Bronze Star Honoring Legacy of Chief Black Kettle at Texas Trail of Fame
Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune (CATT)Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle, however many have not come to know the stories and accounts that have made Black Kettle well known in his advocacy for peace between the Native people and European settlers. While campaigning for peace and through his repeated efforts, Black Kettle has become a significant figure in Native American history. Despite efforts at keeping the peace, Black Kettle’s village was attacked on November 29, 1864, known widely today as the Sand Creek Massacre, where 150-200 men, women and children were murdered. After the Sand Creek Massacre, on November 27, 1868, Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry on a surprise attack on the Cheyenne village led by Black Kettle. While attempting to flee across the Washita River in Oklahoma, Black Kettle was shot and killed along with his wife, Medicine Woman, at the Washita by troops. The legacy of Black Kettle continues from generation to generation as his living descendants continue to keep his memory alive. Norma Black Smith, 83, one of Black Kettle’s oldest living descendants was sent by the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes to accept an award on behalf of Black Kettle. On October 24-26 the Texas Trail of Fame honored Cheyenne Chief Black Kettle during an induction and awards ceremony at the Fort Worth Stockyards in Fort Worth, Texas. In celebrating western heritage, as stated on the Texas Trail of Fame’s website, “the Texas Trail of Fame was established to honor individuals who have made a significant contribution to our western way of life. On the walkways of the Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District, bronze inlaid markers are placed in recognition of their achievements. The markers are patterned after a frontier marshal’s badge and are inscribed with the honoree’s name. In commemorating the life of Black Kettle and in his endeavors for peace, a bronze inlaid marker is engraved along the walkway of the Fort Worth Stockyards, along with many other honorees who have made an impact in western history throughout their lifetime. To accept the award, Smith traveled to Fort Worth, along with her daughters, and described the experience as a feeling she would never forget. “I was kind of scared and nervous … but it was really nice and they introduced us,” Smith said. Smith’s daughter Marilyn Morton said that her mother was very honored to be there and represent the Black Kettle descendants and the Cheyenne tribe. “Karen Little Coyote first talked to mom about going because apparently she was going to go but then she couldn’t make it, they had called her and had suggested mom, and then Fred Mosqueda reached out to my sister Verda asking her if someone could go down with mom so she could accept it and we were happy, but it was always like, what’s it got to do with Texas?” Morton said. Morton then pointed to the front cover of a Texas magazine nearby and said, “That would explain it good, keeping the west alive.” In being the oldest living descendant of Black Kettle, Smith is a third generation descendant of the Black Kettle family, making Chief Black Kettle her great-great-great-grandfather. “When they first called, they wanted to know if I could come out there and represent Black Kettle … of course I accepted and I told the girls and they all said yeah that’d be alright and we went up there and people were really nice, the people that was on the stage, they were really nice and talked to you, they asked how we were related to Black Kettle and I would tell them,” Smith said.
Coinciding with the Texas Trail of Fame inductees, other ceremonies were taking place at the Red Steagull Cowboy Gathering and Western Swing Festival. “They had the banquet on Thursday and on Saturday they had the induction, where we actually went down to the stockyards and they revealed the star … we must’ve been making a lot of noise because everybody was kind of looking at us when we finally sat down and somebody came and got her a chair and sat down and this man and woman came up to us and they asked, ‘is she the great-great-granddaughter?’ and we said ‘no she’s the great-great-great-granddaughter,’ and they were like ‘oh my gosh she’s a descendant of a chief.’ They were in awe and they just stayed with us the whole time and she was sitting beside this older man and they said he comes every year and he’s from Sweden, they said the biggest Texas flag flown outside of Texas is in Sweden and he’s a preacher from Sweden,” Morton said. In reading the history and biography of Black Kettle’s life and his many attempts to gain peace while many in the audience were touched by the accounts of those who have lost their lives during the Sand Creek Massacre and Washita Massacre. “The people were just in awe of her and the fact that Black Kettle actually survived the first attack but then didn’t make it through the next,” Morton said. While growing up, Smith admitted she didn’t know very much about Black Kettle. “I didn’t know anything about Black Kettle, after I grew up, they used to tell us that my dad was from Black Kettle, his name was Dana Black,” Smith said. Smith’s father, Dana Black, had been sent to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where the name Black Kettle was then changed to Black. “Everybody seemed to think that was good and then you read up on Carlisle and Carlisle was not a good place, I mean they tried to take their heritage away from them, making them have short hair and that’s where they took the name Black Kettle off and just gave us Black,” Morton said. Although very little was known growing up with Black Kettle’s name, Smith’s daughter Verda Weston said the name of Black Kettle has always had a big influence on their family.
Norma Black Smith with Black Kettle's star on the Texas Trail of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas. Photo courtesy Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribal Tribune
“The state of Oklahoma had a bust dedicated to Black Kettle, I want to say it was in 1989, maybe ’88, at the state capitol and I had three other aunts that were living at the time, along with my mom and all had front row seats at the dedication of this bust at the state capitol and they did a review. We’ve all known it, the name Black Kettle, our family name is Black and we’ve always been told that the Kettle was dropped off during enrollment, and some people picked it back up and put it back in their name, but my grandmother and my grandfather, Dana Black and Mary Black, had eight children so there are a number of aunts and uncles that we got to grow up around and I have 49 first cousins,” Weston said. While the dedication of Black Kettle into the Texas Trail of Fame came as a once in a lifetime opportunity to represent Black Kettle, for the family it was also worthwhile to be present as eight other honorees were inducted that same day. “This organization called the Texas Trail of Fame started, I want to say they said in 1999, and they felt like they were enough people that were familiar or knew about western history, that a lot of people were starting to age, so a group of them got together and decided that they wanted to try to remember the people that contributed to a western way of life and they began doing that … they had selected Black Kettle in their committee meetings, along with a number of other people, like Marty Robbins, a singer, there was an actor, there was a couple of others, I think there was nine people that were recognized all together, one of them was an artist, one was a performing musician,” Weston said.
2019 Texas Trail of Fame Induction Ceremony Banquet! Photo cred: Greg BadePosted by Texas Trail of Fame on Monday, November 11, 2019
In honoring the life of Black Kettle at the ceremony, Weston said they gave great tributes to every one of the inductees. “They gave great tributes to every one of the inductees, there was a man there, he was an historian as well … he gave a great overview of Black Kettle, he talked in all fairness, I think he had tears in the eyes of some people as he was talking about the massacre at the Washita and what happened and afterwards he talked quite a bit about, do you think I got it right, was that representative, was that fair to hear, and I will just say that overall the graciousness from the people coming up to mom after she received the award was amazing, just hugs and, ‘I’m so sorry’ and ‘I’m so glad you’re here,’ and it was really touching, treating her like a celebrity,” Weston said. While the bronze marker is permanently engraved along the walkway of Texas Trail of Fame in Fort Worth, Texas, the family and descendants of Black Kettle find peace in knowing the legacy of Black Kettle is being kept alive. “It’s having him honored and getting mom to represent him, also having my aunts represent him, and us now, the feeling, I don’t know how you put it into words, you might find it’s great knowing our heritage and what he tried to do for the Cheyenne tribe, or what he tried to do for all of the tribes, not just the Cheyenne tribe … now that we’re older that we really appreciate it and we really hope kids these days try to pay attention to their heritage because we don’t want to lose it,” Morton said. On behalf of accepting the award for Chief Black Kettle, the family of Norma Black Smith said, “it means everything to our family, not just us, but for the whole tribes to be recognized in a place everyone can visit and be proud of.”