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Cheyennes at Dark Water Creek: The Last Fight of the Red River War, by William Y. Chalfant, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Okla., 1997, $27.95.

For the Southern Cheyennes, the final encounter of the Red River War (known to them as the War to Save the Buffalo) was the worst. At the Battle of Sappa Creek (known to the Cheyennes as Dark Water Creek) in northwestern Kansas on April 23, 1875, Lieutenant Austin Henely’s Company H, 6th Cavalry, attacked a band of fleeing Cheyennes, killing some 27 members at a cost of two soldiers’ lives. Henely said that 19 of the Indians killed were men, and eight of his own men received Medals of Honor for their part in the three-hour battle against Little Bull’s people. The Indians, though, said that only seven of the victims were men. “Among those Cheyenne elders who were my mentors,” writes Father Peter John Powell in the introduction, “only Sand Creek exceeded the Sappa in the bitterness with which it was recalled.” The engagement at Sand Creek in Colorado Territory on November 29, 1864, has been called a massacre. Was Sappa Creek, where 20 women and children were cut down by the troops and where Little Bull was apparently killed while trying to arrange a truce, also a massacre? William Chalfant considers that question in Chapter 12 of this 232-page book. Whether the soldiers actually committed atrocities there may never be known for sure, but, as Chalfant writes, “if a massacre is defined as the indiscriminate, wanton, and wholesale slaughter of people, then there was a massacre.” In this well-balanced account, Chalfant recounts the lives of the Indian and Army participants and tells the story of an ugly fight in fine style.