Cave in Battle Canyon. Photo by Mark Conard.
It’s been 135 years since the Northern Cheyenne and the US Cavalry were both at Punished Woman’s Fork, and this weekend, both will be back.
It was on September 27, 1878, the Northern Cheyenne, on their way back to their homeland, fought their last battle with the US Army in Kansas, a mile south of present day Scott City and Lake Scott State Park along Highway 95. In honor of that historic event, El Quartelejo Museum and Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection are hosting the 135th Battle Canyon Symposium on September 27 and 28, 2013.
For a national historic site, it’s surprisingly unchanged from what it would have been like 135 years ago. That’s part of the beauty of the western prairie. Much has remained unchanged, and the rolling hills and canyons that were the site of such history and bloodshed remain steadfast, silent witnesses to a story that has often been overlooked.
Dedication from 4:00 to 5:30pm on Friday 9/27 at Punished Woman’s Fork National Historic Site. It was at 4:00pm on September 27 that the fighting began at the site.
Following the dedication and at the El Quartelejo Ruins Monument Site in Lake Scott State Park: native song and dance performance by the Northern Cheyenne and a 4th US Cavalry exhibition from 6 to 8:30pm.
Saturday is the big day with the Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection at El Quartalejo Museum hosting the speakers, including Northern Cheyenne leaders, descendants from the Cheyenne chiefs, and historians.
Sent to a Southern Cheyenne Reservation in Oklahoma in 1877, the Northern Cheyenne had little food and there was a measles outbreak, and there was little hope of survival. Dull Knife and Little Wolf, Cheyenne chiefs, took matters into their own hands, and the night of September 9, 1878, with the fires left burning, they led over 300 Cheyenne off the reservation. They were headed back to Yellowstone Country, 1500 miles away.
Rifle pit. Photo by Mark Conard
By September 13, 1878, troops had found them, and surrender was offered as an option. Dull Knife refused to go back to the reservation, and Cheyenne and army troops began fighting.
A cat and mouse game continued through the next week with the Cheyenne trying to get away and fighting back until they reached “Punished Woman’s Fork” on September 25, 1878.
This was to be the place of their last stand, and it was chosen specifically. The remote canyon had a natural cave at one end where women, children, and the elderly could take shelter, and along the hills and bluffs, rifle pits could be dug to provide cover for the Cheyenne fighters. The US soldiers could be lured into the canyon (now known as Battle Canyon) and ambushed with the landscape acting as an additional weapon for the Cheyenne.
One of the fighters described the incoming soldiers: “A great angry snake of whites come against us in the morning.”
September 27, 1878, those not fighting took shelter in the cave, and the battle began. The Cheyenne ended up backed into Battle Canyon, but they drove the army back and took out Lt. Col. Lewis, Commander of Ford Dodge, Kansas, who’d once said “I will run the Cheyenne to ground or leave my body on the prairie.” He did the latter.
The night of September 27, the US army pulled back to camp, and the Cheyenne again made their escape in the night with their fires left burning and continued heading north.
The trail around the perimeter of Lake Scott State Park will be one of our top 10 trails in the guidebook. Easy to follow, it’s got some incredible views out over the lake and of the nearby cliffs.