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Medicine Lodge - Making Peace With the Indians

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Nestled in a valley east of the Gypsum Hills is the historic town of Medicine Lodge, the county seat of Barber County. Medicine Lodge took its name from the Medicine River which skirted the townsite on the west. This stream was named by the Kiowa Indians who discovered the healing qualities of the river and often met upon its banks in council for "making medicine." For years before the settlers arrived, area Native Americans believed the spot to be under the protection of the Great Spirit.

 

Prairie fires, which periodically destroyed tree growth along the western rivers, had passed around the region making it seem that the waters of the Medicine River possessed a magic power to protect the green woodland clinging to its margin. Representatives of all tribes in the Southwest met in peace at a little medicine lodge which is said to have stood on the river bank near what would later become the townsite of Medicine Lodge. Here, they fasted and prayed and bathed in the curative waters of the sacred river so that their bodily ills might be healed.

 

The Gypsum Hills in Barber County, Kansas

The Gypsum Hills in Barber County, courtesy Kansas Travel.

 

 

 

When settlement of the Kansas Territory was brought almost to a standstill by constant Indian wars in the 1860's, representatives of the Federal Government made plans for a great peace council between the Indians and the white men. Scouts, soldiers, settlers, and gold-seekers were enlisted to carry word to tribes that Government representatives desired to meet them and negotiate a treaty of peace at a place of their own choosing.


After months of tribal councils and pow wows the tribes chose the site of their medicine lodge on the banks of the wooded river. Two factors influenced their choice. They believed that near their ancient sanctuary, the Great Spirit would watch over all that took place. The spot, too, was miles from the white mans' civilization and here, in their own country, they believed there was less danger of treachery on the part of the white men. Plans were completed for the meeting in the early fall of 1867 and in October, up to 15,000 Indians met with 600 Government representatives in what is said to be the largest gathering of Indians and whites in the history of the United States.

The commissioners, whose duty it was to negotiate the treaty with the chiefs of the five Plains tribes -- Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Apache, and Cheyenne, were all men of prominence in war and Government affairs. Representing the Federal Government were N. G. Taylor, orator and scholar; General William T. Sherman, Civil War hero; and S. J. Crawford, Governor of Kansas. Others who played important parts were Colonel A. G. Boone, grandson of Daniel Boone, Colonel Edward W. Wynkoop, agent of the Arapaho and the Cheyenne, respected by the whites and possessing the trust and confidence of the Indians, Colonel James H. Leavenworth, agent of the Kiowa and the Comanche, Kit Carson, William Mathewson, and Buffalo Bill Cody, Indian fighters and scouts; and Jesse Chisholm, for whom the Chisholm Cattle Trail was named. Henry M. Stanley, later known for his explorations in Africa and his search for David Livingstone, covered the event for the New York Tribune.

 

Towering above all the Indians was Little Raven, orator and chief of the Arapaho. A. A. Taylor, later Governor of Tennessee, attended the council as a secretary. In an account of the event published in the early 1900's he said: "Little Raven's speech before the commission on the question of damages ... his reference to the ill treatment the Indians had received from the whites was scathing, and his plea for protection and better treatment in the future was the most touching piece of impassioned oratory to which I have listened before or since." Of no less importance to the gathering were Satanta, chief of the Kiowa; Young Bear, Iron Mountain, and Painted Lips of the Comanche; Wolf Sleeve, Iron Shirt, and Crow of the Apache; and Black Kettle, Bull Bear, and Slim Face of the Cheyenne.

Council meetings were held in a large tent near the river bank. Commissioners and Indian chiefs sat on camp stools in a circle and secretaries wrote on large packing boxes. Thus after three years of constant warfare, Indians and whites met peaceably, exchanging words instead of blows and concluding arguments with mutual concessions. Each chief spoke before the council and the grievances and claims of each tribe were settled individually. At the end of the two week negotiations the treaty was signed. It fixed the southern boundary of Kansas and stipulated that south of that line should be Indian Territory "as long as grass grows and waters run."

 

Medicine Lodge, Kansas Treaty Council

Medicine Lodge Treaty Council between the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes and the U.S. government, John Howland, 1867.

Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads HERE.
 


It ended a war of three years duration, thus clearing the way for white settlement of the entire southwest. As a result of the treaty the populations of Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, New Mexico, and Arizona were augmented, making it indirectly responsible for the entrance of those States into the Union. White men are known to have settled in the region shortly after the signing of the treaty, but, they were few. In October, 1872, William Walters had a temporary camp at the forks below what would become the townsite of Medicine Lodge, but, made no effort at settlement and moved away the following spring. In February, 1873, a party led by John Hutchinson came to area and laid out a townsite of 400 acres. The location was perfect with Elm Creek lying on the east, and Medicine Lodge River on the west, joining their waters a quarter of a mile to the south of the city. Between the waterways, the townsite sat upon a lofty plateau.


The first building on the townsite was the structure which would later form the dining room of the Medicine Lodge House. It was built by D. Updegraff as a hotel with lumber hauled from Hutchinson. Next, Bemis, Hutchinson & Co. put up an office, which would later form the south wing of the Medicine Lodge House. This was followed by a large general store, erected by Bemis, Jordon & Co., on the spot which would later be occupied by Payne's Bank. L. H. Ulmer was the next merchant to locate on the townsite, and was followed in the summer of 1873 by D. E. Sheldon. Immigration was rapid during that year witnessing the arrival of C. T. Rigg, the first physician and later the county sheriff; W. E. Hutchinson was the first attorney; Cicero Widner put up the first blacksmith shop, and S. A. Winston established the first drug store. A post office was established with S. Winston. Mail routes from this point ran to Harper, Kiowa, Kinsley, Great Bend and Hutchinson. The first schoolhouse was also built that year at a cost of $400. Miss Lucinda Burlingame was engaged as the first teacher.


1874 was not a good year for the fledgling settlement. It was known as the "grasshopper year," when swarms of insects destroyed the corn and vegetables that would have sustained the new settlers during the next winter. That year, the area also experienced a period of Indian outbreaks in western and southern Kansas, Thomas A. Osborne, then governor of Kansas, organized the Kansas State Guards. Sun City and Medicine Lodge furnished the two companies for this section of the state, guarding the area from Caldwell to Dodge City, and south to the Cimarron River. At this time a stockade was built by the militia and citizens in the area that now comprises the center of the business district of Medicine Lodge.

 

 

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