The Red River War

Women at the Fort Sill Reservation, 1899The series of skirmishes and battles that followed the second Battle of Adobe Walls became known as the Red River War. In a strategy conceived by Generals Sherman and Sheridan, troops entered the Panhandle from five different directions, forcing the Indian warriors into the canyons. Violent encounters between soldiers and Indians continued over the next several months. Finally, a daring offensive led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, whom the Indians called "Bad Hand," brought the war to a dramatic conclusion.

Mackenzie, an experienced Civil War commander, had been one of the leading military figures in Texas since the Salt Creek Massacre. Mackenzie was charged with establishing supply lines and depots on the Staked Plains. He created the first maps of the area and undertook a series of expeditions to stop Indian raiding both from Indian Territory and from Mexico.

On September 28, 1874, Mackenzie bottled up a large force of Kiowas, Comanches, and Cheyennes in upper Palo Duro Canyon. Attacking at dawn down the steep cliff walls, Mackenzie's men concentrated not on killing warriors but on torching the Indians' possessions and capturing and killing their horses. More than 1100 horses were killed. This action destroyed the ability of the Indians to continue the war. Defeated, most of the Indians reluctantly surrendered and returned to the reservations in Indian Territory.

A few bands continued to hold out into 1875. Finally, in June 1875, Quanah Parker brought in his last band of resisting Comanches. Parker's surrender marked the end of a long era. Once the lords of the plains, the Comanches and their allies followed the rest of the Texas Indians into exile on the reservations. With the Indians gone and the buffalo all but exterminated, the Texas plains now entered a new era, one in which great ranches would cover the area once crossed only by Indian trails.

In 1876, after the disastrous Battle of the Little Big Horn, Colonel Mackenzie was named to replace George Armstrong Custer in the war on the Plains. He won a decisive victory over the Northern Cheyennes. For the next seven years, he was a key commander in the Indian wars in the West. In 1883, he suffered a mental breakdown and was forced to leave the Army. He never recovered and died in an asylum in 1889.

Indian Depredations in San Saba County, 1875

A Decrease in Depredations, 1875

Over the years, the area that became San Saba County was home to the Tonkawas, Apaches, Caddos, and Comanches. The first permanent white settlements were established in the 1850s. Like many counties in Texas, San Saba began a new era after the Red River War, when most Indian peoples were forced to leave the state.

 


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 4, #232. Indian Depredations in San Saba County, February 4, 1875.

 

"The Quiet of the Grave and the Peace of the Charnel House"

Uvalde, in southwest Texas, had been home to the Comanche, Tonkawa, and Lipan Apache Indians. It became a crossroads for white travelers from the days of Spanish colonization, and battles between whites and Indians were a common feature of life in the area. Fort Inge, established in 1849, became the locus for a settlement of farms and ranches, but Indian raiding and outlaws significantly hindered the development of a thriving white community until the 1880s. This document gives an account of a fight between whites and Comanches and contains bitter commentary on what Texas settlers thought about the peace policy initiated by President Grant and his agents.


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 4, #233. Account of Engagement with Comanches in Uvalde, February 16, 1875.

Engagement with Comanche Indians, 1875
Law Prohibiting Indian Migration into Texas, 1875-76

Indians Prohibited from Entering Texas, 1875-76

This copy of a federal law shows how the tribes that once dominated Texas were now prohibited from even entering the state. Documents in the Texas Indian Papers show that Indians continued to leave Fort Sill for a number of years after being legally restricted to the reservation, trying to reassert their traditional hunting rights. With the buffalo gone, the Indians generally raided cattle and horses and fought with Texas and federal troops.


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 4, #236. Law Prohibiting Indian Migration into Texas, 1875-1876.

"This Young Person is Dead"

In this letter, Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz asks Texas governor Richard B. Hubbard about a young Comanche prisoner. Schurz, who had come to America as a penniless immigrant only to become a leader in the Republican party, had pledged to clean up corruption and inefficiency in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Like most reformers of the era, he was dedicated to the notion that the future for the Indians lay in assimilation, putting aside their culture for a way of life indistinguishable from that of whites.


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 4, #240. Carl Schurz to Richard B. Hubbard, February 27, 1878.

Schurz to Hubbard, 1878

Annual Report of the Department of Texas, 1878

Annual Report of the Department of Texas, 1878

Edward Otho Cresap Ord became commander of the Military Department of Texas in 1875. He supervised the construction of Fort Sam Houston and oversaw all of the military operations in the area, from the construction of telegraph lines to the Army's operations against outlaws and Indians. In this report, Ord reports that Indian troubles still continued along the border with Mexico.

 


Texas Indian Papers, Volume 4, #242. Annual Report from Edward O.C. Ord, October 2, 1878.


In This Section: The Salt Creek Massacre -The Battle of Adobe Walls -
The Red River War - Aftermath
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Page last modified: September 23, 2011