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

Comanches and Kiowas including Lone Wolf, Satanta and Big Tree, attacked Captain Lyman's train of thirty-six wagons and sixty soldiers in Central Oklahoma on September 9, 1874. This attack developed into a three day siege.

The following account of the attack 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.

Captain Lyman Picture
Captain Lyman

Captain Lyman first sighted the Indians at eight o'clock on the morning of September 9. His thirty-six wagons were moving south toward the Washita in double column, twenty yards apart, ready to be corralled instantly should danger appear. Company I, Fifth Infantry, about fifty men, marched on either side in single file, as guards. Lieutenant Frank West with thirteen troopers of the Sixth Cavalry rode ahead as skirmishers.

    The Kiowa scouts opened fire at long range, but Lieutenant West drove them from each succeeding crest, thus permitting Lyman to move steadily south. By two o'clock in the afternoon he had covered twelve miles, and was within a mile of the Washita, near the mouth of Gageby Creek. He had just negotiated the passage of a deep ravine when the main body of Indians, whose presence he had not suspected, suddenly appeared in rapidly moving masses on his front and both flanks. Lyman shouted orders to form the corral. The infantrymen quickly wheeled to the right and left oblique, forming two lines, like the head of a spear, covering the front of the train. Lieutenant Granville Lewis hastily organized a few men for defense of the rear of the train. All this occupied only a few seconds, but the Indians were upon them, charging with reckless fury from all sides. Sergeant De Armond, a gallant and experienced soldier, fell dead. Almost immediately after, Lieutenant Lewis was down with a severe wound in the knee. For a tense moment it seemed that the whole command would be overrun. But the men, all regulars, held firm. Presently the Indians were cantering back out of range.

    No more rushes were made by the Indians that day. They took positions on the surrounding knolls and kept up a lively fire with all manner of weapons. Toward evening they mounted again and commenced circling the wagon train. The number of warriors in the revolving mass increased until it became an awesome display of barbaric horsemanship. Some of the braves sat erect on their ponies, brandishing decorated lances and shields. Many indulged in gymnastics, throwing themselves out of sight on the far sides of their mounts; or stood erect on their horses' backs, with lofty red-and-white headgear flowing in the wind. A few galloped at full speed faced to the rear. All maintained a constant yammer of insulting and defiant yells and gestures. As the blood-dipped sun sank behind the dunes they continued to rush past, swiftly appearing and disappearing, showing wild and portentous against the purple-and-rose sky.

    When darkness fell the soldiers commenced feverishly to throw up breastworks, digging in the sand with their hands or mess cups, carrying grain bags and cases of food from the wagons to form protection. As the stars came out, the ridge grew quiet. But when the first coyote howled in the distance the fire was resumed, continuing off and on throughout the night. The soldiers spent the time deepening their rifle pits. The muddy buffalo wallow where the white men at first had obtained water was now under fire.

    Through the second day the fire continued spasmodically from both sides. The bullets could be seen sparsely flecking the yellow grass, conspicuous in the slanting sunlight, raising little spurts of sand in the faces of the blue-clad men. As the day wore on the soldiers began to suffer from thirst. Canteens were empty now. Water in the kegs was low. When darkness came there was considerable clamor for water, but Captain Lyman forbade any man to risk his life by going to the water hole.

    Toward midnight the commander conferred with Scout William Schmalsle. The brave little German volunteered to ride to Camp Supply for help. He was sure he could steal through the Indian lines. While Lyman was watching him go, a small party of soldiers and teamsters on the other side of the stockade made a dash for the water hole. With them was Tehan, who had convinced the white men that he was friendly. A volley came from the Indian rifle positions. The soldiers ran back to the wagon train-but not Tehan. He had rejoined his adopted people.

    The Indians describe the return of Tehan: "When Tehan came back that night, he had on a uniform, with a new pair of pants. He told us that the soldiers were starving for water, and that he was going to help us fight them. We told him that they were his own people, and asked him what was the matter. Tehan replied that he liked to eat raw liver so well that he was going to stay with the Indians."

    On the third day of the siege Botalye performed a feat of heroism which has become famous in the Kiowa tribe. Yellow Wolf, Set-maunte, and a number of other experienced warriors were behind a hill preparing to make a dash into the soldiers' lines. "Watch us!" they cried to the other Indians. "See those trenches at both ends of the corral wagons? You watch. We are going to ride right through between those trenches." Set-maunte mounted first. His brother rushed up, snatched off his war bonnet, and ordered him not to go. "Don't be foolish. It's too dangerous." Then Yellow Wolf put on his bonnet. A relative yanked it off and told him to "cut it out."

    But no one had paid any attention to Botalye. He was very young, scarcely a man. Besides, he was half Mexican, not recognized as of first rank in the caste of the tribe. Only the medicine man observed his preparations, and that dignitary did not deign to interfere. Botalye tied his white sheet around his waist, threw down his scarlet blanket, leaped on his pony. "Friend, they stopped you," he cried to the famous Yellow Wolf. "But I'm going. I'm going to see how much power they have." His heart was galloping faster than his horse. His chum Pai-kee-te was right behind him. But as he swept out into the open and down the slope, his partner turned back. Botalye went on alone. Bullets twanged on all sides. Friend and foe were firing as fast as they were able. Botalye dashed through the enemy line. He could see the startled faces of the soldiers. They could not hit him. He returned to the shelter of the hill. As he came over the crest he tried to make a triumphal cry like the call of the wild goose. But it sounded only like the yelp of a frightened puppy. He had had no experience.

    He turned to plunge through the soldiers' trenches again. The Indians called to him to come back. He would not listen to them. This time he was sure he would be killed. The bullets cut off two feathers which were bobbing bravely in his scalp lock. He flung himself over the side of his horse in the manner which he had practiced so many times as a boy.

    A leaden slug seared the saddle horn beside his fingers. Another cut the knot of the sheet at his back. The Kiowas saw the cloth fly. As he circled back they snatched at his bridle, called furiously on him to stop. But he wouldn't listen to them. He was going to make four charges. No one had ever done this before.

    When young Botalye returned safely from his fourth passage of the wagon train the Indians crowded around him. He vaulted from his pony, his face glowing with triumph. Satanta threw his arms around him. "I could not have done it myself," cried the noted chief. "No one ever came back from four charges. Usually once or twice is enough. I'm glad you came out alive." Other famous chiefs, including Lone Wolf, Big Tree, and To-hauson, congratulated him. Poor Buffalo, the chief of his band, said, "I'm going to give this young man a new name. If any danger comes we may depend on him. I name him Eadle-tau-hain. (He-wouldn't-listen-to-them)!"

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