Story of Battle Canyon

(Deb) While I wrestle the alligator, Marlin over here is going to [laughs] I had to that give away your age and if you’re talking about Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (Frank) I was pretending to read a book here. (Frank) So I’m going to, [chuckles] present it again. (Deb) My lovely assistant. (Frank) Tell us about this. (Deb) Okay. This is a fantastic book. Ramon Powers. Many of you know Ramon was former Director of the Kansas State Historical Society before he retired. Native of Gove County. So he grew up in the middle of all this history. And Jim Leiker wrote this great book on the Northern Cheyenne. Now remember the movie Cheyenne Autumn? (Frank) [Hmm-hmm] (Deb) Okay. That’s based on this incident. So the book talks about how this Cheyenne exodus, where the Cheyenne have been moved to Oklahoma and they’re trying to get back to their native home in Northwestern Nebraska and that area right around Rapid City in South Dakota, a little South of there. So as they’re coming through Kansas in 1878, with the raids. So, the one we’re going to talk about today, the piece of that is the Battle of Punished Woman’s Fork, which is just outside of Scott City, it’s just there next to the lake. I had never been there until just this month or a few weeks ago, last month maybe. Dr. Jake took me out see it and I’m embarrassed to say I had not been to Battle Canyon before. And you’ve got to see it, you will be blown away. It’s a fantastic site and the history is very tragic, as many of our Indian War stories are, but really important and the community there is doing an awful lot to interpret that and they got the El Quartelejo Museum in Scott City which helps interpret that history and the State Park there and there’s just so much going on. So it’s a fantastic place to go spend a day. And again, get some exercise during the spring and learn some fantastic history. Now Frank might actually read the book instead of just pretending to read. (Frank) Yes. I’m going to read this and she’ll tell you the story. (Deb) Driving along Highway 83, North of Scott City, the prairie breaks into occasional bluffs, the grass is short and yucca dots the landscape. Even with these hints however, you can’t help but gasp when you turn off the road to the West and drive down into historic Scott Lake State Park. Yes, down, the road winds down the hillside. The scenery and abundant wildlife, the sunrises and sunsets over the lake, the incredible history within its confines all beckon in the visitor to stay awhile. This corner of Kansas has many stories to tell. And today I will share just one, the Battle At Punished Woman’s Fork in 1878. There are enough tragic stories in the annals of the Plains Indian Wars to fill volumes. Sadly this story is among them. The Northern Cheyenne had been moved from Northwestern Nebraska and bordering South Dakota to the Indian Territory. Conditions were deplorable and they decided to go home. Historian John Monnett calls it an Exodus, as we refer to the Children of Israel fleeing Egypt. Most Kansans of the day called it something else. The Dodge City Times covered skirmishes with the band of Cheyennes in their neighborhood. The red devils, the wild and hungry Cheyennes commit murder and arson. Several herders murdered. A house burned down. Wholesale stealing of horses, an Indian fight. Three soldiers killed and three wounded. The border wild with excitement. Straggling bands of Indians, raiding everywhere. Another Indian skirmish, an Indian killed, a soldier wounded. Emigrant trains robbed. Four companies of cavalry ordered to Dodge. I will not do the disservice of using that event to a couple of lines here. Let it be said Louis was mortally wounded and died en route to Fort Wallace and the Indians horse herd was destroyed. A devastating blow. The most significant effect however, lay in the attitudes on both sides, leading to pressure from the public for real protection. And a more violent and personal response from Dull Knife and his followers resulting in the brutal raid near Oberlin. This is a story you must experience. Visit Punish Woman’s Fork adjoining Historic Scott Lake State Park. Visit the Gerry Thomas Gallery at the El Quartelejo Museum in Scott City where you will find photos and artifacts, along with Gerry’s incredible art. Visit the Last Indian Raid Museum in Oberlin. Read the Northern Cheyenne Exodus in History and Memory by Jim Leiker and Ramon Powers. Read Tell Them We Are Going Home by John Monnett. The story is far too rich and complex for sound bites. But I will leave you with a couple. Louis was described by a friend as the most tolerant and least prejudiced man I ever met. And when Dull Knife’s people reached the Promised Land and were imprisoned for crimes committed along the way, he responded that if the authorities tried to send us back we will butcher each other. Let us never ever forget these were real people, not just dusty photographs.

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