Taken with permission
When I wrote this,
Custer was pursuing the snow tracks of Dog Soldiers that would eventually lead to Black Kettle’s village on Thanksgiving Day in a cruel irony. The cruelest irony however, was that Black Kettle and his wife would be slain nearly four years to the day that they both escaped Chivington at the Sand Creek Massacre. Black Kettle’s honesty concerning young men in his village he could not control was of no avail. He and his village were going to be “punished” and broken beyond any immediate or distant recovery.
a Cheyenne Man told me when I was at Washita about the bench where Moxtaveto’s (Black Kettle’s) extermination by Custer was.
I sat on that bench and under the tree facing the Washita River at that precise location, and I thought hard about it.
Moxtaveto’s village was right here in this field below.
The larger camp consisting of Kiowa, Arapaho, and Cheyenne Dog Soldiers was in this general direction.
Trees with low ground level provided good protection for the camp from the elements; in addition, the Washita River was their water source. Although the Washita River has changed in some parts regarding its flowing in river basins, it has remained consistent here. Tragically, these trees couldn’t protect the Cheyenne from Custer on the day of November 27, 1868.
After the woman warned Black Kettle that morning of the approaching 7th and Moxtaveto shot his rifle to warn everyone, the freezing snow and cold winter weather would have made it much more difficult to escape.
The song “Garry Owen” would have added to the fear and confusion that they must have felt.
Warriors, eleven who died, rushed out of their lodges with inferior firepower to defend the village. Simultaneously, the overall noncombatants ran for their lives into the freezing Washita River.
I realized that the water would have been freezing cold.
(Taken with permission)
The sensory components of the genocide at Washita in now Cheyenne, Oklahoma must be held in mind in order to capture the entire breadth of it. These are sound, smell, and sight. For example, the shrill crying of the noncombatant Cheyenne women and children, and the yelling of the charging 7th Calvary with their knives and guns would have been beyond deafening. And the fog with gunpowder smoke must have been worse than any nightmare, while the red blood – stained snow and the smell of death permeated the ground and air.
Finally, I imagined spraying bullets that first struck Moxtaveto’s horse in the leg, then struck him and Woman Here After – fatally.
“Both the chief and his wife fell at the river bank riddled with bullets,” one witness reported, “the soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and their bodies were all splashed with mud by the charging soldiers.” Custer later reported that an Osage guide took Black Kettle’s scalp.
Specifically, this is the location where the Cheyenne man told me that Moxtaveto and his wife, Woman Here After, were exterminated.
Moving Behind, a Cheyenne Woman, later stated: “There was a sharp curve in the river where an old road – crossing used to be. Indian men used to go there to water their ponies. Here we saw the bodies of Black Kettle and his wife, lying under the water. The horse they had ridden lay dead beside them. We observed that they had tried to escape across the river when they were shot.”
Moxtaveto had the right to have his peaceful attempts honored. Morally speaking, there is no way it should have been otherwise. Yet, did his peaceful attempts fail?
If it had not been for Moxtaveto’s peaceful efforts before the Sand Creek Massacre, Lt. Captain Silas S. Soule may not have felt motivated to speak out in the face of anti – Indian sentiment, thus playing a key role in correctly changing the name from Sand Creek “Battlefield” to Sand Creek Massacre.
Soule wrote what he witnessed at Sand Creek: ”… hundreds of women and children were coming
towards us and getting on their knees for mercy.”
Captain Silas Soule of the first Colorado Calvary is remembered as the hero who stood up to Chivington before, during, and after the massacre. It cost him his life. His letters to friends and his testimony was crucial in correcting the definition of Sand Creek from a “battle” to a massacre.
Eleven warriors had stayed at Moxtaveto’s camp for the night; consequently, it was their tracks which unintentionally led Custer to Moxtaveto’s camp, not Moxtaveto’s invitation. No matter, for that is all it took for Washita to be classified as a battle. Never mind the 7th’s orders of taking them into captivity. Instead, they shot all wounded Cheyenne.
To answer my question, “Did his peaceful attempts fail?” I raise two more questions before my request. Was Dr. Martin Luther King a failure because he was shot? Was Mahatma Gandhi a failure because he was assassinated? Of course not, and that leads me to my final point. I firmly believe November 27th should be dedicated as Moxtaveto – Peace Chief Black Kettle Day.
He and everything he stood for need to be remembered. Black Kettle had the right to have his peaceful attempts respected, and recognizing the basic human right of having peace respected would make this world a better place. There is no way it should be otherwise in my view.