(Battle of Wichita Village)
Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
The Rangers stunning victory at the Battle of Antelope Hills tweaked the pride of the United States Army. The Second Cavalry returned to Texas. Major Van Dorn led a second attack into Indian territory the same year. An unfortunate aspect of the battle was Van Dorn's lack of knowledge of negotiations between the army and the Wichitas and other assorted remnants of the various tribes, many of whom had been relocated from the Texas reservations. The Wichita were encouraged to invite the Comanche to a feast which would hopefully be followed by talk which would lead to a treaty with the army. Buffalo Hump's Comanches were in route to the feast when they were attacked by Van Dorn. The Comanche never forgave the Wichita and their allies for what they considered to be this treachery. Eventually these beleaguered tribes sought refuge at an army fort in Kansas. Buffalo Hump and his surviving warriors would meet and be bloodied again by a recuperated Van Dorn the next year near the Kansas border.
We're lucky to have Van Dorn's report to his commanding officer about the action at Rush Springs:
…at an increased gait, the sound of the charge came from towards the left, and in a moment the whole command poured down into the enemy's camp, in the most gallant style, and we soon found ourselves engaged on a warmly defended battle field. There being many ravines in and about the camp that obstructed the easy operation of cavalry, and gave good shelter to the Indians, it was more than an hour before they were entirely beaten out or destroyed, during which time there were many bloody hand-to-hand engagements, both on the part of the officers and men.
Ross and Van Dorn had to recuperate in a field camp for two weeks before they could return to Belknap. Ross went on to Tennessee and completed his senior year of college. Years later he would become the first president of Texas A&M University.
The victories achieved by Ross, Van Dorn and Ford did little to alleviate the suffering on the frontier. Vengeful Comanche and Kiowa raiders poured into the settlements, returning with scalps, stolen livestock and captives. Furthermore, the raiders held a particular grudge against the Indians on the Texas reservations. They knew that some of them, particularly the Tonkawas, had been with Ross and Van Dorn on their incursions into Indian territory. Whenever the occasion allowed itself, false trails were made to lead into the Indian reservations. For added effect, these trails were often decorated with the dead bodies of settlers murdered on the raids.
There were now lots of settlers on the northwest Texas frontier. Thousands of new pioneer families moved to north Texas. By 1858, communities like Henrietta and Stephenville had been established far from the protection of the forts. The Indian reservations themselves had been completely surrounded by settlements. Indian hunting parties were allowed off the reservation with written passes but the practice became more and more dangerous. The death of Choctaw Tom and his band persuaded many Indians and their supporters that they must be moved out of Texas for their own safety. The hundreds of atrocities suffered on the frontier made it possible for firebrand named John R. Baylor, to stir the hatred of the Indian in the hearts and minds of many of the settlers. That same year, he led a mob of several hundred in an attack on the reservation. The insurrection was brought under control but the mob insisted that agent Neighbors remove his Indians. Faced with no alternative, he led them north to the Red River to the newly established Wichita Agency. Like the Cherokee, they were forced to leave their own harvest of crops in the field. The night he arrived at the agency, he wrote his wife, comparing the Indians removal to the Exodus of the children of Israel.
I have this day crossed all the Indians out of the heathen land of Texas and am now out of the land of the Philistines.
If you want a full description of our Exodus… read the "Bible" where the children of Israel crossed the Red Sea. We have had about the same show, only our enemies did not follow us…
When Neighbors returned to Belknap, he was ambushed in the street by two men; one of them, named Cornett, shot him in the back. The Rangers saw to it that the murderers met justice a few months later. The Texas reservation Indians were hardly popular with their new neighbors north of the Red River who more than resented their recent alliance with the Texas soldiers and Rangers. The Tonkawas suffered the worse fate several years later when their entire tribe was attacked and nearly exterminated by a combined force of Indian tribes. The survivors staggered back to Texas where they were allowed to stay.
Rush Springs/Story 2
The following story is from the book, Indian Depredations, by J.W. Wilbarger:
It is not our purpose, in this connection, to assume the role of biographer to so distinguished a personage as is the Chevalier Bayard of Texas-General Lawrence Sullivan Ross. That task should be left to an abler pen; and, besides, it would be impossible to do anything like justice to the romantic, adventurous, and altogether splendid and brilliant career of the brave and daring young ranger who rescued Cynthia Ann Parker from captivity, at least, in the circumscribed limits of a brief biographical sketch, such as we shall be compelled to confine ourself to; yet, some brief mention of his services and exploits as a ranger captain, by way of an introduction to the reader beyond the limits of Texas, where his name and fame are as household words, is deemed necessary; hence we beg leave here to give a brief sketch of his life.
"Texas, though her annals be brief," says the author of Ross's Texas Brigade, "counts upon her roll of honor the names of many heroes, both living and dead. Their splendid services are the inestimable legacies of the past and present, to the future. Of the latter, it is the high prerogative of the State to embalm their names and memories as perpetual examples to excite the generous emulation of the Texas youth to the latest posterity. Of the former, it is our pleasant province to accord them those honors which their services in so eminent a degree entitle them to receive. Few lands since the days of the Scottish Chiefs have furnished material upon which to predicate a Douglas, a Wallace, or a Ravenswood; and the adventures of chivalric enterprise, arrant quest of danger, and the personal combat were relegated, together with the knight's armorial trappings, to the rusty archives of Tower and Pantheon, until the Comanche Bedouins of the Texan plains tendered in bold defiance the savage gauntlet to the pioneer knights of progress and civilization. And though her heraldic rolls glows with the names of a Houston, a Rusk, Lamar, McCulloch, Hays, Chevellier, which illumine the pages of her history with an effulgence of glory, Texas never nurtured on her maternal bosom a son of more filial devotion, of more loyal patriotism, or indomitable will to do and dare, than L.S. Ross."
Lawrence Sullivan Ross was born in the village of Bentonsport, Ohio, in the year 1838. His father, Captain S.P. Ross, immigrated to Texas in 1839, casting his fortunes with the struggling pioneers who were blazing the pathway of civilization into the wilds of terra incognita, as Texas then was.
"Captain S.P. Ross was, for many years, pre-eminent as leader against the implacable savages, who made frequent incursions into the settlements. The duty of repelling these forays usually devolved upon Captain Ross and his neighbors, and for many years his company constituted the only bulwark of safety between the feeble colonist and the scalping knife. The rapacity and treachery of his Comanche and Kiowa foes demanded of Captain Ross sleepless vigilance, acute sagacity and a will that brooked no obstacle or danger. It was in the performance of this arduous duty that he slew, in single combat, Big Foot, a Comanche chief of great prowess, and who was for many years the scourge of the early Texas frontier. The services of Captain S.P. Ross are still held in grateful remembrance by the descendants of his compatriots, and his memory will never be suffered to pass away while Texans feel a pride in the sterling worth of Texas's greatness and glory." (Vide Ross's Texas Brigade, p. 158.)
The following incident, as illustrative of the character and spirit of the man and times, is given: "On one occasion Captain Ross, who had been visiting a neighbor, was returning home, afoot, accompanied by his little son, Sul, as the general was familiarly called. When within half a mile of his house he was surrounded by fifteen or twenty mounted Comanche warriors, who commenced an immediate attack. The captain, athletic and swift of foot, threw his son on his back and outran their ponies to the house, escaping unhurt amid a perfect shower of arrows."
Such were among the daily experiences of the child, and with such impressions stamped upon the infantile mind, it was but natural that the enthusiastic spirit of the ardent youth should lead him to such adventures upon the war path, similar to those that had signalized his honored father's prowess upon so many occasions.
Hence we find Sul Ross, during vacation from his studies at Florence, Wesleyan University, Alabama, though a beardless boy, scarcely twenty years of age, in command of a contingent of one hundred and thirty-five friendly Indians, cooperating with the United States cavalry under the dashing Major Earl Van Dorn, in a campaign against the Comanches.
Notwithstanding the severe chastisement that had been inflicted on the Comanches at Antelope Hills they soon renewed their hostilities, committing many depredations and murders during the summer of 1858.
Early in September Major Van Dorn received orders from General Twiggs to equip four companies, including Ross's red warriors, and go out on a scouting expedition against the hostile Indians. This he did, penetrating the heart of the Indian country where he proceeded to build a stockade, placing within it all the pack mules, extra horses and supplies, which was left in charge of the infantry.
Ross's faithful Indian scouts soon reported the discovery of a large Comanche village near the Wichita Mountains, about ninety miles away. The four companies, attended by the spies, immediately set out for the village, and after a fatiguing march of thirty-six hours, causing the men to be continuously in the saddle the latter sixteen hours of the ride, arrived in the immediate vicinity of the Indian camp just at daylight on the morning of October 1.
A reconnaissance showed that the wily Comanches were not apprehensive of an attack and were sleeping in fancied security. The horses of the tribe, which consisted of a caballada of about five hundred head, were grazing near the outskirts of the village. Major Van Dorn directed Captain Ross, at the head of his Indians, to round up the horses and drive them from the camp, which was effected speedily, and thus the Comanches were forced to fight on foot-a proceeding extremely harrowing to the proud warrior's feelings.
"Just as the sun was peeping above the eastern horizon," says Victor M. Rose, whose graphic narrative we again quote, "Van Dorn charged the upper end of the village, while Ross's command, in conjunction with a detachment of United States cavalry, charged the lower. The village was strung out along the banks of a branch for several hundred yards. The morning was very foggy, and after a few moments of firing the smoke and fog became so dense that objects at but a short distance could be distinguished only with great difficulty. The Comanches fought with absolute desperation, and contended for every advantage, as their women and children, and all their possessions, were in peril.
"A few moments after the engagement became general, Ross discovered a number of Comanches running down to the branch, about one hundred and fifty yards from the village, and concluded that they were beating a retreat. Immediately Ross, Lieutenant Van Camp, of the United States army; Alexander, a regular soldier, and one Caddo Indian, of Ross's command, ran to the point with the intention of intercepting them. Arriving, it was discovered that the fugitives were women and children. In a moment another posse of women and children came running immediately past the squad of Ross, who, discovering a little white girl among the number, made his Caddo Indian grab her as she was passing. The little pale face, apparently about eight years of age, was badly frightened at finding herself a captive to a strange Indian and stranger white men, and was hard to manage at first.
"Ross now discovered, through the fog and smoke of the battle, that a band of some twenty-five Comanche warriors had cut his small party off from communication with Van Dorn and were bearing immediately down upon them. They shot Lieutenant Van Camp through the heart, killing him ere he could fire his double barreled shot gun. Alexander, the United States cavalryman, was likewise shot down before he could fire his gun, a rifle. Ross was armed with a Sharp's rifle and attempted to fire upon the exultant red devils, but the cap snapped. Mohee, a Comanche warrior, seized Alexander's rifle and shot Ross down. The indomitable young ranger fell upon the side on which his pistol was borne, and though partially paralyzed by the shot, he turned himself, and was getting his pistol out when Mohee drew his butcher knife and started towards his prostrate foe, some fifteen feet away, with the evident design of stabbing and scalping him. He made but a few steps, however, when one of his companions cried out something in the Comanche tongue, which was a signal to the band, and they broke away in confusion. Mohee ran about twenty steps when a wire cartridge, containing nine buck shot, fired from a gun in the hands of lieutenant James Majors (afterwards a Confederate general), struck him between the shoulders, and he fell forward on his face, dead. Mohee was an old acquaintance of Ross, the latter having seen him frequently at this father's post on the frontier, and recognized him as soon as their eyes met. The faithful Caddo held on to the little girl throughout this desperate melee, and, strange to relate, neither were harmed. The Caddo, doubtless, owed his escape to the fact that the Comanches were fearful of wounding or killing the little girl. This whole scene transpired in a few moments, and Captain N.G. Evan's company of the Second United States cavalry, had taken possession of the lower end of the Comanche village and Major Van Dorn held the upper, and the Comanches ran into the hills and brush; not, however, before an infuriated Comanche shot the gallant Van Dorn with an arrow. Van Dorn fell and it was supposed that he was mortally wounded. In consequence of their wounds the two chieftains were compelled to remain on the battle ground five or six days. After the expiration of this time Ross's Indians made a litter after their fashion, borne between two gentle mules, and in it placed their heroic and beloved boy captain, and set out for the settlements at Fort Belknap. When this mode of conveyance would become too painful, by reason of the rough, broken nature of the country, these brave Caddos-whose race and history are but synonyms of courage and fidelity-would vie with each other in bearing the burden upon their own shoulders. At Camp Radziminski, occupied by United States forces, an ambulance was obtained and the remainder of the journey made with comparative comfort. Major Van Dorn was also conveyed to Radziminski. He speedily recovered of his wound and soon made another brilliant campaign against the Comanches, as we shall see further on. Ross recovered sufficiently in a few weeks so as to be able to return to college at Florence, Alabama, where he completed his studies and graduated in 1859."
This was a the battle of the Wichita Mountains, a hotly contested and most desperate hand to hand fight in which the two gallant and dashing young officers, Ross and Van Dorn, were severely wounded. The loss of the whites was five and several wounded. The loss of the Comanches was eighty or ninety warriors killed, many wounded, and several captured; besides losing all their horses, camp equipment, supplies, etc.
The return of this victorious little army was hailed with enthusiastic rejoicing and congratulation, and the Wichita fight, Van Dorn and Ross were the themes of song and story for many years along the borders and in the halls and banqueting rooms of the cities, and the martial music of the "Wichita March" resounded through the plains of Texas wherever the Second Cavalry encamped or rode off on scouts in after years.
The little girl captive-of whose parentage or history nothing could be ascertained, though strenuous efforts were made-was christened "Lizzie Ross," in honor of Miss Lizzie Tinsley, daughter of Dr. D.R. Tinsley, of Waco, to whom Ross at that time was engaged, and afterwards married-May, 1861.
Of Lizzie Ross, it can be said that, in her career, is afforded a thorough verification of Lord Byron's saying: "Truth is stranger than fiction!" She was adopted by her brave and generous captor, properly reared and educated, and became a beautiful and accomplished woman. Here were sufficient romance and vicissitude, in the brief career of a little maiden, to have turned the "roundelays" of "troubadour and meunesauger." A solitary lily, blooming amidst the wildest grasses of the desert plains. A little Indian girl in all save the Caucasian's conscious stamp of superiority. Torn from home, perhaps, amid the heart rendering scenes of rapine, torture and death. A stranger to race and lineage-stranger even to the tongue in which a mother's lullaby was breathed. Affiliating with these wild Ishmaelites of the prairie-a Comanche in all things save the intuitive premonition that she was not of them! Finally redeemed from a captivity worse than death by a knight entitled to rank, for all time in the history of Texas, "primus inter pores." (Vide Ross Texas Brigade, page 178.)
Lizzie Ross, accompanied General Ross's mother, on a visit to the State of California, a few years since, and while there became the wife of a wealthy merchant near Los Angeles, where she now resides.
Such is the romantic story of "Lizzie Ross"-a story that derives additional interest because of the fact of its absolute truth in all respects.
The following letter from General L.S. Ross, touching on the battle of the Wichita Mountains and the re-capture of "Lizzie Ross," is here appropriately inserted:
Waco, Texas, July 12, 1884
Mr. James T. De Shields-Dear Sir:-My father could give you reliable data enough to fill a volume. I send you photograph of Cynthia Ann Parker, with notes relating to her on back of photo. On the twenty eighth of October, 1858, I had a battle with the Comanches at Wichita Mountains, and there re-captured a little white girl about eight years old, whose parentage, nor indeed any trace of her kindred, was ever found. I adopted, reared, and educated her, giving her the name of Lizzie Ross; the former name being in honor of the young lady-Lizzie Tinsley-to whom I was then engaged and afterwards married-May, 1861.
Lizzie Ross grew to womanhood, and married a wealthy merchant living near Los Angeles, California, where she now resides. See History of Ross's Brigade, by Victor M. Rose, and published by Courier-Journal, for a full and graphic description of the battle and other notable incidents. I could give you many interesting as well as thrilling adventures of self and father's family with the Indians in the early settlement of the country. He can give you more information than any living Texan, touching the Indian character, having been their agent and warm and trusted friend, in whom they had confidence. My early life was one of constant danger from their forays, and I was twice in their hands and at their mercy, as well as the other members of my father's family. But I am just now too busy with my farm matters to give you such data as would subserve your purpose.
Yours truly, L.S. Ross
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