Black Kettle: THE PEOPLE'S PEACE MAKER
True West|February - March 2020
THE VALIANT SOUTHERN CHEYENNE CHIEF NEVER STOPPED BELIEVING THAT PEACE AND FREEDOM WERE POSSIBLE FOR HIS TRIBE.
LOUIS KRAFT

Hoping to end the 1867 plains war, over 5,000 Indians camped on the Medicine Lodge peace council grounds in Kansas on October 14, 1867, but only Black Kettle’s band of Tsistsistas (Cheyennes) were present. The rest of the tribe had assembled on the Cimarron River in Indian Territory where Keeper of the Sacred Arrows Stone Forehead would renew them. Three days later Black Kettle attended an impromptu meeting with the commissioners. His attitude wasn’t the best. “We were once friends with the whites,” he said, “but you nudged us out of the way by your intrigues.” He wanted them to stop pushing each other. “Why don’t you talk and go straight, and let all be well?”

Later that day Tsistsista Dog Men (“Dog Soldiers” is a white man term) chiefs Tall Bull and Gray Head visited the council grounds. Before leaving Tall Bull confronted Black Kettle in his camp. He wanted to know why he wasn’t on the Cimarron River to participate in the renewal of the arrows. He told Black Kettle to travel to the Cimarron and tell the Called Out People what good another treaty with the vi´ho´ i—the white man—would bring. When Black Kettle refused, Tall Bull threatened to kill his horse herd. He also warned him not to speak. When the negotiations officially began on October 19, Black Kettle remained silent.

Three days later Dog Men returned to the council grounds in a downpour. They woke Black Kettle and forced him to ride to the peace commissioners’ camp. While they waited for the white men to dress, Black Kettle became livid when he argued with Little Robe. No interpreters were present, but an unnamed reporter viewed it, and later wrote: “[B]eing a peacemaker among the Cheyennes in 1867 was a dangerous occupation.”

Senator John Henderson appeared and demanded that the Cheyennes attend council. Tempers flared, but Black Kettle stepped between the Dog Men and Henderson and ended the confrontation. Before departing, the Dog Men forced Black Kettle to ride to the Cimarron with them. The chief’s abduction upset the peace commissioners and reporters; most feared a Cheyenne attack.

The Kiowas and Comanches signed their treaty on October 21.

Finally, on October 27, Tsistsistas and Dog Men burst from the trees and rode across the creek as they shouted and fired their weapons. Black Kettle rode near the head of the charge. He was disheveled, but alive. It wasn’t an attack—the Cheyennes were ready to hear the vi´ho´ i’s words. The Cheyenne and Arapaho council began the next day, but again Black Kettle was advised to remain silent.

Only Dog Man chief Buffalo Chief spoke:

“We do not claim this country south of the Arkansas, but that country between the Arkansas and the Platte is ours.… You give us presents and then take our land; that produces war.”

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