Mackenzie's First Attempt


An excerpt from the book Quanah Parker, Comanche Chief, by Claire Wilson, Chelsea House Publishers, New York and Philadelphia, 1992, Page 13-19.

"There was good reason for the Fort Sill Indians to hold Quanah in such high regard. Such was his daring that, during Mackenzie's mustering activities at Clear Fork, he staged a raid only 20 miles from the soldiers' encampment. The Quahadi warriors got away with more than 100 cattle and more than 1,000 horses. This embarrassment was only one of what would become a long line of acts that would increase Mackenzie's determination to defeat and make prisoners of Quanah and his band.

"On the day after the raid, Mackenzie ordered his troops to prepare to pursue the Quahadis and their prizes. With the Tonkawa scouts at the front, the force tracked the escaping Comanche warriors for the entire day without success. As night approached, the soldiers were forced to set up camp on the plains, placing themselves in an extremely vulnerable position. During the night, Quanah and his warriors stampeded a herd of buffalo straight through the soldiers' encampment.

"The next morning, Mackenzie and his outfit again took up the chase. Later in the day, a few of the Tonkawa scouts discovered four Quahadi warriors spying on the troops' progress from the top of a hill. Quanah was keeping a close watch on Mackenzie's actions. The cavalry was as much the hunted as it was the hunter. Despite sighting the four Quahadi observers, Mackenzie was unable to make any headway toward capturing Quanah or regaining the stolen livestock.

"Again Mackenzie was forced to make camp on the open plains. Again Quanah and his warriors took advantage of the soldiers' vulnerability. He and his men charged through the camp and took the sleeping soldiers completely by surprise. The Indians fired at the troops with rifles that they had obtained by trading stolen livestock. The war party headed directly for the soldiers' horses, stampeded them, and made off with more than 70 of them.

"Quanah's tactics were well thought out and quite effective. As a result of his attack on the soldiers' camp, Colonel Mackenzie lost his temper and jumped to a hasty and regrettable decision. In his fury, he sent out a small party led by Lieutenant Robert Carter to pursue and attack the Quahadi war party and retake the stolen horses. This reaction proved to be exactly what Quanah wanted.

"As soon as Carter and his troops had overtaken a group of fleeing Quahadis, they found themselves in the midst of an ambush. Quanah had used the small group of warriors to lure the cavalrymen into a canyon so that he could cut off any chance of their escape. The soldiers were forced to seek shelter in a break in the rocks and to keep firing incessantly to prevent the Comanche warriors from overwhelming them.

"This attack gave rise to one of the earliest descriptions of Quanah Parker. Lieutenant Carter later wrote in his memoirs of his first sight of the war leader:

'A large and powerfully built chief led the bunch on a coalblack racing pony. Leaning forward on his mane, his heels nervously working in the animal's side, with six-shooter poised in air, he seemed the incarnation of savage, brutal joy. His face was smeared with war paint, which gave his features a satanic look. A large, cruel mouth added to his ferocious appearance. A full-length warbonnet of eagle's feathers spread out as he rode, descending from his forehead and back to his pony's tail, almost sweeping the ground. Large brass hoops were in his ears. He was naked to the waist, wearing simply leggings, moccasins, and a breechclout. A necklace of bear's claws hung about his neck. His scalp lock [a special braid worn by many plains warriors] was carefully braided with otter fur and tied with bright red flannel.'

"Carter's description is surely colored by his conception of American Indians as warlike savages and his desire to add drama to his own life story. However, it does provide valuable information about Quanah's appearance during a battle.

"Carter and his small group of soldiers would most likely have been killed if Colonel Mackenzie had not come to their rescue with a large party of men. The cavalry drove off Quanah and his warriors and regrouped to continue the chase. Mackenzie sent out the Tonkawa scouts to determine the Comanches' direction of travel. Then, his entire force charged off after them, only to find the remains of the Indians' recently evacuated camp.

"Mackenzie and his men quickly found that pursuit would not be an easy task. Quanah was leading his band on a circuitous and often overlapping trail in an effort to confuse Mackenzie. Also, the Comanches traveled along steep cliff faces and up hills, which posed no difficulty to the Indians' small and sure-footed ponies. For the large, stocky cavalry horses, however, the terrain was much harder to cross. Nevertheless, Mackenzie was determined to capture--or wipe out--his quarry, and he continued to follow as best he could. Still, the distance between the two groups was increasing as time passed.

"As Mackenzie continued his pursuit of the retreating Comanches, he soon realized where they were headed--the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plain. No U.S. military force had ever penetrated that ancient Indian homeland before, but Mackenzie did not stop to contemplate the historical significance of his actions. He merely did what his duty required of him.

"After entering the Llano Estacado, the cavalrymen found that the Comanches' trail was littered with belongings that had been discarded in order to lighten their ponies' loads. By doing this, Quanah and his people were able to gain an even wider lead on Mackenzie and his troops. Yet, the soldiers doggedly followed the Quahadis throughout that day, but they were unable to close the gap. Even more aggravating, several of Quanah's warriors rode alongside the cavalry just out of rifle range but close enough to get off a few warning shots with their own weapons.

"As night approached, the situation grew even worse for the U.S. troops. In early autumn, weather conditions in the region could shift without the slightest warning, making the season a particularly treacherous time on the Great Plains. Suddenly, high winds and snow showers hit the troops, and they quickly found themselves amidst snowdrifts of several inches. Their horses, already weary from following the Quahadis' arduous escape route, could no longer continue the pursuit. Reluctantly, Mackenzie decided to make camp for the evening.

"Just as the cavalrymen were bedding down for a night of uneasy sleep, gunfire and Comanche war cries rang out. Quanah and his warriors had lived on the Llano Estacado all their life, so they were accustomed to the foul weather. The Quahadis rode straight through the camp firing indiscriminately into supply wagons and firepits. Then, as abruptly as they had appeared, Quanah and his men were gone. The soldiers were left to spend the remainder of the night staring nervously into the dark.

"The coming of morning brought no relief from the miserable weather. It continued to snow and rain with no letup. Mackenzie was forced to concede defeat to Quanah and his warriors. With his worn-out troops, the colonel turned back toward Fort Richardson. Through all 509 miles of territory that they had covered in pursuit of Quanah and his Quahadi band, the U.S. troops had inflicted no perceptible harm on the Indians. Even though the Llano Estacado had been invaded for the first time, the U.S. government was still no closer to ending the Indian rampages on the Great Plains. The Quahadis and their clever leader were still free."

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Last Update: 06/10/97
Web Author: David White