Chief Black Kettle:
I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies.
I grew up in the city, but I also spent countless days on my grandparent’s farm in a small town which had Cheyenne. My parents grew up there. Helping harvest wheat in July and plowing fields on a spring break, my grandfather paid me more than I was worth. A good friend of the family who was also a hired farm-hand by my grandfather was Cheyenne. He and I did some “work” together over the years. I played in the red dirt as a boy and he worked; though, I did finally help him dig post holes and tighten the barbed-wire fences as I got older. What patience that man had! He lived in the identical house my father grew up in, where my father hunted quail for miles at a time with 3 or 4 shotgun shells. My parents were poor. My father took me hunting in the same places when I was 8.
I imagine my Cheyenne friend necessarily attended the desolate looking Indian Boarding School that was set off the main highway into town or one similar, where he would have been “Christianized” and told how “dirty” he was. Maybe that contributed to his alcoholism. I was much older before I understood why he was late for work, or didn’t come at all. He died of alcoholism, diabetes, or both years ago.
A Cheyenne cemetery is in the same direction as where my mother told me she watched gypsies camp through her west window as a girl, about ½ mile from that house. I have reverently walked though it as early as ten, looking at the headstones and wondering who they were and where they came from. Now however, eerie feelings come over me as I realize I hiked alone in the overall area where Custer murdered Black Kettle when I was in the Boy Scouts, and they or their successive generations could have been who I was wondering about in that burial site. It was close enough to Washita for it to have been probable. I don’t know who all they were, but perhaps some were descendants from the Sand Creek Massacre.
The Approaching Massacre at Sand Creek
Simultaneously, Roman Nose led the Dog Soldiers in battle while Black Kettle strove for peace. Chief Black Kettle was promised complete safety by Colonel Greenwood as long as he rose the U.S flag above him.(1) Black Kettle persisted in his calls for peace in spite of the continuing exterminations and the shooting of Lean Bear.
Lean Bear, a leading peacemaker who had previously met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., was shot from his horse without warning by U.S. troops during a Kansas buffalo hunt.
The troops were acting under orders from Colonel John M. Chivington who commanded the military district of Colorado: “Find Indians wherever you can and kill them” (The War of the Rebellion, 1880-1881, pp. 403-404).
Perplexed by the continuing genocide, Black Kettle sent for Little White Man, known as William Bent.Almost prophetic, both agreed in their meeting that a war was about to be born if nothing changed. Black Kettle’s peaceful attempts tragically failed, even though he took his people to Sand Creek, fully expecting peace.His last effort for peace was raising the U.S. flag just prior to the massacre.
“…Though no treaties were signed, the Indians believed that by reporting and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.
However on the day of the “peace talks” Chivington received a telegram from General Samuel Curtis (his superior officer) informing him that “I want no peace till the Indians suffer more…No peace must be made without my directions.”
Unaware of Curtis’s telegram, Black Kettle and some 550 Cheyennes and Arapahos, having made their peace, traveled south to set up camp on Sand Creek under the promised protection of Fort Lyon. Those who remained opposed to the agreement headed North to join the Sioux.
The Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864
Black Kettle and his people had every reason to expect complete safety from their bloodshed after agreements for peace were made and the Dog Soldiers left to join the Sioux. Nonetheless, Chivington’s troops advanced on the Cheyenne and Arapaho near dawn. The sound of those approaching hooves must have sounded ominous.
U.S. soldiers inevitably chased the defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho by horse and foot with knives and guns in hand. Their victims had to be positioned before ripping off their scalps, cutting off their ears, smashing out their brains, butchering their children, tearing their breastfeeding infants away from their mother’s breasts, and then murdering those infants. The “Bloody Third” soldiers necessarily had to kill the infants before cutting out their mother’s genitals
The one question I never saw asked in the congressional hearings was, “Didn’t you disgraceful soldiers realize they were family?”
Kurt Kaltreider, PH.D. “American Indian Prophecies.” pp. 58-59:
-The report of witnesses at Sand Creek:
“I saw some Indians that had been scalped, and the ears cut off the body of White Antelope,” said Captain L. Wilson of the first Colorado Cavalry. “One Indian who had been scalped had also his skull smashed in, and I heard that the privates of White Antelope had been cut off to make a tobacco bag of. I heard some of the men say that the privates of one of the squaws had been cut out and put on a stick…”
John S. Smith…
All manner of depredations were inflicted on their persons; they were scalped, their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the heads with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word…worse mutilation that I ever saw before, the women all cut to pieces…children two or three months old; all ages lying there.
From sucking infants up to warriors.
Sand Creek being a deliberate massacre is not contested, especially since the “Bloody Third” set the village in flames and took all the evidence back to Washington to hide it.
Letters written by those at Sand Creek
From Lt. Silas Soule to Maj. Edward Wynkoop, Dec. 14, 1864:
“The massacre lasted six or eight hours…I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized….They were all scalped, and as high as a half a dozen [scalps] taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated…You could think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth, which they do not deny…I expect we will have a hell of a time with Indians this winter.”
Before departing, the command, now the “Bloody Third”, ransacked and burned the village.
The surviving Indians, some 300 people, fled north towards other Cheyenne camps.
Medicine Calf Beckwourth sought Black Kettle to ask him if peace was yet possible, but Black Kettle had moved out to be with relatives. Leg-in-the-Water replaced him as the primary chief; so, Beckwourth asked Leg-in-the-Water if there could be peace. Principle chief Leg-in-the-Water responded with these powerful words.
Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” p. 94:
“The white man has taken our country, killed all of our children. Now no peace. We want to go meet our families in the spirit land. We loved the whites until we found out they lied to us, and robbed us of what we had. We have raised the battle ax until death.”(1)
Colin F. Taylor. “The American Indian.” pp. 83-87 (Illustrations on pp.84-86):
The death of Roman Nose at the Beecher’s Island battle in September 1867, and the slaughter of Black Kettle together with over one hundred men, women, and children, by Custer at Washita in November 1867, the progressive decline of the buffalo, superior weapons, the Calvary’s ability to strike the village communities in winter, wore the tribes down…
By 1875, warfare on the Southern Plains was all but over; less so, further north, where smoldering apathy over broken Treaties was being rapidly replaced by open hostility.
The heart of Black Kettle’s murder is the center of a paradox I’ll never understand. Why is innocence not protected by itself, since the innocent are innocent? It eternally begs the question and leaves no satisfactory answers. Either the paradox is itself the answer, or there is something else?
…despite broken promises and attacks on his own life, speak of him as a great leader with an almost unique vision of the possibility for coexistence between white society and the culture of the plains…
Choice, thus freedom…are my only answers to that question.
What Black Kettle may have trusted were his own traditions. As a Peace Chief following pipe tradition, he would have been taught the four central tenets of faith, truth, humility and respect. Black Kettle is remembered as much for how he lived as how he died.
Nobody could force Black Kettle to fight and kill, nor could anyone force Roman Nose to let Colonel John Chivington murder more Cheyenne and Arapaho than he could prevent. Both chose who they were, even within their deaths. Though one was a warrior for peace and one was a warrior’s warrior, both… were warriors.