Battle of Summit Springs, Colorado
The Battle of Summit Springs occurred on July 11, 1869 south of Sterling, Colorado in Washington County. This was an armed conflict between the United States Army under Colonel Eugene A. Carr and a band of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers under the command of Chief Tall Bull. The United States Army were ordered to conduct the attack in retaliation for Chief Tall Bull’s raids against US forces in north and central Kansas. Colonel Carr led the US Army to the Chief’s camp and strategically surrounded and ambushed the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers. Chief Tall Bull, along with a reported 52 other Native soldiers, were killed in the attack, while Colonel Carr only suffered a single wounded soldier of his own. This battle was a major US Army victory but also signified an important historical event reflecting the hostile relations between the combative Native Nations resisting the forced removal of the United States government.
Backstory and Context
The Battle of Summit Springs was a reaction to a series of attacks by the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers on American settlements across the plains of Kansas. But even prior to those attacks, in September of 1869, Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, as well as a group of Arapaho and Sioux warriors, attacked U.S. soldiers in Colorado Territory along the Arikaree River in what became the Battle of Beecher Island. This battle ended in 20 casualties for the U.S. Army, some of which were citizen scouts.1 The following May saw the first of the Kansas attacks, beginning with May 30, 1869, when the leader of the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, Chief Tall Bull, led his soldiers through a violent raid of several homes and numerous murders and kidnappings of settlers all along the Union Pacific railroad tracks by the Saline River. The kidnappings and murders that day included women and infants alike, and left only a few surviving witnesses. Following the raids, two of the kidnapped women were forced by the Cheyenne to walk approximately 200 miles to the area of Summit Springs, Colorado, tortured as they went.2
Upon receiving the news, General Eugene A. Carr assembled his 5th Cavalry regiment, consisting of about 244 soldiers, and set out to rescue the kidnapped women. Carr's army caught up to the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers on the wide-open plains by the Summit Springs where they had sent up camp. Wanting the element of surprise, Carr sought the help of 50 Pawnee scouts, who told Carr they estimated there to be 450 Cheyenne in the camp.
Before Carr's army could plan an ambush, however, a young Cheyenne boy spotted the U.S. soldiers and ran to alert his tribe. In a rush, Carr and his men surrounded the camp and the battle ensued. Despite greatly outnumbering them, the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers were outgunned and mostly caught off guard. The battle was over almost as fast as it began, ending in devastation for the Cheyenne. Approximately 52 Cheyenne Dog Soldiers, including the Chief Tall Bull, were killed, while General Carr only reported a single soldier wounded in the fight. Unfortunately, one of the two kidnapped women was killed at the start of the battle, but the other managed to survive with only a few wounds.3
The Battle of Summit Springs effectively crushed the Cheyenne Dog Soldiers and was both the last significant battle with Native tribes in Colorado and also the last major battle to end the Plains Indian Wars.4
2 Grinnell, George Bird. The Fighting Cheyennes. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. 1956.
3 Greene, Jerome A. Washita: The U.S. Army and the Southern Cheyennes, 1867-1869. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. 2014.
4 Athearn, Frederic J. "Land of Contrast: A History of Southeast Colorado" Bureau of Land Management Denver, Colorado,1985.