Thursday, January 27, 2011

Massacre at Sand Creek and The Battle of Fort Washita

“Kill and scalp all, little and big…nits make lice.”—Colonel John M. Chivington Before the Battle of Fort Washita came the Battle of Sand Creek—also known as The Sand Springs Massacre. (Colorado)

Chief Black Kettle’s Cheyenne camp, and that of another Cheyenne chief, White Antelope, were attacked and destroyed on a cold November dawn, 1864. Although the camps flew an American flag alongside a white flag of truce, Colonel John Chivington, determined to further himself in the political arena of the day, ordered the Cheyennes annihilated. “Take no prisoners,” he ordered, adding his own personal slogan, “…nits make lice.”

The encampment at Sand Creek consisted of about six hundred Indians—most of them, women and children. As the first shots were fired by Chivington’s men, only about one hundred Cheyenne warriors ran out, up the creek bed from the ravine where they were camped, to defend the women and children.

Still, these warriors were able to hold Chivington’s troops at bay for over eight hours, allowing nearly five hundred Indians to escape—including Black Kettle.

Chivington boasted of killing six hundred; eye-witness testimony estimated the umber at less than two hundred. Two-thirds of the dead were women and children. White Antelope was one of the first killed, as he left his lodge, arms extended to show peace.

Black Kettle’s wife was shot. As troopers neared, they shot her eight more times. Black Kettle threw her over his shoulder and ran. He later removed all nine bullets, and his wife lived.

A three-year-old toddler was not so lucky. As he walked out to the dry creek bed, three troopers some seventy yards away took turns shooting at him. The third one finally hit him, dropping the child where he stood.

Chivington received a hero’s welcome in Denver. He and his men exhibited the corpses of the dead Cheyennes they had sexually mutilated and scalped to the cheering citizens of Denver. It is believed that there has never been another battle in North America where more Indians have been slain.

Three years later, a Congressional inquest labeled Chivington’s “battle” a massacre.

In 1867, Black Kettle was one of the signers of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (Kansas) in which the Cheyenne gave up their holdings along the Arkansas River for land on a reservation in what is now Oklahoma.

By the fall of 1868, Black Kettle and two thousand warriors settled near the Washita River in the southeastern part of Indian Territory. Though the Treaty of Medicine Lodge promised specific supplies, the provisions never came. Many of the Cheyenne joined a young warrior, Roman Nose, who had been leading a series of raids on farms and homesteads of white settlers.

Under General Philip Sheridan, three columns of troops launched a winter campaign against Cheyenne encampments. The Seventh Cavalry, commanded by George Armstrong Custer, was selected to take the lead.

For four days, in a foot of fresh snowfall, Custer and his 800 men followed the tracks of a small raiding party through the continuing snowstorm. The tracks led to the encampment on the Washita River. Custer ordered the attack at dawn.

On November 27, 1868, nearly four years to the day after the Sand Creek Massacre, Custer’s troops charged. Chief Black Kettle and his wife, Maiyuna, were shot dead on the banks of the Washita River, (Indian Territory), their bodies riddled with bullets.

“Both the chief and his wife fell at the riverbank, riddled with bullets,” one witness reported. “The soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and their bodies were all splashed with mud by the charging soldiers.”

Custer ordered the slaughter of the Indian pony and mule herd—over 800 animals. The lodges of the encampment were burned along with the winter food supply. At the threat of reinforcements from other Indian camps only a few miles away, Custer quickly retreated to Camp Supply with his hostages.

In the Battle of the Washita, though Custer claimed 100 Cheyenne fatalities, Indian accounts claim 11 warriors, and 19 women and children were killed. More than 50 Cheyennes were captured—mainly women and children.

After this battle, most of the Cheyenne were convinced to accept reservation life. On the Washita River, Chief Black Kettle’s vision of peace was crushed, along with the Cheyenne way of life.

24 comments:

  1. Hi Cheryl,
    An interesting blog. Those terrible massacres were very similar to what happened to the aborigines in early Australia.

    Regards

    Margaret

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  2. CHERYL--this just gives me chills. How sad. The Comanche were similarly slaughtered in Palo Duro Canyon--but no one seems to think so badly of Colonel McKenzie because the Comanche were so brutal and fierce. Well, you would be, too, if someone took all your land and started killing you.
    Sigh. Battles long gone that still haunt us. Thanks for this--Celia

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  3. We Americans are so quick to shake our heads in digust over Hitler's treatment and killing of Jews. Yet our forefathers did the same with Native Americans. In this regard, we have nothing to be proud of. Thanks for a well-written post.

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  4. Aren't we glad we live in a more civilized time? I am learning American history through this blog, ladies.

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  5. Hi Margaret!
    I had not realized that, but it is so true. I don't understand why some men feel that it's their God-given right to take whatever they want and do the unthinkable to get it. Thanks for your comment.
    Cheryl

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  6. Celia,
    You're so right--it seems that by the way of public opinion, the more fierce a tribe was the more justified the whites were in doing whatever they wanted or "needed" to do. Also, I think because of Custer's arrogance, even many of his fellow officers were glad when Little Big Horn happened--kind of like "Well, he got HIS!" LOL But then, too, each of these battles with the Indians, no matter what tribe they were, fed the fires of the white outlook that they were "dangerous"--as you say, who wouldn't be if they were faced with having everything taken from them and being murdered? Thanks for your insights, Celia.
    Cheryl

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  7. Vonnie,
    A well made point! I have often wondered what might have happened had the various tribes banded together and fought as one against the white invaders. Same thing as with Hitler--what if all the Jews had risen up against him and overthrown his reign? History would have been completely altered.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Cheryl

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  8. Hi Mona,

    Yes, it's more civilized, but the whites still continue to ignore their treaties that were made so many years ago. Right now, there is an ongoing battle here in Oklahoma in the Chickasaw lands (yes, our state is still divided up into territorial boundaries) over the water rights to Sardis Lake. The state OK is wanting to sell the water and drain the lake (not sure of all the particulars)and the Chickasaw tribe has put out all kinds of commercials about it--it hasn't come to a complete head yet, but the white government is working their voodoo behind the scenes. It all still goes on, just without the massacres. It's hard now to try to find a way to "fix" everything that was done all those years--there's not going to be a perfect solution.
    Thanks for your comment.
    Cheryl
    Cheryl

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  9. Of all the minoritites in this country of ours, the American Indian suffered the most indignant of tragedies. Yes, they were fierce warriors, and in some cases brutal. But we took away their dignity and gave them a life they could not tolerate. Why we could not live in peace I do know. A lot of good people died on both sides. And een though there were some who wanted peace and to live and learn from them, others just wanted to kill them.

    We took their land, and we took their dignity. God forgive us.

    Love and blessings
    Rita

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  10. Very interesting piece of history, Cheryl. I know little about the Indian wars, as they were called (Now ask me about Viking invasions).

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  11. Cheryl, what a gripping blog. It really makes me glad we live in more civilized times while at the same time just tears your heart out for what those people went through.

    Great topic and a great reminder.

    Nic

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  12. Hi Rita,
    I think that a lot of the reason behind what was done to the Indians by the whites boils down to nothing more than greed, then and now. It's really unbelievable what men will do for the almighty dollar. And the land. I think we will see more and more of this as time goes by and our population increases. Very little regard is given to the treaties that were signed even now--I can only imagine what it will be like in another 100 years.

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting Rita!

    Cheryl

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  13. Keena,
    I think it depends on what part of the US you were raised in as to what your "area" of "war expertise" is. LOLLOL We actually studied much of the Indian wars in Oklahoma history, which I had a whopping 1 semester of in high school and one course in college. But being part Indian it has always been of particular interest to me, and living here in Oklahoma, you inadvertently are steeped in it through politics and news, etc.

    Thank you for commenting! (I know nothing about the Viking invasions, so I'm glad to know someone who DOES!)
    Cheryl

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  14. This just breaks my heart. So much senseless killing.

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  15. Hey Nicole,
    Yes, I know what you mean. It really hasn't been so long ago. You know last February marked 100 years since Geronimo died. When you think of it like that, it's pretty remarkable, time-wise.

    Thanks so much for your comments!
    Cheryl

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  16. Hi Liana,

    I know. It was just a way of life for many years in this country. It's really hard to wrap your mind around, isn't it?

    Cheryl

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  17. Hi Cheryl:

    I have read several histories of these sad events. I enjoy reading about the old west Forts and visiting them as much as possible.

    We even have a State Resort called Roman Nose in Oklahoma.

    Louis L’Amour always liked to remind those with a short view of history that every Indian tribe at the time of the white man’s arrival, had violently taken their land away from the tribe that came before them and they did the same to the tribe that came before them and this pattern goes back for thousands of years.

    It seems noble to defend your homeland against evil invaders but unless you are an Icelander, all current natives have taken their land from those that had it ahead of them.

    This is how it has been ever since Eve. This doesn’t make it right. When populations increase geometrically and the food supply increases arithmetically, nature will force the most fit to survive. Sometimes it’s just hard to turn off the killing.

    It is also worth considering that many of the native tribes enjoyed torturing their enemies and were experts at keeping their dying victims alive as long as possible. Moralize at your own risk.

    Vince

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  18. Cheryl, although this was an excellent post, it was really hard to read your post. It sickened me that "our" soldiers acted so brutally. I know they did the same when Ronald Mackenzie slaughtered women and children at Palo Duro Canyon--yet Lubbock has a park named after the man.

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  19. I'd say some embarrassing history accounting here. How sad that this had to happen. Isn't it something how one man's ego could make such havoc against a nation. :(

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  20. Vince, you are sooooo right in your comments. I know Roman Nose State Park well--saw the other day in an article where they are re-vamping it and have a wonderful looking lodge there! I used to be a Girl Scout leader when my daughter was young, and we would go camping out past there.

    Yes, you are right about the land being seized and then re-taken over and over again. Some of the details of the torture that the tribes used and invented are just disgusting, I agree. I don't know if you've ever read the Josey Wales stories by Forrest Carter, but they are pretty detailed. Ugh. Still, the whites came up with some pretty awful stuff of their own-- so maybe the lesson is that "man's inhuanity to man" knows no color. OK, that's my moralizing. LOL

    Thanks so much for commenting--always love to hear from a fellow Oklahoman!

    Cheryl

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  21. Caroline,
    I agree! I can't believe that people think it's okay to pretend that some of this stuff never happened.

    Cheryl

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  22. Hi Paisley,
    Very true. It seems that back in "the day" that was how most military officers made a name for themselves and then went on to political careers.
    Cheryl

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  23. Cheryl--great post, brought back memories of my college history class about American Indians. It's facinating that this country was shaped by so much killing and so many wars and battles.

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  24. Hi Marin,

    Lots of killing and tragedy, to be sure. You're right--it's fascinating, all the history that has gone before to shape this country of ours!

    Cheryl

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