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Title: Fort Concho - Its Why and Wherefore
Author: Gregory, J. N.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                          _FORT CONCHO MUSEUM
                           San Angelo, Texas_

_A people who take no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestry
will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered with pride by remote

The Department of the Interior on October 7, 1961 designated this Fort
as a National Historic Landmark.

    [Illustration: Fort Concho

    [Illustration: Fort Concho: Its Why and Wherefore]

                              Fort Concho
                         ITS WHY AND WHEREFORE

                             J. N. Gregory

                         _Cover by A. J. Redd_

                          First Printing 1957
                          Second Printing 1962
                          Third Printing 1970

                          _NEWSFOTO YEARBOOKS_
                          _San Angelo, Texas_

                             to the pioneer
                             men and women
                           of our Southwest.


Many people who visit the Fort Concho Museum and look over the parade
ground and buildings of old Fort Concho, naturally ask the question,
“Why did the United States Government build a fort in this place, and
what did the fort accomplish?”

The object of this pamphlet is to answer that question, and to present
the answer to the inquiring visitor at as small a cost as the printer
makes possible.

Two maps of Texas will be found in the envelope at the back of the
pamphlet. The smaller is a reproduction of one published in 1856, not
too accurate from a geographic standpoint, but as accurate as the
knowledge of the times allowed. The other map, accurate from the
geographic point of view, endeavors to show the locations of some
thirty-four forts and camps that were established and built by our War
Department on the Texas Frontier during the Indian days.

The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that brought to a close the war between
the United States and Mexico, February 2, 1848, and the subsequent
Gadsden Purchase of 1853, set the plan for the present boundaries
between the two countries. A vast area of plains, deserts and mountains,
an unmapped and untraveled wilderness was now owned by the Northern
Republic. It was inhabited mostly by Comanche, Apache, Kiowa and other
warlike Indian tribes, and it stretched from the settlements of South
and East Texas, and from the lower Missouri River area to the new
American settlements on the Pacific Coast.

Great events were in the making when in California in 1848, gold nuggets
were found in the tailrace of Sutter’s Mill. The word passed around
quickly, and the first modern international gold rush was on. It put the
first sizeable amounts of precious metals into the coffers of the
nations of the world since the Spanish Conquistadores ransacked the
treasure houses of Peru and Mexico. It brought about modern mining
practices, and before the end of the century, the search for gold was so
international and intense that comparable strikes had been made in South
Africa, Australia, Canada and Alaska, resulting in fresh redistribution
of populations, not only in the United States but also in other portions
of the world. The problems accompanying such redistribution were
plentiful, and they are still plaguing us to this day.

But the lure that led men to our West was not gold alone. The El Dorado
of man’s dreams, be it a gold vein, oil patch, store on Main Street,
cattle ranch, or farm in Peaceful Valley, can very well lie in any new
and unexplored lands. So it was then. Few men could afford for
themselves, families and belongings the cost of passage by sailing ship,
around the Horn or by portage at the Isthmus of Panama, from Boston, New
York, Charleston, New Orleans, Galveston or Indianola, to San Francisco.
Besides that, a fellow who was bent on making a trip liked to look over
the country lying between home and his proposed destination. So, many
found their El Dorado, not on the Pacific Coast but along the trails
between the Great River and the Pacific Ocean.

The inhabitants of the crowded East and the folks of the South felt
their race-old urge to get on the move towards more freedom and
opportunity. Old windy Horace Greeley was soon to advise, “Go West,
Young Man.” So go West they did, young and old, first by small companies
on horseback or in buckboards, then later by trains of covered wagons
which carried their families and all earthly possessions, grouped
together for companionship as well as for protection against the

Population movements in the United States have generally gone from East
to West in parallel lines, once the Atlantic seaboard was settled. And
so this great gold movement from East to West brought settlement of the
intermediate lands between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean
by the natural contrasting types of North-South peoples.

The great Oregon and Santa Fe Trails serviced the people of the more
northerly parts of our country, but for those in the southern parts a
newer trail had to be found and by simple geography it had to cross
Texas. You could enter the State from the sea at Galveston, Indianola or
Corpus Christi, or by way of the land through Fort Smith in Arkansas,
thence across the Indian Territory to the Red River; or directly from
Louisiana through the fairly well settled and organized counties of East
Texas. But no matter how you entered, there was only one way to get out,
and so all trails converged on the Paso del Norte (present El Paso). To
get out of Texas south of El Paso would land you in Mexico. To get out
north of El Paso would take you across the Llano Estacado which in those
days was considered a vast treeless plain, unbroken by any topographic
changes, and completely devoid of water holes.

The accompanying map, published in 1856 in Yoakum’s History of Texas,
shows clearly the political subdivisions and settlements of Texas in
those times. A substantial part of the State, from the Panhandle to the
upper Rio Grande, appears to be completely uninhabited and, therefore,
politically unorganized. In a vague manner, this vast area might be
assumed to be an unannexed portion of the counties of Bexar, El Paso,
Presidio and Travis. This map does not speak approvingly of the Llano
Estacado. Staked Plains, some called it.

From 1848 on to the recent past, various trail drivers, army officers
and railroaders laid out trails from the settled parts of Texas to the
Paso del Norte, always taking advantage of springs and water holes and
avoiding the Llano Estacado and the great limestone canyons of the Rio
Grande and its tributaries. That is, all did but the builders of the
Southern Pacific Railroad. They came later, but yet too early to have
the know-how of an Arthur Edward Stilwell. But that is another story.

A North-South trade route had existed for some two hundred years
connecting Spanish Santa Fe, far north toward the headwaters of the Rio
Grande, south through the Paso del Norte to the settlements in the
mother country of Mexico. The Santa Fe Trail extended to California,
would cross this trade route at Santa Fe, well up in the Rocky
Mountains, while the route through Texas would cross it at El Paso. And
so these two places became the supply dumps where the great wagon trains
took on horses, mules, beef and other supplies that would see them
across the final leg of the journey west. It was a great opportunity for
traders who had the supplies to sell, and the procuring middle man, the
one who contacted both producer and merchant, was a man with great savvy
and ability known as the Comanche Indian.

The Comanche despised walking; it was not adaptable to his method of
making a living. He was a plains Indian, and somewhere back in the
sixteenth or seventeenth century had somehow accumulated his first
mustangs from offsprings of those horses lost by the Conquistadores from
Spain. Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards in America, there were no
horses, as we recognize them now, on either of the American continents.
Now the Comanche as a mounted man probably roamed the great plains from
present Wyoming to Durango, Mexico. It was easy to make a living on such
a range. It abounded in buffalo; and the wise Comanche knew all the
water holes. He drove the wily Apaches to the south until they crossed
the Rio Grande and settled in a quasi-peaceful manner in Mexico, or
later chose Arizona and New Mexico and preyed on the settlers,
immigrants and prospectors.

From the records, the Comanche does not appear to have been a breeder of
horses, cattle or sheep. But as a procurer of such livestock, he had no
peer. Many years before Lewis and Clark were sent to evaluate the
Northwestern part of the Louisiana Purchase lands that Mr. Jefferson had
bought from Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, the Comanche had learned to find
his greatest pleasure and profit during his daring raids into the
settlements of Mexico, raiding in great force as far south as the cities
of Chihuahua and Durango.

The emotional inspiration for such forays on peaceful people was
regarded as pure cussedness, but a more profound study shows that the
trophies of such raids, excepting the scalps taken, were horses, cattle,
sheep and slaves. Many of the stolen horses were for the Comanche’s
personal use, because it took many animals to make the great raid during
the Mexican Moon. The balance of the trophies was used for barter.

    [Illustration: Indians Capturing Wild Horses]

    [Illustration: _G. Catlin_
    _Comanches Capturing Wild Horses_
    _From “The North American Indians,” Vol. II, by George Catlin,
    London, 1841. The place: the Red River; the time: 1834._]

Years before the purchase of 1803, he was trading his stolen stock, and
possibly his slaves, to the French traders from the Spanish-French
border near old Natchitoches (pronounced Nacotish) on the lower Red
River. Or in later times, upon return from a successful raid, he roared
out of Mexico and across the Rio Grande into Texas south of the Chisos
Mountains. If short of war paint, he replenished his favorite red color
from the outcroppings of cinnebar near Terlingua Creek, then headed
through the badlands and out upon the range country by way of Persimmon
Gap. From the Gap, he went to Comanche Springs (present Fort Stockton),
crossed the Pecos River at Horsehead Crossing, then rode north to the
Sand Dunes to water a famishing flock, after which he headed east to the
Sulphur and the Big Spring. Then he turned northward around the Cap Rock
that marks the eastern extremity of the terrible Llano Estacado, to
proceed on north till he actually scrambled out upon that plateau. Then
he proceeded towards Santa Fe to meet somewhere, possibly at Casas
Amarillas, in that then desolate region, the Comancheros, or middle men
between himself and the Mexican settlers of the upper Rio Grande Valley
near Santa Fe.[1] He traded his trophies to the Comancheros for guns,
ammunition or other less practical adjuncts that might suit his fancy of
the moment. His Mexican Moon was then over and he returned to his
portable village which he had left in some watered canyon that cut down
eastward from the Llano Estacado.

The route as followed by these Indians was a well marked trail, and
during the time of our westward migrations, it was well known and
appears on the maps of the times. Another route into Mexico broke off
the Western Trail at the Big Spring and ran down the valley of the North
Concho River, across the Edwards Plateau, then through the passes of the
Balcones Escarpment to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico near the present
city of Eagle Pass. Mr. Evetts Haley refers to these trails as the Great
Comanche War Trail, and gives a wonderful description of the activity on
them in his recent book, _Fort Concho and the Texas Frontier_. An old
map from the Army files in the National Archives calls the western
branch the Grand Comanche War Trail. But call the trails what you may,
they were still a stiff pain in the neck to anyone crossing them, and
for the wagon trains and cattle herds going west, crossing was

The greater raids into Mexico appear to have occurred rather regularly
in September when the weather was most favorable, and the chief
objectives could be struck during the light of a full moon. Thus, to the
unhappy but fully expectant Mexicans, the September full moon was known
as the Comanche Moon. At this time Mars, the red God of War, hangs low
and molten in the late summer night’s sky and reflects a light that is
as red as the sand and clay soils of the Indian Territory.

Another favorite trick of these versatile middle men was to raid the
settlements down the Rio Grande Valley south from Santa Fe and drive off
the stock to a rendezvous with the Comancheros, who in turn traded them
to unknowing Mexican settlers at other points on the river. During such
raids it was deemed ethical but unprofitable to kill the settlers, since
without them there would be no stock to drive off in a later raid.
Besides, these Mexican settlers did not seriously molest the buffalo.

Such business sagacity however, did not apply in later times to the
Republic of Texas, where each succeeding year saw new settlers break
ground and homestead farther up the river valleys, whose streams had
their origins in the motherland plains of the Comanche and Kiowa.

After its establishment in 1836, the infant republic found itself
fighting a hot war on two fronts. The settlers near the Rio Grande, from
Del Rio to the mouth of that river near Brownsville, suffered from raids
out of Mexico by both Mexicans and Indians, while the northern prongs of
the new settlements were exposed to the Comanches and Kiowas. It was a
bitter struggle, fought generally in small isolated settlements where
the determined Anglo-Saxon fought for his new home against an equally
determined Indian fighting to preserve his ancient homeland and range. A
Saxon’s scalp decorating a Comanche’s war shield might be avenged by an
Indian’s entire skin decorating a rude barn door.

Matters were better controlled after the annexation of Texas by the
United States and after the close of the Mexican War. But it took
manpower and supplies to do it, something the new republic had been slow
in acquiring. The treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided, among other
things, that the United States would make every effort to keep the
Indians from raiding into Mexico; so in about 1849, the United States
Army, mostly cavalry and mounted infantrymen (Dragoons), moved into
Texas. They proceeded to establish a string of forts and camps from
previously established Brown near the mouth of the Rio Grande to Duncan
near Eagle Pass. For the upper Rio Grande in Texas, they set up what was
later to be Fort Bliss (El Paso). As a northern line of defense for the
settlers, they established, starting with Fort Duncan, the forts of
Lincoln (D’Hanis), Martin Scott (Fredericksburg), Croghan (Burnet),
Gates (Gatesville), Graham (Hillsboro) and Worth (Fort Worth). Only a
few of the forts were ever protected by stockades. The war was one of
movement. The places were supposed to be strategically located and
manned by several companies of cavalry and some infantry; places from
where punitive expeditions could set out, establish supply bases, then
try to run down the Indian raiders.

The standing army of the United States during the 1850’s was numbered at
about fifteen thousand men and the personnel of the Texas forts
accounted for about from one-fifth to one-third of that number. Many of
the officers and men were veterans of the Mexican War, the forts usually
being named in honor of American soldiers who lost their lives in that
war. Many Civil War leaders, both Confederate and Union, received much
field training from 1849 to the outbreak of that war in 1861, building
and manning the forts, chasing, but seldom catching, the Indians,
guarding the wagon trains and mail bags and exploring the wilderness for
better trails and water holes.

There is a record, one of many left by the famous Captain Jack Hays of
the Texas Rangers. It tells how he was hired by certain merchants of San
Antonio who were anxious to trade with the merchants of Chihuahua,
Mexico. His assignment was to find in 1848, a route from San Antonio to
privately owned Fort Leaton where the Conchos River of Mexico meets the
Rio Grande, and from which point to Chihuahua the going would be
reasonably good. Hays and his mounted company of frontiersmen managed to
make it to Leaton and back to San Antonio, but they found the going so
rough that the journey took them three and one-half months. (Present
Southern Pacific Railway west to Alpine). There were too many deep
canyons along the tributaries of the Rio Grande.

The decade following 1849 was most active. The army detachments under
capable officers explored to find routes from East Texas and from San
Antonio to El Paso. But the wagon trains did not wait for their
findings; they often made their own way and did their well-known
creditable job. Mr. Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War, and himself a
distinguished veteran of the Mexican War, did about all in his power to
aid the new state of Texas, the Mexican settlements and the immigrant
trains. He made treaties with the Indians and arranged reservations for
them. This latter deal was not too successful. Friendly East Texas
Indians almost starved on the reservations, and the more warlike plains
tribes had no idea of staying there even when they agreed to move in.
The old men’s tales of conquest and horse stealing were more than the
young bucks could take.

Mr. Davis built new forts and, recognizing the great problems of
communications that existed between such far flung positions, sought to
remedy those by importing in 1856, through the seaport of Indianola,
camels and their Arabian drivers.

    [Illustration: _G. Catlin_
    _Comanche Village_
    _From “The North American Indians,” Vol. II. by George Catlin,
    London 1841. Picture by Catlin, 1834, escorted by General Henry
    Leavenworth and regiment of U.S. Dragoons._]

The camels were concentrated at Camp Verde in Southern Kerr County, and
breeding and testing immediately proceeded at a good pace. Tests for
their strength and endurance carried the caravans across the Continental
Divide and back, and the results were very gratifying. The Civil War put
an end to the experiments. The last camel herd, before final sellouts to
the carnivals, was privately owned near Austin in the early 1880’s.

By the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, the War Department had
finally followed the advice of such able soldiers as Joe Johnston and
Chase Whiting. The forts received a new alignment and were manned mostly
by cavalry. Supplies were sent in as before, from bases like San
Antonio. The wagons, pulled by oxen or mules, were well guarded in most
instances by soldiers. The contracts for furnishing the supplies and
their transportation were let to civilians.

The new alignment caused the abandonment of some interior forts and
camps. The line on the lower Rio Grande was extended up the river by
building Fort Hudson near the Devil’s River, about thirty miles north of
San Felipe. Out in far Western Texas, they built Fort Quitman, down the
river from El Paso.

Several things were done to discourage the Comanche and Kiowa whose
depredations along the Grand War Trail had been greatly stepped up. The
War Department flanked the trail on the west by the building of a
sizeable establishment in a beautiful and romantic spot in the Davis
Mountains and named it Fort Davis in honor of the secretary. Near this
spot, more than three hundred years before, had passed the shipwrecked,
unhorsed and enslaved, but still valiant Spaniard, Cabeza de Vaca. He
would later write, in his report to his Viceroy describing his journey
after leaving the great arid plains to the north, of a valley through
which flowed “limpid waters.”[2]

After Fort Davis, the Department unveiled Fort Lancaster (western
Crockett County) as a flanker to the east of the trail. It was cozily
situated in the mesas not far from the Pecos River and beside Live Oak
Creek that flows delightful spring water.

Then the War Department built Fort Stockton (Pecos County), smack in the
middle of the Grand Trail and right beside the best spring of water on
its entire route.

Now to further protect immigrants and mail bags on the route west and to
protect settlers of central and northern Texas who were still moving
higher up the river valleys, it set up Fort Chadbourne as a pivot
between the new western line and the new lower Rio Grande Valley line.
From Fort Chadbourne on northeasterly to the Indian Territory were Forts
Phantom Hill (Abilene) and Belknap (New Castle). But Chadbourne was a
near miss, because it was not well located and its water supply was not
adequate. However, not until the Civil War was over was it finally
abandoned in 1867 and a new site chosen for its replacement at the
confluence of the North, South and Middle Concho Rivers. This new
position would be called Fort Concho, and here eventually would be built
the city of San Angelo.

As the decade preceding the outbreak of the Civil War was closing, the
great wagon trails from San Antonio and East Texas to El Paso must have
been a sight to behold. Most of them converged on Castle Gap and the
Horsehead Crossing of the Pecos River, from where they had a choice of
two routes to El Paso. The California Overland Mail (Butterfield
Overland Mail), 2,795 miles from St. Louis to San Francisco, entered
Texas by way of Fort Smith, Arkansas, followed the line of forts
southwesterly to the middle Concho River then turned westerly up that
valley, then through Castle Gap to Horsehead Crossing. From here the
early route followed up the Pecos River to Pope’s Crossing near the
present Red Bluff Reservoir, thence westward to El Paso, by way of
Delaware Creek and the Hueco Tanks. A more southerly route from
Horsehead Crossing was probably a better choice. It went from the
Crossing direct to Fort Stockton, Leon Springs, Toyahvale, Fort Davis,
thence to Van Horn’s well and El Paso. It also had the advantage of
servicing the westerly line of forts.

The original run over this new mail trail to California was made in 1858
and the New York Herald sent a special news correspondent, one W. L.
Ormsby, to be a through passenger on the mule-drawn coach so that he
could report the trip. The poor fellow was only twenty-three years old,
but age being in his favor, he lived through it all. His description of
the trail from between the upper water holes of the Middle Concho River
(near present Stiles) to Castle Gap and the Horsehead Crossing is most

“Strewn along the load, and far as the eye could reach along the
plain—decayed and decaying animals, the bones of cattle and sometimes of
men (the hide drying on the skin in the arid atmosphere), all told a
fearful story of anguish and terrific death from the pangs of thirst.
For miles and miles these bones strew the plain....”

It appears from this on the spot observation, that the trails across
level plains country were very wide. The wagon trains did not move in
single file. That would expose them too much to Indian attacks, and
besides, the longer the line, the worse the dust. The old wagon wheel
ruts, still noticeable to this day along the route described above by
Ormsby, cover a wide area on the plains east of Castle Gap, before they
converge at that narrow pass. These can be seen west of the China Ponds
where they move westerly about three miles south of the land grants
known as the alphabet blocks, given later by the State of Texas to the
Corpus Christi, San Diego and Rio Grande Narrow Gauge Rail Road. (Try
painting that one on a narrow gauge box car!)

During 1858 and 1859, Captain Earl Van Dorn, soon to be a member of the
Confederate High Command, vigorously carried the war to the Indians and
pushed them north, back across the Red River. They didn’t remain there
long. Texas seceded from the Union in 1861 and the Federal soldiers
marched out of the forts and left them to the Confederate forces. Again
the proper manpower was lacking. Some forts were abandoned so as to
shorten the defense line and some of these, as at Lancaster, were burned
by the Indians. The Indians, now spurred on by Union agents, carried on
a still more bloody and aggressive warfare on the Texas frontier.
Confederates, and Ranger Companies, coupled with frontiersmen reacted
promptly and vigorously, but it was a long line of defense from the Red
River to the Rio Grande. Defend it they did, against the Indians, and
against lawless elements such as deserters and others renegades, hostile
Union sympathizers and border ruffians from without the state.

The Negro slave was emancipated by proclamation in Texas on June 19,
1865 (June’teenth), about two months after General Lee surrendered the
Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House.[3] The last land
battle of the Civil War was fought on May 13, 1865, in Cameron County,
Texas when invading Federal forces were routed near Brownsville. That
engagement is known as the Battle of Palmito Ranch.

From the end of the war until 1867, the frontier settlements had no
organized military forces to protect them from the Indians, and it was
against the law for Texans to carry guns. Added to this were the
turmoils of Reconstruction which were about as bitter in the populated
parts of the state as they were in other parts of the South.

The occupying United States Army under General Phil Sheridan was now
mostly recruited from among the Negroes, and the army was not used
against the Indians until 1867, when orders went out to get busy and put
the forts and camps in order.[4] General Sheridan’s name was about as
popular in Virginia and Texas as General W. T. Sherman’s was in Georgia
and Mississippi.

    [Illustration: _Action West of Horsehead Crossing._
    (_Castle Gap is at the upper left._)]

But both Sherman and Sheridan came to Texas, and Sherman, after narrowly
escaping the loss of his scalp on the Texas frontier, finally realized
the necessity of a last organized military effort to either rid the
country of the Indians or give it back to them. That was in 1871.
However, in 1869, a new alignment of the forts had been seen as
necessary. Never again reoccupied were certain of the interior ones such
as Worth, Graham, Gates, Croghan, Martin Scott, Lincoln, Chadbourne and
Ewell (La Salle County). Fort Belknap, on the Salt Fork of the Brazos
River in Young County, had been the largest military post in North Texas
prior to the Civil War. In 1867, the 6th Cavalry was ordered to prepare
it for reoccupation. They worked for five months, but then this fort was
ordered evacuated and its place was taken by a new one, Fort Griffin,
some thirty-seven miles up the Clear Fork of the Brazos from Belknap.

Now to extend the northeasterly trending line of forts closer to the
Indian Territory, the Army built Fort Richardson near the present town
of Jacksboro.

The site chosen as the replacement for Fort Chadbourne, to be called
Fort Concho, was at the confluence of the North Concho River with the
combined waters of the Middle Concho, Spring Creek, Dove Creek and the
South Concho, the last three named streams being fed by bountiful
springs. This abundance of water and the geographically central location
marked the spot as the natural convergence of trails from East,
Northeast and South Texas before they headed westward for Horsehead
Crossing and El Paso. Nature had been kind to this oasis in an otherwise
desolate region. The fishing was extremely good and the clear waters of
the streams supported mussels, the variety that produces gem pearls,
hence the Spanish name of Concho. Herds of buffalo grazed within sight
of the new fort. Quail and turkey were plentiful.

These three new positions, Concho, Griffin and Richardson, located on a
line 220 miles long, as yet unconnected by either telegraph or rail,
would soon be the centers of men, supplies and animals for the campaigns
that finally broke the concerted powers of the Indians. These campaigns
carried the soldiers from the Indian Territory and the New Mexico
Territory on the North, to the actual interior of Old Mexico on the

From the times in 1866 and 1867 when Richardson and Concho were ordered
built until 1871, the troops undertook no organized campaigns against
the Indians. The settlers suffered constantly and the Indians learned
new tricks. Many more learned how to live off government bounty on the
reservations in Indian Territory, then hit the war path along with their
wild brethren from the Texas Panhandle. They were amply protected on
their return to the reservations by the Indian agents in charge, who
believed their wards could do no wrong. Why, they would ask, would an
Indian steal cattle when he had all the buffalo meat he wanted?

A cavalry expedition out of Fort Concho working the edges of the Llano
Estacado in 1872, captured a Comanchero who told how he and his
companions traded the Indian arms, ammunition and supplies for cattle,
horses and sheep that they had stolen during their raids. He even showed
the soldiers the well worn trails across the Llano Estacado towards
Santa Fe and the valley of the Rio Grande. Thus the secret was finally
revealed to the Army. It seems unbelievable at this time that such
ignorance could prevail over the cries and protests of the Texas
ranchmen who were losing cattle by the tens of thousands.[5] But such
was the case, and in 1867, the Comanches even stole horses from the post
herd at Fort Concho. We must remember that in that same year the mild
policies of President Andrew Johnson in Washington were overruled by the
radicals in the United States Congress, and the bitter years of
reconstruction followed for the Southern States. All former Confederate
soldiers were deprived of the vote, and radicals, carpetbaggers,
scalawags from the South and freed Negroes ruled the State. The Army was
used, not to fight Indians, but to guard the new social system.

The prospect appeared brighter for the settlers when in the Fall of
1869, one hundred soldiers from Fort Concho managed to engage an Indian
force on the Salt Fork of the Brazos River. It was a drawn fight, but
immediately thereafter a larger force from the same fort engaged and
defeated the Indians in the same area. Texans were cheered by the news
of this new tone of aggressiveness shown by the Army. It was the only
way. The war had to be carried to the Indians the same way Earl Van Dorn
had carried the fight to them on the eve of the Civil War.

But the time for real action had not arrived even as late as 1869. On
February 18, 1870, a citizen was killed and scalped within one-quarter
of a mile of the post limits at Fort Concho. In January of the same
year, eighteen mules were stolen from the Q.M. corral at that same post.
The same year, 1870, while Colonel Grierson was building Fort Sill in
the Indian Territory, Chief Kicking Bird, a Kiowa, defeated the Command
of Captain C. B. McClellan near the present town of Seymour. As late as
March of 1872, a wagon train was waylaid near Grierson Springs in Reagan
County and the teamsters killed by the Indians. Two companies of the 9th
Cavalry came upon the scene by accident, engaged the Indians but
withdrew before a decision was reached.[6]

    [Illustration: Cavalry and wagon]

The lamentations of the border people were finally heard in Washington
and in April, 1871, General W. T. Sherman came to San Antonio. The next
month, accompanied by General Randolph B. Marcy and an escort of
seventeen men, he left for an inspection of the frontier. General Marcy
was the same officer (then, Captain Marcy) who, in 1849 and later, had
played such an important part in exploring and reporting to Congress on
trails through Texas. The great explorer was still an outdoor man of

The little expedition proceeded by way of Boerne, Fredericksburg, the
old Spanish Fort on the San Saba which had withstood a great Comanche
Indian siege in 1758, Fort McKavett, Kickapoo Springs and Fort Concho.
From Fort Concho it followed the military trail on northeasterly by the
remains of Fort Chadbourne and Phantom Hill and on towards Belknap.

General Marcy’s journal is of great interest. He relates:

“We crossed immense herds of cattle today, which are allowed to run wild
upon the prairies, and they multiply very rapidly. The only attention
the owners give them is to brand the calves and occasionally go out to
see where they range. The remains of several ranches were observed, the
occupants of which have either been killed or driven off to the more
dense settlements, by the Indians. Indeed, this rich and beautiful
section does not contain, today (May 17, 1871), as many white people as
it did when I visited it eighteen years ago, and if the Indian marauders
are not punished, the whole country seems to be in a fair way of being
totally depopulated.” He continues:

“May 18th, 1871—This morning five teamsters, who, with seven others, had
been with a mule wagon train en route to Fort Griffin (Captain Henry
Warren’s) with corn for the post, were attacked on the open prairie,
about ten miles east of Salt Creek, by 100 Indians, and seven of the
teamsters were killed and one wounded. General Sherman immediately
ordered Colonel Mackenzie to take a force of 150 cavalry, with thirty
days’ rations on pack mules, and pursue and chastise the marauders.”

An interesting angle to this affair was that Sherman’s party had been
observed by the same Indians who murdered the teamsters, but were
unmolested by them because they were waiting for the wagon train which
they considered nearer top priority. Sherman realized later that he had
nearly lost his scalp.[7]

This Colonel Mackenzie had reported in at Fort Concho as commanding
officer on September 6, 1869. Born in New York, July 27, 1840, and
christened RANALD SLIDELL, he had graduated first in his class at West
Point in 1862. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War,
received several wounds in action, and was a brigadier general when that
war closed. The remainder of his professional life was devoted to active
high command in the Indian wars. At various times he served at Forts
Brown, Clark, McKavett, Concho and Richardson, engaging in his last
Indian fight at Willow Creek, Wyoming in 1876. He was retired from the
Army for disability in 1884 and died a bachelor at New Brighton, New
York in 1889.

Along with Mackenzie, Colonel William Rufus Shafter who arrived to
command at Fort Concho in January, 1870, the War Department had its two
best young officers serving in the West Texas theatre.

Shafter had no West Point training. Born in Michigan on October 16,
1835, he entered the Union Army in the Civil War as a first lieutenant
and by the end of that war had been breveted brigadier general of
volunteers. He was later awarded The Congressional Medal of Honor for
service during that war. He was commissioned lieutenant colonel of
regulars in 1869 and first saw service in West Texas with the 24th
Infantry at Fort McKavett. Later in life he was to command the American
armies in Cuba during the Spanish American War.

During the summer of 1871, while commanding forces at Fort Davis, he set
out with cavalry from both Forts Davis and Stockton and pursued a large
raiding party of Indians from the Fort Davis area northeasterly until
the trail moved into the great sand dune country near where the city of
Monahans now stands. He spent fourteen days in this pursuit but as was
usual in such matters, could never force an engagement. However, he
learned that the heretofore dreaded sand dunes contained fresh water a
few feet below the surface in several places, and that the area was a
great refuge for Indians and was one of those rendezvous where
horse-and-cattle stealing Indians met the Comanchero traders from New

The command at Fort Concho, as at the other forts, rotated in a
perpetual manner. After service elsewhere, Mackenzie returned to Concho
to organize five companies of the 4th Cavalry and a headquarters company
for service at Fort Richardson, nearer the Indian Territory. His column
moved out March 27, 1871, cavalry, pack mules and wagons. The bachelor
commander even allowed wives of the men to accompany the expedition as
far as the new headquarters at Fort Richardson.

The weather was crisp and cold as they forded the North Concho and soon
passed Mt. Margaret, named after “the most accomplished, loving and
devoted wife of one of our favorite captains, E. B.
Beaumont”—(Beaumont-Beautiful Mountain), so wrote Captain Robert G.
Carter, historian and winner of The Congressional Medal of Honor in the
Indian Wars, who was a member of the expedition. (Mt. Margaret is the
outstanding hill at Tennison.) They pitched camp the first night at old
Fort Chadbourne, from where they followed the military trail passing en
route huge herds of buffalo, as they went on by old Forts Phantom Hill,
Belknap and on into Richardson.

Two months later, in May, Colonel Mackenzie roused his 4th Cavalry at
Fort Richardson and set out to obey General Sherman’s orders issued
after the killing of the teamsters at Salt Creek. But it began to rain.
After a futile chase Colonel Mackenzie headed for Fort Sill, commanded
by Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson. There he learned that Sherman had left
but not before the Chiefs Satank (Sitting Bear), Big Tree and Satanta
(White Bear) had returned to the reservation at Sill and boasted of
murdering the teamsters. Mackenzie arrested and escorted the three
Indians to Jacksboro for trial in the Texas court. Satank purposely got
himself killed by a guard on the march, but Satanta and Big Tree were
later sentenced to prison in the state penitentiary at Huntsville. The
duplicity of these reservation Indians should now have been apparent to
even Grierson and the Indian lovers in Washington and Austin, but it was

A good insight into the Indian problem of the times, and of which we
have a written record, appeared at the trial of the two Indian chiefs
during July of 1871 in the little log courthouse on the public square of
Jacksboro. Charles Soward was the presiding judge. Samuel W. T. Lanham,
later to be a two term Governor of Texas, was the district attorney. The
court appointed Thomas Fall and Joe Woolfork of the Weatherford Bar to
represent the defendants.

Thomas Williams, the foreman of the Jury, was a frontier citizen and a
brother of the Governor of Indiana.

The principal witnesses against the defendants were Colonel Mackenzie,
Lawrie (or Lowerie) Tatum, the Indian Agent who had heard their
statements at Fort Sill and Thomas Brazeal, the teamster who had escaped
from the Salt Creek massacre.

Our Captain Carter wrote:

“Under a strong guard accompanied by his counsel and an interpreter, the
Chief, clanking his chain, walked to the little log courthouse on the
public square. The jury had been impaneled and the District Attorney
bustled and flourished around. The whole country armed to the teeth
crowded the courthouse and stood outside listening through the open
windows. The Chief’s attorneys made a plea for him, and referred to the
wrongs the red man had suffered. How he had been cheated and dispoiled
of his lands and driven westward until it seemed there was no limit to
the greed of the white man. They excused his crime as just retaliation
for centuries of wrong. The jurors sat on long benches, each in his
shirt sleeves and with shooting irons strapped to his hip.”

Satanta got up to defend himself before his accusers. Over six feet
tall, the perfect figure of an athlete and well known as the orator of
the plains who could sway councils of both whites and Indians, he could
well have influenced the jury by mute silence, but instead he lied and
dissembled to save his life. He never mentioned the wrongs done his
people by the whites. Instead, speaking through the interpreter, he
proceeded as follows:

... “I have never been so near the Tehannas (Texans) before. I look
around me and see your braves, squaws and papooses, and I have said in
my heart, if I ever get back to my people, I will never make war upon
you. I have always been the friend of the white man, ever since I was so
high (indicating by sign the height of a boy). My tribe have taunted me
and called me a squaw because I have been the friend of the Tehannas. I
am suffering now for the crimes of bad Indians—of Satank and Lone Wolf
and Kicking Bird and Big Bow and Fast Bear and Eagle Heart, and if you
will let me go, I will kill the three latter with my own hand....”

The evidence against the two Chiefs was debated by the jury and both
were sentenced to death. This sentence was later commuted to life

Now, a few statements from the court record as to what the District
Attorney had to say point to some of the misunderstandings of the times
when it came to the Indian problems on the western frontiers.

The following excerpts from his plea before the court show clearly, not
only the feelings of the frontiersmen towards the uncontrolled Indians,
but also the contempt in which they, both frontiersmen and Indians, held
the people who by appeasement, crookedness and ignorance tried to manage
the Indian affairs of the nation from a far away city:

“Satanta, the veteran council chief of the Kiowas—the orator—the
diplomat—the counselor of his tribe—the pulse of his race; Big Tree, the
young war chief, who leads in the thickest of the fight, and follows no
one in the chase—the mighty warrior, with the speed of the deer and the
eye of the eagle, are before this bar in the charge of the law! So they
would be described by Indian admirers, who live in more secured and
favored lands, remote from the frontier—where ‘distance lends
enchantment’ to the imagination—where the story of Pocohantas and the
speech of Logan, the Mingo, are read, and the dread sound of the
warwhoop is not heard. We who see them today, disrobed of all their
fancied graces exposed in the light of reality, behold them through far
different lenses. We recognize in Satanta the arch fiend of treachery
and blood, the cunning Cataline—the promoter of strife—the breaker of
treaties signed by his own hand—the inciter of his fellows to rapine and
murder, as well as the most canting and double-tongued hypocrite where
detected and overcome! In Big Tree, we perceive the tiger-demon who
tasted blood and loved it as his own food—who stops at no crime how
black soever—who is swift at every species of ferocity and pities not at
any sight of agony or death—he can scalp, burn, torture, mangle and
deface his victims, with all the superlatives of cruelty, and have no
feeling of sympathy or remorse. We look in vain to see, in them,
anything to be admired or even endured. Powerful legislative influences
have been brought to bear to procure for them annuities, reservations
and supplies. Federal munificence has fostered and nourished them, fed
and clothed them; from their strongholds of protection they have come
down upon us ‘like wolves on the fold’; treaties have been solemnly made
with them, wherein they have been considered with all the formalities of
quasi nationalities; immense financial ‘rings’ have had their origin in,
and draw their vitality from, the ‘Indian question’; unblushing
corruption has stalked abroad, created and kept alive through

  “‘—the poor Indian, whose untutored mind,
  Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind.’

“... For many years, predatory and numerous bands of these ‘pets of the
government’ have waged the most relentless and heart-rending warfare
upon our frontier, stealing our property and killing our citizens. We
have cried aloud for help.... It is a fact, well known in Texas, that
stolen property has been traced to the very doors of the reservation and
there identified by our people, to no purpose....”

Mackenzie realized those things and knew he could receive no cooperation
from Grierson at Fort Sill, so in September, acting on orders,
concentrated a force of eight companies of the 4th Cavalry, two
companies of the 11th Infantry and thirty Tonkawa Indian scouts at old
Camp Cooper near Fort Griffin. The infantry would be used to guard the
supply bases as he moved northwesterly in the hope of engaging the wild
brethren under Chief Quanah. He bivouaced in the mouth of Blanco Canyon
and lost sixty odd horses to an Indian raid that night. The next day the
command moved up the canyon and later came out on the flat prairie of
the Llano Estacado. A large retreating body of Indians was sighted but a
Norther blew up, and Mackenzie was forced back down the canyon by the
cold weather. He withdrew to Fort Richardson where the command arrived
in late November. He accomplished nothing and as for himself, he
received an arrow wound during a small skirmish in the canyon.

With the coming of spring, things picked up. Mackenzie received orders
in May to establish a camp of cavalry and infantry on the Fresh Fork of
the Brazos, from which his cavalry should operate in pursuit of hostile
Indians. He moved out of Fort Richardson in June while Shafter at Fort
Concho organized wagon trains and supplies, these coming from as far
away as Fort Brown. He was to meet Mackenzie near the mouth of Blanco
Canyon, where the base was to be established. By September, 1872,
Mackenzie and his cavalry had moved from Blanco Canyon to Fort Sumner
(New Mexico), thence north to Fort Bascom (New Mexico), then
southeasterly to Palo Duro Canyon and south to his base camp in Blanco
Canyon. He had found no Indians or Comancheros, but he had followed well
marked Comanchero trails across the Llano Estacado and had no trouble in
finding water holes. The Staked Plains were not nearly so tough as the
high army echelons had been led to believe.

Puzzled by the lack of Indians he set out for the headwaters of the Red
River and on September 29, discovered a large camp on a tributary of the
Red, northeast of Palo Duro. He immediately attacked with five companies
of cavalry, routed the braves, burned 262 Indian lodges, and captured
127 women and children, and an estimated 3,000 head of horses. His own
losses were light if we except the fact that the Indian braves returned
that night and recovered all of their horses by stampeding them.
Mackenzie never forgot that midnight raid.

This drubbing had a salutary effect on the Indians. The captives were
sent to Fort Concho for prisoner exchange, and many warriors sought
safety on the reservations. Their Chief Satank was dead and Chiefs
Satanta and Big Tree were in the penitentiary at Huntsville. The next
spring the remaining one hundred captive women and children at Fort
Concho were delivered back to the reservation at Fort Sill amid great
rejoicing by the braves. They began to feel that the pale face was not
such a bad hombre after all. Evetts Haley says that some of the braves
so seriously considered settling down that they even sent their women
into the fields to see what work was like.

Things now looked better and the Indian lovers persuaded Governor Edmund
J. Davis to issue pardons to Satanta and Big Tree. This infuriated
General Sherman. That was in April of 1873. Trouble immediately started

But meanwhile Mackenzie had returned to Fort Concho, where he arrived in
January of that year, and set up the headquarters of the 4th Cavalry
Regiment. Then in March, the 4th itself left Fort Richardson for Concho,
and the 7th Cavalry took over at Richardson.[8] The 4th headed for Fort
Concho, the same column, soldiers, wagons, wives and their household
plunder that had moved north to Richardson two years before. General
Sherman had decided to do something about that other Texas frontier, the
Rio Grande, and he wanted Mackenzie with his 4th Cavalry to handle the

Things were not, and never had been, peaceful along the Rio Grande. It
was another frontier with two parts. From Ringgold Barracks, opposite
the Mexican city of Camargo, on down to the mouth of the Rio Grande, a
man by the name of Juan Cortina, once a general in the Mexican Army that
had opposed General Zachary Taylor’s invasion of Mexico, sought to make
a living in the grand style. He was very successful as a bandit and
became the “Robin Hood” of his side of the border. During the Civil War
his banditry ceased. He became a trader and did well because the Rio
Grande became the only outlet of the Southern Confederacy. But with the
close of the war, he resumed his favorite role as a bandit and declared
that the Nueces River and not the Rio Grande, was the border between his
country and the United States.

The result was that he and other lesser bandits overran the entire
country from the Rio Grande to the Nueces, killed for the pleasure of
killing and drove into Mexico tens of thousands of Texas cattle. In
1875, one of his raids came within seven miles of Corpus Christi. Truly,
his activities were as fearsome and as costly as were those of the
Indians on the other frontiers of the state. But the United States Army
did little about it, being unable to catch raiders in Texas, and
unwilling to attack them in Mexico. The Texas Rangers, recreated in
1874, began to effectually take care of the matter. Thirty-one of these
men, under their able commander Captain Leander H. McNelly, began to
take a bite out of these raiders in 1875, killing them not only in Texas
but pursuing and attacking them in Mexico itself.

    [Illustration: Indians with horses and travois]

General Porfirio Diaz came to power in Mexico about this time and ended
the Cortina troubles by arresting and confining that gentleman to the
environs of Mexico City. The Rangers took care of the rest of the gangs.

Along the upper Rio Grande, the raids into Texas were made by Indians:
the Kickapoos, Lipans and Apaches. These tribes had settled in that
great arid and sparsely inhabited area that extends south of the Rio
Grande from Laredo to El Paso. That part of Mexico was a no-man’s land.
The small Mexican and Indian villages were a law unto themselves. The
Mexicans often joined the Indians on their raids, and the cattle and
horses brought back found a ready market in the Mexican villages.

    [Illustration: _G. Catlin_
    _Shewing the positions of the Tribes that have been removed west of
    the Mississippi. By George Catlin._]

The Lipans, like the Apaches, were natives of the Great Plains country.
The Kickapoos were easterners, and had been termed “friendly Indians,”
upon their arrival west of the Mississippi River. The term “friendly
Indian” often used in writings and reports of the times referred in the
larger sense to those tribes such as the Kickapoos, Cherokees, Choctaws,
Chickasaws, Seminoles, Delawares and others that had once been powerful
tribes in the eastern United States, but because of the encroachment of
the white settlers, they had, by treaty, coercion or force during the
early 1800’s, been continually moved by the United States Government
from their ancestral or reservation lands in the East. They finally
ended up at various times on reservations assigned them in what is now
Kansas and Oklahoma (Indian Territory). Here they usually encountered
hostility from the native tribes of the Great Plains whose superior
numbers threatened their entire existence. They were considered
intruders and were obliged to turn to the United States troops, where
possible, for protection. Their natural ability as “trackers” made them
a necessary unit in any force of troops that sought to engage hostile

The Seminoles from Florida were pretty well mixed with Negro blood upon
their arrival in East Texas, and later in the Indian Territory. The
reason for this was that prior to the Civil War many run-away Negro
slaves had sought and found sanctuary among these Indians, living at
that time in the fastnesses of the Everglades.

During the latter days of the Civil War, December of 1864, a company of
frontier scouts out of Fort Belknap discovered a freshly abandoned
Indian camp west of the ruins of old Fort Phantom Hill. The scouts
estimated that perhaps 5,000 Indians had camped there.

During the preceding fall, Comanche and Kiowa Indians in large numbers
had broken up the settlements on the northern frontier in Young County.
Therefore, it was assumed, and assumed too hastily as it turned out,
that these Indians had occupied the camp and were on the march to find a
permanent spring and summer location from where they could further raid
the settlements.

Actually these Indians were friendly Kickapoos from the Indian
Territory, and as it turned out, they were probably peacefully moving
themselves and their entire tribe to join a tiny remnant of the tribe
that had, years before, settled in Old Mexico, some forty miles west of

The hasty assumption that these Indians were hostile led to the Battle
of Dove Creek fought on Sunday, the 8th of January, 1865. The scene of
the battle was the Indian encampment on the south bank of Dove Creek
about three miles above its confluence with Spring Creek, and fifteen
miles southwest of the present Tom Green County court house.

After the discovery of the abandoned camp near Phantom Hill, the Indians
were trailed by scouts. Confederate regulars had been concentrated at
Camp Colorado, and militia had been moved from Erath, Brown, Comanche
and Parker Counties.

These two columns of troops, numbering some 400 men, concentrated above
the Indian encampment before daybreak. They attacked at daylight. It was
an impetuous charge and was met by deadly fire from the Enfield rifles
of 600 braves, well protected by the underbrush of the creek bottom. The
militia, respectfully referred to by the regulars as the “flop eared
militia,” suffered heavily in their charge. They broke and fled and were
of no more value in the field.

The regulars, now badly outnumbered and outflanked, were slowly forced
back and withdrew towards Spring Creek, fighting from the shelters of
the oak groves as they retired. This action continued all day, and they
encamped that night with all their wounded and the reformed militia on
Spring Creek, about eight miles from the original battle ground. They
left twenty-two dead on the field and carried away about forty wounded.

The long retreat to the mouth of the Concho River started the next
morning in a blinding snow storm that made pursuit by the Indians
impossible. They resorted to captured Indian ponies as food supply.

It had been a most unfortunate affair. The Kickapoos crossed the Mexican
border in the Eagle Pass area and settled down about forty miles inland.
Always irked by memories of the unprovoked Dove Creek fight, they
thereafter heartily joined future raids into Texas. They were no longer
“friendly Indians.”

It was this matter of raids into Texas in the upper Rio Grande country
that attracted General Sherman’s attention in March of 1873, when he
ordered Colonel Mackenzie and his 4th Cavalry to Fort Concho. From
Concho they moved to Fort Clark, only about thirty miles from the
Mexican border. At Fort Clark a conference of high ranking officials was
held, including apparently the Secretary of War, General Phil Sheridan,
Mackenzie and others. No orders were issued but after the conference was
over, the “brass” reviewed the 4th Cavalry. The “ten-year” men in the
regiment knew that something big was brewing.

Dark and early, on the morning of May 17, 1873, Colonel Mackenzie led
400 men of his 4th Cavalry and twenty or thirty Seminole scouts under
Lt. John L. Bullis, on a drive across the Rio Grande into Mexico.

After four days and night of continuous riding and fighting, the small
expeditionary force, carrying their supplies in their pockets and with
no time taken out for sleeping, recrossed the river and were back on
friendly Texas soil. They had covered some 160 miles and had burned
three Kickapoo and Lipan villages, killed a considerable number of
braves, captured forty women and children, plus the chief of the Lipans,
and had driven the remainder of the tribes into the Santa Rosa

Washington and Mexico City both hit the ceiling over this invasion of a
friendly nation. Mackenzie could show no written orders for the action.
Had he failed, he would have been court-martialed, and he knew that
beforehand. But President Grant stood by his officer, and the incident
soon blew over. In fact a year or two later most of the remaining
Kickapoos were persuaded to accept Uncle Sam’s hospitality. They went
from Mexico to Fort Sill, by way of Fort Concho, and were given a cozy
place on a reservation in the Indian Territory.[9]

By this time it is apparent that our Colonel Mackenzie was the
fair-haired boy of President Grant and Generals Sherman and Sheridan.
During the Civil War, Grant had regarded him as his ablest young
officer. Now if things got out of line, you would simply “dress on

Truly, things were about to get out of line again. Some foolish policy
of appeasement was still rampant in Washington, so Satanta and Big Tree
were released from the penitentiary. This combined with other factors,
such as the restlessness of the Indians on the reservations, and the
slaughter of the buffalo, united the efforts of the Comanche tribe.
Along with the Kiowas, now aided by the Cheyennes, they started trouble
all over again. Once more the raids, during the spring of 1874, hit the
Texas frontier, and as usual the soldiers while sleeping, had their
horses stolen. Buffalo hunters in their lonely camps on the Panhandle
plains were murdered and scalped.

Just east of the old Adobe Walls ruins, on the north side of the
Canadian River in what is now northeastern Hutchinson County,
twenty-eight men and one woman fortified themselves in three new adobe
buildings that had just been completed as a trading post in anticipation
of the northern migration of the great buffalo herds.

They were awakened before daylight on the morning of June 27, 1874, by a
sharp cracking noise. The newly cut cottonwood ridge pole that supported
the roof on one of the three buildings had settled, and the sod-covered
roof threatened to collapse at any moment. Fifteen men worked until
daylight propping up the roof. That accident saved the lives of all at
the Walls, for just as daylight came, being awake and outside, they saw
to the eastward, an estimated 700 mounted Indians riding hard for the
settlement. The attacking force was less than half a mile away when it
deployed in a great converging arc.

Billy Dixon, the buffalo hunter and frontier scout described the charge
in a dramatic manner:

“There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight. In after years I was
glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the
fighting men of the Southwestern Plains tribes, mounted upon their
finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of
thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind. Over all was splashed the
rich colors of red, vermilion and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on
the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous
war-bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the
tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, half-naked bodies of the
riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass. Behind this
head-long charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the
rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge
from this glorious background.” (Life of Billy Dixon, by Olive K. Dixon,
The Southwest Press, Dallas, Texas.)

The three buildings were about equally manned by the whites. Doors were
closed and then barricaded, as were the windows and transoms, by sacks
of flour and grain. The first charge was broken up at the very walls of
the buildings by the lead from the big buffalo guns. Thanks to the thick
abode walls and to the dirt covered roofs, there was no danger of being
smoked out by fire.

The fight raged until noon. Two of the whites, unable to reach the
buildings, had been killed in the first onslaught. All of the horses and
oxen were dead or driven away. The Indians had lost heavily and now
withdrew, out of range. They could be seen moving about in the distance
but they did not attack again.

It was on the third day of the siege that Billy Dixon drew a bead on a
mounted Indian, 1,538 yards away on a ridge, and shot him dead. He was
firing a .50 calibre Sharp’s rifle, the largest of the buffalo guns.

During the next two or three days other buffalo hunters drifted into the
Walls until the garrison numbered about a hundred men. William Barclay
“Bat” Masterson had been present since the beginning of the fight and
had, like most of the other defenders, distinguished himself by his cool
behavior under fire.

By the end of the sixth day, the Indians had broken up into bands, the
Comanches under Quanah, the Kiowas under Lone Wolf, and the Cheyennes
under Stone Calf and White Shield. These bands then proceeded to work
over the other buffalo hunters on the south and central ranges. They
accomplished their objective. Buffalo hunting by the whites was
discontinued for that year.

Down in San Antonio, General Christopher C. Augur, the Department
Commander, fully backed by General Sherman, ordered full scale war. All
Indians off their reservations were declared hostiles and the campaign
against them took the form of a real squeeze play. It was relentlessly
carried out by a man-sized army under able lieutenants.

Colonel Nelson A. Miles was ordered to march westerly out of Camp Supply
in the Indian Territory; Colonel John Wynn Davidson was to move west out
of Fort Sill; Major William R. Price was to move down the Canadian out
of Fort Union, Territory of New Mexico; Colonel G. P. Buell was to leave
Fort Griffin, proceed north to the Red River then move up that stream,
and Colonel Mackenzie’s command headed northwesterly out of Fort Concho
for his old camping ground at Blanco Canyon. It appears that Colonel
Grierson was left out altogether. The campaign got under way in the late
summer of 1874.

Colonel Mackenzie marched out of Fort Concho with eight companies of
cavalry and three of infantry. He moved northwesterly up the North
Concho River for his first objective—the camp in Blanco Canyon.[10]

(Mackenzie appears to have been overall commander. However, the
biography of Nelson A. Miles seems to give Miles considerable credit for
subduing the Indians in our West. He was a volunteer in the Union Army
during the Civil War and rose to high rank, higher than that reached by
Mackenzie. Biographies can often be misleading, parts of them being word
of mouth stories from the principal himself. Miles could never have been
called a ‘modest’ man. Prior to his death he followed the example of
some of the Pharaohs of Egyptian history, and built his mausoleum on the
bank of a great river, in his case not the Nile, but the Potomac. It was
perfectly legal to do this, the site chosen being in the Arlington
National Cemetery, a place reserved for the remains of United States
servicemen. However, the timing of the construction of the mausoleum,
built even before he died, and the fact that he chose to plant himself,
not only in the most prominent spot to be found, but right in what had
once been General Robert E. Lee’s front yard, leads one to believe he
might have taken a slight advantage of his biographer.)

The campaign lasted until the latter part of December, 1874, when
through ice and snow, Mackenzie’s 4th Cavalry drifted into Fort Griffin.
By this time the other commanders had accomplished their objectives and
returned to their stations.

The strategy had been simple enough. The commands from the north, east
and west were to drive the tribes towards the rough country and the
canyons in the headwaters of the Red River, where Mackenzie, moving in
from the south, would destroy them. The actual carrying out of the
plans, was, as is usual, another thing. Variations in the weather were
severe; drinking water was scarce and when found usually had the same
effects on the drinkers as would castor oil; wood for fires was
generally lacking; corn for horses was an eternal problem; and the long
supply lines were constantly threatened by an alert enemy.

But it all worked out as planned. The four commanders, Miles, Buell,
Davidson and Price drove the tribes before them after spirited
engagements. On October 9th, Buell, moving up the Red River, destroyed a
camp of 400 lodges on the Salt Fork of that river. The usual plan of
operation was for each commander to use his friendly Indian scouts as
guides to locate a fresh Indian trail. After that it was hard riding
and, if possible, surprise attack on a village. Most of the supplies
came from the nearest forts, such as Sill, Fort Bascom, New Mexico and
Camp Supply in the northwestern part of the Indian Territory, and Fort
Griffin on the Brazos. It was during this campaign that plans were made
to locate Fort Elliott as a new defense in the Panhandle.[11]

Mackenzie’s 4th Cavalry covered many a weary mile. His biggest Indian
fight occurred in the Palo Duro Canyon where he surprised a large camp
in late September and reported the capture of 1,424 ponies, mules and
colts. Remembering his past experience with captive horses, he had the
entire herd shot rather than risk the possibility of their recapture
during the night by the braves.

This campaign broke up any further concerted action by the Indian
tribes. It had been long in materializing, and that, to many, still
seems hard to understand. Satanta was recaptured and sent back to the
penitentiary at Huntsville, but ended it all a short time thereafter by
jumping head first out of a second story window.

The other Kiowa Chief, Big Tree, upon being recaptured and imprisoned,
this time at Fort Sill, became a model prisoner. After gaining his
freedom, he became the Kiowa’s principal chief, caused a little trouble
in 1890 that was squelched without bloodshed by the soldiers, and he
then settled in a cottage near Mountain View, Oklahoma. He died, a
deacon in the Baptist Church November 18, 1929.

However much the Comanche tribes might by now be reduced in number,
their spirits remained high and restless on their reservations. As late
as 1878 and 1879, small war parties raided as deep into Texas as Fort
McKavett. But there was no coordinated action.

The extinction of the buffalo in our southern region was completed about
1878, and then the hunters turned in force against the remaining herds
on the northern parts of the Great Plains. These herds lasted about four
more years.

The men in the forts could be, and were, still busy. Colonel Grierson
took over at Concho in 1875. That same year, Colonel Shafter, with nine
troops of the 10th Cavalry and two companies of infantry, left after
rendezvousing at that post and headed for the Indian country near Blanco
Canyon. His supply train consisted of sixty-five wagons drawn by
six-mule teams, a pack train of nearly 700 mules and a beef herd. This
was in July. Good rains had fallen and water holes were expected to be
full. It took the expedition seventeen days to cover the 180 miles. (The
author cannot verify the reported strength of the mule train.)

Only a few Indians were met, so Shafter divided his command. His own
division out of Fort Duncan, returned to that post about December 18,
1875, after having explored the country now known as the South Plains of
Texas and New Mexico. One of his lieutenants, Geddes, leading a division
from Mustang Springs, near present Midland, on south to cross the Pecos
on a southwesterly course below Independence Creek, reached the Rio
Grande. There they engaged in a small Indian fight, then retraced their
steps to avoid the great canyon country, crossed the Pecos, and in a
worn out condition reached Fort Clark. Geddes then rested up and
returned to Fort Concho.

The entire expedition had explored and mapped what had been a vast and
unknown area, and had encountered only a few wandering bands of Indians.
It appeared that the Indian problems had at last been solved.

However, the final settlement of that problem came in 1880. An Apache
Chief, one Victorio, long confined to a reservation in the Territory of
New Mexico, hit the warpath with all of his tribe and their belongings;
warriors, squaws, papooses and portable lodges. Colonel Grierson, now
General Grierson, left Fort Concho and with detachments from Forts
Concho, Stockton, Davis and Quitman, sought to force an engagement in
that wild and mountainous and desert land that lies on both sides of the
Rio Grande, from El Paso on the west to the Davis Mountains on the east.
The United States cavalry was no match for the elusive Victorio, who
avoided any but guerrilla actions, and worked back and forth across the
Rio Grande, until Grierson, disgusted, returned to Fort Concho. His
forces had not been allowed to cross into Mexico and he thought that the
Mexican forces, also chasing the Apaches, had not fully cooperated with

This may or may not have been so, but the end of the new war came in the
fall, when General Terrazas, then Governor of Chihuahua, forced an
engagement by trapping and surrounding the old chief. Only a few
survivors were able to escape this well planned but short campaign by
the Mexican forces.

The usefulness of the forts, so far as protection against the Indians
was concerned, now ended. The accompanying map shows their relative
locations and the dates on which they were organized and abandoned. Only
one, Fort Bliss at the Paso del Norte, serves the United States Army at
this time.

Fort Concho remained active until 1889, but it was only another army
post. Small parties of Indians roamed the frontier even in the 80’s, but
the Texas Rangers and the frontiersmen took care of them.

Of all of those that were abandoned during the last century, Fort Concho
is the best preserved. It took time to build it, and when finally
abandoned, its lovely stone buildings and the land on which they stand,
reverted to the original landowners, Adams and Wickes, the United States
Army having been only a rent-paying tenant.

Just what do some of the others look like at this time? Fort Worth is
covered somewhere under a modern city that bears its name. The
foundations of old Fort Mason can be seen on a hill within the city
limits of Mason, the cut stones of its buildings having been removed for
construction work elsewhere. The same goes for old Lancaster, where only
a few gaunt white limestone chimneys can be seen rising against the
mesas. However, if you care to walk over to them, you will see the old
foundations and a small graveyard. That is all that is left.

If a Comanche or Kiowa Indian observed Fort Phantom Hill today for the
first time, he would probably name it, “Many chimneys that do not
smoke.” The buildings are gone and he would not be interested in their

Some of the limestone houses at Fort McKavett are still being occupied,
and many of the other old fort buildings are outlined by roofless walls.
Several of the original buildings of Fort Stockton still remain and have
been converted into gracious homes. Fort Davis is a line of stone and
adobe shells, the timbers of the overhanging porches being long gone
except where the late Andrew Simmons restored a few, and built a
creditable museum in one building.

Fort Clark, rising by the beautiful Las Moras Springs, is a combination
of the old and the new, having seen service in the last World War. It is
interesting to observe that in its case, it is unfortunately the new and
not the old that is missing.

The old Spanish Fort (presidio) on the San Saba River? Enough of the
rubble remains to outline the outer wall of the large courtyard. This
was a massive stone fortification and each of its four corners was
protected by a protruding circular stone tower. The State Highway
Department has restored one of these towers and a part of the outer
wall. The old Mission, San Saba de la Cruz, across and down the river
from this presidio, disappeared along with its administering priests
during the great Comanche attack against the Spaniards and their Apache
allies, back in 1758, or thereabout.

The preservation of the existing buildings of Fort Concho, and the
restoration of the destroyed ones, were begun in 1930 by Mrs. Ginevra
Wood Carson, a gracious and far-sighted lady of San Angelo. She had
already started the West Texas Museum in about 1928, and it was located
in the new Tom Green County Court House, where it soon outgrew its
housing facilities She therefore turned her attention towards the old
Fort. The original Administration or G.H.Q. Building of Fort Concho was
privately owned but in excellent condition, and it stood at the Eastern
end of the old Quadrangle. Mr. R. Wilbur Brown, Sr. of San Angelo
recognized the far-sightedness of Mrs. Carson. He bought the
Administration Building from its owners and deeded it toward a museum of
pioneer days and the preservation of old Fort Concho.

Mrs. Carson then moved the museum collection from the Court House into
the Administration Building and changed the name of West Texas Museum to
Fort Concho Museum.

The history of Fort Concho since its abandonment in 1889, when the
garrison lowered the flag for the last time, and marched away, its band
playing “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” had not been spectacular. It could
easily have become a rock quarry, as had Lancaster, Mason and others.
Actually, some of the barracks buildings on the North Side of the
Quadrangle did suffer that inglorious fate. But the houses on Officer’s
Row, the Administration Building, Hospital and Chapel were, for many
years, the finest buildings in the surrounding area. In 1905, the Concho
Realty Company was formed by certain citizens of San Angelo, and the
fort grounds, with all the structures were bought by the company from
the Adams and Wickes Estate for $15,000.00. A real estate addition was
then organized and the various buildings sold to private individuals.

The most elaborate of these had been the Post Hospital. It occupied a
position outside, and just off the Southeast corner of the Quadrangle.
This building burned in 1910, and some years later its remaining stone
walls, partitions and chimneys were cleared away.

The Fort Concho Museum Board, a group of citizens, works to purchase,
preserve and restore the buildings of the Fort, and collect the display
items of interest that pertain to pioneer days in the Southwest.

Up to the present time the accomplishments of the Board have been
considerable. The items relating to pioneers have overflowed the
Administration Building. Further space has been gained for them by the
restoration of two Barracks Buildings and their Mess Halls on the North
side of the Quadrangle. The Powder House, once located on the banks of
the Concho River, has been removed and rebuilt, stone by stone, at a
position just North of the restored Barracks. The Post Chapel,
beautifully preserved, and a part of the Museum, stands at the Eastern
end of Officer’s Row. Six of the original nine Officer’s homes have been
bought by the Board with money contributed by individuals and from small
Museum revenues. The old Parade Ground, occupying the center of the
Quadrangle is marred and hidden from view by recent structures on its
Western end and a large 1907 school house now occupies its center. A
Comanche war-party (assuming one existed today, one bent on the
destruction of Fort Concho) would return baffled to its portable village
for the simple reason that the Indians, like any other visitors, could
not find Fort Concho, even though years back having been designated a
National Historic Landmark.

There are other fort buildings standing nearby that are owned and used
today as warehouses by different San Angelo firms. Their beautiful stone
is usually covered by applications of various colored stucco, but you
can still identify them by their alignments and shapes.

Some years back the Santa Fe Railroad presented the City with one of its
steam locomotives. This “Iron Horse” of bygone days is now resting on
its rails near one of the restored Barracks. It is a part of the Museum,
and is a valuable item; therefore, it is hoped that its longevity
against the ravages of rust will be secured by the erection of a
suitable structure over and around it.

Now take your time and browse through the Fort Concho Museum. Drive
through the City over streets that bear the names of Beauregard,
Mackenzie, Shafter, Grierson and Chadbourne. It is all worth it, because
without it, there would soon be little to show us of the comparative
life that existed in our Southwest only a few short years ago.


[1]Comancheros: Renegade Mexicans, half breeds and outlaw Americans who
    lived in Mexican settlements in New Mexico, from whence they
    traveled in small bands, usually by wagon or oxcart, to the Llano
    Estacado where they met the Comanches, Kiowas or other Indians and
    traded guns, ammunition, whiskey and other desirable items for the
    products of the raids. (Robert T. Neill, San Angelo, Texas.)

[2]Perhaps this was Limpia Creek.—Dr. R. T. Hill.

[3]On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, U.S.A., landed at
    Galveston and issued a general order declaring that “in accordance
    with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all
    slaves are free.”

[4]The Negro regiments on the Texas frontier during these Indian times
    were the 9th and 10th Cavalry and the 24th and 25th Infantry.

[5]During the Civil War the cattle on the open Texas ranges increased
    many fold with the loss by the Confederacy of control of the
    Mississippi River. After that war they so far exceeded local demand
    that cattle drives on a much larger scale than ever before
    attempted, got under way. The Chisholm and Western Trails, “from
    anywhere in Texas,” on north through the western part of the Indian
    Territory entrained cattle in Kansas for the Eastern feedlots. The
    Goodnight-Loving Trail running west along the Middle Concho River,
    thence north along the Pecos and on parallel to the Front Ranges,
    supplied cattle for the new ranches being opened from New Mexico to
    the Canadian Border.

    Obviously the Comanche and Kiowa did not overlook this opportunity
    for cattle rustling.

[6]Captain Lewis Johnson, 24th Infantry, related, “That was the year in
    which I changed stations twice, marching from Fort Stockton all the
    way to Fort Brown. On my way,—in March, 1872, I think, occurred an
    attack on a freight-train at Howard’s Well. (Grierson Springs,
    Reagan County). It was a train from San Antonio, intended for Fort
    Stockton.” Testimony before House Committee on Military Affairs,
    45th Congress, 2nd Session, Washington, D.C., Dec. 4, 1877.

[7]The Salt Creek Massacre took place near the town of Graham.

[8]When, at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in present Montana, June
    25, 1876, General George A. Custer and his entire command were
    massacred by the Sioux Indians, that command was composed of
    elements of the 7th United States Cavalry. The massacre took place
    about three years after the 7th marched into Fort Richardson. There
    is no evidence of Custer having been at Richardson. At this time, he
    was probably somewhere on the Missouri River.

[9]This action was not a pursuit following a “fresh trail” into Mexico.
    It was a carefully planned attack on Indian villages in that
    country, the locations of which had been accurately ascertained

    Later on, during 1876 and 1877, Lt. John L. Bullis acting under the
    command of Colonel Shafter, conducted six such raids into Mexico,
    all on the upper Rio Grande from Laredo to points southwest of the
    mouth of the Pecos River. Bullis was a very brave and competent
    soldier and was awarded a sword by the Texas Legislature. Camp
    Bullis, near San Antonio, was named for him in 1917.

[10]A regiment of cavalry on the Texas frontier after the Civil War
    could, at maximum strength, muster about 929 men. A company of
    maximum strength could muster about 90 men.

    A regiment of infantry varied in number more than a similar cavalry
    unit, and was smaller, mustering generally about 460 men, while a
    company varied from 25 or 30 men, on up to 60 or 65 men.

[11]“A large trade has sprung up in Western Texas in cattle, which are
    driven up into Kansas to the railroad at or near Fort Dodge. They go
    up by what is termed the Pan Handle of Texas—. Fort Elliott is
    established there for the purpose of aiding cattle merchants who buy
    cattle in Texas and drive them up to the railroad; and thence the
    cattle are taken to Ohio or Illinois and fed until spring, when they
    are sent East. The trade amounts to two or three hundred thousand
    annually.” Statement of General W. T. Sherman, November 21, 1877,
    before the Committee on Military Affairs, in relation to the Texas
    Border Troubles, House of Representatives, 45th Congress, 2d

    [Illustration: The Federal Forts In Texas During the Indian Era,

    [Illustration: Texas, 1856]

    [Illustration: Fort Concho]

                              Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected a few typos.

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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