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Cheyenne Peace Chiefs, 1863.

The decade of the 1860s was difficult for the Cheyenne people and especially for their leaders. Their country was filling with immigrants, gold prospectors, hide hunters and other intruders. Game was diminishing and conflicts with the Army escalated. At the beginning of the decade the Civil War erupted, and while it was fought far from the Cheyenne homelands it impacted them nonetheless. The Ft. Wise Treaty of 1861 had proven to be largely ineffective in insuring peace on the Southern Plains, even though many Cheyenne leaders counseled peace with the Whites. Even still the U.S. government was concerned that the tribes could cause trouble that would divert essential troops from the battlefields in the east.

In early 1863 the government recruited a delegation of leaders of Southern Plains tribal leaders to travel to Washington, D. C. The intent was to secure promises of peace from the tribes and also to warn them that they were not free to make war because the Whites were fighting among themselves. A group of fourteen men and two women from the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kiowa, Apache and Caddo tribes gathered at Ft. Leavenworth in early March, 1863. They traveled from Leavenworth to St. Louis by stage coach, and then on to Washington by train.

On March 27, 1863, the delegation was received by President Lincoln, government officials and foreign dignitaries at a formal event in the East Room of the White House. The Indians had selected the Cheyenne Lean Bear (sometimes referred to as Starving Bear) as their spokesman. He gave a well received speech attesting to the Cheyenne desire for peace with the Whites, but warning of the problems of restraining the young men on both sides. Lincoln addressed the group, noting the differences between the ways of life of the Whites and Indians, and warning them that they must adopt the White way of life to survive. The leaders each received peace medals and certificates signed by the President.

After this meeting the Indians were anxious to start the return trip, but were waylaid by an insistent request from P. T. Barnum that they come to New York. Indian Agent Colley agreed, advising Barnum that the Indians needed rooms in which they could sleep on the floor, and that they needed "bread, raw beef, and coffee all of which they will cook in their own rude Indian style." He also advised that they would need "paint and oil." In New York Barnum used the Indians as an attraction to promote his shows before they were finally allowed to return home.

The 1863 delegation included three Southern Cheyenne leaders: Lean Bear, leader of the Ridge Men band; War Bonnet, leader of the Scabby Band; and War Bonnet's cousin Standing in the Water, leader of the Southern Elk Horn Scrapers. Despite their advocacy for peace, all would be dead within little more than a year of the White House reception. Lean Bear was murdered by troops in May, 1864, along with another man named Star. The two had ridden out to talk with a group of troops who approached a Cheyenne band hunting buffalo, Lean Bear wearing his peace medal and carrying his certificate signed by Lincoln. When Lean Bear and Star got within feet of the troops they opened fire, repeatedly shooting each man as they fell from their horses and lay on the ground. War Bonnet and Standing in the Water both died that same year at Sand Creek.

The 1863 delegation was photographed on at least three occasions during their trip: at Ft. Leavenworth, in Washington and in New York. The group photo of the delegation in Washington, with the three Cheyenne leaders seated in front and Mrs. Lincoln standing in the rear is well known from multiple publications. The images reproduced here were all likely taken by the Matthew Brady studio in Washington, or in New York.

Even though the Cheyenne delegation was small and well-photographed, there is much uncertainty over which of the men goes with which image and I have yet to find any definitive identification. Figure A was taken at the Addis and Noel Studio in Ft. Leavenworth on the trip to the east. Just for purposes of identification we will use the identifications (L to R): Lean Bear, interpreter John Smith, War Bonnet and Standing in the Water.


Images of the 1863 delegates can be found in numerous locations, including the Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives and the Library of Congress. For further reading see:

Hoig, Stan. Peace Chiefs of the Cheyenne. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980, p. 67 and following.

Powell, Peter J. People of the Sacred Mountain. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1981. Vol. 1, pp. 243-53, the story of the delegation, and 257-69, the death of Lean Bear.

Viola, Herman. Diplomats in Buckskin. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981, p. 99 and following.



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Title Annotation:Glimpses
Author:Chronister, Allen
Publication:Whispering Wind
Date:Jul 1, 2006
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