History happened here. During the winter of 1866-1867, false rumors spread fears of a major uprising of Plains Indians. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, new department commander who had no understanding of indigenous cultures, believed the rumors and led an expedition of 1,400 troops (infantry, artillery, and cavalry) from Fort Riley to Fort Larned to intimidate the tribes. They would go to the reservations peacefully or the army would "chastise" them. At Fort Larned he planned to meet with leaders of an encampment of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and Oglala Lakota located 32 miles from the fort. A spring blizzard interfered and the Indians were delayed. When they came to Fort Larned 5 days later and proclaimed they were peaceful, Hancock accused them of lying and threatened to march his troops to their village. The Indians feared an attack and prepared to defend their homes. Hancock led his troops toward the village on April 13, crossed Pawnee Fork north of present Burdett, and encamped west of the stream about one mile northeast of this sign. Chiefs from the village agreed to meet him at this point the following day, if he would not come closer to their village. The next morning Hancock waited but no Indians arrived. About 11 a.m. he started his troops toward the village. When they went west over the ridge north of this sign, they faced some 300 Cheyenne and Lakota warriors lined up and advancing, hoping to persuade Hancock to stay away from their village, shown above in Rick Reeves's painting, "Thus Far and No Further." A battle was avoided with the aid of Indian Agent Edward Wynkoop, who was respected by the tribal leaders. Hancock said he would advance and camp near their village. The Indians hurried back to their lodges where everyone packed what they could carry and fled.Hancock's troops marched to and encamped near the village. Lt. Col. George A. Custer,leading the 7th Cavalry on the expedition, was sent to surround the village and discoveredthe residents had escaped, leaving tipis and most of their property. Hancock was furious,concluded the Indians must be guilty of something or they would not have fled, and said"this looks like the commencement of war." This was Custer's first encounter with Indians.In later engagements, he divided his command to attack from several directions so theycould not escape. It worked at the Washita Battle in 1868 but resulted in catastrophe for hiscommand at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Hancock sent Custer and the 7th Cavalry inpursuit of the Indians, without success. He had the abandoned village burned onApril 19, shown left in Theodore Davis's sketch in Harper's Weekly, starting a warwhere none existed. Other tribes joined the conflict. Hancock was replaced asdepartment commander by Gen. Philip Sheridan. "Hancock's War" continued untilthe Medicine Lodge Peace Treaties were signed in October 1867. Those treatiesfailed and warfare continued against the Plains tribes for several more years.
To learn more about Hancock's War, visit Fort Larned National Historic Site to see an exhibitabout the expedition. This sign erected by the Fort Larned Old Guard, with thanks to theMcJunkin Family. This site is on private property; please do not walk or drive to the ridge.
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
Larry & Carolyn Mix
St. John, Kansas