Historical records matching George Bent (CSA), Cheyenne warrior
About George Bent (CSA), Cheyenne warrior
George Bent (1843 – May 19, 1918) was the mixed-race son of the fur trader William Bent, the founder of the trading post named Bent's Fort; and Owl Woman, a Cheyenne. Born near present-day La Junta, Colorado, Bent served as a Confederate soldier during the American Civil War and a Cheyenne warrior. As the informant of several anthropologists, he was significant to the recording and preserving of Cheyenne history and culture.
Early life and education
Bent was born at Bent's Fort, owned by his father, and grew up speaking both English and Cheyenne at home. He learned much about Cheyenne culture from his mother, Owl Woman, and her family. When the boy was 10 years old, his father sent him to school in St. Louis, Missouri for a European-American education. He was a student at Webster College in St. Louis when the Civil War began.
Bent served in the Missouri State Guard with the Confederate Army, fighting at the Battle of Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861; and at the First Battle of Lexington near Lexington, Missouri, on September 20, 1861; both were Confederate victories. As a member of the 1st Missouri Cavalry, he fought at the Battle of Pea Ridge at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 7–8, 1862, a Union victory. When the Missouri cavalry was converted to infantry, Bent became attached to the horse artillery attached to General Mathew F. Greene's Missouri Brigade; this was part of General Sterling Price's division. His artillery unit participated in the siege and retreat from Corinth, Mississippi, where it stayed behind to cover the retreat of 66,000 Confederates under the command of P.G.T. Beauregard.
Later that summer, Bent was either captured or deserted. After his return to St. Louis, he was briefly confined in the Gratiot Street Prison, but was allowed to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union and be released. His guardian, Robert Campbell, a prominent St. Louis citizen, had eased his way.
Bent returned to his father’s ranch in Colorado, but anti-Confederate sentiment was intense in that state. For safety, he went to live with his maternal Cheyenne relatives. From that time on, Bent lived among the Cheyenne and identified with them.
Sand Creek and aftermath
Bent was at Black Kettle's camp of Cheyenne and Arapaho at Sand Creek about 35 miles north of Lamar, Colorado, on November 29, 1864. The Indians in the camp had initiated peace negotiations with the U.S. Army, and believed they were under the protection of the army, but Colonel John Chivington and his force of 700 Colorado volunteers attacked the village. They killed about 150 Indians, mostly women and children. Bent's brother Charles was nearly executed by the soldiers, but was rescued by friends. Another young mixed-race man, Jack Smith, was killed in the soldiers' attack.
Bent was among the Indians who fled upstream and found shelter in sandpits dug in the creek bed beneath a high bank. Wounded in the hip, he was with about 100 survivors who crossed the plains to the Indian camps on the Smoky Hill River. He was found there by his friend Edmund Guerrier, who accompanied him back to the Bent Ranch at Big Timbers, where Bent recovered. The Cheyenne and Arapaho planned revenge for the Sand Creek Massacre. In January 1865, the Bent brothers joined an Indian army of nearly 1,000 warriors in a successful attack on Julesburg, Colorado, in which they killed many townspeople and soldiers. Most of the Cheyenne went north to join Red Cloud on the Powder River in Wyoming. Before leaving the area, they burned many homesteads in the South Platte River valley. "At night the whole valley was lighted up with the flames of burning ranches and stage stations, but these places were soon destroyed and darkness fell on the valley." For the next two years, Bent traveled and raided with Cheyenne war parties from Wyoming south to Texas. Bent wrote about this period and expressed his opinion that the "savages" in the conflict were the U.S. soldiers. He participated in 27 Cheyenne war parties, although he never gave many specifics about his personal role in the Indian wars.
Bent began his return to a peaceful world as an interpreter at the Medicine Lodge Treaty Council of October 1867. Bent impressed the U.S. soldiers and officials there with his negotiating skills. Shortly thereafter, his brother Charles, a well-known and feared Cheyenne warrior, was killed in a skirmish with soldiers. In 1868, Bent was hired by the U.S. government as an interpreter, first at Fort Larned and later for the newly created Indian Agency headed by Brinton Darlington, the first US Indian Agent for the Cheyenne and Arapaho. In 1870, the Agency was located at El Reno, Oklahoma. Bent lived on the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservation near the town of Colony and worked as a U.S. government employee for most of the rest of his life.
Because of his knowledge of both European-American and Cheyenne culture,Bent became a prominent and powerful person on the reservation. During the first several years, he tried to moderate hostilities between the two cultures. He learned that, as a half-breed or mixed-race man, he was a kind of outsider to each.
Bent developed a serious problem with alcohol during this period. He became prosperous by assisting European-American cattlemen to obtain grazing leases on Indian land. Because of his influence peddling, he lost the trust of some Cheyenne and was fired as a U.S. interpreter. But in 1890, he was the crucial go-between to persuade the Cheyenne and Arapaho to accept plans for allotment of land by individual households, under the Dawes Act. Presented as a way for Indians to assimilate by adopting Euro-American farming styles, the allotment plan meant that former communal tribal land the government declared "surplus" could be sold to non-Indian parties. Many Cheyenne and Arapaho held Bent responsible for the ill effects of the transition to allotments, including the loss of substantial amounts of tribal lands from the reservation. Allotment would have happened without the Bent's assistance, but he was considered partially responsible.
By 1901 Bent was at low stage in his life. He had stopped drinking, but his influence with the Cheyenne was largely gone, as was his earlier prosperity. His meeting with the anthropologist George Bird Grinnell was beneficial for both. Grinnell realized that Bent, who spoke both Cheyenne and English; was literate; and could write passable English, would be invaluable for his research into Cheyenne culture. (Bent had been an informant of James Mooney earlier, but he had little respect for Mooney.) Bent told Grinnell what he knew and arranged interviews with other Cheyenne men for what he did not know. He wanted the story of the Cheyenne told in a book. In Bent's opinion, Grinnell was too slow to finish his book about the Cheyenne. Bent began collaborating with the deaf, nearly blind, and reclusive George E. Hyde. Eventually, at Bent's recommendation, Hyde became a ghost writer for Grinnell and probably wrote most of his The Fighting Cheyenne, published in 1915. Grinnell mentioned Bent as a source in the book, but did not give him full credit for his assistance and contributions. Later, Grinnell wrote The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways, in which he was more generous in crediting Bent. Cheyenne culture is unusually well described in Grinnell's books, thanks largely to Bent's insights and Hyde's writing.
Although the two never met in person, Hyde and Bent became the closest of collaborators. Bent wrote 340 letters to Hyde between 1904 and 1918. From these letters, Hyde distilled a book, Life of George Bent: Written from his Letters. Hyde finished the book but, still unknown in the anthropological fraternity, he could not find a publisher. His Life of George Bent was not published until 1968. Hyde and Bent's collaboration is the principal source for the Cheyenne side of the wars of the 1860s and subsequent events.
Bent died May 19, 1918, at Washita, Oklahoma in the 1918 flu pandemic. At the time, his dream of a well-written book about the history and culture of the Cheyenne was still unrealized.
Bent was married three times. He first married Magpie (d. May 10, 1886), a daughter of Black Kettle of the Southern Cheyenne tribe. His other wives were Kiowa Woman (d. 1913) and Standing Out (d. 1945). Bent had six children: Mary, William, Daisy, Lucy, George Jr., and Charlie.