Warbonnet Creek, Nebraska – You are out in the woods, near a famous trickling creek that once ran red with proud blood. From behind you, all around you, voices whisper and talk in a strange language. Footsteps rush through the underbrush. You search but come to the sudden realization that you are alone, and the owners of the voices and running feet are not there, but echoes of history replaying.
Up ahead a strange green fog appears near a stone monument that proclaims the area historical ground, and with it comes a sense of dread, of sadness, of pain. Such things are commonplace in Nebraska, especially when the ground upon which you stand was once the site of war.
While it may sound like the set-up for yet another Blair Witch sequel, what is described above is a story told often in northwest Nebraska. Visitors come to reenact or to camp, and most of them come away with more than a few stories to tell. But what few know is that the most tragic parts of the story came about from a case of mistaken identity and the arrogance of an American legend. When so many shed blood in any place, especially if it is in defense of their way of life, their sacrifice leaves behind a mark, a scar upon the land. Whatever remains there may be a guardian, or perhaps just a remnant, but it does give the land the curious distinction of being haunted.
In June of 1876, George Armstrong Custer was summarily beaten at the Battle of Little Bighorn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand. Encouraged by the victory, many Native Americans banded together with Chief Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse in trying to reclaim their rights and lands. One such group was an ill-fated troupe of Cheyenne.
Eight hundred warriors gathered from the Spotted Tail and Red Cloud agencies (reservations) to drive back settlers and reclaim their land. However, word of Custer’s failure at Little Bighorn spread fast, and it fell to Colonel Wesley Merritt to fortify trails against Native American aggression. Word also reached him about the nearly thousand warriors on the trail so he set up an ambush. Guided by a young man named William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, two hundred cavalry troopers hid by what was then known as Warbonnet Creek and waited while a decoy wagon train made its way along the creek. When the Cheyenne saw the wagon train, they could not resist and rode to intercept. The troopers fired on the Cheyenne, wounding many of them.
Of the battle, history only records one casualty. Cody fired two shots. The first killed the horse of a warrior named Hey-o-wei, which was translated as “Yellow Hair.” Cody then shot the warrior on advice from a trooper, whom he mistakenly thought referred to the warrior as the Cheyenne Chief, Yellow Hand. Cody then took his hunting knife and scalped the warrior, claiming it was the first scalp for Custer. The rest of the Cheyenne fled, leaving none of the troopers injured or dead. Cody, undaunted by his case of mistaken identity, displayed the scalp and the warrior’s war bonnet for years at his traveling “Wild West” show, where he also reenacted a greatly embellished version of the “duel.”
Battle reenactment enthusiasts come to Warbonnet Creek often to stage mock versions of Cody’s “victory.” And most of them agree that there is something in those woods that isn’t quite right. Most often reported are the sounds of running footsteps through the woods where no actors are. Also, voices are heard but in languages that most people don’t understand. Recordings have been made and have been discovered to be in the native language of the Cheyenne.
Most startling, however, is a singular green glowing mist that has been reported dozens of times by people from all walks of life. It settles near the monument that marks the battle, and those who have seen it agree that with it comes a strange sense of panic, fear, and deep sorrow. Whether it is the restless spirit of Yellow Hair, as some believe, or some other manifestation is unclear. But the point on which most people agree is that, whatever it is, it is neither natural nor friendly. It moves with intelligence and is always spotted near the same area.
The Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave in Boulder, Colorado, still exhibits pieces from the Wild West Show. But in Nebraska the tiny skirmish still continues to attract history buffs and reenactors. Everyone comes away taken in by the beauty of the creek and with a deeper appreciation of the Cheyenne, but many come away with strange experiences.
For the greatest chance of a paranormal experience, follow the advice of the battle reenactors and the history books. The month of July is the most active of the year for the site with most activity occurring on or around the anniversary of the battle.
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