The Battle Between Buffalo Hunters and Indians


This story happened in Sherman County Kansas but includes
members of the BROWN family who homesteaded near Kirwin
in Phillips County.

Surnames in this article include: KIDDER, REESE, DIMMIT, BROWN, LUCAS, GERMAN, NIELL, CAMPBELL, SCHRODER, SARCH, HENLEY, WHEELER, CANFIELD, KUHRT, COLLIER, FLANDERS

At this time, there are records of only two incidents in Sherman County history where Indians killed white men. The first incident was the deaths of Lt. Kidder and his command in July of 1867. The death of the three white buffalo hunters on April 15, 1875 is the second incident. Both of these incidents occurred in the same general area along the Beaver Creek in the northeast area of Sherman County. During the April 15, 1875 battle three white buffalo hunters were killed with at least three Indians shot, although some records indicate as many as five or six Indians were shot.

Research indicates that there were several camps of buffalo hunters located in the area in April 1875. On the upper Beaver was a well known water hole at the side of the often dry creek. A buffalo hunter, named Sol REESE was camped near the water hole with his partner, Dan DIMMIT.

Early that day, DIMMIT had gone alone to hunt buffalo, riding to the northwest. Later, to the north of the campsite, REESE witnessed a party of unidentified warriors that appeared to be ready to attack an unknown buffalo hunter. Shooting to warn the man, REESE came within rifle range before seeing the stranger fall. During the shooting, REESE had downed one Indian. Dan DIMMIT, warned by the shooting, crouched behind a low ridge and accounted for two more Indians being wounded or killed. Records indicate that the stranger probably shot several Indians before he was shot.

As the Indians left the area, RESSE and DIMMIT hurried to the fallen stranger. They discovered that he was dead and scalped. They took the body back to their camp near the water hole for burial. As was their custom, the Indians that had been shot were removed from the area by the remaining Indians so it is not known if they were wounded or killed. Nothing was left in the area to identify the tribe involved.

After burying the stranger, REESE and DIMMIT broke camp and traveled about five miles down the Beaver to an area known as Big Springs where they knew some of the other buffalo hunters were camped. There they found the corpses of Daniel BROWN and James LUCAS. REESE and DIMMIT buried LUCAS and BROWN near Big Springs. Before they finished with that task, Joe BROWN, who was a brother to Daniel, returned from taking a wagon load of buffalo hides to Fort Wallace. Joe BROWN was greatly upset over the death of his brother. He told REESE and DIMMIT that he had heard about other Indian attacks upon scattered buffalo hunter camps while at Fort Wallace and had tried to hurry back to warn his partners. It was decided to break camp and to head toward the settlements to the east.

Some of this information was gained from pages 85 through 87 of the book, Sutton's Southwest Nebraska by E.S. Sutton, published in 1983 According to Sutton's book, the April 15, 1875 battle was one of a series of historical events, which happened on the High Plains between Indians and the white man. Sutton describes the progress of these events and the way that each event was related to one another.

The first event, which took place about September 12, 1874, involved members of the GERMAN family, who were traveling alone across Kansas in a covered wagon. The GERMAN family was breaking camp on the Smokey Hill River about 35 miles east of Fort Wallace when members of the Kicking Horse Band attacked them. This band of Cheyenne was composed of 17 warriors and two women, Machsi Warrior and Good Woman.

NEILL, John and Lydia GERMAN, their son Steven plus daughters Rebecca and Jo Anne were killed. Daughters Catherine (age 17), Sophia (age 12), Julia (age 7), and Adeline (age 5) were taken captive. The Cheyenne band, with the girls of the GERMAN family, traveled south. The Cheyenne lady, known as Good Woman, had accepted responsibility for the younger two girls. It soon became apparent that the younger girls could not continue to travel at the fast rate nececessary in order for the band of Cheyenne to stay ahead of the military pursuit. A few days later, the younger two girls were left on the prairies well south of the Arkansas River. Although the girls were left alone, Good Woman knew that they would be quickly found and taken care of by the Stone Calf band, which were camped in that area.

On November 8, 1874, Julia and Adeline were rescued by the military, the Kicking Horse band continued on south into the desolute Staked Plains of Texas. The military hoped that the severe winter storms and starvation would force the Indians to surrender and return the captive girls.

On January 15, 1875, a Comanche messenger informed the military that the Cheyenne would surrender on military terms. The Cheyenne, with some other Indians, were undertaking the 200 mile walk back north to the Canadian River. The large group of Indians arrived there on March 5, 1875. Immediately an ambulance took the two GERMAN girls to Fort Reno in Oklahoma Territory. All weapons of the Indians were destroyed by the military. Among the group of 120 men plus 119 women and children that surrendered, there were only two men and Good Woman of the Kicking Horse band present. No account has been found as to what happened to the missing members of the Kicking Horse band.

The next related event occurred when Col. Thomas NIELL, finding only the three members of the Kicking Horse band, arbitrarily arrested 36 warriors (2 Arapahoe and 34 innocent Cheyenne). When the military attempted to place leg irons on the warriors, the warriors fought back and escaped. Co. B, 5th US Cavalry opened fire on the defenseless Indians. The military reported that six warriors and one woman (Good Woman) were found dead after the shelling.

With the escaping Indians assisting any wounded Indians, they pushed north into northern Kansas along the Sappa Creek. Here they camped to rest and to allow the wounded to heal. The area was known as Sappa Hole (later as The Cheyenne Hole), which is on a bend of the creek below a bluff. This site is near Oberlin, Kansas.

There is some reason to believe that the group of warriors involved in the battle of Beaver Creek might have been some of the Indians who had escaped the military shelling but there is no proof to that fact. Regardless, the next historical event in the series would have been the 1875 Sherman County battle.

Research indicated that after REESE, DIMMIT, and Joe BROWN left their camps along Beaver Creek they traveled east until they joined three other buffalo hunters- Hank CAMPBELL, Charles SCHRODER, and Sam SARCH- at their camp on Prairie Dog Creek north of the present day town of Colby, Kansas. The two groups joined together on April 22, 1875. Upon hearing of the deaths of Daniel BROWN, LUCAS and the stranger, these buffalo hunters were ready to attack a group of Indians that they had recently seen. Cooler heads convinced them to travel as a group toward the settlements. Each day more buffalo hunters joined the group.

In the same general area, Lt. HENLEY was leading a command of 40 men to seek the Indians that had earlier escaped the military shelling. A civilian, Homer WHEELER, was scouting for Lt. HENLEY's troop. While scouting, WHEELER came across the group of buffalo hunters. WHEELER was informed by the buffalo hunters that some Indians had been seen traveling toward Sappa Creek, which was about 17 miles north. WHEELER realized that the anger of some of the hunters included all Indians, innocent or otherwise, so he decided to lead the buffalo hunters to join Lt. HENLEY's Command.

Lt. HENLEY had orders to determine the identity of the Indians camped on the Sappa Creek so the troopers along with the large group of buffalo hunters continued to travel in that direction. There was talk, led by Joe BROWN, that the Indians at Sappa Hole should be killed, even though there was nothing to indicate that the Indians that had been involved in the deaths of three buffalo hunters in Sherman County had anything to do with the Indians camped by the Sappa Creek. Several of the hunters did not want to join in attacking the Indians but joined with the military when promised that no women or children would be killed. Apparently, DIMMIT left before the attack as his name is never mentioned in the later military investigation, and it is known that one hunter did drop out preceding the attack.

There was a heavy fog when the military and the group of buffalo hunters arrived on top of the bluff overlooking the camped Indians. Testimony at the military investigation later recorded: " no shots were fired at first except by buffalo hunters, who were prepared with cocked rifles, and any excuse was good enough, as they were itching for trouble; whereas, the Indians had taken pains to conceal their weapons, and when the fight started so unexpectedly, they were caught unprepared".

Others testified at the investigation that Joe BROWN was concerned that the Indians would escape due to the military's decision to go in under a 'white flag'. The reason for a 'white flag' was in order to question the Indians about those responsible for the deaths of the three hunters in Sherman County. It was testified that Joe BROWN was so angry that he went over the ridge with revolvers blazing. The Indians returned fire with Joe BROWN immediately being killed. Joe's action's resulted in a gun battle. During the gun battle at Cheyenne Hole on the Sappa Creek, the military and the group of buffalo hunters killed more than 60 of the camped Indians, mostly women and children.

Afterwards Joe BROWN's body was taken to be buried on the BROWN family homestead near Kirwin, Phillips County, Kansas. Later the family of the BROWN brothers came to dig up the body of Daniel from his grave in Sherman County to rebury beside his brother Joe. The stranger was identified as a Mr. CANFIELD. CANFIELD's body was claimed by his widow and was buried at Oberlin, the first interment at the cemetery.

Research indicates that the body of James LUCAS remains buried in Sherman County. According to a map drawn in 1950 by Paul KUHRT, LUCAS is buried a few yards north of Big Springs along the bend of the Beaver Creek to the west of where today the bridge on the Bird City and Edson road crosses the creek. Joseph COLLIER was the first to settle that area in 1879 and his home was in the general area. During Mr. COLLIER's lifetime, he was known to have tended the gravesite of James LUCAS

The site of the Big Springs and the Water Hole camps, the area of the April 15, 1875 battle and the grave of James LUCAS are on the present day FLANDERS Ranch, often called the KUHRT's Ranch, in northeast Sherman County. Also in the area was found a 44.75 Caliber Sharps rifle, which was believed to have belonged to James LUCAS.

Of historical interest is the fact that the last recorded attack of settlers in Kansas happened near Oberlin. A band of Cheyenne Indians attacked some outlying settlers with some deaths. Even though the attack was several years later, it may have been the last of the series of related events, which included the April 15, 1875 battle between buffalo hunters and Indians in Sherman County.

This article was written by Evelyn M. Ward
and appeared in the
Sherman County Historical Society Newsletter
Volume 26, Number 4 April 2002
It has been included on this site because some of the individuals have a connection to Phillips County

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