Washita Battlefield - History and Facts | History Hit

Washita Battlefield

Cheyenne, Oklahoma, United States

Washita Battlefield was the site of a surprise US cavalry attack on a Native American settlement in 1868 during the American-Indian Wars.

Peta Stamper

23 Jul 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Washita Battlefield

On 27 November 1868 Washita Battlefield, then a Native American settlement of Peace Chief Black Kettle, was attacked by 7th U.S. Cavalry led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer. This attack formed part of the American-Indian Wars, a series of conflicts which took place between first the colonial and then the federal American governments and indigenous Americans.

Washita Battlefield history

In the latter half of the 19th century, the US government adopted a policy which intended to move the indigenous Americans out of their traditional lands and into reservations.

Prior to the attack at Washita Battlefield and in light of a massacre of indigenous Americans in Sand Creek in 1864, Chief Black Kettle had signed several peace treaties with the US government including the 1865 Little Arkansas Treaty and the 1867 Medicine Lodge Treaty.

Through these treaties the indigenous Americans also agreed to be assigned to Indian territories in return for homes and supplies. However, many other tribal leaders refused to sign and undertook a series of attacks known as the “Kansas Raids” against white settlements.

The attack which took place in Washita Battlefield was one of the consequences of these raids, despite Black Kettle’s cooperation with the Americans and his requests for protection for his people. In fact, when the attack at Washita took place, Black Kettle had just come back from talks with US General William B. Hazen.

As dawn approached on 27 November, Lieutenant Colonel Custer’s troops attacked Black Kettle’s village, resulting in several Cheyenne casualties including women and children. The number of casualties is disputed, the Americans claiming 100 were killed while indigenous American figures claimed 11 warriors and 19 women were killed. Tens of prisoners were also taken, and Chief Black Kettle and his wife were amongst those who died.

Washita Battlefield today

Today, Washita Battlefield commemorated this 19th century attack, displaying a film and hosting tours of the site. The tours can be self-guided or, in the summer, rangers lead guided tours hourly from 9am to 4pm (except between noon and 1pm).

Getting to Washita Battlefield

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site is located within the US Forest Service’s Black Kettle National Grassland near the town of Cheyenne, Oklahoma. Cheyenne is situated in western Oklahoma approximately 140 miles west of Oklahoma City and 128 miles east of Amarillo, Texas; just 22 miles north of I-40 on State Highway 283.

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American-Indian Wars

The American Frontier Wars occurred from the time of the earliest colonial settlements in the 17th century until the early 20th century. As a result, there are a plethora of historical sites which uncover and commemorate this turbulent period of history.