The Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado Territory, November 29, 1864, touched off a new wave of resistance by Plains tribes in 1865. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, led by Chief Tall Bull, fled north and spent nearly a year with the Oglala Lakota near the Platte River. Congress authorized new treaties to make peace and assign the Southern Plains tribes to reservations in present Oklahoma. The Treaties of the Little Arkansas, October 1865, were signed by some Cheyenne leaders, but the Dog Soldiers, including Chiefs Tall Bull, White Horse, Bull Bear, Gray Beard, Medicine Wolf, and White Head, refused, determined to continue their traditional hunting life and culture. They would rather die defending their old ways than die on a reservation. During 1866, a peaceful year along the Santa Fe Trail, Indian Agent Edward Wynkoop tried to persuade those who had not signed the treaties to do so, without success. During the winter of 1866-1867 the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers made camp on Pawnee Fork 32 miles from Fort Larned. In March 1867 they were joined by a band of Oglala Lakota led by Pawnee Killer. The combined camps, with an estimated 1,500 men, women, and children, were peaceful and expected no trouble. Gen. W. S. Hancock naively thought the way to deal with Indians was to use strong military force, intimidate or beat them into submission, and move them onto reservations. When his force encamped a mile northeast of this sign on April 13, White Horse and Pawnee Killer said the leaders from their village would meet Hancock there the following morning, provided he moved no closer to their village. When they did not arrive, Hancock started his troops toward the village. Moving west to the top of this ridge they met some 300 Cheyenne and Lakota, the leaders shown riding from the village in the above painting, “Bold and Fearless,” by Jerry Thomas. Hancock formed his troops into a line of battle. If either side had made a show of force, a major battle would have occurred here. Cheyenne warrior Roman Nose said he would kill Hancock, but Bull Bear grabbed the reins of his horse and led him away. Fortunately, Agent Wynkoop and interpreter Edmund Guerrier (half-Cheyenne survivor of the Sand Creek Massacre) negotiated an agreement. The Indians returned to their families while Hancock agreed to camp near but not to enter the village. The Indians, not trusting Hancock and fearing an attack as happened at Sand Creek, returned to their village and fled. Surgeon Isaac Coates wrote, “the women and children were so terrified on seeing the troops approach” that they “ran off leaving everything behind them.” Custer’s 7th Cavalry took possession of the empty village, finding only an old Lakota warrior, a deaf Cheyenne woman, and a sick girl. Hancock ordered the hide lodges burned and everything left by the Indians destroyed. “Hancock’s War” raged across the Southern Plains through the summer, during which at least 125 Kansas citizens and an unknown number of Indians were killed (the most destructive year of the Indian Wars in Kansas). The confrontation on this site was an important part of that tragedy. During the next two years the Southern Cheyenne were defeated and placed on a reservation, ending their freedom and way of life.
To learn more about Hancock’s War, visit Fort Larned National Historic Site to see an exhibit about the expedition. This sign erected by the Fort Larned Old Guard, with thanks to the McJunkin Family. This site is private property; please do not walk or drive to the ridge
Santa Fe Trail Research Site
Larry & Carolyn Mix
St. John, Kansas