On September 17, 1868 a large group of Cheyenne, Arapaho and Lakota warriors attacked 50 United States Army volunteer scouts, under the command of Major George A. Forsyth and Lieutenant Frederick H. Beecher, on the Arikaree River about 18 miles southeast of Wray. The Army scouts were in search of an Indian band believed to have raided a freight train in Kansas. When attacked, the scouts retreated to a sandbar in the middle of the Arikaree River, and concealed themselves behind the bodies of their horses. Major Forsyth dispatched scouts to walk the 75 miles to Fort Wallace, Kansas for reinforcements; four of those scouts made it to Fort Wallace on the 22nd and 23rd. Two troops of Buffalo Soldiers stationed near present-day Cheyenne Wells, Colorado arrived at the battle site on the morning of September 25 to rescue the besieged scouts, followed by two other cavalry detachments.

Major Forsyth named the sandbar “Beecher’s Island” in honor of Lieutenant Beecher, who died during the attack. Three other Army scouts died during the battle, and two more died later from wounds sustained at the fight; another 20 scouts were wounded. The number of Native American casualties is in dispute, but a noted Cheyenne warrior known as “Roman Nose” almost certainly died at the battle.

In 1898, thirty years after the battle, three surviving members of Forsyth’s scout band came back to Beecher Island to locate the battle site, and erected a sandstone marker memorializing the battle. The next year the local chapters of the Grand Army of the Republic organized the Beecher Island Park and Memorial Association (later the Beecher Island Battle Memorial Association). The Association has held September reunions since 1899, and is hosting a special celebration for this year’s 150th anniversary of the battle.

The Beecher Island room in the Wray Museum, located on Highway 34 across from the Yuma County Courthouse, is a great place to visit to learn more about the battle. An 1863 Mountain Howitzer cannon is on display, along with a vivid wall mural painted by noted artist Irene Selonski and a diorama of the battle created by Scott Chartier. Also included in the exhibit are Native American artifacts, photographs of participants in the battle, and a copy of the program for the 1900 reunion.

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