Friday, October 4, 2019

The Kidder Massacre 1867


Second Lt. Lyman Kidder was born in Braintree, Vermont, on August 31, 1842. His father was Jefferson P. Kidder who was a lawyer, judge, a Congressman, and later served as a Democrat Lieutenant Governor of Vermont.

In 1857, Jefferson Kidder moved his family to St. Paul, Minnesota. It was there that he joined the fairly recently formed Republican Party. The Republican Party formed in Wisconsin in 1854. Jefferson was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1862 and 1863. Then in 1865, after Abraham Lincoln appointed him an associate justice to the territorial Supreme Court, he moved his family to Vermillion in the Dakota Territory.

His son Lyman Kidder fought for the Union Army during the Civil War from 1861 to 1865. On May 18th, 1867, almost two years to the day after the end of the Civil War, Lyman Kidder was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. Right after that, 2nd Lt. Kidder was assigned to the U.S. 2nd Cavalry at Fort Sedgwick, Kansas.

Fact is, 1867 was a tough year on the frontier. The Indian Wars were in full, and Lt. Kidder's unit was taking part in the campaign known as "Hancock's War." Named as such after U.S. Army General Winfield S. Hancock who was in command during that period. What became known as "Hancock’s War," was an unprecedented season of violence on the Kansas plains. 

Some say General Hancock had an eye on politics even then. Some say he sought a victory in the Indian Wars as a way to catapult himself into the White House. He was already considered a hero of the Battle of Gettysburg, and the newspapers liked him. His idea to intimidate the Cheyenne into submission didn't pay off, and instead he created even more hostilities when he had a village torched. 

Hancock's War was no mercy warfare, and battles soon raged across Kansas from Fort Dodge on June 12, to Fort Wallace from June 21 to 22, to Baca's Wagon Train on June 22, to Pond Creek Station and another at Black Butte Creek on June 26. Then there was the Kidder Fight, which we also know as the Kidder Massacre. 

On June 29th, 1867, while at Fort Sedgwick, Lt. Kidder was ordered to take dispatches from General William Sherman to Lt. Col. George A. Custer. At the time, Custer's command was patrolling to the south based out of a camp on the Republican River. It was about 50 miles from Fort Sedgwick. It was well known that making that distance was filled with danger. 

Lt. Kidder was in command of a detachment of ten seasoned enlisted men and an experienced Sioux Indian scout. While some say his men were part of the 7th Cavalry, all were in fact members of the U.S. 2nd Cavalry.  

As for finding Lt. Col. Custer, he never found him. In fact, it was later determined that Lt. Kidder's party did in fact arrive at Lt. Col. Custer's encampment on the Republican River. But after arriving, Lt. Kidder learned that Lt. Col. Custer moved his force to the south. Lt. Kidder is believed to have thought that Custer took his unit south to Fort Wallace. What Lt. Kidder did not know was that Custer took his men south and then turned them to the northwest

So while en route to Fort Wallace, Lt. Kidder and his troops were spotted by Lakota Sioux braves hunting buffalo. They returned to their camps on the Beaver Creek, Colorado, and alerted everyone that soldiers with pack mules were headed their way. The camps consisted of both Sioux and their allies the Northern Cheyenne. Chiefs Pawnee Killer and Bear Raising Mischief were in the Sioux camps. Chiefs Tangle Hair, Howling Wolf, and Tobacco were in the nearby Cheyenne camp. With the Cheyenne were said to be Dog Soldiers. Among them were Two Crows and Good Bear who later gave the only eyewitness reports of what took place. 

On June 29, when Lt. Kidder's men spotted the approaching Dog Soldiers, they raced off at a gallop in search of a defensible position and soon dismounted and sought shelter in a depression. The Dog Soldiers circled the soldiers, shooting at them while the Sioux dismounted and approached the soldiers on foot.

According to Northern Cheyenne reports, Lt. Kidder's Sioux scout Red Bead supposedly called out in an effort to be spared but he was ignored by Sioux warriors who considered him a traitor. As a matter of fairness, Red Bead was said to have seen a great deal of action during the Indian Wars and never showed an once of cowardice. So frankly, that claim is hard to accept. 

All of Lt. Kidder's men are said to have fought a running battle south, until they were forced to make a last stand in a small ravine. In the short battle, two of the circling Northern Cheyenne warriors had their ponies shot from under them by gunfire coming from the soldiers. Two Sioux were killed in the fight. One of them was Chief Yellow Horse. All members of Lt. Kidder's detachment were killed. 

In the aftermath, the Indians stripped the dead, scalped them, and dismembered them. Actually, the Sioux scalped and ritually mutilated the soldiers as well as the Sioux scout Red Bead. The idea was that their bodies being mutilated in this life would stop them from being able to fight in the afterlife. Or as they called it, the after-world. 

On July 12th, one of Custer's scouts, Will Comstock, found a dead horse. The horse had US Army markings. Soon after that, Custer's patrol found the mutilated bodies of Lt. Kidder's party. Kidder's command had been attacked and wiped out by a large group of Lakota Sioux and Northern Cheyenne Indians. The bodies of Kidder and his men, including his Sioux scout, were scalped, dismembered, and decomposing in the July sun when found. It's said the scene was a grisly sight.  

How bad was the mutilations? Well, all of the soldiers and the scout had their skulls smashed, the sinews of their arms and legs were slashed, and their noses and genitals were cut off. Also, all of that took place while many were still alive. Then each body was shot with arrows. All in all, it was a torturous way to die.

As I said before, Lt. Kidder's Sioux scout Red Bead was scalped as well and dismembered as well. The difference in how Red Bead was treated is interesting in that unlike the scalps of the soldiers which were kept to hang from tepees, Red Bead's scalp was thrown into the dirt and found next to him. This was said to be a gesture of contempt for him since he was a scouted against his fellow Sioux.

Because all of those killed were stripped to nothing, all were hard to identify. In fact, Lt. Kidder's body was only identified because of a small scrap of flannel shirt which his mother had sent him. The incident became known as the Kidder Massacre. And frankly, while we all know that there were atrocities on both sides during the Indian Wars, it was scenes like that which the soldiers found that simply confirmed the thoughts of American settlers and soldiers who saw the Indians as "savages."


In his book, My Life on the Plains, Lt. Col. Custer described finding those killed in the Kidder Massacre like this, "Each body was pierced by from 20 to 50 arrows, and the arrows were found as the savage demons had left them, bristling in the bodies."

For me, I believe the sort of mutilations that took place only served to enrage the American troops. Because of such treatment of their wounded and dying comrades, soldiers and their commanders took a stance of give no quarter. As I said before, it was no mercy warfare.  

The battle took place near what is present day Goodland, Kansas. And while some sources say all were originally buried in a mass grave at the site, other sources say the bodies of the soldiers were taken to Fort Wallace and buried there. Either way, they were later dug up and then reburied at Fort Leavenworth's Cemetery after Fort Wallace was closed in the mid-1880s. Because his father had a lot of political clout, Lt. Kidder's body was taken back to Minnesota. Lt. Kidder is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Tom Correa



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