Washita Battlefield National Historic Site

Where is it?

Washita Battlefield National Historic Site lies along the banks of the Washita River in southwestern Oklahoma. The site is also part of the Black Kettle National Grassland which is managed by the National Forest Service. Twelve miles north of the park is the Black Kettle Recreation Area featuring: 

  • Tent camping sites (no reservations/no fee)
  • Hiking and interpretive trails
  • Picnic Area
  • Lake with boat ramp
  • Fishing
  • Wildlife viewing

Cheyenne, Oklahoma is the nearest town and is located 23 miles north of I-40 and Sayre, Oklahoma via US Highway 283. 

For additional information, here is a link to the park’s website: Washita Battlefield

The park’s pretty landscape

We visited this park in early March, and while the temperatures were in the mid-60s, so were the winds. At least it felt that way. The gusts were so high, we couldn’t hold the camera still. We had to keep reminding ourselves that we were in Oklahoma where the “wind comes sweepin’ down the plain”. Despite the blustery gusts, we thoroughly enjoyed our visit surrounded by the peaceful setting and gorgeous landscape. Our photos don’t do justice to the park’s golden and red tinged grasses, russet bluffs, and gently rolling hills. 

This battlefield photo is a victim of the wind, but we included it because it reminded us of an old painting of the pristine landscape

Significance of the Site

Southern Cheyenne leader Chief Black Kettle and approximately 250 of his tribespeople were encamped for the winter in a village here on the banks of the Washita River. More than 5,000 other Cheyenne, Arapaho and Kiowa were also peacefully encamped in villages farther down the river. Following hostile attacks by bands of Cheyenne on white settlers in Kansas, renowned Civil War general, Philip Sheridan, ordered a retaliatory attack, and his (likely unwarranted) target was Black Kettle’s village. On November 27, 1868, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer led 800 soldiers of the 7th Cavalry in the surprise early morning raid, killing scores of village’s occupants including women and children. The assault would become known as the Battle of the Washita. 

This monument, located near the encampment site, tells the story of the Battle of the Washita. Offerings of remembrance and prayer line the top of the monument.

Casualties of the Battle

Upon hearing of the attack, warriors from the larger villages downstream had rushed to aid Black Kettle and his people. Their help was probably too little and too late, and sadly, both Black Kettle and his wife, Medicine Woman Later were killed in the battle. The death toll remains sketchy, but approximately 103 Cheyenne and 22 US Army personnel perished, along with the Cheyenne’s herd of ponies. Survivors of the battle included fifty-three Cheyenne women and children who were captured and taken to Fort Hays in Kansas. Custer’s soldiers were instructed to destroy all evidence of the village, therefore all fifty-one of the Cheyenne’s lodges were burned and most of their ponies were slaughtered. When all was said and done, nothing remained of the village except the bones of 800 ponies, which were finally removed from the site in 1935.

George Armstrong Custer – photo courtesy of the Library of Congress

Custer’s Destiny                                            

In an ironic twist of fate, Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer met his demise almost eight years later in June 1876 during the Battle of the Little Bighorn in Montana. The US Army (7th Cavalry) suffered defeat against a band of thousands of Native American warriors composed mostly of Northern Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux. Little Bighorn is considered the most significant battle of the Great Sioux War, which was a series of conflicts and unkept agreements between Native American tribes and the US government. Perhaps most famously, the Battle of the Little Bighorn is remembered as Custer’s Last Stand.

Identifying exactly where the lodges stood is difficult because everything was burned. However, some archaeological evidence points to this area along the southern bank of the Washita.

Why Visit This National Park Site?

Washita Battlefield tells just one story of the many adversities the native peoples suffered, especially as our country expanded westward into their homelands. Though we tend to turn our sympathies more toward Black Kettle and his people, the park does an excellent job of explaining what happened from each side’s point of view. Besides, we’re never too old or too young to learn, and where better to learn something than at a free national park. Plan to spend at least an hour in the visitor center because there is a film and a museum that are interesting as well as educational. From the visitor center, drive about a quarter mile to the village site and then walk the 1.5-mile interpretive trail to learn more about what took place on that fateful day in 1868. 

Looks like another painting. Isn’t it pretty? Not a telephone pole, billboard, cell tower, or wind turbine in sight.

Thank you so much for joining us on our quick trip to Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. 

Looking for more history? Check out these historic sites:
Fort Union National Monument
Eisenhower National Historic Site
Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Site

 

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2022  

Featured

Antietam National Battlefield

Located just outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland, Antietam National Battlefield was one of our favorite destinations on our Mid-Atlantic road trip. During the battle that took place on September 17, 1862 and lasted only about 12 hours, 23,000 men’s lives were changed forever. Ending in a Union victory, it was the bloodiest one day battle of the Civil War.

Maryland Monument
Dunker Church so named because their parishioners were baptized by dunking
Miller Farmhouse

The men who lost their lives here did not in any way die in vain, but when one steps foot on these consecrated grounds it is hard not to think that any war has its own senselessness. We felt something spiritual here that resembled the way we felt at the Oklahoma City Memorial – both being places that were once violently disrupted by turmoil but are now utterly serene. Perhaps the spirits of those who fought and died here walked along with us and somehow soothed our souls.

Mumma Farm, the only structure deliberately destroyed during the battle. Confederate soldiers burned the house and outbuildings so Union troops could not use them. Luckily, the Mumma family had left the house before the battle. They rebuilt the house in 1863. Before this trip, we never knew that families whose properties were damaged or destroyed during the Civil War were compensated by the government in order to rebuild.
Hallowed Ground

Another thing we learned on the trip was that the National Park Service leases some of its land to local farmers for growing crops. We never had seen so many soybeans, and certainly never knew that so many acres of soybeans were grown in the US.

Sunken Road aka Bloody Lane looking north
Bloody Lane looking south

This is the site where the Confederates held off 10,000 Union soldiers during a three hour battle. The casualties were high and the road was lined with bodies. Click here for some additional information and photographs of the aftermath of this battle thanks to the History Channel: https://www.history.com/news/battle-antietam-photography-civil-war . Warning – the photographs are graphic!

Burnside Bridge – probably the most photographed landmark at Antietam. General Burnside’s men captured the bridge from about 500 Confederate soldiers who had held the area for more than three hours. Burnside’s troops crossed Antietam Creek, which drove the Confederates back toward Sharpsburg.

The Antietam National Cemetery is located in Sharpsburg, Maryland, just a few miles from the battlefield. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go in, but according the the park brochure 4,776 Union soldiers are buried here, along with veterans of other wars. This cemetery did not exist at the time of the Civil War so the dead were buried where they died on the battlefield. Later their remains were reinterred at this cemetery. Confederate soldiers were buried in Hagerstown, MD, Frederick, MD, and Shepherdstown, VA, now WV. Interestingly, in 2009 remains of an unidentified soldier were found in a cornfield, most likely buried where he fell on the battlefield almost 150 years before.

Cemetery Lodge (sometimes called Keepers House) on the grounds of the Antietam National Cemetery

That’s going to do it for our overview of the Antietam National Battlefield. We hope you enjoyed the visit and that you will come back often to see us as we post more trips and tips. Thank you for joining us on the road. Until next time…

Travel safe, travel smart, and we will see you down the road.

Mike and Kellye

IMG_2120

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

©2021