Battle of Little Bighorn: 04 – A New Treaty, A New Reservation, and War

"The Custer Fight" by Charles Marion Russell. Lithograph. Shows the Battle of Little Bighorn, from the Indian side.

Pike’s Peak

By 1861, in the Territory of Colorado, the Pike’s Peak area was overrun with gold seekers in spite of the fact that this area had been ceded to the Cheyenne and Arapahos by virtue of the Treaty of 1851. Now these Indians were in the way of white progress. Confrontations were bound to occur, and they did. The Cheyenne Dog Soldiers occasionally marauded along the Santa Fe Trail, and young warriors seeking war coups added to the upheaval even though certain Peace Chiefs such as Black Kettle of the Southern Cheyennes attempted to curb these aggressive tendencies in their people.

The result of all this was a new treaty, signed in 1861, which exchanged these Indians’ lands (given to them in 1851) for a reservation south of the Arkansas River. Though Black Kettle and others signed the treaty it was ineffective. Not a single Cheyenne Dog Soldier, Northern Cheyenne or Arapahos signed, therefore they had not given away their rights to their land to the whites. And, as previously, the signers could only speak for their own individual bands.

Chief Black Kettle

In essence, the Indian problems of Colorado Territorial Governor John Evans were far from solved. Whether Evans was an overly suspicious man who saw vile plots or grasped a drastic situation and made use of it can only be guessed at. Whatever the case was, in 1862, the Eastern Sioux of Minnesota staged a tragic uprising. Evans, in 1864, used this situation to back his belief that the Indians in his area were plotting war on the whites.

Governor John Evans

Governor Evans also had considerable Washington political aspirations – to emerge as the man who subdued the Indians and saved the Colorado settlers from massacre would certainly enhance his campaign. Evans found a man of like-mind and ambition to team up with. Major John M. Chivington was a former Methodist preacher.

He was six and a half feet tall and in The Great West David Lavender describes him as being “round-headed and crop-bearded” as well as “a roaring abolitionist in the pro-slavery frontier counties of Missouri.” There he delivered his sermons with a revolver, cocked and lying alongside his Bible.

Major John M. Chivington

Chivington and Evans were out to make war on the Indians. War came to the Cheyenne in mid-May while they were hunting buffalo near the Smoky Hill River when they encountered some of Chivington’s soldiers.

Lean Bear rode out to these soldiers to show them a paper he had, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, saying that he was friendly. The soldiers shot Lean Bear and his companion, then opened fire with howitzers. When it was over, twenty-eight Indians lay dead.