The abundant natural resources of Wheeler County in the eastern Texas Panhandle have attracted settlers for at least 12,000 years. Spring fed creeks, lush grass rich in protein, a favorable climate, and a myriad of wildlife support the inhabitants who occupy the rolling plain. Sweetwater Creek drains the center of the county and is one of three important streams that water both man and beast.
After the Civil War, new technology in tanning resulted in an international market for buffalo hides to use in the manufacture of belting, harness-leather, and for many other purposes.
In the early 1870s, hundreds of buffalo hunters came to the Texas Panhandle in search of a shrinking herd. Competition between the Native American and the buffalo hunters for the diminishing buffalo resulted in tension.
In the first weeks of June 1874, Joe Plummer left two of his crew, Dave Dudley and John Wallace, camped at the Red Deer near the site of present day Canadian, to go into Adobe Walls and buy supplies. When he returned to camp he found:
his wagon burned up and there was his hides destroyed, and was just about half an hour until sundown. They just butchered them. Dave Dudley was propped up in a sitting position, . . . and a stake drove in the ground, and his hand put on that stake so he would have to look at it.
They had him tied up and they cut a hole in the pit of his stomach and drove a wooden stake right down through there and into the ground with an ax. He had long hair down to his shoulders, and they scalped him, and took every hair of his head and ears. They just killed the other man. They scalped him but didnt butcher him up so.
He [Plummer] was driving a four mule team. He jumped down off his wagon, pulled his pocket knife out of his boot or belt, and cadged the belly band of the near lead horse, dropped his knife, and jumped onto that horse bareback, a blind bridle, the collar on, and his buffalo gun in his hand.
Instead of turning around and going back, he went straight ahead, right into the bush. He got across the creek, into the breaks as quick as he could. He was headed up the Red Deer, and swung around that night.
[The Indians had] waited the way he was coming [into camp], and they let him get through and let him see these fellows [Dudley and Wallace]. They didnt shoot until they seed what he was going to do. He got across the creek, but they had put their horses so danged far off that by the time they got their horses and got around it was sundown, and they couldnt trail him. He said there was a hundred shots fired at him. He came right through them.
He knew how to travel and came back. He didnt get to Adobe Walls that night. It was forty miles up there. I met him . . . the next day about half ways out and he walking leading his horses.
J. Wright Mooar, Buffalo Hunter.
The southern buffalo were long and tall and slabside. They were like the Texas cattle in build while the northern buffalo were more like the Hereford. They were probably the same specie, but the northern bison had longer, blacker, and better wool. The southern buffalos wool turned yellow in the fall.
George Simpson, Buffalo Hunter
In 1876 I delivered 3600 hides and in 1877 I delivered 2500. The last deal I made for hides was for 800 on Red River in 1876 or 1877.
C.E. "Ed" Jones, Buffalo Hunter
The biggest killing I ever made was 106 buffalo before breakfast.
C. E. "Ed" Jones, Buffalo Hunter
We put up our buffalo meat in the fall. We would pick out big fat cows for meat which we would salt down and then dry. We would dig out a big hole in the ground, line it with buffalo hides, and cut the buffalo hams into big chunks, and put them here salting them down for about ten days.
Then we made frames of poles with four sides and covered these with buffalo hides and hanging the meat up from them smoked it with green hackberry and china berry wood.
Richard Bussell, Buffalo Hunter
"The Scalped Hunter." An army officer and a government scout inspect the body of a hunter killed and scalped by Indians. Isolated attacks on hunters were among the early indications that trouble was brewing among the reservation Indians.
The tension between buffalo hunters, Anglo settlers, and Native Americans caused the United States War Department to proceed against the Indians in the Panhandle and South Plains of Texas beginning on July 31, 1874.
As a result many soldiers from Fort Dodge (Kansas), Fort Union (New Mexico), Fort Sill (Indian Territory), and Fort Concho and Fort Richardson (Texas) converged on the Texas Panhandle.
On August 14, 1874 Miles set out from Fort Dodge, Kansas with two battalions of 6th Cavalry, one battalion of four companies of the 5th Infantry; a detachment of artillery including one Parrott Gun and two Gattling Guns, one company of twenty-five Delaware scouts and twenty-five newly hired civilian scouts and guides, commanded by Lieutenant Frank Baldwin. Major James Biddle and Major Charles E. Compton were the battalion commanders for the 6th Cavalry.
Colonel J. W. Davidson came from Fort Sill, Indian Territory with one battalion of four companies of l0th Cavalry.
Major W. R. Price came from Fort Union and Fort Bascom, New Mexico with one battalion composed of 250 horsemen and two mounted Howitzers of the 8th Cavalry.
Colonel Ranald Mackenzie came from Fort Concho, Texas with two battalions of eight companies of the 4th Cavalry.
Lieutenant Colonel George P. Buell came from Fort Richardson with two battalions of eight companies of the 11th Infantry.
The scheme had flaws. The five columns had separate commanders, independent of each other, so coordination of the thousands of soldiers taking the field depended on decisions of planners hundreds of miles from the front. However, through skillful leadership at the front and the tenacity of Miles and Mackenzie and their subordinates, the Army prevailed.
NELSON APPLETON MILES
Born August 8, l839 near Westminister, Massachusetts. Awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War, he was perfectly suited to be the Commander of the 5th Infantry at Fort Dodge, Kansas. No other field commander of the period could boast a record of achievement approaching Miles. Miles made his lasting mark on history as an Indian-fighter and as an infantryman in warfare that most experts regarded as the province of the cavalryman. Leading a column in the Red River War, he played a large part in the final conquest of the southern Plains tribes. His greatest attribute was his ability to choose loyal subordinates and his determination to remain in the field during the bitter winter of 1874-75, keeping the starving and horseless Indians constantly on the move. He died May 15, 1925 at Washington, D. C.
RANALD SLIDELL MACKENZIE
Born June 27, 1840 at Mt. Pleasant, New York. Ulysses S. Grant referred to him as "the most promising young officer in the army" for his contributions during the Civil War. He commanded the 4th Cavalry from Fort Concho during the Red River Indian War. Colonel Mackenzies most notable battle was his courageous and daring pursuit of the Indians into the Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874. After spotting a large Camp of Kiowas, Comanches, and Cheyennes on the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River where Cita Blana Canyon cut into the Palo Duro Canyon, Mackenzie led his forces 1000 feet deep into the canyon down an Indian trail so steep that the soldiers had to lead their horses single file. The attack was difficult, but successful. Instead of following the fleeing Indians, Mackenzie captured the horses. After holding out the serviceable horses, Mackenzie ordered killed 1048 ponies, horses, and mules. The loss of shelter and equipment was significant in returning the Indians to the reservations in Indian Territory. Mackenzie died January 19, 1889 and is buried at West Point.
LIEUTENANT FRANK BALDWIN
Born June 26, 1842, Manchester, Michigan. Twice awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Baldwin was a hero of the Red River Indian War. Baldwin was selected to be chief of scouts by Miles in July of 1874. Baldwin, a loyal and capable subordinate, became one of Miles closest friends. Miles said: He is a very safe and gallant officer and I have great confidence in him. He is one of those officers I am willing to trust a long way out of my sight. Baldwins scouts drew first blood in the War when on August 20, 1874, scouts encountered two Indians camped near a stream in the eastern Panhandle. After killing one Indian and wounding the second, Baldwin named the stream Chicken Creek for the prairie chicken in the area. This was the first engagement of the Red River War. His most notable battle was leading the charge on McClellan Creek on November 8, l874 and recovering the two youngest Germaine sisters (actual spelling is German--webmaster). Baldwin died April 23, 1923, in Denver, Colorado.
WILLIAM F. SCHMALSLE, SCOUT
German born frontiersman hired by Lieutenant Frank Baldwin at Fort Dodge as a scout for the Miles expedition into the Panhandle of Texas. His slight build and short stature hardly suggested he would become a hero, but he was hired because he could shoot and ride. He was a scout with the Lyman wagon train. Schmalsle exhibited his courage, when, on September 10, 1874, he slipped out under the cover of darkness to ride seventy-five miles to Fort Supply for help. On November 8, 1874, Schmalsle spotted Grey Beards Cheyenne camp on McClellan Creek and reported to Baldwin who charged the camp and rescued the youngest Germaine sisters.
CAPTAIN WYLLYS LYMAN
Lyman commanded the 5th Infantry detail that guarded Miles supply train near the Washita River when 250 Indians attacked it on September 9, 1874. The troops held off the Indians until Major W. R. Price, on his way from New Mexico to join Miles, came up with his attachment of 8th Cavalry on September 12, 1874. Blocked from water by the Indians, the men discovered canned tomatoes in the supply wagons and managed to quench their thirst and survive 72 hours in the blistering heat.
CAPTAIN A.S.B. KEYES
Captain of D Company, 10th Cavalry during the Red River War. A native of Massachusetts, he rose through ranks during the Civil War, was transferred to 10th Cavalry in 1873, where he was an officer for the "Buffalo Soldiers." He was the officer in charge of Company D, 10th Cavalry that captured fifty-two men, women and children on Kingfisher Creek on December 7, 1874.
Born about 1852 to Cynthia Ann Parker and Peta Nocona, a prominent Comanche war chief. He was nine years old when he lost his mother when she was "rescued" by Texas Rangers, eleven when his father died, and twenty-three when he was forced to give up the life of a nomadic warrior and hunter. Quanah became a great chief of the Quahadas (Antelope) Comanche and the most influential chief of the Kiowa, Comanche, and Wichita Agency. He was successful as chief because he sought middle ground. A progressive on economic and political issues, he maintained standing as a Comanche by refusing to reject important aspects of his tribes culture. He died February 23, 1911.
WILLIAM "BILLY" DIXON
Born in Ohio County, West Virginia on September 25, 1850. Orphaned at the age of twelve, Dixon headed West. Over his 63 years he was a farmer, woodchopper, teamster, fur trapper, buffalo hide hunter, scout and guide for the U.S. Army, storeowner and businessman, cowboy, justice of the peace, and postmaster. Dixon was a hero of the Battle of Adobe Walls and was one of two civilians to ever be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage during the Battle of Buffalo Wallow in the Red River War. He died March 9, 1913.
TIME LINE OF RED RIVER WAR BATTLES
|February 5, 1874||Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River
Lt. Col. G.P. Buell, 11th Cavalry attacked a camp of Comanches.
|May 2, 1874||Between Red River and the Big Wichita
Lt. Quincy O. M. Gillmore, 10th Cavalry attacked a war party of Indians.
|May 18, 1874||Carrizo Mountains in West Texas
Capt. Charles Bentzoni, Company B, 25th Infantry, attacked an Indian war party.
|Early Weeks of
|Red Deer Creek near present day Canadian
Joe Plummer's buffalo hunting crew was killed by Indians.
|June 19, 1874||Battle Creek, Indian Territory
Troop K, 6th Cavalry and Company D, 3rd Cavalry were attacked by Indians.
|Late June, 1874||Young County, Texas
Kiowas raid in Texas. Culminates in battle at Lost Valley, Young County, Texas with Texas Rangers. Rangers came out second best.
|June 21, 1874||Battle Creek, Indian Territory
Major C. E. Compton , Troop G, 6th Cavalry and Company A 2nd Infantry were attacked by Indians.
|June 24, 1874||Bear Creek Redoubt, Indian Territory
Major Compton and his escort were again attacked by Indians.
|June 27, 1874||Adobe Walls, Texas Panhandle
One woman and twenty-eight buffalo hunters were attacked by several hundred Indians led by Quanah Parker. Two buffalo hunters were killed early in the attack.
|July 31, 1874||Department of the Interior granted authority to War Department to proceed against the Indians in the Texas Panhandle and South Plains.|
|August 20, 1874||Near point Chicken Creek joins the Canadian River
Frank Baldwin scouting party encounters Indians. The first Indian killed in Red River Indian War.
|August 22 and 23, 1874||Near Ft. Sill, Oklahoma
Lt. Col. Davidson's command had a battle with a band of Comanches and Kiowas.
|August 30, 1874||Battle Creek or Prairie Dog Town Fork of Red River, Texas. Nelson A. Miles commanding Company A, D, F, G, H, I, L and M, 6th Cavalry and C, D, E, and I, 5th Infantry engaged in battle with 400 Indians.|
|Sept. 9, 1874||North of Washita River in Hemphill County, Texas
Colonel Miles' supply train, escorted by Captain Wyllys Lyman, 5th Infantry attacked by Indians and kept corralled until September 12 when relief arrived.
|September 11, 1874||Smoky Hill River, Kansas
Southern Cheyenne war party, led by Medicine Water raided the Germaine family, killing the parents and three children and carried off 4 sister, Katherine 17, Sophia 13, Julia 7, and Adelaide 5.
|South of the Washita River in Hemphill County, Texas
Six of Colonel Miles' couriers were attacked at 6:00 a.m. by about 125 Kiowas and Comanches. All six men, 2 civilian scouts and 4 troopers from the 6th Cavalry were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
|September 11-12, 1874||McClellan Creek, Gray County, Texas
Detachments of Troops I and M, 6th Cavalry were engaged with the Indians.
|September 12, 1874||Between the Sweetwater and the Dry Fork of the Washita
Major Price and his command fought a considerable body of Indians. After pursuing the Indians 7 or 8 miles, the column captured 20 ponies.
|September 26-28, 1874||Near Tule and Palo Duro canyons
Colonel Mackenzie's column repelled two attacks, surprised five camps of Southern Cheyennes and their allies, destroyed over one hundred lodges, and captured the entire outfit, including 1400 horses and mules.
|October 9, 1874||Salt Fork of the Red River
Lt. Colonel Buell with the scouts and Companies A, E, F, H, and I, 11th Infantry struck a band of Kiowas. Several hundred lodges in abandoned camps were destroyed.
|October 13, 1874||Near Gageby Creek, Wheeler County, Texas
Major Price's command attacked and dispersed a war party of Indians.
|October 17, 1874||5 miles north of the Washita River, Hemphill County, Texas
Captain Adna R. Chafee with Company I, 6th Cavalry surprised an Indian camp and destroyed their entire outfit.
|October 24, 1874||Elk Creek, Indian Territory
Major G.W. Schofield with three companies of the 10th Cavalry from Lt. Colonel J. W. Davidson's column, surprised a Comanche camp and charged it. The Indians put up a white flag and surrendered 69 warriors, 250 women and children, and about 2000 horses
|October 24, 1874||Eastern Panhandle of Texas
Captain Lewis H. Carpenter with two companies of the 10th Cavalry struck the trail of 58 Kiowas with 200 head of stock. The Indians scattered, and on October 28 twenty warriors with their women and children were driven to surrender themselves at Fort Sill. Lt. Col. Davidson's column captured or caused the surrender of 91 warriors and 300 women and children, with about 2000 ponies, besides capturing and destroying several villages and much camp equipage.
|November 3, 1874||Colonel R. S. Mackenzie's command fought Indians at Las Lagunas Quatro, Texas.|
|November 6, 1874||North Fork of the Red River
Lieutenant H. J. Farmsworth with 28 men of Company H, 8th Cavalry, fought about 100 Southern Cheyennes.
|November 6, 1874||Laguna Tahoka
Troop B, 4th Cavalry was engaged with Indians.
|November 8, 1874||McClellan Creek
Lieutenant Frank D. Baldwin 5th Infantry led Companies D, 6th Cavalry and D 5th Infantry in attack on Chief Grey Beard's Cheyenne camp of 100 lodges and probably 300 Indians. In one of the lodges under a buffalo robe, Schmalsle, a scout, found Julia Germaine, age 7, and Adelaide Germaine, age 5.
Captain C. D. Viele, 10th Cavalry, with Troops B, F, G, and H and Troop E and I, 11th Infantry with 30 Indian scouts, pursued for 96 miles the same band of Indians which earlier that day had been attacked by Lieutenant Frank D. Baldwin.
Captain C. A. Hartwell and Troops C, H, K and L, 8th Cavalry attacked a war party of Southern Cheyenne.
|December 2, 1874||Gageby Creek
Sergeant Dennis Ryan with 20 men of Company I, 6th Cavalry, attacked a band of Indians.
|December 7, 1874||King Fisher Creek
Captain A. S. B. Keyes with Troop I, 10th Cavalry, attacked a band of Southern Cheyennes.
|December 18, 1874||Muchaquay Valley
Lieutenant Lewis Warrington with 10 men of Company I, 4th Cavalry, attacked a party of 15 Indians.
|North fork of the Canadian River
Captain Keyes followed a band of Cheyennes for 80 miles and captured the entire band of 52 Indians and 70 ponies.
|March 6, 1875||Cheyenne Indian Agency, near Fort Sill, Indian Territory
Katherine and Sophia Germaine were surrendered to Lieutenant Colonel Thomas H. Neill, 6th Cavalry.
|May 13, 1875||Indian Agency, Fort Sill, Indian Territory
Quanah Parker, Comanche chief, returns to the reservation.
|June 2, 1875||Indian Agency, Fort Sill, Indian Territory
Last of the Comanches return to the to the reservation.
After many engagements in the region in 1874, the Native Americans were subdued and forced to live in Indian Territory.
In 1875, the United States government established Fort Elliott on Sweetwater Creek in Wheeler County to keep Native Americans on reservations in Indian Territory and to establish law and order in the region.
On June 5, 1875, Major H. C. Bankhead, 4th Cavalry, arrived with several companies of infantry and cavalry to establish New Cantonment, forerunner of Fort Elliott. On February 21, 1876, General Order, No. 3, Division of the Missouri, the camp was named Fort Elliott.
When the post site was selected, the boundaries of the Panhandle were vaguely known. Only a few survey markers had been installed in the entire region, and the various commanders had difficulty explaining where the post was in communications to higher authorities. The Panhandle surveys were incorrect by one-half mile from the one-hundredth meridian to Fort Elliott. The survey, which included Fort Elliott in Section 54 and Mobeetie in section 44, was in error. A later corrected survey included Fort Elliott in Section 55 and Mobeetie in Section 45.
The first buildings of the post were picket houses. Pickets were constructed by driving sharpened cottonwood posts or "pickets" into the ground at close intervals. These posts were then joined by poles fastened across the tops. The larger logs were saved to serve as ceiling beams. Upon these beams were layers of brush and weeds stacked with the coarsest material directly above the beams, the finer material in ascending layers above. This was covered with adobe (mud and straw) and sod. The latter provided the best means readily available for waterproofing a roof and assured its long life. Adobe was packed into the spaces between posts; the doors and windows, if any, were installed and the picket was complete. The Officers of the post lived in pickets in 1875 and 1876 until Officers Quarters were built. Though board buildings replaced most of the pickets, some were in use in 1890.
In 1876, Fort Elliott had one set of quarters for the commanding officer, twelve sets for the other officers, sufficient barracks for six companies of enlisted men, a hospital, a headquarters, and seventeen sets of laundresses quarters, all built of lumber. Two storehouses and four cavalry stables were also constructed. In August of 1890, the Board of Officers reported thirteen sets of officers quarters, four barracks, two offices, a hospital, chapel, library, guard house, seven storehouses and six less important buildings of no value.
All supplies other than lime, hay and wood, were imported from Dodge City. Civilians who settled near the post produced food for which they found a ready market at the post. By 1880, Fort Elliott was able to procure locally, hay, some lumber, shoes, saddles, wagon wheels, clothing and many staple foods. These operations constituted the first manufacturing in the Panhandle by white men.
Among the first personnel to arrive at New Cantonment was a young Englishman, a mess sergeant named Mark Huselby. He planted a four-acre garden near the creek. He grew vegetables for the soldiers. To keep livestock out of his garden he dug a five-foot ditch around the plot and somehow diverted water from the creek into the moat. Huselbys garden was the first irrigation project in northwest Texas.
Mark Huselby started the post dairy. He procured thirty cows which provided milk for the garrison. In October of 1885, the post surgeon noted that the garrison milk herd was subjected to abuse and annoyance. The maltreatment was due to dogs that run and frightened the cows to such an extent as to injure the milk and perhaps render her unserviceable for a milk cow for a considerable time.
Flour and corn meal were imported, but the post bakery converted these basic ingredients into breads and rolls. The bakery provided for the needs of the garrison and also engaged in retail sales to the neighboring townspeople of Mobeetie. Families would buy a nickel loaf of bread for their dinner table.
An ice machine was requested in 1889 because of the warm winters of 1888 and 1889. Little or no ice could be cut from the creek to be stored in the ice house, a picket building mostly below ground and thoroughly insulated with adobe. The ice shortage was noted to be a detriment to the good health of the command. An ice manufacturing machine was installed by September 15, 1889. It was made and set up by Mr. Jacob Schuehle of San Antonio, Texas. It has been found to work admirably . . . so far and to have an ice making capacity of 3900 pounds in 24 hours.
By 1890, Fort Elliott was no longer needed to defend the settlers property from Indians since the garrison was small in comparison to the overall Panhandle population. Because of survey inaccuracies and leasing difficulties with the State of Texas and the increasing cost to maintain rage for the stock of horses and supplies for the garrison, the decision was made to abandon the post.
The presence of Fort Elliott and its "Buffalo Soldiers" provided security for new settlers and spurred development of the first permanent settlement in the Texas Panhandle. After having fulfilled its mission, Fort Elliott was abandoned by the military in October 1890.