Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

by Dee Brown

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Summary and Analysis Chapter 4: War Comes to the Cheyennes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 597

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Roman Nose: Southern Cheyenne warrior, leader of Dog Soldiers who is later killed in a battle against Forsythe’s Scouts.

George and William Bent: Brothers who are the sons of a Cheyenne woman and white man. They help the Cheyennes negotiate and communicate with the Army.

Black Kettle: Southern Cheyenne chief who sought peace with the Army.

Major Edward W. Wynkoop: Army major on friendly terms with the Indians. He is relieved of post as commander at Fort Lyon.

Colonel John M. Chivington: Commanded Colorado Volunteers and sought to bring Indians under military authority.

In 1858, the Pikes Peak gold rush brings many miners to Colorado. Many settlers then come to the Platte Valley to build ranches, and they file land claims on Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho territory. This activity prompts treaty talks at Fort Wise. The Cheyennes and Arapahos sign a treaty in which they agree to live within the territory bounded by Sand Creek and the Arkansas River. However, Army soldiers enter tribal territory to hunt for Confederate soldiers during the Civil War, and conflicts between the Cheyennes and Army soldiers prompt three skirmishes in 1864. In late June and late August, Colorado Territory Governor John Evans issues two proclamations authorizing Territory citizens to make war on hostile Indians and kill them wherever they are found. This causes the Indian chiefs to negotiate for peace with the Army. At the peace talks, Evans displays great hostility to the Indians, and Army Major Anthony and Colonel Chivington prepare an attack on them. The attack, carried out at the Cheyenne’s Sand Creek camp, kills 105 women and children, and 28 men; in the attacks, 9 Army soldiers are killed and 38 wounded. In January, 1865, the tribes respond to the attack by raiding and plundering South Platte trains, stations, telegraph wires, and military outposts. Black Kettle’s band of 400 Cheyennes then decides to go south, where they would find many buffalo to hunt. During the spring and early summer of 1865, the remaining Cheyennes prepare for an attack, and on July 24, they rout soldiers at a military post on the North Platte River. After negotiating with a commission, the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos signed a treaty in which they agree to live south of the Arkansas River, thereby abandoning their claims to the Territory of Colorado, and they promise perpetual peace with the whites.

The chapter title, “War Comes to the Cheyennes,” inverts the stereotype that it is Indians who are warmongers and, instead, implies that it was whites who initiated conflict with the Cheyennes. This implication is borne out by the chapter’s opening section, which tells how whites flooded over the Indians’ land to dig gold, then began attacking Cheyenne camps. As the chapter continues, Brown recounts Governor Evans’ extreme belligerence and his command to make the Indians suffer. Ultimately, it is of little surprise to see the Army first reject peace, then carry out the Sand Creek Massacre.

The situation of the Bent brothers, half-white and half-Cheyenne, who decided that after Sand Creek they had to reject white civilization, is a telling one. Brown presents them as being in the middle between whites and Indians for some time before finally concluding that the Indians were better than whites, so that when they do decide to abandon white society, their action seems to carry more weight and helps heighten sympathy for the Cheyennes. As the chapter ends, even though the Cheyennes and Arapahos are forced to leave Colorado, the Cheyenne victory against the Army near the North Platte on July 24, 1865, shows that Indian resistance is far from over.

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