It was a magnificent September day in the early part of that month in the year 1860. The amber mist of the glorious Indian summer hung in light clouds over the rippling Pawnee, and the sheen of the noon-day sun on the Arkansas made that silent stream, where it broadens out lake-like, towards the now thriving little village of Garfield, sparkle and scintillate until it was painful for the eyes to rest upon. The low group of sand-hills loomed up white and silvery, like the chalk cliffs of Dover. The boxelders and cottonwoods that fringed the tributaries to the river were rapidly donning their Autumn dress of russet, and the mirage had already, in the early mornings, commenced its weird and fantastic play with the landscape.
Under the shadow of the bluff, where Larned now reposes so picturesquely, hundreds of buffaloes were grazing, and on the plateau above the crest of the hill, a few sentinel antelopes were guarding their charge, now quietly ruminating their morning's meal in the ravines running towards the river.
Near where Brown's Grove is now located, under the grateful shade of the thickest clumps of timber, about forty wigwams were irregularly scattered, and on the hills a heard of two or three hundred ponies were lazily feeding, guarded by half a dozen superannuated squaws, and a troupe of dusky little children, who were chasing the yellow butterflies from the now dried and dying sunflower stalks that so conspicuously marked the broad trail to the river. This beautiful spot was selected by Black Kettle, chief of the Cheyennes, for his winter camp, where only a few weeks previously he had moved from the Canadian, and settled with his band to hunt on the Arkansas Bottom, and watch his enemies the Pawnees, who claimed the same ground, and where year after year the most sanguinary battles between the two tribes had been fought. Apart from the remainder of the wigwams, and near the edge of the stream was the magnificent lodge of Yellow Buffalo, the war chief of the Cheyennes. This lodge was formed of beautifully porcupined and beaded robes, and its interior was graced with a long row of scalps the trophies of his fame as a great warrior.
On the morning of the date above mentioned, I had reached the Arkansas at a point a few miles east of the mouth of the Pawnee, on my way to Fort Larned from my ranch on Sharp's Creek, (now in McPherson county),and when near where Larned now stands I noticed a large body of Indians in a stooping attitude, as though hunting for something, and I supposed them to be some of my Kiowa friends on the trail of an enemy. I spurred my horse and rode toward them, when all of a sudden they dropped in the grass, which convinced me of the error of my first supposition. I was acquainted at that time with nearly all the tribes on the plains, and particularly with those who would probably be in that vicinity then, and with a fair knowledge of the Indian character, I readily concluded that my covey in the grass were a band of "Dog-Soldiers", of the other tribes that roamed in the valley of the Arkansas, or a party to steal horses, and in either event I had nothing to fear, as the report of a gun would be the last thing they would want to hear just then.
So I rode on, and when within a hundred years or so of the Indians, one rose, and, holding both hands up with palms to the front, in his own dialect called my name. I then felt considerably relieved for I found myself among thirty-two Pawnees, who, as I first supposed, were there to steal horses from the Cheyennes or Kiowas. On hearing this fact, I told them that a few miles back on the trail, I had seen a large number of Indians on the high prairie, scattered out as if surrounding buffalo, or elk, but that I had seen no game, and now I knew their presence was known to the Arkansas tribes, and that there were so many of these wild Indians that the few Pawnees would all be killed if found.
They then told me they wanted to reach the island in the river, and there they could fight all the Ingins that would dare come, and if they got to the Island before the wild Indians found them, I must go to them and tell them that they were there, and myself come and see the fight. That if I staid on my horse, either on the east or west side of the Island, or on the hill on the northwest, I could see it all and be safe from their bullets; and if they all got killed I should tell their people how grandly and bravely they died.
I left them and went on towards the Fort, and when within three miles of it, met "Yellow Buffalo" with some two hundred of his warriors, with their war paint on and beating their drums.
"Yellow Buffalo" was then about thirty years old, and as grand a looking Indian as I ever saw. I delivered my message from the Pawnee to him, immediately upon which the two hundred warriors raised the war-cry, which echoed and reverberated in all the splendor of its savage grandeur over the prairie, and which none but those who have heard it under such circumstances, can appreciate. Stung to the heart by my message of defiance, "Yellow Buffalo" appeared the true savage that he was, and all the ferocity of his eyes as he thought of the deep wrongs done to his tribe by the "dogs of Pawnee!" as he called them, and appealed to his men that "now was the time presented to them, to not only reap an adequate revenge, but add lasting laurels to their wreaths as brave and skillful warriors."
We were a little south of the old Santa Fe Trail, and he ordered his band to turn nearly due south and then we loped off in the direction of the Island. As we neared the river bank we saw the last of the Pawnees, who had been watching our approach, plunge into the stream and reach the Island in safety, as our advance halted on the spot where now rests the north end of the Larned Bridge. It was now about 2 o'clock in the afternoon. The Cheyennes dismounted, and every tenth man went to the rear to hold the horses and guard them from a possible flank movement on the part of the Pawnees. I was honored by "Yellow Buffalo" with the privilege of taking care of my own horse which I am happy to say I did from a position on the south end of the hill west of town, and as near the river as was prudent for a non-combatant. Nearly all the Cheyennes were armed with muzzle-loading rifles, and a third of them had Colt's large army revolvers. At the command of their chief, "Yellow Buffalo", the Cheyennes formed a line of battle, which seemed to extend up and down the river the whole length of the Island, while five or six of them acted as flankers. During this disposition of the forces not a Pawnee was to be seen.
In those days the Island was covered only with thick willows, which concealed the watchful Pawnees, who were rather better armed than the Cheyennes, each having a Spencer carbine and two revolvers, either army or navy pattern, beside their bows and quivers well filled with arrows. When all was in readiness, and "Yellow Buffalo" had made a proper disposition of his forces, he gave the order to charge! Upon hearing his clear voice ring across the prairie, his warriors responded with a most unearthly yell, that seemed to shake even the eternal dunes of sand on the opposite side of the river, and then rushed pell-mell into the Arkansas. The water was waist high, and as they advanced they still kept up the infernal yell until they reached within ten feet of the Island, when, like a flash of light from a clear sky, came a sheet of flame from the edge of the willows, promptly responded to by the braves in the water.
In an instant however, much to my surprise, the Pawnees delivered from their ranks another volley, followed immediately by the quick sharp crack of their revolvers, which seemed to completely overwhelm and discomfort the Cheyennes, all of whom beat a hasty retreat to the main land. Their war whoop ceased the instant they commenced their backward march, and in a moment some twenty of the Pawnees appeared above the willows and kept up a well directed fire on their foes until the latter reached the bank of the river.
In this single charge of the Cheyennes, thirteen were killed and twenty three wounded, evincing a coolness and deliberation on the part of the Pawnees, not excelled by the best organized troops. The Cheyennes, in their charge, showed their characteristic recklessness and daring, but which counted for nothing in results, as all the bullets were carried clear over the heads of the Pawnees who were concealed by the friendly willows.
While the main body of the Pawnees were keeping up their almost incessant fire upon the retreating Cheyennes, three or four others rose at opposite ends of the Island, and opened with some well delivered shots with their carbines at the Cheyenne flankers, so that the whole number became demoralized, and "Yellow Buffalo" with all his painted warriors, fled as far back as where the Rev. R. M. Overstreet's church now stands on Main street, and held a council.
"Yellow Buffalo" then dispatched a messenger for reinforcements, and in about an hour they arrived from south of the river to the number of some four or five hundred, and upon their joining the others, "Yellow Buffalo" made the same disposition of his now augmented forces as he had with his original army, and then turned his command over to "Black Kettle", who had come on the ground.
"Black Kettle" kept his Indians in close order, and when they reached within shooting distance of the Island, the Pawnees opened upon them with a terrible volley, and the most deafening and diabolical yells, and kept it up for at least ten minutes. The poor Cheyennes returned the fire as best they could, but invariably overshot the Pawnees, whom they could not see, so closely were they hidden by the willows.
Meanwhile "Black Kettle" ingloriously retreated, and then "Yellow Buffalo" felt himself no more disgraced than the "head war chief" and his chosen warriors. Thus ended this rather remarkable fight. I never could learn definitely how many of the Cheyennes were killed and wounded in the second charge, but the Pawnees told me they were double the number of the first charge, and coming as it did from the victors, I always made a reasonable allowance. The Cheyennes utterly refused to tell me the number of their loss, but I saw their wounded that night, and helped dress most of their wounds. There were twenty eight in "Black Kettle" camp.
On my return from the Fort next day with my mail, the Cheyennes informed me that these same Pawnees charged through the guards, and actually drove off about 200 of the Cheyenne ponies.
The Pawnees assured me they had but forty warriors, all told, and that they lost in killed and wounded but two. The Cheyennes stated however, that they found five grave in the sand, under the edge of the water, which they exhumed and left the bodies to rot, and the bones to bleach on the prairie like a coyote.
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