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Black Kettle

Southern Cheyenne Indian chief. Born about 1810. Died 1868.

Black Kettle’s life was a tragic example of the history of the clash between white and Indian cultures.  Black Kettle became a chief in the 1850s and was a respected warrior and leader.  As he grew older he realized that the on-rush of white settlers and the accompanying soldiers could not be stopped and peace was his tribe’s best chance of survival.  In 1861 Black Kettle signed a peace treaty at Fort Wise in Colorado.  However, because the Indians often did not have an agreed hierarchy, some continued to fight.  This angered the whites who did not always distinguish between Indians.

In 1864, American troops attacked Black Kettle’s band without provocation, leading to a number of deaths.  Black Kettle tried to initiate a new peace initiative but the fighting continued. Black Kettle’s band and others were camped at Sand Creek in Colorado when they were attacked, again without cause, by troops commanded by John Chivington. Approximately 150 Indians, including many women and children, were killed.  Black Kettle, his wife Medicine Woman, and others escaped.

Black Kettle again tried to stop the senseless fighting and restore peace.  In 1867 Black Kettle joined peace talks which were being held.  The following year he and his band were camped in Oklahoma, what was then called Indian Territory, on the Washita River.  Perhaps mistaking them for other Indians who had been engaging in hostile acts, troops under Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer attacked the camp.  Black Kettle and his wife were killed while trying to escape in what came to be known as the Washita Massacre.

Entry: Black Kettle

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2012

Date Modified: July 2012

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.