Indian Terrors on the Santa Fe Trail

The President of the United States sent for Kicking Bird to come to Washington, and to bring with him such other influential Indians as he thought might aid in inducing the Kiowa to cease their continual raiding on the border of Texas.

In due time, Kicking Bird left for the capital, taking with him Lone Wolf, Big Bow, and Sun Boy of the Kiowa, together with several of the head men of the Comanche. When the deputation of Indians arrived in Washington, it was received at the presidential mansion by the chief magistrate himself. So much more attention was given to Kicking Bird than to the others, that they became very jealous, particularly when the President announced to them the appointment of Kicking Bird as the head chief of the tribe. But Lone Wolf would never recognize his authority, constantly urging the young men to raid the settlements. Lone Wolf was a genuine savage, without one redeeming trait, and his hatred of the white race was unparalleled in its intensity. He was never known to smile. No other Indian can show such a record of horrible massacres as he is responsible for. His orders were rigidly obeyed, for he brooked no disobedience on the part of his warriors.

Vintage Fort Harker, Kansas

Vintage Fort Harker, Kansas

In the summer of 1876, a party of English gentlemen left Fort Harker, Kansas for a buffalo hunt. They soon exhausted all their rations and started a four-mule team back to the post for more. Some of Lone Wolf’s band of cut-throats came across the unfortunate teamster, killed him, and ran off the team. After the occurrence, Kicking Bird came into the agency at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and told Mr. Haworth, the agent, that he had given his word to the Great Father at Washington he would do all he could to bring in those Indians who had been raiding by order of Lone Wolf, particularly the two who had killed the Englishmen’s driver.

He succeeded in bringing in 12 Indians in all, among them the murderers of the driver. They, with Lone Wolf, and Satank, were sent to the Dry Tortugas for life. The morning they started on their journey Satank talked very feelingly to Kicking Bird, with tears in his eyes. He said that they might look for his bones along the road, for he would never go to Florida. The Indians were loaded into government wagons. Satank was inside of one with a soldier on each side of him, their legs hanging outside. Somehow the crafty villain managed to slip the handcuffs off his wrists, at the same instant seizing the rifle of one of his guards, and then shoved the two men out with his feet. He tried to work the lever of the rifle, but could not move it, and one of the soldiers, coming around the wagon to where he was still trying to get the gun so as he could use it, shot him down, and then threw his body on the Trail. Thus Satank made good his vow that he would never be taken to Florida. He met his death only a mile from the post.

After the departure of the condemned Indians, the feeling in the tribe against Kicking Bird increased to an alarming extent. Several times the most incensed warriors tried to kill him by shooting at him from an ambush. After he became fully aware that his life was in danger, he never left his lodge without his carbine. He was as brave as a lion, fearing none of the members of Lone Wolf’s band; but he often said it was only a question of a short time when he would be gotten rid of; he did not allow the matter, however, to worry him in the least, saying that he was conscious he had done his duty by his tribe and the Great Father.

In a bend of Cash Creek, about half a mile below the mill, about half a dozen of the Kiowa had their lodges, that of their chief being among them. At ten o’clock one Monday in June 1876, Mr. Haworth, the agent, came in haste to the shops, called the master mechanic, Mr. Wykes, out, told him to jump into the carriage quickly; that Kicking Bird was dead.

When they arrived at the home of the great chief, sure enough, he was dead, and some of the women were engaged in folding his body in robes. Other Indian women were cutting themselves in a terrible manner, as is their custom when a relative dies and was also breaking everything breakable about the lodge. Kicking Bird had always been scrupulously clean and neat in the care of his home; it was adorned with the most beautifully dressed buffalo robes and the finest furs, while the floor was covered with matting.

It seems that Kicking Bird, after visiting Mr. Wykes that morning, went immediately to his lodge, and sat down to eat something, but, just as he had finished a cup of coffee, he fell over, dead. He had in his service a Mexican woman, and she had been bribed to poison him.

An expensive coffin was made at the agency for his remains, fashioned out of the finest black walnut to be found in the country where that timber grows to such a luxuriant extent. It was eight feet long and four feet deep, but even then it did not hold one-half of his effects, which were, according to the savage custom, interred with his body.

The cries and lamentations of the warriors and women of his band were heartrending; such a manifestation of grief was never before witnessed at the agency. A handsome fence was erected around his grave, in the cemetery at Fort Sill, and the government ordered a beautiful marble monument to be raised over it; but I do not know whether it was ever done.

Kicking Bird was only f40 years old at the time of his sudden death, and was very wealthy for an Indian. He knew the uses of money and was a careful saver of it. A great roll of greenbacks was placed in his coffin, and that fact having leaked out, it was rumored that his grave was robbed.

George Bent and his wife, Magpie

George Bent and his wife, Magpie

One of the greatest terrors of the Old Santa Fe Trail was the half-breed Indian desperado George Bent. His mother was Cheyenne, and his father, the famous trader, Colonel William Bent. He was born at the base of the Rocky Mountains, and at a very early age placed in one of the best schools that St. Louis afforded. His venerable sire, with only a limited education himself, was determined that his boy should profit by the culture and refinement of civilization, so he was not allowed to return to his mountain home at Bent’s Fort, and the savage conditions under which he was born, until he had attained his majority. He then spoke no language but English. His mother died while he was absent at school, and his father continued to live at the old fort, where George after he had reached the age of 21, joined him.

As soon as the educated George Bent set his foot on his native heath he readily found enough ambitious young bucks of his own age who were willing to look on him as their leader. They loved him, too, if such a thing were possible, as Fra Diavolo was loved by his wild followers. His band was known as the “Dog Soldiers“; a sort of a semi-military organization, consisting of the most daring, blood-thirsty young men of the tribe; and sometimes “squaw-men,” that is, renegade white men who married to Indian women, attached themselves to his command of cut-throats.

At the head of this collection of the worst Indians, hardly ever numbering over a hundred, Charley Bent robbed ranches, attacked wagon-trains, overland coaches, and army caravans. He stole and murdered indiscriminately. The history of his bloody work will never be wholly revealed, for dead men have no tongues.

He would visit all alone, in the guise of plainsman, hunter, or cattleman, the emigrant trains crossing the continent, always, however, those which had only small escorts or none at all. Feigning hunger, while his needs were being kindly furnished, he would glance around him to learn what kind of an outfit it was; its value, its destination, and how well guarded. Then he would take his leave with many thanks, rejoin his band, and with it dash down on the train and kill every human being unfortunate enough not to have escaped before he arrived.

He was indefatigable in his efforts to kill off the whole corps of army scouts. He would pass himself off as a fellow-scout, as a deserter from some military post, or as an Indian trader, for he was a wonderful actor, and would have achieved histrionic honors had he chosen the stage as a profession.

He would always time his actions so as to be found apparently asleep by a little campfire on the bank of Pawnee Fork, Crooked, Mulberry, or Walnut Creeks, all of which streams intercepted the trails running north and south between the several military posts during the Indian war, when he would seem delighted and astonished, or else simulate suspicion. Then he would either murder the unsuspecting scout with his own hands or deliver him to the red fiends of his band to be tormented.

The government offered a reward of $5,000 for Bent’s capture, dead or alive. It was reported soon after, that he was at killed in a battle with some deputy United States Marshals, and that they received the reward; but, the whole thing was manufactured out of whole cloth, and if the marshals received the money, Uncle Sam was most outrageously swindled.

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

Cheyenne Dog Soldier

The facts are that he died of malarial fever induced by a wound received in a fight with the Kaws, near the mouth of Walnut Creek and not far from Fort Zarah, Kansas. His “Dog Soldiers” were whipped by the Kaws, and his band driven off. Bent lingered for some time and died.

By Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Compiled and edited by Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated June 2018.

About the Author: Excerpted from the book, The Old Santa Fe Trail, by Colonel Henry Inman, 1897. Note: The text is not verbatim, as edits have been made throughout the tale. Henry Inman was well known both as an officer in the U.S. Army and an author dealing with subjects of the Western plains. During the Civil War, Inman was a Lieutenant Colonel and afterward he won distinction as a magazine writer. He wrote several books including his Old Santa Fe Trail, Great Salt Lake Trail, The Ranch on the Ox-hide and other similar books dealing with the subjects he knew so well. Colonel Inman left a number of unfinished manuscripts at his death in Topeka, Kansas on November 13, 1899.

Also See:

Early Traders on the Santa Fe Trail

Fighting Comanche on the Santa Fe Trail

Massacre at Nine Mile Ridge

Pathways To the West

Santa Fe Trail – Highway to the Southwest

Santa Fe Trail Photo Gallery

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