• Along the Washita - 1868 by Gene V. Dougherty

    Washita Battlefield

    National Historic Site Oklahoma

Frequently Asked Questions

Logistics Questions.

 

1. Is there any camping allowed on the park?

No, camping is not allowed on the park grounds. But there are camping facilities in three of the local lakes that are part of the Black Kettle National Grasslands. There is also camping at the Washita National Wildlife Refuge, 30 miles east of the site. (Cibola; Forest Service)

 

2. How big is the actual park site?

The Washita Battlefield National Historic Site consists of 315 acres, in which 2/3 is open to the public. (Greene 197; Stotts 2)

 

Nature Questions.

1. Are there animals on the park site? And what kind?

During the year the site is home to several migrating birds from both the western and eastern United States. We do not have white-tailed deer, turkey, bobcats, skunks (spotted and stripe) armadillos, opossums, coyotes, squirrels, moles, ground squirrels, raccoons, and on occasions a badger. There are also several species of lizards, frogs, toads, snakes, and turtles on the site. (NPS 72-75; Tekiela 1-275; Sievert 1-201; Sutton 4-101)

 

2. What is the name of the hills north of the park site?

The Horseshoe Hills (Hardorff 11-12; Casady iv; Greene 103)

 

History Questions.

 
"The Sand Creek Massacre" by Robert Lindneaux

"The Sand Creek Massacre" by Robert Lindneaux portrays his concept of the assault on the peaceful Cheyenne and Arapaho village by the U.S. Army.

History Colorado #46619

1. Where was the American flag flying, and where were the howitzers?

There was no American flag flying here. That was at Sand Creek in 1864. Black Kettle was disenchanted about the American Flag and the white flag after both did not halt the Colorado soldiers from massacring his clan. He did not fly a flag here on November 27, 1868. Custer did not have any artillery here, but Chivington did have them at Sand Creek in which he used against the Indians. (Greene 20-23; Hoig 150)

 
Two tipis on the plains at sunset.

Tipis at Sunset

Photo Courtesy of Gene Eakins

2. Why were they attacked on their reservation?

The land that makes up Washita Battlefield would not be a reservation until August 1869 by Presidential Proclamation. At the time of the attack the Cheyenne were off their reservation which was in North Central Oklahoma between the Cimarron and Arkansas River. (Greene 182; Berthrong 347; Collins 120)

 
A drawing of Camp Supply located near what is today Woodward, Oklahoma.

Camp Supply

NPS Photo

3. Where is Camp Supply from here?

Fort Supply today is 80 miles north by northeast from here between Wolf Creek and Beaver (or North Canadian) River. (Greene 86; Watkins 51, 65 & 79; Morris 32-33)

 
A drawing of Fort Cobb, located near present day Anadarko.

Fort Cobb

NPS Photo

4. Where is Fort Cobb from here?

Fort Cobb, the military post, was 86.4 miles southeast of here. It was situated near where Anadarko, Oklahoma is today. (Greene 106; Watkins 79-81, 96)

 
Chief Black Kettle

Chief Black Kettle

NPS Photo

5. Where did they bury Chief Black Kettle?

No one knows. According to Magpie, the Cheyenne women pulled both Black Kettle and his wife's body from the river. And carried them up the pony trail that was north of the river to a sandy knoll. There they debated where to bury them. Till this day, no one actually knows where the chief is buried. (Hardorff 309, 322, & n12, 328; Hatch 253-254; Greene 166-167; Hinz-Penner 45)

 
Major Joel H. Elliott's tombstone at the Officer's Circle in the Fort Gibson National Cemetery.

Major Joel H. Elliott's tombstone at the Officer's Circle in the Fort Gibson National Cemetary

Photo Courtsey of the Oklahoma Historical Society

6. Where were Major Elliott, Captain Hamilton and the other twenty cavalry men buried?

Major Elliott was finally laid to rest at Fort Gibson National Cemetery. His grave site is at the Officers' Circle. Captain Hamilton was first buried at Fort Supply with two other troopers killed at Washita. He was later interned at his family cemetery at Pokeepsie, New York. Sergeant Major Kennedy and the other sixteen cavalrymen are buried in a mass grave on a knoll overlooking the river north and west of Strong City, Oklahoma. The other two enlisted men who would die later due to their wounds were buried at Camp Supply. Their graves were washed away during a flood in 1874. (Keim 150-151; Greene 174-175, 254n24, 254-255n25, 255n6; Hardorff 68, 121, 236n52, 262 & 266; Custer 287-288; Hoig 161; Barnard 282)

 
"Only the Wind Has Freedom" by Buddy Musick (2009).  A painting depicting the horse herd being shot by the 7th Cavalry soldier's at Washita.

"Only the Wind had Freedom"

Painting courtesy of the artist Buddy Musick (2009)

7. Why did they kill all 875 ponies?

Actually 875 horses were captured, and of those, 650 were killed. The soldiers, scouts, and women captives put to use 225 horses for their journey back to Camp Supply. As for why they were killed; it was part of the total war policy. Killing the ponies kept the warriors from raiding into Kansas, it also kept them from hunting buffalo. The death of these horses forces many Cheyenne onto the reservation. (Custer 249; Hoig 139; Greene 125-136; Hatch 251; Brill 173; Hardorff 26; Gardener 13)

 
Two Cheyenne men riding in a wooded area near a tipi in snow.

Cheyenne camp

NPS Photo

8. Why were the Indians camped here?

The Washita valley, generally lower than the surrounding plains, offered the Indians shelter from the cold winds while providing water, firewood, and areas of grass, trees, and brush where pony herds might graze on whatever sparse vegetation remained. (Greene 102-103; 236-237n13; Hoig 93-94; Brill 131-132; Warde 17-18; NPS 66-69)

 
A painting of Major Joel Elliott and an unknown private with weapons ready to shoot the oncoming warriors.  Only the major and private are visible in this painting.

"Major Joel Elliott's Last Stand"

Painting courtesy of the artist Michael Schreck (2010)

9. Where was Major Elliott and his men killed?

They were killed about a mile from the Washita Battlefield site. Their bodies were found along the east banks of Sergeant Major creek. (Barnard 270-271; Hardorff 20,23,27, 68-69; 93-94; 132; 144, 148, 161, 167, 175-177, 212-213, & n13, 223, 235, & n48, 244, 255, 259-261, 265, 278 n5, 294, 315-316, 358-359, & n10, & 364; Custer 158; Brill 195; Greene 123, 131-134, 168, 172-175, 247 n41, & 254 n24; Hoig 154; Keim 145-146)

 
Four tipis in a wooded area.  Fog covers the scene.

Four tipis in a wooded area as fog descends over the scene.

NPS Photo

10. How many were in Black Kettle's village? Where there any survivors?

The village had a population of 250 to 300 people. Custer claimed to have killed 103 and later 140, but according to the Cheyenne Nation, only 40 people were killed. Fifty-three women and children were captured by Custer and sent to Fort Hayes, Kansas. It is estimated somewhere between 192 to 262 people survived the fight. (Greene 167, 183,-184, 212-213)

 
Photograph of Louis McLane Hamilton

Captain Louis McLane Hamilton

NPS Photo

11. Who was Captain Hamilton?

Captain Louis McLane Hamilton was the first casualty for the Army during the Battle of the Washita. He was shot through the heart during the initial charge into the village. He was the youngest captain in the U.S. Army at the time. He was also the grandson of both Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, and Louis McLane, Secretary of State under President Andrew Jackson. Captain Hamilton was first buried at Camp Supply and later buried in Poughkeepsie, New York. (Greene 63, 90, 101, 113, 115-117, 121, 125, 134-135, 203, 241, 242 n6, 251 n4, & 253 n18; Brill 160; Hoig 8, 11-12, 16-18, 72, 119-120, 124, 127, 131-132, 140, 146, 148, 196, 198-199, 204 & 210; Utley 152; Goodrich 136; Hardorff 13-14, 65, 89, 117, 122-123, 130, 136, 138147, 155, 161, 163-165, 173, 182, 192, 208, 214, 218-219, 222, 243-244, 250, 364, 376, 384, 349, & 400)

 
"Crimson Dawn" by Harvey Pratt (2007).  A painting of two Cheyenne women facing a soldier on horseback.

"Crimson Dawn"

Painting courtesy of the artist Harvey Pratt (2007)

12. Who was Moving Behind? And Cornstalk Woman?

Moving Behind was a 14 year old Cheyenne girl living with her aunt, Cornstalk Woman. Both women escaped south of the village during the attack. They hid in a batch of tall red grass growing on a hillside southwest of the encampment. They were spotted by a passing soldier. "He stopped his horse, and stared at us," related Moving Behind. "He did not say a word, and he wondered what would happen. But he left, and no one showed up after that." Some years later George Bent told Cornstalk Woman and Moving Behind that there was a soldier he wanted them to meet. The soldier was a tall man with a brown mustache and blue eyes. Bent revealed to the curious women that this white man was the one who spotted them on the battlefield that day and then rode off without disclosing their hiding place. (Gardener 12 & 15; Greene 128-130 & 135; Hoig 93 & 130-131)

 
Sargent Major Walter Kennedy

Sargent Major Walter Kennedy

NPS Photo

13. Who was Sergeant Major Walter Kennedy?

Walter M. Kennedy (aka Thomas A. Tibbs) was born in 1841 at Clarksburg, Virginia (later West Virgina). He stood a bit over five feet, eight inches tall and had gray eyes and dark hair. He served as an officer for the Confederate army during the Civil War. Kennedy enlisted with the U.S. Army on August 1, 1866 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was immediately assigned to 7th U.S. Cavalry as the regimental sergeant major. During the fight at Washita he volunteered to go with Major Elliiott to capture women and children that were escaping east. The caught up with one party east of Sergeant Major Creek. He was ordered to take the women back to Custer. As the party moved west toward the village, four Arapaho warriors fell in between them and Elliott's group. These four warriors from Little Raven's down river camp - Little Chief, Kiowa, Tossing Up, and Lone Killer - appearing suddenly from the trees near the river on Kennedy's right. The Sergeant Major fired at the men, then bolted away on his horse, attempting to get another round in his carbine, while the women and children broke away and ran for the river. The Arapahos soon overtook Kennedy, however, counting coup on him and finally pulling him off his horse and killing him. (Greene 122, 131-132, 172, 188, 205, 207, 246-247 n39, 247 n45, & 265 n30; Hutton 80; Hardorff 18, 69, 121, 161, 182, 193, 226, 244, 258 n18, 359 n11, 383, 393; Keim 144; Hoig 141, 154-155, 157, 196, 202, 204, & 210; Custer 288; Barnard 257-258, 261, 267, 269-270, 275, & 280).

 
Map of troop movements during the fight along the Washita River.

Map of troop movements during the fight along the Washita River.

NPS Photo

14. What was Custer's plan of attack?

Custer's general plan was to employ the hours between the time he got there and daylight to completely surround the village, and at daybreak, or as soon as it was barely light enough for the purpose, to attack the Indians from all sides. This tactic was the U.S. Army mainstay during the Indian Wars, both before and after Washita. Troops in loose order formation would surround a village whose occupants were asleep and then they would attack from all sides at the same time, preferably at dawn, killing and wounding the residents, capturing the ponies, and destroying their property. (Greene 112; Brill 148-150; Hoig 124-125; Custer 234; Collins 68; Barnard 246-247).

 
A drawing of a Southern Cheyenne Warrior

A hand drawing of a Southern Cheyenne Warrior

Drawing courtesy of George Levi

15. Who were the Dog Soldiers?

Dog Soldiers were a hybrid military society that had evolved and expanded to include not only Cheyenne but Lakota as well. They had become a dominant force on the southern plains, horse-riding buffalo hunters with an acquired warrior complex that challenged the territorial presence of other tribes that had migrated under similar circumstances between the South Platte and Arkansas River. (Wellman 71-72; Greene 9-10; Broome 7 & 11-12; Mails 325-329).

 
Model 1842 Smoothbore Percussion Musket

Model 1842 Smoothbore Percussion Musket

(Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Museum)

16. What weapons did the soldiers have? And the Indians?

The soldiers carried the .59-caliber Model 1865 Spencer seven-shot repeating carbine, the .44-caliber Model 1860 Colt Army revolver six-shooter or the .44-caliber Model 1858 Remington revolver, and the Model 1858 light cavalry saber.

The Indians both in the village and those downstream that would surround Custer later in the day not only had bow and arrows with iron tip arrowheads, they also had pistols of every caliber, muskets, smooth bore rifles, Springfield rifles, Spencer carbines, Kentucky and Plains style rifles, Winchesters, Henry repeating rifles, Sharps, and shot guns. (Goodrich 42-43, & 170; Dorsey 6-11; Greene 80-81; Secoy 81-85).

 
Sketch of the meeting at the Treaty of Medicine Lodge

Treaty of Medicine Lodge

Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) engraving

17. How did the Indians get rifles and pistols?

Mostly from traders and from warfare. Also through treaties they also got lead, gunpowder and other firearms from the Department of the Interior. (Greene 48-49; Dorsey 2-3, & 11; Goodrich 42-43, & 170; Lowe 75-76, & 116-117).

 
The Washita River winding its way along its snowy embankments

Washita River in snow

Photograph courtesy of Richard Zahm

18. How cold was it?

It was bitterly cold. Eighteen inches of snow had fallen. There was ice on the rivers and about 1/2 inch to an inch of ice on top of the snow. At the beginning of the fight the band only got half way through the first stanza of "Gary Owen" before the instruments froze up. On the way to Washita , the soldiers would dig a 6 foot x 6 foot square in the snow and build a fire on the ground. They would take that fire and place it onto another square. The soldiers would spread the coals around in the first square and place their horses blankets on top of the coals. They would place their saddles on one end to be used as pillows. Then five or six men would sleep spoon style with only a blanket covering them. The problem was that is the middle man gets too warm on one side and wants to turn over, everyone has to turn over. They also slept with their boots on so the boots would not freeze up. (Custer 114-115; Keim 103; Greene 98-99; Barnard 71-72; Collins 60).

 
Sheet music to Garry Owen, the regimental battle song of the 7th Cavalry

Garry Owen was the regimental battle song of the 7th Cavalry

NPS Photo

19. Did Custer have a band here, and did they play Garry Owen during the attack?

Custer did have the regimental band here during the attack.Yes, as soon as "Charge!" was played the band did strike up "Gary Owen." But unlike Hollywood, the band played only halfway through the first stanza. The instruments froze up because of the bitter cold. Latter in the day when the command left the village area, the band played "I Will Be Glad to Get Out of the Wilderness". (Barnard 249, & 256; Hatch 247; Brill 153; Hoig 128; Greene 117 & 127).

 
Tipis set up within the trees.  Snow covers the ground

Tipis in the snow

NPS Photo

20. Was there any looting going on at the village?

Looting by the soldiers was not permitted because it would encumber their march. Though Custer did have one particularly handsome lodge (or tipi) and a shield, probably belonging to Chief Little Rock, packed into a wagon for him. He also had collected a bow and arrows , and a scalp that he would later present to the Detroit Audubon Society. There is also proof, that not all soldiers listened to Custer. A young private secured a buffalo robe and blanket from the camp to replace his missing bedroll. Lt. Godfrey would buy from these item from him for $10.00. (Greene 124; New York Times 1; Hoig 137 & 147).

 
Clara Blinn photograph

Clara Blinn

NPS Photo

21. Who was Clara Blinn, and what happened to her?

Mrs. Clara Blinn, wife of Richard Blinn, was taken with her two-year old son, Willie, from a wagon train heading east into Western Kansas by Cheyenne warriors. Seventy-five warriors attacked the train, which consisted of ten men and one woman, and a boy, wounding one man, stampeding the teams, making off with four wagons, and taking Mrs. Blinn and her son. She had sent a message through Bill Griffenstein, telling everyone that Willie and she and at a large Arapaho-Cheyenne camp, and would someone please come get her. During the attack on Black Kettle's camp on November 27, Clara and her son were killed in a village downstream from Black Kettle's, believed to be a Kiowa encampment. She and her son were first buried at Fort Arbuckle, and later rentured at Fort Gibson. (Hatch 258; Custer 290 & 393; Barnard 280; Leckie 107; Hoig 160-161; Greene 70 & 173; Keim 150; Hardorff 38-42, 160, 213,-214, & 262-264).

 
Photograph of the Cheyenne captives at Fort Hays

Cheyenne captives at Fort Hays

NPS Photo

22. What happened to the 53 women and children that were captured?

The women and children were first taken to Camp Supply and later to Fort Hayes, Kansas. They were then released from Fort Hayes in July 1869 to the Anadarko Indian Agency, Indian Territory (Greene 137 & 181; Hatch 250; Gardener 13; Hoig 131; Berthrong 334; Custer 281; Grinnell 300-305,; Brill 161).
 
Photograph of Major Joel Elliott

23. Why did Custer abandon Elliott and his men?

By the time Elliott's absence was noted it was late in the day on November 27, 1868. While Custer did send Captain Myers to the east to look for any signs of the Major Elliott and his men they reported that there as no sign of Elliott and his men anywhere. The need for Custer to extricate his command from the encampment was crucial due to the lateness in the day and the threat from the overwhelming number of warriors downriver. Therefore, Custer decided to not search longer for Elliott's detachment. Flankers did keep watch for any sign of Elliott during the march. (Greene 125; Custer 257-258; Barnard 266).

 
Drawing of a Plains Indians burial ceremony

Laying Out the Dead

Photograph courtesy of the artist Dick West

24. How many Indians were killed here, and how many soldiers did Custer loose?

Custer claimed he killed 103 warriors, later he would change that to 140 warriors. According to the Cheyenne & Arapaho Nation of Oklahoma, only 60 people were killed in the village. Six children, twelve women and the rest were men. Custer lost 22 men in the fighting, two officers and twenty enlisted. (Hinz-Penner 45; Hardorff 397-403; Hatch 252; Greene 212-214; Hoig 200-201; Wert 278)

 

28. Was Custer at Sand Creek?

No, When Colonel John Chivington and the Third Colorado Cavalry was attacking the Cheyennes at Sand Creek, General Custer was at Winchester, Virginia. (Wert 199-203; Greene 19-22)

 

29. Did Custer like killing Indians? Was he after Black Kettle?

No, actually he had huge respect for the Indians. But being in the Army at the time, his job was to protect the settlers from the Indians.

No, he wasn't after Black Kettle. Custer more or less stumbled onto his village while following the trail made by 150 warriors in 18 inches in snow.

(Custer 22; Collins 62; Greene 100 & 120; Lecky 103)

 

30. What is the Custer's curse?

According to Cheyenne oral tradition when Custer caught up with the Cheyenne at Sweetwater there was a meeting in Medicine Arrow's lodge. Custer was asked to smoke a pipe and it went around the lodge. When it came back around, the chief dumped the ashes on Custer's boots, telling him that, "If Custer ever lied to the Cheyenne. Or attack the Cheyenne, he and his men would be killed." Custer left the Cheyenne alone for seven and a half years, until June 1876 at Little Bighorn. The Cheyenne have a long memory (Berthrong 337; Hoig 174; Brill 227-228; Hardorff 362; Grinnell 307; Greene 182 & 257 n37)

 

31. Was Custer disobeying orders here?

Custer's orders were to go down south till he came to the Washita River and follow it down until he came across they hostiles. He was then to shoot and hang all the warriors, capture all the women and children, and destroy the camp and horses. Custer was going to do exactly what he was told because he wanted to get back into the good graces of General Sheridan, Sherman, and Grant. (Keim 103; Brill 142; Custer 214; Greene 96; Hutton 63)

 

32. What was the Dawes Act of 1889?

The Dawes Act of 1889 would end the Cheyenne and Arapaho Reservation. The Act forced the individual Indians onto 160 acres and ended the communal land ownership of the reservation. The government bought 3.5 million acres from the Indians at ten cents an acre. Then they gave the Indians a choice where they wanted to live. The Cheyenne and Arapaho chose the river bottom land along the Canadian River between Canton and El Reno, and the Washita River between Hammon and Clinton. The land was open on April 19, 1892 to 30,000 homesteaders. (Armstrong 498-499; Casady 9-28; Hinz-Penner 83; Mann 82 & 92; Hoebel 124; Taylor 6 & 24-25)

 

33. Did the Cheyenne participate in the Red River Wars?

Yes, the Cheyenne participated briefly in the Red River Wars of 1874. They would return to the reservation after the Battle of Adobe Walls. (Leckie 229-230; Grinnell 319-230; Berthrong 372-405)

34. When was Fort Sill established?

Fort Sill was established on January 8, 1869 southeast of the Wichita Mountains. (Nye 85; Faulk 103-115; Lackey 35-37)

 

35. How many soldiers were there on the southern plains?

The district of the Upper Arkansas embraced nearly all the territory of Colorado, and that portion of Kansas west of north and south line, through Fort Harker...2,600 soldiers (1,200 cavalry troopers and 1,400 infantry soldiers) manned seven forts and two camps. (Greene 44; Utley 12 & 16)

 

36. What is the Sugar Loaf?

Major Joel Elliott and Captain Albert Barnitz ascended what Barnitz later described as a "very steep conical hill" on their right and opposite the camp, which he subsequently termed "Sugar Loaf." It is also known as Barnitz Hill." It is visible north of the park site today. (Greene 114 & 202; Hardorff 12; Barnard 250-251)

 

35. When was red granite put up?

Early in 1933, through the efforts of the Platonic Club of Cheyenne, a red granite marker with the words "Custer's Battle, November 27, 1868," was erected near the grave of a warrior named Hawk. Hawk's remains were uncovered in 1914 during a railroad excavation project. They were later buried north of the highway and south of where Black Kettle's village had stood. (Greene 197)

 

36. When was the pavilion built?

The State of Oklahoma built the pavilion, also known as the Overlook, in 1966. It was finished and open to the public in October 1966. In 1968 the State of Oklahoma put in the engraved map into the pavilion. (Fire 1; OTI 1-2)

37. When was Fort Reno established?

On July 17, 1874, Fort Reno was established near the Darlington Agency (Faulk 113-121; Lackey 38-40)

Did You Know?

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

That Washita Battlefield is home to over 99 bird species, including the state bird of Oklahoma, the Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher, and the state game bird, the Wild Turkey.