the aftermath of the Great
Comanche Raid of 1840 and the Battle of Plum Creek, Mirabeau Lamar, the President
of the Republic of Texas, was convinced that the depredations of the Penateka
Comanches would continue unless the savages were thoroughly chastised and taught
that such hostile conduct on their part would no longer be tolerated. The only
way to administer such a lesson was to carry the fight into the heart of the Comancheria.
To accomplish this difficult and dangerous mission, Lamar enlisted the
services of Texas Ranger Colonel John Moore, charging him with the responsibility
of organizing an expedition for the purpose of attacking and destroying a Comanche
winter village somewhere on the upper reaches of the Colorado River or
one of its many tributaries. If an entire Penateka village could be set afoot
and left without the necessary foodstuffs to survive the winter, the action would
clearly demonstrate to the Comanches that there was no safe haven if they failed
to keep the peace.
Colonel Moore had led a similar expedition to Spring
Creek in the valley of the San
Saba River the previous February, but after an initial success, the attack
on the Comanche village ended in disaster when Moore ordered an unexpected retreat.
In his after action report, the Colonel stated the retreat had been necessary
because of poor visibility and the need for his men to reload their weapons, however,
not all the volunteers agreed with this assessment.
The Lipan Chief Castro
had gone so far as to withdraw his warriors from the expedition and set out for
home. To make matters worse, the Comanches conducted a well-planned midnight raid
and ran off with more than half of Moore’s horses, forcing many of the men to
return to Austin on foot. The
Colonel was determined such a disaster would not occur again.
by George Catlin|
first step in organizing the expedition was to recruit sufficient manpower, and
Moore set about doing this by posting circulars and placing advertisements in
local newspapers throughout the small towns and widely scattered homesteads of
frontier Texas. Considering all the burning and killing the Comanches were responsible
for on the frontier, it was not surprising that the ads and circulars brought
a prompt response. By early October close to ninety volunteer Texas Rangers, mostly
from Fayette and Bastrop
counties gathered at Walnut Creek near the new capital of Austin.
Having crossed over much of the same rugged hill country terrain on his
previous expedition, Colonel Moore made the decision to use pack mules
to carry the expedition’s supplies instead of wagons. He also wanted to keep from
alerting the Comanches to the presence of the expedition by hunting, so a small
herd of cattle would
trail along behind the string of pack mules to serve as a mobile commissary.
On Monday October
5, the expedition, led by Chief Castro and seventeen Lipan Apache scouts, departed
from the camp on Walnut Creek and headed north toward the San
Gabriel River. Bearing west at the San
Gabriel, the column followed the river's course to its headwaters, then moved
cross country to the Colorado River, thus avoiding the worst of the hill
country. After fording the Colorado, the volunteers continued northwest, crossing
both the San
Saba and Llano
|Throughout the expedition’s
route, the Lipan scouts spread out, thoroughly scouring the countryside for any
sign of the Comanches, but none was found. Undaunted, the Rangers pushed further
to the northwest. Moore was one of the first white men to travel so deep into
the western reaches of the Colorado River, and in his later report he stated
that he “found the country rich and beautiful, abundant in game, and covered
with a waving sea of grass broken only by occasional rivers and canyons, with
tremendous vistas.” |
|As the expedition
drew closer to the Concho River a “blue norther” storm unexpectedly rolled
in and the weather took a severe turn for the worse. Torrential freezing rain
and near gale-force, icy winds plagued the trail, and it was impossible for the
Rangers to stay dry in the miserable conditions. A number of men became ill as
the column continued to plod on through miles of deep clinging mud and standing
One young Ranger, Garrett Harrell, drowned while the expedition
was fording the raging flood waters of the Concho, and Colonel Moore was
beginning to grow discouraged after so many days on the trail with no sign of
the Comanches and little letup in the gloomy weather. He reluctantly ordered the
column to follow the Concho back to its confluence with the Colorado
where he planned to return to Austin
if nothing turned up and the weather conditions failed to improve.
|However, the rain
abated somewhat as the Rangers drew nearer to the Colorado. More importantly,
the Lipan scouts found tracks of a large number of unshod horses mixed in with
the drag marks of many travois and the footprints of women and children; clear
signs of a village on the move. The Rangers followed the tracks northwest along
the Colorado, and on October 23, they came across a large grove of pecan
trees where the Comanches had stopped to gather nuts for the winter. |
of the pecans had been harvested, and with such a heavy load to carry, the scouts
were sure the encampment was not far off. After ordering the men to take cover
in a brushy thicket on the reverse side of a hill sheltered from the icy blast
of the north wind, Colonel Moore called on his two best scouts to ride ahead.
Departing at mid-morning, the Lipans did not return until near sundown, but they
brought welcome news. The Comanche village was located on a horseshoe bend of
the Colorado less than twenty miles distant.
Village by George Catlin, 1834|
Courtesy of www.georgecatlin.org
|The news of the discovery
energized the Rangers, and in spite of the miserable weather, they were eager
for an engagement. After eating a cold supper, Colonel Moore led the column ten
miles up the Colorado where the men secured their small herd of cattle
in a mesquite thicket near the river and continued on for a few more miles.|
the march at midnight, Moore ordered the Rangers to dismount and rest their horses
while he dispatched the same two Lipan scouts to determine the exact location
of the village and gather an estimate of the Comanches’ strength. The Lipans returned
a few hours before sunrise and reported a village four miles upriver on the south
bank of the Colorado with sixty to seventy lodges and an estimated 125
warriors. The column continued its advance for another two miles where they secured
their pack animals in a wooded hollow and waited for daylight.
on October 24, Colonel Moore gave the long-awaited order to mount and move forward.
As the Rangers approached the sleeping village, Lieutenant Clarke Owen, recently
arrived at Austin from Mississippi,
was ordered to ford the Colorado below the camp with the Lipan scouts and
be prepared to deal with any Comanches who managed to make it across the river.
Captain Thomas Rabb from La Grange
and his men would form up on the right, Captain Nicholas Dawson from Bastrop
and his men would be on the left, and Colonel Moore would ride with the men of
Lieutenant Owens and command from the center.
The Rangers moved to within
two hundred yards of the encampment without being detected and slowly went on
line; only the fog-muted jingle of harness and the soft squeaking of saddle leather
disturbed the deathly silence of the early morning. When all was in readiness
Colonel Moore gave the signal and the entire command started forward at a walk,
quickly moved into a trot, and finally broke into a thundering gallop.
Warriors by George Catlin|
Courtesy of www.georgecatlin.org
|The Comanches were
taken by complete surprise, stumbling out of the snug warmth of their buffalo
robes only to be greeted by the howling screams of the Rangers and the hammer-like
pounding of countless hooves. Nearly naked and weaponless, the Indians fled for
the perceived safety of the ford on the Colorado.|
The rangers brought
down a virtual hail of gunfire on the retreating and confused Indians as they
galloped into the village unchallenged. Halfway through the scattered buffalo-hide
lodges Moore called for the men to rein in so they could dismount and reload.
After quickly reloading, the Rangers continued to fire until the barrels of their
long rifles were smoking hot. Many Comanches were killed before they reached the
Colorado, and a large number of others were brutally gunned down as they
attempted to flounder across the ford, their bodies swirling away with the current.
The Rangers advanced to the river in an orderly fashion and continued
to fire at the fleeing Comanches, hitting many of them as they emerged from the
river on the opposite bank. The Comanches who were fortunate enough to run the
deadly gauntlet of fire from the village and safely reach the far bank fled across
the open prairie only to be ridden down by Lieutenant Owens and his Lipans who
had been eagerly awaiting just such an opportunity.
The scene was one
of carnage. Bodies of dead, dying, and wounded Comanche men, women, and children
lay sprawled across the village and both banks of the Colorado. Although
an honest effort had been made by most of the Rangers to spare the lives of the
women and children, a good number of them had been killed or wounded in the confusion
of the fight.
Colonel Moore later reported that forty-eight Comanches
had been “killed upon the ground, and eighty killed and drowned in the river.”
Many of the Rangers believed this estimate was too low. Thirty-four Comanche prisoners
were taken during the fight. None of the Rangers were killed and only two suffered
The victory on the Colorado was undoubtedly the most severe punishment the Comanches
had ever received at the hands of the Texas Rangers. In addition to the many casualties
and prisoners the Indians suffered, all the property and food in the village was
either confiscated or destroyed, including much of the loot that had been carried
away from the raid on Victoria
and Linnville. More than
five hundred Comanche horses were also rounded up.
The Rangers returned
to Austin on November 7, with the welcome
news of their victory, and the grateful citizens held a dinner and celebration
in their honor. The power of the southern Penateka Comanches was forever broken,
and although they remained a nuisance, they were never able to fully recover from
the results of the devastating defeat on the Colorado coupled with the
losses they had suffered at the Council
House fight and Plum
Creek. However, the Texans and the northern Comanche tribes had not yet come
into meaningful contact, and the struggle for control of the western frontier
would continue for many more years.
of Texas Past"'
January 25, 2011 Column
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