The Last Comanche War Chief

Quanah Parker would become famous not just for his resistance to westward expansion, but as an advocate for Indian rights.

The half-breed son of Lone Wanderer (Peta Nocona) and the white woman, Cynthia Ann Parker, he was raised within the Nokoni (Movers) band of the Comanche and later joined the Quahadi (Human Beings). As a young man he first gained prominence by refusing to sign the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. He rose in stature and commanded a combined force of Southern Plains Indians (Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Plains Apache) in the ill-fated attack against the trading post at Adobe Walls in 1873 which led to what became known as the Red River War. And, he would be the last Comanche war chief to surrender.

Though the Comanche were never really defeated in battle, their way of life effectively ended in 1874 with the attack by U.S. forces under the command of Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie on their stronghold in West Texas at Palo Duro Canyon and the destruction of their horse herd. The execution of their ponies crippled their mobility and ended their mastery of the plains. Combined with the systematic slaughter of their main food source (the buffalo), it convinced them of the futility of further resistance and forced them onto the reservation in order to survive. The last of the once proud Comanche, the Quahadi under Quanah Parker, officially surrendered June 2, 1875.

Quanah Parker , after finally surrendering in 1875, would not be prosecuted or imprisoned and would go on to become an influential historical figure, not for his wartime actions but for the symbolic role he would assume as champion of the Southern Plains Indians. He would oppose privatization of Indian lands, host dignitaries up to and including President Theodore Roosevelt at the home he built in Oklahoma, and exploit his fame by appearing in numerous community and state venues including the State Fair of Texas. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Thoughts on Father’s Day

Father’s Day in the United States was celebrated this past Sunday, June 18th. At the time I was recuperating from major surgery and missed the opportunity to express my thoughts on the holiday. However, as there is no universal date observed worldwide (expressions of gratitude occur on different dates in different countries,) I still wanted to weigh-in with a few comments.

The genesis of the modern holiday in the U.S. dates to the early 1900’s, though an official Presidential Proclamation declaring the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day wasn’t issued until 1966, and it would be 1972 before President Richard Nixon conferred permanence on that calendar day for our national celebration.

Expressions of appreciation for the influence of fathers in the lives of their children take many forms. For the living, it is common practice for dads to receive gift cards, flowers, men’s clothing items, or cologne. For the deceased, a more solemn observance might include a gravesite visitation or even posting a favorite photo along with a cherished memory on social media.

For many, the full impact of their dad’s influence on their character, personality, likes and dislikes, activities, associations and professions is not fully realized nor acknowledged until after he has passed away.

It is difficult coming to grips with the loss when it happens. My dad died 31 July, 2006 yet it would take me years to understand our relationship and finally put down my thoughts and pay tribute to the man who remains my hero to this day. In 2015 I published Silver Taps, a very personal memoir that honestly looks at the bonds between father and son and the expectations of each in the context of love, friendship, and respect. I sincerely hope that I honored his memory.

All sons, at some time in their lives, strive to please their fathers and intrinsically wonder whether they’ve met their expectations. Similarly, all dads wonder what impact they’ve had on their children and what their worth is as a father.Few of us ever get an answer to these questions. As a son, I never felt that I was the person my father wanted me to be. I was never the star athlete, I never rose to prominence in the Corps at A&M or during my military career, and I failed in my first marriage. As a father, I know that I should have done better by my children. I was often gone on deployment or getting reassigned at critical junctures in their lives. I could have been more sympathetic to their concerns and more flexible in my response. But these are afterthoughts, so perhaps this is a dilemma best left alone. No matter the generation, parents always expect more from and want more for their children. Because we do, we find faults in them and in ourselves. – excerpt from Silver Taps.

 

Contested Borderland

In the aftermath of the Civil War there was little law and order along Texas’ southern border with Mexico. Post war turmoil allowed bandits, gunmen, horse thieves, and cattle rustlers to flourish. One area in particular, commonly referred to as the “Nueces Strip,” was known for its lawlessness.

Situated between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers, ownership of the land had been contested between Texas and Mexico since 1848 when the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo brought an official end to the Mexican-American war. Article V of the treaty established the Rio Grande as the southern boundary with the United States and also required Mexico to relinquish all claims to Texas.

However, the 150 mile strip became a virtual no man’s land with Texas claiming the Rio Grande as its southern border, and Mexico maintaining that the line of demarcation extended north to the Nueces River. The dispute resulted in frequent cross-border raids with Texas cattlemen and Mexican “caudillos” perpetrating acts of violence against the other and livestock exchanging hands illegally back and forth between the two warring parties.

To end the lawlessness Texas governor Richard Coke authorized a “Special Force” of Texas Rangers under the command of Captain Leander H. McNelly to aggressively deal with the situation. From 1875-1876 this force of some 41 men used brutal tactics to quell the illegal activity.

 

Captain Leander H. McNelly was your stereotypical Texan, tall and lithe. He also embodied the definition of the commonly used description “lean and mean;” he was utterly ruthless in the execution of the mandate given to him by the governor of the State of Texas. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

Though successful, McNelly was eventually removed from his Ranger command for using questionable methods – including torture and summary executions, ignoring the orders of his superiors,  and making multiple border crossings into Mexico in violation of Mexican territorial sovereignty.

The Last Fight

On November 25, 1864 the United States Army under the command of Colonel Christopher “Kit” Carson engaged the Kiowa, Comanche, and Plains Apache in one of the largest engagements ever fought on the Great Plains. The 1st Regiment, New Mexico Volunteer Cavalry numbered 400 (including some 75 Ute scouts.) They encountered a much larger Indian force (upwards of 1500 hostiles) at an abandoned trading post in the Texas Panhandle near the Canadian River.

The legendary frontiersman had been ordered by General James H. Carleton, commander of the military district of New Mexico, to punish the tribes for raids along the Santa Fe Trail. Considered the best Indian fighter in the Army, Carson was nonetheless in failing health. He was at the end of his career and life; an aortic aneurysm would kill the famed mountain man, trapper, scout and soldier May 23, 1868.  However, on this day in 1864, his leadership would prevent what otherwise would have been a slaughter on the scale of Custer’s ignominious defeat at The Little Big Horn and the skirmish, later called the First Battle of Adobe Walls, would forever ensconce “Kit” Carson in the pantheon of great American heroes that opened up the West.

U.S. casualties amounted to 6 killed and 25 wounded, while the combined Indian force sustained over 100 killed and wounded. The difference proved to be the tactical use of twin mountain howitzers that repelled multiple attacks by the Indians and covered the retreat of Carson’s volunteers.

The U.S. Army declared the battle a victory. However, only Carson’s skilled use of artillery prevented a disaster, and the Plains Indians forever saw the retreat as a major victory of their own. Their supremacy in the Texas Panhandle would go unchallenged for almost another decade before Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie and the “Red River Wars” finally subdued the powerful Comanche and Kiowa.

Carson had been sent to “punish” the Plains Indians for their continued raids along the Santa Fe Trail. After successfully destroying a Kiowa village that lay some four miles outside of Adobe Walls, however, Carson quickly found his command facing a much larger Indian force than expected. Were it not for his skillful use of two mountain howitzers that kept the Indians at bay for upwards of eight hours, it is likely that the military force would have been overrun and massacred. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

 

 

 

Reflections on Memorial Day

I will resume the blog posts related to my two books Silver Taps and Palo Duro next week, but today my thoughts are on honoring those who in President Lincoln’s words gave “the last full measure of devotion” (their lives) fighting America’s wars.

 

The long holiday weekend that marked the beginning of summer saw countless Americans fire up the backyard grill, head to the pool or beach, and celebrate with family and friends. Few headed to our nation’s cemeteries in observance of the national holiday. Fewer still looked at their watches or clocks at 3:00 PM to observe a moment of silence in honor of our war dead. The solemnity of the day was born by those currently serving in the Armed Forces; veterans – especially those who shared the horrors of war, its hardships, common hopes and fears with fellow service members who did not come home; military families – mothers and fathers, wives or husbands, sons or daughters, sisters or brothers extended family members who lost a loved one; or members of our national, state and local governments whose duties require their presence and participation.

The history behind the holiday is known only to those who consciously choose to study it. Its genesis goes back to May 1868 when General John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the Union’s veterans group, the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a decree that May 30th should be a nationwide commemoration of the more than 625,000 soldiers killed in the Civil War.

The day was called “Decoration Day” for the decorative flower arrangements placed on the graves of the fallen, and for more than fifty years it acknowledged only those killed in the Civil War. However, the United States entry into WWI began the transition to remember all of the country’s war dead, and gradually the holiday became known as Memorial Day. In 1968 the “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” moved the observance from May 30th to the last Monday in May, with Memorial Day becoming an official federal holiday in 1971.

The cost of America’s wars continues to be staggering: WWI – 116,516, WWII – 405,399, Korea – 36,516, Vietnam -58,209, Iraq – 4,489, and Afghanistan – 2,356 (these numbers fluctuate by source, and by the loss of additional service members in ongoing conflicts.)

The price of freedom is born by only a small fraction of our society. The Veterans Administration estimates that only 7.3 percent of all living Americans have ever served in the military, and over half of those are over the age 60. Compulsory military service (the draft) ended January 27, 1973.

Given that the current population of the United States is roughly 326 million, and of that total 1.4 million men and women currently wear the uniform, only .04 percent of our total population safeguards the freedoms we enjoy.

That all volunteer force, in the words of Lt. General Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Retired,) president of the Military Officers Association of America, represents the “unbroken line, an enduring thread of honor, commitment and dedication.” They carry on a proud tradition embodied in their willingness and that of past generations to lay down their lives in defense of our values and way of life. As a people, we venerate them on Armed Forces Day just as we recognize past service on Veterans Day. Let us do no less to remember those that died. Theirs is a debt we can never repay.

 

 

 

The Frontier Battalion

As early as 1835 local militia were organized into ranging companies by Stephen F. Austin to aid in the common defense of early colonists in what would become the Republic of Texas. Their designation as Rangers derived from the vast areas over which they were required to “range” in the performance of their duties.

Following Texas’ independence from Mexico in 1836 and its entry into the Union in 1845 the Rangers fame continued to spread, with names like John Coffee “Jack” Hays, “Big Foot” Wallace, and John “Rip” Ford recognized well beyond its borders. However, there was still no formal organization as such. These ranging companies banded together for days or months in response to Indian raids or the lawlessness that was brought on by Reconstruction at the end of the Civil War and then disbanded just as quickly as soon as the immediate threat was addressed.

The term “Texas Rangers” first appeared officially in May 1874 when Governor Richard Coke and the Texas Legislature appropriated funds and authorized the organization of six companies of 75 men each to maintain law and order on the Texas frontier. These Ranger companies became known as the Frontier Battalion and were commanded by Major John B. Jones.

John Jones sure didn’t look like the man to exercise the mandate given to him by the governor. At 5’8″, slightly built and soft-spoken, he was hardly of a stature to intimidate anyone, but he commanded respect and volunteers came from all over Texas to sign on the dotted line and serve under his leadership with unwavering loyalty. His creed, which they would all adopt, was “no man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who just keeps a-comin’.” And keep a-comin’ they did. – excerpt from Palo Duro.

The Apache Wars

The Apache made a distinction between raids and wars; the U.S. government did not. Raids were considered a right of passage for the young Apache warriors allowing them to gain status within their respective bands by counting coup or killing their enemies and capturing both horses and slaves. Their methodology was one of ambush on lone individuals or small groups, or quick strikes against isolated homesteads that allowed them to attack without warning, satisfy their blood lust, and then scatter before the cavalry, the Texas Rangers, or Mexican forces could retaliate. Vanishing into the deserts and mountains of the southwestern United States the Apache were elusive. Pitched battles against superior numbers and munitions were rare and avoided. There was no way the Apache could muster the numbers required to confront organized resistance or sustain the loss of warriors resulting from prolonged confrontations with an enemy that was better armed. Their survival depended on the ability to attack and disappear.

The Army garrisoned troops all along the frontier to respond to reports of rape, kidnapping, depredations, and indescribable mutilation and torture. However, neither infantry nor mounted patrols were adequate to the task at hand. Post duties and the distance between garrisons tied their hands.

Texas Rangers, free of the constraints of military life, offered greater flexibility in pursuing the Apache, but escape into Mexico and Arizona afforded sanctuary. International borders tied the hands of both the Rangers and U.S. government troops. Mexican forces fought the Apache on their side of the Rio Bravo and into the mountains of New Mexico and Arizona, but the lack of coordination across borders frequently hampered their effectiveness as well.

As a result, the “Apache Wars” lasted from 1861 to 1890, a span of almost thirty years.

As early as 1864, the Plains Apache had participated in the “1st Battle of Adobe Walls” in Texas; and, though they considered it a victory, had actually been repulsed by Kit Carson and his New Mexico soldiers. Ranald Mackenzie had scattered the Lipan and  Mescalero by 1873. A few of the Plains Apache had joined their Indian brothers in the ill-fated “2nd Battle of Adobe Walls” in 1874, but by the early months of 1875 both the Kiowa and Comanche had surrendered. That year also saw the Chiricahua, notably the Mimbreno division of the Central Apache led by Victorio (Bidu-ya) in New Mexico forcibly subdued and moved onto the San Carlos Indian Reservation.

By the summer of 1866, only a small band  of Chiricahua Apache still held out against the United States government. The Army found the few remaining renegades elusive. Though it employed upwards of five thousand soldiers to capture or kill the Apache, they continued to escape into Arizona and Mexico.

The hunt for the Apache transformed its leader, Geronimo (Goyaate) into a legend. – excerpts from Palo Duro.