George Custer and his troops carried out an unprovoked attack against the Southern Cheyenne who were enroute to Fort Cobb and camped alongside the Washita River in western Indian Territory in November 1868.Although his report and those of his superior officers referenced the attack as a “battle,” it was anything but. That it was an outright massacre where the majority of those murdered were children and women was confirmed later by federal authorities tasked with investigating the incident.
Custer’s 28 November 1868 report is contained in U.S. Senate Executive Documents-Serial Set 1360. But the truth of this incident (which was later validated by federal authorities) was discussed by two other individuals who attempted to protect peace-loving tribes.
Below are excerpts from reports written by Thomas Murphy and Edward W. Wynkoop – two men whose consciences and principles set them apart from the likes of George Custer, Phil Sheridan, and others.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Thomas Murphy served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in Atchison, Kansas. This 4 December 1868 letter to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington reiterated Murphy’s previous communications to military and government officials.
Sir: I have the honor to report that on my return yesterday from Paola, whither I had been to pay the fall annuities to Indians of the Osage River agency, I found in the public journals General Sheridan’s report of what he calls ‘the opening of the campaign against the hostile Indians,’ the perusal of which made me sick at heart. Had these Indians been hostile, or had they been the warriors who committed the outrages upon the white settlers on the Solomon and Saline Rivers, in August last, or those who subsequently fought Colonel Forsyth and his fifty scouts, no one would rejoice over this victory more than myself. But who were the parties thus attacked and slaughtered by General Custer and his command? It was Black Kettle’s band of Cheyennes. Black kettle, one of the truest friends the whites have ever had among the Indians of the plains; he who, in 1864, purchased with his own ponies the white women and children captured on the Blue and Platte Rivers by the Dog Soldiers of the Cheyennes and by the Sioux, and freely delivered them up at Denver City to Colonel Chivington, who was at the time the military commandant at that place. After this he was induced, under promises of protection for his people, to bring them into the vicinity of Fort Lyon, where they were soon afterward pounced upon by the military, led by Chivington, and cruelly and indiscriminately murdered. Black Kettle escaped, but his people, in consequence of the step he had taken to induce them to come to the vicinity of the fort, refused to recognize him as their chief, and he thus remained in disfavor with them up to the time of the treaty of 1865, at which time, after explanations on the part of the commissioners, he was reinstated.
In 1867, when General Hancock burned the villages of peaceful Cheyennes and Sioux, Black Kettle used all his influence to prevent the Cheyennes from going to war to avenge this wrong, and so persistent were his efforts in this behalf, that his life was threatened and he had to steal away from them in the night with his family and friends and flee for safety to the lodges of the Arapahoes.
“In August, 1867, when I was sent out by the Indian peace commission with instructions to assemble in the vicinity of Fort Larned all the friendly Indians belonging to the Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahoes, with a view of using them to get into communication with the hostile Indians, Black Kettle was among the first to meet me at Fort Larned, cheerfully proffered me his assistance and protection, and from that day until the conclusion of the treaty of Medicine Lodge Creek no man worked more assiduously than did he to bring to a successful termination the business then in hand, and no man, red or white, felt more happy than did he when his people had finally signed the treaty by which they once more placed themselves upon friendly relations with the government. And when he ascertained that some of the young men of his tribe had committed the atrocities upon the Solomon and Saline in August last, I have been credibly informed that so great was his grief he tore his hair and his clothes, and naturally supposing that the whites would wreak their vengeance upon all Indians that might chance to fall in their way, and remembering the treachery that had once wellnigh cost him his life (I refer to the massacre at Sand Creek), he went south to avoid the impending troubles.
Knowing these chiefs as I do, I feel satisfied that when all the facts pertaining to the late attack shall become known, it will be found that they and the few lodges with them composed that portion of their tribes who desired to remain at peace, and who were endeavoring to make their way to Fort Cobb for the purpose of placing themselves under the care of their agents on their new reservations.
Had Congress at its last session appropriated sufficient funds to continue the feeding of these Indians last June, I believe we could have kept them at peace, and that by this time they would have been quietly located on their new reservations where we could control and manage them and gradually wean them from their wild and wandering life, and in doing which it would not have cost the government as much per year as it is now costing per month to fight them, and this course would have been far more humane and becoming a magnanimous and christian nation.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Thomas Murphy, Superintendent Indian Affairs
SOURCE: Thomas Murphy, Superintendent Indian Affairs, Office Superintendent Indian Affairs, Atchison, Kansas, 4 December 1868, to Nathaniel G. Taylor, Commissioner, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Difficulties With Indian Tribes in Executive Documents printed by order of the House of Representatives during the Second Session of the Forty-First Congress, 1869-1870, Volume 3, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870, Serial Set 1425, pp 5-7.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Edward W. “Ned” Wynkoop served with the Army and as Agent for the Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne.He finally resigned when he could see that neither the military or federal government could be induced to exercise sensibility in interacting with indigenous people.
Wynkoop’s letters before and after his resignation bespoke his sincerity toward this country’s indigenous people. In addition to service in the Army and as Indian Agent, Wynkoop was a founder of the city of Denver, Commander of Fort Lyon, and Warden of the New Mexico Penitentiary in Santa Fe County.
Five days prior to Thomas Murphy’s above letter, Wynkoop submitted his resignation to Nathaniel G. Taylor, Indian Affairs Commissioner in Washington, as follows:
Sir: During the year 1864, while an officer in the Army of the United States, highest in authority in the Indian country in which I served, I, in the supposed fulfillment of my duty as such, congregated some five hundred friendly Cheyenne Indians together, assuring them the protection of the United States; the consequence of which was, they were attacked by a large body of volunteer troops from Colorado and nearly two hundred of their women and children and old men brutally murdered. The infamous massacre at Sand Creek will not soon be forgotten. The Indians were naturally under the impression that I was responsible for the outrage; but after they fully understood my position, I became, at their request, their agent and they have renewed the confidence they had in me previous to the Sand Creek murder, trusting me implicitly up to the time of General Hancock’s memorable expedition, they then having received assurace from me that General Hancock would not harm them, and seeing me with him whom I had been induced to accompany under assurances from himself that his mission was a peaceful one. Upon the destruction of their lodges and other property, again they naturally inferred the fault was mine and some time since, while in the performance of my duty among the Indians, I came near losing my life in consequence; but I again succeeded in regaining their confidence and am now under orders to proceed to Fort Cobb on the Washita River and congregate what Indians I can of my agency at that point or vicinity.
Since I have started on my journey thither, I have learned of five different columns of troops in the field whose objective point is the Washita River. The regular troops are under control, commanded by officers who will not allow atrocities committed; but there are also in the field under the sanction of the government, volunteer troops and Ute and Osage Indians, the deadliest enemies of all the plains Indians and whom nothing will prevent from murdering all of whatever age or sex wherever found. The point to which that portion are marching who have expressed their determination to kill under all circumstances the Indians of my agency, is the point to which I am directed to congregate them at. They will readily respond to my call, but I most certainly refuse to again be the instrument of the murder of innocent women and children. While I remain an officer of the government I propose to do my duty – a portion of which is to obey my instructions. All left me under the circumstances, with the present state of feelings I have in this matter, is now to respectfully tender my resignation and return the commission which I have so far earnestly endevored to fulfill the requirements of. To the President of the United States, who has intrusted me with the commission I have held; to yourself for the consideration always shown me; to the Superintendent, Colonel Murphy, for his invariable kindness, I shall always feel grateful.
I have the honor to respectfully forward this communication through Colonel Thomas Murphy, Superintendent of Indian affairs, to whom I will turn over what property I am responsible for, and make my appearance at Washington as soon as possible to settle my accounts.
I have the honor to be, with much respect, your obedient servant,
SOURCE: Edward W. Wynkoop, enroute to Fort Cobb, 29 November 1868, to Nathaniel G. Taylor, Commissioner, Office of Indian Affairs, Department of the Interior, Difficulties With Indian Tribes in Executive Documents printed by order of the House of Representatives during the Second Session of the Forty-First Congress, 1869-1870, Volume 3, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870, Serial Set 1425, pp 4-5.