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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Another ill-fated expedition
Nolan Expedition

by Clay Coppedge
The last Comanche raids in Texas of any consequence occurred in late 1876 and into 1877 when a group of renegades who didnít accept the news that the war with the white man was over remained on the Plains, pillaging and plundering as in days of yore.

The Nolan Expedition, which actually consisted of two expeditions, was formed to find and punish the marauders. Two dozen buffalo hunters formed the first expedition and set out across the Llano Estacado in May of 1877. A more official group consisting of troops from the 10th U.S. Cavalry division, made up of black buffalo soldiers and under the command of Nicholas Nolan, who was white, set out from Fort Griffin in July of 1877.

The two groups inadvertently met up on the Llano Estacado later that month. Neither group had actually seen any Comanches but had no doubt that Comanches had seen them. The hunters had been close a couple of times but the Indians vanished like smoke when the hunters were ready to strike.

The two groups joined forces and did find some Comanches but not the ones they were after. The band they encountered was a small one and included women but also the great chief Quanah Parker. That peaceful meeting would be their undoing and one reason why the Nolan Expedition is one of several such forays that are invariably described as ďill-fated

The Nolan Expedition was doomed not so much by its mission or the mettle of the men involved but by geography. The Llano Estacado had just about done in Col. Ranald Mackenzie when he ventured there to take on Quanah Parker and his tribe of Quahadis, the last remaining obstacle to Anglo settlement but a formidable one.

Mackenzie commanded the Red River War and finally convinced Quanah and his people to submit to a life on the Fort Sill reservation in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). One band of warriors remained on the prowl, however, and they turned their most murderous attention to the buffalo hunters who were, in front of their eyes, exterminating the basis of their existence.

The Comanches had a big fight with buffalo hunters near present-day Post. They killed a buffalo hunter near Double Mountain and raided Rathís store, a supply post for the hunters. The buffalo hunters, the government and Mackenzie all agreed something needed to be done.

So did Quanah Parker. As a favor to Mackenzie, Quanah set out across the Llanos with (five other people) to find that same marauding band of Comanches. His mission was to talk them into going back to the reservation peacefully.

This was not the mission of the soldiers or the buffalo hunters. For them, it was not only a matter of public safety but also a chance for military glory. They saw themselves as the last of the Indian fighters. Once they captured or preferably killed this one last band, there would be precious few Indians left to fight.

Of course, Quanah knew this. Thatís why when he encountered the expeditions he told Nolan he knew where the renegades were and said he was on his way to meet with them. He said they were camped out at a place called Mustang Springs. The soldiers and hunters soon headed off in that direction.

Quanah and his band of peacemaker watched them go, might have wished them good luck, and then headed for the banks of the Pecos River, where the marauders actually were. Quanah found them and convinced them to surrender.

Meanwhile, the men of the Nolan Expedition were having an exceedingly a rough go of it. They did catch a glimpse of some Indians who gleefully led them on a chase across some of the driest terrain the Llanos had to offer but letís be clear: the Comanches werenít the ones being punished here.

When the trails split and the expeditionís scouts became confused, the two groups split up. The buffalo hunters head southwest and found water some 36 hours later. Nolan and his men doubled back toward their camp at Double Lake, near present-day Tahoka. They went 86 hours without water and were reduced to drinking urine Ė their own and that of their horses Ė with sugar mixed in to make it more palatable. The blood of the horses also provided some liquid refreshment.

Ill-fated, indeed.

Nolan lost four men, 25 horses and four mules on his expedition but did not find any Comanches. By the time the expedition was over, Quanah was leading the renegades to Oklahoma Territory and the Indian wars in Texas were over.

© Clay Coppedge
December 4, 2013 Column
Author's Note:[This story] recently appeared in Texas Co-op Power

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