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Bent-Hyde Papers

Identifier: COU:131

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of maps, notes and descriptions of the maps exchanged between George Bent and George Hyde. This exchange appears to have been part of a research process for the historian George Bird Grinnell. The method that researcher George Hyde used was to draw geographically correct maps, include questions and mail them to Bent for clarification, answers, and filling-in on the subject of Arapahoe and Cheyenne activities in 19th century Colorado and Kansas. The maps are sorted by Hyde and Grinnell’s questions along with Bent’s replies. Topics include: Sand Creek, Platte Bridge Fight, a copy of a photograph of George Bent and his wife Magpie/Black Bird.

”Fortunately this is not all the surviving records from George Bent and George Hyde. The known collections of these letters belong to the Western History Department of the Denver Public Library; a small number to the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles; and 260, which Hyde sold to an Omaha dealer in 1926, now belong to the Coe Collection of Western Americana at Yale University.”


  • Creation: 1905 - 1918

Biographical Note

George Bent was the son of the noted Indian trader, William Bent and his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. He was born at the first Bent’s Fort in 1843. There, at the old fort, George and his younger brother Charles were raised until they were sent to Westport and St. Louis for schooling in 1853. When the Civil War came, George and the younger Charles joined the Confederate Army and served under General Sterling Price. They served with Price’s army until the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1863. Some sources say that George and Charles deserted while others say that they were captured and paroled back to Colorado. Regardless, their return to Colorado was met with hostility. By 1863 the boys mixed ethnicity may have also caused them problems in the Pikes Peak settlements due to Indian hostilities along the supply lines to Denver. William Bent recommended to his sons that they return to their mother's people, the Southern Cheyenne, for protection.

George and Charles were living in Black Kettle's village at Sand Creek when it was attacked on November 29, 1864 by the 3rd Colorado Volunteers. The Sand Creek Massacre was a disaster for the Bent family. George lost his stepmother and a brother on the Cheyenne side and another brother had been forced to lead Colonel Chivington’s troops to the Indian encampment. Although wounded in the attack, Bent made it to a Cheyenne Dog Soldier encampment fifty miles away. From then on, Bent lived with the Southern Cheyenne and rode with the Dog Soldiers on their retaliatory raids on white settlements. Cut off from white culture; Bent was in a unique position to observe movements and hostilities from the Indian perspective and to report his experiences using the white education gained in Westport and St. Louis.

Years later Bent assumed the historically significant role as facilitator, informant, and interpreter for a culture and life that was fast disappearing. Working for such noted scholars as George Bird Grinnell, Bent gathered together groups of Indians for interviews and translated answers to Grinnell's questions. Prior to this service, Bent had become acquainted with George Hyde, who became one of Grinnell's research assistants. Hyde and Bent had begun a lengthy correspondence on or about 1904/1905 and continued the exchange almost until Bent's death in 1918. Together they conceived a project to document Indian life on the Plains before 1875.

George Bird Grinnell was born in 1849 in Brooklyn, New York, to George Blake Grinnell and Helen Alvord Lansing. George Blake Grinnell purchased a home on the estate of John James Audubon. George Bird Grinnell attended school in John James Audubon's mansion in Assigning, New York. He then furthered his education at Yale, receiving his B.A. in 1870 and his Ph.D. in 1880. Naturalist O. C. Marsh became George Bird Grinnell’s mentor during this time.

In 1874 when Lt. Colonel George Custer needed a naturalist on his expedition to the Black Hills Grinnell volunteered. He was interested in what he could learn from the Indian tribes of the region, and early on was well known for his ability to get along with Indian elders. “The Pawnee called him White Wolf, and eventually adopted him into the tribe. The Gros Ventre called him Gray Clothes, the Black Feet "Fisher Hat." The Cheyenne called him wikis which means "bird," observing that he came and went with the seasons.” Grinnell’s work in the Peabody Museum at Yale prevented him from accepting Custer’s invitation to join the Little Big Horn Expedition in June 1876.

Trained as a scientist, Grinnell logged the words, actions, practices, history, and religious beliefs of Black Feet, Pawnee, and Cheyenne as accurately and faithfully as possible. “Grinnell's essential message was this: Plains Indians are human beings with histories of their own. If the tide of change ushered in by conquest could not be changed, at least people should consider and appreciate what had been destroyed. He served as an advocate for Native Americans for the rest of his life and went on to work for fair and reasonable treaties with Indian tribes.”

George Hyde was born on June 10, 1882 in Omaha, Nebraska. He was the only child of Lucinda (Reed) and George W. Hyde. As a boy, he became friends with the son of E. L. Eaton, a photographer who had actually known George Custer, “Buffalo Bill” Cody, and the Brulé Sioux Chief, Spotted Tail. Hyde was intrigued by Eaton's collection of glass-plate negatives and the tales Eaton told of his adventures. Hyde's youthful interest deepened when he attended the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition which was held, concurrently, with the Indian Congress in Omaha. Five hundred Indians, representing 28-35 tribes (sources differ on the number), were present including Geronimo and his lieutenant, Nachie. After meeting some of the Indians who were attending, Hyde was invited to their camps. His career was a natural outgrowth of the friendships he formed at this time

By that time George Hyde had become profoundly deaf and lost most of his eyesight. He later wrote, "I took up writing as about the only thing that I could do, because I had sense enough to know that a man to write must have first hand information, and there was no subject as suitable as Indians, and I was in a position to get first hand information from several tribes." With strong corrective lenses and a high powered magnifying glass, Hyde read everything he could find on the subject. In 1905, after learning how to type with his visual impairment, he began corresponding with George Bent; a correspondence which continued until Bent's death in 1918. Through Bent, George Bird Grinnell found out about Hyde and hired him as a research assistant in 1912. The Fighting Cheyenne, published in 1915, was the result of Hyde's collaboration with Grinnell. But Hyde's contribution went far beyond collecting information; much of the writing was his, as well.

Hyde's responsibility was to collect information-oral history and eye witness accounts-from the Cheyenne. He became an expert at this using a combination of note taking and letter writing. In the course of his work he developed an extensive network of Plains Indians who assisted him with his research. Many of them became Hyde’s lifelong friends.

Hyde published a total of 11 books on Indians both as sole author and in collaboration notably with George F. Will. Among his better known works are: Red Cloud’s Folk: A History of the Oglala Sioux, Spotted Tail’s Folk: A History of the Brulé Sioux, and Life of George Bent.


.75 linear feet (1 Box)

Language of Materials



George Bent was the son of William Bent and his Cheyenne wife, Owl Woman. He was raised as a Cheyenne but sent to Westport and St. Louis for schooling along with his younger brother Charles. He fought as a Confederate in the Civil War before being captured and paroled to Colorado. George survived the Sand Creek Massacre and joined the Cheyenne to fight against their enemies. It was during this time that Bent witnessed and participated in the Indian wars and conflicts he recorded. Later he became a mediator, translator and interpreter for the Cheyenne. Bent was employed as an interpreter for George Bird Grinnell when he visited the Cheyenne and Arapahoe. George Bent was introduced to George Grinnell by George Hyde. Bent and Hyde had begun corresponding in 1905 and continued until Bent’s death in 1918. Hyde became a well known historian and interpreter of Plains Indian life.


This collection is arranged into the following series: Maps

Processed by: Marilyn Burns,2006
June 8, 2006
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the University of Colorado Boulder Libraries, Rare and Distinctive Collections Repository

1720 Pleasant Street
184 UCB
Boulder Colorado 80503 United States