Palo Duro Canyon
Sheridan ordered his forces onto the Plains, and Mackenzie commanded the southern arm of a five-pronged 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 Indians' horses. Recalling how aggressively Quanah's warriors attacked his camp when they tried to recapture Mo-way's remuda, and knowing it would seal the fate of the Plains warriors, he ordered the destruction of the herd.
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 Comanches in their winter camp in Palo Duro Canyon. At predawn, he led his men down into the canyon where they drove the Comanches 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 the 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.
The following is an excerpt from the book, On The Border With Mackenzie, by Captain R. G. Carter.
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 "pronto."
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 Indians.
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 caught "napping."
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 that direction.
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 and guidance.
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 grove.
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 sleep."
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.
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