7/3/2019 3:19:00 PM Fourth of July celebration tempered by sad news in 1876
Ron Kuecker Outdoors Columnist
The nation was preparing for the big 100-year celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence from the British. Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin had combined all their eloquence and the Continental Congress had approved the document. Bells rang, fireworks exploded, as the famous declaration was recited the first time in Philadelphia in 1776, sometime around July 4. Then, in 1876, everyone, especially on the east coast, was readying for the big centennial. Along came news of a great defeat on the frontier of Montana. The U.S. Army's 7th Cavalry, under the command of Colonel George Armstrong Custer had lost his life and a huge battle to the combined Indian tribes of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho. Outraged by this, our government and new media began calling it a massacre, which it really wasn't. Custer had 12 companies under his regimented command, five under his direct company command, three under Major Reno, three under Capt. Benteen and one controlled the mule pack train. All of Custer's direct command were killed by the reservation escaped Indians, who were attacked by the colonel. Of the 700 soldiers in his regimented command, 268 were killed. So, in that sense, not a massacre. Certainly there was a last stand hill when the soldiers and Custer fought bravely to the end. Often thought too reckless, it needs to be remembered that Custer lost his two brothers, a brother-in-law and a nephew in the battle. It is hard to believe he would have been careless with their lives at stake. In any event, the joy and celebration atmosphere that all had looked forward too, had an awfully wet blanket thrown over it. Our nation then responded with 100's of thousands more troops as we gradually conquered the western tribes using Civil War tactics. It was not a pretty sight, I'm sure. Lead up to Little Bighorn There were a couple of battles that led up to the one on the Little Bighorn many have forgotten about. To think there was not a connection one has to believe there was no oral transmission between tribes. In fact there was plenty of spoken talk between the tribes despite some differences in language. One such incident was the Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. In response to some Indian attacks in the eastern part of that state, John Chivington, a former Civil War general, was put in charge of a militia. They decided to attack not only the warriors but to destroy their camps; women, children and the elderly. A quote from Chivington reveals how violent the one time Methodist pastor and freemason really was when a few of his officers opposed his planned tactics. Dee Brown, author of 18 books on the western Indian wars, passed along Chivington's outrageous comment, "Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians!" "I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians." So it was, in late November, 1864, that nearly 700 troopers surprised a band of Arapaho and southern Cheyennes. They killed and mutilated nearly the entire encampment, even though it was headed by Chief Black Kettle, one of the most peace loving of those tribes. Black Kettle escaped miraculously only to meet his demise at the hands of . . . Custer's seventh cavalry at the Battle of Washita. Washita River Black Kettle resumed leadership of a group of Southern Cheyennes. He set up a winter camp along the Washita River in Oklahoma territory. He continued his efforts to avoid war with the whites while trying to achieve a guarantee from the U.S. government that they would honor their pledges to give them good hunting lands so they could provide for themselves. But General Sheridan, who commanded the entire western army, instead expanded the western Indian wars. He went after them in their winter camps. He assigned Custer to carry out an attack on such camps and he attacked Black Kettle camp. Here lies the second of the most ferocious of attacks by our cavalry on the women, children, elders and warriors. They killed them all and when it was over they rounded up their horses and shot them one at a time. Provisions such as precious buffalo meat and stored roots of plants like turnips were burned to the ground along with all the teepees. The armies were ruthless, many of their ranks filled by Civil War veterans that wanted to continue fighting. And so, Colonel Custer wiped out Black Kettle's camp, this time killing the peaceful chief and his wife as they tried to escape on horseback. Both shot in the back. If you think those stories weren't passed along to the northern Cheyenne and Lakota camped on the Little Bighorn that hot July of 1976 is a huge underestimation of the spoken word. Part of the declaration It is ironic when we read the declaration, the Indians were doing nothing more than what we declared. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations . . . evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right and duty to throw off such government.