Black Kettle


Little is known about Black Kettle before 1854, when he was made a chief in the Council of Forty-Four, the government of the Cheyenne tribe. Black Kettle was a pacifist who worked tirelessly for better relations between Native Americans and immigrants, but the U.S. government was unwilling to control white expansion into the Plains, especially after the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush of 1859 in Kansas and Nebraska. In 1861, he and members of the Arahapo tribe finally surrendered and complied with the Treaty of Fort Wise, an agreement that forced the Southern Cheyenne into the Sand Creek reservation, an area of land with poor soil and located far from any buffalo.

Many of the Cheyenne would not accept this treaty and began to attack white settlers, and by 1864 the conflict had escalated immensely. Rebellious Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapaho tribesmen stole supplies and livestock, and they kidnapped women and children to replace their own lost members. In July of that year, a family living in Denver was killed and scalped, and Colorado Governor John Evans, believing that the tribal chiefs were intent upon war, ordered all Indians to report to military posts or be deemed hostile. In the meantime, the Third Colorado Cavalry was temporarily established, its sole aim the eradication of any resisting Indians. Black Kettle decided to accept the offer, and he conducted a peace agreement at Fort Weld before returning to the Sand Creek reservation.

All was not to go as planned, however. The head of the Third Colorado Cavalry was eager for action, and only a month after Black Kettle’s treaty at Fort Lyon, the reservation was attacked. The chief, following given instructions, flew an American flag from his tipi, but the signal was ignored and 163 Cheyenne were shot or stabbed to death. Black Kettle managed to escape, and he and his dwindling band of pacifists continued to negotiate with the U.S. government, to little avail. Members of the more violent Cheyenne bands were still conducting raids and taking prisoners, an unrelenting conflict that resulted in an attack on the Cheyenne winter encampments by George Custer. Custer’s troops killed more than 100 Native Americans, including Black Kettle and his wife.

Key events during the life of Black Kettle:

Became leader of the Southern Cheyenne.
Surrendered under the Treaty of Fort Wise.
Conducted negotiations with the U.S. military.
  Sand Creek Massacre.
  Treaty of Little Arkansas River.
Medicine Lodge Treaty.
Killed at the Battle of Washita River.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Indian Wars  in  Indian History for Young Folks  by  Francis S. Drake
To Black Kettle's Village with Custer in  Boys' Book of Border Battles  by  Edwin L. Sabin

Short Biography
General Custer Cavalry general whose force was ambushed and massacred by the Sioux at the Battle of Little Bighorn.
General Winfield Scott Longest serving officer in American history. Served in all major wars between 1812 and the Civil War.
William Lloyd Garrison Prominent abolitionist, well-known as the publisher of the Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper.
John Sutter Founded a European settlement in the Sacramento Valley where gold was found in 1849.