Black Kettle National Grasslands, which is just this side of the Oklahoma/Texas Border in one of the areas hardest hit by last year's drought. I'd never been there, before, and wasn't sure exactly what to expect. The Texas border is about a two and a half hour drive from the house. I didn't have to drive as far as the border but since it is north of I-40, it would take about the same length of time to get to the grasslands, assuming I didn't stop along the way.
I left the house, running late, at 8:30 and drove westward down I-40, passing El Reno, Hinton, Weatherford and Clinton before turning north at Foss. I'd expected to get into rangeland faster than I did and was surprised that they had so much winter wheat that far west. According to the Ag reports I heard on the radio, over 67% of the winter wheat crops are rated as excellent, at this point. So that's fantastic for the farmers who really took a beating, last year.
They've thrown up wind farms all along the I-40 corridor and I find myself both fascinated and repelled by them.
People tend to be adaptable, like coyotes, and it might not oppressively bother city folk used to constant man made sound and who have made peace with it, but to those folk who aren't at home in the city and who, to find peace, need to escape the jarring clangs and crashes that accompany living in a human anthill, it is a significant step towards destroying their habitat.
As I sped down the interstate, the big mills give me something interesting to look at. But I am very sorry that the people who are least prone to embracing noise are the ones who tend to be affected. Although I personally think they are somewhat beautiful, I don't believe I could stand being around them for any length of time.
I turned north at Foss and stopped by the Foss State Park Visitor's Center. I don't believe there are friendlier people, anywhere, than the ones who work at these types of places. While there, I saw "Snowball," a rare, white tailed deer with a white coat who died at about age six when she was struck by a car:
After I left the Visitor's Center, I continued on north over the dam. The dam was fairly high up, overlooking the lake. While driving, a gorgeous Bald Eagle with an enormous wingspan glided alongside the car, not ten feet from the driver's side window. It was so close I could easily see his eye. I couldn't take a photo but it was a wonderful twenty second or so experience that felt like we were flying, together.
Eventually, I made my way to the Washita Battle Field, just west of Cheyenne, Oklahoma.
A little background:
Whites and Indians had been feuding for many decades leading up to the Civil War. As more and more settlers pushed west, the government negotiated to grant land on the Great Plains to the Native Americans, a "solution" that often failed to take into account that not all Indians were alike and that some were much more warlike than others. And a lot of them didn't like each other. Many of the eastern Indians pushed west (or south) ended up in constant war with other Native Americans and many of them also were battling the white settlers. Leading up to the Civil War, the government began a policy of putting Indians on reservations to make room for whites.
With the army tied down with their battles back east during the Civil War, many Plains Indians were better able to strike back at settlers who were crossing and settling on their traditional hunting grounds and/or the land promised to them by the government. During this time, the number of white settlers increased because many were fleeing the south and east to start a new life after their old life had been decimated by war. In many places, the plains ran red with the blood of red and white people and a reading of much of the savagery that took place is not for the fainthearted.
In Colorado, the war with the Indians reached a fever pitch culminating, in 1864, in the Massacre at Sand Creek where the military attacked a peaceful Cheyenne camp and engaged in wholesale slaughter and mutilation of men, women and children. As it turned out, many of the chiefs murdered at Sand Creek had been espousing peace with the whites. The stories that come out of the Massacre of Sand Creek would make any person with a heart weep and any American hang their head in shame. Black Kettle, a chief who had been urging cooperation, flew the American flag outside his tee pee in an attempt to show the soldiers that they were peaceful. What ended up happening was that when he and his wife eventually tried to escape the slaughter, the soldiers shot her nine times. Seeing that she still lived, he threw her over his shoulder and raced away. Later, he dug out all nine bullets and she survived.
After Sand Creek, many of the younger warriors in all the plains tribes couldn't be held back by their older chiefs. In retaliation, they engaged in numerous brutal raids against settlers that included acts of slaughter, torture, brutal rape, mutilation, and kidnapping of women and children. Sand Creek didn't start these tactics but it escalated them among bands from tribes that historically didn't engage in such acts.
Following the Civil War, the victorious Union Army turned its eye westward and used its formidable organization to subdue the Plains Indians, once and for all. Their strategy, at that time, was to send the Indians to reservations in order to keep them separated from white people. Many of the Indians resisted for obvious reasons, and also because they didn't believe it was safe to be placed in the same areas as their traditional Indian enemies.
The Battle of the Washita, or the Washita Massacre as it is commonly called, was between the United States Army and the Southern Cheyennes whose main chief was the same Black Kettle who had survived Sand Creek. The Army had not been very successful in subduing the Indians in its summer campaigns and decided to attack them at their winter camp along the Washita River. Black Kettle's camp was furthest to the west but a number of other Indian tribes (including additional Cheyennes, Kiowas, Arapahoes and Kiowa-Apaches) had winter villages set up about four miles to the east.
The Washita River isn't very big in that area. It looks more like a creek:
Indian names are always interesting to me and the following names of people involved strike me as particularly beautiful and/intriguing:
Wolf Looking Back
Cranky Man (A name Mr. Wonderful could adopt, at times)
Scabby Man (he sounds like a hottie)
Swift Hawk Lying Down
Little Sage Woman
One of Custer's men, Major Joel Elliot, became separated from the main group while chasing some escaping Cheyennes. He was attacked by bands of warriors from the eastern villages and all of his men were slaughtered. Their bodies were mutilated by the women. There was some discussion that Custer had abandoned Elliot to his fate although he could hear the battle going on, but that was not proven. At one point, it was touch and go as to whether Custer's troops would be able to hold out against the other Indians as they were running low on ammunition. More ammunition arrived, however, and they managed to prevail.
Black Kettle and his wife were both shot down and killed.
With that horrific story in mind, I was in a contemplative state of mind as I walked through the battlefield that has been so beautifully maintained.
I couldn't make it any more distinct - to do that would have made it just look like clothes hanging on a tree and it was much more than that.
During the rest of my walk, I began noticing tiny bits of cloth tied to tree branches that I'd never noticed, before. It was a powerful reminder that I was walking on sacred ground. Oklahoma has been called the buckle on the bible belt but anyone who thinks there isn't room for deep spiritual beliefs outside the Christian faith hasn't spent much time walking its lands.
I thoroughly loved the walk out west but was thrilled to get home to Mr. Wonderful and the Girls. Pearly, by the way, had a VERY good check up on Tuesday and the specialist said that although she could have a relapse (although she might not) that her condition was treatable and since she responds so well with medication, she should be fine. She doesn't have to go back for another month.