American Indians were major players in the history of The Old West. Many of the most memorable Old West Stories involved one of the tribes from the Indian people who were Americans long for that name America was coined.
On this page and other pages that will follow, we will attempt to portray the story of American Indians in the West as accurately as it is possible for me to do. That is difficult though because the story has been told many times before and it seems, it was often told by someone with a motive to alter the truth to suit the desires of the one telling the story. At one time accounts of battles were called massacres if perpetrated by Indians but portrayed as a gallant and heroic battle, fought hard against heavy odds and blood thirsty savages if perpetrated by whites.
On the plains of Midwest America the buffalo (Bison) provided almost everything the Indians need to survive. The Indians never took more than was needed and the buffalo provided his food, clothing, shelter and much of his sacred belief. The tribes roamed widely and lived a nomadic lifestyle; they had no choice because they had to follow the food source.
During the days of The Old West Stories the Indians had no written language of their own and almost no opportunity to present their side of events. When they did it was through interpreters and it now appears that more often than not, those interpreters had an agenda of their own or reported to others with an agenda that did not want the Indians portrayed favourably.
Treaties were always written in English and Indians had to rely on translators. Translations only said what interpreters wanted them to say and rarely did the Indians have one of their own that could truly understand the content and meaning of English script. Translating from language to another is not a simple as deciding the meaning of each word. Each language has idiosyncrasies that can only be truly understood through long exposure to every day use. I you learn a language in the class room you may get most messages across but it will never carry the meaning expressed by a native speaker.
During treaty negotiations there was also the problem that the two sides did not understand each other culturally. The Government believed that one Indian, the Chief, could speak for all other Indians and that his word would be obeyed. Most of the time the Chief could only speak for himself. He made suggestions and had power in the tribe but others Indians followed through consent and common will. They were free to make their own decisions.
It is a sad fact that there were more than 800 treaties signed with American Indian groups during the era of Old West Stories but it is likely that not even one of them was kept according to the terms it contained.
Chief Red Cloud of the Lakota people (1822 – December 10, 1909) was a war leader and a chief of the Oglala Sioux. He was one of the greatest Native American opponents of the United States Army and he led a successful campaign in 1866 to 1868 that has become known as Red Cloud’s War.
He protected the Powder River country for his people in Wyoming and is quoted as saying (in relation to the ‘”whites”):-
“They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they kept only one; they promised to take our land;
and they did.”
Indians usually had no understanding of the European concept of ownership, particularly in relation to land. Indians believed the land was for everyone and that no-one could have sole access to any particular piece of it. The notion of ownership was one that they would come to terms with but at enormous cost to the tribes and their way of life.
1805 – September – The Lewis and Clarke expedition often relied on the generosity of Indian tribes for their survival. An entire page (or book or series) could be dedicated to this subject alone (and might be later on). But here I will relate only one of their encounters.
Lewis and Clark came down off the punishing Lolo Trail, where two inches of snow had covered the men one night and they had only soup to eat. Then they dropped down to the pleasant valley of the Clearwater River in late September 1805.
1805 – September 16 – William Clark wrote in his journal –
“I have been wet and cold in every part as I ever was in my life, indeed I was at one time fearful my feet would freeze in the thin mockersons which I wore”
Not unlike their reliance on the Shoshone weeks earlier, Lewis and Clark at this point would have been praying that any Indians they met would be freindly and take pity on their plight. The party had relied entirely on the Shoshone for survival earlier in their trip, they needed the Nex Perce now.
When they first met there were tense times and their hope of help seemed to fade. A Nez Perce woman who had lived in Canada with white men assured the triabl leaders that these white men should be trusted and this helped prevent a trajedy. Why she would have done this when she had been a captive of white men herself herself is simply not clear. For what ever the reason she did this she appears to have been instrumental in convincing the Nez Perce to provide them with food and shelter.
The Nez Perce opened their camps freely to the Expedition. They gave them local terrain advice and information on how to find timber for canoes. Another tragedy appeared close when the Lewis and Clark team over did it with the salmon and Camas bread, leaving them ill and barely able to ride. Their health returned and the Nez Perce helped them build pine log canoes to descend the Clearwater River and then descend in the Snake and finally the Columbia River.
1805 – October 7 – Lewis and Clark left on their downstream journey accompanied by Nes Perce Chiefs Twisted Hair and Teotarsky. They experienced the treacherous conditions of the lower Snake River. Without the help of the Nez Perce their chances of survival in this rough country would have been very slim.
1836 – May 19 – On this day 300 Kiowa and Comanche Indians attacked a civilian fort on the Navasota River in East Texas. The river is over 200 kilometres long running from Mount Calm and flowing South to the Brazos River near the junction of Brazos, Grimes and Washington Counties.
Fort Parker had been completed in 1834 by Elder John Parker and his family to protect nine families setting up in the area. People at that time believed the land near the Navasota River was safe and the land was being taken over by farmers at a fast pace. This day in 1836 clearly demonstrates their misconception about that safety.
It was a Thursday morning and most of the men had left the fort and travelled to the fields. Only four men remained. Women and children were going about their daily routines when the Comanches came seemingly out of nowhere and without warning. They stood at the fort gates in their war paint and with horses decorated for battle. Benjamin Parker, son of the founder, went out to speak with the Comanche Chief but he was killed with a lance before discussions could be commenced.
The warriors commenced to circle the fort and attacked, breaking through the gates. The four men inside fired their rifles once and then were killed. Muzzle loading rifles were no match for bows and arrows for reloading quickly. A skilled Comanche could fire several arrows before a man could reload for a second shot and he could also cover a great distance on horseback in the same time.
Several women and children were taken captive including 9 year old Cynthia Anne Parker. Men came running from the fields but they were no match for 300 warriors and most were killed. The attack was stall though and some of the women and children reached safety.
The Indians killed livestock with abandon and then as suddenly as they appeared, they left with the captive women and children. Later, the captives were ransomed and returned to their families. Cynthia however was the exception.
1840 – Four years later Cynthia Parker was seen by traders but she appeared to have no memory of her childhood and saw herself then as a Comanche woman. Check 1860 – December – for further on Cynthia.
1836 – November 29 – The Reverend Henry H Spalding (1803 – 1874) and his family established their mission to the Nez Perce Indians in Lapwai near present day Lewiston, Idaho. They set up the first white home in Idaho. Spalding was successful in his mission to the Nez Perce and baptised several tribal leaders. He developed a written language for the Nez Perce spoken language and translated parts of the Bible.
Spalding was dismissed from the church by the American Board in 1842 but he never left his mission. He was later reinstated following a review by the Board.
Spalding had intended to bring the Nez Perce to Christianity and teach them the white man’s way of life. His success divided the tribe.
The Christian faction was led by a man named Lawyer. He had earned this name because of his ability to negotiate treaties and settle arguments.
Non Christian factions were led by Chief Joseph, Looking Glass and White Bird. An agreement for a reservation had been reached around the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon Rivers in Idaho and the area had included most of their traditional homelands. (Go to 1863).
1838 – 1839
1838 – 1839 – Winter – After Andrew Jackson was elected President the U.S. Government embarked on a policy of Indian Removal and began forcing Indians from their land and sending them far away from white settlements. A large area of land in Oklahoma was set aside for that special purpose and was called “Indian Territory”.
During the Winter of 1838 to 1839 the Army forced 16, 000 Cherokee Indians from Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee to move to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
In horrific conditions around 4, 000 Indians died along the way from exposure, starvation and disease. This forced march became known as the “Trail of Tears’.
When the Indians were gone from their traditional lands the Government seized that land and sold it to white settlers for a fraction of its value. The Indians received nothing.
For some time there had been sporadic Indian raids on settlements, trading posts and wagon trains. In 1851 the trouble increased dramatically and the Government decided it had to do something. Several Chiefs who tried to represent over 5, 000 Indians across the Central and Northern Plains signed a treaty allowing settlers using the Platte River routes on the Oregon and Santa Fe trails to pass freely. A truce held for several years but there was always a nervousness about the treaty and unease still existed between the settlers and Indians.
Ten years after the California Gold Rush, Gold nuggets were found at Pikes Peak in Colorado quite near modern-day Colorado Springs. This provided one more thing that was considered more important than the Indians living in the area.
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush (also referred to as the Colorado Gold Rush) began in July 1858 and lasted through to the formation of Colorado Territory in 1861, February 28. The number of prospectors involved was never counted but estimates say that over 100,000 gold hungry miners over a three year period.
These miners became known as the Fifty Niners.
The Pike’s Peak Gold Rush produced a quite dramatic spike in immigrants to the area around Pike’s Peak and the Southern region of the Rocky Mountains. This added to the pressures already being placed on the Indians who relied on this country for their existence. It was out of this push for gold and immigrants flooding in that Denver and Boulder City came into being.
By the beginning of 1859 something 50, 000 Gold Prospectors had already moved into the area and conflict with the Cheyenne and Arapaho had escalated. As these people saw the settlers and miners eating into their traditional hunting grounds they became increasingly hostile.
It was never going to be possible for the Government to keep out Gold hungry miners. A new treaty was prepared and the Indians were to be sent to a small reservation in Eastern Colorado, well out of the way of the miners. Most of the young warriors refused to go but Indian trouble was still only sporadic for quite some time. (continued 1864)
1860 – January 17 – The lands of the Apache were arid and inhospitable. The Apache had little of value but still the settlers wanted it. In this year a raid by Apache warriors hit a small ranch owned by John Ward in Arizona on the Sonita River. The warriors captured a young boy named Mickey Free.
John Ward travelled to Port Buchanan that was a 12 mile trip. He demanded that the Army put together a rescue squad. A detail was sent out under Lieutenant George Bascom to rescue Mickey. Bascom decided the raiding party must have been led by Cochise and set about finding him. He located Cochise and his family and then tricked the warrior into meeting with him by carrying a flag of truce.
Cochise insisted he knew nothing of the capture boy and that Penal Apaches were probably responsible. He was right. Bascom didn’t care, he had Cochise and had his soldiers put him and his family under guard. He threatened to kill them all unless Mickey Free was returned to him.
Cochise escaped and captured a stage coach and took the driver and 2 others captive. He offered to exchange prisoners with Bascom to get his family back. Bascom refused and Cochise then killed his 3 prisoners. Bascom retaliated by hanging his brother and two nephews but his wife and child were later released.
1860 – December – A detachment of Texas Rangers being led by Captain Sul Ross came upon a Comanche encampment on the Pease River. The Pease River is a tributary of Red River in West Texas. It was discovered and mapped in 1856 by Jacob de Córdova, who found the river while surveying for the railroad through Galveston. The river begins 32 Kilometres Northeast of Paducah in Cottle County and traverses 160 kilometres to the Red River near Vernon.
Captain Ross saw a yellow-haired, white skinned woman among the Indians he captured. He realised it was Cynthia Parker. She tried to run but the Army brought her back and her daughter, Prairie Flower, came with her. She was taken to her brother Daniel Parker and Texas provided her a pension for her livelihood. This was not what Cynthia wanted and she tried several times to return to her Comanche family. She had left two sons behind when the rangers took her and wanted desperately to return to them.
Prairie Flower did not fare well in her new environment and died. Cynthia also died, still trying to return to her Comanche home and her sons. The whites she lived with could not understand why.
One of her sons who remained with the Comanche was Quanah Parker. He went on to become one of the most famous Comanche War Chiefs ever and also gained later fame in other ways. Quanah Parker will have a page of his own on Old West Stories in the coming months.
1862 – July 14 – Cochise and Mangas Colorados had gathered 700 Apache warriors together and planned to ambush an Army column at Apache Pass. 1800 California volunteers had been sent to secure Arizona and new Mexico under the command of General James Carlton. On July 14 a column of 123 volunteers entered Apache Pass but Cochise failed in his ambush when the volunteers responded with a Howitzer Cannon.
Mangas Colorados was injured and never fully recovered.
1862 – August 17 – Four young Santee Sioux men were returning from a Minnesota River hunting trip. Their ages are not known but it is likely they were teenagers or only just into the early twenties. Hunting trips at this time were often unsuccessful because the buffalo, deer and other game had been reduced by white hunters or frightened away by settler encroachment. The way the story goes, this trip had not been successful and the young hunters were disappointed.
The Sioux were feeling the pain of hunger. Not only had the game been reduced dramatically but a Cut Worm plague had destroyed much of their corn crop and they were left to exist on Government handouts that were never reliable and never enough. The cash to pay for food to be distributed to the reservation did not arrive on time so the food that was already in storage was not being passed on.
The Indian Agent for that area was Thomas Galbraith. He refused to allow Indians on the reservation until the Government money arrived. The Sioux asked for credit so they could feed the malnourished families. Agency Trader Andrew Myrick agreed with Galbraith that no food should be given out until the money arrived and became famous for the saying
“Let them eat grass”.
This photo was incorrect until Nancy Goodman provided me with a link to the correct one. If you go to www.usadakotawars.org you will first rate information on the topic. THANK YOU NANCY
The stress of seeing your family starve will put you under a lot of pressure. It was no different for the Indians. The young and hungry are likely to do anything to fill their bellies. The four Santee youths on the hunting trip and came across a white family farmhouse and found chicken eggs. They probably needed to build themselves up to take the eggs but they did do it. Things escalated and the bravado of youth led to the young men contemplating killing a white man to prove their courage.
How it came to happen is not really known but it may have been peer pressure and the urge look good in the eyes of their friends. However it came to pass, these men killed five white settlers.
The young men, realising what they had done, returned to the Indian Agency and told Little Crow what they had done. Recent history had taught the Indians that there was likely to be a savage uprising against them for the five deaths. Little Crow took the decision to strike first.
The very next morning Santee Braves attacked the Indian Agency and went looking for the trader, Andrew Myrick. When he had told them they could eat grass he could not have known that at that very moment, he had sealed his fate. The Indians found him and killed him. When he was found later his mouth had been stuffed full with grass.
The Santee ran riot across the surrounding country. On August 18, 1862 they razed houses, destroyed barns, slaughtered live stock and killed more than 400 white settlers. Panic spread rapidly and Fort Ridgely became a haven for terrified settlers looking to save themselves. Two days later though some 800 braves surrounding the fort and attacked.
The attack failed though, largely due to the cannon the defenders had available. Two days later on August 22 they tried again but they were not able to break through.
The following day about 350 Sioux braves struck New Ulm, Minnesota. Although the towns people repulsed the attack the down was burned down. Within one week over 800 white settlers had been killed.
1862 – September 2 – General Henry Sibling was sent with over 1, 600 soldiers under his command. The uprising lasted several months and in Woodlake and Birch Coolee the Army brought the fighting to a higher level on 2 September after Indians killed 13 soldiers and injured 47 more with minimal losses on their side. Numbers were against them though and 240 soldiers were despatched in pursuit that same day. The very issue that spelled the eventual defeat of American Indians every was at hand, overwhelming force of number being brought to bear.
Over 2, 000 Santee Indians were rounded up and imprisoned. General Sibley had them tried by a military court. In one of the ongoing series of injustices no Indian witnesses were allowed to speak, no-one was allowed speak on behalf of the Indians and no interpreters were permitted because it was said interpreters could be misunderstood. In short order 307 Indians were sentenced to hang.
The courts demanded the Indians were hanged instead of the usual firing squads. It has been said that this was an act of vengeance because the Indians believed that a man who was hanged could never enter the after life. Surely no court would act in such a vengeful manner. SURELY NOT.
1862 – December 26 – After an appeal had been lodged, against the wishes of the Army, 269 Indians had their sentence of death commuted by the President. There were still 39 prisoners on death row and they died in the largest mass execution in American history. The gallows had been constructed to allow for a single rope to be pulled and everyone would die at once. Mankato, Minnesota still holds the honour of this record.
1862 – 1863 – Winter – After the hangings General Sibley apparently had learned a lesson about trials. He rounded up 1, 700 Sioux men, women and children and they were imprisoned in Fort Snelling. Not one person received a trial and over 400 died there during the following winter. The army was not able to provide appropriate food or coats and blankets required for this severe weather environment.
In 1863 Gold was discovered near Virginia City, Montana. The strikes were producing high yields and miners started travelling in from California and through the Oregon Trail from Nebraska and Wyoming.
John Bozeman blazed a new trail from Fort Laramie heading North to Virginia City. This trail was more direct and much quicker but it travelled through the heart of Indian hunting grounds. The Indians did not want these men travelling through and tried everything they could to stop them. Hit and run raids on wagon trains became increasingly threatening. (see 1866 next)
1863 – January – Sometime during January Mangos Coloradas met military leaders at Fort McLane in Southwest New Mexico. Mangas arrived under a flag of truce to meet with Brigadier General Joseph West in command of a detail of the California Militia. West would later become a Senator for Louisiana. West ordered armed soldiers to take Mangas into custody. Witnesses alleged that West or sentries to execute Mangas.
That night Mangas was tortured, shot and killed. The official record stated he was trying to escape but this is contrary to civilian witness accounts. In any event, having come in under a flag of truce he should not have been in custody.
The following day soldiers decapitated the body, boiled his head and sent the skull to Orson Squire Fowler in New York City.
The murder and mutilation of the body served to increase the hostility between Apaches and the United States government with war becoming a constant state of affairs for over 20 years.
1863 – During 1863 trouble was caused for the Nez Perce because of the gold that had been discovered and the split in their tribe after Reverend Henry Spalding had introduced Christianity. The leaders of the Christian element had signed a treaty that moved the boundaries of the reservation to accommodate the desire of the prospectors. The change did not affect them But Chief Joseph and his followers would have to move after the change took effect.
General Howard is recorded as being somewhat sympathetic to the plight of the Indians but his answer to the problem was to buy out their interest in the land.
Chief Joseph refused as did another Chief, Tahou Zoozoo. He was imprisoned by General Howard in the Lapwai guard house and Joseph was given 30 days to move to the new reservation or the Army would be sent in.
On the way to the new reservation 4 settlers were killed. Chief Joseph tried to hold back the young men who wanted to fight but emotions were running high. The army sent 100 Cavalry soldiers to stop the Indian uprising. (Go to 1877)
After the treaty of 1859 tensions with the Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux on the Northern and Central plains continued to grow. Indian hunting grounds continued to be impinged upon and game continued to become more scarce.
Colonel John Chivington, a Methodist Preacher was the Military Commander for the District of Colorado needed to get the Cheyenne out of Colorado. Chivington told the Governor of Colorado, John Evans, that the Cheyenne had stolen 175 cattle from a ranch on the Colorado Smoky Hill Trail.
An old Indian trail along the Smoky Hill River in Kansas, the Smoky Hill Trail, became the settler and miner highway in when news of the discovery of gold reached the large population centres. The Smoky Hill Trail had been almost entirely unused for earlier Western migration. With the discovery of gold East of the Rockies the main flow of the 1859 gold rush was through the Smoky Hill Trail. Thousands traveled to the gold fields between 1859 and 1865. Still more came as soldiers, pioneers, and settlers.
Colonnel Chivington’s report of stolen cattle was proven to be a lie but at the time, it was enough reason for Chivington to act as he wanted. He ordered the burning of Indian Villages and records show that at least four peaceful villages were destroyed in early actions despite the treaties in place to protect Indian rights.
Cheyenne Indians retaliated and began ambushing travellers on the Platte River routes. Governor Evans authorised the Colorado Volunteers to “Fight and Kill” Indians under the Command of Colonel Chivington. The troops were paid 40 cents a day and allowed to keep horses and other plunder they captured.
Black Kettle was one of the Chiefs who had signed the Laramie Treaty. He tried to stop the Cheyenne raiding but tempers were to afraid already. He travelled to Fort Lyon and had meetings with the Commander, Major Edward Wyncoop with a view to arranging another peace treaty. A meeting was set up and Black Kettle met the Governor and Colonel Chivington along with a delegation of Cheyenne.
Black Kettle was told he would have to surrender and give up his guns to secure peace. He was provided with an American flag and told that if he displayed this flag, he and his people would be safe. He was sent to Sand Creek 60 kilometres Northeast of Fort Lyon (earlier known as Fort Wise). He was promised sanctuary and although the land was barren and desolate, he set up his village and complied with the treaty.
Major Scott Anthony was appointed in the region and as well known Indian hater, he advocated a policy of complete eradication of all Indians. He agreed entirely with a statement made by Colonel Chivington:-
“I have come to kill Indians and I believe
that it is right and honourable to use any
means under God’s heaven to kill them.”
Major Anthony cut Cheyenne rations and demanded the surrender of all arms and ammunition. Black Kettle asked for more rations because his people were hungry; Major Anthony refused. Even so, Black Kettle’s people turned in their guns and expected a good result.
1864 – November 24 – When the Cheyenne people were completely unarmed and totally defenseless Colonel Chivington gathered together 700 troops and travelled to Sand Creek. At dawn on this day Chivington surrounded the camp with soldiers equipped with cannon. It is recorded that Black Kettle ran up his American Flag and a white flag of truce. He was standing by his teepee when Chivington ordered the troops to open fire.
Men, women and children were slaughtered without any chance of defending themselves. When most were dead he ordered the troops to charge the survivors to kill and scalp every Indian there. It is recorded that 133 Indians were killed. 105 were women and children, 28 were old men. There were no warriors present at all. What happened to some of the women and children is too horrific to repeat here.
If you are interested in reading more detail about the atrocities committed about American Indians I highly recommend a book called “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee“
Captain Silace Soule refused to take part in the killing and was court marshalled. He testified:-
“It looked too hard for me to see little children on their knees begging for their lives having their brains beaten out like dogs.”
Captain Soule was murdered and many believe that it was at the direction of Colonel Chivington because he was willing to talk about the things he had seen.
The troops displayed scalps and bragged of their great victory when they reached Denver. They were accorded a standing ovation but to the East the news was greeted somewhat differently. Eastern newspapers run scathing editorials and the public were appalled. President Lincoln dismissed Governor Evans and Colonel Chivington was court marshalled.
Chivington was acquitted but was removed from command.
1865 – January 1 – Indian Chiefs determined they should attack Julesburg, Colorado. Julesbsurg is located on the South Platte River near the Northeast border with Nebraska.
A band of warriors estimated to be about 1, 000 men moved from Cherry Creek to Julesburg. Women travelled with them bringing extra horses.
Camp Rankin was a small Army post located on Lodge Pole Creek near Julesburg.
1865 – January 7 – A combined force of Cheyenne, Arapaho and Sioux Indians attacked this fort. Camp Rankin was initially established as a civilian trading post and then became a military base. It was renamed Fort Sedgewick.
The Indian attack comprised a common tactic they had used many times but it still seemed to work. A group of warriors would attack a column of soldiers or attack the garrison from a distance. Staying just out of effective rifle range they would illicit a response and draw a column of soldiers into an ambush. Soldiers would be surrounded by a large force of Indians and slaughtered. This often worked very well and the military continued to fall for it. A problem for the War Chiefs though was that many young warriors were hard to control, they would charge too soon, give the plan away and soldiers would escape.
The was the case at Camp Rankin and the warriors failed to draw the soldiers out a second time. They packed up and attacked Julesburg.
The town presented few problems to the Indians. They attacked the town and plundered it thoroughly and it took them three days to get back to camp on Cherry Creek.
The Cheyenne contingent stayed near Cherry Creek until January 15. They broke camp and moved to White Butte Creek, half way between the South Fork of the Republican and the South Fork of the Platte River
Brigadier General Mitchell had his troops scour the Platte River, Medicine Creek, Red Willow, Blackwood, White Mans Fork, Stinking Water and Ten-Mile Creek. They camped at Big Timbers and searched White Butte however, the Cheyenne had already left. Mitchell also went down the Republican but never found the Cheyenne.
Black Kettle left the camps at White Butte with 80 lodges heading south of the Arkansas to join the Southern Arapahoes, Kiowas, and Comanches. That same year they met with the Government officials and the Army signed a treaty at the Little Arkansas River.
In June of this year the Government arranged a peace council at Fort Laramie. There was a huge gathering of Plains Indians and a new treaty was drawn up. It stated that if Indians would give safe passage to settlers and miners through their territory they would receive $75, 000 as an annuity. They were also promised that their hunting grounds would never be taken by force and that white travellers would stay on the road and not venture onto their hunting grounds.
While the meeting was still in progress and treaty negotiations were not yet complete, Colonel Henry Carrington arrived a column of soldiers and supplies that was over 3 kilometres long. Indians asked what was being done with all the soldiers and they were told that the soldiers would build forts along the Bozeman trail to protect white people.
Red Cloud was at that meeting. He was 44 years old at the time and the head Oglala Sioux War Chief. He was incensed and stormed out of the council. He was unhappy that he was being asked to sell the trail but soldiers were moving in before any agreement had been reached. He refused to talk further and left saying he would fight now.
Open warfare commenced throughout the Powder River country. The conflict that became known as “Red Cloud’s War” was on.
1863 – June 22 – Colonel Carrington left Fort Laramie with a column of soldiers heading North on the Bozeman Trail. At Fort Reno Carrington stopped to help increase the fort defences then continued on to Little Piney Creek and began building Fort Phil Carney. When this was under way he sent troops further up the trail to the Little Big Horn River to build Fort C. F. Smith.
By the time Carrington had begun building Fort Phil Carney Red Cloud had amassed over 2, 000 warriors. His men harried the workers and were seen in the hills around the fort every day as work proceeded. Rarely did a day go by without at least one soldier being killed in and around the construction. Soldiers became nervous and it is reported that some went mad under the pressure.
Wood for building and heating had to be cut and transported from a pine forest just over 8 kilometres away. This put the wood cutters and their escorts at enormous risk of Indian attack. To get the wood they had to pass a group of small hills that gave perfect cover.
Captain William Fetterman was one of Carrington’s officers. He had been a Lieutenant Colonel for the Union Army during the civil war. After the war there were a lot of Army Officers with no war to fight. Moving West was one option but like many others Fetterman had to take a rank reduction to stay on with the Army.
Fetterman was less cautious than Carrington and keen to secure battle field promotion to regain his former rank. Fetterman has distinguished himself in the Civil War but he had never been into battle against Indians. He boasted that if he was given 80 men he would ride through the entire Sioux nation.
1866 – December 21 – Red Cloud had a military tactic he favoured where he would use a few warriors to lure soldiers into an ambush. His young sub Chief Crazy Horse lured Fetterman and his men over Lodge Trail Ridge were 2, 000 warriors waited in ambush.
Crazy Horse came out of the hills and attacked the wood train as it returned to the Fort. Under the command of Captain Fetterman, a relief column went to the aid of the wood cutters. It is recorded that Carrington did not trust Fetterman but still gave him command of that relief party. He gave him very explicit orders though, not to go over Lodge Trail Ridge under any circumstances. As the party readied to leave, Carrington again reiterated the order and Fetterman acknowledged the order.
As the relief line arrived Crazy Horse and his warriors rode in and out of the woods, taunting the soldiers to pursue. Fetterman pursued and the column rode to the top of Lodge Trail Ridge. Against orders Fetterman ordered his men to pursue the Indians and they went right over the top of Lodge Trail Ridge and out of sight. Carrington saw impending disaster and sent out another column to support Fetterman; they were too late.
An hour later the second column reached Lodge Trail Ridge. All they found were dead soldiers and they learned that Fetterman, surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered, had killed himself to avoid capture.
In a twist of fate so ironic no script writer could have come up with the plot, Fetterman was leading 80 men at the time of his defeat. This was exactly the number of men he bragged were needed to defeat the entire Sioux nation.
Red Cloud continued his siege on Fort Phil Carney and the movement along the Bozeman trail came to a complete stand still.
The Government prepared a new treaty. Red Cloud refused to sign until the forts had been burned and the soldiers had left. Due to Red Cloud’s masterful leadership, the Government was left with no choice. The three forts built under Colonel Carrington’s command were abandoned.
Red Cloud watched the last soldier leave and then; he signed the treaty. Red Cloud had won. It was a tremendous victory and Red Cloud secured promises that his hunting grounds would never be touched. Sadly, the peace would only last 8 years.
1868 – April 29 – Red Cloud’s war was won and his treaty was signed on this day. It is also known as the Sioux Treaty of 1868 and more commonly as the Fort Laramie Treaty. The text of the treaty can be read by clicking the picture of the original treaty on the left.
1868 – November 27 – Chief Black Kettle was born in California around 1803. He became the leader of the Southern Cheyenne in 1854 and led the efforts to resist american settlement throughout Kansas and Colorado. He is acknowledged as a peacemaker who accepted treaties to protect his people. He survived the massacre at Sand Creek in 1864 but he and his wife were among those killed in the Battle of Washita River when his group was attacked by the Army under the command of George Custer.
After the massacre at Sand Creek, Black Kettle and his Cheyennes had lived in peace for four years. Other Indians had been conducting raids along the Washita River and it was here that the aambitious George Custer came across his path. Most warriors would have taken to the war path after something like Sand Creek but Black Kettle did not. He had few warriors but many older people including many women and children to protect.
Black Kettle had no scouts to warn him of an attack and the group had done nothing wrong. Black Kettle’s people were poor and had nothing other people would want. The report of the incident says it was at first light when a woman sounded the alarm. She saw the soldiers surrounding the camp and screamed a warning.
The warning was simply too late. Soldiers charged into tepees with sabres and guns. The regimental band played all through the attack even as the killing proceeded. After two hours of carnage the attack was complete. Black Kettle and his wife were dead, 103 people were dead. Custer had learned from Colonel Chivington’s mistake and he did not allow soldiers to mutilate the dead.
George Custer filed a report stating that 103 fighting men had been killed in a fierce battle. The reality that came to light later was very different. Those reports say he had killed 11 fighting men. The rest were old men, women and children. The fierce fight had been entirely one sided.
1872 – Fall – Following several skirmishes Cochise and his remaining warriors were slowly forced in the Dragoon Mountains. They used the mountains for protection and continued attacks against white settlements. The wily Cochise managed to evade capture and continued his raids against settlements and travellers until the fall of 1872.
A treaty was finally negotiated with General Oliver Howard with the help of Oliver Howard, a long term friend of Cochise. After making the peace Cochise moved to the new reservation and this ended his fighting days. His friend Tom Jeffords was the Indian Agent for the area. Cochise died 2 years later. He is believed he is buried in the Dragoon Mountains and the area is known as the “Cochise Stronghold”.
Cochise honoured the treaty but other Apache bands continued to raid settlements and rove across the border into Mexico. When Cochise died in 1874 many Apache sought leadership with the emerging Apache strong man, Geronimo. The deed of Geronimo from this point and throughout the 1880’s are too numerous to detail here and his own page will be added later.
Quanah Parker, the great Comanche War Chief and son of Cynthia Anne Parker, came down from the Llano Estacado and surrendered. Llano Estacado means Palisaded Plains (Pallisaded – line of hills) and is commonly known as the Staked Plains. Is a is a region of Southwestern United States covering parts of Eastern New Mexico and Northwestern Texas. The plains rise to 1, 500 metres but with a slope so gradual most people could not even see the change in elevation.
Quanah Parker spent the latter part of his life working to get Indian children to school and learn the language of American white people.
1876 – January 31 – The Sioux had been given until this day to return to their reservations. By virtue of an executive order signed by President Grant declaring the Black Hills and Powder River Country did not belong to the Sioux. He named the area “Unceded Lands”. The Indians had been told that if they did not return to the reservations they would be treated as “Hostiles”. They all knew that this meant they would be killed.
Miners and prospectors had began moving in when gold had been discovered in the Black Hills in South Dakota. They came in their thousands. Red Cloud had demanded that they be removed from the sacred area of the Black Hills. It was a dilemma for the Government because the treaty of 1868 promised that white men would not enter the Black Hills. With massive fortunes in gold still hiding in the hills the miners were not going to leave easily.
The Government tried to buy the hills for $6, 000, 000 but the Sioux refused. It was going to be easier and more profitable to force the Indians out of their sacred and traditional lands than to try to evict the miners.
1876 – February – When the deadline given to the Sioux had come and gone the Army made preparations for war. General Sheridan planned a campaign for the Summer to clear the entire area of Indians. He brought together Colonel John Gibbon, General George Crook and General George Custer.
Gibbon was to command an Infantry column and travel up through Yellowstone.
Crook would bring his troops through Wyoming and approach from the South.
Custer would leave Dakota at the head of the Seventh Cavalry.
Whilst Sheridan was bringing together his threesome of formidable commanders the Indians were making plans of their own. In the Valley of the Rose Bud they were coming together under Sitting Bull for a war council of their own. By the beginning June there were several thousand Indians camped there. They were represented by the Blackfoot, the Brule, the Cheyenne, Hunk Papa, the Miniconjou and the Oglala.
1876 – June 13 – General Crook was spotted by Cheyenne scouts approaching the camp. The Indians prepared to make the first move.
1876 – June 17 – Crook was marching with a command of 1, 300 men. Crazy Horse led and attack with an estimated 1, 500 Cheyenne and Sioux warriors. The fighting lasted all day Crook had lost 57 men by sunset. He left the field and retreated. It is not known how many Indian Warriors were killed.
1876 – June 21 – After much celebration the Indians moved to the North to a river called the Greasy Grass. The Army called this area the Little Big Horn. Their leaders now had 7, 000 Indians camped there. Crazy Horse, Gall, High Horse, rain in the Face and other chiefs waited with thousands of warriors.
1876 – June 25 – The Battle of the Little Bighorn is often referred to as Custer’s Last Stand. It is recorded at great length in historical literature however, accounts are mostly conjecture because nobody from Custer’s command survived to tell the story. Further more, Indian accounts were contradictory and unclear.
Other Army commanders were completely unaware of what had occurred until General Terry arrived June 27. The stunning news that confronted them was a total destruction of Custer’s command. When the Army checked the battle site exactly what happened could not be determined. Custer’s force of 210 men had been attacked by the Sioux and Cheyenne about 6 kilometres North of General Terry’s position. Evidence of a historic battle remained with a defence barricade made of dead horses found on Custer Hill.
Soldiers identified the Seventh Cavalry’s dead as best as possible and hastily buried them where they were found. Most of the dead were found stripped of their clothing, ritually mutilated and well decomposed.
Custer was found with shots to the left chest and left temple. Both wounds had the potential to be fatal. He also had a wound to one arm.
Sioux stories hold that Custer committed suicide avoid capture.
Indian accounts note several soldiers committing suicide near the end of the battle.
Chief Gall was a key participant in the battle. He recounted that Custer never got close to the river. Other Cheyenne and Sioux warriors criticised Gall’s account of the battle leaving the truth of the matter forever clouded.
Cheyenne tradition credits Buffalo Calf Road Woman with striking a blow that felled Custer from his horse and led to his death. The exact details will never be known.
1877 – June – Nez Perce warriors came across General Howard’s soldiers in White Bird canyon in Idaho. One officer and 33 troops were killed. General Howard brought 400 more infantry troops into play as well as cavalry reinforcements. They caught up with Chief Joseph and 300 of his warriors as well as 500 women and children.
Hampered by needing to protect their families Chief Joseph was not able to fight as effectively as they otherwise would. They were defeated and driven off.
Joseph decided to cross the mountains into Montana and join the Crow who were already there. They planned then to move North to Canada following the earlier lead of Sitting Bull and the Sioux.
1877 – August 9 – Colonel John Gibbon caught up with Chief Joseph with 400 soldiers from Montana. He made a surprise attack and 90 Nez Perce were killed. The warriors fought back for two days until the women and children had escaped. Gibbons suffered 71 casualties of his own and returned to Fort Shaw.
The Nez Perce continued their flight through Yellowstone with 700 soldiers under General Howard hot on their heels. The help they had expected from the Crow Indians was refused and they continued to flee.
1877 – September 30 – Colonel Nelson Miles had 400 soldiers under his command at fort Keogh. They travelled North to cut the Nez Perce off before they could reach Canada. Just forty miles from the border in the Bear Paw Mountains the second cavalry attacked.
1877 – October 5 – After 6 days of siege Chief Joseph, realising he could not win and make it to Canada, surrendered to Colonel Miles. When he surrendered, after fleeing 1, 700 miles and out fighting the Army against incredible odds all through the flight, he was promised that his people would be taken home. They never were and were resettled in Kansas, Oklahoma and Washington.
1889 – January 1 – As 1889 commenced people living in Indian Reservations everywhere were despondent. The Government funded rations of beef and basic foods had been reduced. Blanket and clothing allowances had been cut and the natural food sources, especially the buffalo, were scarce or in some cases, completely gone. Greedy white traders stole Indian allowances and many Indian Traders were openly corrupt.
The Midwest of America was in the midst of a drought and cultivation efforts failed. The size of reservations were continually shrinking under the ever present pressure of expanding civilisation. The threat of starvation was ever present and growing.
A Northern Paiute leader known as Wovoka (1856 – September 20, 1932) had a vision. He saw the plains covered with buffalo and he saw long dead relatives and friends crowding together. He founded the Ghost Dance, a religion that brought hope to the destitute and forlorn Indian people.
The date of this vision was significant because the first day of 1889 was a day of a solar eclipse, a powerful event in Indian tradition. It was a total solar eclipse visible across much of the United States and Canada. His vision also encompassed the end of white settlement in Indian country. He taught his followers that for his vision to come true then Indian people must live well and perform the traditional round dance, also known as the Ghost Dance. His teaching spread quickly and soon the Arapaho, the Cheyenne and the Sioux came to join. It is recorded that survivors and relatives of those lost at Wounded Knee came to dance and appeal to the Great Spirit.
Teton Sioux Chief kicking Bear brought the dance to Standing Rock in South Dakota. Sitting Bull was there when the dance took effect. Normal activity came to a standstill and white officials were worried.
1889 – November 17 – By now the dance was very wide spread and some sections of the white community were panicked. General Nelson Miles sent troops to reservations.
Indian Agent James McLaughlin and missionaries were panicked. They demanded the arrest of the dancers and sighted Sitting Bull, the 59 year old chief, as the dangerous man to be wary of.
1889 – December 15 – At dawn 43 agents surrounded Sitting Bull’s cabin and Police Lieutenant Henry Bullhead entered his residence, woke the old man and arrested him. Sitting Bull became afraid for his life (I think I would too in that situation) and he sought help. A warrior named Catch the Bear shot Bullhead and in the following disturbance Sitting Bull was shot twice, first in the chest and then in the head. The Sioux fled and headed for the village of Chief Big Foot, the Miniconjou leader.
Big Foot feared his people would be next to be killed and with just over 300 men, women and children, he led them toward the Pine Ridge reservation. The Army sent three regiments of cavalry after the fleeing Indians.
1889 – December 28 – The Army found and captured the fleeing group in South Dakota. The Indians were forced to camp on the banks of a creek over night because it was late in the day when they had been captured. That creek was named Wounded Knee. General George Forsyth arrived during the night with reinforcements from the infamous Seventh Cavalry.
1889 – December 29 – Forsyth had his men surrounded the camp and forced all adult men and boys to sit down in front of their tents. There were reportedly, 106 of them. Forsyth then sent his troops into their tents to take possession of all weapons. One brave refused and a soldier attempts to take his rifle from him. A warrior took a hidden rifle from under a blanket and an officer was shot. Soldier began shooting into the camp.
Forsyth ordered rapid fire canons to be turned on the Indians. Women and children ran in terror. Soldiers ran them down and were using the women and children for nothing more than target practice, according to some reports after the event. Terrible atrocities were committed that I do not want to recount here. If you want to read more I recommend the wonderful book “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”. This is a wonderful book with great descriptions of events but be warned; this was an awful chapter in history. Three and four year old children were shot running away.
1890 – January 4 – The dead at Wounded Knee had been left where they fell and a blizzard preserved the bodies. A burial detail was sent and the Indians were buried in a common grave. Some estimates counted the dead at over 300.
1890 – January 15 – After Wounded Knee survivors fled into the South Dakota badlands. General Miles had been appalled by what he had seen there and worked hard to achieve surrender without further loss of life. On January 15 the remainder of Sioux Indians did surrender. This was effectively the end of the Indian Wars.
Western newspapers reported the incident as a massacre and an atrocity. It was possibly the first time newspapers has used the term “Massacre” to describe the killing of Indians. This was usually a word left to describe the actions of Indians and when Indians were killed it was more often described as a heroic battle against savages and overwhelming odds.
The Army complained that their story of what happened had not been told. The Indians would have understood this complaint, they had spent decades not having their story told. Further, many American Indians of today would still understand this complaint as their story remains largely untold.
1904 – September 21 – Chief Joseph died, never having been allowed to go home after his surrender in 1877.
1905 – March 4 – Quanah Parker, the great Comanche War Chief and son of Cynthia Anne Parker had by now become politically influential. He rode in Teddy Roosevelt’s inaugural parade (as did Geronimo).
The President had cultivated a cowboy image and was very intrigued by the old west stories. Having Indians suited him well and improved his standing. It does not seem to have improved the lot of the Indians very much.