Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Second Battle of Adobe Walls - The Indian Perspective

In the spring of 1874, a Comanche medicine man by the name of "Quenatosavit," which translated means White Eagle, took the opportunity to promise to make the tribes impervious to bullets if they would drive the white men off their land.  For the sake of this article, and since I can't pronounce "Quenatosavit," I will refer to him by his translated name White Eagle. 

Now some readers who have read about the Second Battle of Adobe Walls are going to say that his name was not "Quenatosavit" but instead "Isa-tai." Please bear with me,  I do get around to answering the whole name issue at the end of this.

White Eagle was a Comanche medicine-man among the Quahada (or Quahadi) Comanches. He gained prominence in 1873–74 as a self-proclaimed prophet and "messiah." He succeeded, at least temporarily, in uniting the autonomous Comanche bands as no other leader had ever done before. He organized what was said to be the first Comanche Sun Dance, a Plains Indian ritual that his tribe had not previously adopted.

He claimed wonderful and miraculous powers had been given him by the Great Spirit. His prophecies were based on his claim that he had ascended above the clouds and had conversed with the Great Spirit and been granted extraordinary powers. Among these powers was the ability to cure the sick and bring the dead back to life, to control the weather and other natural phenomena, and to make the "white man's bullets fall harmlessly to the ground." Imagine that.

He claimed to have belched up a wagonload of cartridges and then swallowed them.

Fraud or not, he is said to have correctly predicted "the disappearance" of a comet in 1873 and a drought later that year. Those prognostications helped to convince the Comanches of his supernatural abilities. Motivated in part by a desire for personal revenge because his uncle had been killed in a battle with United States troops, White Eagle brought the Comanches together for the sun dance in May 1874.

At that time he preached a war of extermination and promised the warriors that they would be invincible against their enemies both Indian and American. Other tribes, mainly the Kiowas and Cheyennes, found his message appealing as well.

He also managed to convince a large number of Cheyennes and almost one-half of the Kiowa's to join the Comanches on a raid into Texas to fight the Tonkawa's, avenging an earlier killing of Comanches. However, the raid would not take place as word of the intended attack reached Ft. Griffin, and arrangements were made for the Tonkawas to be safely housed at Fort Griffin.

Primed for a fight, the Indians were not about to let the removal of the Tonkawas deprive them of a battle. There were more than the Tonkawas deserving of "revenge." So after discarding their plan to annihilate the Tonkawas, who were believed to be cannibals and who had long served as scouts for the whites, the Comanches decided to attack the hunters in the Texas Panhandle.

White buffalo hunters were destroying the buffalo at a frightening rate and thus endangering their chief source of food. And yes, it is sadly true, the government policy at the time was to kill the buffalo (bison) and starve the Indians. Knowing that everyone understood what was taking place, and the anger that knowing that brought with it, White Eagle convinced the Comanches and others that now was the time to rise up and fight.

The Slaughter Of Buffalo Was Unconscionable
The Buffalo Hide Hunters

As if the illegal killing of thousands of buffalo on Indian land by the hide hunters was not enough to incite the Indians, the Indians also had to contend with horse thievery. There was a great deal of stealing of Indian horses by gangs of white men going on at the time, with Dodge City being the headquarters where horses of "questionable ownership" could be sold without questions or proper papers of ownership.

In 1873, Little Robe and several other Cheyenne and Arapaho chiefs traveled to Washington, D.C. to complain about violations of the Medicine Lodge Treaty, specifically the killing of the buffalo and the stealing of Indian horses on their land. The Treaty specifically prohibited such activity and the chiefs wanted the Treaty enforced. The tribes received the usual assurances, but the illegal activity continued.

In his report, contained in the 1874 Report to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, U.S. Indian Agent John D. Miles stated:

"As it is now, and as it always has been, the laws, as administered, referred to in the intercourse-law as regulating trade and intercourse with the Indians, amount to simply nothing. In the last three o four years there has been apprehended, on this reservation, 46 persons, not one of whom have received the punishment merited. A few convictions, passed over by a merely nominal fine, has been about the total of our efforts.

This state of affairs tends to make horse-thieves, whisky-peddlers, buffalo-hunters, and law breakers generally bold and defiant, as was the case a short time since when I was threatened with mob-law by a prominent paper in Southern Kansas, for having a party of buffalo-hunters removed room the reservation in order to keep the peace between Whites and Indians.

The lack of power to administer the law — to remove improper characters from this reservation, to break up the various bands of dissolute white men, horse and cattle thieves known to be operating in our vicinity — is the prime cause that may be assigned for the serious outbreak among the Cheyennes on this reservation.

As elsewhere stated, the Cheyennes and Arapaho's were assured by the President on their recent visit to Washington, that improper white men and buffalo-hunters should be kept from their country at all hazards, and they very naturally expected that some effort would be made to keep that promise; but they have looked in vain, and the Cheyennes, being the most restless of the two tribes, grew tired, and Endeavored to avenge their own wrongs.”

When 43 valuable horses were stolen from Little Robe, a band of young Cheyennes, led by Little Robe's son, Sitting Medicine, attempted to recover the horses but were unsuccessful. The band of young Cheyennes, in turn, decided to right the wrong by stealing some cattle but were engaged by a party of United States Cavalry who happened to be patrolling the southern Kansas border.

Sitting Medicine was badly wounded during that fight. With rumors of his death spreading throughout the region, war parties began to exact revenge on whatever white men happened to cross their paths.

If the Government wasn't going to enforce the Treaty, the Indians would. At least, some of the Indians would.

Not all of the Cheyennes and Arapahoes chose revenge. Chief Powder Face of the Arapahoes, Chiefs Little Robe, Old Whirlwind, and Whiteshield of the Cheyennes, all moved their camps closer to the agency. Even though the white man's peace was far from desirable, they had had enough of the white man's war.

Chief Quanah Parker
Undaunted by the unavailability of the Tonkawas to satisfy their thirst for revenge, approximately 700 warriors of a mix of Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa, led by Quanah Parker, Chief of the Comanche, were massing to attack a small outpost called Adobe Walls.

While the exact number of Cheyennes participating is unknown, the 1874 Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs lists approximately 300 Cheyenne lodges as "absent without leave and supposed to be hostile."

Adobe Walls was known by the Indians to be the headquarters of buffalo hunters who were killing what the Indians considered to be "their buffalo" by the thousands. Adobe Walls was nothing to look at, but yet many there saw it as an Oasis in the desert.

In June 1874, ten years after the first battle of Adobe Walls, a group of enterprising businessmen had set up two stores near the ruins of the old trading post in an effort to rekindle the town of Adobe Walls. It was located on the north side of the Canadian River in the Texas Panhandle, it was situated on a low knoll surrounded by open ground which sloped towards the tree-lined East Adobe Walls Creek.

It was named after a near-by old abandoned supply post, built in the 1840s.  And no, there was nothing "adobe" about it as it consisted of 4 "wood and sod" structures and a corral. The structures were logs standing on end, placed in a trench, with sod filling the spaces between the logs. The roofs were also made of sod piled on supporting logs. The three structures were in a line facing east, running north and south, approximately 700 feet long.

The complex quickly grew to include two stores (Leonard & Meyers and Chas. Rath & Co.), a corral, a saloon owned by James Hanrahan, and a blacksmith shop (Tom Keif), all of which served the population of 200-300 buffalo hunters in the area.  Crude even in its day, it nonetheless did represent the best security from the Indians for miles around, to say nothing of having the only Saloon. And as they say in the real estate business, "location is everything." And frankly, Adobe Walls had it. Used by as many hide hunters, it provided a close-by market for their hides as well as a base from which they could operate.

By late June there had been talk of imminent Indian problems and, in recent weeks, hunters had actually been killed. White Eagle had the band of warriors primed for battle. Convincing the warriors that the white man's bullets would, "stop in their guns — and bullets will not pierce shirts," the leader of the war party, Quanah Parker, Chief of the Comanche, didn't need to provide any sort of pep talks. Before the attack, on the south bank of the Canadian River, the Indians paused long enough to paint themselves for war.

One warrior, Okuhhatuh described his "battlefield" appearance:

"...painted face Indian red, with black triangles at the four cardinal points and a black circle representing the camp circle. [ I ] applied body paint in stripes of Indian yellow or red. With yellow body stripes, the lightening lines and circles on limbs would be red, with stripes black."

Okuhhatuh also prepared his horse for battle as prescribed by the tradition of his Dream Shield:

"...a corresponding yellow for the front body to represent rain clouds, and a crescent at his back and a circle on his legs. From the bridle hung a red cloth pendant and an eagle feather with a yellow quill down the center. [ I ] tied up his tail with red cloth, fastening it in a small hawk tail and the stuffed skin of a swallow."

Okuhhatuh carried a full-feathered lance and a headdress and whistle that "belonged to the lance." The headdress consisted of a single upright eagle feather with an attachment of yellow porcupine quills, black at both ends.

He also carried a whistle made out of plain eagle bone without down, on a yellow buck string which he blew during the fighting. The feather bow-lance had four sets of crow feathers of six each, alternating with five sets of hawk feathers. There were also two hawk feathers of the same kind as on the horse's tail. The feathers were attached to a sheath of blue-painted hide crossed in four places by the old folded buffalo hide. A bowstring ran along the underside.

White Eagle met with individual warriors to boost their morale. He met with Okuhhatuh before the battle and told him that he would not be wounded in the oncoming battle. White Eagle told him that as Okuhhatuh charged the structures at Adobe Walls he would be able to see the bullets of the white man coming toward him and he would be able to dodge these bullets.

On June 27th, 1874, 700 Indians, mostly Comanches, Kiowas, and Cheyennes, attacked the buffalo hunters' headquarters.

At dawn on June 27th, Billy Ogg, a buffalo hunter at Adobe Walls, rather than going back to sleep or engaging in whiskey at dawn, decided to go to the nearby creek and bring back some horses in an effort to get ready for the day's activities.

Whether Billy Ogg found the Indians or the Indians found Billy Ogg is uncertain. What is certain is that Billy Ogg survived the quarter-mile sprint from the creek to the structures at Adobe Walls. Ogg collapsed to the floor in utter exhaustion just as the first shots from the Indians began hitting the saloon's doors.

The first fatalities of the fighting were two white men, Ike and Shorty Shadler. Due to the horrible heat, they had decided to spend the night outside in their wagon. It was a decision that would cost them their lives.

Keeping hidden in their wagon, under covers, they hoped to ride out the attack undiscovered - but the prying of a Comanche named Mihesuah sealed their doom. Killed and scalped, the Indians taunted those inside the Walls by remaining just outside of rifle range and dangling the Shadler brother's scalps.

The initial stages of the attack gave much credence to White Eagle's medicine. The Indians had surprised the hide-hunters. They had taken two scalps early. They had captured a few wagons full of hides. They had made repeated charges with few casualties. However, they had not been able to penetrate any of the structures.

Quanah Parker himself had raced straight for the front door of one of the structures, backed his horse up to the front door, and tried kicking the door down. But the door held. At one point Quanah Parker even dismounted and tried to knock the door down with the butt of his rifle, but the door held.

White Eagle, sitting naked on his horse, yes naked, both horse and warrior painted yellow for battle, began to see his big medicine quickly go downhill.

He watched as the whites recovered from the initial shock of the attack, and realizing that the Indians were not going to be able to penetrate the structures, the buffalo hunters began to realize certain confidence in survival which began to equate to more accuracy in their shooting.  Yes, once calm took over among the whites, their shooting slowed and became much more accurate.

The Indians found that after having killed just about all of the hide hunter's horses and stock, as the battle wore on the only thing being killed were other Indians. A meeting was quickly held by the Indian leadership to determine whether it was wise to continue the attack.

Quanah Parker, himself wounded, questioned whether White Eagle's medicine had run its course. When a bullet suddenly killed White Eagle's horse which must have looked like quite the target because it was painted yellow, the matter was pretty well resolved. The Indians decided to move away to what they considered out of range and made no more attacks on the structures.

The Indians did however maintain a sporadic lookout and siege. But this too ended a day later however when a group of about twenty warriors, observing the activity of the whites from a little over half-a-mile away, heard the boom of a rifle -- and suddenly one of the warriors was hit by a bullet. Amazingly, it is said that warrior was none other than White Eagle.

It was then and there that the warriors knew for certain that White Eagle's medicine wasn't worth a buffalo chip. And yes, at that point, as the Indians were concerned -- the battle of Adobe Walls was essentially over.

Billy Dixon, who had a reputation as an excellent marksman, had fired the shot that had hit the astonished warrior. Dixon's shot was later measured at precisely 1,538 yards, about eight-tenths of a mile. Dixon himself was always humble about it.

A few days after the attack had ended, a party of Cheyennes went back to Adobe Walls hoping to retrieve the bodies of the dead warriors they had not been able to retrieve immediately after the battle.
By then Adobe Walls was abandoned, but the heads of 13 dead warriors had been cut off and stuck on sharpened sticks and stuck into the sides of the huts. It was retaliation for the scalps that were taken.

Many have said the Indians learned scalping from the Europeans, but that isn't true. Indians had taken scalps of their enemies long before the Europeans ever set foot on this continent. As for whites taking scalps, they preferred the whole head as they did throughout Europe to frighten their enemies for centuries. Historically, Europeans usually decapitated their enemies to make a statement to others.

In the eyes of the Indians, the Battle of Adobe Walls was a huge defeat. The supposedly strong medicine of White Eagle proved non-existent, and there were many dead warriors to account for.

The Battle of Adobe Walls was in fact a humiliation for the Indians. Within the ranks, their attack was seen as a fiasco.

To add insult to injury, White Eagle himself was wounded when his horse was shot from under him. Thoroughly discredited, White Eagle was seen as the fraud that he was. His magical "protections" were illusions.

After the first white casualties were inflicted as a result of the element of surprise, the white defenders held the Indians at bay throughout the several days of the battle.

Revolvers and buffalo rifles proved White Eagle's prophecy false. And yes, after a legendary long shot by Billy Dixon in which a brave was knocked from his horse at a distance variously given as from 1028 to 1538 yards, the warriors lost heart.

White Eagle tried to absolve himself of the blame for the disastrous defeat by trying to throw the blame on others by claiming that his magic had been weakened before the battle when one of the Cheyennes violated a sacred taboo by killing a skunk.

The Cheyennes took this poorly, especially the Dog Soldiers who lacked a sense of humor at this point. They responded by beating White Eagle severely.

Now As For His Name?

After being discredited with his tribe, and beaten up by the Dog Soldiers and others, White Eagle was then publicly humiliated when the tribe decided to rename him "Isa-Tai." Yes, the tribe actually renamed him after the Second Battle of Adobe Walls because he was found out to be nothing but a fraud.

Originally his name was Quenatosavit, which means White Eagle, but after the debacle at Adobe Walls and the loss of lives there, the tribe renamed him "Isa-tai".  By renaming him Isa-tai, his tribe must have truly wanted him to go through the rest of his life in shame. Isa-tai is not an Indian word that one wants to be known as.

You see "Isa-tai" translates to "Wolf's Vulva" or "Coyote Vagina". Some say it means "Coyote Droppings," "Rear-End-of-a-Wolf," or literally "Coyote Anus." The exact meaning of Isa-tai is said to simply mean "Coyote Shit!" It was his name after the battle and not before.

All in all, the point is this, you know you're in deep trouble with your people when they start calling you Coyote Shit or worse!  And yes, that's just the way I see it.

This Memorial Sits At The Site Today.
Tom Correa


  1. Excellant work and information. Usually in "the books" this part of history is 2 or 3 sentences and then wrong information scattered among the prose....

    1. I cannot thank you enough for your kind words. Here's wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.

  2. Looking for information on a warrior, named warhorse, who fought at adobe walls. The family is not sure if he was Kiowa or Comanche. Was supposed to have a daughter named little dog. Any help is greatly appreciated

  3. I thought this would be another lame blog spouting off bullets point. Instead, I found it to be interesting, informative and useful. Thank you, Sean Richard


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