By Liz Wood 

The Indians at Platte Valley Crossing

 


Editor’s note: This is the third and final story in a series about pioneer trails passing through the Platte Valley and Wyoming.

Chris “Chilly” Rollison referred to Randall's explanation of the fact that the Overland Trail started as an Indian trail. Before becoming an Indian trail, the trails were game trails.

The Indians would have followed the game and established that trail, and later on the wagons would follow the trail.

When Lt. John Fremont and guide Kit Carson were on a trail downstream from the Platte River Crossing, a band of Arapahoes set to attack their camp. Fremont quickly turned his howitzer toward the rushing warriors, who decided to parley rather than fight. Their excuse was they thought Fremont’s party were an enemy tribe. Peace ensued.

There were several different tribes that utilized the land as it was a border land for at least five tribes, Rollison said.

Three tribes, the Cheyenne, the Arapahoe and the Lakota were allied people, Rollison said. They generally occupied each others land and often married into each other's tribes. Rollison referred to them as the Platte River Indians..

Two other tribes were the Wind River Shoshoni to the west, and the White River Utes to the South. When the Oregan Trail was being utilized, the Platte River Tribe was angry, because the stock was eating all the grass and the buffalo had moved out of the area. The Indians started making raids. They were making raids to get scalps, and also to get good horses and stock.


When the route was moved to the Overland Trail, the raids decreased as the Shoshoni tribe under Chief Washakie were a very good ally to the Americans.

Chief Washakie, who was Jim Bridger’s father-in-law, and a fierce warrior helped the United States Government by volunteering his Shoshoni warriors to act as escorts for the mail wagons.

It was the responsibility of the soldiers at Fort Halleck to escorts the mail wagons, but because the Civil War was taking most of the soldier away from duty, few were left to guard the mail wagons.

In November,1864, Col. John Chivington and a Colorado militia and some New Mexico calvary unit, went into Chief Black Kettle's camp at Sand Creek and murdered the people in his tribe and mutilated their bodies.

Chivington led this raid in retribution for three or four pioneers who had been killed by Indians. Chief Kettle had an American flag given to him by President Lincoln, that was to protect him from attacks by the military, Rollison explained.

The flag was ignored and the militia, who was reportedly drunk, committed the violent massacre of Sand Creek.

Children were randomly shot for target practice. Chivington was eventually court-martialed.

The Cheyenne and Arapahoe that survived were not happy, Rollison said, which led to the bloody 1865 retaliation.

The number of whites killed by Indians is difficult to pin down, Rollison said, because there were groups of white men called "grey men" by the Indians that would dress in buck skins and attack the wagons. The Indians would be blamed for these attacks.

Rollison said in 1868, the government was going to allocate the land for the Shoshoni Reservation. Chief Washakie requested area of the flat river waters with the shiny mountains to the west and the Bow mountains to the east. It was also the location of the sacred waters where they could go to purify themselves. This area was located in the Upper North Platte Valley. This, however, made the government nervous, because the Shoshoni could possibly attack the fort and cut off the new railroad, which was the main transcontinental artery.

The second choice was the valley of the Wind River, which was the location of sacred waters, too.

The irony was was, Rollison explained, is that a railroad was built to ship beef up to Camp Brown in the Wind Rivers.

After the railroad was built, the attacks slowed down, as the Indians realized that the railroad could bring in a lot of soldiers to attack the Indians, Rollison said.

As the Shoshoni moved north, the White River Utes utilized the area more frequently.

The study of American Indians in the Platte Valley will continue with a trek in 2014 as Rollison will lead a group of trekkers to study and learn about tipi rings.

For more information about the Saratoga Historical Association, treks or the Saratoga Museum, contact the director, Kimberly Givens at 307-326-5511.

 

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