October 10 This day during the Comanche Campaign

October 10, 1871 – Battle of Blanco Canyon was the decisive battle of Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie’s initial campaign against the Comanche in West Texas, and marked the first time the Comanches had been attacked in the heart of their homeland. It signified the end of Comanche control over the heart of their Comancheria, and the beginning of the end of the Comanche as a free people. In September 1871 Mackenzie received permission from Gen. William T. Sherman to begin an expedition against the Kotsoteka and Quahadi Comanche bands, both of whom had refused to relocate onto a reservation after the Warren Wagon Train Raid. Col. Mackenzie assembled a powerful force consisting of eight companies of the Fourth United States Cavalry, two companies of the Eleventh Infantry, and a group of twenty Tonkawa scouts. The force assembled at the site of old Camp Cooper, on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River in late September, 1871. The force set out in a northwesterly direction on October 3, 1871, hoping to find the Quahadi village, which housed the warriors led by Quanah Parker. This village was believed to be encamped in Blanco Canyon near the headwaters of the Freshwater Fork of the Brazos River, southeast of the site of present Crosbyton, Texas. On the fourth night of the march, the expedition established a base camp at the junction of the Salt Fork of the Brazos and Duck Creek, near the site of present Spur, Texas. The following day, Col. Mackenzie made the decision to leave his infantry to fortify the base camp, and set out for Blanco Canyon with his cavalry, hoping to catch the Comanche by surprise, and strike a blow at them in their heartland. In the afternoon of October 9, 1871, the cavalry force reached the White River and Blanco Canyon. Late that evening Quanah Parker personally led a small Comanche force which stampeded through the cavalry camp, driving off sixty-six horses. As the pursuing cavalry reached the top of a hill on the top of the canyon, they found a much larger party of Indians, who were waiting in ambush. The cavalry fought their way clear, but suffered the loss of one cavalryman, the sole Army fatality of the entire campaign. Lt. Robert Goldthwaite Carter and a detail of five men mounted a rear guard action against the Comanches, and the remainder of the unit retreated. This action won Lt. Carter the Medal of Honor. Mackenzie’s main column and the Tonkawa scouts, hearing the gunfire, advanced and probably saved the detachment from slaughter, as more Comanche had managed to surround the retreating unit. With the arrival of the main cavalry column, Quanah Parker and his warriors retreated. The Comanches fought their way up the walls of Blanco Canyon, sniping at the oncoming troopers and taunting their Tonkawa enemies before disappearing from the Army’s sight as they went over the Caprock Escarpment, and onto the Llano Estacado. Col. Mackenzie pursued the Indians over the next few days, forcing them to abandon lodge poles, buffalo hides, tools, and most of their possessions as they fled. These were the necessities of life for the Comanche, and meant the coming winter would be unusually bleak, without shelter or accumulated food. The Army was able to catch up with the fleeing warriors, slowed by their families, in the late afternoon of October 12, 1871. Mackenzie was unable to attack them due to the arrival of an unseasonable “blue norther”, (a winter storm from the Great Plains). High winds, blinding snow and sleet halted the cavalry advance, and allowed the Comanche to again retreat safely. The cavalry force continued the pursuit the following morning, but the weather and conditions allowed the Comanche to disappear into the storm. Mackenzie ordered his troops to follow what the scouts believed was the Comanche trail for about forty miles, nearly to the vicinity of present-day Plainview, Texas, but winter was coming early, and the weather continued to worsen. Given the deteriorating state of his men and horses, Mackenzie reluctantly turned back. On October 15, 1871, the cavalry became the first non-Comanche military force to enter Blanco Canyon since the rise of the Comanche as a power on the plains.[3] Army scouts saw two Comanches spying on the troops on the walls of the Canyon. In the brief fight that followed their discovery, the two Comanche were killed, while Mackenzie himself, along with another soldier, were wounded. Despite his wound, Mackenzie and his force continued to the mouth of Blanco Canyon, where they rested for a week. On October 24, 1871, Mackenzie decided to continue the campaign, and began marching towards the headwaters of the Pease River. However, his wound became worse, and he decided he was no longer fit to command. Capt. Clarence Mauck assumed command, though Mackenzie stayed with his troops. But winter had come early, and the conditions grew steadily worse. About the first of November, 1871, Mackenzie ordered Mauck to end the expedition. Around November 15, 1871, Mackenzie released his troops to normal duty, and they returned to Fort Davis and Fort Richardson. Col. Mackenzie regarded the entire expedition as unsuccessful. The command had marched 509 miles, lost one life, and many horses. He considered that they had accomplished nothing but frighten one hostile Comanche band. However, he had marched to the heart of the Comancheria, penetrated into an area of the Llano Estacado no Americans except Comancheros had ever seen, destroyed the winter equipment of the Comanche he encountered, and driven them from their homeland. The lessons he learned about Plains Indian warfare as a result of the battle of Blanco Canyon and this expedition would stand him in good stead during the Red River War, and resulted a few years later in the surrender of the last free Comanche.

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