Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The First Battle of Adobe Walls

The First Battle of Adobe Walls was a battle between the United States Army and American Indians which actually took place during the Civil War.

It was a battle in which the Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache, the Kiowa Apache, tribes drove U.S. force from the battlefield.  Yes, it resulted in a retreat.

The Union Army sent and Expeditionary Force to northern Texas as a reaction to attacks on white settlers moving into the Southwest.

The battle which took place on November 25, 1864, resulted in light casualties on both sides but is considered one of the largest engagements fought on the Great Plains.

And yes, if the years 1864 rings a bell - its because the Civil War was still going very strong.

Gen. James H. Carleton, commander of the military units in New Mexico, was determined to halt Comanche and Kiowa attacks on Santa Fe wagon trains.

The Plains Indians saw the wagoners and buffalo hunters as trespassers who were killing off "their" buffalo - their food.

General Carleton wanted to put an end to the raids, or at least to send a sharp signal to the Indians that the Civil War had not left the United States unable to protect its people.

Because he was the most seasoned veteran Indian fighter at his disposal, Carleton selected famous mountainman and Indian fighter Christopher "Kit" Carson to lead the Expeditionary Force. 

During the Civil War, Carson held the rank of Colonel in the Union Army.

Col. Carson took command of the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, with orders to proceed against the winter campgrounds of the Comanches and Kiowas, which were reported to be somewhere in the Palo Duro Canyons of the southern Panhandle area, on the south side of the Canadian River.

The Carson expedition was the second invasion of the heart of the Comanche homeland known as "Comancheria," after the Antelope Hills Expedition.

The Antelope Hills Expedition was a campaign from January 1858 to May 1858 by the Texas Rangers and members of other allied native American tribes against Comanche and Kiowa villages in the Comancheria.

That campaign began in western Texas and ending in a series of fights with the Comanche tribe on May 12, 1858, at a place called Antelope Hills by Little Robe Creek, a tributary of the Canadian River in what is now Oklahoma.

The hills are also called the "South Canadians," as they surround the Canadian River. The fighting on May 12, 1858, is often called the Battle of Little Robe Creek.

The years 1856 to 1858 on the Texas Frontier were particularly vicious and bloody as the settlers continued to encroach into the Comancheria.

They plowed under valuable hunting grounds, and the Comanche lost grazing land for their herds of horses.

In addition to the influx of settlers, the United States had done a great deal to block the Comanche's traditional raids into Mexico.

Finally, the Comanches struck back with a series of ferocious and bloody raids against the settlers.

The Army proved wholly unable to stem the violence.

Not only were units being transferred, but federal law and numerous treaties barred the Army from attacking Indians in the Indian Territories.

Although many Indians, such as the Cherokee, were trying to farm and live as settlers, the Comanche and Kiowa continued to live in that part of the Indian Territories which was traditionally the Comancheria, while raiding into Texas.

On November 10 he arrived at Fort Bascom with fourteen officers, 321 enlisted men, and seventy-five Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts and fighters he had recruited from Lucien Maxwell's ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico.

On November 12, Carson’s force, accompanied by two mountain howitzers under the command of Lt. George H. Pettis, twenty-seven wagons, an ambulance, and with forty-five days' rations, proceeded down the Canadian River into the Texas Panhandle.

Carson had decided to march first to Adobe Walls, which he was familiar with from his employment there by Bent more than 20 years earlier.

Carson, long familiar with the Utes and Jicarillas, had confidence in his Indian scouts. They covered his flanks and each morning two of them rode far ahead of the slow-moving column to search for Comanche and Kiowa encampments.

Inclement weather, including an early snow storm, caused slow progress.

On November 24, 1864, the First Cavalry reached Mule Springs, in Moore County, approximately 30 miles west of Adobe Walls.

That same afternoon, the Indian scouts reported they had found the trail of a large Indian village.

Carson left his infantry behind to guard his supply train and ordered a night march of cavalry and artillery. He rode in the van with the Utes and Jicarillas.

The next morning he ordered the two howitzers forward to join him in the van.

Coming to the easily-fordable Canadian River, he deployed one company of cavalry on the north side of the river and continued with the remainder on the south side.

The battle of Adobe Walls occurred on November 25, 1864, in the vicinity of Adobe Walls, the ruins of William Bent's abandoned adobe trading post and saloon, located on the northern side of the Canadian River 17 mile northeast of present day Stinnett in Hutchinson County.

The battle came about when General James H. Carleton, commander of the military district of New Mexico, decided to severely punish the Kiowa and Comanche, whom he deemed responsible for attacks on wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail.

Remember, the Indians saw the wagon trains as trespassers who killed buffalo and other game the Indians needed to survive.

As the American Civil War drained available troops, attacks on the Great Plains worsened, leading in the later part of 1863 to cries from settlers for protection.

Approximately two hours after daybreak on November 25, 1864, Carson's cavalry found and attacked a Kiowa village of 176 lodges.

The Chief, Dohasan, and his people fled, passing the alarm to allied Comanche villages nearby.

Marching forward to Adobe Walls, four miles from the Kiowa village, Carson dug in there about 10:00 am, using one corner of the ruins for a hospital.

Carson discovered to his dismay that there were numerous villages in the area, including a large Comanche village.

Carson saw large numbers of Indians pouring forward to engage him in battle, a much greater force than he had expected.

Captain Pettis, who wrote the most complete report of the battle, estimated that 1,200 to 1,400 Comanche and Kiowa attacked the soldiers and Indian scouts who numbered 330, and 75 of those men had been left behind to guard the supply train.

"Throw a few shells into that crowd over there," said Col. Carson to artillery officer Lt. Pettis

Carson dismounted his cavalry and deployed them around the two howitzers.

His Indian scouts skirmished with about 200 Comanche and Kiowa warriors "mounted and covered with paint and feathers...charging backwards and forwards...their bodies thrown over the sides of their horses, at a full run, and shooting occasionally under their horses."

Dohasan, assisted by Satank and Satanta, led the Kiowas in the first attack.

Fierce fighting developed as the Kiowa, Plains Apache, and Comanche warriors repeatedly attacked Carson's position.

Satanta replied to Carson's bugler with his own bugle calls to confuse the soldiers.

Carson succeeded in repelling the attacks only through his clever use of supporting fire from the twin howitzers.

The first shells from the howitzers caused the Comanche and Kiowa to retire from the battlefield, but they soon returned in even greater numbers and renewed the attack.

By afternoon, Pettis estimated Carson's army faced more than 3,000 Indians.

Yes, it looked as though Carson could have been Custer!

After six to eight hours of fairly continuous fighting, Carson realized he was running low on howitzer shells, and ammunition in general, and ordered his forces to retreat to the Kiowa village in his rear.

Carson was also concerned about the fate of the 75 men guarding his much-needed supply train.

The Indians tried to block his retreat by setting fire to the grass and brush down near the river.

The wily Carson, however, set back-fires and retreated to higher ground, where the twin howitzers continued to hold off the Indians.

When twilight came, Carson ordered about half his command and his Indian scouts to burn the lodges of the village, which also resulted in the death of the Kiowa-Apache chief, Iron Shirt, who refused to leave his tipi.

The soldiers confiscated many "finely finished buffalo robes" and burned the rest and the Indian scouts killed and mutilated four Kiowas too decrepit to flee.

The weary soldiers continued their retreat and found their supply train intact that night.

Carson and his soldiers rested in camp on November 26, their Indian opponents visible on a hilltop about two miles away.

Carson's Indian scouts skirmished with the Comanche and Kiowa but no serious attack was mounted on the soldiers.

The next day, Carson gave the order to return to New Mexico. Some of his officers wished to renew the battle, but Carson, consulting only with his Utes and Jicarillas, ordered the retreat to New Mexico.

In all, Carson's troops and Indian scouts lost three killed and twenty-five wounded, three of whom later died. Indian casualties were estimated at 100 to 150.

One Comanche scalp was reported taken by a young Mexican volunteer in Carson's expedition, which disbanded after returning to Fort Bascom without further incident.

Believe it or not, the United States Army declared the First Battle of Adobe Walls a victory.

The Kiowa, to the contrary, recorded in their annual record, painted on buffalo skin, that the period was "muddy travel winter, the time when the Kiowas repelled Kit Carson."

Carson was well known by all the Indians of the Southern Plains.

The battle left the Comanche and Kiowa unchallenged in their control of the Texas Panhandle until the Battle of the North Fork of the Red River eight years later.

Most believe that Kit Carson's decision to retreat was wise and that he deserves credit for a good defense.

Fact is he was outnumbered and only his clever use of back-fires and the howitzers prevented his force being overrun and massacred as Custer was later at the Little Bighorn.

A few days later after the battle of Adobe Walls, Colonel John M. Chivington led Union troops in a massacre of a village of friendly Cheyenne and Arapaho encamped in southeastern Colorado Territory at a place called Sand Creek.

Chivington boasted that he had surpassed Carson and would soon be known as the great Indian killer.

Carson expressed outrage at the massacre and openly denounced Chivington's actions.

General Carleton applauded Col. Carson's retreat in the face of overwhelming odds at Adobe Walls calling it an outstanding military accomplishment; though the former mountain man was unable to strike a killing blow, he is generally credited with a decisive victory.

In October 1865, General Carleton recommended that Carson be awarded the brevet rank of brigadier general, "for gallantry in the battle of Valverde, and for distinguished conduct and gallantry in the wars against the Mescalero Apaches and against the Navajo natives of New Mexico".

The First Battle at Adobe Walls would be the last time the Comanche and Kiowa forced American troops to retreat from a battlefield, and marked the beginning of the end of the plains tribes and their way of life.

The battle was one of the largest engagements between whites and Indians on the Great Plains.

The Southern Plains campaign led the Comanches to sign the Little Rock Treaty of 1865.

Carson afterward contended that if Adobe Walls was to be reoccupied, at least 1,000 fully equipped troops would be required.

The first eyewitness account of the battle other than Carson's military correspondence was published in 1877 by George Pettis, who had served as the expedition's artillery officer.

A decade later, the Second Battle of Adobe Walls was fought on June 27th, 1874 between 700 Comanche and a group of 28 hunters defending the settlement of Adobe Walls for similar reasons.

After a four-day siege, the Indians withdrew.

The Second Battle is historically significant because it led to the Red River War of 1874-75, resulting in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians to reservations in what is now Oklahoma.

Texas First Battle Of Adobe Walls Historical Marker

Story by Tom Correa


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