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Along the Texas Forts Trail
By B. W. Aston, Donathan Taylor
University of North Texas PressCopyright © 1997 B. W. Aston and Donathan Taylor
All rights reserved.
The northernmost fort of the line to be established was Fort Richardson, located near Jacksboro on US Highway 281, 62 miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Jacksboro and Jack County were named after two Texas Revolutionary patriots, brothers William H. and Patrick C. Jack. The brothers were from a family of patriots. Their grandfather, Captain James Jack of Mecklenburg, North Carolina, was one of the signers of the famous Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence during the American Revolution. Their father, Patrick Jack, a prominent lawyer in Wilkes County, Georgia, was an officer in the War of 1812. The Jack brothers both graduated from the University of Georgia with law degrees, and shortly afterward headed for Texas. William arrived in San Felipe in 1830, and was joined by Patrick in 1832. Patrick was arrested with William B. Travis at Anahuac in 1832; William was with Sam Houston at San Jacinto.
After the war, Patrick served in the Texas House and as District Judge of the Sixth District. William served as Secretary of State under Burnet in 1836, and served terms in both the Texas House and Senate. The brothers died of yellow fever in 1844.
The Jacksboro community began in 1853 in the neighborhood of Lost Creek during the perilous Indian era. The name was changed to Mesquiteville and later to Jacksboro. Today Jacksboro is a community of approximately four thousand inhabitants who are very much aware of their historical background and the importance their city played on the frontier. On the square is the Fort Richardson Hotel that served as post headquarters for Major and Brevet Colonel S. H. (Paddy) Starr from July 4, 1866, to April 1867. Just west of downtown is the Jack County Museum, located in possibly the oldest house in Jack County, and the site of the birth of the "Corn Club" which became the 4-H Club in 1907. Just a few blocks south of the square is Fort Richardson State Park. Jacksboro holds a series of events throughout the year to profile their community and its history.
The greatest event in the history of early-day Jacksboro was the arrival in September 1858 of stage coaches carrying mail and passengers from Saint Louis and San Francisco. These semi-weekly coaches of the Butterfield (or Southern) Overland Mail Company continued to run until the opening of the Civil War. They provided the north Texas frontier with direct and rapid communication. Jacksboro truly was "on the main line."
After the Civil War the country around Jacksboro was flailed by marauding Indians. The "Great White Father" in Washington proposed to place the Indians on the reservations and maintain them there. The vicinity that was selected as homes for the Comanches, Kiowas, and Plains Apaches was just north of the Red River, less than a hundred miles away. Here the Indians were taught to farm and to live like white people. But these Indians did not want to live like white people, and they boasted that they had never planted seed of any kind. The old men signed treaties agreeing to be good Indians, but the young men continued to visit the frontier of north Texas (the country they still claimed as their own) to steal horses, take women and children captive, and lift an occasional scalp. Jacksboro and its vicinity needed protection.
In July of 1866, Captain G. C. Cram with Company I—consisting of twenty-nine men and thirty-nine horses—arrived, pitched their tents, and established the Post of Jacksboro. During the next few months Companies A, D, E, F, K, and L arrived along with Major Samuel H. Starr. That brought the post strength to 465 officers and men and 325 horses.
The troops were housed in tents and picket-style log houses. The post was without any of the basic necessities, which left many of the men in rags and nearly barefoot. Consequently, the men spent much of their time evading their duties—playing cards, and drinking Pine-Tope or White Mule whiskey. By December 30 eight men had deserted. Because of lack of interest and the poor quality of mounts available to field a detail, only two deserters were caught and returned. (Hamilton 1988, 18–19) With similar results Lieutenant William A. Rafferty and Company I were sent in pursuit of the Indians who had killed post hay cutters Ernest Jones, his son, and two blacks. Rafferty trailed the Indians to the Little Wichita River and returned without ever encountering them. Other Indian raids in Wise County that left one woman dead and two children and several horses taken captive also went unpunished. (Hamilton 1988)
By March 1867, the military decided to abandon Fort Jacksboro. Companies A and E were ordered to a site in Clay County, about twenty-five miles north, called Buffalo Springs. It was closer to the Red River and was believed to possess greater quantities of wood and water. The rest of the command under Major Starr reformed in Fort Belknap. (Hamilton 1988, 21)
The military's experiences at Buffalo Springs proved to be quite hectic. Although closer to the Indians, Buffalo Springs was further from the base of supply in Austin. In comparison its sparse life made Jacksboro look good to the men. Even so, the military planned to make it a permanent post, and by the summer of 1867 some one-hundred civilian workers had begun construction of the post.
All activity came to a halt on July 19, when some three hundred Indians hit a timber detail, killing a teamster and carrying off twenty-four mules. Two days later survivors arrived at Richardson with news of the attack. Benjamin Hutchins and thirty mounted men were sent in pursuit, leaving behind forty-five soldiers, sixty civilians, and twenty-seven rifles. Late that day the Indians hit Buffalo Springs and might have overwhelmed it, had they not been scared off by the shouting and clatter of an approaching mounted column. In reality this was the sixty civilian employees running from their camp, about half a mile to the north, for the protection of the fort. Their arrival confused the Indians into calling off their attack and camping nearby to determine their future course of action. They withdrew altogether two days later when Captain Hutchins and his detail returned.
An extended drought added to the problems of Buffalo Springs during the summer of 1867 and placed the future of the site in jeopardy. This became especially true when a spring of good water was discovered near Jacksboro. An inspection board condemned Buffalo Springs on November 18, 1867. (Hamilton 1988, 22–25) The following day Captain Daniel Madden of Company E, Sixth United States Cavalry, received orders to return to Jacksboro and establish Fort Richardson.
When Captain Madden arrived in Jacksboro he found that the previously constructed buildings had been torn down and the materials used by the local populace. It was therefore necessary to begin all over. A new site was chosen on a high rolling prairie about half a mile to the southwest of Jacksboro, on the south side of Lost Creek, a tributary of the Trinity.
Fort Richardson was named for General Israel Bush "Fighting Dick" Richard, who died of wounds received at the Battle of Antietam in 1862. Estimated cost of the fort ranged as high as $800,000, but unfortunately the plans laid out by the government were not followed. Instead the picket style barracks built for the troops were poor and inadequate, and the post hospital, bakery, guard house, and magazine were built of native limestone.
Fort Richardson's location, only seventy miles from the Indian territory, placed it in a strategic position to protect the local settlers from continued Indian depredations, to launch campaigns against the marauding Indians, to protect the flow of travelers across the region, and to keep the cattle trails open from Texas to Kansas. The construction of the fort brought a boom period to Jacksboro, and a higher desertion rate at the post. The men felt that they had joined the army to fight Indians not to work as common laborers in the stone quarry or on the wood detail.
Although the fort was charged with the protection of the settlers of the area, its record during the early days was less than satisfactory. As a matter of fact, the Indians continued to raid the area at will with little fear of the soldiers. This situation had developed because of the Quaker Peace Policy implemented by President U. S. Grant in 1869.
According to the people in the northeast who had developed the policy, the Indian problem did not need military force to solve it. Kindness, religious instruction and agricultural training would do the job. It was the Quakers who were first chosen to initiate the new policy, which made the reservations a sanctuary on which the military had no authority. The Indians could leave the reservation, raid the white settlements south of the Red River, and then flee back to the reservation where they could not be touched. (Richardson and Rister, 307–08) This situation began to change following the battle at the Little Wichita River in July of 1870, between Captain Curwin B. McClellan with fifty-six men and Kicking Bird's war party of some one-hundred warriors, among whom were Stumbling Bear, Lone Wolf, and Satank. Kicking Bird had been goaded into the raid by Lone Wolf and Satank.
On July 5, the Kiowa war party entered Texas with orders for the braves not to go on individual forays; however some did, and robbed a mail stage at Rock Station on Salt Creek Prairie about sixteen miles from Fort Richardson. The command at Fort Richardson, smarting from an earlier defeat, ordered Captain McClellan to "pursue and severely chastise the Indians." On the morning of the twelfth, McClellan caught up with what he thought was Kicking Bird's major force all dressed up in their finery. McClellan moved forward about five hundred yards and prepared to engage the enemy, only to find himself flanked by an equal number of hostiles. From that point on, McClellan's primary concern was to fight an orderly retreat that kept his command intact and alive. The battle had begun at 10:00 A.M., and did not break off until nightfall when Kicking Bird felt his honor had been restored.
Some of his braves picked up the action the next morning. McClellan, thinking that the full force was after him, destroyed the supplies that were not immediately transportable and again began an orderly retreat to Fort Richardson with only two men killed and twelve wounded. However, the braves chose not to continue their advance. The result was that Kicking Bird regained some of his prestige as a leader, and McClellan restored some prestige to the fighting ability of the men at Fort Richardson. Thirteen of McClellan's men were awarded the Medal of Honor, and he was praised for his actions. Kicking Bird later spoke of McClellan's orderly retreat and of the number of Indians that lost their lives during the engagement. (Hamilton 1988, 54–60)
The battle at the Little Wichita River and other encounters on the Salt Creek Prairie between Fort Belknap and Fort Richardson during the fall and spring of 1870 and 1871, signaled the need for a change. On March 20, 1871, Colonel James Oakes and the Sixth Cavalry were transferred to Fort Harker, Kansas. Colonel Oakes's replacement was Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie and the Fourth Cavalry that arrived on April 8. Mackenzie was not at all pleased with the condition of the fort. He was particularly displeased when the ladies of the Fourth had to place their sleeping gear in flea-infested huts, and his men had to pitch their tents along the banks of Lost Creek.
The Indians were quick to challenge the new command. On April 19, they killed John W. Weburn on the Salt Creek Prairie, and led raids near the fort for the next two days. Mackenzie sent two details in pursuit of the attackers. Although the troopers did not encounter Indians, they did spend nine days in the field and covered several hundred miles, a unique change in action for the troopers of Fort Richardson. (Hamilton 1988, 65–68)
The major event that altered the future of Fort Richardson involved William Tecumseh Sherman, senior military officer of the United States. Sherman was in Texas for an inspection of the post to see for himself if things were as bad as they were being reported. With him was Randolph Barnes Marcy, Inspector General of the Army, who had known the Texas frontier for nearly twenty years. Sherman arrived at Fort Richardson on May 17, not knowing how close he and his party had come to probable annihilation. Two days earlier Satank along with Satanta, Addoetta, Maman-ti the Owl Prophet, and over one hundred Kiowa, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho, and Cheyenne warriors had left the reservation for a big raid into Texas. Satank and his followers were encamped on the Salt Creek Prairie and had watched Sherman and his party pass. They had been allowed to do so only because Maman-ti's magic had warned Satank that there would be two white parties on the trail, and the second to pass would be the easier prey. (Hamilton 1988, 71, 78)
News of what could have happened to Sherman arrived the next day when a wounded teamster of the Warren Wagon Train arrived to tell of the attack. The wagon master and six teamsters were killed while the other five managed to escape the massacre on Salt Creek Prairie.
Sherman immediately ordered Mackenzie, with four companies of the Fourth and two companies from Fort Griffin, into all-out pursuit of the raiders. Mackenzie arrived at the scene of the massacre on the nineteenth. The surgeon made the following report to Sherman:
I examined on May 19, 1871, the bodies of five citizens killed near Salt Creek by Indians on the previous day. All the bodies were addled with bullets, covered with gashes and the skulls crushed ... with an axe.... Some of the bodies exhibited signs of having been stabbed with arrows, one of the bodies ... [was] found fastened with a chain to the pole of a wagon lying over a fire with the face to the ground, the tongue being cut out. (Hamilton 1988, 82–83)
Mackenzie buried the bodies and turned toward the Red River in pursuit. Rain had wiped out the raiders' tracks and by the 21st the Indians were all back on the reservation. Finding out who was responsible for the raid was not hard as Satanta boasted of his exploit and said that any other chief who laid claim to the honor was a liar. Texans had been known to shoot Indians on sight and now Satanta was elated at the thought that he had partially evened the score. The Indians could not be arrested on the reservation, so through Lawrie Tatum, the Quaker Agent in charge of the Comanches, Kiowas, and Prairie Apache Reservation, the military managed to get the Indians to meet with Sherman at Fort Sill to discuss their grievances. On May 27, when they arrived, Sherman had Satanta, Big Tree and Satank arrested. Some tense moments followed, but outright conflict was avoided by Satanta's intervention.
The three leaders were jailed to await the arrival of Mackenzie to escort them back to Fort Richardson. Sherman left Fort Sill on May 30 to continue his inspection. Mackenzie finally arrived at Fort Sill on June 4, after a fruitless search for the Indian marauders in the western Indian territory. He was surprised to find the culprits in jail. He left for Fort Richardson on June 8. Along the way Satank, who had vowed that he would rather die than face trial, managed to free himself from his handcuffs and attack the guards, provoking gunfire that brought his immediate death.
The arrival of Mackenzie and his prisoners at Fort Richardson on June 15 created a festive occasion, and put in motion one of the most famous trials to be carried out in Jacksboro. On July 5 and 6, Big Tree and Satanta were found guilty of murder and condemned to hang. However, Governor Edmund J. Davis first commuted them to life imprisonment, and then in 1873 paroled both chiefs. Shortly thereafter they violated their paroles by leading new raids into Texas. Satanta was taken in 1874 and placed in the prison at Huntsville where he died after a fall from an upper story window of the hospital. Big Tree was arrested the following year, but was later released upon the request of federal officials. He died in 1929 at Anadarko, Oklahoma. (Hamilton 1988, 89–96)
Meanwhile Colonel Mackenzie, who commanded Fort Richardson from April 1871 to December 1872, was gathering troops from all over Texas in preparation for launching a major foray from Fort Richardson against the plains Indians. Mackenzie's first expedition, August 4 to September 13, was more or less a shake-down exercise to gain additional field experience. However the second, September 24 to November 18, took him 509 miles where he encountered both hostiles and severe winter weather. Neither campaign had decisive encounters, although Mackenzie had been wounded during a battle in Blanco Canyon.
Mackenzie's third campaign began on June 19, 1872, when he left Fort Richardson to join forces from Forts Griffin and Concho, and mounted the first major campaign against the Indians on the Llano Estacado (the "Staked Plain," which refers to the High Plains of Northwest Texas that extend west to the Pecos River, south to the Edwards Plateau area, east along a line to include parts of Dawson, Borden, Gara, Crosby, Dickens, Motley, Floyd, Brisco and Armstrong counties). The plains are broken by rugged canyons created by stream erosion of which some of the better known ones are Yellow House Canyon, near Lubbock, Blanco Canyon in Crosby and Floyd County, and Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo.
Excerpted from Along the Texas Forts Trail by B. W. Aston, Donathan Taylor. Copyright © 1997 B. W. Aston and Donathan Taylor. Excerpted by permission of University of North Texas Press.
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