The war with Mexico, over Texas, lasted until General Winfield Scott, who was called "Old Fuss and Feathers" and ranks as a great soldier, captured the City of Mexico, in September, 1847.
By the war the United States not only kept Texas, but gained New Mexico and most of Arizona, with Nevada, Utah, California, and Colorado west of the Rocky Mountain divide.
It took over the management of new tribes of Indians, also, who had been preying upon the Mexican and American settlers and really never had been managed at all. In Arizona and New Mexico there were the Apaches and the Navajos; in Texas the Apaches and Comanches, and the Kiowas who raided down from the Arkansas River in the north.
All these tribes had been accustomed to making forays clear into Old Mexico. The Navajos styled themselves the "Lords of the North"; the Comanches boasted that the Mexicans were good only to hold their horses for them; the Apaches were just as over-bearing, and the very name Kiowa spread terror. For many years, now, the American soldiers and settlers fought these desert and plains Indians, that the Southwest lands might be possessed by the white race in peace.
When the War of the Rebellion broke out, General David Twiggs, who has served so honorably under the Flag, surrendered his district of Texas to the South. The Confederate Government sent troops from Texas to occupy Arizona and New Mexico. At this time Arizona had not yet been admitted by the United States as a separate Territory; it still formed a part of New Mexico, and was settled by the white people mainly along the Mexican border. The pioneer Butterfield Southern Overland stage line ran here, on its way between Texas and San Diego of California.
The two or three United States army posts in southern Arizona had to be abandoned, for under the name Arizuma that portion of Arizona had joined the Confederate States. Then the Apaches saw their chance and swooped down, to plunder the stage portions and the ranches. They reasoned that if the white men could not keep peace with one another, what was the use in the red men trying. The Apaches hoped to get that country for themselves, again.
But the First California Volunteer Infantry under Colonel James H. Carleton marched in from the west, along the stage line, to drive out the Confederate soldiers and the Indians both. That it did. From the north the First New Mexican Volunteer Infantry of Colonel Christopher Carson marched down the Rio Grande, with other New Mexican regiments, to reinforce the Regular troops on the lower Rio Grande.
This Colonel Christopher Carson was the famous Kit Carson—trapper, Indian fighter, scout, and now a soldier. Like Daniel Boone, who had become a major in the militia of Kentucky, Kit Carson became an officer of the New Mexican Volunteers.
The invasion of the Confederate column from Texas was stopped and turned back, this same year, 1862; New Mexico, including Arizona, was saved to the Union. That left the soldiers free to attend to the Indians.
Colonel James Carleton was appointed brigadier general commanding the department of New Mexico which extended from Texas west to California. His troops were all Volunteers—the New Mexico settlers and frontiersmen and the hard-fighting Californians—except for a few Regular officers assigned to him. He got right down to business, for he had been major in the First Regular Dragoons and was a thorough soldier. To conquer the Indians he depended chiefly upon Kit Carson, colonel of the First New Mexican Cavalry, and his senior field officer.
The Apaches and the Navajos both had been bad, during the past year. The Mescalero or White Mountain Apaches of southern New Mexico itself needed attention first, for they had been cutting off travel along the Rio Grande River. Colonel Kit Carson was sent against them; his New Mexicans and Californians whipped them and stowed them all upon the new reservation of the Bosque Redondo or Round Grove, at Fort Sumner in eastern New Mexico, far from their White Mountains.
Then the lordly Navajos were ousted from their canyons in northeastern present Arizona, where for one hundred and eighty years they had defied the white people. The Kit Carson column starved them out and routed them out and rounded them up, and herded them also upon the Bosque Redondo reservation.
By the summer of 1864 General Carleton announced that the Mescaleros and the Navajos had been turned into good Indians at last; henceforth they were to gather corn instead of scalps; now New Mexico might have peace as soon as the Comanches and Kiowas were taught a lesson.
The Comanches and Kiowas had to be punished. They were raiding the Santa Fe Trail over which the government wagon trains, the stages and the settlers traveled from the Missouri River through central and southern Kansas, up along the Arkansas River and thence southwest across the desert for Santa Fe of New Mexico, and the country all around.
These raids were much objected to by General Carleten. His army supplies were being cut off, and so were the supplies for the citizens of his department. Traders and travelers were being killed. He acted promptly—had waited only until the Navajos were disposed of.
Colonel Kit Carson of course was the man to punish the Comanches and Kiowas. October 22, this 1864, General Carleton directed him to take four hundred and fifty men and strike the raiders in the northeast.
Of the four hundred and fifty, one hundred were to be Indian scouts from the Utes and the Jicarilla or Basket Apaches. These Utes and Basket Apaches were friendly to the Americans; Kit Carson had been their Government agent; they called him Father Kit; just now they were being rationed at the enormous ranch of Lucien Maxwell, another old-time trapper and mountainman, in northern New Mexico.
The Utes and the Basket Apaches were mountain Indians; they hated the plains Indians—had long been at war with the Comanches, the Kiowas and the Cheyennes and Arapahos.
General Carleton at first had thought that the Navajos and the Mescalero Apaches of the Bosque Redondo would go, too. But they declined with thanks.
"You have put us here and told us to work on our farms and not fight any more," the smart Navajos said. "So why should we go upon the war path with your men?"
The Mescaleros agreed that this was sensible. As for the Utes and Basket Apaches—they were not at all keen, either. They said that they were willing to have their cousins the Mescalero Apaches join them, but they would have no Navajos along. The Apache nation and the Navajo nation were at war. And if they themselves went, they wished to be given sugar and coffee, the same as the white soldiers; they wished their families to be taken care of—to be given flour and meat every day; they wished blankets and shirts and rifles and ammunition, and Chief Ka-ni-at-ze said that he must have an extra horse or else he would not order his Ute warriors out.
After a great deal of bargaining eighty-two of the Utes and the Basket Apaches promised to follow Father Kit against the Comanches and Kiowas. He took them with him down to new Fort Bascom, on the upper South Canadian River in eastern New Mexico near the Texas Panhandle and the Comanche country.
They arrived on November 10. The snow had been deep, the weather cold; seven of the Indians decided to go no farther, after all. They were sick and did not like to leave their families, they said. But at Fort Bascom Colonel Kit had the seventy-five others; he found his command waiting for him: fourteen officers and three hundred and twenty-one rank and file, of the First California Veteran Infantry, the First California Cavalry, the First New Mexican Cavalry, the First New Mexican Mounted Infantry, and a battery of two twelve-pounder mountain howitzers.
Major William McCleave of the Californians commanded the cavalry; Lieutenant-Colonel Francisco Abreii of the New Mexicans commanded the infantry; Lieutenant Charles Haberkorn of the New Mexicans commanded the seventy-five Indians; First Lieutenant George Henry Pettis of the Californians commanded the battery. Lieutenant J. C. Edgar of the New Mexican cavalry was assistant adjutant-general; Lieutenant Benjamin Taylor, Fifth United States Infantry, was assistant quartermaster and commissary; Assistant Surgeon George S. Courtright, United States Volunteers, was surgeon.
And Colonel Christopher Carson, New Mexican Volunteers, was the officer commanding all. General Carleton had supplied him with the men and the provisions; had told him to go ahead and show what he could do.
"You know where to find the Indians; you know what they have done; you know how to punish them. Everything is left with you. I believe you will have big luck," General Carleton had written him.
The allied Comanches and Kiowas were supposed to be encamped for the winter somewhere down the South Canadian River, in the northern part of the Texas Panhandle. This was a great winter resort for them and their friends. The snow did not lie long, to cover the grass; and there were wood and water and shelter and game, with the Santa Fe Trail easy to reach, on the north.
November 12 Colonel Carson led his little army into the northeast out of Fort Bascom, to strike the winter village of the allied Indians. He followed an old trader wagon road that crossed through the Panhandle as a short-cut to the Santa Fe Trail and the Arkansas River.
The march down the north side of the South Canadian was not rapid. It was no trappers' march, but the march of soldiers. The infantry trudged, so did the gunners, and the two twelve-pounder howitzers rolled on small wheels, behind tugging horses. Besides, there were twenty-seven wagons and an ambulance.
Moreover, Kit Carson knew Indians—he feared a surprise attack, he was very cautious, for the Comanches and Kiowas were many and bold, and this was an uninhabited country.
Every night after camp was made, the Utes and Basket Apaches held a war dance. They kept the dance up until almost morning. The soldiers complained that nobody could sleep amidst all that howling and thumping; but the Indians did not care. They danced and grew strong celebrating the scalps that they were going to take.
Colonel Carson had planned to move his supply wagons as far as a place known to him as the Adobe Fort, about two hundred miles down the South Canadian from Fort Bascom. There he intended to leave the heavy wagons, and campaign with pack animals. The enemy, he felt certain, could not be far from the Adobe Fort.
The Adobe Fort was called by plainsmen Adobe Walls. It had been built in the winter of 1843–1844 as a trading post by the owners of the great Bents' Fort trading post in southeastern Colorado. The Bent brothers and company were old Indian traders. As the Kiowas and Comanches would not come to Bents' Fort and trade, Hook-Nose-Man, who was William Bent, sent one of his clerks, Wrinkled-Neck, down here, to erect a post and buy buffalo robes.
The Adobe Fort had been in ruins for a long time, but Kit Carson remembered it well. He had visited it when it was alive.
Wrinkled-Neck built one or two other trading posts on the South Canadian, 'sere in Hutchinson County, northern Texas Panhandle. And there was the Adobe Walls of the buffalo hunters, in the same locality, built in 1873 and attacked in 1874 by Chief Quana Parker and his Antelope Comanches, as told in "Boys' Look of Frontier Fighters." Wrinkled-Neck's first Adobe Walls lay upriver a short distance.
Colonel Carson was thirteen days in covering one hundred and seventy miles. Two of the days he had been held up by snow. This winter was very snowy. The Kiowas named it Muddy-traveling Winter.
In the afternoon of November 24 he camped at Mule Spring. Old Adobe Wails was only thirty miles east. Two Indian scouts had ridden in advance every day, to spy out enemy signs, but had found nothing. This evening, just at supper time, on a sudden every Ute and Basket Apache sprang to his feet, stared down the trail and jabbered excitedly.
The two scouts were coming back. The white men could scarcely see them, except as specks; but from a long way off the two had shouted, with a halloo—and the other Indians knew that there was news of the enemy.
Sure enough, the two scouts had discovered, ten miles east, the broad fresh trail of Indians driving cattle and loose horses. The trail pointed down the Canadian.
"We think Father Kit will have no trouble to find plenty Kiowa," they said.
Colonel Kit did not delay. He directed Lieutenant-Colonel Abreii to stay with the infantry and guard the wagons; then with the mounted men, and the artillery—two hundred and thirty-six rank and file, thirteen officers and the seventy-five scouts, he rode on to surprise the Comanche and Kiowa winter village, where-ever that might be.
Had he known more, he might have hesitated. And had the Comanches and Kiowas known about him, they would have laughed. They numbered five thousand men and women, including three thousand warriors, in three villages stretching for ten miles along the South Canadian, both east and west of Adobe Walls. The first village, of one hundred and seventy lodges, was the Kiowa-Apache village; the next village, of three hundred and fifty lodges, was the main Kiowa village; the third village, as large or larger, was the Comanche village.
The head chief of the Kiowa-Apaches was Iron Shirt. The head chief of all the Kiowas was old Dohasan or Bluff, who had been head chief for thirty years and was of the clan of Real Dogs—the never-surrender clan.
The head chief of the Comanches was One-Eyed Bear.
The villages were rich. They had plenty of food and buffalo robes; plenty of guns and ammunition bought from white traders. They did not fear the white soldiers—but they did not suspect that the white soldiers of a fighter such as Kit Carson were near at hand.
Colonel Kit Carson and his column traveled fifteen miles, and halted at midnight. Nobody was permitted to talk, nor to smoke; the officers and men stood holding their horses' bridles, waiting for daylight. The night was stinging cold, with a heavy frost.
In the gray dawn the column moved again, upon the Indian trail. The Ute and Basket Apache scouts rode with their knees doubled almost to their chins, and their buffalo robes stiffly jutting high above their heads, like split funnels.
They all had gone only a little way when from across the river a voice called, in Spanish:
"Ven aca! Ven acid Come here! Come here!" It was an Indian picket or herder, either calling to a companion or else daring them to cross.
The Utes and the Basket Apaches heard. They were quick to act. In a jiffy they had dived into the brush and were out again, stripped for battle and painted for war. It was a miraculous change. They gave their war whoop, and away they dashed, into the river, to strike the enemy.
Colonel Kit sent two companies of cavalry over, also, under Major McCleave. He himself started on with the rest of the column; then he heard shots, and saw three enemy pickets racing for down-river, with the Utes and the Basket Apaches and Major McCleave's soldiers in hot pursuit. So he ordered all his men except one company to push the charge on this side of the river, while he followed with the battery and escort.
The cavalry charged indeed; vanished in the cotton-woods and the tall grasses of the river bottoms. The battery hastened at best pace. Kit Carson valued that battery. Well for him that he had it.
Pretty soon there was sharp firing, on before; next, they passed cattle—stolen cattle; then they came upon the scouts.
The Utes and Basket Apaches had captured the enemy's pony herd! That, to them, was a great feat; so they had stopped to take horses. Each scout had from forty to fifty ponies and was changing to a fresh mount. He left his own horse as a sign, and away he dashed again, for more plunder.
Colonel Carson and his battery and escort toiled on. The going was hard, through grass as high as a horse's back; the cannon carriages were so small that the cannoneers could not all ride; every five minutes the march had to slacken, until the men on foot might catch up.
On ahead the firing had grown heavier, but it sounded farther and farther away each minute, as if the enemy was being driven. After a time the battery won out into a cleared space. A long low ridge crossed the shallow valley before. Beyond the ridge there were a number of dots that looked like Sibley Regular army tents.
"No," Kit Carson declared. "Those thar are Injun lodges, made of white buff'ler robes."
The battery and escort hastened; climbed the ridge and plunged over and down. The Indian village was abandoned. Major McCleave's cavalry had ridden through it; had surprised the enemy here and turned the women and children out into the brush, but the warriors were rallied a short distance below and were fighting.
Chief Iron Shirt had been killed at the door of his lodge. He had refused to run. Pushing-bear had stayed and killed one soldier and a Ute and had knocked another soldier from the saddle. Lean-bear was under a vow not to retreat until he had killed an enemy; so he likewise stayed and fought for a while. Mountain-bear, who was a small boy, seized his little brother by the hand and scuttled.
The fighting down the river, below the village, where the warriors were making a stand, was very strong. The soldiers and the scouts seemed hard pressed; all the space to Adobe Walls, four miles, was thronged with hurrying warriors. Colonel Carson urged his detachment forward; the Indians retreated, with the cavalry pursuing.
"If that fracas isn't over by the time we git thar, it soon will be," Colonel Kit asserted. "And then we'll burn these hyar lodges. Throw aside yore over-coats, boys. We'll git 'em ag'in on our way back."
He and the cavalry spurred ahead—and Colonel Carson had lost an overcoat! When he came back this way he certainly did not stop to pick it up.
The battery followed at a gallop, the cannoneers running behind. They all continued clear to Adobe Walls.
Adobe Walls sat in the midst of a level plain of grass. The Major McCleave men had tied their horses in the shelter of the walls and were deployed afoot, as skirmishers. The Utes and Basket Apaches were charging about, on their ponies, shouting and shooting: two hundred Kiowas and Kiowa-Apaches and Comanches were doing the same, in front of them—hanging low upon the opposite sides of their horses and shooting from under their horses' necks.
And beyond the first line of warriors there were a thousand other braves, forming under their chiefs. Yes, and a mile or two farther east there was another large village, of more than three hundred lodges. Warriors were swarming out of it, to the field!
Colonel Kit saw that he had aroused a hornets' nest.
In came the battery; swept at full speed to the top of a little knoll, near Adobe Walls, where Colonel Kit and officers had grouped.
"Throw a few shells into that crowd over thar." That was the order.
"Battery, halt! Action right!"
The two howitzers were unlimbered and pointed to the right in a minute.
"Load with shell—load!"
All the Kiowa and Comanche warriors had paused, to stare. The cannon were something new. "Boom—bang!"
At the smoke puff every Indian had raised himself straight in his saddle. The shell burst above. "Number Two—fire!"
With one tremendous yell the Indians wheeled their horses and away they scoured, more frightened than hurt. Before the battery could deliver another round there was not an enemy within range.
"That settles them Injuns, boys," Colonel Carson remarked, well pleased. "We'll unsaddle and unharness, water the hosses and let 'em feed, and take a bite ourselves. Then we'll clean out them villages below."
The camp made merry over the easy victory. Surgeon Courtright had fitted up a hospital in a corner of Adobe Walls and was attending to the few wounded. The other men breakfasted on hardtack and raw bacon; told stories of what they had done and what they expected to do. In the midst of the talking and laughing Colonel Kit Carson uttered an exclamation.
He was gazing down the valley, through his spy glass. From the next village at least a thousand Indians were advancing, horseback, in a dense mass fringed with lances and shields and gun barrels and tossing plumes.
"Saddle up! Git those cannon ready!" he ordered quickly. "We're in for another fight. The hull valley's full o' Injuns and villages."
The command hustled. The Indians came on rapidly; they deployed .and rode to all sides. Very soon the Kit Carson column was surrounded and fighting for life.
Some of the Indians dismounted and crept through the tall grass. The other raced back and forth, firing and yelling. The howitzer shells. passed over them and between them, and did little harm; the cavalry carbines barked lustily; the Utes and Basket Apaches capered and shrieked.
One shell luckily landed. It struck a horse, tore a large hole and sent the rider flying twenty feet through the air. In an instant two other Comanches had charged for him—had reached down and grabbed him, each by an arm, and had galloped away with him, in spite of the rifle balls. It was a brave act; and the same thing was done again and again.
With the enemy there was a bugler. He had stationed himself at the rear, down river. Whenever the cavalry bugles sounded "Advance," the Indian bugler sounded "Retreat." Whenever the cavalry bugles sounded retreat, the Indian bugler blew advance. But when the cavalry bugle sounded halt, he blew the halt, also.
That was odd. Colonel Kit was certain that the Indians' bugler was a white man. The Indians afterward said that he was Chief White-bear, whose Kiowa name was Set-tainte and whom the white men called Satanta. White-bear had captured a French brass horn from soldiers and had learned how to blow it. He even blew it for meals, when at home. He was a great man.
The fighting waxed hotter. The Kiowas and Comanches seemed determined; they had no end of ammunition, they saw that the soldiers numbered only two hundred and fifty, they counted the Utes and Basket Apaches as little, and if the guns-that-shoot twice would quit, then with one charge all would be over.
As the sun rose higher, and passed the noon mark, Colonel Kit saw that he was in a tight place. The enemy was increasing; parties of five, ten, twenty, even fifty, were constantly hastening in. By the middle of the afternoon there were fully three thousand warriors in the field. The Kiowas say that if many young men had not been out upon a raid, they would have had more fighters.
It began to look as though the Indians were bent upon keeping the white soldiers here until night; had planned to move the village goods and stow the women and children in safety, and in the morning wipe the invaders out.
Already they were entering the first village, again, and taking away horses and household things. The Utes and Basket Apaches did not like this—they saw their plunder disappearing.
Colonel Carson remembered that above the village he had left his wagons and only seventy-five infantry to guard them. If the Comanches and Kiowas discovered those—whew! In fact, it was time that he did something more. He could not stay here, on the defensive.
The majority of his officers voted to push on, down river, and capture the next village. Most of his men were eager for the fight, and enjoying themselves. But Kit Carson knew that he was having the biggest Indian "scrimmage" ever yet staged, and considerably more than he had bargained for. These Comanches and Kiowas were strong in guns and numbers and courage. They were battling for their homes and winter supplies; showed no fear, except of the howitzers; and when the howitzers' ammunition failed, then the whole command would be bunched up and ringed closer and closer with bullet, arrow and fire.
He ordered a retirement, on the back trail, to destroy the first village and open the way to the wagon train. By destroying that village he hoped to draw the attention of the Indians from the train.
The tied cavalry horses were led out from Adobe Walls in sets of fours. One mounted man led three horses; the other men, on foot, were to fight. The two howitzers were dragged at the rear of the column.
The Indians saw and attacked more fiercely than ever. Colonel Kit thought several times that his rear was to be crumpled up. The carbines had no rest, as the Indians charged by horse and foot through the grass.
Aha! They had fired the grass, behind. The flames and smoke surged on furiously—"caused my rear to close up at double quick," Colonel Kit reported. All the blinded column was enveloped in the crackling blaze that raced it on either side. Colonel Kit fired the grass in front, to clear the road.
Soon he had to make for a little piece of high ground on his right, where the grass was shorter. The Indians surrounded him. They charged in, under cover of the smoke; shot and wheeled and scurried away.
There was a Mexican boy in the ranks. He had been among the skirmishers this morning, at Adobe Walls. While crawling through the weeds he had put his hand upon a rattlesnake. The snake had bitten him, but Surgeon Courtright had burned the wound, and the boy did not suffer. Now in the skirmishing he and a Comanche crept toward each other—a gust of wind blew the smoke away and there they were, face to face. The Comanche shot first, and missed; the Mexican boy shot and killed. He sprang to take the scalp—the dead warrior's friends tried to keep it, the Mexican boy's comrades helped him, and he took the scalp. It was the only scalp of the battle, and it paid him for the snake bite.
The two howitzers were in action.
"By hand, to the front!" Number One was hauled from behind the rise, to the top; was aimed—"Ready!"—gunner Number Four thrust the friction primer into the vent, while he lay flat; "Fire!"—and the lanyard was jerked by another gunner lying flat.
"Boom!" The howitzer recoiled down to the foot of the rise, out of sight; but Number Two gun was being advanced. Thus they kept it up, while the carbines rattled and the Utes and Basket Apaches scampered, and the Comanches and Kiowas charged.
When the fire had burned off, Colonel Kit moved on. There was hard fighting, right into the village. The howitzers had to drive the enemy out. Then half of the soldiers were set at work destroying the lodges; the other half supported the howitzers.
The village, of fine white lodges, yielded hundreds of beautifully dressed buffalo robes; dried meat and berries, powder, lead and lodge furnishings; contained a buggy and a spring wagon and harness, owned by old Dohasan; white woman's clothing of bonnets and shoes and so forth, and a United States cavalry sergeant's equipment.
After every soldier had selected several good robes, and the Utes and Basket Apaches had taken plunder, the lodges and all were set afire. Two old Ute squaws found four blind and crippled Kiowas in the lodges and killed them with axes.
Now it was dark. The Comanches and Kiowas were pressing around, whooping and threatening. Colonel Kit felt more uneasy than ever. This burned village was no place for him. His ammunition was almost gone; he had ten wounded soldiers and five wounded scouts, besides many wounded horses; his men were tired out with the long day. They had been marching and fighting for twenty-four hours on one scant meal of bacon and biscuit.
So the badly wounded were loaded upon the artillery caissons and carriages; the column headed up the valley, expecting to be attacked again at any moment. After three hours it arrived at the camp of the wagon train and the infantry—and was glad indeed to be there.
Even the Utes and the Basket Apaches were worn out. Tonight they gave no war dance. They slept. So did the white soldiers, with guards posted. In the morning the scouts wished to go home.
"Let us take the Bascom trail, Father Kit," they said. "If we stay we shall all be burned like the grass. We shall have to fight the whole Kiowa and Comanche nation. That is the truth."
The enemy was gathering again, just out of range of the howitzers; might close the trail in both directions; no doubt from miles away still other Indians were hastening in. Therefore Father Kit took his scouts' advice; he vetoed the proposal from his officers to capture another village, and after he had rested his horses he marched westward, on cautious trail. He sent a dispatch to General Carleton:
"If I am expected to return into the valley of the Canadian I must request reinforcements of fresh animals, seven hundred mounted men, two six-pounder and two twelve-pounder guns, and supplies for four months. Not less than a column of one thousand men, thus outfitted, is necessary in order to bring these Indians to terms."
On December 20 he arrived at Fort Bascom. The Utes and the Basket Apaches had danced every night of the three weeks, to celebrate the taking of the one scalp, which they had bought from the Mexican boy.
The Kit Carson loss was two soldiers killed and ten wounded; one scout killed and five wounded; and many horses disabled. The Comanche and Kiowa loss was thought to be over sixty, but that was never known.
"The Kiowas and the Comanches whipped Father Kit," said Buckskin Charley, one of the Ute scouts. "Only Adobe Walls saved our scalps. We had to fight fire to keep from being burned up. Ugh!"
"If it had not been for the big guns that shot twice, not a single white man would have got out of the Canadian Valley," said the Comanches and Kiowas.
And Colonel Kit "rather guessed" that this was so.