her during winter and spring of 1868 and '69. (p. 271)
One of the most revealing letters regarding whether the attack on the Washita was a massacre was by Goldin to Fred Dustin. At the time the letter was written, Goldin was an attorney. Both Goldin and Dustin apparently were Masons, addressing each other as "Dear Brother." On January 12, 1933, Goldin wrote to Dustin about the Battle of the Little Big Horn, in which Custer perished. While Goldin had not been present at the Washita in 1868, having enlisted in 1876, he was a member of the 7th Cavalry. He was obviously knowledgeable of the oral history of the regiment, including that with regard to Custer. The following is part of the oral history as he recalled it. He wrote Dustin, saying that:
It is true there was more or less of a division of sentiment in the regiment as to Custer, whose life did not partake of the angelic, but this was largely owing to doubts as to his ability as an Indian fighter. Even his enemies had nothing but good to say of his record in the civil war, but felt that his recklessness in Indian fighting was a dangerous thing. Then, too, among some of the older officers there was always a feeling that he was in error in attacking Black Kettle's band on the Washita after the warning he received from Gen. Hazen that the Indians were there by his order and worst of all his conduct in abandoning Major Elliott and his men to their fate without even a shadow of an effort to save or find them." (p. 100).
What did Goldin mean with regard to his statement the "older officers" felt Custer "was in error in attacking Black Kettle's band on the Washita after the warning he received from Gen. Hazen that the Indians were there by his order"? Military reports have shown that Hazen had provided a note only with regard to the peaceful status of the Kiowas. However, as we have seen, Hazen had been visited by Black Kettle with the plea to be allowed to surrender. Hazen's reports during this time make numerous reference to sending out scouts to inform officers. It has also been shown that the time needed for Hazen to inform Custer of Black Kettle's offer to surrender would have been sufficient to reach Custer's command prior to departing or while in the field. Barnitz wrote in his diary of sending out mail by a scout while marching toward Black Kettle's camp.
Could it be that Goldin is in error concerning his reference to another warning by Hazen--one concerning the peaceful status of Black Kettle? Probably not. According to Hazen's modus operandi with regard to Satanta and Lone Wolf, he exerted considerable effort to contact Custer and Sheridan so as to ward off an attack. He also told Black Kettle that it was up to Sheridan to make peace with Black Kettle. Hazen would have been negligent if he had not tried to contact Custer by messenger with the information concerning his talk with Black Kettle and Big Mouth at Fort Cobb.
The passage is either a correct representation of what happened prior to the attack, or a misunderstanding, with Goldin confusing Hazen's warning--linking the warning mistakenly with Black Kettle, instead of the Kiowas. However, from the wording used, it seems unlikely. Goldin said that the information was from the "older officers" and that "there was always the feeling." In other words, those who directly took part in the Washita attack talked about the attack in such and such a way, namely that Custer "was in error in attacking Black Kettle's band on the Washita after the warning he received from Gen. Hazen that the Indians were there by his orders." Goldin is stating that Black Kettle was on the Washita according to Hazen's orders. On the other hand, the letter Hazen sent regarding the Kiowas said nothing about being "ordered" to go to the Washita, but, instead that the Indians were friendly along the Washita between Fort Cobb and the point where the troops were in receipt of that message. Recall that Hazen wrote in that message to Custer regarding the status of the Kiowas that:
Indians have just brought in word that our troops today reached the Washita some twenty miles above here. I sent this to say that all the camps this side of the point reported to have been reached are friendly, and have not been on the war path this season.
On the other hand, Hazen had told Black Kettle to go back to his village on the Washita and await Sheridan's troops--an order. Further, chronologically, the Kiowa warning came after the fighting with Elliott, while Goldin tells first about Hazen's warning concerning Black Kettle, followed by recounting the Elliot incident. The attack on Black Kettle's village came before, not after, the fighting between Elliott and the Indians. Goldin follows the correct sequence in his recollection.
Thus, it is more likely that Goldin was correct in what he was saying, namely, that Hazen had warned Custer that Black Kettle was on the Washita by his orders, yet attacked Black Kettle anyway--an act disparaged by the older officers.
Washita - Chapter Three
Washita - Chapter Two
Washita - Chapter One
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