Robert L. Ream
One phase of the local history of Oklahoma, which, as yet, has received but little attention has been the matter of the depredations upon the western settlements of the Chickasaw people by raiding bands of Comanches and warriors of affiliated tribes. It was largely for the purpose of preventing such predatory raids that the Government established Fort Arbuckle, in 1852. The people of the scattered fringe of frontier Chickasaw settlements were of the hardiest type, disposed to maintain themselves and protect their property at all hazards, else they would have scarcely dared to locate and live in such exposed positions. Partly because of the protection afforded by the garrison of Fort Arbuckle and partly because of their own resourcefulness and spirit of self reliance, the raids of the Indians of the untamed tribes of the Plains were much less frequent among these exposed Chickasaw settlements than they were in the pioneer settlements of northern and western Texas.
These predatory raids on the Chickasaw settlements were not only much less frequent than those on the frontier settlements of Texas but they differed also in that only live stock was taken and no other property was ever destroyed, neither were the homes of the people ever looted nor the inhabitants molested. The raids into the confies[sic] of the Chickasaw settlements always occurred in the summer time and only at rather irregular intervals. Sometimes a year or even two years might elapse between the raids. For this reason, the Chickasaw frontiersmen were nearly always taken by surprise, thus enabling the raiding warriors to get away with the cattle and horses without loss and almost without hindrance.
The first three years of the Civil War period passed without any Comanche raids into the Chickasaw settlements. In the summer of 1864, however, a small party of marauding Comanches paid a hasty visit to several of the outlying Chickasaw settlements, driving off horses and cattle. It is believed that one of the effects of this raid was the organization by the Confederate military authorities, of a two-company battalion
(composed mostly of Caddoes, with a few mixed-blood Indians of several other tribes), which was designated as the Caddo Frontier Guard. George Washington, the Caddo chief, was commander of this force, with the rank and title of major. Jose Maria, a Caddo sub-chief, was captain in command of one company or troop, while the other was commanded by Phil McCusker, a white man, who had seen service as an enlisted soldier in the United States Army before the outbreak of the Civil War. This force was organized especially for the purpose of preventing raids by Comanches or other wild Indians on the frontier settlements of the civilized Indians, which would mean more especially those of the Chickasaws, which extended farther west than those of any of the other civilized tribes.
Between the raid of 1864 and that of 1865, the great war between the states had ended and the Caddo Frontier Guard had surrendered. Fort Washita hand been abandoned with the fall of the Confederacy and a small band of wild Indians had slipped in and burned the buildings of the post before it could be reoccupied by Federal troops. Fort Arbuckle had been reoccupied by Federal troops and a small detachment had also been stationed at Boggy Depot.
During the course of the war, the Confederate military authorities had requisitioned and seized stock, corn and other supplies throughout the Choctaw Nation and in the eastern part of the Chickasaw Nation, but no call had ever been made for such supplies from the people of these outlying settlements. Moreover, there was no market for such stock, consequently, except for the limited amount that was needed for local consumption, the increase was much greater than would have been under normal conditions. In Texas, nearly every available white man was in the Confederate military service, either in the army, proper, or in the frontier guard. The natural effect had been the abandonment of some of the more exposed frontier settlements in that state. It was not strange, therefore, that the Comanches should have cast hungry eyes at the herds and horse ranges of the Chickasaws.
The story of the Comanche raid of 1865, and of the punitive expedition which followed has never been told. This has been due to the fact that those who took part in the expedition were always reticent in the matter of recounting their
experiences and observations concerning its incidents and details, for discretionary reasons, lest the authorities of the United States Government call them to account for making war on another tribe. It was not until more than twenty years after the Comanche raid of 1865, and Chickasaw expedition into the Comanche country which followed, that any of the active participants in the latter could be persuaded to talk about it and, even then, only to intimate and trusted friends. The facts related in the following account were gleaned from statements made to the writer by Milton Brown and Johnson Cohee, both of whom were fullblood members of the Chickasaw tribe, and from Sloan Bond, a fullblood Choctaw, who lived with the Chickasaws. All of these are now dead and, so far as this writer has any knowledge, there is not now living a single man who took part in the Chickasaw expedition which followed the marauding Comanches on their retreat into the wilderness west of the Chickasaw country.
About the middle of June, 1865, a band of about 350 Comanche warriors raided across the Chickasw Nation, to the western edge of the Choctaw Nation. Just where the raiding party was organized and whence it set forth on its foray is not known, though it is not unlikely that the start was made from some point in the valley of the Washita, which was a favorite resort of the Comanches and their allies, the Kiowas and Plains Apaches. At any rate, this predatory band approached the Chickasaw settlements from the northwest, coming down the divide between the Washita and the Canadian, across the central part of the present McClain County and the northeastern part of Garvin County. Crossing Mill Creek below where Byrd’s mill was afterward built, the first depredations were committed in the Sealy settlement, on Goose Creek. This was near the present village of Jesse, south of Stonewall, on the border between the present Pontotoc and Coal counties. The Chickasaw settlers fled to the hills. The Comanche raiders did not follow them but devoted themselves to gathering up stock—horses, mules and cattle—which they drove off. No attempt was made to loot or destroy houses or other property.
From the Sealy settlement; the marauding band proceeded to the James settlement, on Delaware Creek, in front of the Chickasaw Rock Academy, north and slightly east of the pres-
ent town of Wapanucka. Turning thence in a slightly southwesterly direction, the Comanches crossed the site of Wapanucka, passing through the gap in the hills at that place. Continuing in a southwesterly course, the next settlement reached was that of Mrs. Luffie Moseley, mother of Palmer Moseley, subsequently elected governor or principal chief of the Chickasaw Nation. There, as at the settlements previously raided, all of the stock was rounded up and driven away. This settlement was about fifteen miles northwest of Boggy Depot.
In the mean time, the exasperated Chickasaws were gathering behind the rapidly moving Comanche raiders. All was in confusion due to the surprise and excitement incident to the raid, however, so several days were lost before a concerted plan of action could be formulated and a force organized for the purpose of redressing the grievances and losses thus sustained. The raiding Comanches spread out so that they virtually swept a strip of country from twelve to fifteen miles wide. After leaving the Moseley settlement, the next depredations were committed at the Keel settlement, on Pennington Creek. Lewis Keel was a fullblooded Chickasaw, whose settlement was about nine miles north and slightly west of Tishomingo.
About four days had been consumed by the Comanche band from the time it descended from the hills at Canyon Springs to the valley of the upper Boggy River country until it raided the Keel settlement. Blue River was crossed at "the narrows," about three miles below the old water mill at Belton.
The first camp of the Comanches, after leaving the Keel place, was at Rattlesnake Spring, in the Arbuckle Mountains, about seven miles southwest of Mill Creek. The next camp was also in the Arbuckle Mountains, at or near the site of the present village of Springer, about ten miles north of Ardmore. The next camp was on Wild Horse Creek, at the mouth of the north branch of that stream. The following night, the Comanche camp was about two miles southwest of the site of the present town of Duncan. Thence, the next day’s drive took the escaping raiders to a crossing of Cache Creek, at the mouth of Wolf Creek. While encamped at this place, the band was divided, most of the stock being sent with a party which turned northward, ascending the valley of Cache Creek on the west side of that stream.
All the while that the Comanches were making their way back to the border of their own accustomed range, the Chickasaw settlers were planning and organizing to recover the property which had been lost in the raid. A general gathering of the settlers who had suffered the loss of stock during the raid was finally held at what is now known as Wells’ Spring, two miles west of Wapanucka, with about 300 men present. After considerable discussion, an organization was effected by electing Milton Brown as captain of the force and Tommy Joseph as first lieutenant. Each neighborhood or settlement also elected an additional lieutenant. The settlers from the Canyon Spring neighborhood chose Gabriel Brown as their lieutenant. Scott Sealy was the lieutenant from the Sealy settlement. The James settlement selected Jim Daily as its leader. The men from the Moseley settlement chose Alfred Humes as the leader of their contingent. Jackson Billis (later the leader of the "snake," or non-progressive element, during the days of allotment), was chosen as the lieutenant of the men of the Hoyubbee settlement. The Keel settlement elected as its lieutenant Willis Tusketombee. Each of these companies had from thirty-five to fifty men, the whole force aggregating over 250 armed men. The chief counselors under Brown—his personal staff—consisted of Wash Colbert, Puckinachubbe, Patterson and Harris Greenwood.
By the time this organization was perfected, the Comanches had several days the start. The rendezvous of the expedition was at the Moseley settlement. The trail of the raiders was taken up at the crossing of the Blue and the (first camp of the pursuing force was at Rattlesnake Spring, in the southeastern part of Murray County, where the Comanches had also made their first camp after raiding the last settlement. It was evident that the latter had spent several days there, presumably resting after their arduous labors in raiding the Chickasaw settlement. The pursuing Chickasaw expedition made a forced march the second day, crossing the Washita about one mile south of the site of the present station of Crusher, on the Santa Fe Railway, in Murray County, and camping that night where the Comanches had camped after the third day’s journey, a distance of sixty miles from Rattlesnake Spring. The next day the scouts and trailers in-
formed the command that they were close behind the raiders, the camp being pitched on the trail, near Duncan. Another day’s journey took the pursuing force to Elm Spring, on Cache Creek, where it encamped. As several Comanches had been seen at some distance ahead during the day, as a precaution against a surprise attack, the Chickasaws abandoned the camp after dark and moved backward three miles on their trail, where they bivouacked till morning. Elm Spring is said to have been near the site of Lawton.
As previously stated, the Comanche raiders had divided their forces at this point, most of the captured stock being sent northward up the valley of Cache Creek, on the west side of that stream. The pursuing Chickasaw column followed the trail of their cattle and horses. At the first camp after crossing Cache Creek, a deputation consisting of Wash Colbert, Jim Daily, Tommy Joseph, Patterson and Scott Sealy, was sent back to Fort Arbuckle for the purpose of ascertaining whether the Federal military authorities were aware of the Comanche raid and the Chickasaw punitive expedition. They found that the Fort, which was not very strongly garrisoned, had been having its own troubles with the Comanches, and that the commander had had no inkling either of the Comanche raid or the Chickasaw expedition. The fact is that the Comanches had probably put on a demonstration before the post to occupy the attention of its commander and garrison while the larger party had been making the raid on the Chickasaw settlements but a few miles distant, the ruse proving successful.
After leaving Elm Spring, the pursuing Chickasaws followed the valley of Cache Creek to a point near its head, crossing thence to the valley of the Washita and then swinging to the west and southwest, toward the western extremity of the Wichita range of mountains. On the third day after leaving Elm Spring, the supply of corn meal was exhausted and, thereafter, until the end of the campaign, the men of the expedition had to live on wild meat, game being plentiful. The start was made from Elm Spring about July 1st and a full month was consumed in making the circuit of the Wichita Mountains. The command did not move every day, however. Indeed, two or three days were sometimes spent in camp at one place, with scouts, flankers, pickets, trailers and
spies out in different directions, for the purpose of gathering information as to the location of the raiders and the stolen stock.
A close and constant scrutiny of the trail which was being followed by the expedition revealed the fact that there were further subdivisions of the party which were being pursued. That this was being done for the purpose of discouraging pursuit was evident, though it is improbable that the raiders were aware that an organized pursuit had been undertaken, since the Chickasaw camps were always concealed and every movement of the expedition was made with the utmost caution. It would have been comparatively easy to have followed the trail of one of these smaller parties and overtake and punish its members but the Chickasaw leaders held doggedly to their determination to recover most if not all of their stolen stock and, as it was their belief that ultimately all of the raiders would reunite, they continued to follow the trail of the strongest subdivision of the raiders, which was also driving the greatest amount of the stock. After traversing portions of the present Caddo and Kiowa counties and making a nearly complete circuit of the Wichita Mountains, the expedition re-entered the limits of the present Comanche county at a point east or southeast of the site of Mountain Park. Still pursuing an easterly course, it encamped north of the site of the present village of Indiahoma. Following the usual precautions, vidette and picket outposts were thrown out in all directions.
Johnson Cohee, who was on picket duty about four miles east of the camp, and about midway between the sites of the present towns of Indiahoma and Cache, in the afternoon, saw a flash as of a reflection of the sun from a mirror. He promptly reported this incident to the camp. Scouts were sent out with the result that, at a distance of about fifteen miles from the camp, the main village of the raiders was located. Concealing themselves until after night-fall, the Chickasaw settlers proceeded to surround the unsuspicious Comanche camp, with its herds of horses and stolen stock outside the cordon. Totally unaware of danger and in fancied security, the Comanches slept through the night. Strict orders had been given every man in the circle of waiting Chickasaws that not a single gun was to be fired or other noise made until the morn-
ing star was well above the horizon and this injunction was obeyed to the letter. This camp was located in the valley of a small creek, about ten or twelve miles southwest from the site upon which Fort Sill was established and built, a few years later.
With an aggregate force of more than 250 men, every one of whom was armed with both rifle and revolver, and nearly all of whom were in the encircling line which enclosed the Comanche village, the Chickasaws awaited the appointed moment to begin the attack. The only men not in the line were several who had been posted in concealed positions in the brush along the channel of the creek below the village, where it was expected that some of the Comanche warriors would seek to escape toward their horse herds. With every man stationed in his appointed position and all instructions given, the Chickasaws awaited the approach of morning, when the attack was to begin. Just as the dawn was streaking the east with the first faint rays of light, a bugle call rang out across the silent little valley and was instantly followed by a volley from the Chickasaw rifles.
The surprised Comanche warriors found to their dismay that they had been cut off from their horses and that they would have to fight on foot. Moreover, there were but few of them that had firearms, most of them being armed only with bows and arrows and lances, with rawhide shields which offered little if any protection from rifle fire. They made repeated efforts to charge the encircling line of enemies but so rapid and so accurate was rifle fire of the Chickasaws that they were turned back in all quarters, with heavy losses in killed and wounded.
As had been expected, a number of the Comanche warriors attempted to make their escape through the mazes of brush and undergrowth along the charnel of the creek. So well was this guarded by the few Chickasaws who had been stationed there, however, that not a single Comanche escaped, every one who attempted it losing his life in the endeavor. Among those who were thus killed, was the leading chief of the village or band. He was a large man, of athletic build, who had been watched by the Chickasaw scouts and trailers the evening before, as he rode about the camp, mounted on a large gray horse. He was said to have been of an unusually
light complexion for a Comanche. From the headband of his war bonnet there hung a rawhide strap, the full length of which was ornamented with highly burnished silver disks. It was the reflection from these in the afternoon sun, at a distance of twelve miles or more, that had attracted the attention of Johnson Cohee and thus led to the discovery of the Comanche village.
In the first random volley, before the Comanche warriors had left their lodges, several women and children were numbered among the wounded but, after that volley, as daylight came on, great care was exercised by the Chickasaws to see that no harm should befall the noncombatant families of their enemies. Repeatedly, the Comanche warriors tried to charge the thin line of the surrounding corden, but every attempt met with such a galling fire and so many warriors were cut down that it always ended in failure. Scores of the warriors were killed or mortally wounded.
The Chickasaws held the besieging line intact and unbroken so that it soon became evident to the Comanches that the warriors of the band were doomed to extermination unless terms could be effected. Along about the middle of the forenoon, it was noticed that they gathered in small groups, apparently for consultation. Finally, one Comanche warrior was seen to raise a white flag and start toward the Chickasaw line. All firing immediately ceased. The warrior carrying the flag of truce proved to be able to speak and understand English. In the parley which ensued, it was agreed that active hostilities should cease for the time being and that the Chickasaws should have the privilege of collecting the stolen stock, while the Comanches should have the privilege of attending to the wounded and burying the dead.
The Chickasaw leaders, thoroughly on guard against surprise, immediately detailed men to round up the cattle, horses and mules which had been driven away from their own settlements by the Comanche raiders. These were found to be widely scattered, the Comanche night herders having fled at the opening of the battle, whether through fear or for reinforcements from other Comanche bands, was never known. More than two days were required to find and round up this stock. The Chickasaw leaders told the Comanches that they wanted only what was their own and the men engaged on the
roundup were strictly enjoined not to include a single animal which did not bear the brand of a Chickasaw owner. No Comanche property was taken or destroyed and the Chickasaw leaders forbade their men to carry off even so much as a single trophy of the battle. The leaders took every precaution to guard against surprise, either by warriors from the village or by reinforcements from other bands of Comanches. Their camp was pitched at a distance of several miles from the Comanche village and on high ground, where no enemy could approach unseen. Pickets were posted at frequent intervals and at considerable distances from the camp at all hours, both day and night, also.
It was found that the Comanches had slaughtered a number of the cattle and also that they had used many of the Chickasaw horses roughly while in their possession. This is one reason why the return march to the Chickasaw country was made very slowly in comparison with outward bound march. The Washita River was crossed at the Henderson settlement, near the present village of Dougherty, in Murray County, and only a few miles north of where it was crossed at the beginning of the pursuit. At Henderson’s a supply of corn was secured, thus affording the members of the expedition a welcome opportunity to change from the exclusive meat diet upon which they had been subsisting for more than a month.
The return of the Chickasaws to their homes, without the loss of a man, and with the successful recovery of nearly all of the stolen stock, was quiet and undemonstrative. Indeed, the participants and their friends were very apprehensive lest the story of the expedition and its outcome might reach the ears of the Government authorities and that the Chickasaws might become involved in unpleasant consequences. Hence, for reasons of prudence, but little was said concerning the exploit, though, naturally, there was much quiet rejoicing throughout the settlements which had been included in the itinerary of the raid. Although enough of the story leaked out to whet popular curiosity throughout the Chickasaw Nation, those who had actively participated in the operations of the expedition remained very reticent in regard to its details until after the lapse of many years.
There were other Comanche raids among the exposed
frontier settlements of the Chickasaw Nation during the following decade, the last one being in the summer of 1874, when the last general outbreak occurred among the irreconcilable element of the tribes ranging in the western part of the Indian Territory. However, all of these later raids were made by comparatively small bands of warriors and in no instance did any such raid penetrate so far into Chickasaw country as did the big band of Comanche raiders in the summer of 1865. The operations of the Chickasaw expedition, like those of the troops of the Regular Army and of the rough and ready Texas Rangers, helped to wear down the numbers and quell the dauntless and defiant spirit of the untamed Comanches to the point where the people of that tribe finally consented to quit the war trail and the predatory raids and live in peace on a reservation.
ROBERT L. REAM.