Photo from the book, Texas Ranger Tales II, by Mike Cox
Much of the Second Cavalry was reassigned to Utah, fortunately Governor
Runnells was able to reestablish the Ranger battalion in 1858, appointing
John S. "Rip" Ford captain. Nicknamed "Rip" because
of his habit of signing the casualty reports with the initials "RIP"
for "Rest In Peace." Ford established Camp Runnells near Belknap.
He employed the Indian agent Ross' teenage son, Sul Ross, to organize
an auxiliary troop of Indians, and together they prepared to raid into
Indian territory. Ford's orders were to follow any and all trails of
hostile and suspected hostile Indians, inflict the most summary punishment,
and to book no interference from any source. (That source was interpreted
to mean the United States, who might try to enforce its law against
trespassing on Indian territory.) Ford led his men across the Red River,
stating later that his job was to find Indians, not to learn geography.
At first light on May 12th at Antelope Hills in Indian territory, Ross'
men attacked a Comanche camp they had located. His men engaged the fleeing
enemy close, effectively using their pistols, destroying them during
their retreat. Still the Comanche managed a successful defensive action,
protecting their women and children, but at the cost of many warriors'
lives. Most devastatingtheir chief, Iron Jacket, was killed in
the melee. The Spanish mail he wore in battle had earned him a reputation
There are conflicting reports on the battle as it proceeded. One report
has Ross returning to Ford after a long pursuit of Iron Jacket's warriors
through the morning, only to find Ford's troops lined out in battle
formation with a larger band of Indians led by Peta Nocona stretched
across the horizon. The conflict reportedly started with individual
warriors riding forward, challenging the Texans to individual combat. Ford commented:
"the mind of the spectator was vividly carried back to the days of chivalry, the jousting tournaments of the knights, and to the combatants whose scenic exhibitions of gallantry. The feats of horsemanship were splendid. The lances and shields were used with great dexterity, and the whole performance was a novel show to civilized men."
Just the same, he called a halt to the Tonkawa's futile attempts to
fight with the Comanche. Too many of his Tonkawa's had been killed in
senseless exhibition. The Nocona and Ford rearranged their men several
times until finally the two forces engaged. Again the revolvers proved
to be deadly effective in close combat with the Indians.
Ford's men routed the Comanche, killing over seventy five through their
pursuit of the force during the afternoon. Victorious, Ford returned
to Texas, only to have Governor Runnells inform him that the treasury
was empty and that the Rangers were disbanded. Perhaps Ford's greatest
contribution to the war effort was his establishment of Camp Radziminski.
Its location allowed soldiers and Rangers through the course of the
war the ability to at least monitor, if not control, Indian movements
between the reservations and the Staked Plains.
The following story is from the book, Indian Depredations, by
J. W. Wilbarger:
Brave Colonel Ford, the commander and ranger bold,
On the South Canadian did the Comanches behold,
On the twelfth of May, at rising of sun,
The armies did meet and battle begun.
The battle of the South Canadian, or "Antelope
Hills," fought in 1858, was probably one of the most
splendid scenic exhibitions of Indian warfare ever enacted
upon Texas soil. This was the immemorial home of the Comanches;
here they sought refuge from their marauding expeditions into
Texas and Mexico; and here, in their veritable city of refuge,
should the adventurous and daring rangers seek them, it was
certain that they would be encountered in full force.
Pohebits Quasho Iron Jacket, so called from
the fact that he wore a coat of scale mail, a curious piece
of armor, which doubtless had been stripped from the body
of some unfortunate Spanish knight slain, perhaps, a century
before-some chevalier who followed Coronado, De Leon, La Salle-was
the war chief. He was a big medicine man, or prophet, and
claimed to be invulnerable to balls and arrows aimed at his
person, as by a necromantic puff of his breath the missives
were diverted from their course, or charmed, and made to fall
harmless at his feet.
Peta Nocona, the young and daring husband of
Cynthia Ann Parker, was in command.
About the first of May, in the year above named,
Colonel John S. Ford ("Old Rip,"), at the head of
one hundred Texan rangers, comprising such leaders as Captain
S. P. Ross (the father of General L. S. Ross), W. A. Pitts,
Preston, Tankersley, and a contingent of one hundred and eleven
Tonkawa Indians, the latter commanded by their celebrated
chief, Placido-so long the faithful and implicitly trusted
friend of the whites-marched on a campaign against the marauding
Comanches, determined to follow them up to their stronghold
amid the hills of the Canadian river, and if possible surprise
them and inflict a severe and lasting chastisement.
After a toilsome march of several days the Tonkawa
scouts reported that they were in the immediate vicinity of
the Comanche encampment. The Comanches, though proverbial
for their sleepless vigilance, were unsuspicious of danger;
and so unsuspected was the approach of the rangers that on
the day preceding the battle Colonel Ford and Captain Ross
stood in the old road from Fort Smith to Santa Fe, just north
of the Rio Negro, or False Washita, and watched through their
glasses the Comanches running buffalo in the valleys still
more to the north. That night the Tonkawa spies completed
the hazardous mission of locating definitely the position
of the enemy's encampment. The next morning (May 12) the rangers
and reserve, or friendly Indians, marched before sun rise
Placido claimed for his red warriors the privilege
of wreaking vengeance upon their hereditary enemies. His request
was granted, and the Tonkawas effected a complete surprise.
The struggle was short, sharp and sanguinary. The women and
children were made prisoners, but not a Comanche brave surrendered.
Their savage pride preferred death to the restraints and humiliations
of captivity. Not a single warrior escaped to bear the sorrowful
tidings of this destructive engagement to their people.
A short time after the sun had lighted the tops
of the hills, the rangers came in full view of the hostile
camp, pitched in one of the picturesque valleys of the Canadian,
and on the opposite side of the stream, in the immediate vicinity
of the famous Antelope Hills.
The panorama thus presented to the view of the
rangers was beautiful in the extreme, and their pent up enthusiasm
found vent in a shout of exultation, which was speedily suppressed
by Colonel Ford. Just at this moment a solitary Comanche was
descried riding southward, evidently heading for the village
which Placido has so recently destroyed. He was wholly unconscious
of the proximity of an enemy. Instant pursuit was now made;
he turned and fled at full speed toward the main camp across
the Canadian, closely followed by the rangers. He dashed across
the stream and thus revealed to his pursuers the locality
of a safe ford across the miry and almost impassable river.
He rushed into the village beyond, sounding the notes of alarm;
and soon the Comanche warriors presented a bold front of battle
line between their women and children and the advancing rangers.
After a few minutes occupied in forming line of battle both
sides were arrayed in full force and effect. The friendly
Indians were placed on the right and thrown a little forward.
Colonel Ford's object was to deceive the Comanches as to the
character of the attacking force and as to the quality of
arms they possessed.
Pohebits Quasho, arrayed in all the trappings
of his war toggery-coat of mail, shield, bow and lance, completed
by a head dress decorated with feathers and long red flannel
streamers and besmeared in war paint-gaily dashed about on
his war horse midway of the opposing lines, delivering taunts
and challenges to the whites. As the old chief dashed to and
fro a number of rifles were discharged at him in point blank
range without any affect whatever, which seeming immunity
to death encouraged his warriors greatly and induced even
some of the more superstitious among the rangers to enquire
within themselves if it were possible that Old Iron Jacket
really bore a charmed life? Followed by a few of his braves
he now bore down upon the rangers, described a few charmed
circles, gave a few necromantic puffs with his breath and
let fly several arrows at Colonel Ford, Captain Ross and Chief
Placido, receiving their fire without harm. But as he approached
the line of the Tonkawas, a rifle directed by the steady nerve
and unerring eye of one of their number, Jim Pockmark, brought
the Big Medicine to the dust. The shot was a mortal one. The
fallen chieftain was instantly surrounded by his braves, but
the spirit of the conjuring brave had taken its flight to
the happy hunting grounds.
These incidents occupied but a brief space of
time, when the order to charge was given; and then ensued
one of the grandest assaults ever made against the Comanches.
The enthusiastic shouts of the rangers, and the triumphant
yell of their red allies greeted the welcome order. It was
responded to by the defiant "war whoop" of the Comanches,
and in those virgin hills, remote from civilization, the saturnalia
of battle was inaugurated. The shouts of enraged combatants,
the wail of women, the piteous cries of terrified children,
the howling of frightened dogs, the deadly reports of rifle
and revolver, constituted a discordant confusion of infernal
The conflict was sharp and quick-a charge; a
momentary exchange of rifle and arrow shots, and the heart
rending wail of discomfiture and dismay, and the beaten Comanches
abandoned their lodges and camp to the victors, and began
a disorderly retreat. But sufficient method was observed to
take advantage of each grove of timber, each hill and ravine,
to make a stand against their pursuers, and thus enable the
women and children to make their escape. The noise of battle
now diverged from a common center like the spokes of a wheel,
and continued to greet the ear for several hours, gradually
growing fainter as the pursuit disappeared in the distance.
But another division, under the vigilant Peta
Nocona, was soon marching through the hills north of the Canadian,
to the rescue. Though ten miles distant, his quick ear had
caught the first sounds of battle; and soon he was riding,
with Cynthia Ann by his side, at the head of five hundred
About one o' clock of the afternoon the last
of the rangers returned from the pursuit of Pohebits Quasho's
discomfited braves, just in time to anticipate this threatened
As Captain Ross (who was one of the last to
return) rode up, he inquired "What hour of the morning
is it Colonel?" "Morning!" exclaimed Colonel
Ford, "it is one o' clock of the afternoon." So
unconscious is one of the flight of time during an engagement,
that the work of hours seems comprised within the space of
a few moments.
"Hello! What are you in line of battle
for?" asked Ross. "Look at the hills there, and
you will see," calmly replied Colonel Ford, pointing
to the hills some half a mile distant, behind which the forces
of Peta Nocona were visible; an imposing line of five hundred
warriors drawn up in battle array.
Colonel Ford had with two hundred and twenty-one
men fought and routed over four hundred Comanches, and now
he was confronted by a stronger force, fresh from their village
still higher up on the Canadian. They had come to drive the "pale faces" and their hated copper colored allies
from the captured camp, to retake prisoners, to retake over
four hundred head of horses and an immense quantity of plunder.
They did not fancy the defiant state of preparations awaiting
them in the valley, however, and were waiting to avail themselves
of some incautious movement on the part of the rangers, when
the wily Peta Nocona, with his forces, would spring like a
lion from his lair, and with one combined and desperate effort,
swoop down and annihilate the enemy. But his antagonist was
a soldier of too much sagacity to allow any advantage to a
The two forces remained thus contemplating each
other for over an hour; during which time a series of operations
ensued between single combatants illustrative of the Indian
mode of warfare, and the marked difference between the nomadic
Comanche and his semi-civilized congeners, the Tonchua. The
Tonchuas took advantage of ravines, trees and other natural
shelter. Their arms were rifles and "six-shooters." The Comanches came to the attack with shield and bow and lance,
mounted on gaily caparisoned and prancing steeds, and flaunting
feathers and all the gorgeous display incident to savage finery
and pomp. They are probably the most expert equestrians in
the world. A Comanche warrior would gaily canter to a point
half way between the opposing lines, yell a defiant war whoop,
and shake his shield. This was a challenge to single combat.
Several of the friendly Indians who accepted
such challenges were placed hors de combat by their more expert
adversaries, and in consequence Colonel Ford ordered them
to decline the savage banters, much to the dissatisfaction
of Placido, who had conducted himself throughout the series
of engagements with the bearing of a savage hero.
Says Colonel Ford: "In these combats the
mind of the spectator was vividly carried back to the days
of chivalry; the jousts and tournaments of knights; and to
the concomitants of those scenic exhibitions of gallantry.
The feats of horsemanship were splendid, the lances and shields
were used with great dexterity, and the whole performance
was a novel show to civilized man."
Colonel Ford now ordered Placido, with a part
of his warriors, to advance in the direction of the enemy,
and if possible, draw them in the valley, so as to afford
the rangers an opportunity to charge them. This had the desired
effect, and the rangers were ready to deliver a charge, when
it was discovered that the friendly Indians had removed the
white badges from their heads because they served as targets
for the Comanches; consequently, the rangers were unable to
distinguish friend from foe. This necessitated the entire
withdrawal of the Indians. The Comanches witnessed these preparations,
and now commenced to recoil. The rangers advanced; the trot,
the gallop, the headlong charge followed in rapid succession.
Lieutenant Nelson made a skillful movement, and struck the
enemy's left flank. The Comanche line was broken. A running
fight for three or four miles ensued. The enemy was driven
back wherever he made a stand. The most determined resistance
was made in a timbered ravine. Here one of Placido's warriors
was killed, and one of the rangers, young George W. Paschal,
wounded. The Comanches left some dead upon the spot, and had
several more wounded. After routing them at this point, the
rangers continued to purse them some distance, intent upon
taking the women and children prisoners; but Peta Nocona,
by the exercise of those commanding qualities which had often
before signalized his conduct on the field, succeeded in covering
their retreat, and thus allowing them to escape. It was now
about four p.m.; both horses and men were almost entirely
exhausted, and Colonel Ford ordered a halt and returned to
the village. Brave old Placido and his warriors fought like
so many demons. It was difficult to restrain them, so anxious
were they to wreak vengeance upon the Comanches. In all of
these engagements seventy-five Comanches bit the dust. The
loss of the rangers was small-two killed and five or six wounded.
The trophies of Pohebits Quasho, including his
lance, bow, shield, head dress and the celebrated coat of
scale mail, was deposited by Colonel Ford in the State archives
at Austin, where, doubtless, they may yet be seen, as curious
relics of bygone days.
The lamented old chief, Placido, fell a victim
to the revengeful Comanches during the latter part of the
great civil war between the North and South, being assassinated
by a party of his enemies on the reservation, near Fort Sill.
The venerable John Henry Brown, some years since, paid a merited
tribute to his memory through the columns of the Dallas Herald.
Of Placido it has been said that he was the "soul of
honor," and "never betrayed a trust." That
he was brave to the utmost, we have only to refer to his numerous
exploits during his long and gratuitous service on our frontiers.
He was implicitly trusted by Burleson and other partisan leaders,
and rendered invaluable services in behalf of the early Texan
pioneers; in recognition of which he never received any reward
of a material nature, beyond a few paltry pounds of gun powder
and salt. Imperial Texas should rear a monument commemorative
of his memory. He was the more than Tammany of Texas! But
I am digressing from the narrative proper.
"Doubtless," says Rose, "Cynthia
Ann rode from this ill starred field with her infant daughter
pressed to her bosom, and her sons-two youths of about ten
and twelve years of age-at her side, as fearful of capture
at the hands of the hated whites, as years ago, immediately
after the massacre of Parker's fort, she had been anxious
for the same."
The following indented paragraphs are from the
book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R.
The Rangers had not been discovered by the Amerindians.
They moved differently from the army, quietly, grimly, making
cold camps and without all the military jangle and furor and
constant bugle signals of the cavalry. Like most old Rangers,
Rip Ford fought Indian-fashion: surprise the enemy and, if
possible, kill them in their lodges. His plan, however, was
almost ruined by some Tonkawa allies, who, overeager, attacked
and demolished a small outlying encampment of five lodges,
which lay about three miles beyond the main Comanche concentration.
Two Comanches escaped on horseback, crying the alarm.
Ford charged. His men were ordered to engage the
enemy in close, preventing the Comanches' traditional swirling
and circling maneuvers; maximizing the effectiveness of his
rangers. A running battle covered six miles until the superior
Indian force, outgunned and demoralized, disengaged. Ford and
his men followed them all afternoon, wreaking havoc on the disorganized
warriors. After seven hours, their horses were nearly blown.
They killed seventy-six Indians and captured three hundred horses,
eighteen women and a few children and they lost two men.
Ford arrived back on the Brazos on May 21st.
Here he wrote a report to Runnels, stressing the fact that
he had proved so bloodily: that the Comanches could be pursued,
found, and defeated by a properly organized expedition anywhere
in the western territory. Ford and a hundred Rangers had smashed
a force of three hundred Comanches, whom at this time the
army considered the most fearsome opponents on the plains.
His company had penetrated a region the Spanish had not dared
to enter for a century, and in which American military forces
were reluctant to undertake extended operations. Ford requested
permission to continue his campaign through the summer and
winter, in a effort to destroy the Comanche threat forever.
His victory was hailed, but his request was
denied. Ford had spent all of the funds authorized in the
month-long campaign, and the governor now disbanded his little
Fortunately, Ford's accomplishment tweaked the
pride of the U.S. Army. The Texas Military District Commander,
Brigadier General David Twiggs, begged President Buchanan to
return the second cavalry to Texas. Along with Governor Runnels
and Agent Neighbors, the case was made that there would be no
peace on the frontier until the Indians were searched out and
destroyed. In addition, the president was aware that the Comanche
and the Kiowa were now raiding the Santa Fe trail and the Kansas
frontier, so he allowed Major Earl Van Dorn to lead four companies
of the second cavalry and a company of infantry into Indian