By the late 1850s, most Texans considered the reservation experiment to be a failure. Violent Comanche raids and an endless cycle of retaliation made whites eager to expel the Indians from Texas permanently. As a result, the U.S. Army and Texas Rangers launched several military offensives against the Comanches.
The most significant Army engagement occurred on October 1, 1858, at Rush Spring near the Red River, where the U.S. Second Cavalry under Earl Van Dorn battled a combined group of Kiowas and Comanches. Both sides sustained losses, and Van Dorn himself was shot through the arm, stomach, and lungs in the battle. In the course of the battle, the village of the Wichitas was destroyed, and that group was forced to flee to Kansas. Six months later, recovered from his wounds, Van Dorn attacked an Indian village at Crooked Creek near the Cimmaron River and inflicted serious losses.
Texas Rangers and state troops also took the offensive against the Comanches. The Texas Rangers under John S. "Rip" Ford defeated the Comanches in two major battles along the Canadian River.
Meanwhile, matters came to a head at the Brazos County reservation. Tensions with whites had grown so severe that Governor Hardin Runnels and Senator Sam Houston had both appealed to the federal government to move the reservation out of Texas. But before the move could take place, whites attacked a group of eighteen Indians camping during a hunting trips, killing seven. U.S. troops from nearby Fort Belknap moved in to the reservation to try to protect the Indians from further violence, and Governor Runnels ordered 100 state troops to march to the area.
On May 23, 1859, a group of 250 whites led by John R. Baylor, editor of the hate sheet White Man, appeared at the reservation flying a banner reading "Necessity Knows No Law." Baylor demanded that the soldiers hand over certain Indians whom he accused of crimes and declared that the soldiers would be treated as Indians if they attempted to resist. Baylor's party then killed an Indian woman and an elderly man and fled as the Indians mobilized to fight back. The Indians pursued Baylor's party and attacked it at a nearby ranch. The ensuring battle lasted all day and resulted in the deaths of an Indian chief and two whites.
Federal agent Robert Neighbors evacuated both the Brazos reservation and the nearby Comanche reservation in the summer of 1859, and the residents were escorted by U.S. troops to the Wichita agency in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Neighbors was killed by an assassin on his return to Fort Belknap. As for the Indians, many would soon lose their lives in the fighting between pro-Union and pro-Confederate tribes during the Civil War.
"A Negro Man Had the Courage to Charge Them"
The spring of 1858 saw a revival of the Texas Rangers as a fighting force. Under John S. "Rip" Ford, they moved north of the Red River to chastise a large band of Comanches and their allies. In this letter, Lieutenant Edward Burleson Jr. reports on a mission to pursue raiding Indians near the Brazos River reservation.
"A Frittering Away of the Public Money"
John Salmon Ford had served Texas as a military officer off and on since the Texas Revolution. He earned the nickname "Rip" during the Mexican War, after his practice of writing "Rest in Peace" on letters to the loved ones of those killed in battle. In 1858, the Texas Rangers were revitalized after a period of dormancy, with Ford leading the way in the defeat of the Indians in several major battles. This letter reveals Ford's views on the ongoing conflict on the frontier and also gives a personal glimpse of the man.
Proclamation of the Governor, March 1859
Comanches continued to perpetrate cruel atrocities against settlers of the frontier counties. Senselessly, many whites retaliated against the reservation Indians, who had nothing to do with the incidents. By 1859, the situation had become explosive. Governor Runnels canceled plans to move the Alabama-Coushattas to the reservations, fearing the tribe would be walking into a massacre. He issued this proclamation to the residents of the counties near the reservations, pleading for calm and reason.
Baylor Attacks the Reservation, May 1859
John R. Baylor, once an Indian agent, became a leading instigator of hatred and violence among the white settlers. He held mass meetings in the counties adjoining the reservations and raised a private army of vigilantes numbering as many as a thousand men. Baylor pursued his vendetta against the Indians until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he took over Arizona in the name of the Confederacy. Later, after Baylor ordered the extermination of the Apaches, Jefferson Davis removed him from power. Baylor continued to be involved in violent confrontations with both whites and Indians until his death in 1894 at the age of 72.
Runnels Appoints a Peace Commission, 1859
In June 1859, Governor Runnels appointed five prominent men to a Peace Commission and charged them with traveling to the Brazos County reservation to investigate the violence and prevent another outbreak. The commissioners were to hasten the departure of the Indians for new land in Indian Territory (Oklahoma). In the end, the commissioners clashed bitterly with Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors, who refused to accept their authority