Adobe Walls 1 & 2/Buffalo Wallow Fight

Adobe Walls 1

In 1862, the Union Army was forced to deal with an uprising of the Sioux in Minnesota and a similar situation involving the Apache and Navajo in New Mexico. The responsibility for the latter fell upon the old trailblazer, Kit Carson. As war wound down, Carson was sent to the Southern Plains in search of raiders responsible for raiding along the Santa Fe Trail in Kansas and Colorado. He found the offending warriors but was nearly wiped out in the fight that followed. He was saved by his cannon in what could well be the only situation history in the Indian wars where artillery was the deciding factor.

Hwy. Marker-Battle of Adobe Walls: State Highway 15/FM 278,
five miles north of Stinnett.

On November 25, 1864; Largest Indian battle in Civil War, 15 miles east, at ruins of Bent's old fort, on the Canadian. 3,000 Comanches and Kiowas, allies of the South, met 372 Federals under Col. Kit Carson, famous scout and mountain man. Though Carson made a brilliant defense-called greatest fight of his career-the Indians won.

Some of the same Indians lost in 1874 Battle of Adobe Walls, though they outnumbered 700 to 29 the buffalo hunters whose victory helped open the Panhandle to settlement.

The following story is 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.

    It was high time for another treaty. The Federals were not interested in what was happening in Texas, but the outrages in Kansas and Colorado aroused them to a war of reprisal. There was nobody on hand to make a treaty; the military people were in charge in the West, and they thought that the Indians ought to be disciplined rather than rewarded for their forays. In Kansas the war schemes did not mature, as the available troops were diverted in a vain attempt to catch the Confederate raiders Quantrell and Shelby. In Colorado the government sent Colonel J. M. Chivington, with the First Colorado Volunteer Cavalry, against the Cheyennes. In New Mexico General J. H. Carleton sent Colonel Christopher (Kit) Carson to attack the Kiowas and Comanches.

    Carson's force consisted of three hundred volunteer cavalrymen and a hundred Utes and Jicarilla Apaches. It was planned to strike the hostiles in their winter camp, which was thought to be in Palo Duro Canyon. Carson left Cimarron, New Mexico, on November 3, 1864. With snow on the ground two feet deep, it was difficult for Carson to persuade his Indian allies to make the march. When the weather is cold the wild Indian loves nothing so much as the warmth of his lodge fire. On November 24 the troops found the Kiowas and Comanches camped along what is now called Kit Carson Creek in the Panhandle of Texas, near Bent's old post of Adobe Walls. They attacked the upper part of the village, killing several ancient braves, who, blind from the prevalent trachoma, could not escape. Then they set to work destroying the camp.

    To-hauson, great chief of the Kiowas-at that time an old man-galloped downstream to warn the rest of the tribe. When he arrived, on his steaming and blood-flecked horse, the women and children set up an awful uproar of frightened wails. The warriors tied up their horses' tails and galloped out to protect the camp. While they were riding upstream the women and children fled in the opposite direction. The white captive, Millie Durgan, was concealed in the brush but later was rescued by her foster mother.

    Hundreds of warriors arriving from the adjacent camps forced Carson to abandon his attack and retreat. If he had not been covered by the fire of Lieutenant Pettis' platoon of mountain howitzers he would have been cut to pieces.

The following story is from the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T. R. Fehrenbach.

    The respite given the Plains tribes by the Civil war was not enough to allow them to rebuild their numbers. In the closing months of that conflict, the United States military commands in the West were moving swiftly to regain the initiative and effect a bloody retribution. While the Colorado militia was mopping up the Amerindian villages without regard to guilt or innocence in the wars, Colonel Kit Carson of the New Mexico Territorials had crushed the Navajos. By the fall of 1864, Carson's superior, the district commander General James H. Carleton, was ready to turn the army's attention to the Comanches and Kiowas, who all year had raised havoc along the Santa Fe Trail.

    Angry bands of southern warriors threatened to cut completely this route of communications with Missouri and the East. During 1864, virtually every wagon train proceeding down the Canadian River to New Mexico was attacked. Even large and powerful parties lost horses and oxen to raiding Amerindians. Small groups, whether military or civilian, had been massacred. In October, therefore, Carleton received orders to restore full communications and to "punish the savages" responsible for the depredations. He authorized Colonel Carson to sweep through the valley of the Canadian with a strong force of New Mexico and California territorials.

    It was known that large numbers of Comanches and Kiowas were wintering on the rich bison plains of the Texas Panhandle, and it was believed that these Indians would not be prepared to fight a winter campaign.

    Carson marched out of Cimarron, New Mexico, in early November with more than three hundred mounted troops and seventy-two Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts and auxiliaries. The Utes were promised scalps and plunder, and some warriors brought along their women. Carson was well supplied: he had a well-stocked train of twenty-seven wagons and six thousand rounds of ammunition. He was also furnished with two excellent little twelve-pounder mountain howitzers, fitted on special traveling carriages.

    The column followed Ute Creek to where it pours into the Canadian, then rode east into the high Texas Plains along the broad, flat river bottoms. The scouts went far ahead. At night, Carson camped among tall cottonwoods in the gulches or cañadas. The weather was already bitter, with snow flakes appearing. For days he saw no Indians. Then, at sundown on November 24th, the scouts reported an encampment about a day's march to the east, near the old, abandoned Bent and St. Vrain trading post on a small tributary of the Canadian. This place was known as Adobe Walls, from its still standing sun-dried brick structures. Carson at once marched toward the Indians, pushing his column through the frosty night for fifteen miles, allowing no fires or smoking during rest breaks.

    He was in sight of the Indian camp at daybreak. Lieutenant George Pettis of the California volunteers, the officer in charge of the two-gun battery, thought he saw gray-white Sibley tents in the distance. Carson informed him that these were the sun-bleached tipis of Plains Indians. The Utes reported a camp or village of 176 lodges. Without scouting farther down the river valley, Carson detached his baggage train with a guard of seventy-five men, and with a squadron of some 250 cavalry attacked across the two-mile-wide valley toward the village. This was open country, surrounded by low hills or ridges, and covered with dry grasses that rose horse-high in many places.

    The Ute and Jicarilla auxiliaries left the column and tried to steal the enemies' horse herd. The camp, which was Kiowa Apache, was alerted before the cavalry reached it. The warriors formed a skirmish line to cover the flight of their women and children, who abandoned the tipis and ran for the ridges behind the river. The Plains-culture Athapaskans, who were "Apache" only in dialect, often created a confusion in accounts, which sometimes called them Kiowas, sometimes merely Apaches. This led some whites to believe that there were still Apaches on the Texas plains, and that they sometimes fought alongside Nermernuh-the last unthinkable. The Kiowa Apaches formed an integral part of the Kiowa tribal circle, and on this day one of the great war chiefs of the Kiowas, Dohasan (To-hau-sen, Little Mountain, also often called Sierrito), was in their lodges. Dohasan organized the defense, while also sending for help from Comanche and Kiowa lodges downstream. He rallied the warriors, and his swirling, shooting horsemen slowed the white attack and assured the escape of the women. Carson's cavalry killed one warrior who wore a coat of mail, but when they reached the tipis they were deserted.

    Dohasan exhibited great bravery. His horse was shot from under him, but he was rescued and rallied his warriors. The cavalry pushed on against the retreating Kiowa Apaches for about four miles, finally reaching the crumbling Adobe Walls buildings. Here, more and more Indians seemed to be appearing. The whites dismounted, and sheltering their horses behind the trading post, began skirmishing on foot. Carson came up to Adobe Walls with the battery, and now both the old mountain man and the inexperienced Pettis saw another camp of some five hundred lodges rising less than a mile way, along the river.

    This was a Comanche encampment, and hundreds of warriors were streaming from it across the prairie. Pettis counted "twelve or fourteen hundred." The Indians formed a long line across the ridges, painting their faces while their chiefs harangued them. The Kiowas, who were also arriving in large numbers, roared he battle songs of their warrior societies. Pettis feared that the horde would charge the white squadron at any moment.

    Carson ordered him to throw a few shells at the crowd of Indians. The howitzers were unlimbered, wheeled around, and fired in rapid succession. The shells, screaming over the warriors' heads and bursting just beyond them, seemed to startle the Indians badly. Yelling, the host moved precipitously out of range.

    Carson told his troops that the battle was over. He ordered the horses watered in Bent's Creek. The surgeon looked after several wounded men while the others ate cold rations. However, the tall grass was swarming with distance Comanches and Kiowas. Within the hour, a thousand warriors surrounded the trading post, circling and firing from under the horses' bellies. Surprisingly, most of the warriors appeared to be equipped with good firearms. However, the twin cannon broke up their attacks, and the exploding shells knocked down both men and horses at a great distance. The enemy swirled about for several hours, not daring to press too close, while the howitzers killed many on the ridges. But Carson was becoming apprehensive. He had never seen so many Indians. Pettis was sure that there were at least three thousand, and small parties could be seen still arriving. The expedition had marched unwittingly into a vast winter concentration of the tribes on the southern bison range. Carson, with a split command, was worried about his trains. His rear detachment, without cannon, would almost certainly be overwhelmed if the enemy discovered it. He now made a cautious but quite sensible decision: to break out of Adobe Walls and regroup with his supply column, which had his food and ammunition.

    The cavalry mounted and retreated behind the fires of the battery, which stayed constantly in action. The Indians fired the grass, but this helped, because the smoke concealed Carson's retiring column. About sundown, the whites arrived back in the deserted Kiowa Apache camp, where Pettis noted that the Ute women had mutilated the corpses of several dead Indians. Carson ordered the lodges fired; then, under the cover of darkness, he moved out rapidly to the west. The enemy did not attack. Three hours later, he rejoined his wagons.

    The next dawn, the Indians still held back. Some of the territorial officers insisted that the expedition take up the attack, but Carson ordered a withdrawal. The odds were much too great; Carson, who later wrote that he had never seen Indians who fought with such dash and courage until they were shaken by his artillery, did not make the error of despising horse Indians. He had so far lost only a few dead, and a handful of wounded, while his guns had inflicted serious losses, killing and wounding perhaps two hundred Indians. He could claim a victory, and did this when the column arrived back in new Mexico. Carson's official report stated that he had "taught these Indians a severe lesson," to be "more cautious about how they engage a force of civilized troops."

    Privately, he thought himself lucky to have extricated his command. In fact, the howitzers and his own caution had probably saved him from Custer's fate on the Little Big Horn. The Kiowas and Comanches told some Comancheros who were in the Indian camps at the time that except for the "guns that shot twice," the twin battery, they would have killed every white man in the valley of the Canadian. Carson himself said as much to Lieutenant Pettis.

    Carson was angered by the presence of Comancheros with the Kiowas and Comanches, which explained the source of the Indians' guns and ammunition. He "had no doubt," he stated, "that the very balls with which my men were killed and wounded were sold by these Mexicans not ten days before." He wanted the New Mexicans barred from trading with the wild tribes while the army was at war with them. This was the beginning of what was to become a historic hatred between the soldiers and the Comancheros.

    Overall, the expedition had been less than completely successful, and the white withdrawal left the Indians in full control of the territory. Carson urged that the campaign be renewed, but with at least a thousand troops, who, he thought, would destroy the Indian concentrations in winter. The military authorities were planning extensive, determined operations from Kansas to New Mexico when the sudden collapse of the Confederacy changed everything again. The Comanches and other Plains peoples were now to be granted their second stay within the decade.

The following story is from the book, Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Sill by Colonel W. S. Nye.

    On the Indian side To-hauson and Stumbling Bear were the heroes. To-hauson had a horse shot under him. Stumbling Bear made so many reckless charges that his small daughter's shawl, which he wore for good luck, was pierced by a dozen bullets. Stumbling Bear was not wounded. The battle ended with the troops retiring, closely followed by the Indians, who set fire to the brown grass and harassed the soldiers by shooting and charging from the cover of the smoke.

    Colonel Chivington's campaign against the Cheyennes was more successful than that of Carson. But it culminated in an affair so disgraceful that it brought upon Chivington the condemnation of the entire country. Black Kettle, a Cheyenne chief, had brought his village to Fort Lyon, Colorado, in compliance with orders of the agent that all well-disposed Indians should come in for roll call. While camped near the fort, with an American flag flying over his tepee, Black Kettle was attacked by Chivington. One hundred and twenty Indians were slaughtered. Women and children were butchered in cruel and inhuman ways. A wave of horror swept over the United States when the details of this attack became known. The feelings of the Indians may well be imagined.

    As a result of the Chivington massacre at Sand Creek, the hostility of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes increased toward the whites, until finally, in 1868, General Sheridan was forced to drive them to a reservation, the eventual result of Sheridan's campaign being the establishment of Fort Sill…

Second Battle of Adobe Walls

Adobe Walls Memorial Picture

In early June of 1874, Plains tribes, including Quahida Comanche, usually reluctant to come near the reservation, took that risk and conferred with the leaders of the reservation's tribes. Knowledge of increased buffalo hunting caused great concern among the Indians. A charismatic medicine man, named Ish-Ta-Ma, claimed he could make the warriors bullet proof and that his bowel movements would provide rifle cartridges. These ridiculous claims were taken to heart by the desperate Plains Tribes who were outraged by the new tactic of the United States encouraging the decimation of the buffalo herds.

    Picture of Ish-Ta-Ma and Family
    Ish-Ta-Ma and family

    Emboldened by Ish-Ta-Ma's prophesies, the combined tribes of Southern Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa, near one thousand strong, advanced towards Adobe Walls before daylight in what should have been an easy route. Fate was not in their favor. A beam inside of the camp cracked at approximately 4:00 a.m. awakening several of the inhabitants, most of whom had passed out after an extensive drinking session. Nature's beckoning drew two men outside. As they relieved themselves, they became aware of the presence of the Indians. Armed with Sharp 50's the awakened camp successfully held off five to eight raids of the combined Indian attack force.

    Picture of Quanah Parker
    Quanah Parker

    Present and assuming leadership for the first time was Quanah Parker. Quanah's mother was Cynthia Ann Parker, a white captive, his father Nocona, a Comanche chief. Because of his mixed-blood, and despite the rank of his father, he had been slow to gain the recognition he desired. That day he made his reputation through multiple valiant charges at the door of the fort. Several times he was injured and several of his mounts were shot from under him.

    The effective range of the Sharp 50 was well beyond a mile. This fact was unknown to the Comanche. A chief said, "white man shoots today, red man dies tomorrow" after a warrior had been knocked off his horse by a round fired from the distance walls. The combined tribes considered further assault of the walls too costly and voted a retreat.

    This marked the beginning of the last great Indian war on the Southern Plains, the Red River War.

    Battle of Buffalo Wallow
    (on the Washita)

    Sept. 12–13, 1874

    Hwy. Marker-Buffalo Wallow Battle Ground: from Canadian, travel south on U.S. 83, approximately 15.5 miles, turn left onto S.H. 277, continue approximately 7 miles to dirt road, take right turn, continue about 1 mile to marker.

    Here on September 12th, 1874, two scouts and four soldiers defeated 125 Kiowa and Comanche Indians. Scouts: William Dixon, Amos Chapman Soldiers: Sergeant Z. T. Woodall, Co. I; Peter Rath, Co. A; John Harrington, Co. H.; George W. Smith, Co. M, 6th Cavalry. Stand Silent: Heroes here have been who cleared the way for other men. Erected by Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, September 12th, 1925. This site marked under direction of J. J. Long, Mobeetie, Texas. Mrs. William Dixon, Miami, Texas. (1966)

    The following book is from the book, Panhandle Pilgrimage, by Pauline Durrett Robertson and R. L. Robertson.

      Some of the Indians who withdrew from the Lyman fight had found another target a few miles away, as they headed south toward Palo Duro Canyon.

      In the early dawn of September 12, 1874, a group of six white men riding northeast approached the Washita River on their way to Camp Supply with dispatches from Col. Miles. Two nights previously Miles, from his camp on McClellan Creek, five miles north of present-day McLean, Texas, had sent two noted Army scouts, Billy Dixon and Amos Chapman, with four enlisted men, Sgt. Woodhall and Privates Rath, Harrington, and Smith, to report on the continued absence of the wagon train of supplies under Lyman's guard.

      The six men were riding hard to find a place to hide for the day, as they were traveling at night to avoid Indians on the warpath in the Panhandle. Suddenly the small group found themselves surrounded by approximately 125 mounted Kiowa and Comanches warriors.

      There was no shelter anywhere, not even a patch of weeds, as the whole prairie had been burned off a few days before by Indians retreating from Lt. Baldwin. The couriers' horses were tired from all-night riding; so a mounted conflict was out. The worst danger would be in becoming separated so that the Indians could pick them off one by one. They must dismount and make a stand for their lives, though it looked futile.

      Pvt. Smith, while taking charge of their six horses, was shot down in the first minutes of the fight. The horses stampeded, taking with them canteens, haversacks, blankets and coats. Thirty minutes later every member of the small company had been struck, one mortally and three others severely wounded.

      With odds of 25 to 1 in their favor,the Indians were sure of victory; so, instead of killing the trapped men and moving on, they indulged in a game of cat and mouse. Circling their victims on horseback and firing on a dead run, they prolonged the early stages of the fight. After a while they desisted and rode away a short distance to watch.

      With this first breathing spell, the five remaining men began looking around for cover. A mesquite flat several hundred yards away was the best place, but they realized they would never make it that far alive. Amos Chapman was down with the bone of his left knee shattered, Smith was apparently dead on the prairie, and Billy Dixon had received one wound, a bullet in the calf of his leg which did not disable him.

      It was Dixon who spotted a slight depression several yards away, a buffalo wallow (where the animals had pawed and rolled around to escape the summer heat). It was about 10 feet in diameter and shallow, but it was their only hope for any kind of protection.

      One by one the desperate men made a run for the buffalo wallow, with arrows and bullets whizzing all around, until by noon all except Smith and Chapman were safely there. As each one dived into the depression, he started digging furiously with his butcher knife and his hands to throw up the dirt higher around the perimeter of the circle, and at the same time to deepen the hole in which they must crouch. The digging went fast because of the sandy loam, but was, of necessity, interspersed with firing at the Indians in order to keep them at a distance. Dixon, a former buffalo hunter, was renowned for his accuracy with a rifle (Battle of Adobe Walls), and Indians fell with regularity.

      Chapman, too, was a crack shot,but was unable to run for the wallow because of his wounded knee. His exposed position on the prairie inhibited his firing to some extent. Dixon , as recorded in his book, tried several times to run to Chapman but was forced back each time by a volley of bullets. At last, early in the afternoon, Dixon said, he made it to Chapman and, using all his ebbing strength, carried him back through a rain of gunfire to the wallow.

      Smith's body still lay face down on the parched ground, but they decided not to risk lives to bring him in. His gun, lying in the open some distance from his body, was never captured by an Indian. If one approached it, he was immediately show down from the wallow.

      The Indians, proud of their horsemanship, "circled round us or dashed past, yelling and cutting all kinds of capers." They knew Chapman well, since he had lived with the Indians and had married an Indian woman. He was the "squaw man" who had warned Harnahan at Adobe Walls of the impending Indian attack. Frequently the warriors called out to him as they rode past, "Amos, Amos, we got you now." Occasionally a small group charged straight at the wallow, spears poised, but each time the leader was brought down.

      The afternoon wore on, and the hot September sun bore down on the man in the buffalo wallow. Every man was suffering from thirst, since their water supply had been lost with the horses and, according to Dixon, "In the stress and excitement of such an encounter, even a man who is not wounded grows painfully thirsty, and his tongue and lips are soon as dry as a whetstone." Having overcome their earlier anxiety and turmoil, they were not "perfectly cool," each man sitting upright in the wallow to conceal their crippled condition from the Indians.

      They had shot nearly all of their cartridges away and the Indians, venturing closer at every opening, would soon discover their plight and overwhelm them in a great howl of victory. Realizing the fate of live captives in the hands of the Indians, their only thought in the apparently hopeless situation was to fight to their last breath. That their steady aim was effective was attested to by the increasing number of dead horses scattered in a ring of death around them.

      By mid afternoon the parched men were so weak from loss of blood that they could scarcely move. Their thirst was all-consuming, but still they sat erect, answering bullet for bullet, but hopefully watching dark clouds approaching from the north.

      Just as it seemed that all was lost, that same rainstorm which had just drenched Lyman's battlefield less than 10n miles across the Washita now swept over this one. Lightning and thunder dramatized their salvation, and torrents of cool rain fell upon them. The rain gathered quickly in their 6-foot square hole, and the men gratefully slaked their thirst on the muddy water, colored by blood from their wounds.

      Typical of Panhandle weather was the sudden change which followed. From sweltering heat, the afternoon changed to a sharp cold as the strong wind shifted to the north. The Indians, who disliked cold and rain, retreated out of range, drew their blankets tightly around them, and sat huddled on their ponies. Cold water deepened in the wallow, and the five hungry, wounded men shivered and ached as they took stock of their situation.

      Ammunition was their immediate concern. Private Rath, taking advantage of the Indians inattention, ran to Smith's side on the flat to salvage his rifle, revolver, and ammunition belt. To his surprise he found Smith still alive. With Dixon's help he managed to bring the private into their makeshift fortress, where they realized that a bullet through his lungs had made a mortal wound. Nevertheless, Smith was propped in an upright position to conceal how bad his condition was.

      At sundown the Indians, cold and wet, disappeared. Dixon and Rath gathered tumbleweeds brought in by the stiff wind, crushed them, and made a bed of sorts in the wallow to shield the men from the damp ground.

      In the long, dreadful night of September 12, 1874, Smith, who in his agony had begged his companions to kill him, quietly died. The survivors lifted his body outside on the mesquite grass stubble. Private Rath left the wallow in the dark of night to seek help, but couldn't find Miles' trail' so he returned in two hours.

      The next morning, September 13, was clear and warm without an Indian in sight. Dixon volunteered to go for help and left the tattered and crippled group almost defenseless in the wallow. Within a mile he struck Miles' back trail and soon spotted a large military outfit in the distance. He attracted its attention by firing his gun twice. The column turned out to be Maj. Price with four companies of the Eighth Cavalry from New Mexico, about 225 men in all. Undoubtedly, Price's appearance in the vicinity had frightened the Indians away from the buffalo wallow as well as from Lyman's wagons.

      Price followed Dixon back to the wallow, but did little to relive the miserable men, according to Dixon. His surgeon made a brief examination; the five surviving men needed an ambulance, and Price had none. Some of Price's soldiers tossed them buffalo meat which they ate raw, and the major sent a courier to Miles with the news. Then he moved on. The hapless five men endured another day of uncertainty and pain in the wallow. Price later explained that he was in need of supplies himself and was hunting his wagons at the time Dixon contacted him. His independent command ended four days later when Price's force was assigned to Col. Miles' command.

      It was midnight of that day, September 18, 1874, before aid came from Miles and the wounded men received proper medical attention and food. (That same night Lyman's wagon train across the Washita was rescued by troops from Camp Supply and also joined Miles the next day).

      At that time George Smith's body was wrapped in an army blanket and buried in the buffalo wallow, where it has remained since. The wounded men were sent to Camp Supply for treatment. Amos Chapman's leg was amputated above the knee. The others recovered and continued with the Army.


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