Red River War - Quanah Parker attacks Adobe Walls


Ad Honorem
Dec 2011

When reading the story of Quanah Parker and Isa-Tai the prophet (aka; ‘Coyote Vagina’) one cannot help but see the parallel to Tecumseh and his prophet 65 years earlier. The son of a noted chief, Tecumseh was a strong handsome young warrior of great courage already proven in battle at a young age. His manner and courage were such that he was a natural choice as a chief who could unify many tribes into a consolidated force against the whites. Likewise, Quanah was the son of a chief. He was also a large, strong, and handsome young warrior of great courage proven in battle at a young age. He stood six feet tall and possessed the natural leadership qualities seen previously in men like Tecumseh and Pontiac.

Quanah’s father, Peta Nocona, married a white woman who had been taken captive in at the Parker Fort raid during the early days of the Texas Republic. Quanah was born in 1848 and spent his boyhood as a member of the Nokonis band of Comanche (Wanderers). At age 12 his father died at the hands of Texas Rangers under Sul Ross in the battle of Pease River. His mother was captured (‘rescued’ as told by the Texans) and returned to her family after 24 years with the Comanche. The Texans proudly considered themselves as having saved Cynthia from an ugly fate with the Indians. As a result of the rescue (and death of her young daughter), Cynthia soon fell into depression and died. Quanah and his younger brother survived the battle and remained with the Comanche. It wasn’t long before Quanah joined the Quehadi band of the Comanche. They were the wildest band and had never entered into treaty with the whites. The Quehadi lived free on the ‘Staked Plains’ of the Llano Estacado.

Even though orphaned Quanah quickly grew into a war chief of high standing among the Comanche. At the time of Mackenzie’s expedition to Blanco Canyon in 1872, Quanah was a 24 year old leader known for strength, courage, and skill in battle. His exploits against the 6th Cavalry cemented that reputation and made Quanah the most respected war chief of the entire Comanche tribe.

Quanah Parker’s parallel to Tecumseh isn’t complete without Isa-Tai. Just as Tecumseh had the Prophet who could foretell events and protect the warriors from bullets, Isa-Tai claimed the ability to raise the dead and provide protection in battle. Stocky with a big head, he was a Comanche medicine man of the Quehadi band. Like most famous medicine men, Isa-Tai knew some tricks. On several public occasions he rose up into the sky to confer directly with the Great Spirit. There were also reports that he could belch up wagonloads of cartridges for the Comanche guns. Historians seem unsure of just how Isa-Tai accomplished these great feats but most describe him as something of a modern magician with good slight of hand tricks and a handle on optical illusion. Or, who knows, perhaps his medicine was real. Certainly Quanah and the Comanche thought so. Or, at least they thought so before the Battle of Adobe Walls.

Just as Tecumseh and the Prophet joined in a campaign to consolidate the eastern tribes in the early 19th century, Quanah and Isa-Tai attempted to unite the Southern Plains Indians. Once Quanah converted and supported him, Isa-Tai started to preach his vision outside the Comanche bands. He spoke to the Kiowa, the Cheyenne, and the Arapaho each time accompanied by Quanah whose presence added just the right ingredient. Revenge. Isa-Tai lost a favorite uncle in battle with the whites and incorporated this into his vision. The message sounded good to Quanah and the other Indians. Quanah had lost his father and mother. Almost every member of the tribes could relate. They had all lost friends and family to the whites.

Finally ready to call the tribes to war, Isa-Tai held a Sun Dance festival in May 1874. Now, this was an odd thing for Isa-Tai to do. The Comanche had never held a Sun Dance before and Quanah and Isa-Tai held the event to increase their chances of convincing the Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes to join in the war. They built a medicine lodge and danced the night away to the rhythmic beat of native drum playing. Isa-Tai spoke his visions claiming the power to protect all the warriors from bullets. They would start with the hated Tonkawas and then begin raiding the whites. Their revenge seemed already won by the end of the evening.

However, by morning not everyone was convinced. Most of the Comanche agreed to follow Quanah but only a few of the Cheyenne and Kiowa. The Arapaho tended to follow a single chief and Powder Face had turned down the opportunity to join. As a result, only twenty-two of them united with Quanah and Isa-Tai. The two young men also faced the tribal elders who insisted that Quanah first go to Adobe Walls and fight the buffalo hunters. They agreed to the warpath but only after stopping the slaughter of the buffalo. Isa-Tai remained unshaken, “God tell me we going to kill lots of white men. I stop the bullets in gun. Bullets not penetrate shirts. We kill them just like old women.”

While Quanah and Isa-Tai spoke to the tribes, buffalo hunters came to the Texas Panahandle and built a new trading post near the site of the old one which was the site of the first battle for Adobe Walls back in 1864. Among the hunters was the western hero, Billy Dixon. In his book Billy thought, “it might be well to describe the exact location of the buildings and the nature of their surroundings. All the buildings at Adobe Walls faced to the east, the main ones standing in a row. On the south was the store of Rath & Wright, with a great pile of buffalo hides at the rear. Then came Hanrahan’s saloon, and fifty yards or so north of the latter was the store of Myers & Leonard, the building forming the northeast corner of the big picket stockade. In the southwest corner of the stockade was a mess house, and between the mess house and the store was a well. The blacksmith’s shop was located just north of Hanrahan’s saloon. The adobe walls of the main buildings were about two feet thick. The door of Rath & Wright’s store opened to the west, while that of Myers & Leonard looked to the east.”

The hunters had excellent shooting range all around the trading post but particularly to the east where the windows looked out toward a growth of trees along the creek about 1200 yards distant. The upcoming battle would showcase the extensive range of the Sharp’s ‘Big 50s’ used by the buffalo hunters. Unknown to Quanah and the Comanche, Charlie Rath had just gotten in a fresh shipment of rifles and ammo. Supplies were plentiful at the new trading post.

Isa-Tai and the Comanche got all decked out in their finest for the big battle. Most of the warriors painted themselves and their horses with red or yellow designs. They had a history of decorating the horses for battle and Adobe Walls would be no exception. Isa-Tai made quite an impression. He arrived naked, and painted bright yellow from head to toe. Ready for the attack, the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapaho Indians gathered high on a bluff above the Canadian River. At the break of day on June 27, 1874 Quanah led the charge.

Billy Dixon was putting away his bedroll and casually looking around the camp for his horses and gun when a moving shadow caught the corner of his eye. “Then I was thunderstruck. The black body of moving objects suddenly spread out like a fan, and from it went up one single, solid yell – a warwhoop that seemed to shake the very air of the early morning. Then came the thudding roar of running horses, and the hideous cries of each of the individual warriors who engaged in the onslaught. I could see that hundreds of Indians were coming. Had it not been for the ridge pole, all of us would have been asleep.”

Billy’s last sentence above concerning the ridge pole makes an interesting side-note to the story. His book came out in 1914 which was before the 1933 revelation by Wright Mooar that no ridge pole broke in the night. James Hanrahan fired a rifle inside his saloon while everyone was asleep. It was about 2am and he had secret knowledge that Indians were set to attack in the morning. Hanrahan faked a broken ridge pole in need of repair so he could make everyone stay awake and prepared for an attack only he knew was coming. Hanrahan, Mooar, and the other owners of the buffalo business had kept the attack a secret so the buffalo hunters would remain at Adobe Walls and protect their investment. Of the men who knew about the situation, only Hanrahan was still at the trading post by June 27. Their subterfuge worked. Some 28 buffalo hunters were at Adobe Walls on that morning. Awake and alert they reacted quickly to Dixon’s warning shouts.

Billy and the others made great haste in getting into three buildings and barricading themselves inside. He was in Hanrahan’s saloon with “Bat” Masterson, Billy Ogg, and a few others. They piled up bags of flour and other supplies to hold the doors while they manned the windows and created small holes in the sod walls to shoot thru. Three men never made it to safety to include the Shadler brothers and their dog who were all scalped in the wagon where they slept. “Some of the men were still undressed, but nobody wasted any time hunting his clothes, and many of the men fought for their lives all that summer day barefoot and in their drawers and undershirts.”

In his book, Billy Dixon does a wonderful job of describing all of the action including many details. A short example, “For the first half hour the Indians were reckless and daring enough to ride up and strike the doors with the butts of their guns. Finally, the buffalo-hunters all got straightened out and were firing with deadly effect. The Indians stood up against this for awhile, but gradually began falling back, as we were emptying rawhide saddles entirely too fast for Indian safety. Our guns had longer range than theirs. Furthermore, the hostiles were having little success-they had killed only two of our men, the Shadler brothers who were caught asleep in their wagon. Both were scalped. Their big Newfoundland dog, which always slept a their feet, evidently showed fight, as the Indians killed him, and “scalped” him by cutting a piece of hide off his side.”

The opening action from Billy’s account, “Time and again, with the fury of a whirlwind, the Indians charged upon the building, only to sustain greater losses than they were able to inflict. This was a losing game, and if the Indians kept it up we stood a fair chance of killing most of them. I am sure that we surprised the Indians as badly as they surprised us. They expected to find us asleep, unprepared for an attack.”

Quanah Parker provided an account through a friend, J. A. Dickson: “We at once surrounded the place and began to fire on it. The hunters got in the houses and shot through the cracks and holes in the wall. Fight lasted about two hours. We tried to storm the place several times but the hunters shot so well we would have to retreat. At one time I picked up five braves and we crawled along a little ravine to their corral, which was only a few yards from the house. Then we picked our chance and made a run for the house before they could shoot us, and we tried to break the door in but it was too strong and being afraid to stay long, we went back the way we had come.”

The Indians were forced to pull back. At about 500 yards, Quanah had his horse shot out from under him and was also wounded in the shoulder. The Comanche pulled back even further. Isa-Tai watched the battle helplessly from a long distance. As the action went badly and Indians started falling to the Sharps rifles used by the white hunters, several warriors came by and taunted Isa-Tai. An angry Cheyenne actually hit him in the face. The final insult came as one of the hunters managed to shoot Isa-Tai’s horse right out from under him from a distance of nearly 1,000 yards. The medicine man made a lame excuse about the Cheyenne having ruined his medicine by killing a skunk the day before. Isa-Tai’s influence ended. Most of the Kiowa and other tribes returned to their respective reservations or other homes leaving Quanah and the Comanche to face the backlash.

In spite of being driven back, the Comanche managed some brave and enduring battlefield exploits. Again from Dixon, “The Indians exhibited one of their characteristic traits. Numbers of them fell, dead or wounded, close to the buildings. In almost every instance a determined effort was made to rescue the bodies, at the imminent risk of the life of every warrior that attempted this feat in front of the booming buffalo-guns. An Indian in those days would quickly endanger his own life to carry a dead or helpless comrade beyond the reach of the enemy.”

Within a couple of hours, the battle became a siege. The buffalo-hunters remained safe but their horses were all killed or captured. The Comanche were forced to maintain a very respectful distance but still greatly outnumbered the whites and had them trapped within the trading post. The situation persisted for several days to a couple of weeks before the last of the Comanche left the area for raiding down in Texas.

What happened next is not entirely clear. At least one account has the Comanche war parties splitting up and hitting the Texas frontier very hard. At least 190 were killed. A more in depth look indicates most of this activity is pulled from actions (some against other tribes) in New Mexico and Colorado. Not much really seems to have gone on in Texas although Quanah may have raided the Tonkawa reservation at that time. Traditional sources often tended to overlook raids conducted against the Tonkawa or other peaceful tribes. However, other large raids into Texas against the white settlers provide detailed evidence of which ranches were hit and how many people killed. The sources I read on July 1874 failed to suggest much raiding activity. The Loving ranch where one man was killed in a July raid is the only specific instance found.

This seems like a good place to end this blog entry and start looking forward to the next one which will regard the response of the US Army to Quanah’s attack on Adobe Walls and the Texas frontier

[ame=""]Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History: S. C. Gwynne: 9781416591061: Books@@AMEPARAM@@[/ame]

[ame=""]Life of Billy Dixon: Olive K. Dixon: 9780938349129: Books@@AMEPARAM@@[/ame]