THE records of the white
man’s history make small account, if any, of the injustice meted the red
man. Its “talking leaves” are nearly always those of the forked tongue.
Many and many an Indian battle has been misrepresented in the narration
of the details and in the account of the cause. I personally know this
statement to be fact. I have particularly in mind the events that led up
to the so-called *'battle” of the Washita:
In the autumn of 1868 a
band of soldiers in Kansas raided a peaceful village of Cheyennes. The
women were forced to endure the most fiendish treatment before they—like
the children and the men—were horribly mangled. They were attacked and
killed simply because they were Indians. This is the truth.
When the news of the
massacre reached the tribes camped at Fort Dodge and Fort Lamed, they
were so filled with rage and resentment they started immediately on the
warpath—quite as the white men would have done under like circumstances.
It was just before the
time of the big buffalo hunt, when General Philip Sheridan, Commanding
Officer of the Department of the Southwest, sent a Caddo Indian—Caddo
George—with a message to the Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Kiowas, Comanches and
The message said that it
was the wish of the Great Father at Washington that there should be no
more war, and that if they would come in and camp on the Washita River,
there would be peace.
At this the people were
glad. They had been chased across the plains for several successive
summers by the soldiers, and at the prospect of living in peace,
undisturbed even for a season, there was general rejoicing among the
So, after a successful
hunt, they went into camp on the Washita. Everything was made snug and
comfortable before the approach of cold weather, and without fear of
disturbance from the soldiers—for had not the messenger brought the word
direct from General Sheridan?
There was nothing to do
but to enjoy. The young men gave themselves up to singing and dancing at
night and to dreaming in the daytime; the old men to telling stories of
the days before the intruding white man came, and to playing their games
in the fireglow; while the merry laughter of children at play and the
voices of happy women at work, all spoke of peace and good will. Even
the savage dogs became amiable from much feeding, and the boniest ponies
grew fat from plenty of grass.
In every tepee were fire
and meat and merry hearts.
Came a north wind. It
made the water of the river hard. It shook snow from its wings. But the
fires burned the brighter, the robes were drawn the closer, and the
laughter was all the cheerier.
My foster-mother, whose
mother was a Cheyenne, had taken us children on a visit to the Cheyenne
camp but a short distance up the river. There was a feast in
Grandmother’s tepee while the wind howled and the snow swirled and
drifted and the sparks flew upward.
It was far into the night
when the camp grew quiet and the fires grew dim and I snuggled down
under the soft robes close to Mother. I fell asleep thinking of the fun
I would have with the boys on the morrow, when the sun should reach the
place of short shadow.
Crack! Crack! Crash!
Crash! came shots and volleys mingled with strange shouts. The warriors
in our tepee sprang up, with ready guns in hand. Their practised ears
told them at once the dread meaning of it all.
Hastily buckling on their
belts, they gave their war cries and plunged out into the snow to meet
the invading enemy. For a little while the women remained with us
children in the tepee. But guns and voices grew louder, came nearer, and
the shouts of soldiers and the screams of women and children mingled
with the flash and crash of guns, the clatter of horses, the twang of
bowstrings and the defiant whoops of the surprised but stout-hearted
warriors. The camp was in the death grapple. The soldiers fought for
glory; the Indians for home and loved ones.
Bullets whizzed through
the tepee and Mother pushed us children out of it ahead of her so that
none should be left behind.
In the snow, which was
waist deep to me, I became separated from her and the others in the
confusion, and I lost my robe. A soldier on horseback came dashing
toward me, and I dived under a pile of brush. His gun blazed as he
passed me. The noise was carried on farther down the river but I lay
still, shivering from the cold—I was naked but for a small piece of
blanket about my loins.
Calling to the women and
children came an old warrior with his arm dangling at his side. I
crawled out to him.
“Come on, boy,” he said,
“we’ll go yonder with the women and children and die with them.”
He took me to Mother and
the other children. He had gathered a number of them into a little clump
of trees. I huddled down between Mother’s knees and she wrapped the
bottom of her robe about me. I was just beginning to feel warm, when
little See-Seh —Arrow-head, my foster-brother—fell limply against me.
Mother took him in her arms. The blood was trickling from his breast. As
he was dying she called to the other women,
“The soldiers are going
to kill us all. Let us go upon the long trail with a song.”
They joined in the death
chant while women and children were struck down all about us.
The few survivors were
finally driven off like a herd of animals. A man on muleback drove us,
and he swung and lashed out at us with a lariat all the way to the place
where Custer sat upon his horse and waited.
My own father, California
Joe, was General Custer’s chief of scouts in that fight, and I believe
it was he who drove us.
We huddled down again in
the snow, and watched the smoke and fire coming from the tepees. The
soldiers were destroying them, together with the provisions and the
After a while there was
the sound of many guns at some distance from us. We thought the soldiers
were killing the warriors whom they had taken prisoners; but they were
only shooting the horses. They killed nearly a thousand.
It must have been in the
afternoon when the soldiers started us down the river. I walked a while,
but my feet were frozen and my whole body was so numb, that I fell down
in a snowdrift. My older brother, Tsaeepahgo (One Horse), took me upon
his back and carried me. When Mother saw how cold I was, so cold that I
could scarcely cling to his neck, she took the robe from her shoulders
and wrapped it around me. Otherwise I might never have come through the
In history—the white
man’s history—the “Battle of the Washita” is called a great victory. But
that is always the way. White men’s massacres of Indians are always
victories; Indian victories over white men always massacres. Indian
strategy is treachery; white men’s treachery, strategy.
Eight years later General
Custer led the Seventh Cavalry into the Sioux country to do to them what
he did to our people. The outcome of that raid is alluded to as “The
Custer Massacre.” It was not a massacre. It was a battle and an Indian
victory. Chief Gaul simply outgeneralled Custer, and in defending their
families and their homes, the warriors did to the invading white men
exactly what the invading white men would have done to them.
But if ever there was a
massacre of human beings under heaven, it was in our camp on the
Washita, on November 27, 1868, when one hundred and three men, women and
children were killed, after being promised peace and safety. But one
side of the Indian’s story has been told, and that side the white man’s.
So it is my belief that the foregoing true account of the facts has
never before been written.
We had nothing to eat on
the day of the battle and at night we slept in the snow without fire. On
and on the soldiers drove us through the snow while the children moaned
and the women bit back their grief-cries for the sake of the men, who
walked along,, grim-faced and silent.
My frozen feet were so
sore and swollen, I could not stand. The older boys carried me until
finally we reached Fort Cobb. Here we remained all winter closely
guarded by soldiers.
Spring came and my feet
were well. One day as I was playing in the warm sunshine, two white men
came along and looked at me fiercely. One of them grabbed me by the arm.
Wolf-like I snapped my teeth upon his hand, and bit and scratched with
all of my might, until with an exclamation he gave me a slap and let me
go. I ran into the brush and hid until darkness fell, then crept to
Mother and told her what had happened. She cautioned me to keep away
from the white men. They would either kill me or steal me, she said.
Instead, they caught me
one day, took me to an officer’s tent and brought Mother there. After a
long talk between the Indians and the officers, I learned that I was to
be taken away among the white people, for it was felt certain I was a
captive. Finally they found Indians who told of the Kiowa raid and of
the death of my own mother. From their description of our cabin and its
location, an old scout identified me. Then I was told that, within a few
days, I would be handed over to my own father—California Joe.
I did not know my father.
I did not want to go. I could not find my foster-father, Zepkhoeete. I
seemed to belong nowhere, to nobody. I wanted to creep away like a
wounded coyote, and die.
When I again saw my
foster-father, I was no longer a child; and never, since the day they
took me from her, have I seen my good foster-mother who sacrificed so
much for me.
At the ranch to which
they took me, I soon grew heartsick for the camp. It was with great
difficulty that they could make me understand them when they talked to
me, and I could not make them understand me.
I slept out by the
corral. One night the call of the camp was too strong. I mounted a good
horse and hit the trail leading northward.
On the second day I fell
in with a number of Indians returning from a raid with several good
horses and other booty. They were the most peculiar looking lot I had
ever seen. They called themselves Estizeddelebe—Brave, Dangerous People.
At first they did not
seem inclined to allow me to stay with them, but one of the young
warriors whose language I did not understand took my part. As I was not
particular where I went, so long as I did not have to return to the
white people, I accompanied my new friends to their camp. It was at the
foot of some big mountains.
A glad surprise awaited
me there. I found the parents of Nacoomee and Nacoomee herself—the
little playmate of my childhood days.