Chief Feathertail

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.

Tarrant County, Texas

The following story is from the book, Fort Worth, A Frontier Triumph, by Julia Kathryn Garrett. She was a legendary history teacher at Arlington Heights High School and an invaluable figure in the preservation of Texas History. Unfortunately, this account has a few discrepancies which can't be reconciled. First, there are no official reports of the incident and Dr. Clay Perkins, a graduate from West Point, states in his book, The Fort in Fort Worth, that any combat situation occurring around a military post would not only be well documented but would include praise for the men and requests for medals. Secondly, Chief Jim Ned was a well-known Delaware guide and there are no other accounts of a Comanche chief named Feathertail.

Ms. Garrett probably got this story secondhand. There was a powerful Comanche war chief in the area at that time called Eagle Feather and there was also a well-documented Indian incident at Fort Worth that could well be the basis of this story. In April of 1851, more than a hundred hostile Indians surrounded the fort, incensed because five Tonkawas and a Caddo, who had depredated a band of Wacos, had taken refuge in the fort. There were three versions of the incident. A newspaper account of the time reported:

    ...Soon after, 100 warriors, of the Waco tribe, came to the Fort painted, with their bows strung, and demanded the Tonkaways; the Wacoes said the Tonkaways had been subsisting on the flesh of their warriors, who had been killed, and they wanted satisfaction. The Wacoes were desperately enraged and hostile. The Tonkaways were not delivered, and the Wacoes, left reluctantly, much dissatisfied. General Harney, on hearing this news, issued an order to kill all the Indians who were found below the line, indiscriminately. If such be the fact, a general outbreak is anticipated. We hope that steps will be taken immediately to give protection to our frontier settlers.

Ms. Garrett's story:

    …Another day in 1849, the Comanches from their village in present Palo Pinto made a visit to obliterate the post. Leader of the plan was giant Chief Jim Ned. The white man’s fort, according to his thinking, was too close to his hunting ground; and Arnold’s scouts had taken one of his ill-gotten horses. Following plans of a war council, two bands of one hundred Comanches each, traveling different paths, were to converge upon the fort. Chief Feathertail with his band took the southeast trail; Chief Ned took the northeast. The second night out from their village, Chief Ned camped to await Chief Feathertail in the valley at the foot of the bluff where a hundred years later, would be the All Church Home for Children and the E.B. Harrold Park.

    On top of the bluff, a camping fur trader with good ears, heard many voices arising from the lowlands. Going to the edge of the bluff he looked down upon a band of warriors. It did not take much time for him to cover the distance between his camp and the fort. Within an hour, wagons, infantry and cavalry were ready. Scouts, led by the fur trader, were seen peering over the bluff. As there was a full moon, what they saw made it easy to plan the attack. The Indians were then asleep. The troops were to be divided and attack from three directions. The reliable six-pound howitzer was rolled into place on the bluff. The cavalry galloped down upon the unsuspecting victims. The three units fired into the sleeping camp. Bright moonlight helped the infantrymen to make every shot count. Not a man of the garrison was seriously hurt. Chief Ned fled; met Chief's band, and together they retreated to the hills of Palo Pinto. Today, a small concrete shaft located on the property of the All Church Home marks this site of the last large-scale Indian battle in the environs of Fort Worth.

    To be fair to the major and the record, the story must be completed. Next morning, the troops were in pursuit of the Indians. Two days later in a Palo Pinto canyon, they engaged these Comanches in a battle of several hours. Chief Ned was killed, and the leaderless Indians fled. Thanks to the major, there were no more hostilities on a large scale in Tarrant County, only petty annoyances.

We are grateful to our astute readers who e-mail us additional information about the frontier accounts:

The link: concerning Chief Feathertail which is from the book, Fort Worth, A Frontier Triumph, by Julia Kathryn Garrett.

There is an article in the Fort Worth newspapers which pre-dates Julia Kathrynn Garrett's book by 40 years.

I suspect that she used that original article in her research. But, then, most historians don't consider newspaper articles to be either historical and at best poor examples of historical scholarship.

Dorman Holub
Chairman, Young County Historical Commission
Graham, TX

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