Washita Memories

Eyewitness views of Custer’s Attack on Black Kettle’s Village
by Richard G. Hardorff

Pub. Date: October 2008
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Format: Paperback , 464 pp
ISBN-13: 9780806139906

Reviewed by Carolyn B. Leonard
On November 27, 1868, the U.S. Cavalry under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer attacked a peaceful Southern Cheyenne village along the Washita River in present-day western Oklahoma at daybreak. An early snow blanketed the sleeping village as Custer’s cavalry with rifles blazing, rode through, shooting every man, woman, or child that moved.

The “battle” did not last long.

Custer ordered his men to burn the homes and belongings. They rounded up the Cheyenne horse herd, the Indian’s most valuable possession, and
killed more than 800 of the helpless animals. Eyewitnesses said the dying animals moaned and cried like wounded people. Some did not die immediately, but were so badly wounded they could not stand up.
Weeks later their carcasses showed they had chewed off all the grass they could reach from where they lay before death.

This “victory” over the Indians signaled the end of the Cheyenne traditional
way of life and resulted in the death of Black Kettle, their most prominent peace chief and his wife. He was more than seventy years old when he was killed.

Hardorff dug through long forgotten manuscripts and documents to create this documentary. These are firsthand stories given by both Indians and whites, soldiers and government officials, newspaper reports, and oral accounts of the Cheyenne people and their descendants, as well as Custer’s white scouts such as Ben Clark.

Soldiers were killing women and children. Ben Clark reported this to Custer and asked him if it was his wish that these people should be killed. It was only then that Custer told Clark to ‘give his compliments’ to the officer in charge and ‘ask him to stop it’.”

The book will appeal to historians because the documents are published withoutondensation or commentary.