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Black Kettle

By Thom Hatch

Book Review by Bob Reece

It has been 140 years since that dark dawn rose over the eastern plains of Colorado bathing the land in blood and gore at Sand Creek. Countless books have been written about the subject, and its story has been recounted in film. Today, there are those who believe it was a massacre, others it was a battle that turned into a massacre, but to all academic historians Chivington’s attack upon a sleeping village of Cheyenne and Arapaho was nothing but a massacre turned into a blood bath of unspeakable horror.

A new book by Friends’ member, Thom Hatch, is now available entitled, “Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace But Found War.” The book is the first ever written biography about the Cheyenne leader. And, Sand Creek is at the center of Black Kettle’s life.

Black Kettle is more than a story of one man’s life. The story Hatch shares is rich in Plains Indian culture focusing on the Cheyenne people along with their form of government, laws, religion, courtship, and military society. Hatch’s passages about the warrior societies are filled with pageantry, color, and ritual. The narrative follows the Cheyenne relationships with other tribes that were both productive and destructive.

Much of what Hatch discusses in this portion of the book has been written before, but Black Kettle finally becomes a human being instead of just a symbol of the wrongs committed against the Indians. After Black Kettle witnessed the peace gathering between his people and the Kiowas, Hatch explains its effect upon the Cheyenne leader.

“Perhaps this event made enough of an impression upon Black Kettle that it served as a lesson in shaping his future role as a man who believed that peace with any enemy – even the white man – was attainable if both parties were honorable and sincere with their promise to become friends.”

The centerpiece of any story around Black Kettle has to be the Sand Creek Massacre and Hatch does not disappoint the reader. There can be no honest telling of Sand Creek that doesn’t move the reader, and the story of Black Kettle at Sand Creek is powerful. Black Kettle leads as many of his people as he can to safety to the Sand Pits except for his wife, Medicine Woman Later, who is shot down near the creek in a hail of bullets.

At twilight, Black Kettle returns to find his wife as the soldiers commit the atrocities around him. Finding Medicine Woman Later still alive, Black Kettle carries her on his back for miles until he catches-up with the survivors, who by now are moving northeast away from the killing field. Putting his wife on a horse, Black Kettle leads his people to the Dog Soldier camps.

So ends the Sand Creek Massacre, but far more of the life of Black Kettle follows. A true leader is one that stands up for what he believes, never wavers, and makes decisions based solely on the betterment of his people. Black Kettle was such a leader. Black Kettle continued to sue for peace from the white man, even after Sand Creek, even though many of his people chastised him for it, and even though there was intimidation by the Dog Soldiers.  Black Kettle knew his people would be doomed if they continued to fight the people moving into their lands. He believed peace was the only choice the Cheyenne had to save what they could of their way of life.

Tom Hatch brings us the complete life of Black Kettle -- his analysis of the man’s life and the events surrounding it is fresh, bold, and provides new challenges for future researches.

“Black Kettle” and “Finding Sand Creek” are perfect companion pieces in the study of the Cheyenne, Colorado, and the Indian wars. You can order the book by clicking on the “Buy” link at the top left – your purchase helps the Friends of the Little Bighorn Battlefield support projects at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument.

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