Scottish History and Culture

Scottish Settlers Caught in Last Indian Battle in Kansas
September 30, 1878

Contributed by Dan Laing Webmaster Laing Family Website

Imagine those poor Laings though. They survived the lean years in Scotland, a trip across the Atlantic, severe and ill provisioned winters in Canada, a trip across the Great Lakes, the trek southwest to Kansas, and arrived just in time to get murdered in the last Indian battle in that state. How ironic!
Dan Laing

Map of Decatur Co, site of the last Indian battle in Kansas, click for larger image Introduction

History, as it is presently taught to our children, has been rewritten to conform with what is politically correct. American history has also been written traditionally by the winners; normally those in power politically at the time. What is seldom mentioned, at least when bloodshed was the result, are the strategies and policies developed by a government designed to attain a grand vision of a united nation that stretched from coast to coast.

This does not mean that this policy was necessarily evil or wrong, but in the attempt to avoid blame while remaining politically correct, our nation seems to have often misplaced facts, peoples, and even segments of time. As amateur historians, many of us have peeled the layers of hype from the onion of history and found that the American Civil War really was fought over state's rights for independence. Slavery was a minor but politically advantageous issue at the time as a plank in a platform for election. During the middle of the 19th century the American government determined that there would be a coast to coast United States at all costs.

This policy of unity resulted in the bloodiest war that this country has ever known, the almost total decimation of the Plains Indians, and the deaths of countless civilians. Lost in the struggles of a nation recovering from the American Civil War are other stories of war and bloodshed that resulted from this policy.

The Last Indian Battle in Kansas

According to history as it is now written, the last Indian battle in Kansas occurred September 27, and 28, 1878 between the U.S. Army troops and Cheyenne Indians at Stacey Lake. Lt. Colonel William Lewis commanded the Army troops and the Indian leaders were Little Wolf and the war Chief, Dull Knife. This does not tell the full story however.

The federal policy of exterminating the American Bison in order to eliminate the independence of the Indians led to hardship and starvation for the Cheyennes in the Black Hills. With the discovery of gold on their lands resulting in a massive flood of opportunists and miners seeking wealth the Cheyennes made the decision to accept the offer of the federal government to be moved to a reservation in Oklahoma. Here they were promised, they would receive good land, free housing, and cattle for beef.

True to its past record, the government broke this Treaty as well for the land had to be bought from other tribes with the scant possessions of the Cheyenne, the housing was practically non- existant, and the cattle never arrived.

Laings Emigrate from Scotland

In June of 1878, one William Laing Sr., moved from Canada to Kansas at the open invitation of the Federal government to any able bodied whites who would like the opportunity to homestead the rich farmland of the American prairie.

William had been born in Roxburghshire, Scotland, married one Julia Ingles, and then he and his wife moved to Canada with his siblings, and his mother and father. He had lost his father on 2 Feb 1860 in Wellington Co., Canada. His mother, Effie, died on 19 Dec 1877 there as well. There is no later mentionof his wife, so she may well have died during the same winter, one that records state was particularly severe. Determined to make a fresh start, William with his sons John, Will Jr., and Freeman, moved southward and settled in Decatur County, one of the northernmost counties in Kansas.

In September of 1878, the Cheyenne in Oklahoma faced with the reality of their situation having gone from bad to worse, announced that they would return to the Black Hills. Inept Indian officials allowed them to leave the reservation, waited two days, and then announced to the army that there had been an uprising and the "murderous" Cheyenne had bolted from the reservation. In spite of a readily available telegraph network and good scouting reports, the Army did not sufficiently notify settlers in advance of the fleeing Indians that they were in danger.

The fleeing Cheyenne were led by chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf. Little Wolf shepherded the slowly moving tribe of women, children, and old men along while Dull Knife led the warriors and more able in advance attacking those who would oppose them and capturing livestock to be sent back to the starving tribe. On the morning of September 26, 1878, apparently Dull Knife and his band of warriors rode north to clear the way for the advancing tribe. In the afternoon of September 27, 1878, the US Army caught up with Little Wolf and the struggling tribe.

Cheyenne history states that the Army attacked "a few warriors, old men, women, and children" on September 28, 1878, and that the flight north had been mostly a peaceful one until they were set upon with little or no warning:

"27 September, 1878--Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf of the Northern Cheyenne led their people in a rebellion and flight from confinement and starvation on the reservation in Oklahoma (Indian Territory) to their home lands in Yellowstone. The trek climaxed on 27 Sep 1878, when 284 braves, women and children made their final stand on the bluffs of Ladder Creek, now Beaver Creek, just south of Scott County State Park. This encounter with the U.S. Cavalry was the last Indian battle in Kansas. The site--Squaws Den Battleground--drew its name from the cave in which the women and children were placed after helping to dig rifle pits for the warriors. The breastworks the Indians dug to withstand the attack by soldiers are still visible."

This paints a picture of a proud people, few in numbers, valiantly trying to defend themselves in the face of overwhelming federal numbers and firepower. Ironically, current history books tell much the same story except that the bungling by the federal government in their treatment of the Cheyenne which led to the flight northward is largely omitted. Two other facts need mentioning: the AIB currently lists the count of northern Cheyenne in Oklahoma just prior to the trek at 652. If all the northern Cheyenne left at once, what became of the other 368? Also, the Army did not in fact defeat the Cheyenne, for they continued in two groups northward back to their homelands with mixed results.

Thanks to the - until then - little used telegraph system, misinformed newspapers on the morning of September 29, 1878, proclaimed the end of the Indian wars in Kansas. Coincidentally, on the same day Dull Knife, in desparation resulting from the attack by the Army, determined that he would bloodily plunge onward through the settlers rather than trying to avoid them.

William G. Cutler's History of the State of Kansas (pub. 1883) states:

"During the month of September, 1878, a band of northern Cheyennes invaded Kansas. Crossing the State line near the southeast corner of Comanche County, about the 14th of the month, they divided into small bands and attacked the camps of stockmen along their route across and into the counties of Barber, Comanche, Clark, Meade, Ford and Foote, killing some and wounding others, and destroying and stealing stock and other property. After crossing the Arkansas River near Cimarron, Foote County, they passed almost due north, doing but little damage until they reached the counties of Sheridan, Decatur and Rawlins, where they committed most foul and brutal atrocities. Besides murdering men and destroying property, nameless outrages were committed on defenseless women and children. In Decatur County alone, eighteen men were slaughtered. The names of the victims are as follows: William Laing, John C. Laing, William Laing, Jr., Freeman Laing, J. G. Smith, Frederick Hamper, E. P. Humphrey, John Humphrey, Moses Abernathy, John C. Hutson, Geo. F. Walters, Macrellus Felt, Ed. Miskelley, Ferdinand Westphaled and son, Mr. Wright, Mr. Lull and Mr. Irwin."

"During the raid, on September 30, Mr. H. D. Colvin, living eight miles southwest of Oberlin (on the South Fork of the Sappa) was away from his dwelling some few rods, when he was suddenly surprised by an advance party of the raiding Indians, who drove him to his house. When the main body came up, an attack was made on the house, but the two hundred or so were driven off by Mr. Colvin and his brave wife, with an old navy six-shooter and an equally antiquated shot gun. Mrs. Colvin fired the first shot at the savages with the shot gun. They left, doing no damage."

Map of Roxburghshire, Scotland, where William Laing originated, click for larger image The nation learned in subsequent reports that there had been atrocities committed upon innocent white settlers. The conflict with the slowly moving main tribe On September 27-28, 1878, and the attacks by the marauding braves on September 30, 1878, occurred so close together that the press merged the two into one incident which justified the Army's assault upon the Indians at Squaws Den, two days before the raids occurred upon the settlers. Rather than correcting the press which printed the stories based upon the assumed date of the battle with the Cheyenne on September 28, the government allowed the misconception to continue but apparently moved to suppress details of the story so that it would quickly die.

This served two purposes: First, it discouraged further investigation of the chronology of the events, and second, it promoted the belief by the public that the Kansas plains were now safe from Indian attacks and open for peaceful settlers.

The Cheyenne, naturally, preferred to deny that the slaughters on September 30, 1878, ever occurred, insisting instead that they were the peaceful victims of bureaucratic bungling and an overly zealous federal army. The government did not correct the dates to avoid the embarrassment that they would suffer should it be learned that they had declared the incident ended prematurely thus leaving settlers unprotected.

In this manner, both sides have relegated the slaughters of September 30, 1878 to the dusty bin of deniable facts.

Largely untended, in the public cemetery at Oberlin, Decatur County, Kansas, several graves marked "LAING" from a time now lost bears mute testimony to a clash between two cultures and a rewritten history.

Contributed by Dan Laing webmaster Laing Family Website

Special thanks to Hubris Communications for permission to use the image of Squaw's Den from the Scott County State Park website.


Laing Family Website

Scott County State Park

Oberlin and Decatur County, Kansas

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Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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