In the 1880s, as settlers began moving into Indian hunting grounds on the Great Plains, conflicts arose. The U.S. government signed treaties that required Indians to relocate to “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma.
Many tribes complied. But some Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa refused to give up their nomadic way of life.
As the clashes escalated and settlers demanded protection, government soldiers began launching offensive strikes against the Indians. The November 1864 attack on the Cheyenne camp of Chief Black Kettle became known as the Sand Creek Massacre.
That attack prompted the Medicine Lodge Treaty of October 1867, which required Indian tribes to settle in Oklahoma. Black Kettle signed the treaty, but it infuriated many other Indians, and tensions increased.
General Philip H. Sheridan decided to take action. On November 27, 1868, Lt. Col. George A. Custer and 800 men launched a surprise early morning attack on Black Kettle’s winter camp. The chief and his wife were killed, along with many warriors, women, and children.
Under Sheridan’s orders, the troops killed the Indians’ ponies and mules, as well. The Indians rode ponies while hunting buffalo, and measured their wealth in the size of their pony herds. Without them, the Cheyenne had no choice but to move to the reservation.
Washita Battlefield National Historic Site preserves the site of this pivotal attack. Get a sweeping view of Washita river basin from the windows in the visitor center, watch a film about the battle, and take a self-guided or a ranger-led 1.5-mile walk through the battlefield.