Palo Duro Canyon
Sheridan ordered his forces onto the Plains and Mackenzie
commanded the southern arm of a five-prong attack into the heart
of Comancheria. He led his troops to the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon
destroying several thousand lodges and capturing at least that many
of the Indian's horses. Recalling how aggressively Quanah's warriors
attacked his camp trying to recapture Mo-way's remuda and knowing
it would seal the fate of the Plains warriors, he ordered the destruction
of the herd.
Dell Comic book of TV's Richard Carlson as Ranald S. Mackenzie
Two hundred troops from New Mexico, under the command
of Major William E. Price, on September 12th arrived at the battlesite
forcing the Indians to disperse. Despite Kicking Bird's messages begging
the Indians to come into the reservation, most rode toward Palo Duro
Canyon to join the Quahida's.
The greatest achievement by any of the armies was executed
by Mackenzie's Fourth Cavalry when they found the majority of the
Comanche's in their winter camp in Palo Duro Canyon. At predawn, he
led his men down into the canyon where they drove the Comanche away
from their camp only a few were killed, but Mackenzie captured over
2,000 horses and all of their supplies, in particular the valuable
Tepee poles which were generally 20 feet long and extremely difficult
to replace in plains of West Texas.
Throughout the miserable winter large bands of hostiles
wandered into the reservation at Ft. Sill and surrendered to Col.
Mackenzie. Lone Wolf and 252 Kiowa surrendered in February, followed
by 1600 Southern Cheyenne in March, 200 Comanche, led by Shaking Hand
in April, and lastly the 407 Quahidas, led by Quanah Parker, surrendering
in early June.
Quanah Parker and Wife
The following is an excerpt from the book, On The
Border With Mackenzie, by Captain R. G. Carter.
The Second Battalion moved northwest over some sand
hills to the Salt Fork of the Wichita, and as soon as we arrived
there, Troop E was sent to the west on a reconnaissance; the other
three troops halted, unsaddled, the mules were unpacked, and the
men got dinner. At 1 p.m. we repacked, saddled up, and marched to
the head of Pease River-a running stream of clear water in Quit-a-Que
Valley, and camped.
A terrific thunderstorm, for which the "Staked
Plains," are noted, came up that night. It rained in torrents
and the lightning was incessant and so vivid as to illuminate the
entire bivouac. "Sheets of flame" hardly does it justice.
Officers stood under a high bluff, expecting to see the horses struck
and to drop every moment. During this frightful storm a part of
this bluff fell and compelled everybody to move away from there
Lawton managed to get one wagon up with a supply of
fresh beef, which was a welcome addition to our slim supply of grub.
The balance of the train, owing to the mud, was back some 8 miles.
It took 12 mules to haul that wagon.
We remained in camp all the next day waiting for the
1st Battalion to join headquarters, which had moved with the 2nd
Battalion. A sergeant and 2 men, one of them being Private E. M.
Beck of Co. H, Fourth Cavalry, were sent with dispatches to the
First Battalion, which had advanced to Tule Canon, to recall them.
On the afternoon of the 26th they, in "their company,"
rejoined the rest of the command at "Boehm's Canon." Early
in the forenoon the train with its infantry escort came into our
camp. It continued to rain and grow cold with a heavy gale. Shelter
was sought in the small valleys and breaks. The command started
to march west to some low hills and where we could get better grass
for the horses, but were forced to go into camp again owing to the
continuous heavy downpour of rain. Near sundown the 1st Battalion
joined us. Some of the horses were now showing signs of giving out
and had to be shot to prevent their falling into the hands of the
After 5 hours of hard pulling through the soft, slushy
mud-making but 7 miles-Lawton succeeded in getting the supply wagons
up late in the evening.
On September 24th a "wet Norther" set in
and continued all night. One who has never passed through a "Norther"
can hardly appreciate the conditions of a cavalry command at that
period exposed to all its fury. No move was made until 1 p.m. The
train moved out towards the pass in the hills from Quit-a-Que Valley.
Reaching the foot hills once more, the command was halted, bridles
taken off the horses and they were "staked out" to graze-a
herd guard being put on for safety. The balance of the men manned
the ropes which had been attached to the wagons and hauled them
up over the steep and slippery grade. The teams were "doubled
up." Before dark the last wagon was out of the valley and out
on the "Staked Plains" once more. We bivouacked. We had
made but 4 miles.
On September 25th the column had moved out early,
leaving the wagons-not a wheel could be turned. We pushed on to
Tule Spring, reaching it about sunset. While waiting dismounted,
to go into bivouac for the night, one of our scouts galloped up
and reported Indians to the east of us and that Lieutenant Thompson,
commanding scouts and guides, had, with most of the scouts (Ton-ka-ways
and Seminoles), started for them.
Orders were given for the 2nd Battalion to mount and
move out. The moon was full. It was a weird sight-this long, dark
column of mounted men moving almost silently over the thick, short
buffalo grass, which deadened all sounds, not a word being spoken,
expecting every minute to come upon the enemy. Failing to meet the
Indians, after being in the saddle about 16 hours, we went into
camp very late at night in a series of ravines which we had struck
on our march. Strong guards were posted about the horses, pickets
were thrown out and "sleeping parties" were placed among
the horse herds now lariated out, to guard against any surprise
or attempt to stampede our animals. Everybody slept with their boots
on, ready on the instant of any alarm for immediate action. It proved
to be a quiet night. After remaining here all day, at 5 p.m. we
moved south some distance until we came to a depression in the plains-or
"lagoon," full of good rain water-and went into bivouac,
grazing our horses in the meantime. Shortly after this a corporal
with 6 men arrived from the 1st Battalion, which we had left at
Tule Spring the day before, and reported that Indians had been hovering
around the 1st Battalion all day and had even exchanged shots with
it. Some of our scouts also reported that Indians were beginning
to gather in our own vicinity and we might expect a visit from them
almost anytime that very night.
On the march from Tule to Boehm's Canon three Indians
approached Henry, one of the Tonk-ka-way scouts, who was well out
on the flank, and began circling about him. When within easy range
they opened fire. Their rifles were muzzle loaders and when all
had fired, Henry with his Winchester repeating rifle, put spur to
his pony and charged them. As they disappeared over a slight rise
in the prairie, a large party of the enemy, concealed in the grass,
opened fire on Henry. Stopping his pony he waved his rifle in the
air and cantered slowly back to the column. This was one of the
usual pieces of bravado incident to Indian actions.
The horses were carefully "side lined" and
"staked out," and all precaution in the way of pickets,
sleeping parties, etc., taken as usual, so that we would not be
As was fully expected that night-Sunday, September
26-27, the Indians attacked our camp. Our horses proved safe from
stampede as long as good leather and rope held together. The men
were run out on a skirmish line with a 5 yard interval, outside
the horse herds-the "sleeping parties" inside of the herds,
ready with their boots on for quick fighting, consisted of from
12 to 20 men with selected non-commissioned officers. Upon an alarm
they were to rush out to points designated during daylight, and
from four to five hundred yards. These points were known to the
Commanding Officer, Officer of the Day, and Officer of the Herd.
They were posted so that they could not be observed by the Indians-in
some ravine or hollow. A running guard was kept up all night in
each party, so that nothing could approach the command or steal
in upon it through these hollows. The party was strong enough to
put up a stubborn fight, if necessary, until the entire command
could be got under arms, and come to their support. They were really
inner outposts within the outer picket line. This bivouac was in
a slight basin-like depression, or "sink," with a skyline
which gave a good view of anything passing while the command was
practically invisible. Private Goodwin, Co. H, who was on guard
at one end of the camp, hearing galloping ponies, challenged; receiving
no answer, he opened fire, which aroused the command.
It was about 10:30 when the first attack came and
a large body of mounted Indians charged along our lines, in fact,
all around us, firing and yelling, to try and start our horses.
The latter were securely anchored. The 1st Battalion was camped
about three-quarters mile to the east, and as the Indians charged
around it the night was so still that, without seeing them in the
dim moonlight, the voices of the officers could be distinctly heard
giving their commands. Now occurred a very unusual thing during
an Indian fight. About midnight, with every one alert, keyed up
and with nerves tightened, we could hear the rattling of the wheels
of our wagons in the distance, moving up to us, we having cut loose
from it the day previous. It was a "cold day" when Lawton
could not move his train. Between 1 and 2 o'clock a.m. the Indians
withdrew and the firing ceased. We then stretched ourselves on our
blankets once again to snatch a little more of that much needed
rest. About 5 o'clock a.m. the whole command was "turned out"
under arms, the Indians having begun to fire into us from a ravine
to the right quite a distance beyond our farthest picket post in
The firing was so desultory, however, that the men
were directed to attend to their horses, but after a short time
it began to grow more lively and Indians came faster and thicker,
but without doing much damage, the range being very great. Orders
were went to each troop commander to "saddle up," which
was done in quick time. "E" Troop being nearest to the
General it was mounted and started off towards the position held
by the Indians, who, when they saw the troop coming towards them,
ran to their ponies, mounted and galloped off in a body on to the
high and level ground, there being, at a rough guess, about 300
of them. "E" Troop, Captain P. M. Boehm, and "H"
Troop, Captain S. Gunther, charged and the Indians fled. Some few
shots were exchanged, and a couple of our Ton-Ka-way scouts, or
"trailers," caught one Comanche who got separated from
the rest, whom the "Tonks" killed and scalped.
The entire 2nd Battalion was out on the high ground
by this time, but the Indians had disappeared as completely as if
the ground had swallowed them. Several scouts and spies had been
scouring the country in advance for long distances the past few
days, and-from after events-had undoubtedly made discoveries which
they had reported to headquarters and which accounted for our not
taking up the trail of the Indians who had been firing into us.
In this action, "Woman Heart," a famous Ki-o-wa Chief,
and 15 warriors were killed.
We returned to our camp of the previous night and
let the men get breakfast, without unsaddling, after which our rations
were overhauled, and deficiencies made good (to last ten days) from
our wagon train, which, under the indefatigable Lawton, had once
more worked up to us. Packs, carbines and equipment generally were
closely inspected to see if everything was in good order, and at
3 o'clock p.m. the command moved from its camp, taking a course
due North. Each troop had its pack mule train, in charge of a non-commissioned
officer and a small detachment of men as a guard, the whole marching
in rear of the column and under the immediate charge of "the
Officer of the Day."
We marched steadily for 12 hours before we halted,
which we finally did, and the order was quietly passed along the
column to unsaddle the horses and to unpack the mules. All of the
animals were "staked out" but the ground was bare, there
being no grass. We spread our blankets on the wet ground and every
man, excepting the guard, sought rest and sleep, but the fortunes
of war permitted neither, for in about half an hour we were quickly
routed out and ordered to "pack up" and "saddle up"
again, and at once.
The scouts, Sergeant John B. Charlton and Johnson
and Job, Ton-ka-way Indians, had come in and reported a "fresh
trail." We mounted and moved out quickly every man alert. It
was yet dark about 4 o'clock a.m. when we resumed our march, still
going North, and just as the first faint streaks of daylight came
in the East we suddenly came to a wide and yawning chasm of cañon,
which proved to be Palo Duro Cañon.
In the dim light of the dawn, away down hundreds of
feet we could see the Indian "tepees" or lodges, and as
we had to march along the edge of the cañon some distance
before we could find any path or trail to descend by, the morning
had become quite light and the Indians, who had now discovered us,
rushed out of their lodges and began gathering in their herds of
ponies and driving them off towards the head of the Canon. How we
got down into the Canon was, and always will be, to the few surviving
members of the old 4th Cavalry, who participated in the Palo Duro
fight, a great mystery.
The whole command dismounted and each officer and
man, leading his horse in single file, took the narrow zigzag path,
which was apparently used by nothing but Indian ponies and buffalo.
Men and horses slipping down the steepest places, stumbling and
sliding, one by one we reached the bottom.
By this time the Indians nearest us had fled with
their stock up the Cañon. Each troop, as it reached the bottom,
was formed and mounted and sent off at a gallop after the Indians,
all of whom succeeded in getting away, abandoning lodges and everything
in their flight, scrambling and climbing up both sides of the Canon
and hiding behind immense boulders of rocks.
"A" Troop with its gallant Captain, Brevet
Lt. Colonel Eugene B. Beaumont, was the first to reach the bottom
and as soon as the last man and horse was down, mounted, and took
the gallop up the Canon after the fleeing Indians and pony herds.
"H" and "L" troops got down, somehow, on parallel
lines and galloped off together and abreast-General Mackenzie in
the lead. As we galloped along we passed village after village of
Indian lodges both on the right and left, all empty and totally
abandoned. The ground was strewn with buffalo robes, blankets, and
every imaginable thing, in fact, that the Indians had in the way
of property-all of which had been hastily collected and a vain attempt
made by the squaws to gather up and save, but finding the troops
coming up so rapidly they were forced to drop their goods and chattels
and suddenly take to the almost inaccessible sides of the Cañon
to save themselves from capture. Numbers of their pack animals were
running around loose with their packs on, while others stood tied
to trees-all having been abandoned by their owners, who were pressed
so hard by our command that they had to hastily flee to the friendly
shelter of the rocks that towered above us to the right and left.
One portion of the command continued up the Canon
at a gallop for about 2 miles, with the object of overhauling the
bucks who had run off the pony hers, when we met Colonel Beaumont
with his troop returning and driving before them a large number
of ponies which they had captured. In fact Beaumont had rounded
up almost the entire herd. "H" and "L" troops
were halted, formed line, and now waited for orders.
While waiting mounted and calmly taking in the surroundings,
the Indians who had succeeded in safely placing themselves behind
the immense breastwork of rocks, some 800 or 1000 feet about us,
opened fore upon us and in a very few minutes made it so hot and
galling that we were forced to fall back-the Indians being so thoroughly
protected in their position that we could do nothing with so many
captured horses on our hands.
As we made this move a trumpeter of "L"
troop was shot through the body and fell from his horse. He was
picked up and carried to the rear, everyone expecting to find him
dead in twenty minutes, but, thanks to the care and skill of Acting
Assistant Surgeon Rufus Choate (already referred to in the "Tragedies
of Canon Blanco in 1871), the man lived to sound his trumpet-calls
for many years after. The trumpeter's name was Hard. The surgeon
said that his having fasted for about 30 hours had saved his life.
Troop "H" wheeled about in column of fours,
struck the dry bed of a creek, moved back about 200 yards and halted
there, as it was supposed under fairly good cover, but the Indians,
soon getting the range, for a few minutes gave us a rattling fire,
although not a man was hit.
Troop "H" being in line across the Canon
at this time was exposed to an enfilading fire from both bluffs.
Six or eight horses had been shot in as many minutes. The men were
now dismounted, and leaving the horses in charge of the horse holders
(No. 4) they were ordered by Captain Gunther to clear the bluffs
of Indians. There was little or no cover. The movement had just
begun when Gen. Mackenzie, who was near by, upon discovering it
called out, "Sergeant, where are you going with those men?"
"To clear the bluff sir!" "By whose orders?"
"Captain Gunther's!" "Take those men back to their
company. Not one of them would live to reach the top," and
riding over to the Captain he gave him to understand that he disapproved
of such a move.
Private McGowan's horse was shot from under him and
fell in an exposed position where he was under a sever fire. McGowan
was down on his knees, tugging away at his saddle, a fair target,
the bullets whistling all about him and kicking the sand over his
body. Mackenzie happening to see him, shouted, "McGowan, get
away from there or you will be hit!" "Yes, Sir,"
replied McGowan, and made a motion as if to leave the spot; but
the General's back being turned, he dropped on his knees and resumed
his tugging. Twice Mackenzie ordered him away and when he (Mackenzie)
turned the third time and found him still at his work, he spoke
sharply, "I told you to go away from there, are you going?"
McGowan replied, "D-d if I am until I get my tobacco and ammunition,"
which were in the saddle pockets under his horse. The General then
gave it up.
A large number of Indians had disappeared around a
sharp elbow of the Canon, and Mackenzie wanted to know what they
might be up to. One of the scouts, Private Comfort of Troop "A",
volunteered to find out. In a few minutes he came back, his horse
on the run, with a large bunch of Indians after him. In a shallow
ravine crossing the Cañon, a party of the command was posted,
and when Comfort had passed, they checked his pursuers and drove
them back. Near where the command halted a badly wounded Indian
lay on the slope of an embankment. One of the Ton-ka-way squaws
who had accompanied he scout husband approached him. He spoke to
her. She flew into a rage, calling him vile names and dismounting
from her pony, finished him.
At a time when the fire was the hottest, one of the
men said on seeing that the command was nearly surrounded, "How
will we ever get out of here?" The General on hearing him said,
"I brought you in, I will take you out." Most of the men
did not question when he led, we knew we could depend on his care
About noon the General saw a movement among the Indians
on top of the bluff, and surmised that they were going to try and
block the way by which the command had entered. He ordered Captain
Gunther to take his company ("H") to clear the way and
hold it until the command came out. It was a race between that company
and the Indians, but in favor of the former, as they (the Indians)
would first have to cross a deep branch of the Cañon. The
company reached the top first without opposition, the Indians evidently
not caring to attack the company in that position. On the way down
the Cañon one company was held in reserve at a small cottonwood
The command, after destroying all the camps
and contents and capturing all of the ponies, ceased fighting as
the Indians offered no further resistance.
At this moment the Adjutant rode up with an order
for us to take the command back at a gallop to the pass which the
command had used to get down into the Canon, follow up the pass
out of the Canon, and hold the head so that our retreat could not
be cut off-as a demonstration had been made by a large party of
Indians on the high tableland to made a detour towards that point.
The troop wheeled "fours to the left about,"
the command "Gallop" was given, and away we went on the
same trail we had come over not many hours before. When we reached
the foot of the "Jacob's ladder"-like arrangement-almost
precipitous cliffs-we had to climb up to get out of the Canon. To
do this we dismounted and began the toilsome, almost perilous ascent,
which, after one-half to three-fourths of an hour's hard work, we
accomplished, but did not find an Indian in sight.
Meantime, the Indians in the Canon, having recovered
somewhat from their complete surprise of the early morning and having
occupied the many strong strategic positions referred to, began
to grow bold and come down the sides, hiding behind rocks and trees,
and finally reaching a natural breastwork or barricade made by some
huge boulders that had rolled down the sides of the Canon and were
spread pretty thickly over its bottom in places. These Indians kept
up a lively and continuous fire upon the command. Troops D, I and
K were dismounted and deployed as skirmishers across the bottom
of the Canon and commenced to shoot at long range with the Indians.
While this rather desultory firing was going on another portion
of the command was engaged in pulling down the lodges, chopping
up the lodge poles and gathering up the various miscellaneous belongings
of the Indians into immense piles, of which huge bonfires were made.
Still another detachment was employed in rounding
up the pony herd and getting it out of the Canon by the same trail
we had already used.
As our skirmish line advanced, the Indians retired,
springing from one rock to the protection of another, until finally
they took to the inaccessible sides of the Canon once more; then,
in order to hold the large number of ponies captured the command
commenced to withdraw from the Canon, which was finally vacated
between 3 and 4 o'clock p.m. The whole command now assembled, with
the immense herd of captured ponies, on the high prairie ("Staked
Plains"). A "hollow square" or huge parallelogram
was formed as follows: One troop in line of battle rode in advance;
on either side marched two troops in column of twos; and one troop,
in line, rode in rear. In the center of this huge hollow square
the captured herd of about 2000 was driven along. One troop marched
in rear of all as rear guard. It was a living corral and our march
was nearly 20 miles.
We had adopted this formation when we lost Quanah
Parker's band of Qua-ha-da Comanches in that bleak, sleeting Norther
in October 1871-only in that case we had a line of advanced skirmishers
and a flanking column out ready for instant action, as the Comanches
were constantly threatening to close in upon us for a fight.
We marched rapidly until nearly 1 a.m. on the 29th,
when we came in sight of the welcome light of the campfires of our
infantry guarding our wagon supply train. The noise made by the
command on its approach alarmed the inmates of the Supply Camp at
Tule Canon and the Infantry guard opened fire from their outposts,
believing it to be in the darkness a large body of Indians. Lieut.
Wentz C. Miller rode forward and informed the camp guard of its
mistake. One the morning of the 29th the men had their first meal
in over 48 hours.
The Indians afterwards admitted losing 15 at the Tule
Canon action, and 50 or 60 at the Palo Duro Canyon.
The captured ponies were at once driven into the corral
formed by the wagons, and a strong guard placed over them. Our horses
were unsaddled, staked out and fed a full ration of corn, which
the poor animals sorely needed.
After getting a cup of coffee all rolled up in their
blankets and "turned in," i.e., lay down on "Mother
Earth" to secure some of "Nature's sweet restorer, balmy
In view of what we had gone through-thirty-four hours
in the saddle, riding over seventy miles, and having two or three
hours fighting and hard work generally, that same Mother Earth was
as welcome as any soft feather bed.
On September 29th reveille was late. Immediately after
breakfast a detail was made to shoot the captured ponies, which,
owing to the great number, it was found impossible to take along
and properly guard them, or to take them into the nearest military
post-the nearest being nearly two hundred miles away. The Indians
would follow us and be upon us every night in an effort to stampede
and recapture them. Experience had been our lesson. The number,
as has been stated, were variously estimated at from 1500 to 2200.
The "Tonks' were permitted to select the best. Numbers of them
were young and handsome, and it seemed a pity to be compelled to
kill them, but there was no other alternative. It was the surest
method of crippling the Indians and compelling them to go into and
stay upon their reservations which they had fled from. Many were
the best race ponies they had and many pesos had been waged upon
them. Some were used to replace those which had died on the march
or been wounded in the fight. It was a heavy blow. They were such
valuable property that they were held in higher esteem than their
squaws. It took Lawton the most of one day, with one troop, to pile
these bodies up on the plains. They were still there-on the "Tex"
Rogers ranch some years ago-an enigma to the average Texas boy who
looked upon them with wondering eyes.
The following story is from the book, Comanches,
The Destruction of a People, by T. R. Fehrenbach.
The captured remuda of fourteen hundred horses was
a problem that Mackenzie disposed of in the only practicable way.
he allowed the Tonkawa scouts to take several hundred to load the
loot they filched from the camp before burning. He shot the remainder,
more than a thousand, in a tremendous fusillade out on the plains.
Mackenzie knew that the desperate, dehorsed warriors would make
every effort to get them back as they had done in 1871, and he never
forgot a lesson. There was more firing in this slaughter than at
the Palo Duro Canyon fight. Then the tired, dust-grimed, and shaken
soldiers rod away, leaving another funeral mound for the grieving
Comanches. The thousands of horse bones lay there for many years
until an enterprising trader hauled them away for sale as fertilizer.
On the return march Charlton, who had been in the
saddle for forty-eight hours, dozed and strayed. The merciless colonel
snapped him alert with a snarled reprimand.
Mackenzie had destroyed Quanah and the Comanches as
surely as if he had shot them with the horses. A dehorsed Plains
warrior was a pitiable creature, unable to fight, unable to hunt,
unable even to move across the prairie. The fleeing band, after
a day or two, began to discard the few possessions the women had
retrieved . When Mackenzie again took up the pursuit, the soldiers
found the trail littered with abandoned Indian artifacts.
Here many of the warriors gave up. They took the long,
dangerous trail back to Sill, arriving hungry and desperate, begging
the agent to feed them. But Quanah and the hard core of the Kwerharrehnuh
would not quit. This was their country and their life, and they
would not yet abandon either to the white men. They fled deeper
into the vast Llano Estacado.
Mackenzie sent his columns after them week after week,
without mercy or surcease. he cut every trail, followed every scattering
group, far into winter. he caught some, fighting twenty-five small
actions-so small that he never bothered to report them. The Tonkawa
scouts now held their last scalp dances beyond the cavalry bivouacs,
shouting their victories to the autumn moon. The lords of the southern
plains were no more. But the Tonkawas were no more, either; fewer
than a hundred remained. In a few more years the fifty who were
left would merge into the fifty-odd remaining Lipan Apaches on an
Indian Territory reservation and disappear forever from the continent.
The command in Texas passed to Grierson, who continued
Mackenzie's policies with his own troopers of the black 10th Cavalry,
and Shafter's 24th Infantry. The scouting and pursuit continued
through 1875. More Comanche lodges were found and burned, more tons
of meat and other supplies destroyed. To the north, Miles used the
same procedures against the Cheyennes. Personally, he was one of
the best friends the Plains tribes ever had; but he tried to impress
upon the chiefs that unless they stopped killing and came in, there
would be no mercy for them. These colonels were never Indian-haters,
but they were professionals.
The Kwerhar-rehnuh and a few other small bands stayed
out. The white officers knew the country now; they knew the location
of all the Amerindian refuges. The bison were growing very scarce,
as the hide hunting resumed, and the hostiles had few horses. By
February 1875 the bands were beginning to die of hunger.
Lone Wolf and the last Kiowa warriors appeared at
Fort Sill during this February, after the soldiers agreed to let
them come in unmolested. One by one, all the bands except the Kwerhar-rehnuh
straggled in. Some came in as families, or individuals, for even
the band cohesion was cracking under mass starvation. In March,
the southern Cheyennes gave up. General Pope's report read that
the Cheyennes were "nearly starved to death, and in a deplorable
condition." Tahbaynaneekah could not live up to his despairing
boast, for he found that his wives and children could not survive
on prairie dung. By April, all the bands but Quanah's had surrendered.
Many Comanches died in the snows. Those who gave up were mostly
those who had a strong survival urge, or who could not bear to watch
their families perish.
This story is from the book, Bad Hand, A Biography
of General Ranald S. Mackenzie, by Charles M. Robinson III.
During the next several months as the Red
River War wound down, Phil Sheridan found himself faced with
a new set of problems. The separate military division in the South
had been abolished and the Gulf Coast states (excepting Texas) reorganized
as the Department of the Gulf. Within the new department, Louisiana
was seething in Reconstruction hatreds. Political murders were rampant.
Sheridan, a hard-line Reconstructionist who say conspiracy and rebellion
at every turn, was ready to grasp at any means, however nefarious,
to put the state under direct military rule. On January 4, 1875,
the Department of the Gulf was annexed to the Division of the Missouri,
giving him a free hand. He had little confidence in Colonel William
H. Emory, the departmental commander, and was determined to replace
him with someone more decisive. Mackenzie was his choice.
But Sheridan could only go so far in getting his way.
The War Department balked at Mackenzie's youth and lack of seniority.
In February Sheridan withdrew his request and nominated General
Augur, who assumed command on March 27 and was replaced in the Department
of Texas by Major General Edward O. C. Ord. During Mackenzie's absence
on leave in Washington, the Fourth was placed under the Department
of Missouri and transferred to Fort Sill, which was designated Mackenzie's
headquarters as commander of the entire western section of the Indian
Nelson Miles was furious. If the entire region was
to be under a single command, he thought it should be his. He convinced
General John Pope, departmental commander, that at a minimum the
command should be divided between Mackenzie, to be given the posts
at the agencies, and himself to command Camp Supply and the cantonments
in the field. Mackenzie lost no time in protesting to Sheridan.
From a purely military standpoint, he felt the divided command was
a bad idea.
If I simply have control of the Posts at Agencies,
I will not be able to go into the field promptly and I will not
have the men under my command to go with and will soon be held in
no respect by the Indians. It is essential that the cantonements
[sic] should be under the Control of the Commanding Officer here,
and Camp Supply also should be in operations in this department.
That said, he vented his fury on Miles. Stating that
he regarded Miles as "a very fine officer" and that no
jealousy existed, Mackenzie nevertheless added, "I regard him
not as my Superior in any way and in some particulars I am sure
he is not my equal." If Mackenzie could not have total authority,
he said, he would prefer to let Miles "or some other man have
it," rather than to share it.
It was an inconsistent letter, see-sawing back and
forth between military matters and his opinions of Miles. Mackenzie,
like his men, was exhausted. Both he and they needed a rest, and
he felt they could best get it by occupation of and administrative
duties in the Indian Territory. He even went so far as to admit
that the letter was being dictated, since writing was becoming difficult.
As usual, Sheridan sustained Mackenzie and left him
in charge of the western section. By now the hostile bands were
coming in and surrendering their arms and ponies on a regular basis.
Leaders were separated and imprisoned. When the government decided
that the principal chiefs would be transported to prison at Fort
Marion, Florida, Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, Tenth Cavalry,
was given the task and prevailed on Kicking Bird to help make the
selections, an involvement which was to cost Kicking Bird his life.
The medicine man Maman-ti, one of those designated for transportation,
placed a death spell on him. On May 4 Kicking Bird was assassinated
by poison, probably in his morning coffee.
Initially Pratt was to take the prisoners as far as
Fort Leavenworth but, shortly before they left on April 28, Mackenzie
informed Mrs. Pratt that her husband would likely be placed in permanent
charge of the prisoners once they reached Florida. He was correct.
Meanwhile the Quahadi Chief Mow-way, the Kosoteka
Long Hungry, and Wild Horse surrendered, accepting an invitation
Colonel Davidson had sent before turning command over to Mackenzie.
But many of the band were still out on the plains. Mackenzie hoped
to bring them in of their own accord, without mounting an expedition,
and sent Dr. J. J. Sturms to find them. Sturms, one of the Comanche
interpreters used by the army on a regular basis, was married to
an Indian and was respected by both Indians and soldiers. If he
failed, four companies of cavalry were kept ready to go out and
Sturms found the Quahadis hunting out on the plains.
During the negotiations which followed, Quanah Parker promised to
bring them in after the hunt was completed. By May 15 Mackenzie
was able to report, "Unless something unforeseen [sic] takes
place the entire Qua-ha-des Band will come in and their intention
is I am confident to give up in good faith." Quanah kept that
faith. On June 2 he led his people to Fort Sill, where they surrendered
their weapons and 1,400 ponies. The Red River War was over. The
days of Kiowa and Comanche military power were gone forever.
The following is from the book, Comanches, The Destruction
of a People T. R. Fehrenbach.
The diehard Kwerhar-rehnuh band lived through the
winter on nuts, grubs, and rodents. They lacked horses for hunting,
but they could not have hunted if they had had them. The cavalry
were constantly on the plains, and the bison were vanishing. The
roots of their culture had been torn up. Still, some Kwerhar-rehnuh
clung to their freedom. Part of them went into the Rockies, others
retreated down the Pecos River toward the Texas Big Bend country,
both reverting to the skulking way s of their Shoshone ancestors.
Here they might have gone on to extinction like their Apache predecessors,
but the soldiers were not through with them. Sergeant Charlton and
surrendered Comanches sought them out with truce flags. Charlton
gave them the government's terms: the reservation or war to the
knife. He promised them that the next summer would see no survivors.
Quanah, the last and perhaps the greatest of the Comanche
war chiefs, chose surrender. He gathered up all the People he could
find and came into the reservation in June 1875.
The lands surrendered by Quanah's unhappy band immediately
succumbed to the advancing frontier. How real the Comanche barrier
had been is shown by one statistic: between 1875 and 1883 the Texas
frontier advanced farther and faster than it had for forty years.
The hide hunters killed the last few buffalo, while the cattlemen
poured in behind them with huge herds. Charles Goodnight, at last
able to move onto the rich Panhandle ranges from New Mexico, preserved
a few bison on his ranch. The Canadians characteristically did more,
and assured the survival of the species. Within a few months and
years, the cowmen had enclosed the whole vast country; it was crossed
by roads and rails, and settlement began, subjecting it to new forms
of destruction. Overgrazed by hungry cattle, the endless miles of
waving grasses turned into desolate stretches of arid mesquite scrub
prairie. Torn by great plows, tons of rich earth were blown aloft
by the strong winds, spring after spring. Each year, the wells went
down deeper, tapping the stored resources of ages. The country was
quickly taken and exploited by civilization, but it was still a
harsh country, and man was yet but a speck upon its surface. It
was possible that no matter how many migrants came or what new technologies
they imported, no high order of human culture would ever sprout
in the native soil of the mid-continent.
Quanah and his people surrendered unconditionally,
but they were not treated harshly. Many of the colonels argued in
his favor. He had killed and burned, but in the defense of his own
territory. He had never sat down with any white man; therefore he
had broken no promises or treaties. Even the Texans were now taking
a certain pride in him. The white officers who had jurisdiction
in the West respected courage as much as any Amerindian.
That respect, and his innate qualities, allowed Quanah
to serve his people ably, and to make the best deals possible through
successive humiliations, as the reservation was again reduced and
subsidies were cut; finally, when the reservation was broken up
against fervent protest, each Comanche received 160 acres of prairie
soil, while the rest was opened to white settlement.
The reduction of the Comanches was complete. There
were to be a few horse-stealing forays into Texas, but the wars
were over. The Comanche moons rose and waned without Comanches.
The surviving war chiefs abdicated; they put away their shields
and war headdresses, surrendering their prestige and privileges.
None of these men posed for silly pictures snapped for visiting
politicians or sojourning anthropologists, got up in twentieth-century
conceptions of Plains warrior dress, a melange of tribal styles
with the authenticity of a drugstore Indian. If their portraits
were preserved, they showed grim, naked men who started unblinking
at the camera. But in later years, beaded buckskin jackets and pseudo-Cheyenne
feather bonnets became a tradition that white men expected of Comanches.
They had no cultural meaning; they were distorted vestiges of a
vanished culture, like the "cowboy" suits American children
wore. Many years afterward, even Quanah posed thus for the camera.
No transition comes easily. What was demanded of the
Comanches upon surrender was that they traverse eighty centuries
overnight. The change was too great; many of them could not even
take a single step toward it. They had been raised to the thrills
of the hunt and war, and the savage freedoms of the prairies. Most
of the People tried to hold on to their old worlds, even as they
sat among its ruins.
They wanted to hunt. The four pounds of beef per week
the agent gave them in hard winters (it was usually much less) never
satisfied their hunger. They also needed bison hides, for most hunter-warriors
detested American clothing. They wanted the garments their women
sewed. And extra skins meant money, a strange new magic the Amerindians
were discovering, for they could be sold to traders. A pass had
to be secured before they could leave the agency, and because some
hunters raided in Texas-not bloodily, but they could not resist
the horses-the army officers stopped their passes.
The men besieged the new agent, P. B. Hunt. Hunt was
sympathetic; he battled with the military for the passes. Finally,
he arranged that the tribe could have a pass for a hunt in the fall
of 1878. All could go, provided a small military escort went with
When the time came, all the agency Comanches prepared
joyously for the journey. They recalled the buffalo medicine and
the buffalo dances; the old men told the young boys how it would
be, and they all sighed for the taste of marrow bones. Men who had
given up stirred again to new purpose, boating how they had killed
the bison in the old days, just years ago. Neither the agent nor
the army acted with intentional cruelty, setting the Indians on
this expedition. They believed it would be good for them.
Fifteen hundred Comanches went eagerly onto the plains
to the west. The scouts were sent out, riding miles ahead. The band
watched the skies for hours, but no smoke signals came. The scouts
came in hungry, rode out again. They had seen no buffalo, only bones.
Everywhere, the white skulls stretched across the plains in ghastly
profusion. The hunters scouted every creek and stream bed, every
stand of trees. They rode for days and miles. They killed a few
antelope and other animals, but never enough meat to provide more
than a morsel for the hungry host waiting expectantly in the tipis.
The pessimistic said there would be no buffalo, no
meat, no winter robes. The issue food was running short; it was
time to turn back. But the old men said no. The buffalo would come
when the leaves fell, as they had always come when the leaves were
driven by the strong north winds, pouring in their millions onto
the southern ranges. But when the plains lay white with frost, the
horizons were still empty. The women complained and the children
cried. The hunters made more medicine. They prayed to the buffalo
spirit, to the winds, and to their secret guardians. The north winds
now howled off the roof of the world; the grass rattled throughout
the night; there came a smell of snow in the air.
The time allotted for the hunting pass expired. But
the officer in charge of the escort said, Let the Indians be. The
white soldiers themselves watched the horizons, dimly aware of some
half-understood enormity. Families began to desert the camp, trudging
dispiritedly toward Cache Creek for the flour, sugar, and rice they
knew awaited them. The oldest and the greatest hunter-warriors still
rode the plains, searching. They saw nothing but bones, and they
sat staring into the campfires.
The snow came, and the food ran out. Several of the
hunters killed their ponies for meat.
The Indian agent did not understand Comanches, nor
could he really feel what was happening to their souls. But hungry
children troubled him. He sent emissaries, with wagons of food,
out to the prairie. When these arrived, the Comanches were sitting
in their tipis in a snow storm. They were starving. They accepted
the food sullenly and listened to the agent's request that they
come back to the reservation, where they would be cared for by the
The last hunt camp was broken. The tipis were struck,
the bows and lances put away. Then, in a long, silent column, the
Comanches left the graveyard plains, returning to the agency for the
completion of their destruction.