The Comanche War

Comanche Indian groupThe Comanches had commanded the high plains of Central and West Texas for more than a century and waged continuous warfare against white encroachment. President Lamar was determined to end the Comanche menace and clear the way for safe white settlement on the edges of the Texas frontier.

In early 1840, one band of the Comanches, the Penatekas, found themselves dealing with a smallpox epidemic, Texas Rangers, and war with the Cheyennes and Arapahos. At the urging of Colonel Henry W. Karnes, this band traveled to San Antonio to meet with commissioners of the Texas government to negotiate a peace settlement and the return of white captives. Unknown to the Comanches, the Texans had arranged to have a large force present at the meeting. If the Comanches balked at returning the kidnapped whites, this force would seize the Comanches and hold them hostage.

On March 19, 1840, the Comanches arrived at the meeting with only a few of the prisoners, including Matilda Lockhart, a 16-year-old who bore obvious signs of torture and mutilation. Angered at the treatment of the girl and what they perceived to be deliberate cruelty by the Comanches in failing to bring the rest of the captives, Texas soldiers entered the Council House to arrest the Indians. The Comanches immediately called for reinforcements from outside the house. A fight broke out in which seven Texans and thirty-five Comanches, including twelve chiefs, were killed, and thirty Comanche women and children were taken prisoner.

The Comanches believed they had been deliberately lured into an ambush and planned a revenge campaign of unprecedented scale. In August 1840, with Mexican and Kiowa support, about 500 Comanche warriors and an equal number of women and children followed Chief Buffalo Hump down the Guadalupe Valley near Gonzales. On August 6, the raiders struck Victoria and captured more than 1500 horses. On August 8, they attacked the small port of Linnville. Most of the citizens fled by boat into the bay and watched helplessly as the Indians plundered homes and businesses, slaughtered the livestock, and burned the town. In all, fourteen whites, eight blacks, and one Tejano were killed in the raids.

The Comanche triumph was short-lived. On August 12, at Plum Creek near present-day Lockhart, they were intercepted by Texan forces under Felix Huston and Edward Burleson. The Indians were caught by surprise and routed, with a loss of more than eighty men and most of their plunder. The Texans suffered one man killed and seven wounded.

In October 1840, Colonel John H. Moore led a force into Comanche territory and attacked their village on the Red Fork of the Colorado River. Moore's troops killed about 130 warriors and took 34 prisoners. With this devastating loss, the Comanches moved away from the Texas frontier and turned their raiding attentions to Mexico.

Karnes to Johnston, 1840

Colonel Henry Karnes to the Secretary of War, 1840

On January 9, 1840, a group of Comanches visited Colonel Henry W. Karnes in San Antonio and asked for peace negotiations in exchange for the return of American prisoners. Karnes, still convalescing from an arrow wound sustained in the Arroyo Seco fight in 1839, was suspicious of the Indians' motives but recommended to Secretary of War Albert Sidney Johnston that a commission be appointed to meet with the Indians.

 


Texas Indian Papers Volume 1, #74. Letter from Henry W. Karnes to Albert Sidney Johnston, January 10, 1840.

Colonel Hugh McLeod Describes the Council House Fight, 1840

The Comanches believed that the Texans were eager to buy peace and the return of white captives. They considered captives legitimate spoils of war and were oblivious to the rage that the Texans felt over the torture and humiliation suffered by their loved ones. When the Comanches realized they were to be taken hostage by the Texans, a furious melee broke out. To the Indians, the Council House Fight was a profound shock that proved the whites' treachery. Peace between the two peoples would prove impossible to find.

 


Appendix to the Journals to the House of Representatives, Fifth Congress.

McLeod Report on Council House Fight, 1840
Felix Huston to Branch Archer, 1840

Felix Huston's Report on the Battle of Plum Creek, 1840

In the past, Comanche armies had driven out the Apaches and the Mexicans. Now, Chief Buffalo Hump used the same strategy against the Texans. Buffalo Hump's huge raids on Gonzales and Linnville rocked the Texans as nothing had since Santa Anna's offensive four years earlier. But the Comanches had misjudged the response. Scores of Texas militiamen and rangers set off in pursuit of the Indians. The battle at Plum Creek was a total victory for the Texans and a disaster for the Comanches.


Andrew Jackson Houston Papers #1966. Felix Huston to Secretary of War Branch Archer, August 12, 1840.

"They Must Be Getting Very Tired of Such a War"

The news of the victory at Plum Creek spread quickly. Many Texans were energized and ready to move to annihilate the Comanches once and for all.


Andrew Jackson Houston Papers #1966. Newspaper clipping, Texas Sentinel, August 15, 1840.

Texas Sentinel, August 1840

Texas Sentinel, November 1840

"Severiest Chastisement the Comanches Have Ever Received"

After his defeat of the Comanches at the Red River, Colonel John H. Moore carved his name on the ruins of the old Spanish presidio at San Sabá, site of the notorious Comanche massacre in 1758.


Andrew Jackson Houston Papers #1966. Newspaper clipping, Texas Sentinel, November 14, 1840.


In This Section: Expulsion of the Cherokees -The Comanche War -
Treaty Negotiations - Trade
Next Section - Table of Contents - HOME

Page last modified: October 3, 2011