|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
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 them all."
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
was 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 long shoot-out.
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 tribes. 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 life.
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 fight.
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).
|Red River War Chief Lone Wolf of the Kiowas and wife Etla of the Wichitas (Library of Congress)
"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 fun there."
Daniel Boon Sinclair, "The Missouri Kid." From WPA life histories.
|The Last Stand of the Southern Plains
Indians: The Red River Wars, 1871-1875
|William Tecumseh Sherman (Library of Congress)
|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.
McKenzie on the Frontier
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.