A Book Review
By Nancy Ohnick
The Wichita Expedition and the Fight on Crooked Creek
By William Y. Chalfant
I was born and raised in Meade County, Kansas. The tributary known as “Crooked Creek” has always been a part of my life and a vital ingredient of Meade County history, my ancestors homesteaded by it and depended on it as did many a pioneer and open-range cowboy. In a path very much owning to it’s name Crooked Creek weaves its way from the top of our county to the bottom. It was only after Bill Chalfant published this book that I learned of events that took place long before my ancestors came and it gave me even more complete history of this piece of Kansas that I call home.
In the Prologue of Without Quarter, Chalfant describes our portion of the plains and what the area of Crooked Creek meant to the Indians who inhabited it. “Crooked Creek is a small stream that flows in a generally south-southeasterly direction across southwest Kansas, to its junction with the Cimarron River. In years past, before white men came, it provided favored camping grounds for Kiowa and Comanche Indians – of the latter particularly the Kotsoteka and Yamparika bands. In the upper reaches it was a scant eighteen miles south of the Santa Fe Trail’s Middle (Cimarron) Crossing of the Arkansas River. The Lower Crossing and the river’s South Bend were only a few miles farther to the northeast. More importantly, Crooked Creek was at the western edge of prime buffalo country, making it a superior location for the villages of Plains Indians. A scattering of cottonwood groves and occasional stands of scrub trees and bushes – ash, hackberry, mulberry, and willow – along the narrow bed provided wood, water, and a little shelter. The great herd of buffalo, a multitude of pronghorn antelope, and innumerable deer and elk supplied fresh meat. With the coming of the Europeans and the opening of the road to Santa Fe, the trade caravans afforded new opportunities to supplement their material goods and food supply. All in all, at least to the nomadic hunters of the plains, the valley of Crooked Creek provided most of the things necessary for a good life.”
Though the book gives us an overall history of all the Indians that inhabited the Plains it concentrates mostly on the Comanche tribe. A map showing the tribal territories of the southern Great Plains shows our area as being the northern edge of Comanche territory as it extended south of the Arkansas River that basically runs along highway 50 between Garden City and Dodge then northeast to Great Bend and again southeast to Hutchinson and Wichita. From the Arkansas the territory extends south into the middle of Texas including the entire western half of Oklahoma and a small portion of eastern New Mexico.
From their organization in 1855 to the start of the Wichita Expedition in 1858, the book describes the First and Second Cavalry, from the training they received to the officers in charge. The Second Cavalry was sent to the Texas frontier and the First Cavalry patrolled along the Santa Fe Trail and the Kansas Plains.
The rest of the book goes on to describe the lesser actions of the Second Cavalry as its existence leads up to the start of the Civil War, at which time Texas seceded from the Union and the soldiers were transported to the east coast for new assignments. The author summarizes his story by telling the reader what happened to each of the officers he has become acquainted with throughout the book. Some of them served in the Union Army and some of them in the Confederacy, some even to return to the cavalry after the Civil War.Through the pages of Without Quarter, the Battle of Crooked Creek was revealed for the first time to many of us. Those of us who live in Meade County can’t help but feel moved as we read the account of the Cavalry’s crossing over the Cimarron River. As the author describes the terrain we can easily follow their march in our mind’s eye all the way to the site of the battle approximately thirteen miles north of Meade. The author manages to tell the story and describe the plight of both the men of the Calvary and the Comanche people without “taking sides” or making judgments, an approach I appreciated as a reader.
If you have a love for the history of the High Plains, visit our sister site: Old Meade County
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