Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 3, No. 4
“SOME CORRECTIONS OF ‘LIFE ON THE PLAINS.’”
W. B. Hazen
One of the chief sources of information concerning the military operations in western Oklahoma in the latter part of 1868
and the early part of 1869, now commonly known as the Washita Campaign, is the personal narrative of Brevet Major General
George A. Custer, lieutenant colonel of the 7th U. S. Cavalry, who was in active command of the troops in the field, though
accompanied by Major General Philip H. Sheridan, who was then in command of the military Department of the Missouri. General
Custer’s narrative was first published serially in a magazine called "The Galaxy." In the latter part of 1874, it was issued
in book form under the title of "My Life on the Plains." This book, which has since been reprinted, had an extensive circulation.
General Custer was severe in his criticisms and strictures concerning Indian peace policies and civilian Indian agents and,
with the Indian service always more or less honeycombed with partizan[sic] politics, it was not strange that crooked and incompetent
officials were sometimes found in such positions. Unfortunately for his standing as a fair minded writer, however, General
Custer undertook to include in his category of untrustworthy Indian agents no less person than Brevet Major General William
B. Hazen, colonel of the 6th U. S. Infantry, who, at the time of the Washita Campaign, was serving under assignment as a special
U. S. Indian agent, being stationed at Fort Cobb, on the Washita River.
That there was a clash of opinion between Generals Sheridan and Custer, on the one hand, and General Hazen, on the other,
at the time and on the ground, is plainly evident. That feelings of resentment still rankled in General Custer’s heart, more
than five years later, is attested by the text of his narrative. It was but natural that, smarting under what he regarded
as an unfair imputation, General Hazen should have resorted to the issuance of a pamphlet, setting forth a statement in defense
of his official policy and record as a military officer on duty under assignment as a special Indian agent.* This he did, a few months after the serial publica-
tion of General Custer’s narrative and before the latter had been published in book form. Inasmuch as the contents of General
Custer’s narrative have had a much more extensive circulation than those of General Hazen’s pamphlet and, as the last mentioned
document is not nearly so readily available for many students of a most interesting phase of local history in Oklahoma, as
it should be, it seems well to republish it after the lapse of more than half a century. The statement thus set forth by General
J. B. T.
In his article published in "The Galaxy" of February, 1874, General Custer has referred to my part in the operations at Fort
Cobb during his Indian campaign of 1868-69, in a manner which cannot be overlooked.
His exceptionally brilliant record, his fame, which was so justly and splendidly earned, and the long and admiring acquaintance
which I have had with him, makes it impossible for me to believe that he could intentionally write or speak otherwise than
with perfect regard for the truth and justice.
But he erred greatly in his statement that the Kiowa Indians, as a tribe, were in the battle of the Washita, and that I was
wrong in not permitting his command, twenty days after, to fall upon them—men, women and children, and destroy them, when
gathered together in promised security under my charge.
I do not suppose there are many people who care to know whether the Kiow a Indians were in that battle or not; yet there are
some who are interested in these matters, who have taken special notice of this statement, and look to me to clear it up and
vindicate the truth. It is to be regretted that this has become necessary, yet there has existed for the past six years a
mischievous error upon that point, which it is desirable to rectify.
On the arrival of General Custer’s troops, accompanied by Major General Sheridan, at Fort Cobb, the 18th day of December,
1868, I saw at once that they held me accountable for seriously marring the success of their operations by
warning them, two days previously, that the Indians between themselves and my camp were settled under my peaceful protection,
while at the same time I indicated where the hostiles might be found. Their opinions, that the Kiowas had fought them at the
battle of Washita, were so firmly fixed that I thought it both futile and unwise to endeavor then to correct their impressions,
and, since that time, had decided never to open the subject, hoping that in time it might all be forgotten. But this account
by General Custer, which, although attributing to me no wrong intent, conveys the impression that I was weakly deceived, that
I had fallen into the evil ways of Indian agents, ignorant of their business, guided by narrow selfishness, and had proved
myself generally unfit for my trust, while it has been intimated that my report to them greatly injured the interests of the
public. This is also soon to be put in more permanent form of a published volume.
The provocation has been great to call for a hearing upon the same matter before, but now it seems necessary. Fortunately
the task is not difficult. In order that the case may have its fullest bearing, and the blame attached to my name may be fully
known, I will give the endorsement made by the Lieutenant General of the Army in June, 1872, referring to this matter, addressed
to the Adjutant General of the Army, and published in the newspapers of the country. It is as follows:
"Had it not been for Colonel Hazen, who represented that these Indians were friendly when I followed their trail, without
missing it for a moment, from the battle of the Washita until I overtook them, the Texas frontier would be in a better condition
than now, and we would be free from embarrassment."
"He seems to have forgotten in his recent newspaper communication, when he censures the Government for not chastising those
Indians (The Kiowas) that when I had my sabers drawn to do it, he pronounced them, in the name of the Peace commissioners,
I think the following pages will show that my conduct in the act referred to, did not merit the above endorsement.
The objectionable portion of General Custer’s account as refers to me, is as follows:
"At daylight on the following morning the entire command started on the trail of the Indian villagers, nearly all of which
had moved down the Washita toward Fort Cobb, inhere they had good reasons to believe they would receive protection."
"The Arapahoes and remaining band of Cheyennes left the Washita Valley and moved across in the direction of Red River. After
the trail of the Kiowas and other hostile Indians for seven days, over an almost impassable country, where it was necessary
to keep two or three hundred men almost constantly at work with picks, axes and spades, before being able to advance with
our immense wagon train, my Osage scouts came galloping back on the morning of the 17th of December, and reported a party
of Indians in our front, bearing a flag of truce.
"It is to this day such a common occurrence for Indian agents to assert in positive terms that the particular Indians of their
agency have not been absent from their reservation, nor engaged in making war upon the white men, when the contrary is well
known to be true, that I deem it proper to introduce one of the many instances of this kind which have fallen under my observation,
as an illustration not only of how the public, in distant sections of the country, may be misled and deceived as to the acts
and intentions of the Indians, but also of the extent to which the Indian agents themselves will proceed in attempting to
shield and defend the Indians of their particular agency. Sometimes of course the agent is the victim of deception, and no
doubt conscientiously proclaims that which he firmly believes; but I am forced, by long experience to the opinion that instances
of this kind are rare, being the exception rather than the rule. The example to which I refer, the high character and distinction
as well as the deservedly national reputation achieved by the official then in charge of the Indians against whom we were
operating, will at once absolve me from the imputation of intentionally reflecting on the integrity of his action in the matter.
The only point to occasion surprise is how an officer possessing the knowledge of the Indian character, derived from an extensive
experience on the frontier, which General Hazen could justly claim to, should be so far misled as to give the certificate of good conduct which follows. General Hazen had not only had superior opportunities for studying the Indian character, but had participated in Indian
wars, and at the very time he penned the following note he was partly disabled from the effects of an Indian wound. The government
had selected him from the large number of intelligent officers of high rank, whose services were available for the position,
and had assigned him with plenary powers to the superintendency of the Southern Indian District, a position in which almost
the entire control of all the southern tribes was vested in the occupant. If gentlemen of the experience and military education
of General Hazen, occupying the intimate and official relation to the Indians which he did, could be so readily and completely deceived as to their real character, it is not strange that the mass of the people living far from the scene of operations, and only possessing such information
as reaches them in scraps through the public press, and generally colored by interested parties, should at times entertain
extremely erronious impressions regarding the much-vexed Indian question. Now to the case in point:
"With the Osage scouts who came back from the advance with the intelligence that a party of Indians were in front, also came
a scout who stated that he was from Fort Cobb, and delivered to me a dispatch, which read as follows:
"HEADQUARTERS SOUTHERN INDIAN DISTRICT,
Fort Cobb, 9 p. m., Dec. 16, 1868.
"To the Officer commanding troops in the field:
"Indians have just brought in word that our troops today reached the Washita some twenty miles above here. I send this to
say that all the camps this side of the point reported to have been reached, are friendly, and have not been on the warpath
this season. If this reaches you, it would be well to communicate at once with Satanta or Black Eagle, chiefs of the Kiowas,
near where you now are, who will readily inform you of the position of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, also of my camp.
(Signed) "W. B. HAZEN,
"Bvt. Major General."
"Aside, however, from the question as to what their present intentions were at this time, how deserving were those Indians
of the character of good behavior which they had been shrewd enough to obtain? This certificate was dated December 16, and
stated that the camps had not been on the warpath this season.
"What were the facts? On the 27th of November, only 21 days prior to the date of this certificate, the same Indians, whose
peaceable character was vouched for so strongly, had engaged in a battle with my command by attacking it during the fight
with Black Kettle. It was in their camp that the bodies of the murdered mother and child were found, and we had followed day
by day the trail of the Kiowas and other tribes, leading us directly from the dead and mangled bodies of our comrades, slain
by them a few days previous, until we were about to overtake and punish the guilty parties, when the above communication was
received, some 40 or 50 miles from Fort Cobb, in the direction of the Washita battlefield.
"This, of itself, was conclusive evidence of the character of the tribes we were dealing with; but aside from these incontrovertible
facts, had additional evidence been needed of the openly-hostile conduct of the Kiowas and Comanches, and of their active
participation in the battle of the Washita, it is only necessary to refer to the collected testimony of Black Eagle and other
leading chiefs. This testimony was written, and was then in the hands of the agent of the Indian Bureau. It was given voluntarily
by the Indian chiefs referred to, and was taken down at the time by the Indian agents, not for the army, or with a view of
furnishing it to officers of the army, but simply for the benefit and information of the Indian Bureau. This testimony, making
due allowance for the concealment of much that would be prejudicial to the interests of the Indians, plainly states that the
Kiowas and Comanches took part in the battle of the Washita; that the former constituted a portion of the war party whose
trail I followed, and which led my command into Black Kettle’s village; and that some of the Kiowas remained in Black Kettle’s
village until the morning of the battle.
"This evidence is all contained in a report made to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs by one Philip McCusker, United States
for the Kiowa and Comanche tribes. This report was dated Fort Cobb, December 3, while the communication from General Hazen,
certifying to the friendly disposition and conduct of these tribes, was dated at the same place thirteen days later, Mah-wis-sa
also confirmed these statements, and pointed out to me, when near the battleground, the location of Satanta’s village."
In order to fully understand this question, it is necessary to explain my relations to the Indians congregated at Fort Cobb,
and my duties there.
In the autumn of 1868 I was assigned in the interest of the Peace Commission, by General Sherman, to the charge of all the
wild Indians in the region of country south of Kansas. The Kiowas (about three-fourths of the tribe) some Comanches, the Arapahoes
and Cheyennes were concentrated near Fort Larned, Kansas. The latter two tribes had commenced hostilities, which General Sheridan,
then in command of the Department of the Missouri, was anxious to chastise, while the Kiowas and Comanches professed to be
peaceful. To separate them from the tribes known to be hostile, was an important step, and very desirable, if they could be
kept out of the impending hostilities. On the 18th of September I met General Sheridan, by his invitation, at Fort Larned,
Kansas, for the purpose of holding interviews with those Indians, and on the 19th and 20th very full councils were held, all
the principal chiefs of the Kiowas there congregated, being present, which ended in an arrangement for them to go to Fort
Cobb with me and remain near there and keep out of the fight. The following is General Sheridan’s proposition on the subject.
"HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE MISSOURI,
In the Field, Ft. Larned, Kansas,
September 19, 1868.
"BVT. MAJOR GENERAL W. B. HAZEN,
In charge of locating Indians,
All, or a large portion of the Kiowa and Comanche tribes of Indians abandoned their reservation at Fort Cobb on or about the
20th of June last, and since that time have been in the vicinity of this Post, professing to be friendly, and under the existing
state of hostilities of the Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribes, occupying this same section of country, their, presence here is
very embarrassing to me and a great drawback in the prosecution of hostilities against the known hostile bands, as it is impossible
to distinguish friendly from unfriendly Indians, and
in consequence a large portion of my force is required to guard against the strong possibility that the Kiowas and Comanches
may themselves become hostile. I therefore make the following proposition: that I will furnish rations to the Kiowas and Comanches
until the 31st day of October, 1868, if they can at once return to Fort Cobb, Indian Territory, a sufficient number of their
rations to be drawn here to provide for their wants in transit, and the remainder to be drawn from Fort Arbuckle, on condition
that you can furnish from the funds in your possession enough to subsist them at Fort Cobb, from the 31st of October until
the coming spring, say April or May, 1869.
I am, etc.,
(Signed) "P. H. SHERMAN,
The following was my reply:
"Fort Larned, Kansas, Sept. 20, 1868.
MAJOR-GEN. P. H. SHERIDAN, U. S. A.,
Commndg. Dept. of the Mo.
In reply to your letter of September 19, 1868, making propositions to furnish rations to the Kiowa and Comanche Indians, etc.,
I will state that I accept the proposition so far as relates to myself, relying upon your official support when it may be
needed to carry it out. I shall accompany these Indians in person, using what influence I may have to keep them permanently
upon their reservation.
"I am, etc.,
(Signed) "W. B. HAZEN,
"In charge of Locating Indians."
It was necessary to wait a week in order to bring up a part of the rations from below, and it was arranged that the Indians
were to hunt buffalo, and at the expiration of that time, to come in, get the remainder of their rations and then set out
for Cobb. But in place of coming in again, their hunt carried them so far south, that they kept straight on to Fort Cobb.
This tended to leave the impression that they had all joined the war party. After waiting a reasonable time for their return,
I set about carrying out my part of this arrangement. But as the needs of the military service were such that but a small
escort could be given me, and the intermediate country was occupied by the hostile Cheyennes and Arapahoes, I was compelled
to keep to the less hostile country, by taking a more eastern route, making my arrival at Cobb about
two weeks later than was appointed with the Indians, or not until November 7th.
The Comanches went straight through (some 300 miles) to Fort Cobb. The Kiowas and Apaches (a small ba ad with the Kiowas)
went so near as to communicate with Cobb, and as I was not there, they believed the arrangement had failed, and moved up near
the Antelope Hills and encamped, as had been their winter custom for many years, near the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, where they
could get game, and where for many winters the tents of these bands had been pitched along the river banks for twenty miles.
They were here joined by a few scattering bands (about 20 lodges) of Kiowas and some Comanches wino were not at Larned, and
were in no way included in our agreement. They also sent a small war party under Kicking Bird to fight the Utes, and a small
raiding party under Satanta into Texas. This I have since learned. Satanta reported to me at Cobb among the first after my
arrival. Kicking Bird is acknowledged the best and most reliable chief of the Kiowas, but was the last to report at Cobb,
several days after the battle. The Kiowas remained encamped near the hostile Indians until about the 10th of November, when,
hearing of my arrival, they all, with the exception of a part of those not included in our Larned Agreement, and those absent
as explained, commenced moving down toward Cobb, and went into camp on the Washita about 20 or 30 miles above it. Their principal
chiefs, including Satanta, Lone Wolf and Satank, reporting to me at Cobb, and by the 20th of November all the principal chiefs
had reported in person, as agreed at Larned, with their men, women and children, gathered on the reservation. My camps of
Indians extended along the river for about 20 miles, on either side of Cobb, and this was necessary to give grazing to their
great number of ponies, amounting sometimes to 200 owned by one Indian. The Kiowas, from this time to the battle, came regularly
for rations. I had people in their camps daily, and they were a part of my camps and were under my protection.
Could there have been any possible doubt of my duty as to giving them protection, the following made it clear
HEADQTRS. MILITARY Div. OF THE MO.
"St. Louis, Mo., 13th Oct. 1868.
"BVT. MAJ. GEN. W. B. HAZEN,
Fort Cobb, Indian Territory.
* * * * * * * *
I want you to go to Fort Cobb and make provision for all the Indians who come there to keep out of the war, and I prefer that
no war-like proceedings be made from that quarter. * * * *
"The object is for the War and Interior Departments to afford the peaceful Indians every possible protection, support and
encouragement, whilst the troops proceed against all outside of the reservation, as hostile; and it may be that General Sheridan
will be forced to invade the reservation in pursuit of hostile Indians; if so, I will instruct him to do all he can to spare
the well-disposed; but their only safety now is in rendezvousing at Fort Cobb.
* * * * * * * *
"I remain, etc.
(Signed) "W. T. S HERMAN,
Lieut. Gen. Commndg.
HEADQTRS. MILITARY Div. OF THE MO.
St. Louis, Mo., 23rd Nov. 1868.
" GEN. W. B. HAZEN,
"Southern Indian Reservation,
Fort Cobb, Indian Territory.
* * * * * * * *
"The establishment of Gen. Hazen at Fort Cobb with Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000) and the clothing and stores which the
Indian Bureau have agreed to supply, is the result of the action of the Indian Peace Commission, which aimed to hold out the
olive branch in one hand and the sword in the other.
"Every appearance about Fort Cobb should be suggestive of an earnest desire to afford a place of refuge where the peaceable
Indians may receive food and be safe against troops, as well as against the hostile Indians who may try to involve them in
the common war.
"If you have not already notified General Sheridan of the fact that some of the Kiowas are peaceful, get word to him in some
way or other, lest he pursue them and stampede your whole family."
(Signed) "W. T. SHERMAN,
As soon as it was determined that I should go to Cobb, a captain of the army then near that point, was detailed to proceed
to Cobb and act for me until my arrival. On the 30th of October, seven days before my arrival, he reported as follows:
"FORT COBB, INDIAN TERRITORY,
"Friday night, Oct. 30, 1868.
"MAJOR JAMES P. Roy,
"6th Regt. U. S. Infantry,
"Commandg. Dist. Indian Territory.
"First,—It is certain no Comanches or Kiowas have joined the Cheyennes and Arapahoes as yet, in the hostilities north of the
Arkansas, unless it be a few unauthorized stragglers. The whole of both tribes, as such, are south of the Arkansas, within
a hundred miles of this place, at the present time, and prefer peace (with subsistence) to war. The Kiowas and Yam-pa-ri-ka.
band of the Comanches—together about 2500 souls—were the Indians who I understand were to meet Gen. Hazen at Fort Larned and
come here with him. Through fear of some trick, and from a dislike to traveling with soldiers, as they assert, they decided
among themselves not to go to Larned, but to come directly here, and they did accordingly, moving together on the direct trail
from Fort Larned to this place, till they camped and sent here to see whether Gen. Hazen was on time. Finding he was not,
and by keeping couriers out knowing that he was en route, the Kiowas, hungry, moved westward to the neighborhood of the Antelope
hills, to hunt buffalo, and they are now there. The Yam-pa-ri-ka band of Comanches remained on the Canadian, sending hunting
parties west. I yesterday sent a courier to them, and their three principal chiefs are here tonight.
"I remain very respectfully,
"Your obedient servant,
(Signed) "HENRY E. ALVORD,
"Capt. 10th Reg. Cavalry,
"A. A. I. G. for Dist. Ind. Ter."
As I will have occasion to refer to this officer’s reports again, I will here say he evinced peculiar fitness for his duties,
and his collection of facts, his principal duty, was always found to be accurate.
Much alarm was expressed by the Kiowas, who had been told by the half-breeds and others opposed to the military control of
Indians, that the gathering of them at Fort Cobb was a mere trick to get them all there and then hold them as prisoners. I
was never able to entirely disabuse them of
this idea—they were constantly seeking an explanation, and when they saw the command coming from the westward, it seemed to
them that the story told them was true, and a panic immediately seized these people, who fled toward Red River. Whether the
chiefs were honest in professing the wish to bring their camps into Cobb with the troops or not, I don’t know, but certain
it is, the panic was so great they could not have done it.
On the evening of the 16th of December, Indians commenced arriving in great trepidation, saying a large force was approaching
from the west, and they feared it might attack them, and requested me to send out and notify the commander of their peaceful
status, which I at once did, sending two of my own mounted orderlies. This is the communication published by General Custer,
and for which I have been held to so serious an account.
The entire controversy rests on the question, whether the Kiowas that were at Fort Larned were in the battle or not. To be
told that they were, with the exception of a few travelers who chanced to be staying there over night, and those perhaps who
were not, and never had been, under my control, is as preposterous as to be told that I was there myself, directing them in
the fight. I had been on the spot for nearly six weeks, with ample assistance, and our entire attention had been devoted to
these people and our knowledge of them had been very accurate. Mrs. Blinn and child, referred to in General Custer’s article
as having been found murdered in the Kiowa camp, were captured by the Arapahoes, with whom they lived until killed on the
morning of the battle by an Arapahoe in the Arapahoe camp, the Kiowas never having been in any way responsible in this case.
The whole story of this unfortunate woman and her child has been told to me a dozen times by as many different Indians, both
before and after the battle, each corroborating the story of the others, and I was on the point of rescuing her and in correspondence
with her, when the battle took place.
As direct evidence I will make the following extracts from my official records of that time, before there was the least idea
that any question would ever spring up on the subject.
"Fort Cobb, I. T., 26th Nov. 1868.
"HEADQUARTERS. SOUTHERN INDIAN DIST.
"MAJOR J. P. Roy,
Commander District I. T., Ft. Arbuckle.
"The Kiowas and Connanches have all been in and received their rations for ten days. Today they returned to their camp some
30 miles away, some of them grumbling because they could not have everything at the post."
"Very resp’y your obdt. servant,
(Signed) "W. B. HAZEN,
"Bvt. Major General."
My retained return of provisions shows that on the 26th, the date of the foregoing note, the battle being at sunrise on the
27th, 100 miles away, I issued rations to nine-tenths of all the Kiowas under my charge. And that night Satanta, Satank, Lone
Wolf and nearly all the main Kiowa chiefs slept in my tent. I had breakfast prepared for them, and they left for their camp
next morning, the 27th, about 10 or 11 o’clock, several hours after the battle was fought.
General Sheridan, in his endorsement to the Adjutant General, heretofore given, has made a grave mistake in stating that "he
followed the trail of the Kiowas directly from the battle until he overtook them." The facts are, he was not at the battle,
nor did he visit that section until December 10th, 13 days afterward, when he followed a trail, no one then knowing when it
was made, until he came up with the Kiowas. This was the main trail made by the Kiowas when first learning of my arrival at
Cobb. General Sheridan probably intended to say that he followed a trail from the battlefield, which, as evidence in this
question, is a very different matter.
As before remarked, the Kiowas had been exceedingly sensitive and timid, from the first, never appearing to have full faith
in our sincerity, and had been made all the more suspicious by the advice given them by the interpreter, John Smith, and others,
on the Arkansas, who wished to keep them there; and no sooner did the Kiowas hear of the battle—which they did on the following
night—than they flushed like a covey of partridges and ran in a southwesterly direction, where they met all the hostile tribes.
Here they all
held a council of war on the 22d of December, sending scouts to me and reporting what they had done, and after the council
they sent in a very full account of it, given by Captain Alvord as follows:
"CAMP AT OLD FORT COBB,
Monday, Dec. 7, 1868.
"SUMMARY OF INFORMATION CONCERNING HOSTILE INDIANS.
The action on the 27th near the Antelope Hills seemed to have caused the line between the friendly and hostile Indians now
in this Territory, to be distinctly drawn.
"There has been no doubt as to the status of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and the Quahada Comanches who went westward out
of reach some time ago, so that they have not been communicated with by Gen. Hazen.
"But the Kiowas and Apaches, the Costecheiteghka Commanches, and smaller bands, while professing the greatest friendship,
and frequently visiting this place, have kept their camps well up the Washita, and were until the recent engagement, really
‘on the fence.’
"Besides the Cheyennes and Arapahoes a small band of Quahada Comanches (who were not at Fort Larned) and a few Costecheiteghka
Comanches* undoubtedly participated in the fight, one of the latter being killed.
"Other Kiowa chiefs (Kicking Bird and Woman’s Heart) admit they at least lent the moral influence of their presence during
the latter part of the action, and probably acted with the hostile tribes. The latter supposition appears substantiated by
the fact that when the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, breaking camp on the Washita, moved south, Satanta, Satank and Timber Mountain,
with a fail half of the Kiowas, joined and accompanied them.
"Black Eagle and Little Wolf send word that they feel better since having this talk from the hostile camp. They assure General
Hazen that they will hold fast to him and will continue to control half the Kiowas still on the Washita. One of Black Eagle’s
men happened to be at Black Kettle’s camp at the time of the attack, but escaped and came to his own lodge very destitute.
Black Eagle refitted him entirely, and loading him with presents, sent him to the hostile camp. By him he sent a word that
he was pleased with the talk brought to him, and that he would remain on the Washita and use all his influence to prevent
hostile operations toward them, so long as they would not move his way to molest anyone, and not to go to Texas, thereby bringing
trouble on his own people. Black Eagle hopes that when his good talk reaches the Sweetwater camps, the seceding Kiowas will
rejoin his friendly party.
"At the same time that the hostile camp was established on the Sweetwater, the friendly Kiowas, Apaches and the Tannura Conianches
moved down to Washita, and are now located on the north side of that stream, at the mouth of a small creek, half a day’s ride
from this place.
"The two camps of Indians are the only ones now known to be west of this place and east of the Staked Plains. Beyond the camps
of the friendly Kiowas, etc., the valley of the Washita is not occupied by any Indians.
"The mouth of Sweetwater Creek, on the north fork of Red River, was, on the morning of December 2d, the center of a congregation
of camps, estimated as follows: 180 lodges of Arapahoes; 150 lodges of Cheyennes; 80 lodges of Kiowas, and 75 lodges of Comanches,
mostly Gostecheteghkas—about 475 lodges. The fighting men of the various camps were mostly at home at that time, averaging
very nearly one to each lodge."
"Respectfully forwarded in accordance with orders from Commanding Officer Indian Territory, based upon instructions from Headquarters
Department of the Missouri, in the Field dated Fort Hays, Kansas, October 25, 1868.
(Signed) "HENRY B. ALVORD,
"Captain 10th Cavalry
"A. A. I. G. Dist. Ind. Ter."
It was now thought by all that a large portion of the Kiowas would certainly join the hostile party, and that Satanta would
lead them; and appearances seemed to make it pretty certain that more Kiowas than had been supposed had taken a hand in the
fight. But after getting over their fright, about one-half of them under Black Eagle returned to the old camp, and as will
be seen further on, after the council of war, December 2d, many of the others with Satanta, came back also. I now made the
"Fort Cobb, I. T., Dec. 7, 1868.
"LIEUT. GEN. W. T. SHERMAN,
United States Army.
"Since my last report there have been some changes in positions of Indians. I enclose a copy of Capt. Alvord’s report, concerning
nearly everything. This is the officer who has assisted me, and now, under orders from Department Headquarters, continues
to gather the same line of information, which I find equally useful to myself and the Department Commander.
"The fight before reported has assisted me more than anything else in learning the status of these people. About half the
Kiowas under Satanta go with the hostile party, while the remainder, under Black Eagle, remain here, or rather, about 20 miles
from here, up the Washita, promising to come this way as the grass is eaten by their horses. I have never had faith in Satanta
and if he finally gets a drubbing with
the rest, it will be better for everybody. I think by large presents of coffee and sugar he might have been bought for peace,
but not for a valuable and lasting one. Black Eagle is probably sincere, and when he moves close in, as he promises, and I
can keep them from communicating with outside bands, about all will have been done that can be, until the military power has
done its work thoroughly.
"The prevailing sentiment reported by the people who have gone out to the hostile camp, is no doubt war-like and although
professing peace, will likely be found in the next fight.
"I am more strongly of the opinion than ever that General Shreridan should do his work thoroughly this winter, and that it
will then be lasting. If he can throw a sub-depot of supplies directly south of the Antelope Hills, operating from there with
cavalry, without wagons, by quickly succeeding expeditions, there can be little doubt of the result.
"To suppose the late battle decisive and cease offensive operations, would be very unfortunate. (No further military operations
of any note, however, were carried on.) The Quahadas, or Staked Plains Indians, are still on the Pecos.
A Kiowa just in from their camp reports Satanta not gone. That four inferior chiefs went with about one-third of the Kiowas
having been stampeded in the battle, and would probably all come back, and all come in. I find the Indians very sensational,
and the exact facts are hard to get.
"The Kiowas report one Bent, a half-breed guide, with the troops, in communication with the Indians, told them (the Kiowas)
that this Cobb was only a trap to get them together when they would be made prisoners, and dealt with in bad faith. This is
a part of the advice given them by John Smith and other Indian men on the Arkansas. The influence of these men is always bad.
"I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
"W. B. HAZEN,
"Bvt. Major Gen. U. S. A."
This report of the return of Satanta and about one-half of the remaining Kiowas, proved to be true, and by December 10th fully
three-fourths of the Kiowas were re-established under my care, and I assured them of our good faith as strongly as possible.
Although General Custer says it was 40 or 50 miles from Cobb to the Kiowa camp, it was called 20 miles at the fort. It was
an usual three (3) hours’ ride for a scout, and Captain Alvord, in his report, says "A half day’s ride." General Custer says
they were seven days reaching it, after leaving the battlefield, while they were but a part of two days afterward in reaching
Cobb, the whole distance being 125 miles.
This status was not interrupted, although the Kiowas never felt secure until the 16th, when the troops were first discovered
advancing from the west. This alarmed them to such an extent that the wild and more ignorant stampeded at once, so that when
the first messengers arrived at their camp from the command, most of their lodges were already packed axed on the move, many
of them ten miles away, and then they learned that Satanta and Lone Wolf were held as prisoners, they redoubled their speed.
So that, whatever may have been the intentions of the chiefs when holding their first interview with General Custer, the camps
were already in action, and as uncontrollable as a herd of scared buffalo. The sensitiveness and fright of all the Indians
belonging to my camps, was from this time until some days after the arrival of the troops, beyond all description. They all,
except the Kiowas, moved down behind my camp, sat up all night with their ponies saddled, took very little food nor allowed
their animals grazing.
I will now give in full the report of Philip McCusker, the Kiowa and Comanche interpreter, written Dec. 3d, 1868, which General
Custer says "contain all the evidence on which my (his) account is based." It is merely the transcript of an account of the
battle of the Washita as given by the Kiowa chief Black Eagle, and was subsequently found to be mainly accurate. McCusker,
in contradistinction to the statement of General Custer, "that this report was merely for the Indian Bureau," made two copies,
one for me, which I immediately forwarded to General Sherman at St. Louis, which was the first official information received
of the battle.
3d December, 1868.
"FORT COBB, INDIAN TERRITORY.
"COL. THOS. MURPHY,
Supt. of Indian Affairs.
"I have the honor to report the following, statement of Black Eagle, chief of the Kiowas, concerning an action that recently
occurred on the Washita River near the Antelope Hills, between a column of United States troops and Arapahoes and a small
party of Kiowa and Comanche Indians. On the night of the 26th November a, party of Kiowa Indians returning from an expedition
against the Utes, saw, on nearing the Antelope Hills, on the Canadian River, a large trail going south toward the Washita.
On the arrival of the Kiowas at the Cheyenne camp, they told the Cheyennes about the trail they had seen, but the Cheyennes
laughed at them. One of the Kiowas concluded to stay at the Cheyenne camp that night, and the rest of them went on their way
to their own camp, which was but a short distance off. About daylight on the morning of the 27th of November, Black Kettle’s
camp of Cheyennes containing about 30 lodges, was attacked by the United States troops. The Indians all fled towards some
other camps of Cheyennes, closely pursued by the troops. After the Indians had run a short distance, they separated into two
parties, the braves and young women who were fleet of foot, taking to the right, and the young and infirm taking to the left,
and running into some brush, where they were soon surrounded by the soldiers. The other party of Indians, who ran to the right,
and among whom was one Kiowa, were hotly pursued by a party of eighteen Soldiers, who were all riding gray horses. They overtook
and killed some of the Indians, when they were met by a large party of Indians who had rallied from the other camps. Here
a short action took place—both parties fighting desperately—when an Arapaho brave rushed in, and with his own hands struck
down three soldiers, when he was shot through the head and instantly killed. Here the soldiers all dismounted and tied their
horses. About this time a Cheyenne brave rushed in and struck down two soldiers, when he was shot through the leg, breaking
it, and knocking him off his horse. The Indians then made a desperate charge and succeeded in killing the whole party of eighteen
men. Then they rushed down to the rescue of the party that the troops had surrounded first, but found that they were all killed
or taken prisoners. By this time the soldiers had collected together a large number of Cheyenne horses which were all shot.
The Indians then attacked the troops, who dismounted and commenced to retreat slowly. The Indians also dismounted and took
every advantage of cover, getting ahead of the troops and ambushing them whenever possible. They continued fighting this way
until near night, the soldiers slowly retreating until they met their wagon train, when the Indians retired. The troops did
not commence the retreat until the second day, both parties holding the battle ground. The Indians report having counted 28
soldiers killed, and acknowledge a loss of 11 Cheyenne men killed, including Black Kettle. The Arapahoes had three men killed;
they also had a great many women and children killed in both tribes, as well as a great many taken prisoners. One Comanche
boy was badly wounded. The Kiowas report one Osage Indian killed, supposed to have been a guide for the troops.
"Black Eagle says he does not vouch for the correctness of this report, but that the above statement is just as he heard it.
"P. S.—Since writing the above, I learn from a runner who has just got in, that the Cheyenne loss in men is much greater than
first reported. They also report a loss of 37 prisoners, probably women and children.
"The above statement is respectfully submitted for your information.
(Signed) "PHILIP MCCUSKER,
"United States Interpreter
for Kiowas and Comanches."
If there is anything in this report that in the least militates with the account I have given, I have not been able to find
it. That there were a few Kiowas and Comanches in the Cheyenne camp is not strange nor unnatural, nor that they should have
joined in repelling an attack—by whom they knew not—nor did my letter of warning not to attack the Kiowas mean that no individual
Indian of the Kiowa camp had been on the warpath that season, nor would that fact affect my duty toward the camp.
I remained on duty in charge of these Indians at that point until the succeeding July, seeking every available opportunity
of getting fresh information upon all these points from fresh sources, and have listened to not less than fifty accounts of
the battle of the Washita, from different individuals belonging to every tribe in that country, and in not a single account
have their statements failed to agree with the account here given. There was neither contradiction nor interference, nor have
I subsequently been led to doubt the accuracy of Indian information upon these subjects in a single instance.
McCusker possesses, in a most remarkable degree, a knowledge of Indian character, and a keen and penetrating comprehension
of the motives and causes that control these people, beyond any person I have ever known, and his views do not differ from
those given here, as will be seen in his statement.
I had spent several days with General Sheridan before going to Cobb, and there was the most perfect accord in our purposes.
It was above all things requisite and agreed upon that Fort Cobb should not be made a place where, under the shadow of an
Indian agency, those Indians requiring punishment could shield themselves when chastisement drew near. And it was perfectly
understood that while I did all in my power to keep those Indians, included in our agreement at Larned from going to war,
I should leave those at war to be dealt with by the military authorities and this I held to most strictly.
The command never seemed to comprehend what they were endeavoring to do. In warning them not to attack the Kiowas, I was not
only doing an unmistakable duty, but warning them from a dreadful mistake that never could be recti-
fied. General Custer had no cause to suppose my views of Indian matters were opposed to severe measures. The following was
my recommendation to the Government upon the subject in 1866, and my views have never changed. General Crook is the only officer
who has ever had the opportunity to act upon a similar theory. It is as follows
"Allot to each tribe, arbitrarily, its territory or reservation, and make vigorous war upon all those who do not remain on
them. If necessary give them food and clothing, but no implements of war."—Ex. Doc. No. 45, 39th Congress, 2d session. And
I repeatedly urged the need of vigorous offensive operations, while General Custer was at Fort Cobb.
The humane element of the country, then in the ascendant upon the Indian question, was already greatly exercised by the death
of Black Kettle, and had I not sent notice, as I did, after the Indians themselves had requested me to do so, and any portions
of my camps with their women and children, been attacked, an investigation would certainly have followed. The facts I have
here given would all have been shown. I would have lost my commission, for a most gross neglect of duty while the military
force would have been judged in any way different from Chivington’s, only that he had no part in bringing the Indians together
at Sand Creek, with their women and children in promised security. That the Kiowas have at all times richly deserved the severest
punishment, I have constantly maintained, but punishment under such circumstances as it was desired to inflict it on the 17th
day of December, 1868, while they were resting under the most sacred promise of protection, I could never assent to.
I had no military command at Fort Cobb and when in the spring, the raids into Texas were commenced, and I made requisitions
on the officer in command for forces, giving the names of Indians who had gone, he declined to aid me. I was soon after relieved
from Indian duty.
I will append direct statements upon the question of the Kiowas being in the battle of the Washita, of the four men who had
the best opportunity of knowing the facts respecting it. Two of these men were Gen. Custer’s own witnesses, and are all men
of known integrity.
CAPTAIN ALVORD’S STATEMENT.
Easthampton, Mass., April 4, 1874.
COL. W. B. HAZEN, 6TH REGT. INF.
Bvt. Major Gen. U. S. Army.
In your letter of the 2d of March, just received, you ask me to answer the question—"Were the Indians who came from Fort Larned,
as a people engaged in the battle of the Washita?" (Indian Ty. Nov. 27, 1868.) .
As you know, I was at that time Captain 10th regiment of Cavalry, and had been for over a month on special duty at old Fort
Cobb), on the Washita River, gathering and holding in that vicinity until your arrival to take charge of them, such of the
Comanches, Kiowas and other Indians of that part of the country as were got allied with the Cheyennes in their hostilities
At that date of the "battle of the Washita" you had arrived at Fort Cobb, and I was remaining both to assist you at the commencement
of your new duties, and to gather and forward, under orders, to the Commanding General Department of the Missouri, semi-weekly
reports of Indian information. For this purpose I had some days before, organized and secretly put into service, a small corps
of Comanche scouts, who proved thoroughly reliable in their reports from the very first. Efficient interpreters were also
From these circumstances I was, on the 27th of November, 1868, well acquainted with nearly all the chiefs and headmen of the
Indians in the western half of the Indian Territory, and reliably informed as to their expressed sentiments, their apparent
intentions, the location of their camps, their consulations and generally of the movements and conduct of themselves or their
people. Thus I am enabled to give the following answer to your question
The Kiowas, as a tribe, including those who came from Larned, were not, in any number, engaged in the battle of the Washita.
Some of the earliest and most disinterested accounts of that affair, and in my opinion, the most accurate, came from friendly
Indians, and were subsequently fully corroborated as to the participants on the Indian side. These united in the statement
that but one Kiowa was killed in action—he was a casual visitor at the camp of Black Kettle, a returning hunter or runner,
who merely happened to pass that way with the Cheyennes. And no reliable report ever reached us of there being any number
of Kiowas engaged in the fight. We know that the Kiowa chiefs and the greater portion of their people received their rations
in person from us at Fort Cobb only the day before, and on the night of Nov. 26th the camp of the entire tribe was much nearer
ours than to that of the Cheyennes. It was a ride of some hours, from the Kiowa camp to the scene of the battle, and using
every moment from the first alarm, but few, if any, could have reached the place during the progress
of the conflict. My best information was to the effect that a few Kiowas witnessed the closing scene, but that none reached
the ground in time to take any part in the action.
This is written from memory only, and may, in some minor points, be incorrect, but not essentially.
My "Notes of Indian Affairs," kept at that time, with all the papers bearing on the subject, are at present out of my reach—in
my old army desk in Virginia—but I will obtain them as soon as possible, and if you desire it, make an unquestionably accurate
statement in detail of the order of events on the Washita in November and December, 1868—that period so memeorable[sic] in
the Indian affairs of the Southwest.
Your obedient servant,
HENRY E. ALVORD.
STATEMENT OF JAMES N. DUNHAM.
St. Louis, Mo., April 8, 1874.
GEN. W. B. HAZEN,
Comdg. Fort Buford, D. T.
Yours of March 2d, requesting information relative to the battle on the Washita between the U. S. troops and the Arapahoe
and Cheyenne Indians, has been received. In answer I would respectfully state that at the time I had the honor to be your
clerk, and that to my certain knowledge the principal bands of the Kiowa tribe, viz: Satank, Satanta, Lone Wolf, Black Eagle,
Little Hearts and Timber Mountain were at Fort Cobb, and in the vicinity for more than a week previously to the battle of
the Washita. I, by your order, issued rations to them on the 25th or 26th of November. These head-men had their followers
and their families with them, and Satanta, Lone Wolf, Timber Mountain and Black Eagle made our tents their headquarters, and
slept in our tent and messed with us. None of the leading Kiowa men could have been engaged in the battle of the Washita.
I traded with the Arapahoes and Cheyennes during the winters of ’70 and ’71, and have frequently conversed with the leading
chiefs about the battle. Knowing it was thought by the troops that some of the Kiowa were in the battle, I asked them if it
was so. They invariably answered that none of the Kiowas took any part in the battle, but that after the arrest of Lone Wolf
and Satanta by General Custer, the Kiowas were stampeded and thought the Government had broken faith with them, for in all
the councils that we had with them you had always promised that they should not be molested if they remained on the reservation
and kept out of the war. The arrest of Satanta and Lone Wolf caused great dissatisfaction, and made not only the Kiowas, but
the Comanches, very distrustful; and the confidence which you, by your firmness and straightforward dealing had infused into
them, has never to this day been re-established. Previous to their arrest and confinement we had the influential men of both
and their families camped at Fort Cobb, and in the vicinity on the Washita, in daily communication with us, and they were
all strong advocates of peace. After the battle and the arrest of Satanta and Lone Wolf, the tribes were divided and scattered,
and some of them never came in to the post till months afterwards.
"Very respectfully yours,
JAMES N. DUNHAM.
H. P. JONES’ STATEMENT.
"FORT SILL, May 4, 1874.
GEN’L. W. B. HAZEN.
Dear Sir: In reply to yours of March 2d, in reference to the location of the Kiowas at the time of the battle of the Washita,
I would state that most, if not all of them, were camped at the mouth of Rainy Mountain Creek, 15 or 16 miles above old Fort
Cobb, and for some time previous. The following chiefs had been drawing rations at Fort Cobb: Satanta, Lone Wolf, Black Eagle,
Timbered Mountain, Woman Heart, Little Heart, Satank and other head-men.
According to my recollection these chiefs were issued to two days previous of our hearing of the battle of the Washita. I
am certain there were no Kiowas at the battle of the Washita, except a party of six or seven young men who were on their return
from an expedition against the Utes or Navahoes, and who happened to lodge with Black Kettle the night previous to the attack.
At that time I was employed by military authority as interpreter, and stationed at Fort Cobb. Through my constant intercourse
with the Indians I was enabled to know of their whereabouts, and also was the first to hear or report the news of the battle.
It was at least 65 or 70 miles from the Kiowa camps to the battleground, and General Custer’s attack was a complete surprise
to the Cheyennes. There was no opportunity to send runners to the Kiowas, though I have no doubt of the willingness of the
Kiowas, had they the information, to have been on hand.
I know I have stated nothing but facts.
H. P. JONES,
U. S. Interpreter.
PHILIP MGCUSKER’S STATEMENT.
"CHEYENNE AND ARAPAHOE INDIAN AGENCY,
July 19, 1874.
MY DEAR GEN. HAZEN:
In reply to your letter of July 7th, I have the honor to make the following statement:
Previous to the close of the Grand Council, held at Medicine Lodge, Kansas, in October, 1867, I was appointed U. S. interpreter
for the Kiowas
and Comanches, by the president of the council, the Hon. N. G. Taylor, Commissioner of Indian Affairs. My instructions from
the Commissioner were to remain in the Indian camps, and report promtply[sic] to the Commissioner any movement on the part
of the Indians tending to disturb the friendly relations established between them and the people of the U. S. While acting
in that capacity, and by virtue of that appointment, I reported to you at Fort Cobb in November, ’68, and by you was assigned
to duty as interpreter for all the Indians who were then encamped near Fort Cobb. At this time I had lived with the Indians
in their camps for eight years, and I knew, and (was) known personally by every chief and head-man of the Kiowas and Comanches
and the Apaches who roam with those tribes.
Soon after the close of the council at Medicine Lodge, the Kiowas, Comanches and Apaches instead of remaining on their reservation
at peace as they had promised, deliberately violated all their pledges of friendship, and made many murderous raids into Texas—murdering
many men, women and children, and carrying many of the latter into captivity, some of whom were with great difficulty ransomed
with large sums of money and, goods; many children dying on their way to the Indian camps, and some few were never given up,
but have grown up among the Indians, the latter saying they were dead.
As fast as I learned the particulars of these outrages, I reported them promptly to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs,
and to the Commissioner, and urged that some steps be taken to punish the guilty parties; knowing them at that time as well
as I did, there would have been no difficulty in proving them guilty.
On your assuming charge of the Kiowas and Comanches, I took the earliest opportunity of laying the foregoing facts before
you for your information and guidance, and was glad to hear that it was your determination to punish all Indians who could
be guilty of murder committed since the last treaty of ’67. You said it was your intention to give them a fair trial, and
when the murder or other crimes could be clearly proven, you would then have them punished as white men were punished for
the same crimes; and further, that you intended to teach them that present immunity from punishment would not excuse or shield
them, but that they would be punished for their crimes no matter what length of time might have passed between the commission
of the crime and the apprehension.
This I regarded as the only intelligent solution of the Indian question, and had your plan been carried out, the many murders
and outrages that had been committed in the last five years would never have happened, and the Indian war that has just commenced
would never have begun.
I have been particular in making the foregoing statement in order that you may know just how I have always felt toward the
people. I have many friends among the Comanches and a few among the Kiowas, yet I have never made excuses for their crimes,
but have on all occasions represented the matter just as it was, to the officers of the post, and strongly urged the justice
of punishing them.
When General Sheridan took the field in the fall of ’68, the Kiowas and Comanches were not considered hostile, as their depredations
had been confined more particularly to Texas, and had not attracted such general notice as the depredations committed in Kansas.
Their actual status was unknown to General Sheridan, and they were not included in the hostiles. This, I think, was the first
mistake of the campaign. They should have been included with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes. I was already at Fort Cobb when
the Kiowas arrived there, late in October, ’68. A large party of Comanches preceded them there. Captain Alvord issued rations
to them until you arrived. Captain Alvord issued rations to the Kiowas several times, and I was present at all the issues.
I recollect distinctly what Kiowa chiefs were there at the issue of rations on the 26th day of November. There were present
Lone Wolf, Satank and Timbered Mountain—these three remained in your tent all night; they slept there. Besides these there
were Satank, Black Eagle, Sytimore, Fish-a-More, Little Heart, Wolf Captain and Er-mope. (It is not certain where Kicking
Bird was.) These at that time were considered to be all the head-men of the Kiowas except Big Bow and Tohau-son, who had about
30 lodges with them, and were encamped near the Cheyennes and Arapahoes, and were present with those tribes in the battle;
but these Kiowas never came to Fort Cobb, but moved south and west with the Cheyennes and Arapahoes.
Now as these chiefs whose names I have given, and who were under your care at Cobb, were present at the issue of the 26th,
and as General Custer surprised the camp on the following morning, it was impossible for them to be there; they no doubt would
have gone, had they known Custer was coming—that is, some of their young men. But they heard of the fight and Custer’s retreat
simultaneously, and it was the first news they had from there.
Mou-wi, a Comanche chief, brought in the first news we got from an eye-witness. Black Eagle of the Kiowas, got the story from
some of his relatives, who were with Big Bow. As I said before, the party of Kiowas who were present at the battle of the
Washita, never came to Fort Cobb, and were not of your camps. The party with Big Bow has been hostile ever since.
On the approach of General Sheridan the Kiowas stampeded—not because they had been in the battle of the Washita, but, like
all wild Indians, they were alarmed at the approach of so large a body of troops, knowing they had destroyed a Cheyenne village
a short time before. A small village of Comanches stampeded in the same way, but fortunately ran into Evans’ command of the
3d Cavalry, who burned their village and killed one of their worst men.
I make the above statement from my own personal knowledge. The facts in regard to the whereabouts of the Kiowas on the 26th
and 27th of November, 1868, were well known to the commanding officers at the time, and also to all other persons who were
at Cobb, and they all know that the above is a true statement.
"I am very respectfully,
W. B. HAZEN.
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