January 1868

Lithograph of Edward Wynkoop and interpreter. From Harper's Weekly, 1868.
Edward Wynkoop and interpreter (From Harper’s Weekly, 1867)

January 12th, 1868

The winter of 1867-68 was not always a time of rest on the Great Plains. For a small band of Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors, January 12th 1868 was a time to raid for much needed supplies. On that day, twenty five warriors attacked a government wagon train near the Cimarron Crossing in west-central Kansas. According to reports, they acted in an aggressive manner, taking supplies from the wagon train.

However, for many Cheyennes and Arapahos, it was a difficult winter in which promised government rations did not always arrive promptly. According to Indian agent Edward Wynkoop, many Cheyennes and Arapahos were starving before the arrival of rations in the spring. Even so, the brief winter raid would be an indication of what was to come in the summer of 1868.


 
Indian Peace Commission Report, from 1868.

(Government Printing Office, 1868)


January 14th, 1868

After the signing of the Medicine Lodge Treaty in October of 1867, those peace commissioners who were present began a report of their findings. To them, the Medicine Lodge Treaty was of great importance in creating a lasting peace on the Great Plains. It was signed by many Great Plains tribes, such as the Comanche, Kiowa, Arapaho, and the Cheyenne. Although not having been present at the signing, General William T. Sherman (in charge of the military department affecting those tribes) would be among those who would assist in writing a report on the treaty. In addition, Indian Commissioner N.G. Taylor and Senator John B. Henderson of Missouri, who were present during the treaty signing, would also assist in the final report. On January 14th, 1868, the report was formally published after having been submitted to the President, Andrew Johnson.

The report was lengthy and included a recent history of Native Americans on the Great Plains. It also acknowledged Sand Creek as a major cause of Dog Soldier attacks, by saying, it was here, under the pledge of protection, that they were slaughtered by the third Colorado and a battalion of the first Colorado cavalry under command of Colonel Chivington.” It further paints a broader picture that “the Indian was forgotten. His rights were lost sight of in the general rush to these fountains of wealth.” However sympathetic the report may have sounded, it also accepted the reality of Manifest Destiny. “We do not contest the ever-ready argument that civilization must not be arrested in its progress by a handful of savages. And we fully recognize the fact that the Indian must not stand in the way of this result.”

The finality of the report was by no means conclusive. The commissioners offered a multitude of answers to the cessation of conflict on the Great Plains. Among them were departmental changes – consolidating authority in one department over another. Indeed, some suggestions were purely administrative. Perhaps the most useful suggestion was that “no governor or legislature of States or Territories be permitted to call out and equip troops for the purpose of carrying on war against Indians.” This, no doubt, was a lesson learned from Sand Creek. Finally, the report had the idealistic injunction “To maintain peace with the Indian, let the frontier settler treat him with humanity, and railroad directors see to it that he is not shot down by employees in wanton cruelty.”

 

Last updated: June 18, 2018

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