Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
11450 Park Road 5
Canyon, TX 79015
806-488-2227 ext. 100
Hours of Operation
All areas of the park are open.
Park Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Sunday thru Thursday
Park Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Day users must exit the park accordingly
Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934 and contains 26,275 acres of the scenic, northern most portion of the Palo Duro Canyon. The Civilian Conservation Corp of the 1930's constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors.
The Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.
Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon.
Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon "Palo Duro" which is Spanish for "hard wood" in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.
Click here for more history & detail. (by TSHA) Humans have resided in the canyon for approximately 12,000 years. Early settlers were nomadic tribes that hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other large game animals. Later, Apache Indians lived in the canyon, but were soon replaced by Comanche and Kiowa tribes who resided in the area until 1874. At that time, Col. Ranald Mackenzie was sent into the area to transport the Native Americans to Oklahoma. Col. Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry were able to capture over 1,400 horses belonging to the tribe. After keeping some of the best horses for themselves, the remainder were taken to nearby Tule Canyon and destroyed. Cut off from their only means of transportation, the Native Americans soon surrendered.
In 1876, Charles Goodnight entered the canyon and opened the JA Ranch. At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle. Goodnight operated the ranch until 1890. Although only a fraction of its original size, the JA Ranch remains a working ranch today.
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.
Quanah with Two of His Wives
The following is an excerpt from the book, On The Border With Mackenzie, by Captain R.G. Carter.
The Second Battalion moved northwest over some sand hills to the Salt Fork of the Wichita, and as soon as we arrived there, Troop E was sent to the west on a reconnaissance; the other three troops halted, unsaddled, the mules were unpacked, and the men got dinner. At 1 p.m. we repacked, saddled up, and marched to the head of Pease River-a running stream of clear water in Quit-a-Que Valley, and camped.
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 female tribespeople 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 female tribespeople 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 female tribespeople. 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.
Dell Comic book of TV's Richard Carlson as Ranald S. Mackenzie
The following story is from the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach.
The captured remuda of fourteen hundred horses was a problem that Mackenzie disposed of in the only practicable way. He allowed the Tonkawa scouts to take several hundred to load the loot they filched from the camp before burning. He shot the remainder, more than a thousand, in a tremendous fusillade out on the plains. Mackenzie knew that the desperate, dehorsed warriors would make every effort to get them back as they had done in 1871, and he never forgot a lesson. There was more firing in this slaughter than at the Palo Duro Canyon fight. Then the tired, dust-grimed, and shaken soldiers rod away, leaving another funeral mound for the grieving Comanches. The thousands of horse bones lay there for many years until an enterprising trader hauled them away for sale as fertilizer.
On the return march Charlton, who had been in the saddle for forty-eight hours, dozed and strayed. The merciless colonel snapped him alert with a snarled reprimand.
Mackenzie had destroyed Quanah and the Comanches as surely as if he had shot them with the horses. A dehorsed Plains warrior was a pitiable creature, unable to fight, unable to hunt, unable even to move across the prairie. The fleeing band, after a day or two, began to discard the few possessions the women had retrieved . When Mackenzie again took up the pursuit, the soldiers found the trail littered with abandoned Indian artifacts.
Here many of the warriors gave up. They took the long, dangerous trail back to Sill, arriving hungry and desperate, begging the agent to feed them. But Quanah and the hard core of the Kwerharrehnuh would not quit. This was their country and their life, and they would not yet abandon either to the white men. They fled deeper into the vast Llano Estacado.
Mackenzie sent his columns after them week after week, without mercy or surcease. he cut every trail, followed every scattering group, far into winter. he caught some, fighting twenty-five small actions-so small that he never bothered to report them. The Tonkawa scouts now held their last scalp dances beyond the cavalry bivouacs, shouting their victories to the autumn moon. The lords of the southern plains were no more. But the Tonkawas were no more, either; fewer than a hundred remained. In a few more years the fifty who were left would merge into the fifty-odd remaining Lipan Apaches on an Indian Territory reservation and disappear forever from the continent.…
The command in Texas passed to Grierson, who continued Mackenzie's policies with his own troopers of the black 10th Cavalry, and Shafter's 24th Infantry. The scouting and pursuit continued through 1875. More Comanche lodges were found and burned, more tons of meat and other supplies destroyed. To the north, Miles used the same procedures against the Cheyennes. Personally, he was one of the best friends the Plains tribes ever had; but he tried to impress upon the chiefs that unless they stopped killing and came in, there would be no mercy for them. These colonels were never Indian-haters, but they were professionals.
The Kwerhar-rehnuh and a few other small bands stayed out. The white officers knew the country now; they knew the location of all the Amerindian refuges. The bison were growing very scarce, as the hide hunting resumed, and the hostiles had few horses. By February 1875 the bands were beginning to die of hunger.
Lone Wolf and the last Kiowa warriors appeared at Fort Sill during this February, after the soldiers agreed to let them come in unmolested. One by one, all the bands except the Kwerhar-rehnuh straggled in. Some came in as families, or individuals, for even the band cohesion was cracking under mass starvation. In March, the southern Cheyennes gave up. General Pope's report read that the Cheyennes were "nearly starved to death, and in a deplorable condition." Tahbaynaneekah could not live up to his despairing boast, for he found that his wives and children could not survive on prairie dung. By April, all the bands but Quanah's had surrendered. Many Comanches died in the snows. Those who gave up were mostly those who had a strong survival urge, or who could not bear to watch their families perish.
This story is from the book, Bad Hand, A Biography of General Ranald S. Mackenzie, by Charles M. Robinson III.
During the next several months as the Red River War wound down, Phil Sheridan found himself faced with a new set of problems. The separate military division in the South had been abolished and the Gulf Coast states (excepting Texas) reorganized as the Department of the Gulf. Within the new department, Louisiana was seething in Reconstruction hatreds. Political murders were rampant. Sheridan, a hard-line Reconstructionist who say conspiracy and rebellion at every turn, was ready to grasp at any means, however nefarious, to put the state under direct military rule. On January 4, 1875, the Department of the Gulf was annexed to the Division of the Missouri, giving him a free hand. He had little confidence in Colonel William H. Emory, the departmental commander, and was determined to replace him with someone more decisive. Mackenzie was his choice.
But Sheridan could only go so far in getting his way. The War Department balked at Mackenzie's youth and lack of seniority. In February Sheridan withdrew his request and nominated General Augur, who assumed command on March 27 and was replaced in the Department of Texas by Major General Edward O.C. Ord. During Mackenzie's absence on leave in Washington, the Fourth was placed under the Department of Missouri and transferred to Fort Sill, which was designated Mackenzie's headquarters as commander of the entire western section of the Indian Territory.
Nelson Miles was furious. If the entire region was to be under a single command, he thought it should be his. He convinced General John Pope, departmental commander, that at a minimum the command should be divided between Mackenzie, to be given the posts at the agencies, and himself to command Camp Supply and the cantonments in the field. Mackenzie lost no time in protesting to Sheridan. From a purely military standpoint, he felt the divided command was a bad idea.
If I simply have control of the Posts at Agencies, I will not be able to go into the field promptly and I will not have the men under my command to go with and will soon be held in no respect by the Indians. It is essential that the cantonements [sic] should be under the Control of the Commanding Officer here, and Camp Supply also should be in operations in this department.
That said, he vented his fury on Miles. Stating that he regarded Miles as "a very fine officer" and that no jealousy existed, Mackenzie nevertheless added, "I regard him not as my Superior in any way and in some particulars I am sure he is not my equal." If Mackenzie could not have total authority, he said, he would prefer to let Miles "or some other man have it," rather than to share it.
It was an inconsistent letter, see-sawing back and forth between military matters and his opinions of Miles. Mackenzie, like his men, was exhausted. Both he and they needed a rest, and he felt they could best get it by occupation of and administrative duties in the Indian Territory. He even went so far as to admit that the letter was being dictated, since writing was becoming difficult.
As usual, Sheridan sustained Mackenzie and left him in charge of the western section. By now the hostile bands were coming in and surrendering their arms and ponies on a regular basis. Leaders were separated and imprisoned. When the government decided that the principal chiefs would be transported to prison at Fort Marion, Florida, Lieutenant Richard Henry Pratt, Tenth Cavalry, was given the task and prevailed on Kicking Bird to help make the selections, an involvement which was to cost Kicking Bird his life. The medicine man Maman-ti, one of those designated for transportation, placed a death spell on him. On May 4 Kicking Bird was assassinated by poison, probably in his morning coffee.
Initially Pratt was to take the prisoners as far as Fort Leavenworth but, shortly before they left on April 28, Mackenzie informed Mrs. Pratt that her husband would likely be placed in permanent charge of the prisoners once they reached Florida. He was correct.
Meanwhile the Quahadi Chief Mow-way, the Kosoteka Long Hungry, and Wild Horse surrendered, accepting an invitation Colonel Davidson had sent before turning command over to Mackenzie. But many of the band were still out on the plains. Mackenzie hoped to bring them in of their own accord, without mounting an expedition, and sent Dr. J.J. Sturms to find them. Sturms, one of the Comanche interpreters used by the army on a regular basis, was married to an Indian and was respected by both Indians and soldiers. If he failed, four companies of cavalry were kept ready to go out and get them.
Sturms found the Quahadis hunting out on the plains. During the negotiations which followed, Quanah Parker promised to bring them in after the hunt was completed. By May 15 Mackenzie was able to report, "Unless something unforeseen [sic] takes place the entire Qua-ha-des Band will come in and their intention is I am confident to give up in good faith." Quanah kept that faith. On June 2 he led his people to Fort Sill, where they surrendered their weapons and 1,400 ponies. The Red River War was over. The days of Kiowa and Comanche military power were gone forever.
The following is from the book, Comanches, The Destruction of a People T.R. Fehrenbach.
The diehard Kwerhar-rehnuh band lived through the winter on nuts, grubs, and rodents. They lacked horses for hunting, but they could not have hunted if they had had them. The cavalry were constantly on the plains, and the bison were vanishing. The roots of their culture had been torn up. Still, some Kwerhar-rehnuh clung to their freedom. Part of them went into the Rockies, others retreated down the Pecos River toward the Texas Big Bend country, both reverting to the skulking way s of their Shoshone ancestors. Here they might have gone on to extinction like their Apache predecessors, but the soldiers were not through with them. Sergeant Charlton and surrendered Comanches sought them out with truce flags. Charlton gave them the government's terms: the reservation or war to the knife. He promised them that the next summer would see no survivors.
Quanah, the last and perhaps the greatest of the Comanche war chiefs, chose surrender. He gathered up all the People he could find and came into the reservation in June 1875.
The lands surrendered by Quanah's unhappy band immediately succumbed to the advancing frontier. How real the Comanche barrier had been is shown by one statistic: between 1875 and 1883 the Texas frontier advanced farther and faster than it had for forty years. The hide hunters killed the last few buffalo, while the cattlemen poured in behind them with huge herds. Charles Goodnight, at last able to move onto the rich Panhandle ranges from New Mexico, preserved a few bison on his ranch. The Canadians characteristically did more, and assured the survival of the species. Within a few months and years, the cowmen had enclosed the whole vast country; it was crossed by roads and rails, and settlement began, subjecting it to new forms of destruction. Overgrazed by hungry cattle, the endless miles of waving grasses turned into desolate stretches of arid mesquite scrub prairie. Torn by great plows, tons of rich earth were blown aloft by the strong winds, spring after spring. Each year, the wells went down deeper, tapping the stored resources of ages. The country was quickly taken and exploited by civilization, but it was still a harsh country, and man was yet but a speck upon its surface. It was possible that no matter how many migrants came or what new technologies they imported, no high order of human culture would ever sprout in the native soil of the mid-continent.
Quanah and his people surrendered unconditionally, but they were not treated harshly. Many of the colonels argued in his favor. He had killed and burned, but in the defense of his own territory. He had never sat down with any white man; therefore he had broken no promises or treaties. Even the Texans were now taking a certain pride in him. The white officers who had jurisdiction in the West respected courage as much as any Amerindian.
That respect, and his innate qualities, allowed Quanah to serve his people ably, and to make the best deals possible through successive humiliations, as the reservation was again reduced and subsidies were cut; finally, when the reservation was broken up against fervent protest, each Comanche received 160 acres of prairie soil, while the rest was opened to white settlement.
The reduction of the Comanches was complete. There were to be a few horse-stealing forays into Texas, but the wars were over. The Comanche moons rose and waned without Comanches. The surviving war chiefs abdicated; they put away their shields and war headdresses, surrendering their prestige and privileges. None of these men posed for silly pictures snapped for visiting politicians or sojourning anthropologists, got up in twentieth-century conceptions of Plains warrior dress, a melange of tribal styles with the authenticity of a drugstore Indian. If their portraits were preserved, they showed grim, naked men who started unblinking at the camera. But in later years, beaded buckskin jackets and pseudo-Cheyenne feather bonnets became a tradition that white men expected of Comanches. They had no cultural meaning; they were distorted vestiges of a vanished culture, like the "cowboy" suits American children wore. Many years afterward, even Quanah posed thus for the camera.…
No transition comes easily. What was demanded of the Comanches upon surrender was that they traverse eighty centuries overnight. The change was too great; many of them could not even take a single step toward it. They had been raised to the thrills of the hunt and war, and the savage freedoms of the prairies. Most of the People tried to hold on to their old worlds, even as they sat among its ruins.
They wanted to hunt. The four pounds of beef per week the agent gave them in hard winters (it was usually much less) never satisfied their hunger. They also needed bison hides, for most hunter-warriors detested American clothing. They wanted the garments their women sewed. And extra skins meant money, a strange new magic the Amerindians were discovering, for they could be sold to traders. A pass had to be secured before they could leave the agency, and because some hunters raided in Texas-not bloodily, but they could not resist the horses-the army officers stopped their passes.
The men besieged the new agent, P.B. Hunt. Hunt was sympathetic; he battled with the military for the passes. Finally, he arranged that the tribe could have a pass for a hunt in the fall of 1878. All could go, provided a small military escort went with them.
When the time came, all the agency Comanches prepared joyously for the journey. They recalled the buffalo medicine and the buffalo dances; the old men told the young boys how it would be, and they all sighed for the taste of marrow bones. Men who had given up stirred again to new purpose, boating how they had killed the bison in the old days, just years ago. Neither the agent nor the army acted with intentional cruelty, setting the Indians on this expedition. They believed it would be good for them.
Fifteen hundred Comanches went eagerly onto the plains to the west. The scouts were sent out, riding miles ahead. The band watched the skies for hours, but no smoke signals came. The scouts came in hungry, rode out again. They had seen no buffalo, only bones. Everywhere, the white skulls stretched across the plains in ghastly profusion. The hunters scouted every creek and stream bed, every stand of trees. They rode for days and miles. They killed a few antelope and other animals, but never enough meat to provide more than a morsel for the hungry host waiting expectantly in the tipis.
The pessimistic said there would be no buffalo, no meat, no winter robes. The issue food was running short; it was time to turn back. But the old men said no. The buffalo would come when the leaves fell, as they had always come when the leaves were driven by the strong north winds, pouring in their millions onto the southern ranges. But when the plains lay white with frost, the horizons were still empty. The women complained and the children cried. The hunters made more medicine. They prayed to the buffalo spirit, to the winds, and to their secret guardians. The north winds now howled off the roof of the world; the grass rattled throughout the night; there came a smell of snow in the air.
The time allotted for the hunting pass expired. But the officer in charge of the escort said, Let the Indians be. The white soldiers themselves watched the horizons, dimly aware of some half-understood enormity. Families began to desert the camp, trudging dispiritedly toward Cache Creek for the flour, sugar, and rice they knew awaited them. The oldest and the greatest hunter-warriors still rode the plains, searching. They saw nothing but bones, and they sat staring into the campfires.
The snow came, and the food ran out. Several of the hunters killed their ponies for meat.
The Indian agent did not understand Comanches, nor could he really feel what was happening to their souls. But hungry children troubled him. He sent emissaries, with wagons of food, out to the prairie. When these arrived, the Comanches were sitting in their tipis in a snow storm. They were starving. They accepted the food sullenly and listened to the agent's request that they come back to the reservation, where they would be cared for by the government.
The last hunt camp was broken. The tipis were struck, the bows and lances put away. Then, in a long, silent column, the Comanches left the graveyard plains, returning to the agency for the completion of their destruction.
Mulberry Creek/Palo Duro
30 August 1874; Brice, Texas: In Texas, the Adobe Walls attack incited the Red River War against the Cheyennes, Kiowas, and Comanches. Five columns of troops converged on the Staked Plains, in the Texas Panhandle. Col. Nelson A. Miles led one of them, comprising 600 men of Companies C, D, E, and L of the 5th Infantry and Companies A, D, F, G, H, I, L, and M of the 6th Cavalry, plus some civilians and Delaware scouts. Going south from Fort Dodge, the column found a main Indian trail at the Sweetwater River and continued on to the eastern edge of the Staked Plains (Llano Estacado).
At 8 a.m. on 30 August, near Mulberry Creek, Lt. Frank B. Baldwin's scouts entered a canyon and were immediately attacked by about 250 Cheyennes concealed in the bluffs. The frontiersmen and the Delawares under Fall Leaf held their ground until the rest of the cavalry came to reinforce. The troops pressed up the canyon, and as they advanced, the Cheyennes withdrew, but they gathered up Kiowas and Comanches in the process. There may have been 500 or more warriors engaged in the moving battle.
Capt. Adna R. Chaffee called out to the 6th Cavalrymen to keep moving. Even the Gatling guns, under Lt. James W. Pope, got into the action. Every time the Indians tried to make a stand, the artillery and Gatling guns would open up, followed by a charge. The chase proceeded 20 miles, across Mulberry Creek, Battle Creek, Hackberry Creek, and the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, then up Tule Canyon. The heat and lack of water forced some troopers to open the veins of their arms to moisten their parched mouths with their own blood.
Finally, the Indians climbed out of the canyon and fled onto the Staked Plains, and Miles found it impossible to pursue any farther. He pulled back to wait for provision wagons from Camp Supply.The soldiers suffered only two men wounded, while about 17 Indians were killed.
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