||The Battle of Turkey
Springs and Red Hills
armed conflict between the U.S. Cavalry and American Indians, in Indian
Territory, present day Oklahoma, occurred on September 13 and 14, 1878.
A band of Northern Cheyenne left the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency near
Fort Reno without permission and fled north and westward toward their
former homelands on the Northern Plains. This exodus has known
popularity as the Cheyenne Outbreak or Dull Knife's Raid. However, the
Northern Cheyenne People were merely attempting to return to their home
in Montana and Wyoming.
flight of these people brought about a pursuit by Companies G and H of
the 4th U.S. Cavalry, stationed at Fort Reno, and under the command of
Captain Joseph Rendlebrock. The Northern Cheyenne, led by Morning Star
or Dull Knife and Little Wolf, fled through northwest Oklahoma. The
Cavalry, upon learning of their departure twelve hours later, made a
quick move to follow the Cheyenne. When the pursuers closed with the
band, a seemingly inevitable battle took place in the rolling red hills
and canyone north of the Cimarron River in Woods County -- approximately
twelve miles north of present day Freedom, Oklahoma. This is known as
the "Battle of Turkey Springs."
The band of Cheyenne likely had been
moving as one group with scouts flung out in all directions to screen
their flanks and forage. They avoided the road from Camp Supply to Fort
Reno, rather moving through the breaks of the Canadian watershed and
over the divide to the Cimarron River country, crossing west of Eagle
Chief Creek. While on scout, the Northern Cheyenne encountered two
cowboys with the Comanche Pool Cattle Co. These "salt-haulers" were
killed for their guns and horses. The peaceful flight had ended. The
exodus then was named the "Last Indian Raid." More civilians would die
as the band made their way through Kansas, especially along Sappa Creek
in the northwest. The Cheyenne Band was comprised of 92 men, 120 women
and 141 children. They did not want to fight their way north, but had
pledged to do so in order to return home. The Cheyenne were determined
to leave the land of their southern kin, and "go home."
13, 1878, after the U.S. Cavalry, Companies "G" and "H" had picked up
the Northern Cheyenne trail, the soldiers came within sight of the
fleeing Cheyenne Band. The Cheyenne were moving slowly up a slope about
three miles distant. The women and children were sent a little ways
ahead to the springs and over the divide into the ravines leading away
to the north. The fighting men deopped back about a mile to take up
positions; some were mounted and others were to dig rifle pits and wit
for the soldiers.
Rendlebrock moved the column forward at a trot. They approached the
Indian position along a divide that separated two ravines or small
canyons. The opponents drew up within 400 yards of each other and the
confrontation was at hand with the Cheyenne maintaining the best
position on a rise.
An Arapaho scout, Chal, was sent by
Rendlebrock to "parley" with the Cheyenne. Chalk told Rendlebrock that
the Cheyenne would not return to the Southern Cheyenne agency, but would
fight first. At that point, several Cheyenne warriors began to move
toward flanking the Cavalry, and Rendlebrock issued the "commence
firing" order. The Indians returned "fire" and several soldiers went
down with the first volleys. The Cavalry had made the mistake of
traveling too far from good water, and by mid-afternoon the soldiers and
their horses were in trouble. The Cheyenne set fire to the prairie
grass, which further aggravated the Cavalry's thirst. The Indians kept
the soldiers from retreating to water through the night. At dawn on the
14th, Captain Rendlebrock knew that his men would be unable to maintain
their positions, and he began planning a full retreat back 12 miles to
The Cheyenne warriors pursued the
retreating Cavalry for several miles, firing sporadically upon them. The
retreat and running fight on the 14th had lasted about an hour and a
half to two hours over approximately three and a half miles.
On the morning of the 15th, the command
started for Camp Supply, over 35 miles to the southwest. The fighting
had cost the lives of three enlisted men and eventually, the Arapaho
scout, Chalk. The cost to the Northern Cheyenne varies as to the source.
The Army maintains that at least six were killed and as many wounded.
However, Cheyenne sources relate that the total was five wounded.
The chase continued through western
Kansas and Nebraska. Fighting continued at Bear Creek, Sand Creek and
north of Scott City on Punished Woman Creek. Troops were ordered from
Army posts along the route by telegraph to guard river and rail
crossings. The Cheyenne alluded the Cavalry until Little Wolf's band and
Dull Knife's band split up near Fort Robinson in Nebraska. The Dull
Knife portion was captured and held at Fort Robinson.
The Army was "bested" in each action in
which they attempted to stop the fleeing people. As a consequence,
Captains Rendlebrock, Gunther and Hemphill were forced to undergo the
scrutiny of court martials for their failure to capture the fugitives.
The trials were held at Fort Supply in the spring of 1879. Gunther and
Hemphill were exonerated but Rendlebrock was found guilty on several
counts. He was brought before a retirement board and left the service.
The Army had found its scapegoat.
The Battle of Turkey Springs is
symbolic of the cultural tapestry which forms the state's history and
the heritage of its people.
||The Battle of
Turkey Springs, which occurred on September 13 and 14 of 1878, north and
east of Freedom, is a significant event in the history of pre-statehood
Oklahoma. As such, the Freedom Chamber of Commerce and the Town of
Freedom have joined forces once again to educate the public about this
last engagement between the U.S. Cavalry and the Northern Cheyenne.
The Oklahoma Historical Society staff and
the Oklahoma Humanities Council have also agreed to support the efforts
of the Freedom community through grant dollars and professional
research. The Freedom Chamber of Commerce began working on this project
well over a year ago and plans have now been laid to fully develop the
Freedom Depot location into a historical-recreational park area. The
Depot Development Project will be highlighted with a life-size bronze
sculpture depicting the Northern Cheyenne exodus from Fort Reno, as well
as signs describing the Battle of Turkey Springs and area attractions.
Other aspects of the project include: a walking trail, landscaping,
parking and drop-off area, and a children's naturalized play area.
The bronze sculpture was designed by
artist Mary Spurgeon of Gate, Oklahoma, one of the prerennial favorites
at the Freedom Rodeo Art Show each year. Twenty-five limited edition
bronze maquettes (replicas) of the life-size sculpture will be sold to
assist in the purchase of the larger park bronze. Fifty percent of the
proceeds from the sale of the maquettes will go toward the large bronze.
The first of the limited edition maquettes is completed and sales will
kick off on June 16 with a reception honoring Mrs. Spurgeon. Mary is a
nationally recognized sculptor who has work on display at the National
Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Fort Worth, the Dodge City Public Library, and
in galleries in Wyoming, Denver, and at western fine art shows across
the country. Her work is also being juried for the Prix de West Show and
Sale held each year at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western
Heritage Center in Oklahoma City. Brochures describing the Depot
Development Project and Turkey Springs Bronze will be available in the