Battle of Punished Woman Fork
Last Indian Battle in Kansas1878
For the Northern Cheyenne living on the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservation in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), 1878 was a year of misery and despair. Their meager rations had been cut to three-quarters; malaria and dysentery were rampant.
Chiefs Little Wolf and Dull Knife knew they needed to lead their people home to the Yellowstone River region of Montana. The agents at Red Cloud, Nebraska promised, when they forced the Indians to relocate to Oklahoma, that they could return to their homeland if they didn’t like it farther south.
It was apparent, with the tribe dying of disease and starvation, that it was time to make the arduous 1,500 mile trek north. Their route would take them through the well-known canyons of Punished Woman Creek.
Although reservation officials said the Indians had to stay another year, the chiefs knew one more year meant the demise of their people. With little choice left, they set out at night, escaping from the soldiers bent on making them stay.
Hiding from the troops during the day, they reached Punished Woman Creek, where for two days they resupplied their food and made battle plans to stave off the approaching soldiers. The Punished Woman Creek canyons were one of the last good hiding places to fend off a military attack till they reached the Pine Ridge.
The women used waist axes and butcher knives to build breastworks overlooking the canyon, where the approaching soldiers would be lured in by signs of the encampment and easily surrounded.
There were two hundred and seventy-eight Northern Cheyenne. Approximately one hundred were warriors and the rest women, children, and the elderly. Indian oral history says that Yellow Swallow, the young son of Monsetah and George Custer, was part of the group. However, historians point out that Custer had contracted syphillis causing impotence. This contributed to him and Libby Custer remaining childless.
The soldiers, led by Lt. Col. William Lewis, approached the apparently deserted campground, but a premature shot rang out from the hidden Indians. A fierce battle ensued where Lewis was wounded.
The soldiers took over the main battle site and the women, children and elderly were forced to flee from their secluded, hidden cave. The Indians continued northward on foot. They eluded the soldiers, but heard gunfire as their horses were killed.
The next day Lt. Col. Lewis lay dying in a military ambulance en route to Ft. Wallace and became the last Kansas military casualty. Sources vary greatly to how many other people on both sides died or were wounded that day.
The Battle of Punished Woman Creek was the last Indian battle to take place in Kansas.
Dull Knife ended up surrendering at Ft. Robinson, Nebraska and Little Wolf eventually led his party onto Montana.
This historic site, just south of Lake Scott State Park, is owned by the Scott County Historical Society and no park permit is required to visit it.
An important book on the Northern Cheyenne’s trek and the story of their plight and flight is Cheyenne Autumn by Mari Sandoz, 1953.
Cheyenne Autumn was made into a movie in 1964. It starred Richard Widmark and was director John Ford’s last film.
There is a small arrowhead shaped Battle Canyon sign on the east side of Highway 95. Battle Canyon is just another name for the site. In case of wet weather, it is probably not advisable to travel the dirt roads.
From Scott City go north on US 83 to Highway 95, turn left and follow the highway 1.2 miles, turn left onto a dirt road, then go .3 miles to the kiosk on your right.
From the Keystone Gallery go south on US 83 to Highway 95, turn right onto 95 and follow the highway 5.4 miles to the dirt road, turn right, then travel .3 miles to the informational kiosk on your right.
You do not enter Lake Scott State Park to go to the battle site. From the park entrance main gate the dirt road is 2 miles south.
The gate leads to the Battle of Punished Woman Fork site in the pasture and up the hill. There is a stone obelisk marker on top erected by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) containing information about this battle.
©2015 Keystone Gallery / Photos © Barbara Shelton unless otherwise noted