Colorado Indian Battles


Battle of Beecher Island, Colorado

Battle of Beecher Island, Colorado

Beecher’s Island (1868) – Major George Forsyth, at the head of 50 frontiersmen, in pursuit of raiding Cheyenne, was attacked by a large party of Cheyenne on the morning of September 17, 1868. Forsyth’s party took refuge on a sandbar in the Republican River located in eastern Colorado. The Indians organized several mass charges, only to be blunted each time. By the afternoon of the 17th, more than 600 Indians participated in the assaults; however, the attacks decreased following the death of Roman Nose, one of the leading Cheyenne. Lieutenant Frederick Beecher, for whom the battle site is named, and 21 other defenders were killed. The remaining defenders were rescued on September 25 when Captain Louis Carpenter’s company of 10th Cavalry troops came to their aid.

Today a monument has been established at the site of the Beecher Island Battle but the original site has washed away. The Beecher Island Battlefield Monument is a joint Colorado-Kansas historical site established in 1905. The memorial is located 20 miles south of Wray, Colorado. More …

Meeker Massacre (1879) – With the possible exception of the Ghost Dance outbreak of the Sioux in 1890, the massacre was probably the most violent expression of Indian resentment toward the reservation system. Occurring in what is now Rio Blanca County, Colorado, at the White River Agency, the Ute Indians were fed up with Nathan C. Meeker, the Indian Agent, and his brand of “management.”

Native America: Voices From the Land DVD

Native America: Voices From the Land DVD

The White River Agency was founded in 1873 for several bands of Ute, who had agreed in a treaty to settle on a reservation there. Five years later Nathan C. Meeker, founder of the city of Greeley, assumed the duties of Indian agent. Resisting his undiplomatic and stubborn efforts to make them farm, raise stock, discontinue their pony racing and hunting forays, and send their children to school, as well as resenting settler encroachment on their reservation and Indian Bureau mismanagement, the nomadic Ute revolted. Assaulted by a subchief during a petty quarrel, Meeker called for troops. On September 29, 1879, before they arrived, the Indians attacked the agency, burned the buildings, and killed Meeker and nine of his employees. Meeker’s wife, daughter, and another girl were held as captives for 23 days. After the massacre, relief columns from Forts Fred Steele and D. A. Russell, Wyoming, defeated the Ute in the Battle of Milk Creek, Colorado, and ended the uprising.

The site, Colorado Highway 64, about three miles west of Meeker, is indicated by a wooden marker on the south side of the highway but is actually located in a privately owned meadow on the north side of the White River. A few traces of building foundations reveal the location of the Indian agency. A monument indicates the spot where Meeker died.

Milk Creek (1879) – Following the Meeker Massacre, the Ute ambushed a column of 150 troops under Major Thomas T. Thornburgh on the northern edge of the White River Reservation, approximately 18 miles from the Indian agency. The soldiers had marched south from Fort Fred Steele, Wyoming in answer to Meeker’s plea for help. Forming a wagon corral and sending out a messenger with a call for aid, they held out from September 29 until October 5, 1879. During that time, 35 black cavalrymen, based at Fort Lewis, Colorado, broke through the Indian line to reinforce their comrades-in-arms. A relief expedition of 350 men led by Colonel Wesley Merritt from Fort D. A. Russell, Wyoming finally lifted the siege and rounded up the hostiles. Army casualties were 13 dead, including Major Thornburgh, and 43 wounded. The Government imprisoned several of the Ute leaders, and placed the tribe on a new reservation in Utah. The battlefield site is in Moffat County, Colorado on an unimproved road, about 20 miles northeast of Meeker. The battlefield, situated in a brush-lined canyon, appears today much as it did in 1879. A monument bears the names of the dead soldier.

Sand Creek Massacre

Painting of the attack on Sand Creek, by Robert Lindneaux, 1936.

Sand Creek Massacre (1864) – The Sand Creek Massacre was one of the most sordid affairs between the white settlers and American Indians in U.S. history. The massacre, occurring on November 29, 1864, was led by Colorado Territory Commander, John M. Chivington, was made upon Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne village, nestled along Sand Creek in southeastern Colorado. Though the Cheyenne were flying an American flag over their village and had already surrendered, Chivington, who was a known “Indian hater” attacked anyway, leaving more than 200 Cheyenne, mainly women, and children, dead.

The massacre site was authorized as a National Historic site on August, 2, 2005. However, it will not be established until the National Park Service acquires enough land to provide for the preservation, commemoration, and interpretation of the Sand Creek Massacre and is not yet open to the public. See full article HERE.

Summit Springs (1869)The Battle of Summit Springs, fought on July 11, 1869, near Sterling, Colorado, broke for all time the power of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers on the central Plains. The battle, in response to a series of Indian raids in north-central Kansas, was led by Colonel Eugene Carr, commanding the U.S. Fifth Cavalry. During the conflict, Cheyenne leader, Tall Bull, was killed (some say by Buffalo Bill Cody), the Dog Soldiers fragmented into two groups, one drifting north to join the Northern Cheyenne and the other joining the Southern Cheyenne. Carr reported killing 52 Indians and capturing 15; however, only one soldier was wounded in the fighting. The site, located about 14 miles southeast of Sterling, Colorado is marked but is on private property.


Compiled by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, updated December 2017.

Also See:

Indian War Timeline

Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres

Military Campaigns of the Indian Wars

Three Indian Campaigns

Indian Wars of the Frontier West by Emerson Hough

Winning The West: The Army In The Indian Wars

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