Across the last several months, I’ve shared the history of The Sand Creek Massacre, as well as further details of some of the historical figures in my latest release—Sand Creek Serenade. Today, I’m sharing the last two historical figures—the Native American chiefs.
Around 1803, Black Kettle was born in the Black Hills of what is now South Dakota. He was originally from the Northern Cheyenne tribe but married into the Southern band where he rose to prominence. It is hard to know what his young life was like since Native American culture didn’t keep written records. It isn’t until the late 1840s or early 1850s when Black Kettle’s life was first chronicled.
In 1851, a peace treaty between the United States and eight Native American Indian tribes was signed. The Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851 guaranteed that the Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Crow, Hidatsa, Mandan, and Sioux Nations would be given a large parcel of land, broken down into specific territories for each group, and they would receive a $50,000 annuity from the American government across the next 50 years. In return, the tribes would allow the government to build forts in their territory, allow settlers to travel the Oregon Trail unmolested, and other such arrangements. It also guaranteed peace between the eight tribes, as some were known to war between themselves.
|Territory Map of the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851|
The treaty did its job for a short time, but by 1859, gold was discovered in the Pike’s Peak region of Colorado, and white settlers came in droves through the treaty lands in order to reach the newest goldfields. The gold seekers traipsed over Native American lands, they hunted the tribes’ game, they used their water, with no thought to the treaty or its promises. As you might expect, the tribes grew angry until finally, violence broke out. For a few years, the Indians raided settlements and wagon trains, and whites retaliated in kind.
However, not all Indians sought violence. Black Kettle, by now a chief in the Southern Cheyenne band, had the foresight to see that nothing would stop the white man from coming, and the only hope of his people’s survival was to find ways to make peace. So came the Treaty of Fort Wise in 1861, which faltered quickly. He made his next move in 1864. Knowing that the Northern Cheyenne and some other bands of the Southern Cheyenne tribe had taken seven white captives, he approached Major Wynkoop at Fort Lyon with a proposal. He would broker the release of the white captives in exchange for further peace talks. If you’ve been following my series of blog posts these last several months, you know what happened. Wynkoop took Black Kettle and other chiefs to Denver to negotiate peace with the territorial governor and Colonel John Chivington. They were promised peace but told to camp along the banks of Sand Creek and wait for the army to come with final word of the peace agreement…and at dawn on November 29, 1864, the Army attacked a sleeping village who’d done nothing but hope for better times.
So what happened to Black Kettle in and after the massacre? During the massacre, he frantically called for his people to come to his tent and stand under the American flag and white flag in a show of surrender. The Army was not interested in their surrender that day, and very soon, everyone ran. Black Kettle and his wife raced for the river, but she was shot nine times in the attempt. Despite her injuries, both survived.
After the massacre, Black Kettle lost much respect among his people. He continued to advocate for peace, but other Cheyenne factions sought war. The militant parties got their wish. War erupted between the Cheyenne and whites. Black Kettle attempted to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty in 1867, but this again led to his people losing land and being forced to move to Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma), which only further angered them. Tiring of the raids and battles, the Army stepped in. On November 27, 1868, almost exactly four years after the Sand Creek Massacre, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer’s 7thCavalry attacked Black Kettle’s camp at dawn along the banks of the Washita River. This time, both Black Kettle and his wife were killed as they fled for safety.
Left Hand—Chief of the Arapaho Tribe
|Chief Left Hand|
Chief Niwot, or Left Hand, of the Southern Arapaho tribe, was born around 1825 near modern-day Boulder, Colorado. Just as the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush began in 1859, he and some of his fellow tribesmen came across one of the early settlers to the area. Left Hand greeted them in a friendly manner, but quickly told them to leave, that they were in traditional Arapaho lands. Stories vary on how that situation truly played out, but they all agree that tensions ran high for days between the two groups. However, one of the Arapaho shamans had a dream in which he saw a great flood cover the earth and sweep away the Arapaho people while the white men remained. Left Hand astutely interpreted the dream to mean that a flood of white men was coming and to survive it, the Arapaho must seek peace with them.
Left Hand sold out to peace then. He did all he could to learn English and other languages of the White Man. He went out of his way to greet the incoming settlers and extend friendship. And the settlers showed their appreciation with gifts, as well as naming counties and streets after the tribe.
But as we well know by now, that peace didn’t last. Just as with the Cheyenne tribe above, tensions grew. Communications degraded. Promises were broken. And in retaliation for the whites encroaching too much on their territory and way of life, the more warlike factions started raiding.
When Left Hand’s Cheyenne friend, Black Kettle, approached Major Wynkoop with the idea of peace, Left Hand was quick to agree that his people also wanted it. He participated in the peace talks in Denver and camped at Sand Creek when the army and the territorial governor said a treaty was coming.
When the massacre began on that fateful November morning, Left Hand raced from his lodge to see the attack in full swing. He was so set on peace that he would not lift a hand against the soldiers to defend himself or anyone else. Instead, he held his head high, sang his death song, and died at the hands of the Army who’d falsely promised peace…
It’s Your Turn: Both Black Kettle and Left Hand believed so strongly in peace with the White Man that they risked ridicule by their tribes and lost favor in the eyes of their people. In your opinion, were they visionaries seeing a future of peace with the incoming culture, or were they foolish for holding out for peace when they’d seen so many treaties break down already? Leave your email address along with your answer to be entered in a drawing for an autographed paperback copy of Sand Creek Serenade.
Jennifer Uhlarikdiscovered the western genre as a pre-teen when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has finaled and won in numerous writing competitions, and been on the ECPA best-seller list numerous times. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers, Women Writing the West, and is a lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, college-aged son, and four fur children.
Cheyenne brave Five Kills wouldn’t knowingly jeopardize the peace treaty recently negotiated between his people and the Army. But a chance encounter with the female doctor ignites memories of his upbringing among the whites. Too intrigued to stay away, tension erupts with the soldiers, and Five Kills is injured.
As he recuperates under the tender care of the pretty healer, an unlikely bond forms. However, their fledgling love is put to the test when each realizes that a much greater danger awaits—a danger they are wholly unable to stop and one which neither may survive.