Wild West

A ‘GHASTLY SCALP’

The Southern Cheyenne warrior dreamed of a wolf, blood smeared on its muzzle, mourning over its slain and scattered pups. Interpreting the warrior’s vision as a sign “Indians would die,” Chief Black Kettle sent four of his children—including a daughter and her son Lone Wolf (aka Stacy Riggs)—to the safety of tribal settlements farther east along the icy banks of the Washita River in Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma).

Shortly thereafter, at dawn on Nov. 27, 1868, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and nearly 600 troopers of the 7th U.S. Cavalry descended on Black Kettle’s camp in a surprise attack. The village of some 250 Indians was caught napping. Though the number of Cheyenne casualties is disputed, Custer’s men and allied Osage scouts killed upward of 16 warriors (Army estimates ranged as high as 103), as well as a number of women and children, and slaughtered nearly 700 horses in what the military had deemed a “hostile camp.” Black Kettle’s men accounted for 21 soldiers killed and 13 wounded. Though a number of historians regard the engagement as a massacre, it is more often referred to as the Battle of the Washita.

Stacy Riggs, Black Kettle’s grandson, grew up hearing how his grandfather’s intuition had spared his life and that of his mother and her siblings. Villagers had discussed and debated their fears of an attack by soldiers with Black Kettle, whose decision not to move the entire camp will likely be forever questioned. A pragmatist, the chief

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