27th November 1868 the Death of Black Kettle

Chief Black Kettle

Today we lament the death of Black Kettle, chief of the Southern Cheyenne, killed 147 years ago when Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer led the 7th Cavalry in a surprise dawn attack on the sleeping Cheyenne camp – massacring over one hundred men, women and children. Black Kettle and his wife were shot in the back as they tried in vain to flee across the river in the final moments of the so-called Battle of Washita, though many historians more rightfully refer to it as the Washita Massacre. This pre-meditated and unprovoked attack against Chief Black Kettle and his people was part of the U.S. army’s “winter warfare” campaign, cruelly conceived to destroy the Native Americans’ ponies, supplies and shelters, with the ultimate goal of driving the tribes onto barren reservations – two hundred miles away from the nearest buffalo herds – in order to free the Great Plains for white settlement.

In stark contrast to his more celebrated Native American warrior contemporaries Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull and Geronimo, Black Kettle was the only influential Great Plains chief devoted to securing an honourable peace – having prophesized that the white man could not be defeated. But his efforts to negotiate with the United States federal government and army resulted only in broken promises and betrayal. Two years before Washita, Black Kettle had been the target of and survived another infamous massacre at Sand Creek. Without warning or provocation, over two hundred non-aggressive Cheyenne and Arapahos – mainly women and children – were ruthlessly slaughtered, sexually mutilated and scalped by 700 U.S. troops; the victims’ body parts later exhibited as trophies to roaring crowds. U.S. military leaders erroneously and cynically attempted to blame Black Kettle in order to justify both the Sand Creek and Washita massacres, and the mainstream press in turn portrayed the chief as a warmonger. It is only in recent years that his reputation as a visionary peacemaker has been restored.

The murder of Black Kettle at Washita would prove to be a watershed in the Indian Wars – for, as historian Richard Hardoff wrote, Black Kettle was “the best friend the Whites ever had.” His death confirmed that peaceful negotiation was impossible, and subsequently united all the Plains tribes in their resistance to the white man’s invasion – culminating in the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. But whether they waged war or – like Black Kettle – sought peace, the sad truth as we now know it is the white man had but one goal and would not rest until all the Indians were scattered on dawn’s highway bleeding.

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12 Responses to 27th November 1868 – the Death of Black Kettle

  1. Antronhy says:

    Another FAB! post darling.

  2. David B. says:

    Dorian: November is nearly at an end, and what a great month of varied but always interesting entries you and your guests have written. As you are aware, I have directed my students to your site and several of them have reported back having discovered a new world of knowledge and inspiration. The females in particular have responded with enthusiasm and further investigation and I expect it will please you to know that.

  3. Thanks Dorian for another excellent and enlightening article. In GCSE History I was taught that the overthrowing of the Plains Indians by the white man was a necessity and something that had to be done in order to allow the progress of civilized culture. Even then, at 14, I was unsettled by the pictures in our textbooks (which themselves described the Indians as warmongers) of the defeated Indians being carried away from their homeland, and questioned just how ethical the forced subjugation of the Native Americans actually was. Yet had I questioned this in an exam answer or an essay, this could have cost me marks. It is unfortunate how over 100 years on, high school students are still being taught that the aims of Western civilization must take precedence over what should be the basic human rights of other cultures. I hope that like the above poster, other teachers will direct their students to your blog so they may realize the truth behind Western propaganda and the corruption behind our society’s aims. I recommend your blog to my mates at least once a week- keep fighting the good fight!

  4. Paul Blair says:

    Were there any movies at all made about The Sand Creek Massacre and the Battle of Washita? Just Curious. Seems to be movies made about all the other transgressions upon Native Americans.

    • Thomas L Dailey says:

      Not sure but I believe Soldier Blue depicts the Sand Creek massacre. Not totally accurate but worth watching !

    • Beth says:

      The movie, Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman was about The Battle of the Washita. Its good. Custer was reprimanded following this massacre in 1868 on Washita River near OK/TX Panhandle border.

  5. crazyhorse says:

    Custer would fit in fine in modern usa …..a nation run by murdering cowards!

  6. Paul Wyrd says:

    This kind of legacy makes me embarrassed to be white.

    Sadly, the mentality behind the American governments actions remains pretty much the same today (in UK as much as America).

    • noah says:

      i feel how you feel it helps me embrace my self and be a good role model

    • DEBBIE says:

      I feel so remorseful and ashame of my forefathers. I cry for those lives who were murdered by greedy bullies. Somehow I need to find a way for me to make this epipthany meaningful and long lasting

  7. John Mackey says:

    American government handling of Indian tribes in the 1850’s to 1880’s
    was awful. But, we live and learn and carrying guilt does no one any good.
    Explore the truth about the settlement of the West, both positive and negative for
    whoever your ancestors are. We shouldn’t pull down statues or memorials no matter
    who they are. Read about the massacres and wars, learn from it and move on. Treat
    all cultures w respect.

  8. John Mackey says:

    American government handling of Indian tribes in the 1850’s to 1880’s
    was awful. But, we live and learn and carrying guilt does no one any good.
    Explore the truth about the settlement of the West, both positive and negative for
    whoever your ancestors are. We shouldn’t pull down statues or memorials no matter
    who they are. Read about the massacres and wars, learn from it and move on. Treat
    all cultures w respect.

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