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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.