Solomon River

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. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

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

In the spring of 1857 Col. E. V. Sumner, commander at Ft. Leavenworth, took the field in an effort to subdue the Cheyenne Indians who had been making life unpleasant for emigrants on the Plains.

Sumner's force traveled north and west to Ft. Kearney in Nebraska and on west along the Platte to Ft. Laramie. From there he moved south into present Colorado where he was joined by Maj. John Sedgwick and four companies of cavalry. With this force, numbering about 500 men and including three companies of infantry and two pieces of artillery in addition to the cavalry, Sumner marched east into Kansas.

On July 29, when the column was on the Solomon river in what is now Sheridan county, Sumner received word from his scouts that a large body of Indians was massed a short distance ahead. He halted his infantry but continued to move with the cavalry toward the Indians. He ordered sabers drawn and launched a charge which routed the Cheyennes.

A few days later Sumner wrote of the encounter and the subsequent pursuit in a dispatch from Ft. Atkinson on the Arkansas river, near present Dodge City. It read:

"I have the honor to report that . . .while pursuing the Cheyennes down the Solomon's Ford of the Kansas, we suddenly came upon a large body of them, drawn up in battle array...Their number has been variously estimated from 250 to 500; I think there were about 300. The cavalry were ... marching in three columns. I immediately brought them into line, and, without halting, detached the two flank companies at a gallop to turn their fanks ...and we continued to march steadily upon them.

"The Indians were all mounted, and well armed, many of them had rifles and revolvers, and they stood with remarkable boldness, until we charged and were nearly upon them, when they broke in all directions, and we prusued them seven miles. Their horses were fresh and very fleet, and it was impossible to overtake many of them.

"There were but nine men killed in the pursuit, but there must have been a great number wounded. I had two men killed, and Lt. J.E.B. Stuart and eight men wounded; but it is believed they will all recover. All my officers and men behaved admirably. The next day I established a small force near the battle-ground and left my wounded there in charge of a company of infantry with two pieces of artillery, with orders to proceed to the wagon train, at the lower crossing of the South Fork of the Platte, on the 20th inst., if I did not return before that time.

"On the 31st ultima I started again in pursuit, and at 14 miles I came upon their principal town. The people had all fled; there wer 171 lodges standing, and about as many more that had been hastily taken down, and there was a large amount of Indian property of all kinds, of great value to them. I had everything destroyed and continued the pursuit. I trailed them to within 40 miles of this place, when they scattered in all directions. Believing they would reassemble on this river ... I have come here hoping to intercept them, and to protect this road (the Santa Fe Trail)."

Col Sumner did not intercept the Indians at that point on the Arkansas nor did he catch them at Bent's Fort as he later hoped, because his command was broken up by an order detaching part of it for service in Utah. Sumner returned to Ft. Leavenworth in September, 1857, after marching nearly 2,000 miles.

Story provided by the Leavenworth County Historical Society and Museum and Debra Graden.

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