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Big Bushes

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

16 May 1864; Schoenchen, Kansas: His April expedition against raiding Cheyennes having been hampered by heavy wagons, Lt. George S. Eayre set out on another expedition from Denver with 15 lighter wagons and 84 men, including McLane's Battery and Company D of the 1st Colorado Cavalry. On 1 May the troops were at the headwaters of the Smoky Hill River, on the Colorado-Kansas border, about 160 miles southeast of Denver. Continuing east along the river, Eayre missed the Cheyenne camps of Coon and Crow Chief as well as a village of Brules. At Big Bushes, on the Smoky Hill river south of present-day Hays, Kansas, the soldiers found a Cheyenne camp.

On the morning of 16 May, Cheyenne hunters brought the camp news that soldiers were approaching from the west. Two men in the camp, Black Kettle and Lean Bear, had gone to Washington the year before and considered themselves friends of the whites. President Lincoln had even given Lean Bear a medal, which he wore when he rode out to meet Eayre. But at the Indians' approach, Eayre deployed his men into line and without further ado began firing. Lean Bear and two other Cheyennes went down in the first fusillade.

The Indians shot a few soldiers off their horses, but then the howitzers came up and began blasting the village. At this, more than 500 enraged warriors responded, ready to sweep over the now disorganized soldiers. But Black Kettle rode frenziedly among the warriors, urging them to stop the fighting. If not for him, Eayre's command would probably have been slaughtered. As it was, the soldiers were able to pull away, though warriors followed them and sniped at them most of the way to Fort Larned.

A total of three Cheyennes died in the fight and a dozen were wounded. The Cheyennes killed four soldiers and wounded three. The incident convinced many Cheyennes that war was the only way to deal with the whites.

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Further reading

Burleson’s Fight

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria Ca. 23 December 1850; Loma Alta, Texas: Lt. Edward Burleson was taking his company of...