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
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, courtesy
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
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
were all men of prominence in war and Government affairs. Representing the
Federal Government were N. G. Taylor, orator and scholar;
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,
William Mathewson, and
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 Treaty Council between the Kiowa,
tribes and the U.S. government, John Howland, 1867.
Image available for photo prints & editorial
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
New Mexico, and
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
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
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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