|Historians differ on which skirmishes and battles constitute the Red River Wars. Some historians (like me)
believe the war began in Young County in 1871. Others believe that it was a brief war, beginning in 1874 and
ending in 1875. Whatever the Minutiae, no historian disputes the basic fact: the conclusion of the series of
fights between the Plains Indians and Union and State forces forced the end of a way of life for one, and offered
a new beginning for another culture.
Pre-Civil War Indian Country
The Comanches, Apaches and Kiowas (along with the occasional Caddos or Wichitas) had been
fighting against the intrusion of the Americans since before the Civil War. And for a while, it
looked as though they were able to stem the tide of white settlers. In Texas, Comanches and
Kiowas raided settlements, often enslaving, torturing, and/or murdering their captives. During
the Civil War, as Union troops abandoned the protective forts in Texas and Indian Territory,
Indian raids increased, and Anglos retreated to the safer, more populated areas.
After the conclusion of the Civil War, however, America looked with hungry eyes to the West.
Droves of Anglos invaded the Plains to farm, mine, and - most of all - speculate. The
transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, was ready to expand. Bankers and investors
coveted the wide open lands of the Great Plains. That the Plains were inhabited by many tribes
who were at the peak of their civilization, and who had an extensive warrior culture, didn't
seem to faze the American expansionists in the least.
In 1867, Fort Sill opened as a large outpost in Indian Territory. Its mission was two-fold: to
protect the American homesteaders and Indian tribes that had settled in the area, and to
consolidate the Southern Plains Indians. Fort Richardson in Texas had been pretty much
established for the same purposes. The push of the American settlers, plus the establishment
of the forts, led to an inevitable clash between the United States and the peoples of the Plains.
The Comanches and Kiowas in particular had been conducting numerous raids on
homesteaders since the 1850s. In 1871, however, the Warren Wagon Train Raid led by Kiowa
warriors from Fort Sill managed to change federal Indian policy.
Indian Policy Abruptly Changes
Grand Commander of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman
had traveled from Fort Belknap to Fort Richardson to witness
for himself the Indian depredations that the Texans had been
fussing about. Since he hadn't encountered any Indians on his
journey, he believed the accounts of raiding, stealing, and
scalping to be exaggerated. The day after he arrived at Fort
Richardson, however, Sherman learned that beside the road he
had traveled on, a group of Kiowas had hidden among
the post oaks and black jacks of the Cross Timbers prairie,
waiting on a party to raid. They had let Sherman's entourage
pass by unmolested, but the next day they attacked a passing
wagon train, killing several men in very brutal fashion (one
victim was roasted to death on a wagon wheel).
When Sherman learned of his narrow escape from death and
the heinous nature of the raid, he changed military policy right
then and there. He ordered Union troops to wage war against
the Plains Indians until they all were forced onto, and promised to stay in, the reservations (the
reservation system had already been created with the 1867 Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty, but
many Indians had refused to sign it). He also advocated the mass slaughter of the buffalo,
which would compel Indians off the land - he put his experience with waging a war of attrition
during the Civil War to good use. He commented that "it would be wise to invite all the
sportsmen of England and America... for a Grand Buffalo Hunt, and make one grand sweep of
The Kiowa raiding party was rounded up at Fort Sill and brought to Fort Richardson to stand
trial. This was the first time the attackers from an Indian raid were tried in a civil court - the
army wanted to impress on Native Americans that they were subject to the same laws and
penalties that Americans were subject to. On the way there, Chief Satank was killed by soldiers
after fighting his chains and overpowering a guard. The two remaining chiefs, Satanta and Big
Tree, were sentenced to death, but the judge commuted their sentences and remanded the
chiefs to the prison in Huntsville, Texas. After a serving time in Huntsville, the other chiefs
went back to Fort Sill.
|Two battles were fought at Adobe Walls
in Hutchinson County: the first one in
1864, where Kit Carson was defeated by
Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne
Warriors. The Second Battle of Adobe
Walls was fought in 1874, at a trading
post near the old Adobe Walls site.
Buffalo hunters defeated the Indians in a
Early historical markers at the Adobe
Walls site, however, only commemorated
the Second Battle. The marker above was
erected in 1924 and heralds the buffalo
hunters. The Dixon family, whose
ancestor Billy Dixon fought at Adobe
Walls - he famously shot at long ranges
with great accuracy - would later own the
land surrounding the trading post.
A historical marker, erected in the 1960s,
commemorates the first battle. According
to reader Leslie Monden, a memorial to
the first battle, on private land, sits at the
original site of Adobe Walls.
|This marker at Adobe Walls was erected
in 1987 to memorialize the Native
Americans who fought and died here.
Reader Leslie Monden clarified that a
monument was erected as early as 1941,
sponsored by members of the warring
|Behind the Native American marker at
Adobe Walls, someone placed ceremonial
offerings. Native Americans still visit this
place to reflect on their vanished way of
The Red River Wars Commence
Many Indians didn't dream of surrendering, however. Bands led by Chiefs of the
Comanches, Apaches, Arapahos, Cheyennes, and Kiowas came together to ward off the
white man. They realized that the Quaker Peace Policy, an American, passive-agressive
approach to the reservation system that culminated in the Medicine Lodge Treaties of
1867, had been abandoned. White men continued to encroach on the Plains Indians'
lands, and the reservations loomed like death traps. The tribes saw it as their duty to
Not all members of the tribes wanted war, however. Plains Indians were societies of
individualists, and instead of following one leader they could follow different ones,
depending on their own moral codes. The Kiowas, for example, split into several
factions, some following the pro-war Chiefs like Lone Wolf, others staying the course
under Chief Kicking Bird.
One of the major battles of the Red River Wars - so called by historians afterwards
since all fighting had occurred in areas surrounding the Red River - happened in 1874
at Adobe Walls, a buffalo hide trading post by the Canadian River. True to Sherman's
strategy, buffalo hunters had descended onto the Great Plains to wage a mass assault
on the Plains Indians' food source. Warrior bands of the Kiowas, Apaches, and
Comanches attacked the traders, who fought back with superior weapons, killing two
Indians (and one of their own in a friendly fire incident).
Several other battles took place after Adobe Walls, such as the "Lost Valley Fight" near
Jacksboro, where two Army soldiers were killed. The last battle occurred at Palo Duro
Canyon along the North Fork of the Red River. General Ranald S. McKenzie, who had
been pivotal in the development of Fort Richardson, had followed the Indians into the
deep gorges of the canyon. Surrounding the camps from all sides, McKenzie's troops
fired on the Indians from above, and a day-long shoot-out ensued. McKenzie was able
to break into and herd the Indians' horses, a strategy used by General George Custer
at the Battle of the Washita. By taking the horses, a Plains Indian loses his ability to
fight, hunt, and exist in status in his society. McKenzie's troops took the 1,000 horses
to a canyon a few miles south of the battle site, where they shot them to death.
Defeat and the End of a Civilization
Slowly, the defeated Indians walked with their families to Fort Sill and surrendered. The
Chiefs (including Geronimo and Quanah Parker) were taken into custody and confined
to Fort Marion in Florida. Chief Satanta committed suicide in Huntsville. Chief Kicking
Bird (of the peaceful Kiowas) was assassinated. Chief Geronimo lived out his days at
Fort Sill and even joined Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show. Quanah Parker became a
rich and respected rancher south of the Fort Sill reservation.
The Red River War spelled the end of a culture and the extinction of an entire eco-
system. Though slowly degrading by the time the white settlers had come to the
Southern Plains, the environment had been largely self sustaining. With the buffalo
killed and the range fenced, the white man became either farmer or rancher,
constantly guarding himself against hunger or trespassing. Instead of a cooperative
life, the American brought scarcity and competition to the Plains - and the odd and
false notion that the environment was 'hostile.' With the change of the environment,
the Americans had to rely on the railroads and other modern institutions to survive,
and the frontier ended as quickly as it began.
|Red River War Chief Lone Wolf of the Kiowas and
wife Etla of the Wichitas.
"The hunter was hired by the
piece: if robe hides were
worth $3.00, he was given
twenty-five cents for every
one that he killed... I have
seen their bodies so thick
after being skinned, that they
would look like logs where a
hurricane had passed
through a forest."
The Recollections of W.S. Glenn, Buffalo
Hunter. Panhandle Plains Historical
Review no. 22, pp 20-26.
Warfare on the Plains
"The Horse Head Battle on the
plains was the most outstanding
battle that I was in. There were
over two-hundred Indians killed
and only four whites. We really
had it on them this time. We were
hidden in the rocks of the canyon
and every time an Indian showed
up he was shot by several
different men. We sure had a lot of
Daniel Boon Sinclair, "The Missouri Kid." From
WPA life histories.
|The Last Stand of the Southern Plains
Indians: The Red River Wars, 1871-1875
|Today's Dodge City is geared towards tourists. In the 1870s, this notorious town saw an immense
buffalo hide trade. During the spring thaw, women used perfumed handkerchiefs to mask the smell
of decay that permeated the area.
Know Your History
The Red River Wars can be
interpreted in a variety of ways.
Traditional historians viewed the
Comanches and Kiowas as
"savages" who deserved their
historians are more likely to view
the Anglo settlers as invaders.
Both views are very
narrow-minded and do not take
into account the history of either