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Photo of an Indian representing Chief Magpie at a burial ceremony at Washita
An Indian representing Chief Magpie attends a burial ceremony at Washita Battlefield, 1930

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Washita Battlefield National Historic Site
A Local Legacy

Have you ever heard of the Battle of Washita?

You can learn about this famous battle at the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site in Oklahoma. This site is important because it helps us remember the violent conflict between Indians of the Great Plains and the United States Army.

The Great Plains include the land from the Canadian border south to the New Mexico and Texas borders, and from the Missouri River west to the Rocky Mountains. The Indian tribes from this area -- the Plains Indians -- include the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Kiowa. The Army fought these tribes because they wanted to gain control over the Great Plains.

For many years before and after the Civil War, the U.S. government tried to move Indians to an Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Some Plains Indians agreed to move to reservations but others, like the Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Comanches, did not. Instead, they continued to live and hunt on traditional lands outside the Indian Territory. After the Civil War, settlers wanted to move into this land, so they attacked.

At dawn on November 27, 1868, Lieutenant Colonel George Custer attacked a sleeping Cheyenne village in the Washita Valley, surprising the Cheyenne's leader, Chief Black Kettle. Many Plains Indians were captured or killed during this battle. Chief Magpie, a teenager at the time who lived in Black Kettle's village, shot a soldier and took his horse, then rode off to safety. He lived to fight Custer again at the famous Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

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