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Battle of Plum Creek
Battle of Plum Creek. Seeking revenge for the killing of their chiefs during the Council House treaty negotiations in San Antonio in 1840, a force of Comanches embarked on a rampage through south Texas settlements. Returning to Plum Creek prairie near Austin, the Indians, decked out in stolen Anglo hats and clothing, were ultimately halted by a party of Texan volunteers, rangers, and militia. Painting by Lee Herring, courtesy of William Adams and the Institute of Texan Cultures.
Comanches chasing buffalo
Comanche Indians Chasing Buffalo. Detail of painting by George Catlin, (click image to see entire painting).

Their time was finished. Now they, and their way, would surrender to the dictates of the whites.

Cynthia Ann Parker
Cynthia Ann Parker, who was abducted by Comanches in Ft. Parker, Texas, in 1836. Some 25 years later, with her hair cut short as a sign of mourning, the mother of Quanah Parker was photographed after she was involuntarily returned to white society. She is shown holding daughter, Topsannah (Prairie Flower), who was to die within the next year. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection. Click for more detail.
Mirabeau B. Lamar
Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of the Texas Republic, overturned Sam Houston's more lenient Indian policy with a more forceful one, aimed at expelling all tribes from Texas. Image courtesy of the San Jacinto Museum of History, Houston.
US Indian frontier in 1840
U.S. Indian frontier in 1840, showing the positions of tribes that have been removed west of the Mississippi. (Click for full image.) Painting by George Catlin.

For longer than any Comanche could remember, the summer had been a time of eager anticipation. It was the time when preparations would begin for the great communal bison hunts—when whole villages would pack their tipis, ride out from the sheltering canyons of the Caprock, and find the great beasts that sustained the Comanche way of life.

But not this time.

On June 2, 1875, the Quahadi chief Quanah Parker led some 400 of the war-weary Comanche people into Fort Sill, Indian Territory. This time, they carried only a few possessions on their trek. This time, they would give up their weapons and their remaining ponies. It was their last act as The People they had been.

Their time was finished. Now they, and their way, would surrender to the dictates of the whites. Now they would hunt the bison only with permission, but even that time, too, would soon be gone.

Quanah's life story has become the stuff of Texas lore and legend. It begins in 1836 with the abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker, the young white girl who would one day become a Comanche wife and mother, who would later be recaptured by Texas Rangers, and who would die hopeless, unable either to see her Indian sons or to again become "white." It ends in 1911 with Quanah Parker—wealthy rancher, successful businessman, deputy sheriff—buried in full Comanche regalia.

Cynthia Ann would be reburied next to Quanah, mother and son rejoined at last after more than 50 years. But as its final irony, this essentially Texas story ends in an Oklahoma cemetery. In the end, Texas would not be Indian territory, not even for Quanah Parker.

The mythic dimensions of Quanah's story obscure the hard reality of the war along the Texas frontier. It was a conflict waged brutally and relentlessly, with "civilians" on both sides targeted as readily as soldiers and warriors, no quarter expected and none given. The pattern was already taking form by the mid-1830s. The attack on the Parker family compound left five white men dead, several women brutalized and left for dead, two other young women and three children carried away, among them Cynthia Ann, not yet a teenager.

The attack traumatized the Anglos, and galvanized them as well. Mirabeau B. Lamar, second president of the Republic of Texas, declared the policy of his administration in 1839. "The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together," Lamar said. "Nature forbids it." His solution 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."

Lamar was the architect of the first Texas attempt to accomplish what the government of the United States called "removal," the deportation of Indian tribes to places beyond the reach of white settlers. As pursued by the United States, the policy assumed there could be such a thing as a permanent Indian frontier—a line beyond which the various "removed" tribes would be able to carry on their lives free from white encroachment.

The United States had removed some 50,000 Indians from lands in the east to unorganized territory west of the Mississippi River. This opened approximately 100 million acres of eastern land to white settlement. To enforce the removal and, in theory, to protect the Indians in their new lands, a series of military posts was laid out on a roughly north-to-south line from a point on the upper Mississippi in present Minnesota to points near the Red River in present southeastern Oklahoma.

Unlike the U.S. government, however, Texas had no lands it was willing to set aside for the Indians. In Lamar's thinking, they would simply be driven beyond the Red River, where they would become the problem and responsibility of the United States.

To this end, John Henry Moore took a company of about 60 settlers from the vicinity of LaGrange and in January, 1839, rode up the Colorado River past its confluence with the Llano to look for Comanches. Already a veteran of more than 10 years of Texas frontier warfare, Moore included in his force the Lipan chief Castro and a group of his warriors, acting as scouts.

Moore led a dismounted attack into a surprised Comanche camp near the San Saba River, where his men killed a number of warriors in their teepees, and scattered the rest. But the Comanches regrouped, stole the attackers' horses, and escaped. The Lipans departed in disgust, leaving Moore and his men to a dangerous retreat down the Colorado on foot.

Quanah Parker
Quanah Parker, last war chief of the Quahadi Comanche.
Oklahoma
Map of Indian Territory, 1874, showing reservation and Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. Click for full map. Image courtesy of David Rumsey Collection.
Fort Parker
Fort Parker, a Limestone County compound built by the Parker family for protection against the Indians, was attacked in May 1836 by more than 500 Caddo and Comanche Indians. Silas Parker was killed and five individuals were captured, including 9-year-old Cynthia Ann Parker. Click to enlarge.
Volunteers
Volunteers mount up to search for Comanche raiders on the frontier. These citizens and militia groups were the forerunners of the Texas Rangers. Image courtesy Texas State Library and Archives.

The white man and the red man cannot dwell in harmony together. Nature forbids it….

Mirabeau B. Lamar, 1839

Indian encampment
Indian encampment. Texas volunteers mounted a series of attacks on Indians in their camps along the San Saba and in other areas, in an attempt to drive the Indians beyond the Red River and out of Texas. Inset of mural by Nola Davis, courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
church
Scene of church in main plaza in San Antonio, near the site of the brutal Council House fight. Detail of painting by Seth Eastman, courtesy of the McNay Art Museum. Click to see full image.

The Comanche reaction was outrage at the whites' treachery. To the Comanche, such negotiations were protected, not to be violated.

Map of Linnville Raid
Map of Linnville Raid and sites of battles between Comanches and whites in the early nineteenth century. Source: Poole, 1975. Click to enlarge.
Chief Placido
Tonkawa chief Placido and his warriors fought with Gen. Felix Huston's army against the Comanches at Plum Creek. The Tonkawa warrior celebrated their victory by taking a number of Comanche scalps. Engraving by T.J. Owen (the writer, O'Henry), as shown in Wilbarger, 1889.

Similar encounters occurred later in the year. One, an expedition to the Little River, resulted in the deaths of Captain John Bird, four other rangers, and an estimated 25 to 35 Indians. Although these expeditions served mostly to keep the frontier in a state of turmoil, they contributed to the southern Comanche bands requesting negotiations with the whites. The site for the talks was San Antonio, and the resulting debacle would assure that Comanches and Anglo-Texans would never live together in peace.

The whites had demanded that the Comanches bring in their white captives—believed to number about 200—as a sign of good faith in the peace talks. The Comanches expected to barter for the return of each captive, one at a time. This was unacceptable to the whites, who became infuriated by the physical condition of the one white captive who was brought in, a 16-year-old girl.

When white soldiers attempted to arrest the Comanche negotiators, a fight erupted inside the government building where the talks were being held, then spilled out into the street. Of the 65 or so Comanche men, women, and children caught in the melee, not one escaped. Twelve chiefs were killed. Six whites, including the county sheriff and a visiting judge, also were killed. About 30 of the Comanche women and children survived and were taken prisoner.

One Comanche woman was sent to the Indian camp outside San Antonio to deliver the demands: Bring in all white captives within 12 days, or all the Comanche hostages would die.

The Comanche reaction was outrage at the whites' treachery. To the Comanche, such negotiations were protected, not to be violated. They tortured and killed most of the 13 captives in their camp, then returned to the prairies without those of their own people still held in San Antonio. Although those hostages ultimately escaped or were exchanged by the whites, the "Council House Fight" would burn in the Comanche memory. From that point forward, the history of Comanche-white relations in Texas would be mostly a cyclical pattern of raid and retaliation.

The Linnville raid in August, 1840, was unprecedented in Anglo-Texan experience. Buffalo Hump, an important chief of the southern Comanche bands after the Council House Fight, led a force estimated as numbering between 600 and 1,000, including families of the warriors. The Comanches left some 15 white settlers and black slaves dead in Victoria en route to Linnville, on the Gulf coast. There they ransacked the town and killed three whites and two blacks. Most of the residents who survived did so by taking to the water in boats.

The Indians turned northwest toward their home range, driving a herd of 2,000 to 3,000 stolen horses by the time they reached the Plum Creek prairie southeast of Austin. There they met a force of Texas militia, rangers, civilian volunteers, and Tonkawa scouts under chief Placido. In the running fight that followed, some 80 Comanche warriors were killed in the space of about 15 miles. One white man died. The Tonkawas received citations for bravery.

Although the audacity of the raid had cost the Comanches dearly, they were not through paying. The following month, Moore again led a force up the Colorado River, this time well beyond the San Saba. With some 90 white men and 12 Lipans, he again struck a Comanche camp at dawn, this time on horseback. The Comanches lost about 125 dead. Moore's report indicated that the number included many shot down as they tried to run, women and children among them.

Such events would recur many times in the coming decades.

When Texas joined the Union, nearly 10 years had passed since Cynthia Ann Parker had been taken from her family by Indian raiders. White settlement had moved north and west, out of the woodlands and onto the prairies. But nothing about the frontier experience had changed. Nowhere else on the Great Plains were red and white-occupied lands in such proximity. Nowhere was the conflict between these two cultures more brutal. And nowhere would it last longer.

 

Matilda Lockhart
Burning the soles of Matilda Lockhart's feet to prevent her escape. Comanches brought only one white captive to barter with at the Council House meeting in San Antonio. Her deplorable condition infuriated whites, who attempted to arrest the Comanche leaders. Nineteenth-century woodcut engraving by T.J. Owen (a pseudonym for the author known as O'Henry) as shown in Wilbarger, 1889.
Mary Maverick
Early San Antonio resident Mary Maverick was a witness to the Council House fight, an event she described in her diary as a "a day of horrors." Here she is shown with her children.

Nowhere else on the Great Plains were red and white-occupied lands in such close proximity. Nowhere was the conflict between these two cultures more brutal. And nowhere would it last longer.

settlers
Western settlers being attacked by Indians. Harper's Weekly, 1870.

Credits and Sources

The Die Is Cast was written by Steve Dial, Contributing Editor for Texas Beyond History (see Supporters and Contributors).

Print Sources

Catlin, George
1926 North American Indians, Vol. II. John Grant, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Fehrenbach, T.R.
1968 Lone Star. Collier Books, New York, paperback edition 1980.

1979 Comanches: The Destruction of a People. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

Green, Rena Maverick, ed.
1989 Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick. University of Texas Press, Lincoln. Reprinted from 1921 edition, Alamo Printing Company, San Antonio.

Haley, James L.
1976 The Buffalo War. Doubleday, Garden City, N.Y. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, paperback edition 1985.

Utley, Robert M.
1984 The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.
2002 Lone Star Justice. Oxford University Press, New York.

Wallace, Ernest and E. Adamson Hoebel
1952 The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, paperback edition, 1986.

Wilbarger, J. W.
1889 Indian Depredations in Texas. Hutchings Printing House, Austin.

Links

http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/
Handbook of Texas Online. An excellent source for more detail on people and events in early Texas including: John Bird; Buffalo Hump; Council House Fight; Linnville Raid of 1840; John Henry Moore; Cynthia Ann Parker; Quanah Parker; and Battle of Plum Creek.

http://www.tamu.edu/ccbn/dewitt/badam2.htm
Sons of Dewitt Colony Texas website. Provides detailed information, photographs, and excerpts from primary documents covering the Dewitt Colony and the 1700 to 1846 time period in Texas.