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SOLDIER SPRING, BATTLE OF

The December 25, 1868, battle between U.S. Army troops and Comanche and Kiowa warriors at Soldier Spring in present Greer County, Oklahoma, was a critical engagement of an 1868 69 winter military campaign against these tribes. The army developed a bold plan to seek out and confront the southern Plains Indians during the winter season, when the tribes were most vulnerable. Three converging columns were fielded in an effort to subdue and force the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa onto western Indian Territory reservations.

A column led by Maj. Andrew Wallace Evans marched from eastern New Mexico's Fort Bascom on November 18, 1868, with six companies of the Sixth Cavalry and two of the Thirty-seventh Infantry. Known as the Canadian River Expedition, the column consisted of twelve officers and 446 enlisted men. They crossed the Texas Panhandle by following the main (South) Canadian River. Near the Antelope Hills the force turned south toward the Wichita Mountains.

After nearly a month in the field the expedition located a Comanche village on the North Fork of the Red River as it bends around the western end of the Wichita Mountains. The lodges were situated between the stream and the granite boulders of the mountains. On Christmas Day the soldiers attacked. Opening shots from two mountain howitzer artillery pieces struck the Comanche lodges, creating panic. Warriors attempted to deflect the assault in order to let women and children escape. Cavalry were supported by infantry, who captured the village as the inhabitants fled.

The sound of gunfire alerted Kiowa warriors downstream, and they rushed to aid the retreating Comanches. The Kiowa reinforcements stalled the soldiers' advance, allowing the Indians to flee toward Fort Cobb or the Texas Panhandle. Evans's exhausted men could not pursue, but they destroyed the village and its contents before they marched on. Three soldiers were wounded, one mortally. Subchief Arrow Point was the only acknowledged Comanche casualty. The army estimated that between twenty and twenty-five warriors were killed.

Although overshadowed by Lt. Col. George A. Custer's attack on Black Kettle's Cheyenne village in the Battle of the Washita on November 27, 1868, the Soldier Spring engagement was important, as it forced the Comanche and Kiowa to seek peace, at least temporarily. As on the Washita, the southern Plains tribes learned that the winter season no longer provided respite from pursuit by the U.S. Army. The Evans command demonstrated the ability of soldiers to stay in the field for an extended period enduring the hardships of a winter on the southern plains.

SEE ALSO: MILITARY—NINETEENTH CENTURY, WESTWARD EXPANSION.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:H. Allen Anderson, "Canadian River Expedition," The New Handbook of Texas, Vol. 1, ed. Ron Tyler (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1996). Carl C. Rister, ed., "Colonel A.W. Evans' Christmas Day Indian Fight (1868)," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 16 (September 1938).

Bob Rea

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