Ceremony commemorates last Indian battle in Kansas





SCOTT COUNTY — Close to 150 Northern Cheyenne tribal members made the long journey from Montana to Scott County to observe the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Punished Woman's Fork, the last Indian battle to take place in Kansas.

"This is a once in a lifetime event because in 135 years, they've never been here, most of them. We are so gratified and just honored to have them and to recognize a wonderful, national historic site," said Jerry Thomas, Scott City.

The Jerry Thomas Gallery and Collection/El Quartelejo Museum, both of Scott City, hosted the 135th Anniversary of the Battle of Punished Woman's Fork Symposium Friday and today. At 4 p.m. Friday, a dedication ceremony was held at Punished Woman's Fork, located about a mile south of Lake Scott State Park, where a monument to the battle overlooks a cave, a canyon and bluffs.

"In a cave down here was 353 men, women, elderly and children, and all they wanted to do was go home," Thomas told those on hand for the ceremony. "They were being followed by 220 men of the United States Army of the Fourth Cavalry and the 19th Infantry, and they were men, many of whom sympathized with the Northern Cheyenne, many of whom had made friends with the Northern Cheyenne ... Two cultures — one just wanted to go home, the other one was trying to do their job. Today, what we're doing is celebrating our heritage of the Northern Cheyenne, the heritage of this great state and the people of this great state, who have maintained this site to make it a national historic site."

According to www.elquarteleomuseum.org, the monument overlooks the cave, canyon and bluffs where the Northern Cheyenne hid, waiting to ambush the U.S. Cavalry. In the battle that ensued, Commanding officer Lt. Col. William H. Lewis was mortally wounded. He became the last officer killed in military action in the state of Kansas. After the battle, the Northern Cheyenne fled during the night.

State Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, attended the event and described the site as the intersection between the history of the Northern Cheyenne and European settlers.

"Our people, who have now been here and called this home for 125 years, were always mindful that these aren't the first people to call these lands in western Kansas home," Hineman said. "Even today, when we find an arrowhead, a spear point or a bit of broken pottery, we're reminded of that history and we keep that as a memento of a long ago time and people that no longer call this home, but once did. And when I look at one of those artifacts, my mind wanders and I think, 'Who made that and who were the people who used that? What was there life like here and who were they?'"

Conrad Fisher, tribal historian and preservation officer for the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, said that when Thomas contacted him about bringing tribe members to the area, he thought that it was too far away.

"Initially, we thought it would be a little too long for the elders. But lo and behold, when we had our poster and our signup sheet, we had an overwhelming response. We had almost 200 people (sign up)," Fisher said.

Thomas said that one of the elder women who made the trek to the site was the daughter of one of the Indians who fled from the area.

"She could literally tell what he thought from here to every point along this," Thomas said. "That's one of the stories you don't hear — the old stories — because they tell them. It's not written. It's what they know."

From 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, the Northern Cheyenne performed native song and dance. Today at the Jerry Thomas Gallery, beginning at 8 a.m., items found at Punished Women's Fork will be displayed.

"I've collected over the years, some of the items that have never been seen from Punished Woman's Fork. It will be the finest collection of the world of Punished Woman's Fork memorabilia," Thomas said. "We will also feature authors and historians and the Cheyenne authors and their stories about the battle, before, beginning and after,"

The gallery is located at 902 W. Kansas Highway 96 in Scott City. For more information, call (620) 874-0174.

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