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The Most Dangerous Prairie in Texas

Battle of the Little Wichita
Battle of the Little Wichita, north. Kiowa chief Kicking Bird's last raid into Texas in 1870 engaged a contingent of 6th Cavalry from Fort Richardson. Painting by Nola Davis, courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Fort Richardson SHS.
Photo historic marker for the site of the Warren Wagon Train Massacre
The attack on the Warren wagon train jolted General William T. Sherman out of his skepticism regarding conditions on the northern Texas frontier. Sherman sent Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, 4th Cavalry, on a succession of campaigns from Forts Richardson and Griffin that reflected a new aggressive strategy against the Plains Indians.

Raid and battle sites map
Raid and battle sites across the "most dangerous prairie."
Quanah Parker
Quanah Parker, Quahahda Comanche chief, shown with buffalo robe, circa 1867-1874. The photo is one of the earliest known of the famed leader. Courtesy Center for American History, U.T.-Austin.
sketch by Catlin
Comanche Indians exhibiting their hunting skills for U.S. Army dragoons on plains north of Texas, ca. 1830. Sketch by George Catlin.
Gen. William Jenkins Worth
Gen. William Jenkins Worth, for whom Fort Worth was named. Painting circa 1848, Library of Congress.

None of these posts—those of the new "second line" any more than those of the earlier "first line" —inconvenienced the Comanche and the Kiowa in the slightest degree.

Ft. Phantom Hill
Guardhouse at Fort Phantom Hill, one of the few stone structures at the post. The post's undependable well is in front of the structure. Photo by Susan Dial.

By historical reckoning, the rolling fields and pastures between the West Fork of the Trinity River and the Clear Fork of the Brazos embrace the most dangerous ground in northern Texas. The traveler from Jacksboro to Throckmorton does not have to deviate far from U.S. Highway 380 to discover why. The headings on state historical markers tell the story:

Warren Wagon Train Massacre.

Little Salt Creek Indian Fight.

Grave of Negro Frontiersman Britt Johnson.

Indian Raid on Elm Creek, C.S.A.

A drive totaling less than 150 miles will bring the traveler also upon the more substantial evidence of a 30-year struggle over this country. Forts Belknap and Phantom Hill, along with Camp Cooper, represent the U.S. Army's attempts, first, to shield white settlements from Indian raids, then to contain hostile bands on Texas reservations. Forts Richardson and Griffin are testaments to the army's ultimate solution to the problem of Indian-white relations on the northwestern Texas frontier.

This country had comprised the easternmost portion of the southern Plains bison range. In prehistoric times, it had been something of a crossroads for plains and woodland peoples, and in the early 1800s Comanche, Wichita, and Caddo could be encountered there. By mid-century, a number of Comanche bands were prominent in the area.

The Nokoni plied the region between the Brazos River and the Red. Their chief, usually called Peta Nocona by Anglo-Texans, took the white captive Cynthia Ann Parker as his wife. The band was among the most nomadic of the Comanche, and after Peta's death they became known as "The Wanderers." They may have been related to the band least known to the whites, the Quahadi, whose home range lay to the west, high on the plains of the Llano Estacado. The last war leader of the Quahadi would be Quanah—memorialized in Texas history as Quanah Parker, the son of Peta Nocona and Cynthia Ann Parker. Quanah's band would be the last of the Comanche to submit to white dominion.

Farther north were the lands of the Kotsoteka band, who preferred the lands drained by the Canadian River. Farther still were the Yamparika, whose villages usually lay between the Canadian River and the Arkansas in the southwestern quarter of modern Kansas.

By the early 1800s, the Comanche had formed a strong alliance with the Kiowa, with whom they shared the bison range. Although numerically weaker than the aggregate of the Comanche bands, the Kiowa were somewhat more cohesive and even more fierce and brutal raiders.

Fingers of white settlement crept up the Trinity and Brazos rivers toward this country in the early 1840s. In 1841 Edward H. Tarrant led a company of militia against settlements of Caddo, Cherokee and Tonkawa along a tributary of the upper Trinity River known as Village Creek. The badly outnumbered attackers withdrew after inflicting and receiving light casualties, but when Tarrant and a larger force returned a few months later, the villages had been abandoned.

In that year, the land-rich but cash-poor Republic of Texas authorized a number of empresario arrangements to increase immigration. One of the recipients of the new land grants was William S. Peters, who initially contracted to settle 200 families in an area drained by the upper Trinity. Additional contracts expanded the size of the grant to an enormous block of territory running from the Red River to southeast of modern Dallas, then west nearly to modern Abilene, then north to the Red River again.

As white settlement moved onto the prairies after the end of the Mexican War, the northwestern frontier of Texas was especially vulnerable to the northern Comanche and Kiowa bands. With the war concluded, the army was charged with protecting a vast expanse of new territory, and Texas politicians were agitating for a defensive screen between the white settlements and Comanchería—the Spanish-Mexican term for the Comanche range.

In 1849, a company of the U.S. Army's 2nd Dragoons established a post on the West Fork of the Trinity River. It was named Fort Worth, in honor of Brevet Major General William Jenkins Worth, commander of the 8th Military Department (later, the Department of Texas). Until its abandonment in 1853, Fort Worth was a link in a chain of forts that included Fort Graham and Fort Gates in the northern prairie region, and extended south to the Alsatian and German immigrant settlements west of San Antonio.

The concept of the 1849 line was fatally flawed. The posts were too close to the settlements and manned primarily by infantry who lacked the ability to intercept incoming Comanche and Kiowa raiders or to effectively pursue them. The army's answer to this problem was a new defensive line, this one well in advance of the westernmost settlements. Army Captain Randolph B. Marcy had been dispatched to determine a direct military route from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to Santa Fe in 1849. His return route crossed the prairie-plains of western Texas, and in 1851 that route inspired a new chain of frontier forts.

The northernmost of these was Fort Belknap, about 80 miles northwest of Fort Worth on the Brazos River. Roughly 80 miles southwest of Belknap—just north of modern Abilene—was a post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, known unofficially as Fort Phantom Hill. About the same distance further to the southwest, Fort Chadbourne was established on a tributary of the Colorado River.

Prairie northeast of Fort Griffin
Prairie northeast of Fort Griffin, at the site of the Warren wagon train massacre in 1871. Photo by Susan Dial.

Click images to enlarge  

bison
Bison in north Texas. The prairie-plains region was part of the range of the huge southern herd, a commodity fiercely fought over by Indians and Anglo hunters in the mid-to late nineteenth century.
Comanche and Kiowa divisions
Approximate locations of Comanche and Kiowa divisions in the Texas Panhandle and prairie-plains during the nineteenth century.
forts and settlements before 1855
Forts and settlements on the prairie-plains frontier before 1855.
Ft. Bellknap
Commisary at Fort Belknap. Northernmost of the so-called "second-line forts that were established in the early 1850s," Belknap garrisoned the 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th Cavalry as well as the 2nd Dragoons over its long history. Photo by Susan Dial.
ruins of Ft. Phantom
Ruins of Fort Phantom near Abilene. The post was cursed with scarce wood and poor water was abandoned by the Army after only five years. One lieutenant wrote that it "was never intended for a white man to occupy such a barren waste." Photo by Steve Dial.
Ft. Chadbourne
Long barracks at Fort Chadbourne. Located on a tributary of the upper Colorado River, Fort Chadbourne was one of the most isolated of the "second line" posts constructed by the Army in the early 1850s. Its importance increased when it became a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route in 1858. Some of the building remains on the site today are believed to be those of the Butterfield station. Ruins of the long barracks and other post buildings are on private land, and are being stabilized and preserved by the landowners. Photo by Susan Dial.
Prairie-plains frontier after 1855.
Prairie-plains frontier after 1855.
Photo of powder magazine at Fort Belknap.
Powder magazine at Fort Belknap. A powder magazine, or armory, was usually one of the first, and most secure, structures erected at a frontier army post. The magazine at Fort Belknap would have stored the post's powder, lead, and other munitions. It is the only original structure remaining at the fort site.

Camp Cooper
Ruins of house at Camp Cooper. The post, established in 1856, was situated on a bend of the Clear Fork near the heart of the Upper Reserve. The site is now on private land. Photo by Bob Stiba.
Cynthia Ann Parker
Cynthia Ann Parker with daughter, Prairie Flower, circa 1860-1870. Parker, who had been kidnapped by Comanches in the 1836, went on to adopt Indian ways, marrying an Indian warrior and bearing two sons, one of whom was future chief Quanah. Photo courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.

Texas authorities were so anxious to have the Indians gone that, in the abruptness of their departure, they were forced to leave most of their possessions behind. It would not be the last time the Tonkawa were so rewarded for their fealty to Texans.

cannon at Ft. Griffin
Cannon at Fort Belknap. Although they were used infrequently during the Plains Indian wars, artillery could usually be found at a frontier Army post. Civilians obtained home-made cannon for their private forts, to be used in the event of Indian attack. The little guns produced smoke and noise, but seldom any casualties.
Comanche camp
Comanche camp. Camps such as this were targeted by the Army using a strategic policy of striking the non-reservation Indians where they lived in Indian Territory. Women and children were frequent casualties of the aggressive campaigns.Photo by William Soule, courtesy of Wichita State University.
Map of forts, roads and trails after 1866 in the Prairie-Plains region.
Forts, roads and trails after 1866 in the Prairie-Plains region.

None of these posts—those of the new "second line" any more than those of the earlier "first line"—inconvenienced the Comanche and the Kiowa in the slightest degree. During the years 1848-1855, only two engagements with Indians were fought by troops from any of these posts. One of those was an Indian attack on soldiers at Fort Chadbourne. Phantom Hill, with poor wood and worse water, was soon abandoned by the army. Fort Belknap was relegated to guarding the reservations the state had established for some of its Indians.

After years of prodding by U.S. officials, the Texas legislature in 1854 authorized the creation of two reservations, one on the Brazos River below Fort Belknap, and the other, the "Upper Reserve," on the Clear Fork. The Brazos Reservation housed some 1,000 Anadarko, Caddo,Tawakoni,Tonkawa, and Waco Indians. The Upper Reserve was able to attract only about 450 of the Penateka Comanche—"Honey Eaters"—who had ranged mostly south of the Brazos River. The job of the army was to keep these Indians on their reservations, and to keep white settlers away from them.

The forts in the region soon took on a new role, however. The arrival of the army's 2nd Cavalry late in 1855 presaged a dramatic change in military strategy. Its commanding officer was Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston, a veteran of several Indian campaigns and a former secretary of war of the Republic of Texas. Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee was second in command.

The companies of the 2nd Cavalry were dispersed along a line that mimicked the "second line" of forts, but generally placed the horse soldiers closer to established settlements where grain for the regiment's animals was more available. Lee, who was effectively in command for much of the regiment's tour in Texas, took station at Camp Cooper, established in 1856 on the Clear Fork near the heart of the Upper Reserve. Most of the "second line" forts then became bivouac, rendezvous, and supply points for the wide-ranging troopers as they scouted for Indian trails, intercepting and pursuing the raiders they could find.

Another strategic change was a policy of striking the non-reservation Indians where they lived-in the Indian Territory north of the Red River. The most ambitious of these campaigns followed a Texas ranger model. In the spring of 1858, veteran Indian fighter John S. "Rip" Ford received a gubernatorial appointment as "senior captain commanding Texas frontier." With a hundred or so rangers, and about an equal number of Brazos reservation Indians led by agent Shapley Ross, Ford struck the Canadian River camp of the Kotsoteka chief Iron Jacket in the Antelope Hills of the Indian Territory. Iron Jacket and 75 other Comanche were killed by the combined attack force, which lost two killed and three wounded. An additional 18 Indians were captured, mostly women and children, as well as about 300 horses. The village and its contents were destroyed.

Four months after Ford's return, a force of 2nd Cavalry under senior Captain Earl Van Dorn moved into the Indian Territory with a detachment of the 1st Infantry and 60 Indian auxiliaries from the Brazos agency. The Indians were led by the agent's 20-year-old son, Lawrence S. "Sul" Ross. They spied a large number of Comanche-—Buffalo Hump and his Penateka band—camped near a Wichita village in the valley of Rush Creek. Van Dorn struck the Comanche camp at dawn. The fight lasted for more than an hour, and when the surviving Comanches fled, they left 56 warriors and two women dead on the field. Van Dorn lost one officer and four enlisted men killed. He, Ross, and nine enlisted men were seriously wounded.

In the Spring of 1859, Van Dorn again led a force beyond the Red River, this time attacking a Kotsoteka village on Crooked Creek, in modern Kansas. Two enlisted men died and 10 were wounded, along with two officers and two Indian scouts. None of the Comanches escaped; 50 were killed, 50 were wounded, and 37 (32 of them women) were captured.

The army's aggressiveness did not stop Comanches from raiding in Texas, nor their Kiowa allies. But on the eve of the Civil War, the army and Texas rangers were trading the Indians blow for blow. In mid-December of 1860, a company of rangers under "Sul" Ross combined with a detachment of the 2nd Cavalry to attack a Comanche camp on the Pease River. The captured villagers included Cynthia Ann Parker and her daughter. Ross reported that Peta Nocona was among the 14 Comanche dead. Although his son, Quanah, later disputed that assertion, evidence suggests that Peta died at or about that time, perhaps from wounds received in that battle.

One of the last large undertakings of the 2nd Cavalry was to assist in the removal of the Texas reservation Indians to the Indian Territory. Almost from the beginning, white settlers had coveted the reservation lands. Raids by northern Comanche and Kiowa, as well as white thievery, were blamed on the reservation Indians. The bands living on the Brazos Reserve—the Tonkawa especially—were doubly wronged, as they probably were innocent of most charges and had served as valued scouts and warriors with the rangers and the army.

Attacks on the reservation Indians increased nonetheless, and in 1859 agent Robert Neighbors succeeded in obtaining new lands for them north of the Red River. The 2nd Cavalry's Major George Thomas led an army escort that accompanied the Indians on their journey. Texas authorities were so anxious to have the Indians gone that, in the abruptness of their departure, they were forced to leave most of their possessions behind. It would not be the last time the Tonkawa were so rewarded for their fealty to Texans.

Secession and the Civil War threw frontier settlers back onto their own resources and methods. The state's efforts—establishment of the Frontier Regiment of full-time soldiers and, later, the militia-style Frontier Organization—were significant, but they were not nearly enough to protect the settlers from the newly emboldened Indian raiders. At war's end, settlement clung tenuously to the outlying counties. With state-financed defenses prohibited during the Reconstruction period, the frontier began to depopulate and dissolve.

The October, 1864, Elm Creek Raid in Young County was typical of the trauma of those years. A force of Kiowa and Comanche estimated at 700 warriors struck a string of farmsteads along Elm Creek near its confluence with the Brazos River above Fort Belknap . Eleven settlers—men, women, and children, black and white—were killed, and seven women and children, including the wife and two of the children of black frontiersman Britton Johnson, were carried away. Eleven houses were sacked or burned. The raiders eluded pursuit and returned to the Indian Territory.

Johnson would make four trips into the Comancheria to recover what remained of his family (the Indians had killed his oldest son during the raid). All the white captives but one also would be returned. Other frontier folk would not be so courageous, skillful, resolute, or lucky as Johnson. A compilation of reports from several—but not all—frontier counties showed 163 settlers killed by Indians, 24 wounded, and 43 carried off from the summer of 1865 through the summer of 1867.

Although returning to Texas en masse in mid-1865, the U.S. Army was slow to either recognize or respond to the frontier situation. Mounted troops did not return to the upper Brazos area until 1866, with modest detachments of the 6th Cavalry posted at civilian settlements at Jacksboro, Weatherford, and Waco.

Painting of Plains Indians riding horses.
Plains Indian Camp. The horse changed the way of life of the Comanche, and came to be one of the defining cultural attributes of the southern Plains Indians. Painting by Nola Davis, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Upper Reserve
Site of the Upper Reserve, one of two Texas Indian reservations intended to control Indians on the northern Texas plains. The reservation was populated chiefly by Comanches. Photo by Susan Dial.
Photo of Robert Neighbors' gravesite in cemetery near Fort Belknap.
Robert Neighbors' gravesite in cemetery near Fort Belknap. Frontiersman, soldier, and Indian agent, Neighbors faithfully served the Republic of Texas and the U.S. government during the 1840s-1850s.
Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee
Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee, commander of Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.
Johnson, chief of Tonkawa scouts under Ranald Mackenzie in north Texas. Although the skills of the Tonkawa scouts were greatly valued by the Army, the tribe was ultimately betrayed by the United States. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones, III. View large image.
Black and white photo of Plains Indian women and children butchering a cow or steer obtained during a reservation "beef issue."
Beef issue. Food, clothing, and other supplies were used as inducements to attract Plains Indians to leave their semi-nomadic lifestyle and move to reservations. The women and children in this 1892 photograph are butchering a cow or steer obtained during a reservation "beef issue." Photo courtesy of NAA-SI.
Elm Creek raid marker
Site of the Elm Creek raid in 1864 in which 12 people were killed and 6 women and children kidnapped by Comanches.

Saturday Aug 5/65. The weather is hot and dreary. Times are hard and bad. Indians thick and plenty trying to brake (sic) our country. I heard they had robed (sic) Ike Nickersons house the other day over on hubbard’s creek. If we don’t get protection shortly and the Indians continue to do as they have been doing for a month back the country will certainly brake up.
-Excerpt from Diary of Susan E. Newcomb, Fort Davis, Stephens County, Texas, 1865.

Officers quarters and cannons at Fort Griffin. The post was established in 1867 downstream from old Camp Cooper. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Jones, III.
Hospital at Ft. Richardson
Hospital at Fort Richardson. Photo by Susan Dial.
A standard feature of frontier Army life, prostitutes established "cribs" near Forts Griffin and Richardson to attract soldiers in the days and weeks following payday. This collection of log picket structures at Fort Richardson was known as "Island Home." Photo courtesy of Lawrence T. Jones,III. View large image.
Kicking Bird
Kiowa Chief Kicking Bird. Courtesy of National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (BAE 1381 A).
sketch by Miner Kellogg
"Sacred to the memory of seven brave men killed by Indians at this place on May 18, 1871…." Sketch drawn by Miner Kellogg in 1872 of Salt Creek Prairie monument erected by area residents after the Warren Wagon train attack. Center for American History, U.T.-Austin.

A year later, the 6th Cavalry established Fort Griffin (originally known as Camp Wilson) on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, downstream from old Camp Cooper and the site of the former Comanche reservation. The Jacksboro post was named Fort Richardson in 1868. The forts were first garrisoned primarily by the 6th Cavalry. Infantry companies were added in 1869, and companies of the 4th Cavalry arrived at both posts in 1870.

The 6th Cavalry did not distinguish itself during its Texas tour of duty, although it fought more than 20 engagements in five years. In 1870, a 60-man command attacked the Kiowa camp of Kicking Bird, quickly found itself outnumbered and outflanked, and was forced into a six-hour fighting retreat. The army awarded 18 Congressional Medals of Honor for this action. One historian has, nonetheless, described the regiment's performance in Texas as "lethargic."


Unlike the free rein given to the 2nd Cavalry before the Civil War, the post-war Army was constrained to some degree by the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 and President U.S. Grant's so-called "Peace Policy." The treaty called for the Comanche and Kiowa to go onto a combined reservation at the southwestern corner of the Indian Territory, just north of the Red River. The U.S. government was to provide them rations and other essentials, and they were to leave the reservation only to hunt buffalo. The army had authority to enforce this policy, but only against the chiefs that had signed the treaty, and even then only to the extent of rounding up and returning the bands caught off the reservation.


The situation changed dramatically in 1871. As the raids against Texas settlements continued unabated, Texas politicians complained to the Grant administration. No traveler on the northwestern prairie was safe. In January, about 25 Kiowa ambushed Britton Johnson and three other black freighters. Teamsters who found their mutilated bodies reported 173 spent rifle shells at the spot where Britt Johnson's skill, resolve, and courage finally were not enough.

William T. Sherman, commanding general of the army, embarked on a tour of inspection across the Texas frontier in the spring, on the new "line" of forts—McKavett and Concho on the Edwards Plateau, Griffin and Richardson on the northern prairie. He traveled through Young County with a light escort, although 14 settlers had been reported killed there since January. He was accompanied by Colonel Randolph Marcy who, on May 17, wrote in his journal that the prairie-plains country did not contain as many white settlers as it had when he was last there in 1853.

The day after Marcy's entry, more than 100 Indians, mostly Kiowa led by Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree, let Sherman's entourage pass the Little Salt Creek Prairie unmolested, then attacked a train of wagons owned by freighter Henry Warren. The wagon master and five teamsters were killed outright. A sixth was tortured to death. Five escaped. One of the escapees reached Fort Richardson and told the story to Sherman and Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie, the new commander of the 4th Cavalry, headquartered at the post.

Sherman sent Mackenzie in pursuit of the raiders, then continued on to Fort Sill, on the Comanche-Kiowa reservation, where Indian agent Lawrie Tatum expressed his concern that his charges had been marauding in Texas. Summoned by Tatum, Satanta boasted of his role in the Warren wagon train massacre. After a tense confrontation in which 10th Cavalry commander Benjamin Grierson saved Sherman from a Kiowa bullet, Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree were arrested. Mackenzie came in shortly thereafter to report that the Indians' trail had been lost in the rain near the Red River.

A battery of field artillery is parked next to the post guardhouse in this photograph taken at Fort Richardson. Photo courtesy of Lawrence T. Jones, III. View large image.
Gen. William Sherman
Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, circa 1860-1865. Sherman narrowly escaped death on the north Texas prairies during an inspection tour of Texas forts in 1874, prompting him to write to Texas Gov. Edmond J. Davis that if the guilty Indians "are to have scalps that yours should be taken." Click to read Sherman letter.
Historic marker for site of battle between Kiowas and black frontiersman Britt Johnson and other freighters in 1871.
Site of battle between Kiowas and black frontiersman Britt Johnson and other freighters in 1871.
Warren Wagon train attack
Sketch depicting Warren Wagon train attack by T.J. Owen (the writer O.Henry.)
Santanta
Satanta, one of three Kiowa leaders arrested for their role in the Warren Wagon Train massacre. Photo courtesy of the National Anthropological Archives, Smithsonian Institution (BAE 1386 C).
Satank
Satank, also known as Sitting Bear, was killed while trying to escape from his Army captors. Photo by William Soule circa 1868-1874. Courtesy of National Archives.
Big Tree
Big Tree, Kiowa leader. After his arrest for his role in the Warren Wagon Train massacre, the chief was sentenced to hang at Jacksboro, along with Satanta, but the death sentences were commuted by Gov. Edmond J. Davis.
Photo of barracks at Fort Richardson
Barracks, Fort Richardson. The Army's post-Civil War forts on the north Texas plains were not in use long enough for major construction projects to be undertaken. Log "pickets" were used to build the walls of many structures, such as this enlisted men's barracks at Fort Richardson. Gaps between the pickets would be chinked with mud or plaster and various combinations of straw, cattails, small rocks, and twigs. These buildings deteriorated quickly. Photo by Susan Dial.

Laurie Tatum
Indian agent Laurie Tatum, shown with returned Mexican captives.

The three Kiowa leaders were sent by wagon to Jacksboro to stand trial for murder. While en route, Satank overpowered and badly wounded a guard, then was killed trying to escape. Satanta and Big Tree were tried with the expected result-both were sentenced to hang. Eastern "peace politics" intervened, however, and Reconstruction Governor Edmund J. Davis commuted the sentences to life imprisonment. Within two years, both Indians were paroled.

But the significance of events on the Little Salt Creek Prairie—"the most dangerous prairie in Texas"—was that they were the beginning of the end of the Peace Policy. Sherman dispatched Mackenzie on a series of expeditions to the unmapped Llano Estacado. The Quahadi and Kotsoteka were harried from their camps and, more importantly, Mackenzie learned the Caprock's plains and canyons and Quanah's ways and wiles. That information would serve him well at the Palo Duro Canyon in 1874, the site of the climactic engagement of the campaign to be known as the Red River War.

Mackenzie's expeditions did not take him into the Indian Territory, bust in all other meaningful respects they were replications of the 1858 and 1859 campaigns of "Rip" Ford and Earl Van Dorn. They involved primarily mounted troops, operating at long distance from fixed supply bases. They relied on Indian auxiliaries —especially Tonkawa—to scout the unfamiliar territory and find the Comanche camps. They killed few Indians, but they visited destruction and devastation on those camps, on the shelters, the supplies, the horse herds.

The result was that all of the Comanche and Kiowa bands were on the reservation by the end of 1875. Only sporadic fights between the soldiers of the U.S. army and the northern Indians occurred in Texas thereafter. The army abandoned Fort Richardson in 1878, Fort Griffin in 1881.

The war for the southern Plains was over.


Painting of soldiers searching for tracks of Indian ponies
Tracking. The Army relied on regular cavalry patrols to try to intercept raiding Indians. These missions were commonly called "scouts," and usually involved small detachments of soldiers searching pre-determined areas in hope of finding recent tracks of Indian ponies. Painting by Nola Davis, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Fort Richardson SHS.
Ft. Elliot
Officers at Fort Elliott, last U.S. Army post established on the southern Plains. Photo from "Our Indian Summer in the Far West," courtesy Texas State Archives and Library.