From 1871-1874 Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie distinguished himself in military campaigns against the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache. He’d already made an indelible impression on General Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War by his valor, gallantry, and meritorious conduct in several seminal battles including Second Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg, and Petersburg. Grant would describe him as “the Union Army’s most promising young officer,” and assign him to duty on the Texas frontier. The Southern Plains Indian tribes would give him the name Bad Hand for wounds sustained at the battle of Petersburg where he’d lost two fingers on his right hand.
Initially, Mackenzie commanded one of the all black regiments, the Forty-First Infantry, made up of freedmen and former slaves, commonly known today as Buffalo Soldiers. Their exemplary record of accomplishments under his leadership at a time when institutional racial prejudice still existed in the Army brought him to the attention of General William Tecumseh Sherman. Sherman would re-assign him to Fort Richardson, Texas at the head of the 4th U.S. Cavalry, and task him with implementing Grant’s Quaker Peace Policy.
More than any policy, however, it would be Mackenzie’s tenacity against the Southern Plains Indians that led to their eventual defeat and subjugation. He would put an end (for a time) to the Apache raids against settlers along the Rio Grande by boldly crossing the border to attack their encampments at Remolino, Mexico. He would mount multiple expeditions into the previously unexplored Llano Estacado (Staked Plain,) each foray yielding new new information and tactics to be used against the Comanche and Kiowa, finally resulting in the decisive engagement against these tribes at Palo Duro Canyon September 28, 1874, and an end to the Red River War.
Ranald Mackenzie surveyed the burned encampments. All his efforts seemed to point to another campaign where he’d been unable to keep the Indians from escaping; another failure. He then looked toward the captured horses. Past experience told him he would be unable to keep the pony herd intact all the way back to friendly lines. The Indians would once again mount raids to recapture their mounts and the cycle of resistance and the so called “Red River War” would continue. Mackenzie had long since hardened himself against any pity for the enemy and now knew what was required of him. He ordered his Adjutant to drive the pony herd to Tule Canyon, to select fresh mounts for the troop and his Tonkawa Scouts, and to shoot all the remaining horses. – Excerpt from Palo Duro.
Read the book to learn more about the Plains Indian Wars, Ranald Mackenzie, and this gut wrenching decision!