THE BATTLE AT SUMMIT SPRINGS
THE BATTLE AT SUMMIT SPRINGS
by William H. Benson
July 15, 1999
All of the great conflicts fought on North American soil hold a certain fascination and enchantment, but the Indian Wars are especially appealing, even though only a few hundred people were ever killed in all the Indian battles combined. But it was a winner-takes-all kind of conflict, each side, brave and courageous, fighting for what they knew and believed was right. Places like Sand Creek, Beecher Island, Rosebud, and the Little Big Horn still enthrall even the most casual student.
Probably the Battle at Summit Springs is the least well known, but the consequences for the Native North American after this battle were most gloomy; it effectively crushed his way of life on the High Plains and relegated him and his families permanently to the reservation. All that remains today at Summit Springs 130 years later is a handful of markers hidden among the sagebrush and grasses, all surrounded by green steel posts and barbed wire. It lies on the Logan/Washington county line about ten miles east of Atwood, Colorado.
May 30, 1869 was a pleasant Sunday that turned very ugly when Tall Bull and his band of Cheyenne Dog Soldiers attacked the German and Danish settlements along the Spillman Creek in central Kansas. Maria Weichel, a 20-year-old recent German immigrant, watched terror-stricken as her husband George was killed and then mutilated. Susanna Alderice, 28 years old, also watched in horror as the savages executed her three oldest children: 7-year-old John, 4-year-old Willis, and 2-year-old Frank. The Dog Soldiers then put both women on horses, thus beginning their ride through hell that ended forty-two days, exactly six weeks, later at Summit Springs.
The women were repeatedly violated. They were abused, tortured, whipped, beaten. They were forced to put up and tear down the lodges. They cooked. Tall Bull’s squaw made Susanna her personal slave. Life reverted into an ugliness that was unbearable.
Tall Bull and his band of 84 lodges and about 500 people escaped west but held up at Summit Springs because it was surrounded on three sides by sandy hills. The spring provided water. There, the Cavalry, led by Brevet Major General Eugene Carr, found them on a hot Sunday, July 11. Astride exhausted and thirsty horses, the armed soldiers swept through the camp at about three o’clock. The battle was one-sided. Fifty-two Indians were killed that afternoon, including Tall Bull, but only two white people suffered injuries. Maria Weichel was shot, but a rib deflected the bullet. She lived. But when Tall Bull’s squaw discovered they were being attacked, she tomahawked Susanna Alderice in the forehead. She died.
Later that afternoon a summer thunderstorm mixed with hail pounded the battle site and the fleeing Cheyenne Indians. Inside one of the lodges out of the storm, the cavalry’s physician, Dr. Louis Tesson, examined and found both women in pitiful condition–pregnant, scratched, scraped, burnt, and emaciated. Carefully, he bandaged Maria’s breast wound and then turned his attention to Susanna. He dressed Susanna’s deadly head wound, bathed her body, brushed her hair, and layed her in a clean buffalo robe. Soldiers stood guard all that night outside while she lay inside, at last in peace.
Col. Ray G. Sparks, the army historian, wrote, “An officer read the burial service in a broken voice–in a silence that could be felt. Susanna in her warm buffalo robe, was tenderly wrapped about with a new lodge skin, then gently lowered into her grave.
“Full traditional military honors were accorded her. Three volleys were fired over her grave, then the sad, haunting notes of taps sang clear and distinct over the wind-swept prairie, to be lost, finally to all but God, as is Susanna’s lonely grave.”