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The Battle of the Washita: An Indian Agent's View.
The Battle of the Washita:
An Indian Agent's View.

474     Chronicles of Oklahoma

The Battle Of The Washita
An Indian Agent's View

    The Battle of the Washita touched off a wave of acrimony, charges and counter-charges between the adherants of the strong punative policy, lead by the military on one hand, and the "peace policy" advocates on the other. There is no doubt that the military held the detested "Indian ring" in almost as much ill repute as the Indians themselves. Applying the term "Indian ring" glibly and loosely, there were areas of uncertainty as to just who or what constituted the members of the ring in the minds of the professional military, and it seemed almost as if anyone disagreeing with their concept of harsh treatment, even extermination, of the Plains Tribes, qualified for the sobriquet.
    Congress lent an ear to both factions, and several investigations, resolutions and hearings ensued. By Senate resolution of December 18, 1868, the Secretary of the Interior was "requested to send to the Senate any information in the possession of the Department in relation to the hostile or peaceful character of the Indians recently killed or captured by the United States troops under the command of General George A. Custer, and to inform the Senate whether said Indians were, at the time of said conflict, residing on the reservation assigned them under treaty stipulations; and if so, whether they had taken up said residence in pursuance of instructions emanating from the Department of the Interior."
    The resolution was an ideal opening for the anti-army forces; and should have been turned by the "Indian ring" as the cue for a parade across the National stage of their side of the controversy. Unfortunately, the chance was permitted to slip by and the opportunity was lost.
    On January 30, 1869 the Secretary of the Interior, O. H. Browning, replied to the Senate, [1] forwarding in satisfaction of the resolution a short memorandum from N. G. Taylor, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, dated January 29th, in which the Office of Indian Affairs reported to the Secretary that "all the information this office has" regarding events on the Washita were two personal letters that Commissioner Taylor had received; one from J. S. Morrison, Fort Dodge, Kansas, a former Indian Agency employee, and the other from Major E. W. Wynkoop, former Cheyenne tribal agent.
    Of Wynkoop, Dr. Thoburn has written: [2]
Although Major Wynkoop had had a most creditable record as an officer of volunteers, he had been appointed to the position of United States Indian agent from civil life. He was snubbed by General Hancock, was sneered at in the writings of General Custer

Notes and Documents     475

("Life on the Plains" pp. 142-150), while his unselfish services passed unnoticed in General Sheridan's "Memoirs." While the "Indian Ring" and the average tribal agent may have been all that they were depicted by the proponents of the transfer of the Indian Bureau to the War Department, there were certainly no grounds for belittling the service of Major Wynkoop as systematically as it seems to have been done.

    The following is Major Wynkoop's letter in its entirety:

Philadelphia, January 26, 1869.
    Sir: In reply to your request to be furnished with all the information I have received relative to the battle of the Washita, I have the honor to state that all the information I have in regard to that affair has been gleaned from the public reports of the same, and in two letters I have received from Mr. James S. Morrison, who was formerly in the employ of my agency; one of his letters I herewith enclose, the other is in possession of Colonel L. T. Tappan, of the Indian peace commission.
    I am perfectly satisfied, however, that the position of Black Kettle and his immediate relations at the time of the attack upon their village was not a hostile one. I know that Black Kettle had proceeded to the point at which he was killed with the understanding that it was the locality where all those Indians who were friendly disposed should assemble; I know that such information has been conveyed to Black Kettle as the orders of the military authorities, and that he was also instructed that Fort Cobb was the point that the friendly Indians would receive subsistence at; and it is admitted by General Hazen, who is stationed at Fort Cobb, that Black Kettle had been to his headquarters a few days previous to his death. In regard to the charge that Black Kettle engaged in the depredations committed on the Saline river during the summer of 1868, I know the same to be utterly false, as Black Kettle at the time was camped near my agency on the Pawnee Fork. The said depredations were undoubtedly committed by a party of Cheyenne Indians, but that same party proceeded with the Sioux Indians north from that point, and up to the time of Black Kettle's death had not returned to the Arkansas River. They have been Indians deserving of punishment, but unfortunately, they have not been those who received it at the hands of the troops at the battle of the Washita. Black Kettle's village at the time of the attack upon it was situated upwards of 150 miles from any travelled road, in the heart of the Indian country. The military reports state that the ground was covered with snow and the weather intensely cold. It is well known that the major portion of the village consisted of women and children, and yet the military reports are that they were engaged in hostilities, and excuse the attack for the reason that evidence was found in the camp that the said Indians were engaged in hostilities. How did they know that those evidences existed previous to the attack? Mr. Morrison states that there were 40 women and children killed. That fact needs no comment; it speaks for itself. I do not know whether the government desires to look at this office in a humane light or not, and if it desires to know whether it was right or wrong to attack the village referred to, I must emphatically pronounce it wrong and disgraceful.
    With much respect, your obedient servant,
E. Wynkoop
Late United States Indian Agent
    And thus Major E. W. Wynkoop stood upon the calendar of the United States Senate as the sole advocate for the cause.

    1 Senate and House Documents, 40th Congress, Ex. Doc. No. 35, January 28, 1869. [Back]

    2 Joseph B. Thoburn, A Standard History of Oklahoma (New York, 1916) Vol. 1, p. 415. [Back]


Wynkoop, Edward Wanshaer, (also: G. H. S.), "The Battle of the Washita: An Indian Agent's View", Chronicles of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Historical Society, Vol. 36, No. 4, (Winter 1958-1959), pp. 474-475.


    I would like to extend my thanks to Jack Wall of Tulsa, Oklahoma for sending me a copy of this article. Jack, I really appreciate it. Thanks so very much!

    All my best,


Created April 1, 2002; Revised January 16, 2004
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Copyright © 2002-2004 by Christopher H. Wynkoop, All Rights Reserved

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