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Chapter 8 Victory and Defeat
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Chapter 8
Victory and Defeat

The Demise of Bent's Old Fort

After the brief, abortive uprising in 1847, there was never again a serious challenge to American political control of New Mexico. New Mexico society had been poised on the brink of modernity for some

time before 1846, with much of its populace eager for the plunge. The

lack of resistance during the Mexican War in New Mexico evidenced a willingness to take "initial steps away from a traditional politics of piety and proverb" and to get on with a modern agenda, which would include "the overthrow of established ruling classes, the popularization of legitimacy, the rationalization of public administration, the rise of modem elites, [and] the spread of literacy. and mass communications," as Clifford Geertz has said of the movement of society from a grounding in religion to one in ideology.[1] A middle class soon developed there, the New Mexicans having learned from their trade with the Americans many of the skills of modernity, along with the ideology that would drive them to employ and further hone these skills. All of this would be maintained because the basis for continuing exchange was now assured.

Ironically, victory for the United States brought ultimate defeat to the two groups that had probably played the largest role in the transfer of political power in the Southwest. The successful conquest of New Mexico by the United States, which Bent & St. Vrain, particularly Charles Bent, had worked so hard to assist, opened the area to new interests that would destroy the company and drive out William Bent's adopted people, the Cheyenne.

The principals of Bent & St. Vrain Company were not completely


responsible for either their success or their undoing. Equally, they were neither the masterminds nor the pawns of a conscious scheme to produce the domination of more traditional cultures by a more modern one. In their behavior they were as opportunistic as a biological species as it interacts with its environment. They were not merely traders in fine furs or buffalo hides. They were involved with every sort of economic activity available to them: selling oxen to immigrants for their wagons, selling provisions to the military, buying horses from the Cheyenne and other Plains groups who had stolen them during raids in New Mexico, selling goods in their stores in Taos and Santa Fe, trading Navajo and Mexican blankets to the Cheyenne, bringing Mexican silver to St. Louis, and so on. They were also involved in every sort of social arrangement available to them: they took Native American and Mexican wives, acted as guardians for children of friends, were active in secret societies, did all they could to make and influence powerful friends in Santa Fe (evidenced by Charles Bent's frequent letters to Alvarez), and cultivated similar associations with sources of credit and politicians in the East.

In this range of behavior, we see the somewhat frenzied activity of the "Big Man," an example taken from a "primitive" society found among the tribes of New Guinea that Mary Douglas identified as being high-grid, low-group, and ego-centered (as is, of course, modern society).[2] Big Men have no authority other than moral. They live in a society that has neither hereditary nor formally elected chiefs. The organization of the society is accomplished in large part by the efforts of Big Men to "make moka," that is, to cajol, convince, or coerce other members of their society into participating in ritual pig feasts and the elaborate preparations for such feasts. Said Roy A. Rappaport in his classic study, Pigs for the Ancestors, "Big men tend to be wealthy, tend to be shamans, and tend to be in possession of knowledge of rituals concerned with fighting."[3] But since they are self-appointed and have no formal status as leaders, their lives are not without frustration. Rappaport told of one aspiring Big Man who, unable to inspire a following and after working alone for three days on the building of a ritual structure, complained "bitterly to those who passed by about the worthlessness of Tsembaga men, their sole interest being gardening and copulating."[4] As this example suggests, they are often frustrated, but nonetheless work ceaselessly in order to be a "player" in the important dramas of their world, as the current phrase has it.

The Bents and Ceran St. Vrain were not unlike Big Men, in some obvious ways. They held no power other than what they negotiated by means of ceaseless business and social activities and what I would suggest to be


their intuitive deftness with ritual. In these ways, nonetheless, they helped greatly to inculcate the modem order in the Southwest.

Their talents were not magical, however, and they could not see into the future. They could not see that the networks of kinship and fictive kinship they had established would be coopted by the central forces of the United States. Aligning their interests with those of the federal government surely appeared sensible. The government would be a powerful ally. Moreover, they probably believed in the values associated with the United States. And, to be accurate, it was almost certainly not the U.S. government's intention to bring tragedy to the principals of Bent & St. Vrain Company and their Cheyenne and Arapaho allies.

Politicians in the government, backed by business interests, wanted to expand the boundaries of the United States for a variety of reasons. Some of these were probably not well understood by even those who stood to gain most, at least from our modern point of view. Economic, political, and ideological motivations were perhaps only slightly less mixed than what Marcel Mauss would have described as the "total social phenomena" characteristic of "traditional" societies; this is well expressed in the phrase "Manifest Destiny."

But those who rushed into the newly acquired territory did not engage in the same sorts of ritual interactions between Native Americans and Anglos as had been an essential part of the fur trade. Without such continuing ritual, there was no way to reconcile different values and beliefs, or work out common meanings. As we shall see, without a means by which to humanize the Native Americans to the newcomers who streamed to Colorado and New Mexico after the Mexican War, the Native Americans remained foreign and worse: They were the demons of this strange and unformed land.

Richard White, in his recent book about the fur trade in the Great Lakes region from 1650 until 1815, emphasized that when Native Americans and Europeans first met, they "regarded each other as alien, as other, as virtually non-human."[5] The point of his history is that over the course of their involvement together, they developed "the shared meanings and practices of the middle ground."[6] White saw both the formation and the loss of the "middle ground" as aspects of a power struggle. He said, "The real crisis and final dissolution of this world came when Indians ceased to have the power to force whites onto the middle ground. Then the desire of whites to dictate the terms of accommodation could be given its head. As a consequence, the middle ground eroded."[7] What the Indians lost here was the ability to claim "a common humanity in a shared world."[8]


Establishment of the grounds for a shared humanity is a part of the essential orientation of each individual to the world, which is really, from a phenomenological point of view (and from a sociological one, I might add), the world of human events. Deciding just who is not human, who is, and to what degree, is a preoccupation among all peoples. This is reflected in many ways, beginning with the fact that virtually all linguistic groups have as their name for themselves a term that they, themselves, translate to something similar to "the humans" or "the people." A few examples among a very great number include the Y'amana (meaning "men" or "humans") of Tierra del Fuego; the Cheyenne, who call themselves tsis tsis' tas ("the people"); the Kapauku Papuans of New Guinea, who refer to themselves as Me ("the people"); and the Innupiat (meaning "the genuine people") tribe of the Eskimo.

As A. R. Radcliff-Brown observed about the aboriginal tribes in Australia, "in western Australia the first question always asked of a stranger is who is your father's father?"[9] The fact that lineage is a virtual obsession among "primitive" peoples is unchallenged by anthropologists. This is so because it is among the most basic ways of ordering the world. It determines what one's responsibilities are, what one's role is, and what one's proper behavior should be toward another. This acts to fix one's place within the social universe.

Fictive kinship, established by ritual, is important precisely because it makes the unknown known. It transforms the unformed, potentially dangerous other into an ally and a known quantity: a fellow human. The aborigine's question, recorded by Radcliff-Brown, is a clue as to how this is accomplished. Ritual provides the opportunity for joint participation in the reenactment of the behaviors of the ancestors or gods. If one's father's father turns out not to be the same as that of the other person's, a mythological ancestor will serve as well to establish a kinship relation—in this case a fictive kinship relation.

Richard White's argument concerning the development of "shared meanings and practices" does not explicitly present a social mechanism by which this is accomplished. I offer ritual exchange as just that mechanism. As described previously, the calumet ceremony established fictive kinship relations, set mutual obligations, and often generated the affective response that encouraged internalization of shared values and beliefs within the traditional culture. I see participation in exchange ritual, on both the Native American and the Anglo sides, as less a matter of contending for power than of grasping a perceived opportunity for enhancement of "self" in the two increasingly individualistic and "ego-centered" cultures.


What eventually transpired between the Plains Indians and the Anglos arriving in the southwestern Plains from the eastern United States in the middle of the nineteenth century has been called by some a tragic misunderstanding. It was this, but it also was simply a fatal overreaction on the part of the newcomers. The misunderstanding and subsequent hysteria resulted from erosion of what White aptly termed the "middle ground" that the individuals involved with Bent & St. Vrain Company had established. This area of understanding could not be maintained in the absence of ritual interaction, which disappeared with the fur trade. Severe problems between Anglos and Native Americans arose with the war. The increased military activity of the Mexican War had been unsettling to the Plains Indians, and after its successful conclusion, they could see that the way had been paved for many more newcomers, with whom they would not relate as they had with the Bents. The unrest among the Native Americans provoked an increased U.S. military presence, which, perhaps because the military was especially inept, further upset the Native Americans.

The cholera epidemic of 1849, along with the deteriorating conditions for trade, prompted the abandonment of Bent's Old Fort in that year. The stability. that had been maintained on this ritual ground for almost two decades was gone. In this chapter we look carefully at these events and, especially, the apocalyptic end to the relationship between the Anglos and the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes brought about by the attenuation of ritual interchange between the two groups.

Securing New Mexico

With the American occupation of New Mexico in 1846, the United States government moved to secure the area by repacifying the Santa Fe Trail. The Comanche had recently become much more aggressive than they had been over the previous decade or so. The Kiowa had also been troublesome, although they had given late assurance that they intended to mend their ways. Further east, the Pawnee presented a constant threat to travelers on the Santa Fe Trail. Near Bent's Old Fort, the Cheyenne and Arapaho were at peace with the Americans, but given the obvious instability of relations between the numerous interests in the area in this time of change, the government feared that they might become hostile. The government was concerned that it had become overex-


tended, with a huge new area to control and few troops with which to accomplish this. General Kearny's army had moved on; it had been a ragtag organization in any case. In a few years this unsettled climate would contribute to the demise of Bent's Old Fort, and the removal of this frontier institution would further destabilize the area.

Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton, the eloquent proponent of both frontier trade and Manifest Destiny, had proposed to Congress in April 1846 that it create an Indian agency to deal with the tribes of the Upper Platte and Arkansas rivers. With the beginning of the war in May, Congress assented. The famous trapper, trader, and guide Thomas Fitzpatrick, who had previously been associated with Bent & St. Vrain Company, was appointed as an Indian agent and was stationed at Bent's Old Fort. His duties here were to begin as soon as he was released from his service with General Kearny.

The crux of the problem, as Fitzpatrick saw it, was that the Indians had nothing to lose and everything to gain with their attacks on the Santa Fe Trail traffic. The Indians, of course, were not new to warfare and raiding; on the contrary, their long history of such activities had produced many social reinforcements for such behavior. In a letter he wrote to his immediate superior in St. Louis just after assuming his post, Fitzpatrick asserted that the Indians would continue their attacks until the United States proved its ability to punish "some of the worst and most troublesome tribes." This had not been done so far. Indian attacks against troops were at least as successful as those against the wagon trains of traders. The traders had to be knowledgeable about defensive measures in order to stay in business. The army, in contrast, seemed to have an endless supply of untrained troops and continued to make the same defensive errors. In a spring letter to his supervisor, Fitzpatrick had this comment about a recent incident on the Santa Fe Trail:

When we see a government train of wagons manned and in charge of 44 men armed and equipped by the United States travelling across the Plains to New Mexico, and allow a band of savages to enter their lines—cut the harnesses off all the mules, and take them away, amounting to 170—kill and wound 3 or 4 men—destroy and burn up some of the wagons, and all this with impunity and without losing a single man, it is hard to foster what may be attempted next.[10]

What most in the area were concerned about was that the situation would further deteriorate. Seeing the successes of the Comanche, the Cheyenne and Arapaho might be inspired to take a share of the booty


that seemed so readily available on the trail. Unless offending Indians groups could be punished, so wrote Fitzpatrick in his first letter to his superior, they would never "invent other means of gaining a livelihood besides plundering and murdering their fellow human beings." If they could be discouraged from such activities, "Such a course would be the first great step to the settlement, and civilization of the wild and roaming tribes."[11]

Fitzpatrick was destined only to experience frustration in this regard. The troops supplied for the pacification of the Indians were for the most part recent immigrants. Many of them were Germans who spoke no English and were terrified of the Indians, who were like no humans they had ever encountered. These troops, incompetent in battle and impulsive in their dealings with the Native Americans, frequently made bad situations worse. A disheartening example of this occurred at Fort Mann, late in 1847. In the absence of Colonel William Gilpin, Captain William Pelzer, an emigrant volunteer, was left in command of the post. Fitzpatrick later reported that Captain Pelzer and his troops had been so fearful of Indians on their march to Fort Mann that "it required some vigilance and constant watching to prevent them from killing or attempting to kill every Indian they met on the road."[12] Unfortunately, after Colonel Gilpin left, a party of sixty-five Pawnee appeared at the fort, and four leaders rode to the gate with a white flag. When they were in the fort, it was discovered that several hundred more Pawnee were across the river. The fearful Captain Pelzer attempted to take the four leaders hostage, but when the Indians realized what was happening, they tried to escape. Orders were given to fire on them and, as a witness reported,

such a scene of confusion as ensued I never before witnessed . . . the men were firing in every direction. Two of the Indians were killed and a great many wounded. Three of the Indians failed to make their escape through the gate, and ran into Capt. Pelzer's quarters—a guard was placed at the door to prevent their escape. One of their number being bolder than the rest, rushed by the guard, passed the gate, and was shot some forty yards from the Fort. The two Indians who remained in Pelzer's quarters, were afterwards unceremoniously shot.[13]

A hearing the next year decided that, though great damage had been done to U.S. Indian relations, Captain Pelzer had acted out of ignorance rather than premeditation. He and four others were permitted to resign. This was done in spite of the fact that the Pawnee had been assured that the guilty would be punished.[14]


1849: The Gold Rush

Because of their association with the Bents, the Cheyenne and Arapaho had enjoyed relative stability, as compared to the other Plains Native American groups in the vicinity, until the outbreak of war with Mexico in 1846. The next few years after the war saw confusion and unrest. The year 1849 ushered in even greater chaos, which had a terrible effect upon these two groups. The sudden mass of forty-niners that swarmed through the Plains eroded the resources there and thereby strained relations with the Indians. But worse, the forty-niners brought cholera.

That summer the Pawnee lost eleven hundred people, swept off "like chaff before the wind." In about early June the cholera epidemic found the Cheyenne who lost about half of their tribe. Berthrong described it this way:

While the Cheyennes moved south from the Platte Rivers, men and women were stricken by "big cramps," or cholera, fell from their horses in agony, and died. They fled in terror all the way to the Arkansas River, and slowly the epidemic abated. At Bent's Fort the Cheyennes joined a peace enclave and celebrated the cessation of hostilities between the Kiowas and Osages. During the dances, a Kiowa warrior and an Osage dropped to the ground clutching their stomachs. Soon the tribes were in flight. . .. Ceran St. Vrain informed the Indian agent at Santa Fe that never had he seen a "worse state" of affairs during all of his time in the Southwest.[15]

This cholera epidemic was the deciding blow to Bent's Old Fort. It seems possible that the cholera was contracted by the Indians at Bent's Old Fort, since the epidemic struck while the tribes were there. Certainly, for the next few years, the Plains Indians gave the site of the fort a wide berth. The general trend had been a decline in revenues for some years, but 1848 had been profitable. Since the war, though, the Comanche and even some of the Arapaho had been openly hostile to the Bents; now, their principal trading partners, the Cheyenne, were devastated by cholera. Because of this, there was probably no real trade in 1849. One cannot discount William Bent's psychological condition when considering why he abandoned his fort in late August of that year. He had lost his brother Charles during the brief revolt in Taos in 1847. Shortly thereafter, his wife, Owl Woman, died giving birth to their fourth child. He was angry at the United States Army for refusing to pay what he considered just com-


pensation for their use of Bent's Fort during the Mexican War. Now, half of his adopted people, the Cheyenne, were dead because of the cholera epidemic. And war parties ranged the countryside. William Bent's world was falling down around him. With the abandonment and destruction of his fort, he was in one way or another acting out this collapse.

The fort's presence was soon missed. Officials at all levels of the Indian Agency were convinced that a treaty with the unsettled tribes was vitally needed. The appropriate place for the gathering of tribes, of course, would have been Bent's Old Fort.

Beginning on September 8, 1851, treaty talks were held, instead, at Fort Laramie. Attending were most of the Plains tribes from north of the Arkansas, including the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Sioux, Shoshoni, Crow, Assiniboin, Minnitaree, and Arikira. The southern tribes would not attend, being reluctant to journey through a land inhabited by "such notorious horse thieves as the Sioux and the Crow"—nonetheless, the number of Native Americans gathered at Fort Laramie was estimated at ten thousand.[16]

Indian Superintendent D. D. Mitchell told the assembled throng that the great father wanted safety for his white children as they passed through the Indian's territory and the right to build forts there. He asked that each tribe select a chief who would control and take responsibility for his people. The great father wanted to assign a territory where each tribe could live and hunt. With this initiative, based in the modern practices of segmentation and private ownership, the settling of nomadic groups began.

It was a festive gathering, although threatened a few times with the outbreak of violence between groups harboring grudges. Tribes feasted each other and adopted each other's children. Jesuit priests baptized many, including 253 Cheyenne infants. There were impressive displays of horsemanship and dances. Many gifts were exchanged, although the treaty goods were three days late in arriving. In the end, most tribes, like the Cheyenne, were assigned to roughly the area they were frequenting at the time of the parlay. Tribes were not actually restricted to those lands but could hunt and fish where they had been accustomed to doing so. The Treaty of Fort Laramie was the first land treaty for the Cheyenne, and most of the other groups as well. We can see in this an attempt to reinstate the relative stability that the area had known during the existence of Bent's Old Fort.

The treaty was accompanied by ritual (the exchange of gifts, feasting, smoking peace pipes) and included explicit promises of long-term recip-


rocal obligations. The rituals, however, involved only a few representatives of the federal government. Meaningful exchange did not extend to the masses of Easterners now streaming to and across the Plains. The Native Americans remained unknown and terrifying to the immigrants, as the immigrants did to the Native Americans.

The government promised the tribes a total of fifty thousand dollars each year for fifty years (later reduced to ten years by Congress) in compensation for the destruction of buffalo.[17] A similar treaty was signed with the southern groups, the Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa-Apache in July of 1853. These developments were probably an inspiration to William Bent to build his new fort at Big Timbers. In the winter of 1852-53, stone cutters began preparing the masonry for his new trading post.

In 1853, however, Thomas Fitzpatrick wrote that the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux were actually starving: "They are in abject want of food half the year. . .. Their women are pinched with want and their children constantly crying out with hunger."[18] The killing of buffalo and the disruption to trade were beginning to take a heavy toll. More disruption to the nomadic way of life of the Plains Indians rapidly followed. The Treaty of Fort Laramie, as benign as it might have seemed to the Native Americans at first, signaled the advance of surveying parties, increased immigration, and the construction of army posts.

During the next decade, the world that the Cheyenne inhabited became increasingly hostile to them. Immigrants and settlers pressed in. Berthrong noted that "during the 1853 season, fifteen thousand Americans moved past Fort Laramie, destroying game and bringing diseases to the Indians."[19] When the Cheyenne pressed back, the army engaged in punitive expeditions.

One tragic chain of events began in 1854, only months after the Treaty of Fort Laramie was signed. Irritated by increasing numbers of Anglos coming into their territory on the Santa Fe Trail, some Miniconjous Sioux decided to interrupt the flow of newcomers by taking control of a ferryboat near Fort Laramie. Soldiers were sent from the fort to recover the boat. During this operation, the Sioux shot at the sergeant leading the detachment. Word of this was carried back to the fort. Lieutenant Hugh B. Fleming then decided to lead a larger detachment back to the Sioux, demanding that the Sioux who fired the shot be turned over to them. A skirmish developed in which three Miniconjous Sioux warriors were killed, three were wounded, and two were taken prisoner.

Later, a Sioux warrior angry with the Anglos for the casualties taken during this skirmish shot arrows at a Mormon emigrant. Although he


missed the Mormon he killed the Mormon's cow. When word of this reached Lieutenant Fleming, he dispatched Lieutenant John L. Gratten with twenty-nine men and one interpreter to bring in the remaining group of Miniconjous Sioux. Lieutenant Gratten had boasted earlier in the year that with thirty men he could defeat the whole Cheyenne nation. Here was his opportunity to demonstrate the accuracy of his judgment. After a brief but fruitless parley, Gratten attacked, employing two howitzers. The Sioux camp, though, contained not only Miniconjous but Brulé Sioux. In the fight that followed, twenty-eight of the soldiers were killed. Lieutenant Gratten's body was found with twenty-four arrows in it and could be identified only by his watch. In retaliation for the "Gratten Massacre," Colonel William S. Harney led six hundred troops from Fort Kearny in the following year to a camp that had been identified by the new Indian agent in the area as that of the hostiles. Little Thunder, a chief implicated in the Gratten incident, tried to talk the soldiers out of attacking, but to no avail. The soldiers killed at least eighty-six men, women, and children, wounded five persons, and took seventy women and children prisoner.[20]

This pattern—confusion and then conflict leading to retaliation and escalating violence that culminated in inevitable tragedy for the Native Americans as a much superior force was brought into the fray—was repeated. "Peace" might follow, but only briefly, until the resentment and bitterness engendered by the pacification produced yet another incident. The bitterness would quickly spread to other Native American groups, even those not involved with the trouble. For example, after defeating the Sioux, Harney took advantage of his presence as a superior force in the area to make demands of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. If they did not withdraw from the Platte route, hunt only on their own land, and make peace with the Pawnee and Sioux, Harney would "sweep them from the face of the earth."[21] In the face of mounting violence, the military. could only respond as they had been trained to do, with force.

Anxiety surely increased with each passing year, perhaps with each month. Such anxiety played a role in the increasing intertribal conflict during this same period. Such fighting quickly acted synergistically with the escalating skirmishes between the Anglos and Indians. Relations between the Cheyenne and Arapaho on one side and the Pawnee on the other, for example, were generally hostile and had grown worse after a Cheyenne defeat in 1853 by the Pawnee. The Cheyenne were made even more aggressive by another terrible loss in 1854. In this debacle, an intertribal force that included not only Cheyenne, but also Arapaho, Kiowa, Comanche,


Sioux, Osage, and Crow had started after the Pawnee, but on the way had encountered a hunting party, of Sac, Fox, and Potawatomi. Eastern Indians such as these were extraordinarily well armed and, unlike the Plains Indians, used rifles with skill and in carefully coordinated movements. They inflicted a great number of casualties on the Plains Indian war party.

By 1856, the Cheyenne were back in the vicinity of the Platte, looking for Pawnee and eager to avenge these two defeats. The Cheyenne, of course, had been ordered out of this area by Colonel Harney. Soon enough, the Cheyenne found trouble—but not with the Pawnee, who had been intimidated enough by the Cheyenne presence to forgo their annual buffalo hunt in the Platte River area. Instead, some young Cheyenne warriors encountered a mail wagon, stopped it, and asked the driver for tobacco. The driver panicked. After drawing his pistol and firing, he whipped his horses in a desperate attempt to flee. He did not escape, though, before being wounded in the arm by an arrow.

The young men were chastised by their elders for their rash action, but this, of course, did nothing to stop the by now familiar chain of events from proceeding, having been set in motion in this case by the aspiring warriors' lust for glory. The driver had made his escape into Fort Kearny, and soldiers there responded in alarm. The Cheyenne were tracked to a camp on the Platte, where ten of them were killed and eight to ten more wounded.

Thoroughly enraged, the Cheyenne attacked with a vengeance at three locations along the Platte River route. During one attack on a four-wagon train, Almon W. Babitt, secretary of the Utah territory, two other men, and one child were killed. The child's mother was carried off and later killed. Such actions, of course, only seemed to confirm the immigrants' fears that the Plains Indians were savages.

In 1857, William Bent warned the Cheyenne of an army expedition being prepared against them. The Cheyenne were still angry at their own losses and told him of their strategy, to scatter into small bands between the Arkansas and Platte rivers, and to "kill all they want, and get plenty of white women for prisoners."[22]

The American retaliation for the attacks along the Platte River route was led by Colonel William Vos Sumner in late July 1857. His force of about four hundred cavalry and infantry, with four mountain howitzers, found the Cheyenne camped along the Republican River. The Cheyenne had, therefore, made no attempt to escape, despite what they earlier told William Bent. By this time, they had been convinced by their medicine man, Dark, that the white man's bullets could not harm them. Confident in the power derived from the medicine man's dream, they rode directly at the


soldiers. For reasons that remain unknown, Colonel Sumner executed an extremely unusual maneuver at this stage of the battle—a saber charge. The Cheyennes were confounded by this. Their protection was from white bullets, but what about sabers? As the cavalry drew close, the Cheyenne broke and fled. Casualties on both sides were few, but Cheyenne pride was severely damaged.[23] This put the Indians in an even worse temper.

There occurred in 1858 and 1859 a lull in the hostilities. The immediate cause for this cessation of violence was probably the influence of the Cheyenne's old friend William Bent. Having interceded between the Anglos and Native Americans on a number of recent occasions, he was appointed Indian agent in the summer of 1859. But events were to occur that same year that made peace a forlorn hope, even given Bent's ties to the Cheyenne. Bent's position in the Anglo world had deteriorated drastically over the last decade. Where he had been liminal, he was now regarded as marginal by the Eastern immigrants. He could no longer mediate between the modern and traditional worlds.

Before proceeding to those events that in the later nineteenth century finally cast the Cheyenne, the other Plains tribes, and most of the Native American population of the United States into the role of unmitigated and incorrigible villains to the settlers of the West, it might be well to pause. It is from about this time in Cheyenne history that one of the persistent, ahistorical images of the American Indian has been taken. The Cheyenne were still hunting buffalo, still free (that is, had not yet been placed upon reservations), still relying upon the bow and arrow for warring and raiding.[24] The Indian agent for the Upper Arkansas Agency in 1855 described his charges in this way:

The total population of the agency numbered 11,470, in which number were included 3,150 Cheyennes and 2,400 Arapahos. From their camps on the South Platte and Arkansas Rivers, the Cheyenne could field a force of 900 warriors and their allies, the Arapahos, 500. The Cheyennes lived in 350 lodges and possessed seventeen thousand horses. The Cheyenne enjoyed an income of $15,000 from the 40,000 buffalo, 3,000 elk, 25,000 deer, and 2,000 bear killed annually whose skins and hides were the staples in their exchanges with the traders.[25]

This picture faded rapidly. Up until 1858, gold seekers had generally only traversed the trails through what would become the Colorado Territory. But in the spring of that year, a small quantity of gold was found in the areas around the Platte and, in the words of George Bent (William Bent's son by Owl Woman), "the whole frontier was thrown into excitement. In Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, and Iowa, thousands of men


began to prepare to set out for the mountains in the following spring. . .. The Indians . . . did not understand this rush of white men and thought the whites were crazy."[26] During the winter of 1858-1859, prospectors moved quickly to acquire title to Cheyenne and Arapaho lands.

William Bent could not hope to maintain peace for long. His evaluation appeared in the Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1859:

The concourse of whites is therefore constantly swelling, and incapable of control or restraint by the government. This suggests a policy of promptly rescuing the Indians, and withdrawing them from contact with the whites. . .. These numerous and warlike Indians, pressed all around by the Texans, by the settlers of the gold region, by the advancing people of Kansas, and from the Platte, are already compressed into a small circle of territory, destitute of food, and itself bisected athwart by a constantly marching line of immigrants. A desperate war of starvation and extinction is therefore imminent and inevitable, unless prompt measures shall prevent it.[27]

While Bent acted as Indian agent, he pressed for an adequate reservation for the Cheyenne and Arapaho: the entire Fontaine-qui-bouille and Arkansas River region above Bent's Fort. But a treaty was not finalized until Bent was replaced by Colonel Albert G. Boone. There is no evidence that Colonel Boone did not have the best interests of the Cheyenne and Arapaho at heart. Unfortunately, however, he may have lacked influence in the eventual treaty, or he may have overestimated the ability to teach an entirely new way of life to the Cheyenne and Arapaho and their willingness to learn a new way of life. Whatever the circumstances of its manufacture, the 1861 Treaty of Fort Wise soon proved to be only a legalistic maneuver on the part of the American government to disenfranchise the Indians of the lands they had inhabited before the arrival of the Americans on the scene.

Signed by many of the major chiefs (though they quite often denied their signature later), the treaty indicated that the Indians agreed to give up their claims to most of their lands. What remained to them was a barren part of southeastern Colorado Territory with little game. The treaty also promised $15,000 a year to each tribe for fifteen years and assistance in learning and adopting a sedentary way of life. Stock, agricultural implements, mechanic shops, and dwelling houses were to be purchased with a portion of their yearly monetary allotment. Interpreters, millers, farmers, and mechanics to help them learn the skills needed for this new lifestyle were also to be provided.[28]


Defending the Southwest from Confederate Invasion

More devastating than even this treaty for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, and all of the Native American groups on the southwestern Plains, was the coming of the Civil War to the West. At about the same time the Treaty of Fort Wise was being negotiated, a Confederate army began a long march from El Paso, Texas, with the aim of securing the western territories to the Southern cause. This force met with success, quickly capturing first Albuquerque and then Santa Fe. The next objective was Colorado. The Confederate invasion of Colorado was checked only by superbly executed defensive maneuvers in 1862, one of which involved moving a regiment of Colorado volunteers into position at Fort Union more rapidly than the Confederates could reasonably expect. Linking up with Union forces in New Mexico, the Union troops blocked the Confederate advance at La Glorietta Pass, in a battle sometimes called the Gettysburg of the West.

The Colorado volunteers were a rugged and unruly lot of miners and mountain men, well-practiced in brawling and violence. Fierce once the battle was joined, discipline was a problem in the days leading up to action. That hard discipline was provided by a Major John M. Chivington. Commissioned as a chaplain, he had requested that he be allowed to fight rather than pray. Historic accounts indicate that he presented a formidable physical presence, being over six feet tall and 250 pounds, with a bull neck and a barrel chest. An acquaintance described him as "the most perfect figure of a man he had ever seen in a uniform."[29] Before he would leave military service, he would be marked as a candidate for the United States Congress by the statehood party in Colorado, the Republicans. Eventually, his name would be inextricably linked with the atrocities against the Cheyenne that occurred at Sand Creek, known for a time as the Chivington Massacre.

At the Battle of Glorietta Pass, though, Chivington exhibited all of the characteristics that made him stand out as a military leader.[30] During the first day of the battle, at Apache Canyon, he hurled his volunteers against the Confederates, riding to the heart of the fray as volley after volley of fire was directed at him as the ranking officer. Miraculously, he was not touched. Later, he moved decisively to exploit a vulnerability in the Confederate array of forces, which he discovered while attempting to flank the


rebels. Coming across eighty-five Confederate wagons and five to six hundred horses and mules, Chivington quickly evaluated the situation and discovered that these represented the entire number of supplies of the Confederate forces—left unattended. Laying waste to these supplies, Chivington not only won the battle but sent the Confederate forces fleeing back to El Paso.

Red Rebels as Red Devils: Allies to Enemies

As the Civil War increasingly demanded the attention and resources of the Colorado Territory, unruly Native American groups came to be identified more closely with the enemy, the Confederacy. Unlike the fur traders who had come before, the newest inhabitants of the territory engaged in no constructive exchange with the Native Americans. On the contrary, given the well-publicized skirmishes between whites and Native Americans, most newcomers regarded any contact at all as something to be avoided. For their part, the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other Plains tribes understood what the mounting traffic on trails, the telegraph lines, and the construction of railroads meant to them. It meant that the buffalo would be killed or would move away, and that they would no longer be able to use the lands through which these "improvements" were placed.

By 1862, a new Indian agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho, S. G. Colley, had discovered that, no matter what the older, less aggressive and warlike chiefs had agreed to in last year's treaty, these groups were finding it difficult to adopt a radically different way of life. As Berthrong paraphrased Colley: "A few mixed-blood Cheyennes could farm, but full bloods could or would not engage in a way of life whose duties, by tradition, devolved upon women. Hoe corn, cultivate gardens—no self-respecting warrior could stand the derision of his comrades even for presents of the agent's approbation."[31]

The newcomers to Colorado Territory, the Anglos, felt themselves to be in a perilous situation. Threatened by restless and increasingly hostile Indians, they could expect little protection as all available military forces were occupied in staving off the threat to the territory from the Confederacy. It seemed a good idea to be conciliatory to the Indians under these circumstances, as the new agent Colley recommended. Colley organized delegations from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, and


Caddoe to be sent to Washington in the spring of 1863. There they met with President Abraham Lincoln. This trip was probably intended not only to strengthen friendship between the Native Americans and the Americans but also to demonstrate to the Indian leadership just how many of these white men there were, and how vast and powerful their civilization was.

Such gestures were no more effective in arresting the increasing level of violence than were the peace medals that were occasionally presented to tribal leaders. This was not the meaningful day-to-day interaction of the fur trade. Only some more elderly individuals were influenced by tokens of friendship and could see the inevitability, of the new ways of life brought to their land by the whites.

Such elders, though they were leaders, could no longer prevent aggressive acts by young warriors. Native American leadership was based, for the most part, on consensus, and consensus beyond the band and clan level was difficult even in relatively tranquil times, and these times were turbulent. Furthermore, a way of life had developed that valued an extreme form of individualism. Each man acted as his own agent and had as his goal the accumulation of glory, largely through counting coup. Bands in disagreement with the leadership of larger groups often followed a course of action set by themselves.

On the American side, there were also obstacles to peace. There was little control over the daily actions of the rough miners who now flooded the territory. The greatest of all obstacles, though, was the political leadership of the new territories, which was ambitious for statehood and personal influence. This leadership saw the Native Americans as an impediment to the establishment of a more settled way of life and as an ally to the Confederate invaders. However sincere the desire for peace on the part of federal leaders like Lincoln, in the climate of the Civil War local leadership held sway. Washington had to tread carefully; it could not be seen as interfering with local affairs. The Indian issue could not threaten the cohesion of the Union. And at the local level, by 1863, the political leadership and their agents in the militia spoke occasionally about the inevitability of extermination.

Friction between Native Americans and Anglos in the new territory, of Colorado took many forms. A special Indian agent, H. T. Ketcham, was appalled at much of what he observed in the spring of 1864. He saw, for example, an Anglo man hit an Indian in the face with an empty whiskey bottle because the Indian had been watching "wistfully and longingly" as he drank. In a letter to Governor Evans, Ketcham said:


While citizens and soldiers are permitted to enter their villages with whiskey in day time & at night; to make the men drunk & cohabit with the squaws, disseminating venerial [sic ] diseases among them; while the Commanding Officer at the Post [Fort Larned] continues to get drunk every, day & insult and abuse the leading men of the Tribes, & make prostitutes of their women; you cannot expect to have any permanent peace with these Indians.[32]

Such treatment of the Native Americans was common, increasingly so as tension mounted. Some Native Americans responded to this treatment with violence. At times this violence was strategic, as when telegraph poles were chopped down and burned or when railroad track was torn up. These strikes at the modern infrastructure reinforced the idea that the Indians were acting as Confederate agents. (Further proof for this was seen in that the "Six Civilized Tribes" of the Southeast had actually signed a treaty, with the Confederates.)

The beginning of the final and most intense phase of conflict between the Anglos and the Indians on the southwestern Plains could probably be set in 1864. Attempts to drive Anglos from the territory now amounted to terrorism; responses to this by the Anglos took the form of atrocities. The struggle became a ritualistic denial of human status to the enemy.

The incident that most greatly damaged the Native American cause was called the Hungate Affair. According to a story that became legend in the Colorado Territory, Nathan Ward Hungate was working several miles from his home with a hired hand named Miller on June 11, 1864, when he observed smoke and flames rising from his house. Fearing Indians, Miller rode to Denver for help, but Hungate could not be restrained from rushing to the immediate aid of his family. When help finally arrived, they found the Hungate place devastated, all the buildings burnt to the ground and the stock gone. The bodies of Hungate's wife and two young daughters were found first. Hungate's wife had been stabbed and scalped, and "the body bore evidence of having been violated." The daughters, one four years old, the other an infant, had their throats cut, "their heads being nearly severed from their bodies." Hungate himself was found the next day. His corpse was "horribly mutilated and the scalp was torn off."[33]

The bodies were taken to Denver, to the center of town where the City Hall would eventually be built. Put on display in the back of a wagon, with the children arranged between the two parents, "everybody" saw the remains. In this way, the nightmare of even, settler in this troubled place and time was given palpable form. Fear and anger heightened to panic. In a politically popular move, Governor John Evans went directly to the secretary of war, saying in a letter, that "Indian hostilities in our settle-


ments commenced, as per information given you last fall" and demanding the provision of troops or the authority to enlist them.[34]

A few days later, the rumor of an impending Indian attack swept through Denver. Women and children were rushed to secure locations, where they stayed through the night and into the next day. As a witness remarked, "Few houses in the city had been locked that night and many were left with doors and windows open and lamps burned within. But so general was the belief in a fast approaching death, or a still worse fate, that no thieving was done."[35]

In this time of uncertainty and real danger, when concerted effort among a group of new arrivals from diverse backgrounds was essential, the Anglo citizens of the new territory were able to achieve solidarity against what was now regarded as a demonic force from outside the universe of humans. The earlier Anglo arrivals, most notably William Bent and Kit Carson, did what they could to stem the rising tide of hysteria and counsel their friends, the Cheyenne and Arapaho, to avoid what could only be a losing war against the Anglo invaders.

William Bent had probably seen the hysteria coming as early as 1853 when he sent his children by his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman, to Westport, Missouri, to live with his old compatriot, Albert Boone, and be educated there. Certainly he could see the racism emerging from the friction between the newly arriving miners and settlers on one side and the Native Americans on the other. In contrast to this, the attitude of Bent's contemporaries, the trappers and traders, resembled pluralistic egalitarianism.

The tide of history, however, did not allow Bent to isolate his children from the emerging civil struggle. Western Missouri was full of Confederate sympathizers. William's son George, being of the appropriate age, soon enlisted in the Confederate State Guard, in the cavalry, and fought to keep the Union out of the western part of the state. His brother Charles, though too young to do so legally, also enlisted in the Confederate forces but was released when his age was discovered. When the Union succeeded in taking western Missouri, federal soldiers searched out those with Confederate leanings. Among those suspect were Bent's other children, including his daughter, Mary, who had married an Anglo businessman and was by now quite entrenched in Anglo society. Nonetheless, the home of Mary and her husband was twice attacked, federal looters destroying or taking all property that could be moved. Having no other refuge, Mary, her husband, and children went to live with her mother's people, the Cheyenne.[36] George, Julia, and Charles, too, eventually found that they had no other place to go than back to the Cheyenne. George was cap-


tured during the Confederate retreat from Corinth, Mississippi. His father's influence kept him out of a prisoner of war camp, but George was forced to promise that he would take no further part in the war.

Sand Creek

Thus it was that three of William Bent's children, George, Julia, and Charles, were at Sand Creek in the Cheyenne camp attacked by Colonel Chivington on the morning of November 29, 1864. William Bent's other child by Owl Woman, Robert, acted as a guide for Chivington's troops, after having been told by Chivington that he would be shot if he refused.[37] There was no reason to doubt Chivington, who had demonstrated several times his capacity to order summary executions.

Chivington had prepared his attack carefully. He employed the sort of men he had used to such good effect at La Glorietta Pass—"volunteers," that is, not professional soldiers. The men in his Third Regiment of Colorado Volunteer Cavalry were largely "hundred-day men," men from the dregs of Colorado society who enlisted for about three months. These mining camp toughs and gamblers were not even issued uniforms. Many of the officers were elected by the men and had little control over them. Chivington marched this force to Booneville, near Fort Lyon and Bent's New Fort, and stopped all travel and mail downriver in order to prevent word from reaching Bent or others who might warn the Cheyenne of the impending attack. Then he moved on to throw a line of sentries around Bent's New Fort, thus preventing anyone from leaving until the attack on Sand Creek had been completed.

On the evening of November 28, the Third Colorado Cavalry, along with part of the Fort Lyon garrison force, a total variously estimated to be between 650 and 1,000 men, left the vicinity of Bent's New Fort and Fort Lyon, arriving at Sand Creek the next morning.[38] During the night, Robert Bent had led the force through a shallow lake. He may have been attempting to ruin the paper cartridges used by some of the soldiers.

At first light, both the Colorado Third, brought to the scene by Chivington, and the Colorado First, provided by Major Scott J. Anthony from Fort Lyon, were in position. The Cheyenne were unsuspecting, having been told by Major Anthony some days before to go to Sand Creek and wait while he passed on their petitions for peace, made at Bent's New Fort, to those with authority enough to act upon them.


Three companies charged across the creek to cut off the village from the main herd of Cheyenne horses. Colonel Chivington directed the troops into position, shouting for them to "remember the murdered women and children on the Platte!"[39] Firing commenced on the village. Small arms and cannon using grape shot and canister were employed.

Accounts of what transpired next are available from many sources. In letters that George Hyde eventually compiled into a kind of autobiography, George Bent wrote of the battle.[40] Panels of inquiry, later took testimony from many of those present at Sand Creek on that day. From this evidence, and from contemporary evaluation of that evidence, it is possible to piece together fairly certain knowledge about a number of aspects concerning the massacre.[41]

At the approach of the troops, and even after firing had begun, the Cheyenne leadership, specifically Black Kettle and White Antelope, were reassuring their people that they would be safe. These individuals had good reason to believe this because of their recent discussions with the soldiers at Fort Lyon, and the fact that they had met with Governor Evans of Colorado Territory and many high-ranking political and military leaders just two months before. In both cases, the Cheyenne were asking for peace, in the face of a number of incidents involving attacks on white persons or their property that had recently transpired. As the troops approached, Black Kettle stood in front of the village, holding a large American flag that had been attached to a lodgepole. White flags were also raised, and for a time Cheyenne clustered around these for protection. As the soldiers continued to attack, killing men, women, and children, and shooting into lodges indiscriminately, White Antelope, who had been urging peace with the whites, decided, in George Bent's words, that "he did not wish to live any longer." He stood in front of his lodge with his arms folded across his breast, singing his death-song:

Nothing lives long
Only the earth and the mountains.[42]

The soldiers were under orders from Chivington to take no prisoners. In one case, three soldiers took turns shooting at a child of about three years of age who was walking through sand approximately seventy-five yards away, making a sort of game out of it, until one of them succeeded in shooting him. There were numerous other instances of women and children being killed after the heat of the battle. Lieutenant Harry Richmond of the Colorado Third came upon three women and five children


being held prisoner, whereupon he killed and scalped them all while they screamed for mercy. A boy of about eight was discovered alive beneath many dead Cheyenne in a trench, and a major of the Third Regiment shot him in the head with a pistol. Jack Smith, a half-breed, was executed after Chivington himself indicated that this should be done.

Finally, the bodies of the dead were horribly mutilated. Many witnesses reported that all the bodies they saw, including women and children, were scalped. A number of people said that White Antelope was not only scalped, but that his nose, cars, and testicles (which were used for a tobacco pouch) were cut off. Others told of the butchery of women and the display of their "private parts" and, in one case, a heart on sticks. Rings, it was said, were obtained by cutting off fingers. A man who claimed that Jack Smith had been killed accidentally while looking at a gun, admitted, nonetheless, that "some of the boys dragged the body out onto the prairie and hauled it about for a considerable time."[43]

Charles Bent was captured with Jack Smith, and the Denver volunteers were eager to execute him, too. Some New Mexican scouts who had been garrisoned at Fort Lyon and who knew the Bent family protected him only by threatening to shoot the Denver men. George and Julia Bent escaped the slaughter by running up the bed of Sand Creek along with about half of the Cheyenne and Arapaho who had been camped there. While the firing continued, they dug pits with their hands and huddled in them for cover. George had been wounded in the hip. When the soldiers withdrew to search for other Indian camps, George and Julia along with the other survivors moved further up the creek bed, "the blood frozen on our wounded and half-naked bodies," as George described it.[44] They proceeded for only a few miles before the wounded and the women and children could go no further. Bivouacking on the open plain, there commenced what George Bent called the worst night of his life. It was bitterly cold and windy. Those who had not been wounded worked feverishly to gather handfuls of dried grass for fires that would keep the wounded and the children from freezing. Relatives and friends of the missing crept back to the Sand Creek site to find naked and mutilated bodies.

Before sunrise the next day the survivors started toward Smoky Hill, where the hostile faction of the Cheyenne and Arapaho were camped. Those at Sand Creek, after all, had been those who were anxious for peace. Warriors from the Smoky Hill camps rode out to meet the survivors with food, blankets and buffalo robes. They were put on horses and brought back to camp. Bent recalled that


as we rode into that camp there was a terrible scene. Everyone was crying, even the warriors and the women and children screaming and wailing. Nearly everyone present had lost some relations or friends, and many of them in their grief were gashing themselves with knives until the blood flowed in streams.[45]

After Sand Creek: The End of Ritual

Sand Creek achieved notoriety soon after it occurred. It represented a definitive end to an era of cooperation between the tribes of the southwestern Plains and Anglo cultures and produced changes within both cultures. It, of course, had its most profound effect on those most directly involved.

Sand Creek and similar incidents probably contributed to the erosion of optimism associated with westward expansion. The settlement of the West could no longer seem to be unalloyed progress. Jefferson and his contemporaries who had looked to the West so eagerly had espoused the Renaissance ideal of toleration and subscribed to the notion of the perfectivity of mankind through the application of reason. Thus the Native Americans were essentially like the Europeans but had not yet enjoyed the benefits of education and, particularly, science. According to this view, assimilation could not be far off. Incidents like Sand Creek indicated that this ideal was far from being realized.

Sand Creek also became a cause for severe friction between the federal government and the state. A schism formed between federal and Colorado political and military leaders. Federal leaders lined up uniformly against the events at Sand Creek. Committees were formed—first in the House of Representatives, and then a joint committee of the Senate and the House—which condemned the actions at Sand Creek. As the House committee put it in 1865:

As to Colonel Chivington, your committee can hardly find fitting terms to describe his conduct. Wearing the uniform of the United States, which should be the emblem of justice and humanity; holding the important position of commander of a military district, and therefore having the honor of the government to that extent in his keeping, he deliberately planned and executed a foul and dastardly massacre which would have disgraced the variest savage among those who were the victims of his cruelty.[46]

The events that occurred after the empaneling of a military commission to investigate Sand Creek illustrate well the growing federal-state an-


tagonism. A fact-finding military commission set to work in Denver in 1865. The proceedings were not public, but word of them spread through Denver, sparking general resentment about the investigation and those who testified "against" Chivington and the Third Colorado. One of the first to testify, and one of the most outspoken, was Silas S. Soule, who had been a captain in the First Colorado Cavalry. During the investigation, several shots were fired at him from ambush. Finally, he was shot and killed by a soldier from the Colorado Second named Squiers. Squiers was apprehended in Las Vegas, New Mexico, by a Lieutenant Cannon of the New Mexico Volunteers. Cannon brought Squiers back to Denver, but soon thereafter Cannon was found dead in his Denver hotel room. It was suspected that he had been poisoned. Squiers escaped again, and reports later placed him in California.[47]

Relations between Anglos and Native Americans, too, were predictably ruptured. Sand Creek set off a period of violent reprisals on the part of the Cheyenne and Arapaho. Virtually all of the individuals in these two groups now wanted revenge. For a time, Black Kettle's position as leader of the Cheyenne was taken over by two who were more warlike, Leg-in-the-Water and Little Robe, even though Black Kettle himself now wanted war and busied himself rallying half-blooded Cheyenne and Sioux against the white man. When the old trapper and friend of the Cheyenne, Jim Beckworth, urged peace, Leg-in-the-Water replied:

But what do we have to live for? The white man has taken our country, killed our game; was not satisfied with that, but killed our wives and children. Now no peace. . .. We have now raised our battle-axe until death.[48]

All of these groups, including the outcast and extremely warlike Dog Soldiers of the Cheyenne, were brought together on the Republican River. Now more than two thousand warriors could be directed upon selected targets. And selected they were; no longer did small bands raid as opportunity suggested. The actions of the warriors were directed by the war councils of the soldier societies. In the face of the obvious efforts to exterminate them, the Cheyenne and Arapaho put aside for the time being the individualism that had hampered their military operations. Raids on the Julesburg stage station, several large ranches, and wagon trains along the Platte route provided food to the hungry tribes, although George Bent had to instruct the raiders on the use of many unfamiliar items, including how to open tin cans.[49] The night after the Julesburg raid, a victory dance was held "in full view" of the soldiers and civilians huddled together in Fort Rankin. A lieutenant, Eugene F. Ware, watched from the fort all


night. The Indians, illuminated by the light from fires built with telegraph poles they had cut down, were

circling around the fire, then separately stamping the ground and making gestures . . ., and finally it was a perfect pandemonium lit up with the wildfire of burning telegraph poles. We knew the bottled liquors destined for Denver were beginning to get in their work and a perfect orgy was ensuing.[50]

But such victories were short-lived. With the end of the Civil War, more troops were committed to dealing with the "Indian problem." Over the next five years, many battles were fought. Treaties were signed (and soon broken), but Anglos gradually asserted their control over the movements of the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

In 1868, Black Kettle and his wife were killed at the Battle of Washita, the army forces there being led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. Though Custer claimed that 103 Indian men were killed in this battle, more reliable estimates, from three sources, were between 9 and 20 men and 18 and 40 women and children killed. General Philip Henry Sheridan remarked after receiving Custer's report that "If we can get in one or two more good blows, there will be no more Indian troubles in my department."[51]

In the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, signed on October 28, 1867, the Cheyenne and Arapaho ceded their claim to their preferred territory between the Arkansas and Platte rivers. They accepted by this treaty an area bounded by the 37th parallel and the Cimarron and Arkansas rivers. Increasingly, of course, they were in no position to bargain. The land to which they were finally assigned was determined not by treaty, but by executive order in 1869. This land was in the Indian Territories, a good distance east of what had been the prime buffalo grounds north of the Arkansas, and far from where their old friend William Bent had established his trading posts.

William Bent’s life ended in the same year that the Cheyenne and Arapaho relinquished their freedom. On May 19, 1869, Bent died of pneumonia, which he contracted while taking a wagonload of goods for trade to Santa Fe, as he had done so many times before. Returning home, he was caught in a late spring snowstorm. He was buried in Las Animas, where later his eldest daughter, Mary Bent Moore, and her husband, Judge R. M. Moore, would be laid to rest beside him. The Pueblo Chieftain, in an obituary, estimated William Bent’s fortune to be between $150,000 to $200,000 when he died—evidently the years and misfortunes he had endured had not dulled his business acumen.


William Bent's children, other than Mary, chose the Cheyenne way rather than the world of the white man. George and Charles in particular, haunted by what they had seen at Sand Creek, fought bitterly against the increasing restrictions to the Cheyenne way of life. Charles would become, in Lavender's words, "the worst desperado the plains have ever known," pursuing a path of treachery and cruelty. In one instance he staked out a naked captive, cut out his tongue and "substituted another portion of his body in its place," built a fire on his stomach, and howled with glee as the man died in agony.[52] Charles also attempted to kill his father after William disowned him in disgust. George moved with the Cheyenne to their final reservation in what is now Oklahoma. Julia married Edmund Guerrier, another half-breed who had been present at the Sand Creek Massacre. Both George and Julia have grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren still living on the Oklahoma reservation areas as members of the Cheyenne-Arapaho tribe.

Sand Creek, then, marked the real end of the era of cooperation based upon ritual exchange between the Native Americans and Americans. The Bents and Ceran St. Vrain had laid the foundation for this collaboration with the construction of Bent's Old Fort and their willingness to accommodate the traditions of their trading partners. The demise of the fort was the removal of a key element in the ritual interaction between the Americans and Native Americans. Without such ritual interaction, by which to establish a common humanity, each side regarded the other as something less than "real" and "human." The recent arrivals rallied under the leadership of men like Chivington, the Methodist minister-warrior, who was determined to establish the hegemony of his value and belief system. Very quickly, however, Chivington and the more parochial system he espoused were displaced as the federal government reclaimed control of the culture of modernity, capitalism, and individualism.

Mircea Eliade observed that

one of the outstanding characteristics of traditional societies is the opposite that they assume between their inhabited territory and the unknown and indeterminate space that surrounds it. The former is the world (more precisely, our world), the cosmos; everything outside it is no longer cosmos but a sort of "other world," a foreign, chaotic space, peopled by ghosts, demons, "foreigners" (who are assimilated to demons and souls of the dead).[53]

He elaborated on this by saying that unknown, "chaotic" space must be made known through consecration. Without such means, the unknown remains the unformed and terrifying, and those who populate it retain


the status of demons. What Eliade says here in regard to "traditional" man is equally true of "modem" man, although the ideology of individualism works stubbornly against this realization. The events we have examined in this chapter are evidence that Eliade was correct in his observation that the "unconsecrated" remains unknown and terrifying. In the absence of ritual between the Plains Indians and the Anglos from the East, each side appeared as demons to the other—demons in the form of the three-year-old boy at whom the soldiers of the Colorado Third took turns shooting, demons in the shape of the Hungate children.


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