Cheyenne War — Indian Raids on the Roads to Denver 1864-1869 , Jeff Broome, Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, Colorado, 2013.
Ideally, the writing of history is rooted in truth gathered from reliable sources that clarifies the past without prejudice. Eliminating prejudice and finding impeccable sources is the aim of the true historian and the success of Jeff Broome in his book Cheyenne War.
Cheyenne War is the story of fierce clashes between plains Indians and settlers who traveled through Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado Territory, and Dakota Territory during a particularly violent time of the American West. With the Civil War concluding and the nation beginning to turn its attention away from the horrors of the war, many Americans found themselves eager to seek new land and opportunities. Travels to the west were hampered with dangers from weather, terrain, and occasionally Native Americans who wished to rid their land of people they viewed as invaders whose very presence was a threat to their existence.
Broome focuses his study on the violence brought to settlers as they traveled the routes of the Smoky Hill Road, Santa Fe Trail, and most specifically the Denver Road (aka South Platte Road) that roughly followed the South Platte River from the Missouri River through Kansas, Nebraska to Denver.
What makes Broome’s study significant and unique is his experience with the subject and sources. Broome has used the usual historical sources of newspapers and contemporary authors but has greatly embellished his work with a laborious review of citizen affidavits of incidences along the roads and trails found in the National Archives that comprises over 13,000 individual files. These files are known as the Indian Depredation Claims. These claims detail attacks made on settlers and freighters by Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa, and Lakota tribes. The purpose of these claims was to provide documentation for the government to deliver monetary compensation to settlers who suffered attacks. The stories within these files illustrate an increased violence in 1863 and 1864 between Indians and settlers that fueled subsequent battles and atrocities by all parties. Historian John D. McDermott declares that Broome’s study “. . . brings home the horror of war and its consequences, and elevates Indian depredation claims as an important source of our history.” Wild West magazine writes that though the details of the depredations presented in Cheyenne War might be difficult for the reader to digest, the “payoff is ample drama, displays of citizen courage and a wealth of new information.”
Broome comes to this study well prepared. He is a scholar of the American West who not only studies obscure archives for his books and articles but is a lecturer and field researcher as well. He is an expert in the Summit Springs battle (Dog Soldier Justice: The Ordeal of Susanna Alderdice in the Kansas Indian War), and Custer’s brave and often strange action in the West (Custer’s Summer Indian Campaign of 1867 and Custer into the West: With the Journal and Maps of Lt. Henry Jackson). He has done significant research within the field concerning the sites of the Kidder Massacre, Beecher Island, and the Hungate Massacre. This particular scholarship has been documented in various journals, speeches, and books.
Cheyenne War offers the reader numerous verbatim accounts of what settlers experienced during their travels through the West via trails and roads. The book provides a detailed color map of Denver, Little Blue, Smoky Hill, and Santa Fe Trails. The map illustrates important forts, ranches, battles, and travel stations along these historical routes. Broome provides maps, photographs, and paintings of significant individuals, battle scenes, and military artifacts found at historical sites related to his subject. A detailed bibliography and index aids the reader in research of the 528-page book.
With Broome’s research, we can trace the attacks on settlers along these trails to the more significant battles that ensued. With Broome’s tireless exploration, we can follow the flow of a set of stories of American West violence as it proceeds through the years of 1864-1869. The Cheyenne and their compatriots blamed settlers on the diminishing herds of buffaloes. By 1864, the invasion of settlers reached a boiling point. Striking back at the settlers outraged government officials, which brought an increased military presence into the West and various militia conflicts with some of the tribes. In some cases, the bodies of murdered settlers were brought to Denver and put on public display. The sight of the mutilated bodies of men, women, and children outraged the public and created an inspiration to strike back. The most famous of the militia attacks came from John Chivington’s Colorado militia at Sand Creek, November 29, 1864. With Broome’s book, the reasons for the slaughter of Indians and soldiers during the Sand Creek, Fetterman, and Kidder Massacres as well as the battles at Washita and Summit Springs become clearer.
Cheyenne War has provided additional clarity to the beginning of the Indian Plains War of 1864-69 like few other studies, and provides a voice to settlers who have often been ignored or simply unread. Readers brave enough to follow Broome’s trail through the bloody battles and skirmishes of the plains in the 1860’s will have a better understanding of this unique chapter in American history, and how these conflicts became prologue to the more well-known battles of the Rosebud, Little Big Horn, and Wounded Knee.
The Indian Plains Wars (1864-1869)
Sand Creek, Colorado Territory, current Kiowa County, November 29, 1864
Bozeman War / Red Cloud’s War – Fetterman Massacre, Dakota Territory (current Wyoming, Powder River Country), December 21, 1866
Kidder Massacre, Beaver Creek, Kansas, currently Sherman county north of Edson, Kansas, June 27-July 1?, 1867
Wagon Box / Hayfield, Dakota Territory, August 2, 1867
Beecher Island, Colorado Territory, September 17-26, 1868
Washita Battle, Oklahoma Territory (current Roger Mills County), November 27, 1868
Soldier Springs, Oklahoma Territory, Oklahoma, December 25, 1868
Summit Springs (aka Susanna Springs), Colorado Territory, July 1869