|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 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
|Red River War Chief Lone Wolf of the Kiowas and wife Etla of the Wichitas (Library
"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
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
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.