The Last Armed Conflict Between the U.S. Cavalry and American Indians in Oklahoma

Help me spread the word! Footprints in the Dew will be in print on September 26th! You can pre-order a copy now on this website! Thanks for your support.

Welcome back. Alva, Oklahoma home of Northwestern Oklahoma University, is a town I pass through often when traveling highway 64 going west to New Mexico. There’s lots of wide open spaces out there and you may drive for miles before you see another car. The area seems remote today but back in 1878 it was even more so. There were ranches and itinerant cowboys roamed the region that would become Kansas. A few miles to the north a few farms had started to crop up across the landscape but in general the area was still undeveloped and too rough and wide open to appeal to farmers. This was the setting for the Battle of Turkey Springs.

Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf had led a band of Northern Cheyenne off the reservation in an attempt to return to their original lands in Montana and Wyoming. There were 92 men, 120 women and 141 children many of whom were ill and starving before the journey but they had pledged to get back to their land or die trying.

Life on the reservation was unbearable for the Cheyenne who were accustomed to living on a wide open range full of game. On the reservation there was only the remains of buffalo slaughtered by white hunters and there was nothing to hunt for food. Many Cheyenne had already died when the tribe was hit by a measles epidemic and they couldn’t take any more.

After leaving the reservation in Fort Reno, the tribe followed trails through canyons and forests to avoid being scene but outside of present day Alva they took their final stand. According to Wikipedia, the band had dwindled to 297 people when companies G and H of the U.S. Cavalry found them. With the help of many civilians, the cavalry had tracked the Cheyenne 11 miles up Turkey Creek to Turkey Springs. When they realized the troops were coming, the Indians dug rifle pits for the men without horses and prepared for what became known as “the last armed conflict between the U.S. Cavalry and American Indians in Oklahoma.”

After their escape, the Cheyenne had outmaneuvered troops on several occasions and when confronted, had out fought detachments from several different forts in their struggle to get home. This time they had exhausted all their options.

In the course of a predictable battle 50 Cheyenne were killed and 30 were wounded but Turkey Springs became a kind of victory because it brought the plight of Indians on reservations to the attention of the American people.

I first discovered this story when I stopped at a historical marker along the Governor Nigh Northwest Passage last week. There are hundreds of these markers along American highways, each one with its own story from our history. Check out one or two the next time you’re traveling, I’ve found many a good story and I guarantee you will too.

Here’s my scoop of the week about an event you may want to check out. Many events are held at the Lions’ Club building on Tuxedo Boulevard, including their annual Christmas tree sale. The building can also be rented and this Saturday from 8-5 there will be a benefit for a young local woman, Kelley Stardette Preston, who is fighting a rare form of cancer. They will be holding a big yard sale with smoked hot dogs available and a bake sale from some of the top bakers in town as well. Dozens of families have donated items for the sale so it should be a lot of fun. Sitting under a shade tree with a hot dog and a cookie sounds pretty good to me. Help them out if you can.

Also coming up it’s the Original Buffalo Dale on tour at OSU Tulsa presenting my project to their OLLI students. If you missed the class in Bartlesville, I’ve been asked to return and return I will with a full cast of characters and more. For more info call Ruth Sirbaugh at (405) 744-5868 at OSU Stillwater or check out my website

Till next week I’ll see ya down the road………………………………….