Indian Wars: Washita River (1868)

Battle of Washita River

washita-river

Date:             November 27, 1868

Opponents:  Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the 7th U.S. Cavalry.

                        v.

                        Chief Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyenne, led by Chief Little Rock.

Place:             Washita River in Indian Territory (near Cheyenne, Oklahoma).

Factors:       * After signing the Medicine Lodge Treaty, the Southern Cheyenne (and Arapaho) were sent to a sparse reservation in Indian Territory.  Food was in short supply.

                       * In August 1868, the braves began raiding white settlements, killing at least 15 people.

                       * Peace talks between the U.S. Army and tribal chiefs at Fort Cobb broke down.

                       * Major Joel Elliott of the 7th Cavalry had tracked raiding Dog Soldiers back to their camp on the Washita River.  He returned to inform Custer, but the soldiers had also been spotted by the braves.  Because snow had fallen over a foot deep, Chief Black Kettle decided to wait before sending out runners to talk with the soldiers.  Meanwhile, Custer decided to attack the sleeping village at dawn.

                      * The Cheyenne had been camped on reservation land where they had been assured of safety.

                      * A white flag was flown in the village to indicate that this was a peaceful community.

Results:       * Custer lost 21 men, including Major Elliott who had ridden off without permission into an ambush.

                      * The Cheyenne casualties numbered 50 warriors, including their revered Chief Black Kettle.

                      * Custer withdrew without knowing the fate of Elliott’s band, which ruined his reputation among the ranks and caused a rift within the regiment.

                      * The 7th Cavalry used 53 women and children as human shields to protect their return to Camp Supply.

                     * This success cemented Custer’s reputation as a military leader and helped make him a popular figure in the newspapers.

Sources:

This Day In History, “Custer Massacres Cheyenne on Washita River” at http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/custer-massacres-cheyenne-on-washita-river

Wikipedia, “Battle of Washita River” at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Washita_River

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