Battle of the Washita
The Washita River flows past
the location of Black Kettle's
camp, scene of Custer's
brutal attack.
Washita Battlefield
The trees along the Washita
provide the only cover on the
otherwise open plains of
western Oklahoma. - Washita Battlefield, Oklahoma - Washita Battlefield, Oklahoma
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site - Cheyenne, Oklahoma
Washita Battlefield National Historic SIte
Snow covers the battlefield, much as it did on the
day of the Battle of the Washita.
(National Park Service Photo)
Tragedy on the Washita River
On November 27, 1868, the U.S. troops of Lt.
Col. George Armstrong Custer attacked a
peaceful Cheyenne village on the Washita
River in what is now
Oklahoma. By the time
the smoke cleared, one of the greatest
tragedies of America's relationship with the
Plains Indians had been enacted.

Called the Battle of the Washita by whites
and the Washita Massacre by Native
Americans, the attack resulted in the deaths
of the peace-inclined Cheyenne chief Black
Kettle and his wife.

Custer's attack was a direct result of the
signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty in
October of 1867. The agreement called for
the Cheyenne to join other groups such as
the Arapaho, Comanche and Kiowa in
moving to reservation lands in the Indian
Territory. There they were to give up their
traditional ways and take up farming.

Many of the key leaders of the Cheyenne had
refused to sign the treaty and some who did
sign had no authority to speak on behalf of
their people. As a result, strong opposition
grew to the agreement. Some young warriors
expressed their outrage through raids on
white settlements in Kansas.

Hoping to avert wider hostilities, Black Kettle
and Big Mouth visited with General William B.
Hazen to ask for peace and protection. They
were told that since General Philip Sheridan
commanded the Department of Missouri,
only he could grant their request.

The disappointed chiefs returned to their
camps on the Washita River, still hopeful that
they could reach a peace agreement with the
whites before the violence spread. They did
not know, however, that Sheridan had sent Lt.
Col. Custer and the 7th Cavalry to retaliate for
the Kansas raids.

Not believing that the U.S. Army would attack
before making an offer of peace, Black Kettle
had declined the suggestions of some of his
followers that the camp be relocated down
the Washita to the vicinity of several larger
groups. He and Big Mouth had only been
back among their people a few days when
Custer struck.
Attacking before dawn, the 7th Cavalry shot
down men, women and children. The 51
lodges in Black Kettle's village were burned,
along with the band's winter supply of food
and clothing. Black Kettle and his wife were
among the dead.

Custer reported that his men killed 100
Cheyenne, although Native American reports
placed the number at 11 warriors and 19
women and children. Two officers and 19
enlisted men were killed in the fighting, most
of them from a detachment under Lt. Joel
Elliott that was cut off by warriors from nearby
camps who heard gunfire and came to help.

In a particularly brutal move, Custer ordered
his men to shoot the Indian horses and
mules. An estimated 800 animals were killed.

The site of the attack is now preserved as the
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. The
park is 30 miles north of I-40 on Highway
283, roughly halfway between Oklahoma City
and Amarillo, Texas.

Please click here to visit the official National
Park Service website for directions and more.
The Death of Black Kettle
Despite his efforts to secure
peace, the Cheyenne chief
Black Kettle was among the
victims of Custer's attack.
Sunrise on the Washita
The battle was fought at dawn
with the ground covered in
snow, much as it appears

(National Park Service Photographs)
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
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