I have grown up in the town of Salina, Kansas my entire life. One of the biggest landmarks in my area is a large hill in the center of town known as “Indian Rock.” As a kid, I used to always climb the hill and go sledding there. Eventually, however, I learned that the site was a stage for a battle between indian tribes in 1857. In the early 1800s, the area now known as Salina was home to several large indian tribes such as the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kansa and Osage. However, as time went on, the expansion of whtie settlements forced tribes such as the Pattawatomie, Kaw and Delaware to move west, encroaching on the hunting grounds shared by the tribes already located in present day Salina. It was only a matter of time before fighting would occur.

By the mid-1800s, there was nearly constant fighting between the Cheyenne and Pattawatomie tribes, leading white settlers in the area to abandon their trading posts and frontier homes. It was not long before the tribes from the east formed an alliance to take on those from the west that had done the same. In 1857, fighting was so fierce that the eastern tribes were forced to retreat, taking shelter on the side of a large hill to regroup. That hill was what is now known as Indian Rock. After being able to shield themselves from the fighting and reorganize themselves, the eastern tribes decided to make their final stand on top of Indian Rock. Thanks to being able to fight upon the hill and shield themselves from warring attackers, the momentum of the fighting switched to the eastern tribes as those from the west began to suffer heavy losses.

Thanks to reinforcements from the Kaw, the eastern alliance was armed with rifles while their enemies only had bows and arrows. While the western alliance of tribes had to charge the hill time and again, the eastern fighters stood on top and fired down at the enemy. This positioning eventually allowed them to kill the Cheyenne’s leader, Big Chief. This was a devastating blow to the western bands of Indians who retreated shortly afterward. As a result, the Pattawatomie, Kaw and Delaware tribes were able to enjoy the land amongst themselves and the western tribes never attacked them again.

Few residents of Salina know the significance of Indian Rock and the importance the battle that took place there had on their town. The founder of Salina, Colonel William A. Phillips, was aware of the heated conflict amongst the different tribes in the area and was keen to avoid any threat to his future settlement. As a result, he originally wanted to found Salina in the area of Manhattan. However, after hearing about the results of the Battle of Indian Rock, he decided to venture further west to survey the land there. The friendly eastern tribes of Indians assured him that there would be no futher trouble with other tribes and as a result, Colonel Phillips decided to found his settlement, which he called Salina, right next to Indian Rock.

David Johnson