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Texas Indian wars
Part of Indian Wars
A map showing the Comanche lands (Comancheria) during the 1800s.
Date1820 – 1875
Result Texan and United States Victory
 Republic of Texas
 United States

Texas Comanche wars 1820 – 1875

The Texas–Indian wars were a series of conflicts between settlers in Texas and the Southern Plains Indians. These conflicts began when the first, mostly-Spanish, European settlers moved into Spanish Texas. They continued through Texas's time as part of Mexico, when more Europeans, especially Americans arrived, to the subsequent declaration of independence with the Republic of Texas, and did not end until 30 years after Texas joined the United States. Although several Indian tribes existed in the area, the preeminent tribal nation was the Comanche, the so-called "Lords of the Plains". Their territory, the Comancheria was the most powerful entity persistently-hostile to the Spanish, Mexicans, and, finally, the Texans. This article covers the conflicts from 1820, just before Mexico gained independence from Spain, until 1875, when the last free band of Plains Indians, the Comanches led by Quahadi warrior Quanah Parker, surrendered and moved to the Fort Sill reservation in Oklahoma.

The half-century struggle between the Plains tribes and the Texans became particularly intense after the Spanish, and then Mexicans, left power in Texas, and the Republic of Texas, and then the United States, opposed the tribes. Their war with the Plains Indians became one of deep animosity, slaughter, and, in the end, near-total conquest.[1]

Although the outcome was lop-sided, the violence of the wars was not, especially in regards to the Comanche. The latter led such a violent existence, looting, burning, murdering, and kidnapping as far south as Mexico City and especially destroying and capturing so many Texans that Comanche became a by-word for terrorism. Thus, when he recovered Cynthia Ann Parker at Pease River, Sul Ross observed that her recovery would be felt in every family in Texas, as every one of them had lost someone in the Indian Wars.[2] Indeed, during the American Civil War, when the army was unavailable to protect the frontier, the Comanche and Kiowa pushed white settlements back over 100 miles on the Texas frontier.[3]

A map showing Texas and areas in the Americas claimed or permanently settled by Europeans in the mid-1700s.

A map showing the range of the Plains Indians near the time of European contact


Texas developed between two major cultural centers of Pre-Columbian North America. The Southwestern tribes lay on one side and the Plains tribes to the other. Archaeologists have found that 3 major indigenous cultures lived in this region and reached their developmental peak before the first European contact. The Pueblo from the upper Rio Grande region were centered west of Texas. The Mississippian culture or Mound Builder region extended along the Mississippi River Valley east of Texas. The Mesoamerica civilization was centered south of Texas. The influence of Teotihuacan in northern Mexico peaked around AD 500 and declined over the 8th to 10th centuries.[4]

The Colonial era produced the main adversaries in these wars. All were relative newcomers to Texas, Europeans began permanently settling in Texas around the Rio Grande and upwards toward San Antonio and El Paso starting in the late 1600s and eventually deep into the heart of present day Texas at Nacogdoches around 1721, whilst the Comanche had not arrived into the northern area of the state until roughly the early 1700s and did not become the predominant nation in the area until the late 1700s with their successful adoption of the horse.[5] However, most other Plains Indians had already arrived by the mid-1700s.

Indians in Texas

Although the Comanche are by far the best known of the Indian Plains tribes living in what is now Texas, they were the last to arrive in the region. Their allies, the Kiowa and Kiowa Apache originated in the west but moved to what is now west Texas. Tribes indigenous to east Texas include the Caddo (including the Adai, Eyeish, Hainai, Kadohadacho, Nacono), Kitsai, Tonkawa, Towakoni and Wichita Indians. The Akokisa, Alabama, Atakapa, Karankawa, and Tamique lived along the Gulf coast. Until around 1650, the Comanche were part of the Shoshone people living along the upper Platte River in Wyoming. The Comanche emerged as a distinct group around 1650. About this time, they acquired the horse, which allowed them greater mobility in their quest for better hunting grounds. Their original migration took them to the southern Great Plains, into a span of territory extending from the Arkansas River to Central Texas. During that time, their population increased dramatically because of the abundance of buffalo, the use of the horse for hunting and fighting, the adoption of other migrating Shoshone, and women and children taken captive. Ultimately, they managed to make the horse such a huge force multiplier in war that the Comanche became the most powerful Indian nation of the plains.[6]

First as Shoshone, their Conquest took them to the southern plains, at which time they separated from the Shoshone and became a distinct nation. At this point, they adopted the imperialist customs which were to make them the strongest Indian nation. Quickness of speed and violence of action as a result of their superb light cavalry skill led them to capture so many children and women of their opponent Indian tribes that their numbers increased exponentially. Those who submitted to Comanche power were given latitude but had to provide food, lodging, and women to the Comanche nation. When they encountered the Spanish, the resulting wars blocked Spanish expansion to the east from New Mexico and prevented direct communication with the new Spanish settlements north of the Rio Grande. In turn, the Comanche and eventually Apache allies launched deep raids of thousands and at times tens of thousands of warriors into Mexico during which thousands of Mexicans were captured and turned into slaves. Eventually, the numbers were so large that Hispanics made up nearly thirty percent of the Comanche nation.[7] However, the Comanches never formed a single cohesive tribal unit but were divided into almost a dozen autonomous groups with as many as 45 distinct divisions among the 12 bands.[6] These groups shared the same language and culture but at times fought among themselves in ritualized combat as often as they cooperated.

In the 1740s, Tonkawa, Yojuanes and others settled along the San Gabriel River.[8] The Tonkawa allied with the Bidais, Caddos, Wichitas, Comanche and Yojuanes in 1758 and attacked and desimated the Lipan Apache and the Mission Santa Cruz de San Sabá.[9]

Tonkawa lands

The Tonkawa continued their southern migration into Texas and northern Mexico where they then allied with the Lipan Apache .[10][11]

Also during the 1740s in the Southwest, Spanish settlers sometimes captured American Indian children. Often it was common practice to have the child baptized and then adopt them into their homes, where they were raised to be servants. At first the practice involved primarily Apaches and eventually Comanche children were likewise adopted as servants.[12]

Before 1750, the dominant Indian tribe in Texas were the Apaches. But this changed with the Comanche conquest.[6] Beginning in the 1740s, the Comanche began crossing the Arkansas River and established themselves on margins of the Llano Estacado. This area extended from southwestern Oklahoma across the Texas Panhandle into New Mexico. The Apaches were driven out in a series of wars, and the Comanche came to control the entire area, which became known as the Comancheria.[7] This domain extended south from the Arkansas River across central Texas to the vicinity of San Antonio, including the entire Edwards Plateau west to the Pecos River and then north again following the foothills of the Rocky Mountains to the Arkansas River.[6]

Comanche territory c.1850

At this point, the power and force of the Comanche was such that they were threatening to take over all of North Mexico. However, after driving out the Apaches, the Comanches were stricken by a smallpox epidemic from 1780 until 1781. As the epidemic was very severe, the Comanche temporarily suspended raids, and some Comanche divisions were disbanded. A second smallpox epidemic struck during the winter of 1816–1817. The best estimates are that more than half the total population of the Comanche were killed by these epidemics.[7][13]

In response to this devastating loss of numbers, the Comanche effectively united with the Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache, after one Kiowa warrior spent a fall season with the Comanche in 1790. From this single incident, the three tribes eventually effectively united. Fehrenbach believed the union came from the necessity to protect their hunting grounds from settler incursions. First, the Kiowa and the Comanche agreed to share hunting grounds and unite in war. The Kiowa Apache, as allies of the Kiowa, ultimately joined this alliance. Eventually, the three tribes agreed to share the same hunting grounds, and had a mutual self-defense and war pact.[7]

Europeans in Texas

North America in 1800

North America in 1819

Texan settlers

European and especially white Mexican settlers had come to Texas prior to the end of Spanish rule. But they were not actively encouraged by the colonial authorities and their numbers were extremely limited. Additionally, the sudden violence of Comanche raiding made settlements extremely tenuous. Furthermore, by the early 1800s, as a result of the Comanche wars, the Mexican wars of Independence, and the collapse of colonial power, Mexican resistance to Comanche attacks had almost collapsed. In contrast to the lukewarm military capabilities of the Mexicans, Americans were seen by colonial authorities as extremely able in combat and were subsequently encouraged to establish settlements on the frontier in present day Texas as a bulwark to Comanche raids. Although most of these early Americans were ultimately killed, executed or driven from Texas by Spanish authorities during the Green Flag Republic, the Comanche's subsequent raids deep into Mexico, revealed the importance of Americans in holding the frontier. Consequently, the new regime quickly renewed actions to attract Americans, the first of which was Stephen F. Austin who was given a Spanish land grant in Texas.[7] When Mexico obtained its independence from Spain in 1821, the policy was continued as the Mexican government was eager secure its position and settle its sparsely populated northern provinces. .[6]

Early Texas settlement: Mexican Texas 1821–1836

Stephen F. Austin, known as the "Father of Texas"

In the 1820s, seeking additional settlers as a means of stabilizing the area, Mexico reached an agreement with Stephen F. Austin reauthorizing his Spanish land grants. That allowed several hundred American families to move into the region. As Austin used his network and government sponsors to spread the word of rich lands in Texas, thousands of additional settlers from the United States flooded into Texas, many of whom were not interested in being ruled by the government of Mexico. In 1829, when Mexico abolished slavery throughout Mexico, the immigrants from the U.S. were exempted in some colonies or actively evaded governmental efforts to enforce the national abolition of slavery in the territory. Theoretically, many slaves in Mexico at this time were indentured servants. This was coupled with complaints about the tightening political and economic control over the territory by the central government in Mexico City, leading to the Texas Revolution .[7] In 1821, while settlers were still welcome, Jose Francisco Ruiz negotiated a truce with the Penatucka Comanche, the band closest to the settlements in East and Central Texas. Following that truce, he was able to finalize a treaty of peace and friendship, which was signed in Mexico City in December 1821. Within twelve months the Mexican Government failed to pay the presents promised the Pentucka, who resumed raiding at once. For the same reason, failure to pay promised tributes, the peace treaties signed for New Mexico broke down, and by 1823 war raged the entire length of the Rio Grande. Most of the remaining Mexican settlements were destroyed with only those in the upper Rio Grande secured. Thousands of Mexican refugees who managed to survive the genocide[citation needed] fled to this area. However, the remainder of the area was ethnically cleansed of Europeans and Mexicans, leaving only the Texans as the sole whites left in the area.[7] In 1824, the Tonkawa entered into a treaty with Stephen F. Austin (the Father of Republic of Texas), pledging their support against the Comanche Tribe.[14] Additional treaties were signed in 1826 and 1834, but in each case the Mexican government failed to meet the terms of the agreement. Although such events would've proved catastrophic in early years as the Comanche raided towards Mexico City, the presence of Americans obstructed such attacks thereby encouraging the Mexicans to become dilatory in payments. Furthermore, because Comanche raiding was based on booty and enslavement, the American communities' closer proximity proved more fruitful to Comanche raiding. Although Texan resistance was much stronger than previous Mexican settlers, the sheer rapidity of advance and large numbers of the attackers overwhelmed many of these early Texan settlement. For in 1826, Comanches had raided and burned Green DeWitt's new town of Gonzales to the ground. Indeed, being used to the more subjugated tribes in the eastern United States, Texan settlers were unprepared for the military power of the Comanche and Kiowa. The raids on the settlers were so severe that echoes of the cries were heard in Washington, which attempted to interfere to protect American settlers in Texas. Clearly, seeing an opportunity given the isolation of the Texans from Mexico, the US ratcheted up its diplomatic campaigns for expanding America by sending a noted American fighter to negotiated on behalf of the Texans with the Comanche Americans. Thus, Sam Houston was sent to Texas in 1833 as a United States diplomatic representative to arrange a treaty with the Pentucka Comanche. Clearly perceiving an attempt at expanding power by America at Mexico's expense, Mexican officials objected to an American diplomat in their country talking to their subject Indians about a treaty. Houston was declared persona non grata and asked to leave the country.[7] During the entire period of 1821 to 1835, settlers had difficulty with Comanche raids, despite the formation of full-time militia ranger companies in 1823. Tonkawa and Delaware Indians, deadly enemies of the Comanche, had declared themselves friends of the settlers, attempting to gain allies against their traditional enemies. The Comanche truly detested the Tonkawa in particular, for being cannibals,[15] which the Comanche regarded with horror. Stephen F. Austin had recognized the need as early as 1823 to have specific forces ready to fight the Plains tribes, especially the Comanche, who made no distinction between Hispanic and American victims in their raids. Austin created the first militia Rangers by hiring 10 men who were paid to fight Indians and protect the frontier settlements. Soon the settlers were organizing other Ranger companies. After the Republic was created, this trend continued – without resources for a standing army, Texas created small ranger companies mounted on fast horses to pursue and fight Comanches on their own terms.[7]

Fort Parker raid

On May 19, 1836, a huge war party of Comanches, Kiowa, Witchitas, and Delaware attacked the settler outpost Fort Parker. This fort, completed in March 1834, had been regarded by the settlers as a strong-point, sufficient to protect them from any Native Americans not observing the peace treaties Elder John Parker had negotiated with local Indians. Unfortunately for the settlers, because these Native Americans were subject nations of the Comanche and not the Comanche themselves, none of the Comanche bands felt bound to observe the peace. The massacre of Fort Parker, also resulted in 2 women and 3 children being kidnapped by the Comanches. Because of the long and noted history of the Parkers in American frontier history, and the fact that most of the Texas settlers had similar history with each other, the annihilation of most of the clan produced shock throughout Texas.[2]

Comanche braves, c. 1867–1874.

Despite calls from the Parker family, especially from James W. Parker, for vengeance, and assistance in recovering the lost women and children, there was not a lot the Texans could do to recover the victims; with the close of the Texas Revolution and Texan victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836 coming only about one month before the raid, Texans were still busy trying to return to what was left of their former homes and dealing with all their losses and the retreating Mexican army.

The Republic of Texas era: 1836–1845

The Republic of Texas era with the Indians can be divided into three phases: the diplomacy of Houston during his first term, the hostility of Lamar, and the resumed diplomatic efforts of Houston's second term. The Republic under Sam Houston sought to negotiate with the Comanche, who, as in the past, were willing to stop raiding if given what they considered the three main prerequisites for peaceful relations: gifts, trade, and regular face-to-face diplomacy.[16] Houston, who enjoyed a good reputation among Indians, had married a partly Cherokee white woman and lived in Indian Territory for years, was willing to meet with Indians on Indian terms and believed as a matter of policy that it was cheaper to buy a few thousand dollars worth of presents than pay the huge cost of a standing army — which might not be able to defeat the assembled might of the entire Comanche-Kiowa alliance, especially if they received Mexican help.[7] However, the continued captivity of thousands of children and women, the stories of those rescued by daring scouting parties or ransomed, moved the Texans to demand massive retaliation. Under Lamar the Republic of Texas waged war on the Comanche, invaded Comancheria, burned villages, attacked and mercilessly destroyed war bands, but all at the cost of bankrupting the fledgling Republic. More importantly, although the war had succeeded in rescuing large numbers of hostages, thousands remained in captivity. Thus, when Houston was elected to his second term, the primary reason for his reelection was the failure of Lamar's Indian policies.[6]

The first Houston administration: 1836–1838

Houston's first Presidency was focused on maintaining The Republic of Texas as an independent country, and he had no resources to fight a war with the Plains Indians. [10] Sam Houston spent much of his childhood with the Cherokee Indians in Tennessee, among them the half Scotch Irish, half Cherokee Chief Bowles. [11] Chief Bowles was also known as Diwal'li or Di'wali, meaning bold hunter. [12] Houston supported the "Solemn Declaration" which gave the Cherokee rights to the land on which they lived. [13] He negotiated a treaty with the Cherokee on February 23, 1836, the first of the provisional government of Texas in Chief "General" Bowles village. [14] Sam Houston and John Forbes signed for the Texas government and Chief Bowles, Big Mush, Samuel Benge, Osoota, Corn Tassel, The Egg, John Bowles (the Chief's son) and Tenuta signed for the Cherokees, Shawnees, Delawares, Kickapoos, Quapaws, Biloxi, Ioni, Alabama, Coushattas, Caddoes of Neches, Tahocullakes and Mataquo. [15] The areas granted in the treaty included present day Smith and Cherokee counties and parts of Van Zandt, Rusk and Gregg counties. [16]. In the treaty it was stated that the land could not be sold or leased to anyone who was not a member of the tribe, including Texas citizens. [17] After the signing of this Treaty, Sam Houston presented Chief Bowles with a sword, a red silk vest and a sash. [18] One of Houston's first acts as president of the republic was to send the treaty to be ratified in the Texas senate. [19] After the treaty stalled in the senate for a year, it was finally determined that the treaty would be detrimental to the citizens of Texas, reportedly because David G. Burnet had been granted a tract of land within Cherokee treaty lands. [20] The treaty was declared "null and void" on December 26, 1837. [21]. Throughout his presidency, Houston tried to restore the provisions of the treaty and asked General Thomas J. Rusk, commander of the Texas militia to delineate the boundary. Unfortunately this proved unsuccessful and Houston could take no more action on the matter before his presidency ended. [22]

During Houston's presidency, the Texas Rangers fought the Battle of Stone Houses against the Kichai on November 10, 1837. The outnumbered Rangers were defeated by the Kichai.[17]

Comanches of West Texas in war regalia, c. 1830.

The Indian problems of the first Houston administration were highlighted by the Cordova Rebellion. Evidence existed that a widespread conspiracy of Cherokee Indians and Mexicans had united to rebel against the new Republic of Texas, and rejoin Mexico. Houston refused to believe that his friends among the Cherokee were involved, and refused to order them arrested. Instead, he used them to neutralize the anti-Texans among the group, identify the Mexican network, and had the later destroyed. The Cordova Rebellion was highlighted by Houston’s ability to quash it without much bloodshed or wide unrest[18] When Houston left office, the Texans were at peace with the Indians, but still the captives remained.

Even though Houston's efforts were largely successful in establishing peace with the Indians, during his first presidency the Texas Congress passed laws opening up all Indian lands to white settlement, overriding Houston's veto. The settlement frontier quickly moved north along the Brazos, Colorado, and Guadalupe rivers, into Comanche hunting ranges and the borders of Comancheria. Soon the Texan-Comanche relationship was turning violent. Houston made efforts to restore peace and the Comanches, alarmed at the vigor of Texan settlement, began to consider demanding a fixed boundary, contrary to their traditional notions about borders. However, Houston was forbidden by Texas law to yield any land claimed by the Republic. Nevertheless he was able to make peace with the Comanche in 1838.[19]

The Lamar presidency policy: 1838–1841

Mirabeau Bonaparte Lamar, second president of the Republic of Texas, was hostile towards the natives. Lamar's cabinet boasted that it would remove Houston's "pet" Indians. [23]

Lamar declared the policy of his administration in 1839 as thus: "The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together", he said, "Nature forbids it."[20] His answer to the “Indian Problem” was: "to push a rigorous war against them; pursuing them to their hiding places without mitigation or compassion, until they shall be made to feel that flight from our borders without hope of return, is preferable to the scourges of war." [21]

President Lamar was the first official of Texas to attempt "removal", the deportation of Indian tribes to places beyond the reach of white settlers. As carried out, the policy assumed there could be such a thing as a permanent Indian frontier, i.e., a line beyond which the various "removed" tribes would be able to carry on their lives free from white settlement or attacks.[13][21]

Lamar became convinced that the Cherokees could not be allowed to stay in Texas after their part in the Cordova Rebellion. The Cherokee War and subsequent removal of the Cherokees from Texas began shortly after Lamar took office.[22]

The Cherokee War: 1838–1839

Lamar demanded that the Cherokee, who had been promised title to their land if they remained neutral during the Texas War of Independence, voluntarily relinquish their lands and all their property, and move to the United States to the Oklahoma Indian Territories. Houston, who had promised them they would be given their promised titles during the Cordova Rebellion, protested, but in vain.[22] After the discovery, in May 1839, of a letter in the possession of Manuel Flores, an agent of the Mexican Government, exposing plans by the Mexican government to enlist the Indians against the Texas settlers, Lamar, supported by popular opinion, determined to expel the East Texas Indians. When they refused, he used force to compel their removal.[23]

The Battle of Neches

On July 12, 1839, the Militia sent a peace commission to negotiate for the Indians' removal. The Cherokee reluctantly agreed to sign a treaty of removal that guaranteed to them the profit from their crops and the cost of the removal. During the next 48 hours the Cherokee insisted they would leave peacefully, but refused to sign the treaty because of a clause in the treaty that would require that they be escorted out of Texas under armed guard.[22] On July 15, 1839, under orders from the Militia, the commissioners told the Indians that the Texans would march on their village immediately and that those willing to leave peacefully should fly a white flag. On July 15 and 16 of 1839, a combined Militia force under General K.H. Douglass, Ed Burleson, Albert Sidney Johnson and David G. Burnet attacked the Cherokees, Delaware, and Shawnee under Cherokee Chief Bowles at the Battle of the Neches.

The Indians attempted to resist at the village, and when that failed, tried to reform, which also failed. Approximately 100 Indians were killed, including Chief Bowles, to only three Militia. When killed, Chief Bowles was carrying a sword given to him by Sam Houston. After the battle, the Cherokee fled to Arkansas, and East Texas was virtually free of organized communities of Indians, and their lands were given to American settlers.[23]

Lamar and the Plains tribes

Lamar's success in removing the Cherokee, a relatively neutral tribe, from Texas emboldened him to do the same with the Plains tribes. Lamar needed an army to carry out his Indian policies, and he set out to build one, at great cost. But at independence, the best estimates were that the Republic had 30,000 Anglo-Americans and Hispanic residents.[2] The Cherokee had less than 2,000 tribesmen in Texas, so removal of them was not a terrible drain on the Republic, especially since the “Cherokee War” was relatively brief and bloodless.

The Comanche and Kiowa however, had in the 1830s a population estimated between 20,000 and 30,000. They were well supplied with high-quality firearms and had a large surplus of horses. In addition, by the 1830s the Comanche had established a large network of Indian allies and a vast trading network.[24] The Republic had a militia but no standing army, and its tiny navy had been greatly decreased during Houston's presidency. Lamar had neither the manpower nor the money to pursue his policy after the Cherokee War, but was not deterred.[13] Lamar's two-year term was marked by escalating violence between the Comanche and setters. There were not enough Rangers to battle the Comanche at Palo Duro Canyon, for instance, where they could catch them during winter.[13] At the end of 1839 however, some of the Comanche Peace Chiefs of the Penatucka Band had come to believe that they could not drive the settlers completely from their homes as the tribe had the Apache. Cheyenne and Arapaho attacks along the northern frontier of Comanche territory coupled with huge losses in the two preceding generations in several smallpox epidemics had the Penatucka Peace Chiefs convinced a treaty might be in their best interests. Additionally, they now realized the huge importance the captive Texans held by the Comanches, had in the Texan imagination. Thus, they reasoned great concessions could be gained from the Texans. Consequently, the Comanche offered, to meet with the Texans, in an effort to negotiate peace in return for a recognized boundary between the Republic and the Comancheria and the return of the hostages.[25]

The most notable Penatucka War Chief, Buffalo Hump disagreed with this decision, and did not trust Lamar or his representatives. None of the other 11 Bands of the Comanche were involved in the peace talks at all.

The decision of Peace Chiefs from one band of the Comanche to negotiate, as well as the offer of returning of the hostages, appears to have convinced Lamar that the Comanche tribe was ready to surrender the hostages. However, the majority of past negotiations concerning the return of hostages were never honored by the Comanche who obtained concessions but didn't return the hostages or dragged out indefinitely the return of them. His Secretary of War issued instructions which make clear that Lamar expected the Comanche to act in good faith in returning the hostages, and to yield to his threats of force.[25]

To that end, Lamar's Secretary of War, Albert Sidney Johnston, sent militia to San Antonio, with explicit instructions. Johnston, Secretary of War, wrote Lieutenant Colonel William S. Fisher, commanding the 1st Regiment of Infantry:

"Should the Comanche come in without bringing with them the Prisoners, as it is understood they have agreed to do, you will detain them. Some of their number will be dispatched as messengers to the tribe to inform them that those detained, will be held as hostages until the Prisoners are delivered up, then the hostages will be released."[26]

Council House Fight

Thirty-three Penatucka chiefs and warriors, accompanied by thirty-two other Comanches, virtually all of whom were family members or retainers, arrived in San Antonio on March 19, 1840. None of the bands except the Penatucka arrived at the meeting. However, they were the preeminent band and understood to be the primary leadership of the nation, and were expected to hold the ability of rounding up the hostages. When the Comanche representatives arrived at San Antonio in March 1840, following instructions from the Lamar administration, Commissioners of the Texas government demanded the return of all captives held by the Penatucka. In addition, Texas officials insisted that the Comanches abandon Central Texas, cease interfering with Texan settlements, cease conspiring with Mexicans, and avoid all white settlements.[25]

The prominent Penatucka Peace Chief Muk-wah-ruh was in charge of the delegation, which brought a few prisoners, namely several Mexican children and Matilda Lockhart as a show of good faith. Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old white girl who had been captured with her sister in 1838, had been physically and sexually assaulted and tortured and disfigured. Burn scars, the mutilation of her nose by successive burnings of cigars, torches, and knives, bore out her stories. As the Texans listened in stern anger, Lockhart said that 15 other hostages remained in Comanche hands that she knew of, and that the tribe intended to ransom them one at a time as means of exacting the most concession possible.[25]

Consequently, the Texans ordered the Comanche to free all hostages at once. However, in keeping with past tactics and the known custom of Comanche decentralization, the Comanche chiefs said such a thing could not be done because, for instance, chiefs Buffalo Hump and Peta Nocona never agreed to return any captives. Both had American captives in their bands at the time, including several sex slaves, as well as Peta's wife, the famed Cynthia Parker. Furthermore, the chiefs said neither had any intention of giving them up, since most of them were being incorporated into the Comanche, who made little distinction between birth and adopted members of the tribe.[27] At this point, one of the Indian present gave an aggressive posture to one of the Militia guards, who in turn looked back in aggression. The Indian attempted to grab the soldiers knife as a sign of disrespect which was replied with a physical blow by the soldier. Several of the Comanche then drew the only weapons they had which were knives and plunged them into the hearts of the guards and diplomats closest to them. As several of the Chiefs attempted to gain control of their men and the guards drew their weapons, the Militia on the outside heard the consternation and threw open the doors of the Council House, where the talks were taking place. Upon seeing the bloodshed, a Texas Ranger who was present immediately ordered the Comanches to surrender. Instead, the chiefs and their men, drew their knives, gave their Comanche war cry and initiated a full-scale, close-quarter, hand to hand combat inside the room. In reply the Comanche on the outside grabbed as many Texan women and children as they could and fled into various nearby houses were they murdered most of the unsuspecting Texans or attempted to flee. The fighting quickly spread and in the ensuring melee, all but one of the Indians inside were killed, and another 35 were killed, and 29 imprisoned.[25]

Aftermath of the Council House Fight: the Great Raid and Plum Creek

As revenge for the killing of 33 Comanche chiefs at the Council House Fight, all but three of the remaining captives held by the Indians were executed slowly by torture; the three who were spared had been previously adopted into the tribe.[28][29] Buffalo Hump wished to extract further revenge and gathered his own warriors, and sent messengers to all the Bands of the Comanche, all the divisions of the Bands, and the Kiowa and Kiowa Apache. Gathering around 500 warriors and another 400 women and boys to provide comfort and do the work, Buffalo Hump took his gigantic war party and raided all the way from the Edwards Plateau to the sea.[30] Burning and looting Victoria and Linnville, then the second biggest port in Texas, the Comanches gathered thousands of horses and mules, and a fortune in goods from the Linnville warehouses[31] The population of Linnville prudently fled to the waters of the Gulf, where they watched helplessly while the Comanche looted the town and burned it.

At Plum Creek, near Lockhart, Texas, the Rangers and Militia did what military historians say they never could have done under ordinary circumstances, which is catch up to the Comanche, who are considered the finest light cavalry of history. Several hundred Militia under Mathew Caldwell and Ed Burleson, plus all Ranger companies and their Tonkawa allies engaged the war party in a huge running gun battle, as the Comanche tried to safeguard their loot, and the Militia tried to destroy the Indians. Ironically, again according to military historians, the same thing, greed, that had driven the Comanche into being the preeminent warriors of the plains, now made them vulnerable. The Rangers and Militia overran the Comanche guarding their loot and eventually in a running gun-fight recovered several dozen captives held by the Comanche and eventually recovered mules with several hundred thousand dollars in bullion on them. The remainder of the Lamar Presidency was spent in daring but exhausting round of raids and rescue attempts, managing to recover several dozen more captives. Buffalo Hump continued his war against the Texans, and Lamar hoped for another pitched battle to use his Rangers and Militia to remove the Plains tribes. The Comanche, however, had learned from Plum Creek, and had no intention of ever massing again for the Militia to use cannon and massed rifle fire on. Lamar spent an incredible 2.5 million dollars against the Comanche in 1840 alone – more than the entire revenue of the Republic during Lamar’s two-year term.[6]

The Second Houston presidency: 1841–1844

When Sam Houston left the Presidency of Texas the first time, the population seemed to support Lamar's strong anti-Indian policies. After the Great Raid and hundreds of lesser raids, with the Republic bankrupt, and all of the captives either recovered or murdered by the Indians, Texans turned away from continuation of war and toward more diplomatic initiatives by electing Houston to his second Presidency.[18]

Houston's Indian policy was to disband the vast majority of the regular Army troops but muster four new companies of Rangers to patrol the frontier. Houston ordered the Rangers to protect the Indian lands from encroachment by settlers and illegal traders. Houston wanted to do away with the cycle of rage and revenge that had spiraled out of control under Lamar. Under Houston's policies, Texas Rangers were authorized to punish severely any infractions by the Indians, but they were never to initiate such conflict. When depredations occurred to either side, the troops were ordered to find and punish the actual perpetrators, rather than retaliating against innocent Indians simply because they were Indians[18]

Houston set out to negotiate with the Indians. The Caddos were the first to respond, and in August 1842, a treaty was reached. Houston then expanded it to all tribes except the Comanche, who still wanted to permanent war. In March 1843, Houston reached agreement with the Delaware, Witchitas, and other tribes. At that point, Buffalo Hump, who trusted Houston, began to talk. In August 1843, a temporary treaty accord led to a ceasefire between the Comanches and their allies, and the Texans. In October 1843 the Comanches agreed to meet with Houston and to try to negotiate a treaty similar to the one just concluded at Fort Bird. (That this included Buffalo Hump, after the events at the Council House, showed extraordinary Comanche belief in Houston)[30] In early 1844, Buffalo Hump and other Comanche leaders, including Santa Anna and Old Owl signed a treaty at Tehuacana Creek in which they agreed to surrender white captives in total, and to cease raiding Texan settlements.[13] In exchange for this, the Texans would cease military action against the tribe, establish more trading posts, and recognize the boundary between Texas and Comanchería.[32] Comanche allies, including the Waco, Tawakoni, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, and Wichita, also agreed to join in the treaty. By the end of his second term as President, Houston had spent less than $250,000 but brought peace to the frontier, and a treaty between the Comanches and their allies, and the Republic awaited only the United States legislature's ratification for statehood.[30]

The Jones Presidency: 1845 to the end of the Republic

The remaining period of the Republic of Texas under President Anson Jones, saw the government follow Houston's policies, with the exception that Jones, like most Texas politicians, did not wish to put a boundary on the Comancheria, and thus he supported those in the Legislature who derailed that provision of the Treaty.

End of the Republic, beginning of the United States in Texas: 1845–1861

After the Texas Senate removed the boundary provision from the final version of the treaty, Buffalo Hump repudiated it and hostilities resumed.[30] That was one of the last acts of the Senate, as Texas agreed to annexation by the United States.

On February 28, 1845, the U.S. Congress passed a bill that would authorize the United States to annex the Republic of Texas. Texas became a U.S. state on the same day annexation took effect, December 29, 1845.[33] One of the primary motivations for annexation on the Republic of Texas side was that the Republic had incurred huge debts which the United States agreed to assume upon annexation. In 1852, in return for this assumption of debt, a large portion of Texas-claimed territory, now parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming, was ceded to the Federal government.

The entry of the Republic into the United States marked the beginning of the end for the Plains Indians. The United States had the resources and manpower to realistically apply a policy of “removal,” and they did so. Finally, in May 1846 Buffalo Hump became convinced that even he could not continue to defy the massed might of the United States, and the State of Texas, so he led the Comanche delegation to the treaty talks at Council Springs that signed a treaty with the United States.[34]

As war chief of the Penatucka Comanches, Buffalo Hump dealt peacefully with American officials throughout the late 1840s and 1850s.[35] He negotiated a non-government peace treaty with John O. Meusebach in 1847. In 1849 he guided John S. Ford's expedition part of the way from San Antonio to El Paso, and in 1856 he sadly and finally led his people to the newly established Comanche reservation on the Brazos River. Continuous raids from white horse thieves and squatters, coupled with his band's unhappiness over their lack of freedom and the poor food provided on the reservation, forced Buffalo Hump to move his band off the reservation in 1858.

Murder of Robert Neighbors

It was during this period, when settlers began to actually attack the Indians on the reservations established in Texas, that Federal Indian Agent in Charge Robert Neighbors became hated among white Texans. Neighbors alleged that the United States Army officers located at the posts of Fort Belknap and Camp Cooper, near the reservations, failed to give adequate support to him and his resident agents, and adequate protection to the Indians. In spite of continuous threats of various people to take his life, Neighbors never faltered in his determination to do his duty, and carry out the law to protect the Indians.[36]

With the aid of federal troops, who he finally shamed and politically forced to assist him, he managed to hold back the white people from the reservations. Convinced however that the Indians would never be safe in Texas, he determined to move them to safety in the Indian territories. In August 1859 he succeeded in moving the Indians without loss of life to a new reservation in Indian Territory. Forced to return to Texas on business, he stopped at the village near Fort Belknap. On September 14, 1859, while he was speaking with one settler, a man named Edward Cornett shot him in the back while he was talking to the first man, and killed him. Historians believe his assassination was a direct result of his actions protecting the Comanche. Neighbors probably did not even know his assassin. He was buried in the civilian cemetery at Fort Belknap.[37]

Attack on Buffalo Hump's Camp

While camped in the Wichita Mountains, the remains of the once mighty Penatucka Band, under Buffalo Hump, were attacked by United States troops under the command of Maj. Earl Van Dorn.[35] Allegedly not aware that Buffalo Hump's band had recently signed a formal peace treaty with the United States at Fort Arbuckle, Van Dorn and his men killed eighty of the Comanches.[35]

This attack on a peaceful camp, housing only Indians who had signed a peace treaty with the United States, was, nonetheless, reported by Van Dorn as a "battle" with the Comanche, and to this day is chronicled by some historians as the "Battle of Wichita Mountains."[3]

Nonetheless, despite this, an aged and weary Buffalo Hump led and settled his remaining followers on the Kiowa-Comanche reservation near Fort Cobb in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. There, in spite of his reported enormous sadness at the end of the Comanches' traditional way of life, he asked for a house and farmland so that he could set an example for his people. Attempting to live out his life as a rancher and farmer, he died in 1870.[35]

The Antelope Hills campaign and Little Robe Creek: 1858

The years 1856–1858 were particularly vicious and bloody on the Texas frontier as settlers continued to expand their settlements into the Comanche homeland, the Comancheria, and 1858 was marked by the first Texan incursion into the heart of the Comancheria, the so-called Antelope Hills campaign, marked by the Battle of Little Robe Creek. This battle signaled the beginning of the end of the Comanche as a viable people, as they were attacked in the heart of their domain, in force. Valuable Indian hunting grounds were plowed under, and grazing range for the Comanche horse herds lost.[13] The Comanche realized their homeland of the Comancheria was increasingly encroached on by Texas settlers, and incidents such as the attack on Buffalo Hump’s camp showed the Comanches off the reservation they could expect no protection on it – and they struck back with a series of ferocious and bloody raids into Texas.[6]

By 1858, only five of the twelve Comanche bands still existed, and one, the Penatucka, had dwindled to only a few hundred on the reservation. Realizing their way of life was disappearing, the remaining free Comanche struck back with incredible violence.[13] The U.S. Army proved wholly unable to stem the violence. Federal units were being transferred out of the area for reasons that seemed driven more by political than military considerations. At the same time, federal law and numerous treaties forbade incursion by state forces into the federally protected Indian Territories. The U.S. Army was likewise instructed not to attack Indians in the Indian Territories or to permit such attacks.[13] The reasoning behind the order was that many native tribes, such as the Cherokee, were engaged in farming, and living as peaceful settlers. Other tribes, such as the Comanche and Kiowa, continued to use that part of the Indian Territories that was the Comancheria to live in while raiding white settlements in Texas.[38] The relationship between the federal government, Texas and the native tribes was further complicated by a unique legal issue which arose as a result of Texas' annexation. The federal government is charged by the U.S. Constitution to be in charge of Indian affairs and took over that role in Texas after it became a state in 1846. But under the terms of Texas' accession to the Union, the new state retained control of its public lands. In all other new states, Washington controlled both public lands and Indian affairs and so could make treaties guaranteeing reservations for various groups. In Texas, however, the federal government could not do this. Texas adamantly refused to contribute public land for Indian reservations within the boundaries of Texas, meanwhile expecting the federal government to be responsible for the cost and details of Indian affairs. Since federal Indian agents in Texas knew that Indian land rights were the key to peace on the frontier, no peace could be possible with the uncooperative attitude of Texas officials on the question of Indian homelands.[39]

Campaign in the Antelope Hills: Texans invade the Comancheria, 1858

The loss of the 2nd Cavalry in Texas was a particularly bitter blow to settlers. Texas Governor Hardin Runnels had campaigned for office in 1856 on a platform to put an end to the raids. He publicly expressed astonishment and rage when the 2nd Cavalry was transferred to Utah, and ultimately disbanded altogether.[38] Runnels determined to reestablish disbanded Ranger battalions which had been reduced after Texas' annexation by the United States. On January 27, 1858, Runnels appointed John Salmon "Rip" Ford, a veteran Ranger of the Mexican-American War and frontier Indian fighter, as captain and commander of the Texas Ranger, Militia, and Allied Indian Forces, and ordered him to carry the battle to the Comanches in the heart of their homeland on the Comancheria.[13]


Capt. John "Rip" Ford was made captain and commander of the Texas Ranger, Militia, and Allied Indian Forces

Ford was known as a ferocious and no-nonsense Indian fighter. Ford had no trouble ordering attacks on villages which resulted in the wholesale slaughter of any Indian, man or woman, he could find.[13] Ford's reason for this was simple: Comanche raids were brutal in their treatment of settlers.[38] Thus, Ford determined to meet brutality with brutality.[38] Runnels issued very explicit orders to Ford, "I impress upon you the necessity of action and energy. Follow any trail and all trails of hostile or suspected hostile Indians you may discover and if possible, overtake and chastise them if unfriendly.[38] On March 19, 1858, Ford went to the Brazos Reservation, near what today is the city of Fort Worth, Texas, and recruited the Tonkawa into his forces. Ford and Tonkawa Chief Placido, were determined to follow the Comanche and Kiowa up to their strongholds amid the hills of the Canadian river, and into the Wichita Mountains, and if possible, “kill their warriors, decimate their food supply, strike at their homes and families and generally destroy their ability to make war.”[38]

In April 1858, Ford established Camp Runnells near what used to be the town of Belknap. Ford, still operating under Runnell’s explicits orders to “follow any and all trails of hostile and suspected hostile Indians, inflict the most severe and summary punishment,”[13] and to “allow no interference from any source.” (That source was interpreted to mean the United States, whose Army and Indian Agents might try to enforce federal treaties and federal statutory law against trespassing on the Indian territories in Oklahoma).[13] On April 15, Ford's Rangers, accompanied by Tonkawa warriors, and Anadarko and Shawnee scouts from the Brazos Reservation in Texas, crossed the Red River into Indian Territory. The force then advanced into the portion of the Comancheria in the Indian Territories in Oklahoma. Ford led his men across the Red River, into the Indian Territory, violating federal laws and numerous treaties, but stating later that his job was to “find and fight Indians, not to learn geography.”[13]

Battle of Little Robe Creek


At sunrise on May 12, 1858.[13] Ford and his joint force of Rangers and Tonkawa began an all-day battle with an attack on a Comanche village. The Battle of Little Robe Creek was actually three distinct engagements over the course of a single day. The first was the attack on the first village discovered by the scouts of the Ranger force. The second was a follow-up attack on the larger village of chief Iron Jacket, somewhat farther up the Canadian River. Iron Jacket was killed in this exchange, and the remainder of his village was saved by the intervention of Peta Nocona with a third force of Comanche who arrived to engage Ford while all the villages along the Canadian made a swift withdrawal.[2]

Peta Nocona knew that his warriors were no match for the Rangers in an even exchange of gunfire, and had no intention of engaging in such an exchange. He used every trick available to him, including attempting to lure the Rangers and Tonkawas into individual duels, to delay the enemy so the villages upriver would be able to withdraw safely. In this, he was successful.[2]

The Battle of Little Robe Creek was notable in that the Texan forces first invaded the United States in violation of federal law and numerous Indian Treaties, attacked villages without warning, and allowed their allied Indians, the Tonkawa, to eat some of the Comanche killed in battle.[2][13]

Aftermath of Little Robe Creek: 1858–1860

The Battle of Little Robe Creek epitomized Texas Indian fighting in its attitude towards women and children casualties. Ford, accused of killing women and children in every battle he fought against the Plains Indians, shrugged it off by stating it was hard to distinguish "warriors from squaws"—but morbid jokes of Ford's made clear he did not care about the age or sex of his victims. Ford considered the deaths of settlers, including women and children, during Indian raids, to open the door to make all Indians, regardless of age or sex, combatants.[13]

The Tonkawa warriors with the Rangers celebrated the victory by decorating their horses with the bloody hands and feet of their Comanche victims as trophies. “The Rangers noted most of their dead foes were missing various body parts, and the Tonkawa had bloody containers, portending a dreadful victory feast that evening.”.[13]” The coat of mail worn by old Iron Jacket covered his dead body "like shingles on a roof." The Rangers cut up the mail and divided the pieces as trophies.[40]

The attacks in the Antelope Hills showed that the Comanche no longer were able to assure the safety of their villages in the heart of the Comancheria [13]

Reward for the Tonkawa for their loyalty to the Texans at Little Robe Creek

Other Indians never forgot the Tonkawa’s loyalty to the Texans. Despite pleas from the aging Placido to protect his people from their enemies, the Tonkawa were moved from their reservation on the Brazos, and put on a reservation in Oklahoma with the Delaware, Shawnee and Caddo tribes. In 1862, warriors from these tribes united to attack the Tonkawas. 133 out of the remaining 309 Tonkawas were killed in the massacre. Included in the dead was the elderly Placido. Today less than 15 families of Tonkawa remain on their reservation in Oklahoma.[41]

Battle of Pease River, Recapture of Cynthia Ann Parker: 1860

There are two distinctly different stories about what happened on Mule Creek on December 18, 1860, near the town of Margaret, Texas in Foard County, Texas, United States. The official version is that Sul Ross and his forces managed to catch the Noconi Band of the Comanche by surprise, and wiped them out, including their leader, Peta Nocona. According to Quanah Parker, however, his father (Peta Nocona) was not present that day, and the Comanches killed were virtually all women and children in a buffalo hide drying and meat curing camp. In any event, all parties agree that at sunrise on December 18, 1860, Rangers and Militia under Sul Ross found and surprised a group of Comanche camped on Mule Creek, a tributary of the Pease River. Almost all were killed except one woman, who being recognized as a white woman, was allowed to live. She was later discovered to be Cynthia Ann Parker. The only other known survivors were a 10-year-old boy saved by Sul Ross, and Cynthia Parker’s infant daughter, “Prairie Flower.”[2]

Cynthia Ann Parker was returned to her white family, who watched her very closely to prevent her from returning to her husband and children. After her daughter died from influenza, she starved herself to death when her guardians would not allow her to return to the Comanche to attempt to find her lost sons.

The Civil War Years on the Plains: Delay of the Inevitable: 1861–1865

The Civil War brought incredible bloodshed and chaos to the plains. As the cavalry left Indian Territory for other battles, and many Rangers enlisted in the Confederate Army, the Comanche and other Plains tribes began to push back settlement from the Comancheria. The frontier was eventually pushed back over 100 miles (160 km), and the Texas plains were riddled with abandoned and burned out farms and settlements.[3] The Indian population was not high enough, however, to restore control over all of the Comancheria.[3]

The Elm Creek raid

In the late fall of 1864 in Young County, Texas, a war party of between 500 and 1,000 Comanche and Kiowa raided the middle Brazos River country, stealing virtually every cow, horse, and mule in the area, and besieging the citizen stronghold of Fort Murrah. The home-guard managed to hold the fort, and the war party returned north with 10 women and children captives.[3]

First Battle of Adobe Walls

The first battle of Adobe Walls occurred on November 26, 1864, in the vicinity of Adobe Walls, the ruins of William Bent's abandoned adobe trading post and saloon near the Canadian River in Hutchinson County, Texas. The battle was one of the largest engagements in terms of numbers engaged between whites and Indians on the Great Plains. It came about because Gen. James H. Carleton, commander of the military Department of New Mexico, decided to punish Comanche and Kiowa attacks on Santa Fe wagon trains. The Indians saw the wagon-trains as trespassers who killed buffalo and other game the Indians needed to survive.[42]

Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson, was given command of the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, and told to proceed and campaign against the winter campgrounds of the Comanches and Kiowas. The campgrounds in question were reported to be somewhere on the south side of the Canadian River. On November 10, 1864 Carson started from Fort Bascom with 335 cavalry, and seventy-five Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts. Those Carson had recruited from Lucien Maxwell's ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. On November 12, 1864, Carson’s force, supplied with two mountain howitzers under the command of Lt. George H. Pettis, twenty-seven wagons, an ambulance, and forty-five days' rations, proceeded down the Canadian River into the Texas Panhandle. Carson had decided to march first to Adobe Walls, which he was familiar with from his employment there by Bent over 20 years earlier. Inclement weather, including an early snow storm, caused slow progress, and on November 25, 1864, the First Cavalry reached Mule Springs, in Moore County, approximately 30 miles west of Adobe Walls. Scouts reported the presence of a large Indian encampment at Adobe Walls, and Carson ordered his cavalry forward, to be followed by the wagons and howitzers.[42]

Approximately two hours after daybreak on November 26, 1864, Carson's cavalry attacked a Kiowa village of 150 lodges. The Chief, Dohäsan, and his people fled, passing the alarm to allied Comanche villages nearby. Marching forward to Adobe Walls, Carson dug in there about 10am., using one corner of the ruins for a hospital. Carson discovered to his dismay that there were numerous villages in the area, including one very large Comanche village, with a total of between 3–5,000 Indians, far more opposition than Carson had anticipated. The Kiowa led the first attack, by Dohäsan assisted by Stumbling Bear and Satanta, (Sitting Bear). Reportedly Satanta was said to have sounded bugle calls back to Carson's bugler. Beginning to run low on supplies, Carson ordered his forces to withdraw in the afternoon. The angry Indians tried to block his retreat by firing the grass and brush down near the river. Carson however set back fires and retreated to higher ground, where the twin howitzers continued to hold off the Indians. When twilight came, Carson ordered part of his scouts to burn the lodges of the first village. The Kiowa-Apache chief, Iron Shirt, was killed when he refused to leave his tepee. The army declared Carson's mission a victory, despite his having been driven from the field.[42]

Battle of Dove Creek

On January 18, 1865 a force of Confederate Texans attacked a peaceful tribe of Kickapoos at Battle of Dove Creek, Tom Green County, and were soundly defeated.

The final years of the Plains tribes: 1865–1875

See full article in Comanche Campaign

First Indian leaders tried in state court

General Sherman ordered the trial of Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree, making them the first Native American Leaders to be tried for raids in a US court.[43] Sherman ordered the three Kiowa sub-chiefs taken to Jacksboro, Texas, to stand trial for murder. Satank attempted escape and was killed while traveling to Fort Richardson for trial. He began singing his death song, and managed to wrestle a rifle from one of his guards, and was shot to death before he could manage to fire. His body lay unburied in the road, with his people afraid to claim it, though Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie assured the family they could safely claim Satank’s remains.

When General Sherman decided to send the Kiowa War Chiefs to Jacksboro for trial, he wanted an example made. What he did not want, and what happened, was that the trial became a circus. First, the two attorneys appointed to represent the two Kiowa actually represented them, instead of participating in the kind of civics lesson which the Army had wanted. Their trial strategy of arguing that the two Chiefs were simply fighting a war for their people's survival attracted worldwide attention, and galvanized opposition to the entire process. Moreover, the Bureau of Indian Affairs also opted to oppose the entire process, and also argued that the two Chiefs were not subject to civilian jurisdiction since their people were at war with the United States. Nor were the Indians apologetic. At his trail Satanta warned what might happen if he was hanged: " I am a great chief among my people. If you kill me, it will be like a spark on the prairie. It will make a big fire – a terrible fire!" Satanta was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death, as was Big Tree; but Edmund Davis, the Governor of Texas, under enormous pressure from leaders of the so-called Quaker Peace Policy, decided to overrule the court and the punishment for both was changed to life imprisonment. Satanta and Big Tree were freed after two years of imprisonment at the Huntsville State Penitentiary in Texas.[43] Both Satank and Satanra are buried at the Chief's Knoll at Fort Sill Oklahoma.

Release, recapture, and death of Satanta at Huntsville

Satanta was released in 1873 and was alleged to be soon back attacking buffalo hunters and was present at the raid on Adobe Walls. But the Kiowa People deny he was involved in that battle, other than being present. He yielded up his war lance and other symbols of leadership to younger, more aggressive men. But his very presence at the Battle violated his parole, and the government called for his arrest. He surrendered in October 1874, and was returned to the state penitentiary. Forced to work on the road, guards reported that Satanta would stare for hours at the traditional hunting grounds of his people, and seemed to wither away. In his book, the History of Texas, Clarance Wharton reports of Satanta in prison:

After he was returned to the penitentiary in 1874, he saw no hope of escape. For awhile [sic?] he was worked on a chain gain which helped to build the M.K. & T. Railway. He became sullen and broken in spirit, and would be seen for hours gazing through his prison bars toward the north, the hunting grounds of his people."

Satanta killed himself on October 11, 1878, by jumping from a high window of the prison hospital.[44]

Big Tree was also rearrested, but unlike Satanta, he was not sent back to Huntsville. No one would swear they had seen him, as they had Satanta, on the battlefield.[43]

The Battle of the North Fork of the Red River

In 1872 the so-called Quaker Peace Policy had completely failed, but legally it was still law, so troops out of Fort Sill could not officially be deployed against the Comanche. However, the army was eager to attack the Comanche in the heart of the Comancheria, on the Staked Plains, and in July 1872, did so.

A captured comanchero, Edwardo Ortiz, had told the army that the Comanches were on their winter hunting grounds along the Red River on the Staked Plains. Gen. Christopher C. Augur, commander of the Department of Texas sent a detachment from Fort Concho, Texas, under Capt. Napoleon Bonaparte McLaughlin on a two-month reconnaissance patrol in the spring of 1872. He returned to the fort, confirming that the main force of the Comanches were in camps on the Staked Plains. Ortiz further claimed that army columns could successfully maneuver in that country. General Augur then summoned Colonel Ranald Mackenzie to San Antonio where they held a strategy meeting. Out of this meeting, the army developed a campaign against the Comanche in their strongholds in the Staked Plains.[38]

On September 28, 1872, near McClellan Creek, in Gray County, Texas, United States, the 4th U.S. Cavalry under Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, attacked a village of Comanche Indians under Kai-Wotche and Mow-way. The "battle" was really a massacre and slaughter of the Indians, men, women, and children as the Army managed to catch the camp totally by surprise.[6]

Most of the village's inhabitants were captured. The Comanche prisoners were kept under guard and were transferred to Fort Concho, where they were kept prisoner through the winter. Mackenzie used the captives as a bargaining tool to force the off-reservation Indians back to the reservation, and to force them to free white captives.[45] Mackenzie’s stratagem worked, for shortly after the battle Mow-way and Parra-o-coom (Bull Bear) moved their bands to the vicinity of the Wichita Agency. The Nokoni chief, Horseback, who himself had family members among the Indian prisoners, took the initiative in persuading the Comanches to trade stolen livestock and white captives, including Clinton Smith, in exchange for their own women and children.[45]

This marked the first time the United States had successfully attacked the Comanches in the heart of the Comancheria, and showed that the Stalked Plains were no longer a safe haven. Further, this battle emphasized if the army wished to force the wild Comanches onto reservations, the way to do it was destroy their villages and leave them unable to survive off reservation. Mackenzie's tactics were such a success that Sherman empowered him to use them further during the Red River War of 1874. His attack on the village at Palo Duro Canyon, and his destruction of the Comanche horse herd at Tule Canyon, both in 1874, mirrored this battle in their entirety.[6]

The Red River War

A Kiowa ledger drawing depicting a battle between Southern Plains Indians and the U.S. Army during the Red River War.

In history books, the Red River War officially began on July 20, 1874. On that day, General Sherman telegraphed General Philip Sheridan to begin an offensive against the Kiowa and Comanches on the plains of West Texas and Oklahoma, and either kill them or drive them to reservations. The army essentially adopted Mackenzie's tactics of the 1872 campaign at North Fork in their entirety – attack the Comanche in their winter strongholds, and destroy their villages and ability to live independently off the reservation.

During the summer of 1874, the United States, through the army, launched a campaign to remove the Comanche, Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, the Southern band of the Cheyenne, and Arapaho Indian tribes from the Southern Plains. This campaign was meant to enforce their removal to reservations in Indian Territory. The campaigns of 1874 were unlike any prior attempts by the Army to pacify this region of the frontier. The “Red River War,” as it was called, led to the end of the culture and way of life for the Southern Plains tribes and brought an end to the Plains tribes, as a people. The campaign of the Red River War was fought during a time when buffalo hunters were hunting the great American Bison nearly to extinction. Both the Bison and the people who lived off it nearly became extinct at the same time[46]

There were perhaps 20 engagements between army units and the Plains Indians during the Red River War. The well-equipped and well-supplied army simply kept the Indians running, and in the end, they simply ran out of food, ammunition, and the ability to fight any longer.[24]

The Second Battle of Adobe Walls

The Second Battle of Adobe Walls came during the Red River War, as the Plains tribes realized, with increasing desperation, that the Buffalo Hunters were killing off their food supply, and the very means of survival for their people. A combined force of Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and other Plains tribes raised almost 700 warriors, and made an attempt to attack the Buffalo Hunters encamped at the old ruins at Adobe Walls. On June 27, 1874, the allied Indian force attacked the 28 hunters and one woman encamped at Adobe Walls. Had the defenders been asleep, as the attackers hoped, they would have been overrun at once, and all killed. Had the attackers followed Quanah Parker’s plan to simply accept losses and rush the buildings, the defenders would again, have been overrun. But the defenders were awake, and their long-range buffalo guns rendered the attack useless. Billy Dixon made perhaps the most famous rifle shot in the old west when he killed an Indian sitting on a bluff a mile away from the buildings. At that point, with Quanah Parker wounded, the Indians gave up the attack. It was the last great attempt to defend the Plains by the Indians, and the difference in weapons was simply too great to overcome.[47]

Mackenzie’s Campaign against Quanah Parker

Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry Regiment (United States) pursued Quanah Parker and his followers all through late 1874 into 1875. He led a 5-unit movement to converge on the Indian hideouts along the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado. Mackenzie, in the most daring and decisive battle of the campaign, destroyed five Indian villages on September 28, 1874, in Palo Duro Canyon. His destruction of the Indians' horses, 1000 of them in Tule Canyon, destroyed the Indians' resistance by taking the last of their prized possessions, their horses, along with destroying their homes and food supplies. On November 5, 1874, Mackenzie’s forces won a minor engagement, his last, with the Comanches. In March 1875 Mackenzie assumed command at Fort Sill and control over the Comanche-Kiowa and Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations.

Surrender of Quanah Parker and end of the Texas Indian Wars

Quanah Parker, the last major chief of the Comanche Indians

Mackenzie sent Jacob J. Sturm, a physician and post interpreter, to negotiate the Quahada's surrender. Sturm found Quanah, whom he called "a young man of much influence with his people", and made his case for yielding peacefully. Mackenzie had sent his personal word if Quanah surrendered, all his band would be treated honorably, and none charged with any offense. (The arrest and trial of Kiowa leaders in 1871 had made that a real possibility.) Contrawise, Sturm carried Mackenzie's personal vow to hunt down every man, woman, and child who refused to yield. Quanah later said he was ready to die, but was loath to condemn the women and children to death. Quanah believed Colonel Mackenzie when he promised that if the Quahada did not surrender, every man, woman, and child would be hunted down and killed. Quanah rode to a mesa, where he saw a wolf come toward him, howl and trot away to the northeast. Overhead, an eagle "glided lazily and then whipped his wings in the direction of Fort Sill", as Jacob Sturm reported later. This was a sign, Quanah thought, and on June 2, 1875, he led his band to Fort Sill in present-day Oklahoma, and surrendered. On that day, the Plains Indians were extinct as a separate people, their way of life completely destroyed.[2] Quanah Parker, who had led the last campaign of the Plains tribes against the U.S. Army, then went tirelessly to work to help his people adapt to the Anglo world which had crushed them. Appointed by his old enemy Colonel Mackenzie as sole chief of the Comanches, he worked hard to bring education and the ability to survive in the white man's world to his people. He attempted to keep his people's land together, and when that became politically impossible, he tried to get the best bargain for his people he could.[2]

Military analysis


Disease brought largely by Europeans caused a dramatic decline of the native population. Anthropologist John C. Ewers has identified no fewer than thirty major epidemics, consisting mainly of smallpox and cholera, which took place between the years 1528 and 1890, which he believes responsible for wiping out close to 95 percent of Texas Indians.[48]

Over half of the Comanche population was wiped out in the epidemics of 1780–81 and 1816–17. Many historians believe their population went from over 20,000 to less than 8,000 in these two rounds of disease.[13] Thus, while technology and warfare with Anglo-Texans may have completed the process, the foremost cause of the decline of the Plains Indians came from disease and not from conflict.


At the time of the Texas Revolution, there were 30,000 Anglo and Hispanic settlers in Texas, and approximately 15,000 Plains Indians. The settlers were armed with single-shot weapons, which the Comanche, in particular, had learned very well to counter.

Certainly the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and later the Texans had learned that single-shot weapons were not enough to defeat the deadly Comanche light horse, whose mastery of cavalry tactics and mounted bowmanship were renowned. The Comanches' constant movement caused many of their opponents' older single-shot weapons to miss their targets in the chaos of battle. The Comanche could then easily kill their enemies before they had a chance to reload.[38] And though it was understated, the Comanche learned to use single-shot firearms quite well, though they found bows superior in terms of fire rate. The Comanche put an end to Spanish expansion in North America. They did what no other indigenous peoples had managed, defending their homeland – even expanding their homelands, in the face of the best military forces the Spanish could bring against them. In the late 18th century, the Comanche were said to have stolen every horse in New Mexico.[38] Up until the introduction of repeating rifles and revolvers, weapons and tactics were definitely on the side of the Plains Indians, most especially the Comanche. It was not until the Battle of Bandera Pass, where revolvers were used for the first time against the Comanche, that the Texans began to gain a clear military advantage due to superior weaponry. Despite that disadvantage, it was disease and pure numbers which probably ended the Plains tribes.[38]


By 1860, there were less than 8,000 Indians, and 600,000 Anglo settlers in Texas. The Texans further had access to repeating rifles and revolvers. Many military historians believe the defining moment in the Texas–Indian Wars came with the introduction of the revolver. In any event, pure numbers and better weapons ended any chance the Plains Indians ever had of holding on to their land.[38]


In his book The Conquest Of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing In The Promised Land, 1820–1875, Gary Anderson says "the 'Texas Creed' was enshrined in the Texas Rangers." According to Anderson, the Rangers believed the Indians were at best subhumans who "had no right of soil" and savaged pure, noble, and innocent settlers. According to captives of the period as written by them such as the The Boy Captives and Nine Years with the Indians, the Rangers were the only force feared by the Indians. The Rangers had seen first hand the brutality and savagery of the Indians against white women and children and knew what they had to do to stop it from occurring. They did their job. Killing Indians became government policy when second Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar prescribed "an exterminating war" of "total extinction."


  1. Native American Texans
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Exley, J.A.. “Frontier Blood: The Saga of the Parker Family
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Frontier Forts > Texas and the Western Frontier
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  5. "Timeline of History". The University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures at San Antonio
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 6.8 6.9 The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains. University of Oklahoma Press. 1952. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 7.9 Sultzman, Lee (2006). [1]. Comanche History: Part One. Accessed September 7, 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "comancheone" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "comancheone" defined multiple times with different content
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  9. Anderson, The Indian Southwest, p. 89
  10. May, Jon D. "Tonkawa", Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture, Tulsa: Oklahoma Historical Society (retrieved 8 Feb 2009)
  11. Walker, Jeff (2007-11-16). "Chief returns » Local News » San Marcos Record, San Marcos, TX". Retrieved 2011-11-11. 
  12. de la Teja (1956), p. 123.
  13. 13.00 13.01 13.02 13.03 13.04 13.05 13.06 13.07 13.08 13.09 13.10 13.11 13.12 13.13 13.14 13.15 13.16 13.17 13.18 Fehrenbach, T.R. Comanches, The Destruction of a People Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Fehrenbach" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Fehrenbach" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Fehrenbach" defined multiple times with different content
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  16. Hämäläinen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. pp. 214. ISBN 978-0-300-12654-9.  Online at Google Books
  17. Stone Houses, Battle of. The Handbook of Texas Online. (retrieved 6 Sept 2009)
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 Kreneck, Thomas (2000). [2]. "Texas Handbook Online September 7, 2007. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "kreneck" defined multiple times with different content
  19. Hämäläinen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. pp. 215. ISBN 978-0-300-12654-9.  Online at Google Books
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  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Jodye Lynn Dickson Schilz: Council House Fight from the Handbook of Texas Online (2002). Retrieved December 23, 2008.
  26. Council House Fight
  27. Comanche
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  29. Comanche Nation.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 The Comanche Barrier to South Plains Settlement: A Century and a Half of Savage Resistance to the Advancing White Frontier. Arthur H. Clarke Co. 1933.
  31. Roell, Craig (2002). [4]. "Texas Handbook Online September 7, 2007.
  32. Treaty Negotiations – Texas State Library
  33. The Avalon Project at Yale Law School: Texas – From Independence to Annexation
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