Sand Creek 1864, and the Washita 1868
Two notable events in the history of the Cheyenne and the nations at large as it was part of a prolonged campaign conducted by the U.S. government to defeat and oppress indigenous people in this land.
Sand Creek was particularly heinous as it was directed at an encampment led by Black Kettle who had pledged peace, and even while under attack waved an American flag given to them.
The death toll on that day has been estimated in excess of a hundred sixty people-the majority of them women and children. Of the men who were in the camp they had remained there while younger more able men had rode off to hunt.
I saw the bodies of those lying there cut all to pieces, worse mutilated than any I ever saw before; the women cut all to pieces … With knives; scalped; their brains knocked out; children two or three months old; all ages lying there, from sucking infants up to warriors … By whom were they mutilated? By the United States troops …
—- John S. Smith, Congressional Testimony of Mr. John S. Smith, 1865
Fingers and ears were cut off the bodies for the jewelry they carried. The body of White Antelope, lying solitarily in the creek bed, was a prime target. Besides scalping him the soldiers cut off his nose, ears, and testicles-the last for a tobacco pouch …
—- Stan Hoig
Jis to think of that dog Chivington and his dirty hounds, up thar at Sand Creek. His men shot down squaws, and blew the brains out of little innocent children. You call sich soldiers Christians, do ye? And Indians savages? What der yer ‘spose our Heavenly Father, who made both them and us, thinks of these things? I tell you what, I don’t like a hostile red skin any more than you do. And when they are hostile, I’ve fought ’em, hard as any man. But I never yet drew a bead on a squaw or papoose, and I despise the man who would.
—- Kit Carson
Washita was conducted during the winter, as was Sand Creek, when the people were more vulnerable-and was led by Custer at the head of the 7th Calvary.
It was a time in the aftermath of Sand Creek that various nations had aligned and were camping along the Washita river.
Among them were the Southern and Northern Cheyenne, Comanche, Arapaho, Kiowa-Apache, and Kiowa scattered along the river some ten to fifteen miles much the same as those Custer attacked at the Big Horn.
A part of Custer’s strategy was to attack the Southern Cheyenne encampment and take as many women, children, and the aged as possible to employ as a human shield, knowing that warriors wouldn’t mount a counter attack for fear of endangering them.
We’ve seen similar tactics throughout history, and more commonly now in the middle east where rocket or mortar emplacements are setup in the midst of non combatant civilians, in hospitals and school yards-it is a cowardly thing to do now and then.
General Phil Sheridan of Civil War infamy noted for his scorched earth policy and as Custer’s superior had ordered that any warriors taken prisoner were to be summarily shot or hung. And as with Sand Creek women and children were not excluded as targets.
So when Custer and the 7th rode into the Big Horn it was pay back time.
In this day of the internet while some examples of the atrocities committed during the “Indian wars” are more publicized than others people shouldn’t forget that every nation suffered, every nation had it’s own Wounded Knee or Sand Creek, all equally devastating, they shouldn’t forget that some nations were driven to extinction, that languages have been lost, or that the unmarked graves of this countries first people litter the land-not on foreign shores, but the shores of this land, our land.
A people who did what any would do-they fought to preserve a way of life, their own people, and a land they had inhabited for countless generations.
War isn’t glamorous, atrocities are committed by both sides, and I will make no effort to deny that-what I will say is if the boat people had never arrived, if following their arrival we had been left to be ourselves, if our rights had been respected,if we had been seen and treated as equals, as fellow human beings, if a single treaty had been honored and upheld the death toll would have been smaller for both sides.
Now we die due to shorter life spans,incidents of health related disease exceeding the national average, or for that matter any industrialized “civilized” country. We die as the result of alcohol and drug abuse, of sudden infant death death syndrome, of our children being still born and of suicide at a greater per capita rate than other demographic.
This in the “land of the free”-this in the land that presents itself upon the international stage as a champion of the oppressed and speaks of the human rights of others…. in other places.
A country that says every person has inalienable rights-yet has long denied or withheld these rights they speak of when it comes to the nations.