1857 - War against the Cheyenne

Cheyenne women and children were slaughtered by white troops in numerous 'massacres' during the Indian Wars of the 19th century.

         With the buffalo being driven to extinction by white guns, the Cheyenne and Arapaho pushed back.  Half a dozen violent encounters took place between Indians and settlers on the Oregon Trail.  The federal government was not honoring its side of the Fort Laramie treaty, and something had to be done or they would perish. 

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         In Jefferson Davis' last official act as secretary of war, he directed a campaign against the Cheyenne in order to punish them for hostilities against whites settlers.   They must be '"severely punished," said Davis, "and no trifling or partial punishment will suffice."  

Cheyenne Warriors


         By right of the treaty at Horse Creek, the Cheyenne and Arapaho held title to the land between the North Platte and the Arkansas rivers.  In 1854, the eastern boundary of their territory had crumbled under the weight of settlers in the Kansas Territory, and the federal government did nothing to protect their treaty rights.  The migration routes of the buffalo - across the central plains of Kansas and Nebraska - was now broken in two by emigrant roads which the buffalo would not cross.  Their winter camping grounds on the eastern slope of the Rockies had been taken over by gold diggers.   By 1859, more than 100,000 'fifty-niner's' were in the Pike's Peak country.

         At the conclusion of the Horse Creek Treaty, Fitzpatrick predicted that the freedom of the plains Indian would be vanquished by the white man in one more lifetime.  His prediction, only five years old, was already coming to pass.  Historian S.J. Killoren wrote : "It was one of the most flagrant and serious violations of the guarantees made to the Plains' tribes by the Fort Laramie treaty.  Moreover, the invasion of Indian country by settlers was specifically prohibited by the Kansas/Nebraska Act of 1854.  Also, where were the white troops to protect Indian rights.  And while this was a depredation far more excessive than any Indian attack on an emigrant wagon train, it occasions no government condemnation.  The War department fielded no expeditionary force to punish and remove the invaders and thus maintain the promised peaceful coexistence.  The Indian office, with direct responsibility, never filed a single complaint with the department of war, or petition Congress to enforce the treaty conditions.  The trader William Bent noted in 1859 that the gold miners had quickly taken over choice Indian country and brought " many causes of irritation" to the land's owners.  Now they were being pressed into a small territory that was beset by the constant parade of emigrants from Texas, Kansas, and the Platte, and bisected into even smaller segments by criss-crossing roads." 

         Bent foreshadowed things to come in his annual report to Washington: "A smothered passion for revenge agitates these Indians, perpetually fomented by the failure of food, the encircling encroachments of the white population, and the exasperating sense of decay and impending extinction with which they are surrounded."

         The days when the nomadic tribes of the American West were the freest people to walk the Earth, were quickly drawing to an end.  These were the first of the Plains tribes to experience this American tragedy, and sadly, this grim and unyielding fate had become their legacy from the lofty promises made to them at Horse Creek less than ten years before.

         In a footnote to his commentary, Killoren writes that Agent Albert G. Boone, Fitzpatrick's successor at the Platte River Agency, was directed by Commissioner A.B. Greenwood to push the treaty signing with the Cheyenne or "to make it over their heads."  This new and amended treaty was not ratified by the U.S. Senate until August 6, 1861.  In the meantime, Kansas was admitted to the Union without having title to the land.  This was a violation of both the Kansas/Nebraska Act, the treaty with France ceding Louisiana to the U.S., and to the conditions of the treaty at Horse Creek.  No one in Congress raised a voice in protest.