The Battle of Turkey Springs and Red Hills
  Part I
  The last 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.

The 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."


Part II

On September 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.

Captain 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 water.

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.

Part III
  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 near future.


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