battle-of-tongue-river-n1-buffaloChief Black Bear played a prominent role in the Indian Wars in Wyoming even though he attempted for most his time as leader to find peace with the non-Indians.

After the Colorado militia attacked a peaceful village of Cheyenne and Arapaho in the Sand Creek Massacre on November 1864, Black Bear moved his lodges from Colorado to what he felt would be a safer place in Medicine Bow. The next May, official reports from Lt. Col. W. O. Collins reported that the 3,000 Northern Arapaho gathering in the area appeared to be peaceful and allowed soldiers to pass through the area without harassment. Collins was concerned that hostile Cheyenne and Southern Arapahos would be a bad influence on the Northern bands. There were also smaller groups of Northern Arapaho warriors marauding against the non-Indians against their leaders wishes.

But it was the Powder River campaign to subdue the Platte River Indians that nearly proved Black Bear’s undoing not other Indians. Circular No. 11 distributed in Ft. Laramie, stated that parleys with Indians would no longer be held with the Indians because they must first be severely chastised. It was because of the charge that the Platte River Indians had massacred “our men, women and children; burned stolen, and otherwise destroyed our property; and committed outrages upon innocent women, which sicken the soul and crush the pleadings of mercy.”

In the summer of 1865, General Patrick E. Connor carried out his mission and the major attack of his campaign occurred on August 29, 1865.

By late summer, Black Bear and Chief Old David had brought 250 lodges to a remote camp in the Tongue River country. They did not believe a Cheyenne, his wife, and son who rushed into camp warning them of an approaching column of soldiers.

But when an Arapaho on a fast horse rode into camp with the same news, the camp was thrown into a state of panic. By the time they saw the soldiers advancing less than a mile away, the women and children had no way to escape and many hid in the underbrush along the river and waited. Other Arapaho women mounted horses and were ready to leave but never made it.

General Patrick ConnorGeneral Patrick E. Connor marched on their camp with 400 men and two pieces of heavy artillery. The camp was in a state of panic as the warriors fought and the women and children fled. The soldiers captured over one thousand horses and the Pawnee scouts with them plundered the village. The soldiers destroyed 250 lodges and burned the buffalo robes and dried meat, cremating their dead in the piers of fire so the Arapaho would not come back to maim their bodies.

The battle was not over, however. It began at 9am and did not end until midnight, when the Arapaho succeeded in pushing back the General from their village and finally retreated. The Arapaho recovered some of their horses and belongings and, a few days later, made a peaceful trip to Connor’s camp to successfully recover their women and children who had been captured.

Chief Black Bear, although angry and bitter, still worked towards peaceful relations with the non-Indians.

Excerpted from: The Arapahoes, Our People by Virginia Cole Trenholm; pages 206- 209