Clear Fork Crossing

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Ca April 14, 1853; Graham, Texas: In the spring of 1853, Capt. Henry H. Sibley commanded Fort Croghan on Hamilton Creek, fourteen miles above its junction with the Colorado River. In late March, raiding Indians stole nine of the best horses of Company I, Second Dragoons, right out of the post stables. Sibley took seventeen dragoons in pursuit. Although rain obliterated the trail, Sibley believed that the Indians were heading for villages on the upper Brazos River, 175 miles away.

At the Indian agency on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, Sibley conferred with agent Jesse Stem and learned that the horses had been taken by a party of Wichitas. Sibley sent the Indians a message demanding the return of his stock, then spent five days cooling his heels before the Wichitas showed up with a small herd of run-down horses. The Indians pitched their camp nearby, and Sibley met with Chief Koweaka, whom Sibley described as "insolent." With Stem interpreting, Koweaka sail that "bad men of his tribe" had stolen the horses. Sibley, unwilling to accept the chief's story, seized him and all of his party but two, commanding the two to return with the right horses.

Koweaka, deathly afraid of becoming a captive, appealed to Sibley to let him go, promising to return with the horses. Sibley refused. That night, Koweaka begged Sibley to come to his lodge to talk. As Sibley was walking to the tipi in the moonlight, a Wichita warrior stepped up to an array sentinel and shot him through the heart. The camp exploded in gunfire. Rushing out of his lodge, Koweaka was shot and mortally wounded. All the Indians fled except one elderly woman. Inside the lodge, Sibley found Koweaka's wife and child both stabbed in the heart. The chief himself had killed them, preferring that they die rather than become captives. Sibley painted the scene as one of "devotion and self-sacrifice" on the part of the chief's wife. Sibley regretted the entire affair as a tragedy that James Fennimore Cooper couldn't imagine in a novel. Years later, he still felt sorrow at Koweaka's action, writing, "I cannot but die deploring it forever."

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