Hancock’s War: Conflict on the Southern Plains
by William Y. Chalfant, Arthur H. Clark Co., Spokane, Wash., 2010, $59.95.
The idea behind Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock’s 1867 expedition was simple: A show of force by the U.S. Army across Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska would stop raids by Indians who were retaliating after the Sand Creek Massacre. The plan, however, backfired, prompting outrage and more atrocities and, as historian Jerome A. Greene writes in the foreword to Hancock’s War, “simply exacerbated existing tensions.”
Hancock’s War (“It was not a war like other wars,” William Y. Chalfant writes) is mostly forgotten today, overshadowed by the Sioux, Nez Perce and Apache campaigns that were to follow. “Today its memory survives only in various repositories of seldom used records maintained by succeeding generations of a largely unaware public and in a few articles, papers and books,” Chalfant writes.
Chalfant, of course, knows those repositories well and has become one of today’s premier military historians, specializing in the Cheyenne campaigns. His books include Cheyennes and Horse Soldiers: The 1857 Expedition and the Battle of Solomon’s Fork; Cheyennes at Dark Water Creek: The Last Fight of the Red River War; and Without Quarter: The Wichita Expedition and the Fight on Crooked Creek. He tells the story of the Hancock campaign from all viewpoints—civilian, military, Indian and “the unknown and the forgotten” who fought its battles. At 540 pages, Hancock’s War, the first scholarly history of the campaign, covers the events leading up to it and the far-reaching implications after the Medicine Lodge treaties supposedly brought peace to the Western plains. “Thus ended Hancock’s War,” Chalfant writes, “or so the white men would claim and believe. But they were of course wrong.”
Originally published in the October 2010 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.