Adobe Walls Battle

The following is an excerpt from an excellent book about Quanah Parker, Bill Neeley, "The Last Comanche Chief", 1995, John Wiley & Sons, page 83-101.

According to Olive King Dixon's account Quanah was not only kind to captive men, but also merciful to women and children. She claimed that "he never allowed any women or children to be killed in his battles." Charles Goodnight also believed Quanah's later assertions that although he had killed several white men, he did not hurt women and children. Certainly, he recalled too well the fate of his own mother, twice captured, by divergent and warring peoples, yet Quanah did not shrink from battle with male opponents.

These came more and more to include buffalo hunters. The wanton slaughter of buffalo for their hides alone so enraged the Indians that they felt compelled to kill every buffalo hunter they could find. Chief Kicking Bird of the Kiowas expressed the attitude of all the Indians: 'The buffalo is our money. It is our only resource with which to buy what we need and do not receive from the government. The robes we can prepare and trade. We love them just as the white man does his money. Just as it makes a white man's heart feel to have his money carried away, so it makes us feel to see others killing and stealing our buffaloes, which are our cattle given to us by the Great Father above to provide us meat to eat and means to get things to wear. Try as the red men did to stem the flood of white hunters onto their hunting grounds, the outcomes of battles were destined to shift toward the side with the technological edge. The raw courage of the Indians could not alone defeat the big guns of the hunters.

Clearly, The People needed the help of the Spirit World to protect them from the white man's bullets. What medicine man, though, had medicine strong enough to protect not only himself, but all of the warriors in a raiding party as well? Quanah knew such a man. His name was Esa-tai, Rear End of a Wolf. Missionary/teacher Thomas Battey wrote,

This young medicine man makes bold pretensions. He claims that he has raised the dead to life. He is reported to have raised from his stomach nearly a wagon-load of cartridges at one time, in the presence of several Comanches. He then swallowed them again, informing the Comanches that they need not fear the expenditure of ammunition in carrying on a war against the whites, as he can supply all their needs in that line. He can make medicine which will render it impossible for a Comanche to be killed, even though he stands just before the muzzle of the white man's guns. He ascends above the clouds far beyond the sun-the home of the Great Spirit with whom he has often conversed.

The majority of the Comanches believed Esa-tai's medicine was indeed very strong. At last the mystic warriors had a rallying point against the whites: invincibility.

Because, as adopted Comanche Herman Lehmann said, every time the Indians killed a white man, seven more took his place, many of the Comanches were enthusiastic about the optimistic prophecy of invincibility as propagated by Esa-tai. But missionary Battey feared Esa-tai's influence on them: "Horseback [a Comanche chief], who has hitherto been friendly, has brought in and left his ambulance with the agent, and gone to the great medicine council. Some few are bold enough to brave his [Esa-tai's] medicine, and remain near the Agency. What the result will be is impossible to forecast; but in all probability the Comanches will be led by him wheresoever he sees fit. It is seriously to be feared that he will lead them to destruction, in which many others may become involved.

Later, Quanah related to Captain Hugh Scott his version of the councils leading up to the attack against the buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls, a trading post for hunters built on a wide prairie sloping gradually to a little creek and south to the Canadian River. According to Billy Dixon, who took part in the ensuing battle, Adobe Walls "was scarcely more than a lone island in the vast sea of the Plains, a solitary refuge uncharted and practically unknown.... Originally, Quanah's intention had been to enlist warriors for a revenge raid, because he had just lost a boyhood friend to the Tonkawas, Indians who acted as scouts for whites. In his own words, this is what happened:

Tonkawas kill him make my heart hot and I want to make it even-that time I little big man-pretty young man but knew how to fight pretty good-I wait one month and go to Noconie Comanche camp on head of Cache Creek-call in everybody-I tell him about my friend kill him Texas-I fill pipe-I tell that man, "you want to smoke"-he take pipe and smoke it-I give it to another man-he say I not want to smoke-if he smoke pipe he go on warpath-he not hang back-God kill him [if] he afraid-I go see Kiowas on Elk Creek and Quahadas-then I go to Cheyennes lots of 'em smoke pipe-Cheyenne camp up on Washita near Fort Elliott (before fort was built) lots Comanches there-Otter Belt, He Bear (Parra-o-coom), Tabananica and old man White Wolf there-a big village-camps in different places and they ask me "When you go at night-Big Horse dance here-little Horse dance over there''... and I hear somebody, "Quanah-old men want see you over here" and I see old man Otter Belt and White Wolf and lots old men and they said, "you take pipe first against white buffalo hunters-you kill white men make your heart feel good-after that you come back take all young men go to Texas warpath"-then I say to Otter Belt and He Bear you take pipe yourself-after that [Adobe Walls] I take all young men and go warpath Texas and they say all right-Esati make big talk that time-lots white men-I stop the bullets in gun-bullets not penetrate shirts-we kill them just like old women-God told me truth. Before that pretty good medicine Esati-he sit down away listen God talk to him-maybeso fifty miles over there little creek-I see white soldiers we go kill them-pretty soon truce-this time he listen what God tell him.

In Zoe Tilghman's description of the great council on Elk Creek where the Comanches hosted their only sun dance, Esa-tai stood up. His youthful face was unlined by wrinkles, and his body was strong and vigorous. He wore no buffalo skull cap or ceremonial mask as did most of the older medicine men, but was attired only in breechclout and moccasins and a wide sash of red cloth around his waist. From his hair protruded a red-tipped hawk's feather, and from each ear hung a snake rattle. "Bending over the small fire, he laid upon it a handful of green cedar twigs and in a moment the heavy, pungent smoke rose thickly. With his feather fan, Esa-tai spread and fanned it toward all the circle. A companion who sat just behind him began to beat softly on a small drum. He leaned over the fire and washed his hands in the purifying smoke, bathed his face and breast with it. He sang a low chant, some of it mere syllables, but interspersed with words: 'Great Spirit, have Pity on us,' 'Great Spirit, make us strong,' 'Esa, our brother, show us what to do.' " The fire blazed higher, casting a reddish glow on Esa-tai. He stood with arms stretched upward and his face raised in appeal to the Great Spirit. Those who observed him thought the young medicine man grew larger as he stood there with his face uplifted.

Finally Esa-tai motioned to the drummer to cease and spoke to the council:

O chiefs and brothers, behold me, Esa-tai son of the wolf. My medicine is strong. My spirit left my body and went far away, up the path of the stars. I came to the place of the great spirit; the Great Father of the Indians, who is greater and higher than the white man's God. I was weary with the far journey. My feet could scarcely move and my tongue was dry with thirst and my belly thin with hunger. My moccasins were strings and my robe could not keep out the terrible cold. But the Great Father said: "Ho, here is a brave man and a strong warrior who could make this journey." A woman gave me food and drink. I was warm and happy. The Great Father talked with me.

He said, "I will take pity on the people. I will make them strong in war and they shall drive all the white men away. The Caddoes and Wichitas, tribes that dig in the ground and have made peace with the white men, they shall very soon pass away. There shall not be any of them left. Those Comanches and Kiowas and the others who stay on the reservation shall pass away just like them. Only the warriors shall be strong and increase. They shall hold all the land, going where they please. The buffalo shall come back everywhere so that there shall be feasting and plenty in the lodges."

That is what he told me to tell the people. He told me how to make paint that will turn away bullets. My medicine is very strong.

Murmurs of excitement came from the council, but White Horse was not fully convinced. "The Chief Quanah," Esa-tai replied, "and the other Quahadas will tell you that I have a strong medicine and do not speak with a crooked tongue. I told them of a great snow that was coming and again, when we wished to come here, and there was little food in the camp, I told them of a rain that would last two days. There were no buffalo near us and I told them that after the rain they would find them. Because they were killing buffalo, the Quahadas were the last to come to the council. I tell you that there will be a great dry time this summer."

Quanah supported the statements of his fellow Quahada. As soon as Quanah had finished speaking, Esa-tai threw back his head and howled like a wolf. Then he grasped a handful of cedar next to where he had been sitting and nodded at the drummer.

As the smoke rose, he began a rhythmic swaying in time to the drum beats, not leaving his place, but now and then throwing up his knees, or making a small leap, bending his body and waving his arms. As the drum changed to short, sharp beats, he stood very still for a moment his arms folded over his breast. He began a low chanting:

O Great Father, have pity.
O Great Father, make us strong. Make our arrows swift.
Make our bows powerful. Give us sharp lances.
Great Father, have pity.

Slowly, Esa-tai stretched his arms upward. Smoke swirled through the lodge as the Quahada medicine man chanted softly and then emitted a loud whoop. In his outstretched hand appeared an arrow. No one saw where it came from. In his other hand appeared a second arrow, and while the astonished chiefs looked on, a third arrow appeared in Esatai's hand. As he held them out before him, the wolf prophet proclaimed, "These are medicine arrows sent by the Great Spirit. You saw them come to my hands out of the air. My brothers, the Great Father will give you power. You shall drive out the white men and the Great Father will bring the buffalo back again. He has told me so when I was taken up to see him."

Promising that the white men at Adobe Walls would be killed in their sleep, Esatai rode with Quanah at the head of the large war party, along with He Bear (Parra-o-coom) and Tabananaka; Stone Calf and Red Moon of the Cheyennes; and Lone Wolf and Woman's Heart of the Kiowas. Esa-tai rode with pride and confidence. His pony was painted from head to tail with the yellow paint that would repel bullets. Scalps hung from his horse's bridle.

The war party of 250 to 500 men departed Elk Creek when the new moon brightened the night sky. Killing a few hunters as they rode through the northern panhandle of Texas toward the Canadian River, the warriors met along a little creek near the rude buildings of Adobe Walls just north of the river and northeast of present-day Borger, Texas. Esa-tai's words of favor from the Great Spirit had fired the hundreds of red men with new hope that their way of life would continue as they had always known it. They could hardly wait for dawn.

Adobe Walls had been established as a store and supply center near the abandoned Bent's trading post by A. C. Myers, a buffalo hunter turned merchant, who was from Dodge City. Billy Dixon had led the merchants and hunters south from Dodge to the site of the new settlement. Myers and Leonard's Store, of picket construction, was on the extreme north of the little cluster of buildings that had been raised on the windswept prairie. About three hundred feet to the south was Hanrahan's Saloon, made of adobe, as was Rath and Wright's Store, just over two hundred feet south of the saloon. In addition, there were O'Keefe's Blacksmith Shop and two outbuildings.

The inhabitants of this lonely settlement were glum; spring was late arriving, and the buffalo hunters, having drifted south from Dodge City in increasing numbers, were afraid that the big animals would not be grazing northward when the weather finally warmed. The merchants, having invested large sums of money in their businesses, wore long faces. G. Derek West relates that "the hunters slept late in the morning, and whiled away the time at cards, shooting matches, horse races, and Hanrahan's whiskey.

Not far from the new buildings of Adobe Walls, the great mass of moving horses and brightly attired men rendezvoused in a stand of cottonwoods. The long column of men was strung out separately for morning prayers, the making of medicine, and painting for battle, and each warrior looked with an increasing sense of oneness at the tall trees glistening in the early sun and the hills rising from their camp on the little stream. Shadows stretched long across the land, slowly to recede before the noonday sun to a fraction of their former size. Could The People be like the noon shadow? Once they had cast a long shadow over the vast reaches of Comancheria, and then the white man had come.

Esa-tai had warned the warriors not to kill a skunk on the way to Adobe Walls. His medicine had foreseen the hunters asleep; they would not use their big guns, and his antibullet protection would never be put to the test. That Esa-tai was confident in his medicine is clear, but he insisted that the skunk taboo must be strictly enforced. Nevertheless, as he later learned, a group of Cheyenne warriors did kill a skunk on the way to the battle scene. Since skunk meat was a favorite of the southern plains Indians, this was not unusual, for hungry members of a large war party would eat whatever strayed into their path.

Meanwhile, news of the impending attack on Adobe Walls had reached Camp Supply, Indian Territory. The post traders, Lee and Reynolds, sent a warning to Charles Rath. The message was carried by Amos Chapman, a government scout, escorted by a few soldiers. After reaching Adobe Walls, Chapman conferred with the merchants. On orders from those who chose to believe that the message was meant only for the owners or their senior employees, the news of the Indians' plan to attack the buffalo hunters was quickly circumscribed. The merchants were sure that they would lose their investment of time and money if the hunters got wind of an impending attack and left the region.

Myers and Rath prudently chose not to stay at Adobe Walls, and soon headed for Dodge mounted on good horses. The Mooar brothers, to whom Chapman did reveal the message, also headed north. In fear of his life, Chapman asked J. Wright Mooar if he could sleep in his wagon. Following is Mooar's version of the secret warning as he told it to his brother John:

There came in that day [two days before attack] a sergeant and six soldiers, and Arnos Chapman [half breed Indian] was their scout. This roughneck outfit goes to one of these private soldiers and asks him what they come up there for. The fool, he didn't have no sense . . . and he told them they was looking for horse thieves. There wasn't a thing in the world he could have said worse than that.

This roughneck outfit cussed them out and told them there wasn't no horse thieves there, and finally they got these soldiers pretty badly scared, and these soldiers pulled out and

Note: G. Derek West in 'The Battle of Adobe Walls-1874," indicates that although Mooar recalled Myers and Rath riding past him toward Dodge City prior to the Indians' attack, "there are strong grounds for believing that Rath, at least left Adobe Walls some weeks earlier." T. Lindsey Baker suggests that neither Rath nor Myers was at Adobe Walls just prior to the attack.

off up the river . . . to camp. They didn't stay, but Amos stayed there, and in the evening Amos got a chance to get Charlie Rath and Charlie Myers and Jim Hanrahan together ... and deliver the message that he was sent there to deliver. These soldiers was an escort for him. Lee and Reynolds had sent him from Supply, and he delivered the message to them: the day and the hour that they proposed to massacre the Adobe Walls: the morning of the 27th of June, 1874.

If there were a secret warning, it would appear that the Army took a major role in seeing that it was delivered when they sent an escort with Chapman to "the Walls." It would also seem that Mooar was right in concluding that Chapman had carried a message from merchants at Fort Supply, where news of the large attack had leaked out, to the merchants of Adobe Walls. So Chapman did bring a warning, but there was no reason to keep it secret.

Indians had been killing hide hunters in the region since the first greening of the grass. Because he had arrived after Chapman's visit and his information was secondhand, perhaps Mooar did not realize that James E. McAllister had ridden to Adobe Walls with Chapman. McAllister recalled, "I and Amos Chapman were at Adobe Walls two days before the fight took place in 1874. I was working for Lee and Reynolds at Fort Supply, I. T., running a bull train. Amos was a government scout.... Two men had stolen a couple of horses from Lee and Reynolds and Amos and I were following them across the plains. We ran upon the men on the head of Wolf Creek, but didn't catch them and we thought they would be by Adobe Walls. We made for that place, but the men we were after did not go by there.... The Indians around Fort Supply would be in to the fort every day, and they told us that they were going down to Adobe Walls and kill the buffalo hunters. When we passed there we told the hunters what the Indians had said, and that they were coming, but they wouldn't believe us. They weren't even looking for them when they came.

So everyone who wanted to listen had been warned of an impending attack. It seems, however, that only Hanrahan and two or three other men knew the day and the hour; J. Wright Mooar suggests that Hanrahan certainly did. What he did with that knowledge surely affected the outcome.

The Mooars met the Shadier brothers heading for Adobe Walls and warned them of a possible Indian uprising, but the Shadlers continued on their way undeterred, followed by a party of five hunters, including a young man named Billy Tyler. Tyler told the Mooars that he and his companions had been attacked by Indian warriors the day before on the Cimarron; all were seeking what they hoped would be the security of Adobe Walls.

Myers and Rath, according to Derek West, were able to leave their businesses in the care of unsuspecting employees. Hanrahan, however, was forced to remain in his saloon, as he had sunk all of his capital into the venture. All too aware of the probability that reports of the impending attack were reliable, he approached Billy Dixon, who was an excellent marksman, about joining forces. Since Dixon always killed more buffaloes than his skinners could handle, he was happy to form a partnership with Hanrahan, who had seven skinners.

Dixon's wagons, loaded with enough supplies to last for two months, were ready to roll out the next morning. That evening, the 36th of June, the Indians had a full moon to prepare for the attack. Billy Dixon describes the evening:

Adobe Walls Battle, Page 2

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