July 11 – Cheyenne chief, Tall Bull, dies at Summit Springs

On this day in 1869 a battle between U.S. Army forces and the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers was fought at Summit Springs, Colorado, near the present town of Sterling.  The Army contingency was under the command of Col. Eugene A. Carr and the Cheyenne chief Tall Bull led the Dog Soldiers.  

Carr’s troops had been assigned to retaliate against Tall Bull’s warriers for recent raids in northern Kansas but Summit Springs was, in fact the culmination of a series of confrontations between the Army and  the famous chief.  About 50 Pawnee Scouts under Maj. Frank North (right) first entered Tall Bull’s camp while Carr positioned his men on three sides of the encampment.

North began his career as a translator, serving first at Fort Kearney in Nebraska and later at the Pawnee Agency School at Genoa, Nebraska.

The major had  organized the scouts in 1864 at the request of Civil War general, Samuel Curtis, principally to help protect Union Pacific Railroad workers from attacks by Sioux and Cheyenne.  As many as 800 Scouts patrolled the route in 1864 and 1865 and pursuing increasingly hostile bands .  Raid increased following the November, 1864, Sand Creek Massacre where a camp of Cheyenne and Arapahoe was attacked by a contingent of the Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, killing as many as 150 mostly women and children.

In what became known as the Battle of Summit Springs in northeastern Colorado,  Major North is said to have shot and killed Tall Bull, while the Scouts surrounded and killed 20 of the Dog Soldiers.  In addition, nine others were killed by the Pawnee including two warriors, a Cheyenne woman and her two children and two elderly women who attempted to flee on horseback. 

The Dog Soldiers, or Dog Men, was one of six Cheyenne military societies known for being aggressive and highly effective resisting American expansion into Indian territory.   Tall Bull was considered their greatest warrior.

Members of the Pawnee tribe of central Nebraska and Kansas, the Scouts faithfully served the U.S. Army in conflicts against their historic enemies, the Cheyenne, Lakota and  Arapaho.  (Above, Pawnee Scouts)

Over the years the more agrarian Pawnee had been periodically attacked during seasonal buffalo hunts by the more nomadic tribes, leading the Pawnee to happily take revenge at the behest of the Americans.

Accounts indicate that Maj. North shot Tall Bull in the first few minutes of the battle but another individual escaped on Tall Bull’s distinctive white horse.  He was shot and killed the next day by Army Scout William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, leading Cody to claim he, in fact, had killed the Cheyenne chief.  

Before organizing the Pawnee Scouts, Maj. North was an interpreter at the Pawnee Agency trading post at Genoa, Nebraska.  

Ironically, the Tall Bull episode signaled a long association between Cody (left)  and North.  After serving  one term in the Nebraska Legislature, North became Cody’s partner  in a cattle ranch on Nebraska’s Dismal River and eventually served as manager of Cody’s Wild West exhibition.  He died in 1885 in Columbus, Nebraska, at the age of 45, not long after suffering a serious horse accident. 

The Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site, Kiowa County, Colorado, commemorates the 1864 event which killed as many as 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho.  Administered by the National Park Service, Rangers provide interpretive programs daily at 10 and 2 or by arrangement.  Entrance to the park is over eight miles of unimproved roads.  Admission is free. Open daily 9 to 4 from April  through November, summer programs start the first week in April.  Winter hours, December through March, the park is open 9 to 4 and closed weekends. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.  For more information go to npr.gov/Sand Creek Massacre Historic Site, call (719) 438-5916 or write  910 Wansted, POB 249, Eads, CO 81036-0249.  © Text Only – 2017 – Headin’ West LLC  – All photos – public domain.