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Picture of Ranald S. Mackenzie
Ranald S. Mackenzie

Sherman invested a large effort in the protection of his former enemies since the end of the Civil War. He assigned his best cavalry officer, Ranald S. Mackenzie, to command the Texas frontier. The Indians called him "Bad Hand" due to his loss of several fingers in a Civil War battle. His hand was just the most visible of dozens of wounds he'd received and though young, he was as grouchy as the most cantankerous old man. The colonel effectively saw to the construction and manning of Forts Concho, Griffin and Richardson but the soldiers thought of him mainly in the capacity of dispensing discipline.

Mackenzie's raiders, as the grateful citizens soon referred to the Fourth Cavalry , began to strike deep into the Plains in the early 1870s. Here the troops found conditions harsher than their commander's temper. Their objective was to strike Comanche winter camps where the warriors were practically immobile due to the lack of grass for their ponies. Ironically victory was achieved because the ornery colonel successfully utilized stubborn army mules to resupply his men and horses on the battlefield.

Picture of Mow-Way (Shaking Hand)
Mow-way (Shaking Hand)
Photo from the book, Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Sill, by Colonel W. S. Nye; Copyright © 1937 by the University of Oklahoma Press. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Fourth had their first important victory when they attacked Mow-way's Comanche band on the North Fork of the Red. Previously at Blanco Canyon, near Lubbock, Mackenzie's nemesis, Quanah Parker, led a night raid on the army's horse herd.

Mackenzie Destroys Comanche Village on North Fork of Red River, 1872

The new commander of the Department of Texas, Gen. C.C. Aguar, sent a detachment from Fort Concho under Capt. Napoleon Bonaparte McLaughlin on a two-month reconnaissance patrol. He returned to confirm captured comanchero Ortiz's assertions that the main force of the Comanches were in camps located in the Staked Plains and that army columns could successfully maneuver in that country. Aguar then summoned Mackenzie to San Antonio where they held a strategy meeting where they developed a campaign against the Comanche in their stronghold in the Staked Plains.

McLaughlin's recounter revealed a band of Comanche containing over two hundred lodges, with a herd of well over one thousand horses, was camped somewhere on the Staked Plains. Ortiz speculated that it would probably be found in either Cannon Blanco Mucha Que Valley, North Fork of the Red River or Palo Duro Canyon.

Mackenzie reestablished Camp Supply on Duck Creek, where he concentrated his command and dispatched several scouting parties, one of which discovered a well used road with hoof prints of a large herd of cattle stretching west toward the Staked Plains. This news peaked Mackenzie's interest and on July 28th he marched two hundred forty troopers west. August 7th, the men resupplied and rested at Ft. Sumner, New Mexico and then marched north to Ft. Bascom, New Mexico, arriving August 16th.

Ortiz, who accompanied Mackenzie, directed the return route east, skirting Palo Duro Canyon. Mackenzie split off detachments to search possible locations of the Indian camp but with no success. They returned to Camp Supply on August 31st. The expedition had marched over 640 miles over the last month and had traversed the Staked Plains by two new routes, These routes were both shorter and better watered than the Goodnight-Loving trail that was currently being used to drive cattle to markets in New Mexico.

Mackenzie rested his men until September 21st when he marched his command north to search the last potential lair of the Comanche, the North Fork of the Red River. On September 28th, a scouting patrol, under Boehm, discovered a large Kotsoteka Comanche village. The command moved within a half mile of the village before they were spied by the Indians. From there they charged the village, overtaking it after a half-hour battle. Mackenzie lost three men and had three wounded. The Comanche lost an estimated fifty or more including Chief Kai-Wotche and his wife. Mow-way (Shaking Hand) escaped.

Mackenzie had to promise his Tonkawa scouts their pick of the Comanche horses, which were estimated to be a herd of 3,000, for them to desist mutilating and scalping the Comanche victims. Mackenzie also took one hundred thirty women and children prisoner and had all their property gathered up and burned. He made camp two miles from the smoking village. It took the Comanche two attempts that night to stampede their herd. The soldiers were able to recapture only fifty horses. Mackenzie returned to Ft. Richardson on October 23. Nine Congressional Medals of Honor were awarded for gallantry during this campaign.

Captive Clinton L. Smith

The following story is a first-hand account of white captive Clinton L. Smith:

One morning I got up to build the fire. It was just at good daylight. The camp as about two miles long and no one else in that whole village seemed astir. Suddenly I heard the roar of guns, and looking down toward the end of the village, I saw smoke rising., I called to my chief to get up quick, for something was happening in camp. He grabbed his gun and rushed out, followed by the squaws. He yelled to me that it was an attack by white men, and for us all to run. One squaw had a little baby. She picked it up and started for the creek. My old gray mule was staked nearby by the foot. The chief jumped on the mule, took his son up behind him, and then put out his foot and told me to climb on too, which I did in a great big hurry, and away we went. But in our haste we had forgotten to cut the stake rope, and down came the mule, throwing all three of us in a pile. The chief sprang to his feet, cut the rope and we all got on again and rode for dear life.

General McKenzie had slipped up on us during the night, with his troops, and waited until daylight to try and capture the whole camp. By the time we were mounted and ready to ride the fight was on in earnest, and at close quarters. That old gray mule was scared badly, and when the chief gave a yell and turned him loose he almost quit the earth. General McKenzie was leading the attack on one side of us, and a captain of rangers was leading the attack on the other side, while a whole string of soldiers were following us and literally pumping lead into our badly demoralized camp. We had to run about four hundred yards to escape from the fight, but about five hundred succeeded in getting away. They killed our horses so fast in front a good many fell over them. As we were running Cachoco's horse was shot down in front of us. He squatted down among the bushes and as General McKenzie passed by he put an arrow through his jacket, barely missing the skin. General McKenzie told me of this incident afterward, when I had a long talk with him at Fort Concho. Cachoco never ran. He shot all of his arrows away, but he left several dead men to show for his brave stand. Taken so unexpectedly the Indians had no equal chance, and many were killed. It seems that the soldiers tried to make a massacre of this attack, for they killed squaws, babies, warriors and old white headed men. The band of us who escaped went up the creek and circled around a little ridge and watched them fight. The chief sent runners to other Indian camps to ask for help, and by night our force had increased to fully one thousand warriors, and while we were getting ready to make a bold stand, the fight stopped, about 3 o'clock p.m. The troops captured all of our loose horses, several thousand, and moved down the creek about ten miles, and we returned to the scene of battle and picked up all of the wounded. This little creek was of running water with deep holes from fifty to seventy-five yards long. Long grass grew along the edges of the stream and hung over the water. Many of the Indians escaped by jumping into the water and hiding under the overhanging grass. So many were killed and wounded in the water that is was red from hole to hole with blood. The camp was wholly destroyed, and there were many dead soldiers and horses lying about.

The soldiers had captured many of the Indians and took them along with them, herding them like cattle. Among the captured was our second chief, a long, slim, red-looking Indian. He wore the black star painted on his breast indicating bravery. The captives were all afoot, and this Indian broke out of the herd and ran for a long distance before he was overtaken. His pursuers succeeded in roping him back to the herd, more dead than alive. General McKenzie also told me about this, as did the chief when he got away and came back to the tribe.

We fixed up to follow the soldiers and try to rescue our people s well as retake our horses. After what I had seen that day I was mad all over, and was willing to risk anything to get even with the soldiers.We had good horses and good arms, and although our chief told us he did not think we could whip the enemy, we were determined to have another battle and try to stampede the horses. We started on their trail, leaving the squaws behind to care for the wounded. I will never forget my horse; he was a big, long, slab-sided red roan, and a splendid traveler. We rode fast until we located the camp of the soldiers, when we halted and watched them until dark. They had a number of wagons which had been formed in a circle, in the center of which had been placed the captured Indians, and these were being guarded by a large force of soldiers, while other soldiers were herding the horses. We awaited until darkness had enveloped the earth, and then, guided only by starlight, we approached to within a hundred and fifty yards of the camp, to await the chief's signal for attack. When the signal was given it found us all ready to make the charge. With loud yells we dashed forward shooting at the guards, who promptly returned the fire. The Indians in the camp were quick to take advantage of the confusion, and many of them made their escape, but with fixed bayonets the guards held most of them in check. Some of the Indians crawled out between the wagon spokes, and some even crawled through the soldiers' legs in getting away. When I had fought for some time I discovered my gun was empty, so Old Roan and I left there. I could not hold my horse. The harder I pulled the faster he ran. The soldiers turned the captured horses loose to save their camp, and these were in a stampede, all seemed to be running for dear life. Soon I found myself right in the middle of the running horses. I managed to work my way to the outside of the herd and found that part of the Indians had followed up to recapture the horses. We went some distance and made camp about daylight, and all through the day Indians were straggling in from the scene of the night before. About two hundred succeeded in making their escape. General McKenzie told me afterwards that he succeeded in taking one hundred and fifty to Fort Concho, driving them like sheep; most of these were squaws and children.

A large band of the Indians followed McKenzie's troops toward Fort Concho, but returned and said they were not able to overtake them.

Note: The fight above mentioned took place September 20th, 1872, at the mouth of McClellan's Creek, a fork of the North Fork of Red River, and was between a portion of the Fourth Calvary under General McKenzie and Mow-Wis' band of Comanches. A full account of the engagement is given in "Revellie and Taps," by Captain R.G. Carter, Retired, Army and Navy Club, Washington, D.C.

Mackenzie relocated his headquarters to Fort Concho but left a large portion of his troops stationed at Fort Richardson and Fort Griffin. His troops rendezvoused at his main supply camp on Duck Creek (Freshwater Fork of the Brazos) where he successfully commanded the southern prongs of the Red River War and personally led the coup de grace against the Qua-ha-das in Palo Duro Canyon.

Picture of Quanah Parker's HeaddressAdjutant R.G. Carter describes Quanah:

"...A large and powerfully built chief led the bunch, on a coal-black racing pony. Leaning forward upon his mane, his heels nervously working in the animal's side, with six-shooter poised in air, he seemed the incarnation of savage brutal joy. His face was smeared with black war paint, which gave his features a satanic look. A large, cruel mouth added to his ferocious appearance. A full-length headdress or war bonnet of eagle's feathers, spreading out as he rode, and descending from his forehead, over head and back, to his pony's tail, almost swept the ground. Large brass hoops were in his ears; he was naked to his waist, wearing simply leggings, moccasins and a breechclout. A necklace of bear's claws hung about his neck. His scalp lock was carefully braided in with otter fur, and tied with bright red flannel. His horse's bridle was profusely ornamented with bits of silver, and red flannel was also braided in his mane and tail, but, being black, he was not painted. Bells jingled as he rode at headlong speed, followed by the leading warriors, all eager to outstrip him in the race. It was Quanah, principal war chief of the wild Qua-ha-das."


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