Indian Wars of Kansas

 

Indian Attack by Charles Marion Russell

Indian Attack by Charles Marion Russell

During the early years of settlement of Kansas when it was a territory, little trouble with the Indians was experienced. A few depredations were committed by some of the tribes, but none of them was of sufficient magnitude to cause serious alarm. Colonel Edwin V. Sumner led an expedition into the Indian country in 1857 in which he and his troops were involved in the Battle of Solomon Fork in Graham County in July. In the spring of 1859, a battle was fought on Crooked Creek, near the southwest corner of the present Ford County. The action was an incident of the Washita Expedition, which was under command of Major Earl Van Dorn, who afterward became a general in the Confederate Army. These two affairs were the most important events in connection with Indian warfare during the territorial period.

Attack of New Ulm, Minnesota during the 1862 Dakota War, painting by Anton Gag, 1904.

Attack of New Ulm, Minnesota during the 1862 Dakota War, painting by Anton Gag, 1904.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, while the Federal government was engaged in conflict with the Southern Confederacy, the Indians took advantage of the opportunity to harass the white settlements in the states west of the Mississippi River. The first notable instance of this was the Sioux uprising in Minnesota in the summer of 1862. The following year, the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Kiowa became troublesome in Colorado, requiring the presence of troops to protect the people. On November 29, 1864, Colonel John Chivington’s command attacked a camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho on Sand Creek, Colorado and killed a large number of Indians, for which Chivington was subjected to an investigation.

In 1864 General Samuel R. Curtis was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas by the war department to raise a force of militia for the relief of some wagon trains corralled on Cow Creek on the Santa Fe Trail on account of the hostility of the Indians. The same summer Captain Henry Booth and Lieutenant Hallowell, escorted by Company L, of the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry — while on a tour of inspection, became separated from their escort and were chased for some distance by a large body of Indians, but succeeded in escaping. Some of the natives in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma) acted with the Confederate armies and caused some apprehension among the settlers of southeastern Kansas.

In the years 1865-66 several expeditions were led against the hostile Indians of the northwest, the storm centers being at Fort Laramie, Wyoming and in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The massacre by the Sioux at Fort Phil Kearny, Nebraska in the fall of 1866 increased the prestige of Chief Red Cloud, who planned a general uprising in August 1867. But, by that time the government was in a position to send sufficient military forces into the Indian country to forestall the movement. None of these conflicts was in Kansas, but the successive defeats of the Indians in the northwest caused the tribes to break up into small bands which gradually worked their way southward, raiding the settlements as they went.

Kansas Cavalry Unit

Kansas Cavalry Unit

On June 27, 1867, General William T. Sherman called upon the governor of Kansas for volunteers, and on July 1st, Governor Crawford issued a proclamation authorizing the organization, as speedily as possible, of one regiment of volunteer cavalry to be mustered into the United States service for a period of six months. A full regiment was not organized, but one battalion, known as the Eighteenth Kansas, was mustered in on July 15th for the purpose of guarding the employees on the Union Pacific Railroad, the western settlements, and the emigrant wagon trains.

The battalion was commanded by Major Horace L. Moore, formerly lieutenant-colonel of the Fourth Arkansas Cavalry. It consisted of four companies, numbering 358 officers and enlisted men. It served in western Kansas until November 15th, when it was mustered out. Despite the additional manpower, Cheyenne and Sioux Indians ambushed and killed a 2nd US Cavalry detachment of eleven men and an Indian guide near Beaver Creek in Sherman County, Kansas known as the Kidder Massacre.

Companies B and C of the Eighteenth Kansas were engaged in a fight with Indians on Prairie Dog Creek on August 21st known as the Battle of Beaver Creek.

The summer of 1868 witnessed considerable activity on the part of hostile Indians. Early in June, the Cheyenne made a raid as far as Council Grove, ostensibly for the purpose of revenging themselves on the Kanza Indians for injuries received from them in the previous fall near Fort Zarah. However, they robbed settlers, killed cattle, and committed other outrages on the whites.

Pawnee Fork Crossing, Kansas.

Pawnee Fork Crossing, Kansas.

On August 4th, some 225 Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux left Pawnee Fork and a few days later were on the Saline River. They raided the valleys of the Saline and Solomon Rivers, captured wagon trains, killed the escorts and burned the wagons, and carried two women — Miss White and Mrs. Morgan — into captivity.

The Indians finally extended their field of operations to within 20 miles of Denver, Colorado, their numbers increasing by the addition of other bands until a formidable force was gathered together. The governors of both Kansas and Colorado reported the outrages to the authorities at Washington, urging that something be done with the Indians, and threatening to call out the state troops. The national government tried to induce the Indians to return to their reservations and failing in this, General Philip Sheridan, commanding the Department of the Missouri, was ordered to take the field against the Cheyenne under Roman Nose and Black Kettle. It was in this campaign that Colonel George A. Forsyth’s band of scouts, armed with revolvers and repeating rifles, scouted the country about the headwaters of the Solomon River and Fort Wallace, Kansas and in September fought the Battle of Beecher Island.

On October 9, 1868, General Sheridan called upon Governor Samuel Crawford for a regiment of mounted volunteers “to serve for a period of six months, unless sooner discharged, against the hostile Indians on the plains.” The regiment consisted of twelve companies of 100 men each. On November 4 Governor Crawford resigned his office to take command of the regiment, which left Topeka the next day for the Indian country, under orders to join General Sheridan’s command at Camp Supply in Indian Territory. The march took 24 days, the regiment reaching Camp Supply on the 29th.

Chief Black Kettle

Chief Black Kettle

In the meantime, upon the approach of winter, Black Kettle’s band moved southward to the Washita River. George Armstrong Custer was sent out from Camp Supply , Oklahoma in pursuit, and late on November 26, the scouts came within sight of Black Kettle’s village. There, they made camp for the night, and at daybreak the next morning his bugles sounded the charge. With the band playing the Seventh regiment’s fighting tune of “Garry Owen,” Custer’s men swept like a tornado through the village. Black Kettle was killed early in the fight and the command of the Indians fell on Little Rock, a Cheyenne chief almost as well known as Black Kettle himself. The village was destroyed, but George Armstrong Custer soon learned that this band was only one of many and that there were, in the vicinity, about 2,000 warriors — Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche and a few Apache.

He dismounted his men and assumed the defensive. The Indians were led by Arapaho warrior, Little Raven, Kiowa Chief Satanta, and Cheyenne Chief Little Rock. The ammunition ran low, but the quartermaster, Major Bell, charged the line and brought in a wagon loaded with a fresh supply, after which, the Indians grew more wary and finally began to retreat.

Custer threw out flankers and followed, his object being to make the Indians think his command was but the advance of a large army until he could withdraw with safety. The ruse succeeded, and as soon as the Indians were in full retreat George Armstrong Custer started for Camp Supply, where he arrived on December 1st, two days after the Nineteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. Official reports give the number of officers, soldiers, and citizens killed during the year 1868 as 353.

Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, 1859

Fort Cobb, Oklahoma, 1859

From December 18, 1868, to January 6, 1869, the Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry was in camp at Fort Cobb, Oklahoma. It then moved 28 miles southward to Fort Sill. Colonel Samuel Crawford resigned on February 12th, and on March 23rd Lieutenant-Colonel Moore was made colonel, Major W. C. Jones at the same time being promoted to lieutenant-colonel. On March 2, 1869, the command left camp at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, dismounted, and moved along the southern base of the Wichita range “to stir up the Cheyenne.” The Salt Fork was crossed on the 6th, and after a hard march, the Indians were overtaken on the 20th. The men of the Nineteenth were ready to open fire when Colonel Moore received an order from General Custer not to fire. For a short time, there was almost mutiny in the ranks. The men begged, argued, swore, and some even shed tears in their disappointment, but the principal object was to recover the two women (Mrs. Morgan and Miss White) who had been captured in Kansas the year before. A parley was held, which resulted in the chiefs Dull Knife, Big Head, Fat Bear and Medicine Arrow being left with Custer as hostages until the women were safely delivered to their friends, which was done on the 22nd. No battles were fought by the Nineteenth and the regiment was mustered out at Fort Hays, Kansas on April 18, 1869.

Early in May 1869, predatory bands of Indians began to lurk around the settlements on the frontier. On the 21st they attacked a party of hunters on the Republican River and drove them and the settlers on White Rock Creek, in Republican County, down to Lake Sibley. Five days later B.C. Sanders of Lake Sibley wrote to Adjutant-General W.S. Morehouse that six men had been killed and that one woman and two boys were missing. On the 30th the Indians made a raid on the settlements along the Saline River, killed and wounded 13 people, and carried Mrs. Allerdice, Mrs. Weichell, and a child into captivity. Mrs. Weichell was recaptured, but the other prisoners were killed during a fight between the Indians and the white troops under General E.A. Carr.

For the protection of the settlers, the adjutant-general mustered a battalion of four companies — 311 men and officers, who were dispatched to Plum Creek, near the mouth of Spillman Creek, near the forks of the Republican River and Beaver Creek. The expense of this battalion was a little over $83,800, but its presence in the menaced districts held the Indians at bay and no doubt saved several times the cost in property, to say nothing of the preservation of human life.

The year 1870 was comparatively quiet. According to the report of the adjutant-general, some 20-30 Indians early in May attacked the settlements on Limestone Creek in Mitchell County and killed three unarmed men. These were the only people killed in Kansas by Indians during the year.

Osage Chief Black Dog

Osage Chief Black Dog

No further Indian troubles of consequence occurred in Kansas until 1874. In the spring of that year, some roving bands began to molest the settlers in Ford, Barber and Comanche Counties, and Governor Thomas Osborn sent a small body of state troops into that section. In August, about 20-30 Osage Indians belonging to Black Dog’s and Big Chief’s bands came into Kansas, under the pretense of hunting on their old hunting grounds. Captain Ricker, with some 40 men, was occupying a stockade near Kiowa, Kansas. Knowing that the Indians were off their reservation without permission or authority, he marched out to their camp to learn their intentions. The chief came out and met him a short distance from the camp. When Ricker told him to order the others to come up, the chief gave orders in the Osage language to fire upon the whites.

Lieutenant Mosely understood the order. He promptly seized the chief and informed him that any more evidence of treachery would result in his having the top of his head blown off. The action of the leader probably incensed Ricker’s men to a degree that made them more vindictive than they would otherwise have been in dealing with the Indians. The camp was broken up, the ponies and camp equipage carried off by the whites, and in the fight that ensued, four of the Osage were killed. Edward P. Smith, Indian Commissioner, wrote to the interior department that Ricker acted without authority, but that after the outrage, as he called it, Governor Thomas Osborn had the company mustered as militia and the order of muster antedated, in order to make it appear the act was committed by authority of the state. Governor Osborn commissioned Captain Lewis Hanback to investigate the affair and report. The conclusion reached by Captain Hanback was that “The attempt made by the Indian authorities to fasten the charge of murder and robbery on the whites, is wholly and utterly without foundation. It arises either from a misconception of the facts, or a willful desire to malign and misrepresent.”

Following this event came four years of peace, and then came the last Indian raid in Kansas — the Cheyenne Raid in September, 1878, when Dull Knife’s band of northern Cheyenne, dissatisfied with the rations furnished by the government, decided to leave their reservation in Oklahoma and return to their former home in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The last battle to take place was the Battle of Punished Woman Fork in Scott County, Kansas on September 27, 1878.

 

Indian Attack on a Wagon Train by Charles Marion Russell

Indian Attack on a Wagon Train by Charles Marion Russell

Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser-Alexander/Legends of Kansas, updated July 2020.

Also See:

Indian Battles in Kansas

Indian Terrors on the Santa Fe Trail

Indian Wars, Battles & Massacres

Indian Wars of the Frontier West

Sources:

Blackmar, William; Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History, Standard Publishing Co., Chicago, IL,1912.
Cutler, William; History of the State of Kansas, A.T. Andreas, Chicago, IL, 1883.

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