“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 Creek 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, there were only about one hundred Cheyenne warriors in the camp to defend it. They ran out, up the creek bed from the ravine where they were camped, to hold off the soldiers, to protect the women and children.
Even though they were severely outnumbered, 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 number 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.
Back in Denver, Chivington received a hero’s welcome. 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 bloody 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 Black Kettle's 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 toward Black Kettle's encampment. 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.
Chief Black Kettle never stopped trying to make peace with the whites. He encouraged his people to try to accept the treaties and the word of the Americans. But it was not to be. My novel, Fire Eyes, shows some of the tenuous relationships between the marshals and the Choctaw Indians in Indian Territory around this same period of time. In the scene below, the Choctaws have led five of the Indian Territory marshals to where Kaed Turner is--with Jessica. Here's what happens:
FROM FIRE EYES--RELEASE DATE MAY 29, 2009
Standing Bear dismounted and came forward to stand beside Kaed, and Kaed turned his full attention to the warrior, waiting for the older man to speak.
It was as it had been all those years ago, when Kaed had come to live with the Choctaw people. The Apache had killed his mother and father, then taken Kaed and his younger brother and sister into captivity. The Choctaws had bartered with the Apaches for the youngsters, so they’d been raised in the Choctaw way.
The healing bruises Kaed wore today were reminiscent of the ones he’d been marked with when he first met Standing Bear, close to twenty years earlier.
“Seems we’ve stood this way before, Chief.”
“Yes, Wolf. You were marked as you are today. But still strong enough to wear defiance in your eyes. Strong enough to stand, and fight.”
Kaed gave him a fleeting grin, remembering how, as a nine-year-old boy faced with being traded away, he had rammed his head into Standing Bear’s rock-hard belly, catching him off guard, nearly knocking him to the ground in front of the Apaches and Standing Bear’s own warriors.
Standing Bear smiled and put his hand to his stomach. “This recovered before my pride did.” He nodded at Kaed’s arm. “I hope it is not so with you, Wolf. You did all you could, yet I see you still hold some blame in your heart for yourself.”
Kaed had to admit it was true, and he didn’t understand it. When he went over it logically in his mind, as he had done a thousand times, he knew he wasn’t to blame, that he’d done everything he could have. But he’d never expected White Deer to do what she had done, and he understood the parallel Standing Bear was drawing. The chief had never expected the young boy Kaed had been to lower his head and run at
Standing Bear spoke in his native tongue. “Have you thought upon my words concerning Fire Eyes? Or will she go to one of my warriors?”
“She is my woman now,” Kaed said in the same language, “and will belong to no other man.”
“Does she wish it?”
Kaed nodded, and without turning, called Jessica’s name. She appeared in the doorway with Lexi in her arms.
“Do you take Wolf—-Turner-—for your husband, Fire Eyes?” Standing Bear’s voice was even. Kaed knew it wasn’t that he disbelieved what Kaed said. He was trying to let Jessica know she had a choice, of sorts. She could marry Kaed, or one of the warriors.
Jessica tucked back a strand of her dark hair. “Yes. I do.”