Cheyenne Hole: The Story of the Sappa Creek Massacre by Andrew Hogarth & Kim Vaughan.
Book review by Tom Pearson, The Guardian Newspaper, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 12th November 1991.
On April 23, 1875 a detachment of soldiers of the US army and 20 buffalo hunters surrounded a Cheyenne camp on Sappa Creek, in the state of Kansas. They proceeded to shoot down the men, women and children of the camp.
The official army records stated that 27 Cheyenne died. The actual figure was closer to 100. Women and children were thrown alive into a fire in the mopping-up exercise. Others, who had taken refuge in a sleeping hole cut into the side of the river bank, were dragged out and executed.
This booklet is the fourth publication by Andrew Hogarth on the Plains Indians of North America. It recounts the resistance of the Great Plains Indians to the policy of the United States government to ‘settle” the west during the latter half of the nineteenth century.
“Cheyenne Hole” begins by giving the reader some background, broadly setting out events which proceeded the massacre. Beginning with the increasing numbers of white settlers who staked claims to the land of the Plains Indians in the early 1860’s. Hogarth emphasises the support the United States government received from the industrialists in the east. The government, he says, was “morally and economically bound to subdue the Indians.”
The buffalo was the major food source of the Plains Indians. The slaughter of millions of buffalo, mainly for the manufacture of leather in the east, as well as a rich mens’ sport, became central to the strategy of the army to undermine the social organisation of the Indians considered “hostile” those who had not been forced to live on reservations.
The decimation of the buffalo “set the scene for an inevitable clash between the Indians and the United States government.” The description of the massacre is precise and graphic. Having made a number of visits to the Great Plains (the author lives in Sydney), Hogarth’s eye for detail and his meticulous research allows him to draw a clear picture of the events that took place on that “cool grey morning” of April 23. He draws on Cheyenne oral history working with Southern Cheyenne Tribal Historian John Sipes Jr as well as the few scant written accounts, and in the process discredits the official report given by the officer who oversaw the killings.
And it is here that the real value of such works as “Cheyenne Hole” is found. The authors do not approach history as though it were immutable and lifeless. “What hold greater weight,” Hogarth and Vaughan ask, “the written word or the spoken word? Ultimately it depends on the society in which you live. Both of these are relevant to the story of the Sappa Creek Massacre.”
It is this approach which enables Hogarth and Vaughan to peel back some of the veneer of official records, which have been nailed down so tightly over the real history of a people.
The booklet has some beautiful illustrations by Australian artist Paul Farley, as well as graphic maps by Graham Carney of the Sappa Creek area, and of the Great Plains as they were in 1875.
* Hogarth has travelled extensively throughout North America. He has written three other works on the Native Americans of the Great Plains. Kim Vaughan compiled information, proof read and edited Cheyenne Hole and Andrew Hogarth’s three previous works. Cheyenne Hole is available at the Napoleon Military Bookshop, 336 Pitt Street, Sydney, New South Wales, Phone: (02) 264 7560.