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Encyclopedia > Battle of the Washita
Battle of the Washita River

Battle of Washita from Harper's Weekly, December 19, 1868
Conflict: Indian Wars
Date: November 27, 1868
Place: Roger Mills County, Oklahoma
Outcome: U.S. victory
Combatants
United States Cheyenne
Commanders
George A. Custer Black Kettle
Strength
7th U.S. Cavalry  ?
Casualties
23 No confirmation, alleged 103

Template:Campaignbox Winter campaign of 1868-1869 Image File history File links X-33802. ... The Indian Wars were a series of conflicts between the United States and Native American peoples (Indians) of North America. ... November 27 is the 331st day (332nd on leap years) of the year. ... 1868 was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... Roger Mills County is a county located in the state of Oklahoma. ... Oklahoma is a South Central state of the United States (with strong Southern, Western, and Midwestern influences) and its U.S. postal abbreviation is OK; others abbreviate the states name Okla. ... ... Cheyenne lodges with buffalo meat drying, 1870 The Cheyenne are a Native American nation of the Great Plains. ... George Armstrong Custer George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was an American cavalry commander in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. ... Chief Black Kettle Chief Black Kettle (died November 27, 1868) was a Cheyenne Indian. ... The 7th United States Cavalry Regiment is a United States Army cavalry unit, whose lineage traces back to the late 19th century. ...

The Battle of Washita occurred on November 27, 1868 when George Armstrong Custer’s 7th U.S. Cavalry attacked Black Kettle’s Cheyenne village on the Washita River (near present day Cheyenne, Oklahoma). The evidence used to depict the Battle of Washita is derived from Custer’s own account of the battle while the evidence used in describing the events prior to the battle revolves heavily around General Phillip Sheridan’s annual report of 1868. This conflict is also referred to as the Washita Massacre. November 27 is the 331st day (332nd on leap years) of the year. ... 1868 was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... George Armstrong Custer George Armstrong Custer (December 5, 1839 – June 25, 1876) was an American cavalry commander in the Civil War and the Indian Wars. ... The 7th United States Cavalry Regiment is a United States Army cavalry unit, whose lineage traces back to the late 19th century. ... Chief Black Kettle Chief Black Kettle (died November 27, 1868) was a Cheyenne Indian. ... Cheyenne lodges with buffalo meat drying, 1870 The Cheyenne are a Native American nation of the Great Plains. ... The Washita River forms in eastern Roberts County, Texas (35°38 N, 100°36 W) near the town of Miami, Texas in the Texas Panhandle. ... Cheyenne is a town located in Roger Mills County, Oklahoma, United States. ... In the long history of the English colonization of North America, the term Indian massacre was often used to describe mass killings of European-Americans (whites) by Native Americans (Indians), and, less frequently, mass killings of American Indians by whites. ...

Contents


The causes

The historical accounts which depict the events leading to the Battle of Washita make mention of two noteworthy items. First, was that there was a break down in communication between the Indians and their agent. Philip Sheridan describes this in his 1868 annual report writing, “Troops were sent twice or three times to Cobb, on requisition of the agent, who appeared to be constantly in trouble, either through his own fault or that of the Indians—most probably the latter, as they told me they did not like him….” The second item involves the raiding of Kansas and Colorado which resulted in the loss of American lives and property. Sheridan lists seventy-five citizens killed in his annual report and describes the loss of property as five thousand head of cattle and “… settlements … driven in and ranches abandoned, making the damage done to all interests very large.” To deal with the delinquent Indians Sheridan, with Custer in his command, devised a plan to destroy the Indian’s winter provisions subsequently forcing them onto the reservations. Philip Sheridan Philip Henry Sheridan (March 6, 1831 – August 5, 1888) was a career U.S. Army officer and one of the great generals in the American Civil War. ... State nickname: The Sunflower State Other U.S. States Capital Topeka Largest city Wichita Governor Kathleen Sebelius (D) Senators Sam Brownback (R) Pat Roberts (R) Official language(s) None Area 82,277 mi²; 213,096 km² (15th)  - Land 81,815 mi²; 211,900 km²  - Water 462 mi²; 1,196 km²... State nickname: The Centennial State Other U.S. States Capital Denver Largest city Denver Governor Bill Owens (R) Senators Wayne Allard (R) Ken Salazar (D) Official languages English Area 269,837 km² (8th)  - Land 268,879 km²  - Water 962 km² (0. ...


Modern accounts also indicate that a breakdown in Indian to agent communication occurred. Richard White identifies the specific disagreement as “… the Americans refused to issue the Cheyennes arms promised earlier. Although Indian agents eventually relented … it was too late to prevent trouble.” The trouble White is alluding to was the killing and raiding committed by a Cheyenne war party in southern Kansas. The war party killed fifteen men and raped five women. At this point the similarities between the modern and historical accounts end. The modern account continues the story by describing how Black Kettle reaches Washita. After the raiding of Kansas began, a free-fire zone was established and all non-hostile Indians were ordered to move south to the Washita River. Washita was a desirable wintering location for several reasons. Among these was that along the north bank of the river there were tall bluffs which served as a natural wind block while abundant grasslands covered the southern portion of the river offering good feed for Indian horses. Richard White describes Black Kettle’s arrival to the Washita River valley thus: "Black Kettle, the survivor of Sand Creek, journeyed to the Washita, seeking to include his band among the friendlies. But since many of his young men were raiding, the Americans rebuffed him. He made camp at the Washita anyway…" A battle area or combat zone in which anyone unidentified is considered an enemy combatant. ...


Further complications surfaced upon Black Kettle’s arrival. The other Indians encamped along the Washita felt Black Kettle was unlucky after his misfortune at Sand Creek and made his group camp at the western end of the winter encampments over two miles from the other camp.


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 may all simultaneously converge on the village. At daybreak the four columns attacked. 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. November 27 is the 331st day (332nd on leap years) of the year. ... 1868 was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ... This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ...


If Custer was lucky for surviving the battle, Black Kettle must have been unlucky for he didn’t survive; in fact one of Custer’s Osage scouts left Washita with Black Kettle’s scalp. 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. Custer 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 turns around and begins heading back towards his supply train which he eventually reaches. Thus the Battle of Washita ends.


The accounts of the event

Historical accounts make no mention Black Kettle’s request to camp as a friendly tribe or of the free fire zone enacted in Kansas. In this sense the historical documents seem bias toward the Americans. While the historical documents tend to lean towards the American perspective, modern accounts, in describing the events prior to the battle, seem to remain largely objective and neutral.


The modern accounts of the Battle of Washita, and Richard White’s It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own, tend to lose their neutrality while describing the battle. Richard White illustrates this trend by describing the battle as “Once more American soldiers attacked a Cheyenne village that consisted largely of women and children.”. This is further demonstrated when Custer was described as being lucky to survive the battle. Since Custer’s own account of the battle contained the most information regarding the battle itself, the battle is described from his viewpoint. But there are contrasts between the historical and modern accounts.


The greatest difference between the modern and historical accounts is whether Washita was a battle or a massacre. Modern historians tend to lean towards the massacre side as White illustrates by writing “… American soldiers attacked, and … slaughtered a camp … of women and children.” White, however, provides no evidence to support this claim. Custer certainly does not consider Washita a massacre. He does mention that some women did take weapons and were subsequently killed. This seems logical since it was four years earlier when Chivington stormed through Sand Creek slaughtering many men and women. With this thought in their minds, women would certainly not feel comfortable with American soldiers in their midst. Custer did leave Washita with women and children prisoners; he did not simply kill every Indian in the village though he admittedly killed women. Colonel John Chivington (1821-1894), born in Lebanon, Ohio, was the hero of Glorietta Pass and the man responsible for the Sand Creek Massacre. ... The Sand Creek Massacre was an infamous incident in the Indian Wars of the United States that occurred on November 29, 1864 when Colorado Militia troops in the Colorado Territory massacred an undefended village of Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped on the territorys eastern plains. ...


Another area of comparison between modern and historic accounts is the story of Major Elliot. Elliot, who died in the battle, commanded one of the four columns that attacked the village. Neither the modern nor historic account of the battle can precisely describe the circumstances of his death. One version is that he ventured too far east and encountered some of other tribes of Indians where he was killed. In the historic accounts Elliot’s story is similar which Custer briefly describes in his autobiography. Apparently one of the Custer’s scouts saw Elliot chase some of the Cheyenne Indians west that were escaping from Black Kettle’s village. Different amongst the two accounts of the battle is whether Custer searched for Elliot after his disappearance. Custer says he did. “Parties were sent in the direction indicated by the scout, he accompanying them; but after a search extending nearly two miles all the parties returned, reporting their efforts to discover some trace of Elliot and his men fruitless.”


The last common point of interest was the loss of the cavalry’s great coats. Custer had his men set their coats aside prior to the battle and that the Indians were able to capture these. Custer admits to this in his account. He had ordered the men to take of their coats so they would have greater maneuverability. Not mentioned in the modern accounts was that Custer’s men also had left their rations. Custer left a small guard with the coats and rations but the Indian forces were too superior and the guard retreated thus the great coats and rations were captured.


From both the historic and modern accounts we can determine that the cause of the Battle of Washita was a break down in Indian to agent communications which resulted in Indian raiding.


Bibliography

  • Custer, George, My Life on the Plains, n.d.
  • New York Times, 27 November8 December 1868.
  • White, Richard. It’s Your Misfortune and None of My Own: A New History of the American West. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1991.
  • Greene, Jerome. Washita, The Southern Cheyenne and the U.S. Army. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.

November 27 is the 331st day (332nd on leap years) of the year. ... December 8 is the 342nd day (343rd in leap years) of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1868 was a leap year starting on Wednesday (see link for calendar). ...

See also

In the long history of the English colonization of North America, the term Indian massacre was often used to describe mass killings of European-Americans (whites) by Native Americans (Indians), and, less frequently, mass killings of American Indians by whites. ...

External links


  Results from FactBites:
 
Battle of Washita River - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (1593 words)
The evidence used to depict the Battle of Washita is derived from Custer’s own account of the battle while the evidence used in describing the events prior to the battle revolves heavily around General Phillip Sheridan’s annual report of 1868.
Washita prisoners (53 women and children) testified that as many as 11 warchiefs and headmen were killed that day.
Washita, The Southern Cheyenne and the U.S. Army.
Washita -- Chapter 9 (1662 words)
Granted these semantic parameters, the action on the Washita must be viewed on the grounds of whether the events that occurred on November 27,1868, were of sufficient form and magnitude to clas­sify them one way or the other.
But whether it was truly an "offensive battle" remains murky, for that term's defini­tion assumes that the enemy is an opposing army and not a village con­taining large numbers of noncombatants.
For the Cheyennes at the Washita in 1868, with the specter of the Sand Creek Massacre ever at hand, Custer's force delivered the quintessential example of this ruthless and remorseless form of warfare.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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