Battle of Washita River

Battle of Washita River

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict= Battle of Washita River
partof=the Indian Wars

caption="Battle of Washita" from "Harper's Weekly", December 19, 1868
date=November 27, 1868
place=Roger Mills County, Oklahoma
result=U.S. victory
commander1=George A. Custer
commander2=No known military commander [Black Kettle and Little Rock were the two known chiefs in the village that was attacked, and both were killed. However, as chiefs they were not military commanders. According to George Bent, "The whites have the wrong idea about Indian chiefs. Among the Plains Indians a chief was elected as a peace and civil officer and there was no such office as war chief. What the whites call war chiefs were only warriors of distinction.... But the Indian idea of a chief is not a fighter, but a peace maker." Bent 1968, p. 324.]
strength1= 7th Cavalry Regiment
strength2= 150 warriors (est.); [Greene 2004, p. 111.] total camp population 250 (est.) [Greene 2004, p. 103.]
casualties1=21 killed and 13 wounded
casualties2=Range of military and civilian scout estimates:
* 16 to 140+ men killed
* "some" to 75 women and children killed
Range of Cheyenne estimates:
* 11 to 18 men killed
* 17 to "many" women and children killed
*Estimates range from 13 to 150 total killed
See discussion below for further information and sources.
The Battle of Washita River (or Battle of the Washita) occurred on November 27, 1868 when Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Cheyenne camp on the Washita River (near present day Cheyenne, Oklahoma).


After the signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, the Cheyennes and Arapahoes moved to Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) to be in their new reservation. [ [ Medicine Lodge Treaty, 1867] ] But in the summer of 1868, after months of fragile peace (with raids between Kaw Indians and Cheyennes), white settlements in western Kansas, southeast Colorado, and northwest Texas were hit by raids from war parties of Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche, Northern Cheyenne, Brulé and Oglala Lakota, and Pawnee warriors. Among these raids were those along the Solomon and Saline rivers in Kansas, commencing on August 10, 1868, during which at least 15 white settlers were killed, others wounded, and some women raped or taken captive.Moore 1897-01-19, p. 350.]

On August 19, 1868, Colonel Edward W. Wynkoop, Indian Agent for the Cheyennes and Arapahoes at Fort Lyon, Kansas, , who was a chief in Black Kettle's Cheyenne village. Little Rock gave an account of what he had learned about the raids along the Saline and Solomon rivers. According to Little Rock's account, a war party of about 200 Cheyennes from a camp above the forks of Walnut Creek departed camp intending to go out against the Pawnees, but ended up raiding white settlements along the Saline and Solomon rivers instead. Some of the men responsible for the raids came to Black Kettle's camp, and it was from these men that Little Rock learned what had happened. Little Rock named the men most responsible for the raids and agreed to do his best to have the guilty parties delivered to white authorities. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. Published in U.S. Senate, "Letter of the Secretary of the Interior, Communicating in Compliance with the Resolution of the Senate of the 14th ultimo, Information in Relation to the Late Battle of Washita River|". 40th Cong., 3d sess., 1869. S. Exec. Doc. 40. Available wholly or in part in Hoig 1980, pp. 47-50; Custer 1874, pp. 105-107; Greene 2004, pp. 52-53; Hardorff 2006, pp. 45-49.]

Indians in November 1868

Winter camps on the Washita River

By early November 1868, Black Kettle's camp joined other Indian camps at the Washita River, which they knew as Lodgepole River.Greene 2004, pp. 102.] Black Kettle's village was the westernmost of a series of camps of Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches, and Kiowa-Apache that ran ten to fifteen miles along the Washita River.Hoig 1980, p. 93.]

Black Kettle's village was several miles west of the rest of the camps and consisted of around fifty Cheyenne lodges plus one or two lodges of visiting Arapahoes and two of visiting Lakotas, for a total of about 250 inhabitants.Greene 2004, pp. 103.] Little Rock, the only council chief who had remained with Black Kettle since the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864, lived with his family in the village, which also included the families of Big Man, Wolf Looking Back, Clown, Cranky Man, Scabby Man, Half Leg, Bear Tongue, and Roll Down.Greene 2004, pp. 103.] Downriver from Black Kettle's camp the Washita looped northward in a large oxbow. At its northern portion was the Arapaho camp of Little Raven,Hoig 1980, p. 94.] Hardorff 2006, p. 276 note 1.] Big Mouth, Yellow Bear, and Spotted Wolf, a total of about 180 lodges. At the bottom of the loop a large Cheyenne camp under Medicine Arrows and including also the followers of Little Robe, Sand Hill, Stone Calf, Old Little Wolf (Big Jake), and Black White Man made up one large village, and nearby was a smaller Cheyenne village consisting of the followers of Old Whirlwind. These two Cheyenne villages, together comprising about 129 lodges, were situated along the oxbow southeast of Little Raven's Arapaho camp and west of a small Kiowa camp headed by Kicking Bird. (The Kiowa leaders Satanta, Lone Wolf, and Black Eagle had moved their villages to the Fort Cobb area.) Downriver from there were other camps of Comanches and Kiowa-Apaches. Overall, a total of about six thousand Indians were in winter camp along the upper Washita River.

November 20 meeting at Fort Cobb

In mid-November, a party headed by Black Kettle and Little Robe of the Cheyennes and Big Mouth and Spotted Wolf of the Arapahoes arrived at Fort Cobb to visit the post trader, William "Dutch Bill" Griffenstein.Hoig 1980, p. 89.] Griffenstein's wife Cheyenne Jennie, a Cheyenne originally of Black Kettle's camp, had died around October 10,Hardorff 2006, p. 289 note 1.] and Griffenstein had sent runners to inform her parents of her passing, perhaps also sending a message to urge Black Kettle to come and talk with Colonel (Brevet Major General) William B. Hazen about making peace.Hardorff 2006, p. 307 note 9.] The four chiefs met with Hazen on November 20, with Captain Henry Alvord of the Tenth Cavalry also present and documenting the conversations.Hoig 1980, p. 89.]

Black Kettle began by saying to Hazen, "The Cheyennes, when south of the Arkansas, do not wish to return to the north side because they feared trouble there, but were continually told that they had better go there, as they would be rewarded for so doing."Hazen, W.B. (1868-11-20). "Record of a conversation held between Colonel and Brevet Major General W. B. Hazen, U.S. Army, on special service, and chiefs of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes of Indians, at Fort Cobb, Indian Territory, November 20, 1868." In [ U.S. Senate 1869] , pp. 22-23. Excerpted in Hoig 1980, pp. 89-92; Greene 2004, p. 107; Hatch 2004, p. 240; Hardorff 2006, pp. 55-57.] Hardoff notes that by the terms of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation had the Arkansas River as its northern boundary, but that in April 1868 food provisions due the Cheyennes and Arapahoes had been distributed at Fort Larned and Fort Dodge, both north of the Arkansas; on August 9, 1868, treaty annuities in the form of arms and ammunition had been distributed at Fort Larned.Hardorff 2006, p. 56 note 2.]

Black Kettle continued, asking if he might move his people south to Fort Cobb:

The Cheyennes do not fight at all this side of the Arkansas; they do not trouble Texas, but north of the Arkansas they are almost always at war. When lately north of the Arkansas, some young Cheyennes were fired upon and then the fight began. I have always done my best to keep my young men quiet, but some will not listen, and since the fighting began I have not been able to keep them all at home. But we all want peace, and I would be glad to move all my people down this way; I could then keep them all quietly near camp. My camp is now on the Washita, 40 miles east of the Antelope Hills, and I have there about 180 lodges. I speak only for my own people; I cannot speak nor control the Cheyennes north of the Arkansas.

Big Mouth of the Arapahoes spoke next, saying in part:

I never would have gone north of the Arkansas again, but my father there [the agent] sent for me time after time, saying it was the place for my people, and finally I went. No sooner had we got there than there was trouble. I do not want war, and my people do not, but although we have come back south of the Arkansas, the soldiers follow us and continue fighting, and we want you to send out and stop these soldiers from coming against us.

Hazen's October 13 orders from General William Tecumseh Sherman, commander of the Military Division of the Missouri, had charged Hazen with making provision for Indians who wanted to stay out of the war, stating also that if General Philip Sheridan was forced to invade the reservation to pursue hostile Indians, he would be under Sherman's orders to spare the "well-disposed", but the best safety for non-belligerent Indians was to camp near Fort Cobb. Hazen knew that Sheridan had declared the Cheyennes and Arapahos to be hostile.Hoig 1980, p. 91.] Greene 2004, pp. 106.] In consequence, he told the four chiefs that he couldn't make peace with them and that they must not come to Fort Cobb, which would jeopardize the peace of the Kiowas and Comanches already camped there.Greene 2004, pp. 107.] "I am sent here as a peace chief; all here is to be peace," he told them, "but north of the Arkansas is General Sheridan, the great war chief, and I do not control him; and he has all the soldiers who are fighting the Arapahoes and Cheyennes. Therefore, you must go back to your country, and if the soldiers come to fight, you must remember they are not from me, but from that great war chief, and with him you must make peace." Reporting to Sherman on November 22, Hazen said that "to have made peace with them would have brought to my camp most of those now on the war path south of the Arkansas; and as General Sheridan is to punish those at war and might follow them in afterwards, a second Chivington affair might occur, which I could not prevent."Hazen, W.B. (1868-11-22). Letter to Lt. Gen. William T. Sherman, U.S. Army. In [ U.S. Senate 1869] , pp. 24-25.] Hazen reported that while the chiefs seemed sincere, the Kiowas and Comanches at Fort Cobb said the young warriors who accompanied the chiefs were pleased that peace had not been made and had boasted that the Sioux and other northern bands would come down the following spring to "clean out the entire country."Hoig 1980, p. 92.] Hazen took the young warriors' attitude seriously enough that he requested two more companies of the 10th Cavalry from Fort Arbuckle and two howitzers to remain for a week or two at Fort Cobb.Hoig 1980, p. 92-93.]

Black Kettle's return to the Washita

Black Kettle and the other chiefs departed Fort Cobb on about November 21 with food supplied by Griffenstein, traveling through storm conditions and reaching their villages on the Washita on the evening of November 26.Hoig 1980, p. 92.] Greene 2004, pp. 108-109.]

Meanwhile, the evening before, on November 25, a war party of as many as 150 warriors which included young men of the camps of Black Kettle, Medicine Arrows, Little Robe, and Old Whirlwind, had returned to the Washita encampments from raiding with the Dog Soldiers in the Smoky Hill River country. It was their trail that Major Joel Elliott of the Seventh Cavalry found on November 26, which ultimately led Custer's command to the Washita.Greene 2004, pp. 109-110.] On November 26, the same day that Black Kettle arrived back at the Washita, a party of Kiowas returning from raiding on the Utes passed through Black Kettle's camp on their way to their own village. They told the Cheyennes that as they had passed near the Antelope Hills on the Canadian River, they had seen a large trail leading southward toward the Washita camps, but the Cheyennes discounted the information, not believing that soldiers would be operating that far south in such wintry conditions. The Kiowas proceeded to their own village, but one Kiowa, Trails the Enemy, decided to stay overnight with friends in Black Kettle's camp.Hoig 1980, p. 93.] Greene 2004, pp. 110.] McCusker, Philip [U.S. interpreter for Kiowas and Comanches] . (1868-12-03). Report to Col. Thomas Murphy, Superintendent for Indian Affairs. In [ U.S. House of Representatives 1870] , pp. 7-8; [ Hazen 1925, pp. 310-311.] ]

Also on November 26, Crow Neck, one of the warriors who had been part of the party that returned along the trail discovered by Elliott, told Bad Man (also known as Cranky Man) that he had left an exhausted horse along the trail to rest. When he went back to retrieve the horse on the 26th, he saw moving figures to the north which looked to him like soldiers, and in fear he turned back without getting his horse. Bad Man doubted Crow Neck had seen soldiers and told him perhaps his conscience was bothering him because he'd gone against the chiefs' wishes by joining the war party. Crow Neck told no one else what he had seen, fearing that he might be laughed at or that he would be chastised by Black Kettle for having been part of a raiding party.Brill 2002, p. 137.] Hardorff 2006, p. 15.] Greene 2004, p. 238 note 24.]

On the evening of November 26, after Black Kettle's return, he held a council in his lodge with the principal men of his village to convey what he had learned at Fort Cobb about Sheridan's war plans. Discussion lasted into the early morning hours of November 27. The council decided that after the foot-deep snow cleared they would send out runners to talk with the soldiers to try to clear up misunderstandings and make it clear that Black Kettle's people wanted peace. Meanwhile, they decided that on the following day (November 27) they would move camp further downriver closer to the other Indian camps.Greene 2004, pp. 109.]

According to Moving Behind Woman, who was about 14 at the time of the Washita attack,Hardorff 2006, p. 323.] Black Kettle's wife Medicine Woman Later stood outside the lodge for a long time, angry that the camp was not moving that night, saying, "I don't like this delay, we could have moved long ago. The Agent sent word for us to leave at once. It seems we are crazy and deaf, and cannot hear."Hoig 1980, p. 93.] Ediger, Theodore A. and Vinnie Hoffman. (1955). [ "Some Reminiscences of the Battle of the Washita: Moving Behind's Story of the Battle of the Washita."] "Chronicles of Oklahoma" 33(2): 137-141. Reprinted in Hardorff 2006, pp. 323-328.] Black Hawk's brother White Shield (also known as Gentle Horse) had a vision of a wolf wounded on the right side of its head mourning its little ones which had been scattered and killed by a powerful enemy. On the basis of this vision he attempted to persuade Black Kettle to move camp immediately, but was unsuccessful. However, five of Black Kettle's children (four daughters and a son) moved to the camp of Black Kettle's nephew Whirlwind,Riggs, Stacy. (1936-11-18). "Account of Black Kettle's Daughter As Told To and Related by Her Son, Stacy Riggs." In Hardorff 2006, pp. 318-320.] which was ten miles downriver (five miles straight line distance) from Black Kettle's camp.Hardorff 2006, p. 318 note 4.]

heridan's offensive

General Philip Sheridan, in command of the U.S. Army's Department of the Missouri, decided upon a winter campaign against the Cheyenne raiders. While a winter campaign presented serious logistical problems, it offered opportunities for decisive results. If the Indians’ shelter, food, and livestock could be destroyed or captured, not only the warriors but their women and children were at the mercy of the Army and the elements, and there was little left but surrender.Stewart 2005, p. 330.] Sheridan devised a plan whereby three columns would converge on the Indian wintering grounds just east of the Texas Panhandle: one from Fort Lyon in Colorado, one from Fort Bascom in New Mexico, and one from a supply camp to be established (Camp Supply, later renamed Fort Supply) in the Indian Territory. The 7th Cavalry under Lt. Col. George A. Custer found the Indians on the Washita River.

The battle

On November 27, 1868 Custer’s Osage Nation scouts located the trail of an Indian war party. Custer followed this trail all day without break until nightfall. Upon nightfall there was a short period of rest until there was sufficient moonlight to continue. Eventually they reached Black Kettle’s village. Custer divided his force into four parts, each moving into position so that at first daylight they could all simultaneously converge on the village.Hoig 1980, p. 124.] At daybreak the columns attacked, just as Double Wolf awoke and fired his gun to alert the village; he was among the first to die in the charge.Greene 2004, p. 129.] The Indian warriors quickly left their lodges to take cover behind trees and in deep ravines. Custer was able to take control of the village quickly, but it took longer to quell all remaining resistance. [Greene 2004, pp 128-130.]

Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later, died while fleeing on a pony, shot in the back. [ Lewis, 2004, p. 231.] ] [ National Park Service, 1999.] Custer's My Life on the Plains (Washita chapter)] Following the capture of Black Kettle's village Custer was soon to find himself in a precarious position. As the fighting was beginning to subside Custer began to notice large groups of mounted Indians gathering on nearby hilltops. He quickly learned that Black Kettle's village was only one of the many Indian villages encamped along the river. Fearing an attack he ordered some of his men to take defensive positions while the others were to gather the Indian belongings and horses. What the Americans did not want or could not carry, they destroyed (including about 675 ponies and horses, 200 horses being given to the prisoners).Greene 2004, p. 126.]

Prior to the battle, Custer had ordered his men take off their greatcoats so they would have greater maneuverability. Wert 1996, p. 274] Rations were also apparently left behind. Custer left a small guard with the coats and rations but the Indian attackers were too numerous and the guard fled, but Indians from the downstream villages who came up to relieve Black Kettle's village were able to capture them.Fact|date=July 2007Custer feared the outlying Indians would find and attack his supply train so near nightfall he began marching toward the other Indian encampments. Seeing that Custer was approaching their villages the surrounding Indians retreated to protect their families from a fate similar to that of Black Kettle's village. At this point Custer turned around and began heading back towards his supply train, which he eventually reached.Greene 2004, p. 128.] Thus the Battle of Washita was concluded.

In his first report of the battle to Gen. Sheridan on November 28, 1868, Custer reported that by "actual and careful examination after the battle," the bodies of 103 warriors were foundCuster, George Armstrong. (1868-11-28). Report to Maj. Gen. P.H. Sheridan. In [ U.S. Senate 1869] , pp. 27-29; [ U.S. House of Representatives 1870] , pp. 162-165. Reproduced in Cozzens 2003, pp. 394-397; Hardorff 2006, pp. 60-65.] — a figure echoed by Sheridan when from Camp Supply he relayed news of the Washita fight to Bvt. Maj. Gen. W.A. Nichols the following day.Sheridan, Philip H. (1868-11-29). Report to Brevet Maj. Gen. W.A. Nichols, Assistant Adjutant General, Military Division of the Missouri. In [ U.S. Senate 1869] , p. 32; [ U.S. House of Representatives 1870] , pp. 146-147.] In fact, no battlefield count of the dead was made.Hardorff 2006, pp. 78-79, note 15.] Hoig 1980, p. 200.] Rather, Custer's count was based on consultations with his officers on the evening of the day following the battle, after the soldiers made camp during their march back to Camp Supply.Greene 2004, p. 136.] Cheyenne and other Indian estimates of the Indian casualties at the Washita, as well as estimates by Custer's civilian scouts, are much lower.

According to a modern account by the U.S. Army Center of Military History, the 7th Cavalry lost 21 officers and men killed and 13 wounded in the Battle of the Washita, with the Indians losing perhaps 50 killed and as many wounded. Twenty of the soldiers killed were part of a small detachment led by Major Joel Elliott,Wert 1996, p. 276.] who was among the dead, and who had separated from the three companies he led (apparently without Custer's approval and crying out "Here's for a brevet or a coffin!"Wert 1996, p. 275.] Hatch 2002, p. 90.] ) to pursue an escaping group. Elliott and his men ran into a mixed party of Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho warriors from villages up the river and who were rushing to aid Black Kettle's beleaguered encampment; Wert 1996 p. 273.] the warriors overwhelmed the small troop in a single rush. Wert 1996, p. 276.] Custer's abrupt withdrawal without determining the fate of Elliott and the missing troopers further darkened Custer's reputation among his professional peers and caused deep resentment within the 7th Cavalry that never healed. [Utley, "Frontier Regulars", p. 157-158. The bodies were not found by the 7th Cavalry until December 9, 1868.]


From the beginning of December 1868 the nature of the attack began to be debated in the press, in the December 9 "Leavenworth Evening Bulletin", a story mentioned that: "Gen. S. Sandford and Tappan, and Col. Taylor of the Indian Peace Commission, unite in the opinion that the late battle with the Indians was simply an attack upon peaceful bands, which were on the march to their new reservations". [ James Horsley] The December 14 "New York Tribune" made the following comment: "Col. Wynkoop, agent for the Cheyenne and Arapahos Indians, has published his letter of resignation. He regards Gen. Custer's late fight as simply a massacre, and says that Black Kettle and his band, friendly Indians, were, when attacked, on their way to their reservation". [ [ James Horsley] ] The scout James S. Morrison wrote Indian Agent Col. Wynkoop that twice as many women and children as warriors had been killed during the attack. The Fort Cobb Indian trader William Griffenstein told Lt. Col. Custer, the 7th U.S. Cavalry had attacked friendly Indians on the Washita, resulting in General Phillip Sheridan ordering Griffenstein out of Indian Territory, threatening to hang him if he returned. [ [ James Horsley] ] The "New York Times" published a letter describing Custer as taking "sadistic pleasure in slaughtering the Indian ponies and dogs" and alluded to killing innocent women and children. [ [ James Horsley] ]


Indian casualties at the Washita

Indian casualties at the Washita reported by Custer are a continuing matter of controversy.Hardorff 2006, pp. 78-79, note 15.] In his first report of the battle to Gen. Sheridan on November 28, 1868, Custer reported that by "actual and careful examination after the battle," the bodies of 103 warriors were found — a figure echoed by Sheridan when from Camp Supply he relayed news of the Washita fight to Bvt. Maj. Gen. W.A. Nichols the following day.Sheridan, Philip H. (1868-11-29). Report to Brevet Maj. Gen. W.A. Nichols, Assistant Adjutant General, Military Division of the Missouri. In [ U.S. Senate 1869] , p. 32; [ U.S. House of Representatives 1870] , pp. 146-147.] In fact, no battlefield count of the dead was made.Hoig 1980, p. 200.] According to Lt. Edward S. Godfrey, an estimate of the number of Indian warriors killed was not made until the evening of the day following the battle, after the soldiers made camp during their march back to Camp Supply. "On [the] second night [after the battle] ," Godfrey told interviewer Walter M. Camp in 1917, "Custer interrogated the officers as to what Indians they had seen dead in the village, and it was from these reports that the official report of Indians killed was made up. The dead Indians on the field were not counted by the troops then, but guessed at later, as explained."Camp, Walter M. (1917-03-03). Interview of Lt. Edward S. Godfrey. In Hardorff 2006, pp. 130-131.] In an account first published in 1928, Godfrey related, "After supper in the evening, the officers were called together and each one questioned as to the casualties of enemy warriors, locations, etc. Every effort was made to avoid duplications. The total was found to be one hundred and three."Godfrey, Edward S. (1928). "Some Reminiscences, Including the Washita Battle." "The Cavalry Journal" 37(153): 481-500 (October). Reproduced in Hardorff 2006, p. 132-147. The quotation is found on p. 145. See also: Godfrey, Edward S. (1929). "The Washita Campaign." "Winners of the West" 6(5-8) (April-July), reproduced in Cozzens 2003, pp. 339-354; an almost identical statement appears on p. 352.] Captain Frederick W. Benteen stated, in annotations to his personal copy of W.L. Holloway's "Wild Life on the Plains and Horrors of Indian Warfare", that "Custer assembled the officers to inquire of each how many dead Indians "each" had seen; then what each had seen were added. "They had all seen the same dead Indians" [emphasis in original] .

John Poisal and Jack Fitzpatrick, mixed-blood scouts attached to the Seventh Cavalry, gave a different report of the number of Indian casualties at Washita to scout J.S. Morrison when they arrived with the Cheyenne prisoners at Fort Dodge.Hardorff 2006, p. 282.] In a letter to Indian Agent Col. Edward Wynkoop on December 14, 1868, Morrison wrote, "John Smith, John Poysell [Poisal] , and Jack Fitzpatrick have got in today. John S. was not in the [Washita] fight, but John P. and Jack were. They all agree in stating that the official reports of the fight were very much exaggerated; that there were not over twenty bucks killed; the rest, about forty, were women and children." The Cheyenne prisoners themselves, interviewed by Gen. Sheridan at Camp Supply, reported thirteen Cheyenne men, two Sioux, and one Arapaho killed at the Washita, a figure which Sheridan subsequently reported to Bvt. Maj. Gen. Nichols. The journalist DeB. Randolph Keim also interviewed the women prisoners with the help of interpreter Richard Curtis, obtaining actual names of the killed and arriving at the same figure of thirteen Cheyenne, two Sioux, and one Arapaho killed. Later information from various Cheyenne sources, most of them independent of each other, tended to confirm the figures given by the Cheyenne women prisoners. Few of the military reports discussed casualties among the women and children; however, Custer acknowledged in his report that "In the excitement of the fight, as well as in self-defence, it so happened that some of the squaws and a few of the children were killed and wounded...."

After the December visit to the battlefield by Custer and Sheridan, Custer revised his initial estimate of 103 warriors killed upward, writing from Fort Cobb that "The Indians admit a loss of 140 killed, besides a heavy loss of wounded. This, with the Indian prisoners we have in our possession, makes the entire loss of the Indian in killed, wounded, and missing not far from 300." Hoig points out that if this were true, it would mean that virtually everyone in the village was killed or captured Greene states, "Custer's figures were inflated, and the specific sources of his information remain unknown."Greene 2004, p. 136.] Hardorff greets Custer's revised total with skepticism. "This new number was based on information obtained from two imprisoned Kiowa chiefs at Fort Cobb who faced death by hanging," says Hardorff. "In view of their predicament, it seems likely that these men would have said anything to avoid the gallows. But such skepticism is not warranted in the case of the Washita prisoners. The Cheyenne women were allowed to mingle freely with the officers and knew many of them on an intimate basis. They were assured good treatment and had no apparent reason to distort their statements about dead kinsmen."

Greene finds Indian estimates most reliable, stating that "As might be expected, the best estimates must come from the people who suffered the losses" though noting that "even these do not agree." Utley, however, writes, "Indian calculations — a dozen warriors and twice as many women and children killed – are as improbably low as Custer's are high."Utley 2001, p. 70.] Hoig writes, "Even though the number 103 was not arrived at by a precise battlefield count, it is a definite figure which has already been placed on historical markers of the battlefield. Since it will likely never be proved absolutely incorrect, the figure will undoubtedly remain accepted as the number of Indians killed by Custer at the Washita. History should make it clear, however, that the dead were by no means all warriors who were met in open battle and defeated."Hoig 1980, p. 201.]

Several of the Cheyenne accounts provide actual names of men killed at the Washita.Hyde 1968, p. 322.] In his book on the Washita, Jerome Greene provides an appendix of "Known Village Fatalities at the Washita," which compiles from these sources a list of all unique names, for a total of 40 men, 12 women (of whom 11 are unidentified), and six unidentified children. Greene notes that some individuals might have more than one name, so entries might be duplicative.Greene 2004, pp. 212-214.] Using the same sources, Richard G. Hardorff has compiled a "Composite List of Names," which partially reconciles multiple names (or multiple translations of the same name) in the different sources — for example, the Mexican Pilan with his Indian names White Bear and Tall White Man, or Bitter Man/Cranky Man who was also known as Bad Man. Writes Hardorff, "Some of the dead may have been identified by their birth name by one informant and by their nickname by another. Variations in the translation of personal names add to the confusion in the identification...."Hardorff 2006, p. 402.]

Battle or massacre?

Custer certainly did not consider Washita a massacre. He does mention that some women took weapons and were subsequently killed. He did leave Washita with women and children prisoners; he did not simply kill every Indian in the village, though he admittedly couldn't avoid killing few women in the middle of the hard fight.Greene 2004, page 189.] Historian Jerome Greene wrote a book about the encounter in 2004, for the National Park Service. He concluded: "Soldiers evidently took measures to protect the women and children."

Historian Paul Hutton: "Although the fight on the Washita was most assuredly one-sided, it was not a massacre. Black Kettle's Cheyennes were not unarmed innocents living under the impression that they were not at war. Several of Black Kettle's warriors had recently fought the soldiers, and the chief had been informed by Hazen that there could be no peace until he surrendered to Sheridan. The soldiers were not under orders to kill everyone, for Custer personally stopped the slaying of noncombatants, and fifty-three prisoners were taken by the troops." ["The Custer Reader", Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 102]

Historian Joseph B. Thoburn considers the destruction of Black Kettle's village too one-sided to be called a battle. He reasons that had a superior force of Indians attacked a White settlement containing no more people than in Black Kettle's camp, with like results, the incident would doubtless have been heralded as "a massacre."Hardorff 2006, p. 29.]

Also of note is the fact that in Custer's direct frontal assault on an armed and presumably hostile encampment, the only fatality in the 7th Cavalry in the fighting in the village itself was squadron commander Capt. Louis Hamilton; the rest of the dead were with the detached command of Maj. Joel Elliott, who as noted were killed more than a mile from the fighting in the village. Hatch 2002, page 81] Companies A and D comprised of 120 officers and men suffered only four wounded in the assault, and attacking Companies C and K, also totaling 120 officers and men, suffered no casualties whatsoever. Hatch 2002, page 81]

The Battle of Washita in film

In the 1970 film "Little Big Man","Little Big Man" (film). Directed by Arthur Penn. Based on novel by Thomas Berger. Written by Calder Willingham. Produced by Stuart Millar. Performers Dustin Hoffman, Faye Dunaway, Chief Dan George, Martin Balsam, Richard Mulligan. Cinema Center Films, 1970.] based on the 1964 novel by Thomas Berger, director Arthur Penn depicted the Seventh Cavalry's attack on Black Kettle's village on the Washita as a massacre resembling the My Lai massacre of Vietnamese villagers by U.S. troops during the Vietnam War.Fuller, Graham. (2000-03-05). "Sending Out a Search Party for the Western." "New York Times", p. 2.13.] Dancis, Bruce. (2003-5-02). "A shift to the rights: Sympathetic depiction of Indians in 'Little Big Man' is no small thing." "The Sacramento Bee".]

The television series "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" aired a special double-episode entitled "Washita" on April 29, 1995."Washita." "Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman" (television series). CBS Broadcasting, Inc. Original broadcast 29 April 1995.] The episode moved the scene of the Washita attack to Colorado (possibly confusing it with the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre), and portrayed Custer as deliberately misleading Colorado settlers about the difference between Black Kettle and his band, depicted as peaceful, and the Dog Soldiers who were attacking farms and railroad crews. Lead character Dr. Michaela "Mike" Quinn made futile attempts to argue with Custer and to warn Black Kettle of impending massacre.

In the 2003 film "The Last Samurai","The Last Samurai" (film). Directed by Edward Zwick. Written by John Logan, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. Produced by Tom Cruise. Performers Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe. Warner Brothers, 2003.] Tom Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren, a veteran of the Seventh Cavalry whose participation in the Washita action, depicted as a massacre, leaves him haunted by nightmares.

Episode 4 of the 2005 TV miniseries "Into the West" briefly depicts a scene showing Custer (Jonathan Scarfe) attacking and Black Kettle (Wes Studi) fleeing the village.



* Brill, Charles J. (2002). "Conquest of the Southern Plains; Uncensored Narrative of the Battle of the Washita and Custer's Southern Campaign". Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 080613416X. Originally published in 1938 (Oklahoma City, OK: Golden Saga Publishers).
* Blinn, Richard. (1868). [ Richard Blinn Diary: Transcript.] MMS 1646 mf. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University, Center for Archival Collections.
* Cozzens, Peter, ed. (2003). " [ Eyewitnesses to the Indian Wars, Volume Three: Conquering the Southern Plains.] " Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-0019-4.
* Custer, George Armstrong. (1874). " [ My Life on the Plains: Or Personal Experiences With the Indians.] " New York: Sheldon and Company. Also available online [ from Kansas Collection Books] .
* Frost, Lawrence A. (1990). "The Custer Album: A Pictorial Biography of General George A. Custer". Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 080612282X. Originally published 1964.
* Garlington, E. A. (1896). [ "The Seventh Regiment of Cavalry."] In Theophilus F. Rodenboguh and William L. Haskin, eds. " [ The Army of the United States: Historical Sketches of Staff and Line with Portraits of Generals-in-Chief.] " New York: Maynard, Merrill, & Co., pp. 251-257. Online version dated 2002-10-30 through the U.S. Army Center of Military History, retrieved on 2007-06-29.
* Godfrey, Edward S. (1928). "Extract of Narrative Account — 1928." Richard G. Hardorff, ed. "Washita Memories: Eyewitness Views of Custer's Attack on Black Kettle's Village" (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006), 132–146. Originally published in "The Cavalry Journal", October 1928.
* Greene, Jerome A. (2004). "Washita, The Southern Cheyenne and the U.S. Army." Campaigns and Commanders Series, vol. 3. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806135514.
* Grinnell, George Bird. (1972). "The Battle of the Washita, 1868." Pp. 37-49 in Richard Ellis, ed., " [,M1 The Western American Indian: Case Studies in Tribal History.] " Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803208049.
* Grinnell, George Bird. (1983). " [ The Fighting Cheyennes] ". Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. First published 1914. ISBN 1582183902.
* Hardorff, Richard G., compiler & editor (2006). "Washita Memories: Eyewitness Views of Custer's Attack on Black Kettle's Village". Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806137592.
* Hatch, Thom. (2004). "Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace but Found War". Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0471445924.
* Hatch, Thom. (2002). "The Custer Companion: A Comprehensive Guide to the Life of George Armstrong". Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0811704777.
* Hazen, W.B. (1874). [ "Some Corrections of 'Life on the Plains.'"] St. Paul, MN: Ramaley & Cunningham. Reprinted with editorial introduction in "Chronicles of Oklahoma" 3(4): 295-318 (December 1925).
* Hoig, Stan. (1980). " [ The Battle of the Washita: The Sheridan-Custer Indian Campaign of 1867-69.] " Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803272049. Previously published in 1976 (Garden City, NY: Doubleday). ISBN 0385112742.
* Hyde, George E. (1968). "Life of George Bent Written from His Letters". Ed. by Savoie Lottinville. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-1577-7.
* Lewis, Jon E., ed. (2004). "The Mammoth Book of Native Americans: The Story of America's Original Inhabitants in All Its Beauty, Magic, Truth, and Tragedy." New York: Carroll & Graf. ISBN 0786712902.
* Michno, Gregory F. (2003). "Encyclopedia of Indian Wars: Western Battles and Skirmishes 1850-1890". Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. ISBN 0878424687.
* Michno, Gregory F. (2005-12). [ "Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle."] "Wild West" (magazine). Retrieved through on 2007-06-28.
* Moore, Horace L. (1897-01-19). [ "The Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry in the Washita Campaign."] Address before the 21st annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society. Kansas Historical Collections, vol. VI. Reprinted in "Chronicles of Oklahoma" 2(4): 350-365 (December 1924).
* National Park Service. (1999-11). [ "The Story of the Battle of the Washita"] , Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, National Park Service.
* National Park Service. (2006-08-10). [ "Frequently Asked Questions"] , Washita Battlefield National Historic Site, National Park Service.
* Moore, Horace L. (1897-01-19). [ "The Nineteenth Kansas Cavalry in the Washita Campaign."] Address before the 21st annual meeting of the Kansas State Historical Society. Kansas Historical Collections, vol. VI. Reprinted in "Chronicles of Oklahoma" 2(4): 350-365 (December 1924).
* "New York Times", 27 November – 8 December 1868.
* Roenigk, Adolph. (1933). " [ Pioneer History of Kansas.] " (Lincoln, KS:) A. Roenigk. Through [ Kansas Collection Books] .
* Stewart, Richard W., editor. (2005). [ "Winning the West: The Army in the Indian Wars 1865-1890."] Chapter 14 in " [ American Military History, Volume 1: The United States Army and the Forging of a Nation, 1775-1917] ", pp. 321-340. Washington, DC: United States Army, Center of Military History. CMH Pub 30–21. pp. 328-331 includes a brief account of the Army's campaigns in the southern plains, including the Battle of Washita River.
* U.S. Army Center of Military History. (2003-10-03). [ "Named Campaigns — Indian Wars."] Washington, DC: United States Army, Center of Military History. Retrieved on 2007-07-06.
* U.S. House of Representatives. (1870). " [ Difficulties with Indian Tribes.] " 41st Congress, 2nd session, House Executive Document 240.
* U.S. Senate. (1869a). " [,M1 Letter of the Secretary of the Interior, Communicating, in Compliance with the Resolution of the Senate fo the 14th ultimo, Information in Relation to the Late Battle of the Washita River.] " 40th Congress, 3rd Session, 1869, Senate Executive Document 13.
* U.S. Senate. (1869b). " [ Documents Related to the Indian Battle on the Washita River in November 1868.] " 40th Congress, 3rd Session, 1869, Senate Executive Document 18.
* Utley, Robert M. (2001). "Cavalier in Buckskin: George Armstrong Custer and the Western Military Frontier," rev. ed. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-3387-2.——(1973). "Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian 1866-1891", McMillan Publishing. Bison Press 1984 edition: ISBN 0-8032-9551-0
* Wert, Jeffry D. (1996). "Custer: The Controversial Life of George Armstrong Custer," New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81043-3.
* White, Richard. (1991). "." Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806125675.
* Wilson, Hill P. (1904). "Black Kettle’s Last Raid." "Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society" 8: 110-117.

External links

* [ Washita Battlefield site @ the National Park Service]
* [ Black Kettle Museum @ Oklahoma Historical Society]
* [ HistoryNet] Historical articles (including Michno's article on Black Kettle)

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