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More to See >> Read Part of Chapter 9 From Washita

Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869

By Jerome Greene

Book Review by Bob Reece, February 2005

Plains Indian War historian, Jerome A. Greene, has produced another important book to add to his growing body of work. “Washita” brings closure, although not intended, to the story of Black Kettle that we began in this section of our website. We started with reviews of the biography “Black Kettle” by Thom Hatch, followed with “Finding Sand Creek" by Jerome Greene and Doug Scott.

Greene is one of our best historians researching and writing today, period. Unlike so many published authors that write from secondary sources, Greene relies principally upon primary sources to tell the story of Lt. Col. George Custer, the 7th Cavalry, the Cheyenne, and Black Kettle at the Battle of the Washita.

“Washita” begins in Colorado with Greene reciting the story of the Sand Creek Massacre, November 29, 1864, along with its causes and aftermath. We learn how Black Kettle escaped only to die almost four years to the day, November 27, 1868 under similar circumstances at the Washita. After the battle, Greene's narrative continues where previous books about the Washita end. The author provides original insight and analysis of the myths and truths of the Battle of the Washita leaving the reader better informed, than ever before, on what really happened during and after the battle. And, at last, a historian has finally brought to rest the controversy of whether the Washita was a battle or a massacre.

Greene writes with firm yet smooth determination in recounting a complicated story of Indian/White depredations, by both groups, beside the old roads, ranches, and rivers of the American West. There is nothing politically correct in Greene’s story – it is a brutally honest and most unprejudiced book written about this dark period of the Indian Wars.

By the time Custer and 11 companies of the 7th Cavalry leave Camp Supply, heading towards the Washita River, on November 23, 1868 Greene has laid out all the reasons why in a succinct but clear interpretation. I love the way Greene writes his stories – he doesn’t waste any time. Greene would make a great screenwriter – he draws a clear picture in our mind through his words, the picture is sharp, focused; the plot and the characters, with the different pieces, all come together allowing the viewer (reader) to follow the storyline completely without question.

Greene’s story about the Battle of the Washita is told in two parts – the first part is from the army’s perspective while part two is told from Indian accounts. If I may use film as an analogy again, “Washita” is somewhat like Akira Kurosawa’s 1950 film, “Rashomon” which tells the story of a murder from four eyewitness accounts with each account being somewhat different from each other. One might think that Greene relating the story of the battle this way would make it confusing, however, that is the farthest from the truth.

Greene provides evidence confirming the number of soldier’s killed and even the count for Indian dead. He also provides conclusive evidence as to who in Custer’s command killed many of the non-combatants – it was mostly the Osage scouts; even after Custer ordered his troops to prevent, “the killing of any but the fighting strength of the village…” before the battle began.

Greene delivers a detailed analysis of the demise of Major Elliott and 17 of his men against Cheyennes, Kiowas, Arapahos, and Kiowa-Apaches – warriors that entered the battle from the downriver villages. Elliott and his troops were cut-off from the main village and the rest of the 7th  -- surrounded, outnumbered, and outgunned they reluctantly let go of the horses, lay down in the tall grass in a circle facing outward and gave it their best shot to the last man.

If you are prone to not review endnotes of a book, I highly recommend that you do read those that Greene provides. You will find pertinent information -- all most interesting about the battle. You don’t want to miss any of the action! It is in the endnotes where you will learn that Custer had his soldiers retrieve two ponies from the village herd, before all the horses were killed, for each Indian woman prisoner to use on their trip back north.

From the opening of the battle when Custer orders the soldier’s dogs killed to ensure silence, to the vexation of the warriors watching hundreds of ponies killed, Greene’s account of the Battle of the Washita is told better than all others preceding him. I think it will be a long time before someone else can even possibly come close.


Webmaster’s Note: Jerome Greene has just completed the definitive account of the administrative history of the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument entitled, "Stricken Field:  Little Bighorn, 1876-2003.    An Administrative History of Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument" The study is currently undergoing NPS internal review and no publication data is available at this time. Update: Greene's complete history will now be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in March 2008. Friends will publish a special signed and numbered limited edition.

March 2005 should see the release of Greene's next book, "The Guns of Independence:  The Siege of Yorktown, 1781" published by SavasBeatieLLC. I anxiously await this book since I have an interest in the Revolutionary War.

Greene returns to the American West in 2006 with the book, "Fort Randall on the Missouri, 1856-1892."

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