Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers: The 1857 Expedition and the Battle of Solomon's Fork

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University of Oklahoma Press, Oct 1, 2002 - History - 440 pages

The first major battle between the U.S. Army and the Cheyenne Indians took place on the south fork of the Solomon River in present-day northwest Kansas. In this stirring account, William Y. Chalfant recreates the human dimensions of what was probably the only large-unit sabre charge against the Plains tribes, in a battle that was as much a clash of cultures as of cavalry and Cheyenne warriors.

In May 1857 the U. S. First Cavalry, under Col. E. V. Summer, had marched out of Fort Leavenworth to find and “severely punish” the Cheyennes for their attacks on immigrants and other travelers during the previous year–attacks precipitated largely by the army’s earlier assaults on the Cheyennes. Two columns of soldiers moved westward, penetrating the territory of the southern bands of Cheyennes between the Santa Fe and Oregon-California trails, where few whites had been before.

When the cavalry columns were reunited, early in July, the combined forces left their supply train behind and marched southeast across the plains. They were braving the extreme heat of summer with limited rations and little water when they finally met their quarry on the south fork of the Solomon. Resplendent in war finery, the Cheyennes had formed a grand line of battle such as was never again seen in the Plains Indian wars.

William Chalfant recaptures the drama of the confrontation in his narrative: “As one the troopers reached down, and then 300 sabres arced above them, the bright afternoon sunshine flashing across the burnished steel as if the air were torn by a shower of flame. For an instant the blades were held aloft, then came down to the tierce point. At the same time the troopers gave out a mighty yell. And so they thundered across the valley of the Solomon, directly at the oncoming Cheyennes.”

In terms of history, the First Cavalry’s campaign against the Cheyennes was a microcosm of relations between white civilization and Plains Indian. This exciting narrative penetrates the Indian and white cultures to show the battle marked the end of one era in Indian-white relations and the beginning of another.

 

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Contents

The Seeds of Conflict
3
The Cheyenne Troubles
25
The Cheyennes and the Path to the Solomon
45
An Expedition Against the Cheyennes
59
The March of Sedgwicks Column
71
March of Sedgwicks column from Fort Atkinson
89
The March of Sumners Column
104
March of Sumners column from Fort Leavenworth
108
Routes of the Fleeing Cheyennes
215
The Trail to the Arkansas
220
Routes of the First Cavalry troopers from Solomons
222
The Wagon Trains Encounter on the South Platte
232
Sumners March to Bents New Fort
241
The Wagon Trains Return
255
The First Cavalrys Wounded
269
Epilogue The Last Song
281

March of Sumners column along the North Platte
117
On the South Platte
127
March of the Cheyenne Expedition from Camp
134
Across the Plains in Search of the Cheyennes
139
The Wagon Train Moves to the South Platte
148
The Cheyennes Move to Solomons Fork
174
The Battle
181
Valley of Solomons Fork and the charge of the First
187
Site of the running fight from the south fork of
194
The Flight of the Cheyennes
211
Appendix A The Cheyennes
299
Life and Conflict on the Southern Plains
305
Appendix B The First Cavalry
318
Official Communications and Reports
331
Schedule of Daily Marches of
355
Notes
367
Bibliography
393
Articles Letters Affidavits and Manuscripts
399
Copyright

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About the author (2002)

William Y. Chalfant, a practicing attorney and a director of the Kansas Historical Society, is an avid student of western American history.

Roy Grinnell of Santa Fe, a member of the Cowboy Artists of American, is a noted western artist.

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