Also known as Battle Canyon, it occurred when Chief Dull Knife and Little Wolf, of the Northern Cheyenne, decided to lead their people from their reservation near Fort El Reno, Oklahoma back to their former home in the north. The Cheyenne included 92 warriors, 120 women, and 141 children. As they came through Kansas, crossing the Arkansas River at the Cimarron Crossing, Lieutenant-Colonel William H. Lewis, commander at Fort Dodge, was dispatched to capture and return them.
Hiding from the soldiers during the day, the Indians traveled by night and made their way to present-day Scott County, Kansas where they took refuge in the Valley of Punished Woman’s Fork in late September 1878. For two days they rested, re-supplied their food, and fortified their position in what is today known as Sanctuary Cave.
On the afternoon of September 27th, Colonel Lewis and his troops caught up with them, advancing from the southwest. The women, children, and elderly hid in the cave while the warriors fought the advancing soldiers. Lieutenant-Colonel William H. Lewis was wounded in the thigh. That night, the Cheyenne escaped, crossing the Smoky Hill River and to the northwest.
The following day, Lewis was placed in a military ambulance and the soldiers made their way to Fort Wallace, Kansas about 40 miles to the northwest. Along the way, he died of his wounds, becoming the last Kansas military casualty of the Indian Wars.
After escaping from Battle Canyon the tribe continued on in what has become known as the Cheyenne Raid, making their way through Decatur and Rawlins Counties and committing a number of depredations.
The Cheyenne then made their way to Nebraska, split up with part of the group following Chief Dull Knife and the other with Little Wolf. Dull Knife’s group was captured close to Fort Robinson, Nebraska while Little Wolf’s band remained in the sandhills of Nebraska for the winter and eventually made their way to Montana.
The battle site is located about one mile southeast of Lake Scott State Park. Owned by the Scott County Historical Society, a marker designates the battle site and a monument has been placed over Sanctuary Cave.
©Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated July 2021.