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Old December 4th, 2012, 02:48 PM   #1

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Washita


Been reading Jerome Greene's book, Washita, the last couple of days. The battle/massacre at Washita stands as a prime example of the army's twin policies of Indian conflict. First, they made a decision to ignore specific questions of guilt or innocence. If a Cheyenne committed a crime, the tribe is responsible and all are subject to punishment. After all, the Medicine Lodge Treaty required the tribes to give up any guilty parties.

Additionally, the army had long become frustrated chasing war parties and now made it their stated tactic to attack unsuspecting villages at dawn.

These policies were on display the morning of November 27, 1868 when Custer led the 7th Cavalry against Black Kettle's village on the Washita River in Oklahoma. The soldiers hit the village by surprise at dawn and killed an estimated 50+ Cheyenne. At least half the dead were women and children. Another 50+ women and children were taken captive. The 7th Cavalry had about 20 men killed. Most of these were with Major Elliott. He and 18 men gave chase to several of the retreating Cheyenne warriors. Out of sight and without support, the warriors turned on them and, with help from the next village, wiped out Elliott and his patrol.

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Several controversies emerged. First and foremost, was Washita a battle or a massacre?

Are Custer and the men of the 7th to blame for the atrocities? Or, are Philip Sheridan, William Sherman, and the army policies to blame?

Should Custer have sent support to Elliott?

Battle_of_Washita_River Battle_of_Washita_River


Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869 (Campaigns and Commanders): Jerome A. Greene: 9780806138855: Amazon.com: Books
Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869 (Campaigns and Commanders): Jerome A. Greene: 9780806138855: Amazon.com: Books

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Old December 4th, 2012, 02:55 PM   #2

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IMO it was absolutely a massacre. I think everyone involved, from bottom to top, shares a degree of the blame, although how much can be assigned to each would probably be debatable. A truly ugly event and an inexcusable stain on American history.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:18 PM   #3
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When the Indians attacked a wagon train or settlement and killed or enslaved those that surrendered, is that held up as a horrible stain on American history, or something that is understood to go along with Indian wars? I am only playing devil's advocate for the most part, but my mind does not begin to condemn historical Indian figures for committing the kinds of atrocities that I may condemn white soldiers for. Is that a form of racism in itself, that I would give the Indian a free pass, but not the solder? Is that an example of the racism of low expectations?
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:21 PM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
When the Indians attacked a wagon train or settlement and killed or enslaved those that surrendered, is that held up as a horrible stain on American history, or something that is understood to go along with Indian wars? I am only playing devil's advocate for the most part, but my mind does not begin to condemn historical Indian figures for committing the kinds of atrocities that I may condemn white soldiers for. Is that a form of racism in itself, that I would give the Indian a free pass, but not the solder? Is that an example of the racism of low expectations?
It is every bit as horrible and egregious when the Indians did it as it was when the white men did it. But you are right, a lot of people have a tendency to give the Indians a pass. Not me. Atrocity is atrocity, regardless of the skin color of the perpetrator or the skin color of the victim.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:31 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rongo View Post
It is every bit as horrible and egregious when the Indians did it as it was when the white men did it. But you are right, a lot of people have a tendency to give the Indians a pass. Not me. Atrocity is atrocity, regardless of the skin color of the perpetrator or the skin color of the victim.
I think that I have become jaded somehow enough to simply recognize that the horrible acts by both sides were a by-product of war and the clash of cultures. The atrocities were not viewed as being wrong by the men fighting the battles. I know that does not make it right, but for me it makes it part of the sad reality of harder times. Life on the frontier was not easy for anyone, it was unforgiving and brutal.

Last edited by Virgil; December 4th, 2012 at 03:43 PM.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:37 PM   #6

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
I think that I have become jaded somehow enough to simply recognize that the horrible acts by both sides were a by-product of war and the clash of cultures. The atrocities were not viewed as being wrong by the men fighting the battles. I know that does not make it right, but for me it makes it part of the sad reality of harder times. Like on the frontier was not easy for anyone, it was unforgiving and brutal.
Well, I will agree that there was a brutal reality on the frontier that we can't understand today and that partially explains many of the actions. Nevertheless, both sides lamented it when it was done to them, which means both sides knew what they were doing when they engaged in it themselves. And by doing it, they were only encouraging the other side to retaliate even worse. And often it was the innocent and peace-loving who suffered.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:49 PM   #7
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Well, I will agree that there was a brutal reality on the frontier that we can't understand today and that partially explains many of the actions. Nevertheless, both sides lamented it when it was done to them, which means both sides knew what they were doing when they engaged in it themselves. And by doing it, they were only encouraging the other side to retaliate even worse. And often it was the innocent and peace-loving who suffered.
I hate to use a fictional movie scene while discussing history, but the scene I just remembered is worth mentioning. In Geronimo, an American Legend, some whites, prospectors I think, had just been captured by Geronimo (Wes Studi) and his men. One of the white men realized that they were to be executed, and he shouted insulting things to Geronimo like "This land was nothing until we got here". The Indians opened fire killing all but the one who insulted Geronimo.

Geronimo said "You are a fool, but you are a brave fool", and they rode off leaving the man alive.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 03:56 PM   #8

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A horrible, despicable chapter in US History and a sad portent of things to come.
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Old December 4th, 2012, 04:55 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Virgil View Post
I hate to use a fictional movie scene while discussing history, but the scene I just remembered is worth mentioning. In Geronimo, an American Legend, some whites, prospectors I think, had just been captured by Geronimo (Wes Studi) and his men. One of the white men realized that they were to be executed, and he shouted insulting things to Geronimo like "This land was nothing until we got here". The Indians opened fire killing all but the one who insulted Geronimo.

Geronimo said "You are a fool, but you are a brave fool", and they rode off leaving the man alive.
Here is the scene from the movie, Little Big Man.

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Old December 4th, 2012, 05:07 PM   #10

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One of the more interesting facts about Washita is its place in the career of George Armstrong Custer. Prior to this campaign, Custer had only led one expedition into Indian country. It didn't go well for him at all. Custer not only failed to find and engage the Indians, he abandoned his troops in the field while he went on a frolic home to visit his wife. Got court martialed and suspended from duty for a year. Washita was his redemption. The battle that his entire reputation as an Indian fighter was built upon.

The only other significant Indian battle Custer fought in was the disaster at Little Big Horn. Yet, surprisingly, even with the controversy surrounding Washita, Custer enjoyed a celebrity status for the next several years. Quite a myth came to surround him.

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