Battlefield National Historic Site
cultural collision between pioneers and
reached its peak on the Great Plains during the decades before and after
the Civil War.
U.S. Government policy sought to separate tribes and settlers from each
other by establishing an
Some Plains tribes accepted life on reservations. Others, including the
did not. They continued to hunt and live on traditional lands outside the
At first, this choice produced little conflict. But
Civil War, land-hungry settlers began penetrating the plains in
increasing numbers, encroaching upon tribal hunting grounds.
could no longer retreat beyond the reach of whites, and many chose to
defend their freedom and lands rather than submit to reservation life.
The Battle of the Washita.
leading to the
Battle of the Washita began with the
Massacre of 1864. On November 29, troops under the command of
Colonel J.M. Chivington attacked and destroyed the
Chief Black Kettle and Chief White Antelope on
40 miles from Fort Lyon,
Kettle's band flew an American flag and a white flag, and
considered themselves at peace and under military protection. The
terrible slaughter caused a massive public outcry. In response, a
federal Peace Commission was created to convert Plains
Indians from their nomadic way of life and settle them on
On the Southern
Plains, the work of the Commission culminated in the Medicine Lodge
Treaty of October 1867. Under treaty terms the
Apache were assigned to reservations in the
Territory. There they were supposed to receive permanent homes,
farms, agricultural implements, and annuities of food, blankets, and
clothing. The treaty was doomed to failure. Many tribal officials
refused to sign. Some who did sign had no authority to compel their
people to comply with such an agreement. War parties, mostly young men
violently opposed to reservation life, continued to raid white
Major General Philip H. Sheridan, in command of the Department of
adopted a policy that "punishment must follow crime." In retaliation
raids, he planned to mount a winter campaign when
Indian horses would be weak and unfit for all but the most limited
Indians' only protection in winter was the isolation afforded by
Chief Big Mouth went to
in November 1868 to petition General
William B. Hazen for peace and protection. A respected leader of the
Kettle had signed the Little Arkansas Treaty in 1865 and the
Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867. Hazen told them that he could not allow
them to bring their people to
for protection because only
General Sheridan, his field commander, or
Lieutenant Colonel George Custer, had that authority.
Disappointed, the chiefs headed back to their people at the winter
encampments on the Washita River.
Black Kettle and Big Mouth parlayed with General Hazen, the 7th
Cavalry established a forward base of operations at
Territory as part of
Sheridan's winter campaign strategy. Under orders from
Custer marched south on November 23, 1868 with about 800 troopers, traveling
through a foot of new snow. After four days travel the command reached the
Washita valley shortly after midnight on November 27, and silently took up
a position near an
encampment their scouts had discovered at a bend in the river.
who had just returned from Fort
a few days before, had resisted the
entreaties of some of his people, including his wife, to move their camp
downriver closer to larger encampments of
wintered there. He refused to believe that
Sheridan would order an attack without first offering an opportunity
Before dawn, the troopers
attacked the 51 lodges, killing a number of men, women, and children.
Custer reported about 100 killed, though
accounts claimed 11 warriors plus 19 women and children lost their lives.
More than 50
Cheyenne were captured, mainly women and children.
Custer's losses were light: 2 officers and 19 enlisted men killed.
Most of the
soldier casualties belonged to Major Joel Elliott's detachment, whose
eastward foray was overrun by
Black Kettle's aid.
Kettle and his wife were killed in the attack.
Sheridan's plan to cripple resistance,
Custer ordered the slaughter of the
pony and mule herd estimated at more than 800 animals. The lodges of
Kettle's people, with all their winter supply of food and clothing,
were torched. Realizing now that many more
were threatening from the east,
Custer feigned an attack toward their downriver camps, and then
quickly retreated to Camp Supply with his hostages.
The engagement at the
Washita might have ended very differently if the larger encampments to the
east had been closer to
Kettle's camp. As it happened, the impact of losing winter supplies,
plus the knowledge that cold weather no longer provided protection from
attack, convinced many bands to accept reservation life.
Today the battle site is
a National Historic Site run by the National Park Service. The Historic
Site preserves the location of the Southern
village of Peace Chief
The Visitorís Center is open daily from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except for
Christmas and New Years Days. The overlook and trail, is open every day
from dawn until dusk. Park Rangers also staff the nearby
Museum, which is open 9:00 to 5:00, Tuesday thru Saturdays, and closed on
Prisoners from Black Kettle's
camp, captured by General Custer, by Theodore R. Davis, 1868.
Available for prints and downloads
The Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
is located near the town of
which is situated in western
approximately 30 miles north of I-40 on Hwy 283 and approximately 20 miles
east of the
Battlefield National Historic Site
PO Box 890
426 E. Broadway
of America, updated
Source: National Park
Chief Black Kettle
Lieutenant Colonel George Custer
Major General Philip H. Sheridan
Native American (main page)
Native American Photo Galleries
George Armstrong Custer
This image available for photographic
Trail at Washita Battlefield, courtesy the National Park Service.
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