Visiting the Southwest / The Roots of the Long Apache War

Fort Apache located in the foothills of the White Mountains of Arizona offers a very interesting travel stop. The fort was established in 1870 at the confluence of the east and north forks of the White River. This was a very important military outpost in the center of the White Mountain Apache homeland and today is within an Apache Arizona Indian Reservation.

One of the most interesting aspect of Fort Apache is what was established there in the latter years of the fort’s existence. This was the Theodore Roosevelt School, established in 1923 by an act of Congress.

fort apache arizona

One of the surviving structures from old Fort Apache

There were many ways to start an Indian war in 1800’s America. One way was to take land from the Native Americans and force them to live on reservations. Another way was to hunt the buffalo to near extinction thus taking away the most important source of their sustenance. Still another was to make a treaty and then break it. In the 1861 Arizona Territory a new way was found. That was to kidnap a chiefs family and hold it for ransom.

The Story Begins

This story starts in 1861 when a Tonto Apache Indian party raided a ranch in far southern Arizona Territory. The raiders stole livestock and ended up kidnapping a twelve year old boy, a stepson of the rancher’s Mexican wife.  The rancher told his story to the local military at nearby Fort Buchanan (the remains of which are pictured below right). The commander, a Colonel Morrison, ordered a Lieutenant George Bascom to take a large contingent of troops and locate the boy. It’s thought that while the army (Morrison) wanted to make a concerted effort to find the boy and have the ranchers livestock returned, his main concerns were the raging Civil War back east. He may not have been involved as much as he should have been in the unfolding drama.

fort buchanan arizona

Ruins of Fort Buchanan

Lieutenant Bascom

A bit also needs to be said regarding Bascom’s background and experience. A Kentuckian and recent graduate from West Point, he had just recently arrived in the Arizona Territory about three months prior. He was unfamiliar with the area and likewise unfamiliar with the Apaches. In other words, he was inexperienced on the ground. Likewise, the troopers assigned to accompany him were a new contingent of troops also inexperienced. Not a good combination to deal with a delicate kidnapping situation as future actions would reveal.

The Story Unfolds

Bascom was unable to locate the tribe or the boy. Bascom’s opinion however was that the raid and kidnapping was done by the Chiricahua Apaches which is what the rancher claimed.

His commander then ordered him to go after the Chiricahua’s and do anything necessary to free the boy. That’s a  fairly open order and a lot of responsibility for a relatively new Lieutenant.

apache pass arizona

Apache Pass in today’s Cochise County Arizona

Bascom along with 54 troopers traveled to a location known as Apache Pass where a Butterfield Stage station was located. In fact, the two station attendants were familiar with Cochise who had a winter camp in the nearby rugged mountains.

There Bascom sent word that he wanted to have a meeting with Cochise. Bascom and his men set up tents about a mile away from the stage station and awaited Cochise. Apparently Cochise, who had a reputation for honesty, was suspicious of the meeting and as a precaution took along several family members.

What happened next was probably not a good move by the army. When Cochise and his family arrived at the meeting site pictured to the left, Bascom arrested him. Cochise managed to escape from the troopers and in retaliation Bascom took captive five members of Cochise’s family. This appeared to be the tipping point.

The Conflict with Cochise Grows

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

cochise stronghold in arizona

The Dragoon Mountains in southern Arizona and the Cochise Stronghold

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

A short time later Cochise sent a message to Bascom pleading for the release of his family members. Lt. Bascom refused the request and simply sent word back to Cochise that his family would be released when he twelve year old boy was released. When Cochise received Bascom’s reply, he went out with some braves and attacked and kidnapped three Americans. Cochise planned to trade the Americans for the release of his family. Bascom refused to negotiate with Cochise. Cochise was in a corner.

The situation just continued to escalate. Cochise, pictured to the right, decided to flee to nearby Sonora Mexico and on the way he killed the three American captives. Not a wise thing to do. This intensified the conflict.

fort apache arizona structures

Commanding Officers residence at Fort Apache

Escalation Continues

When Bascom came upon the remains of the murdered Americans he hung all five of Cochise’s family members in retaliation. It’s not entirely clear who exactly made that decision.

The moment Cochise learned of the killing of his family is commonly recognized as the start of the 25 year long Apache War. An interesting fact is that the Apaches from Arizona looked upon the Mexicans as there enemies, not the Americans. The antagonism toward the Mexicans was an offshoot of the years of Spanish rule. It was the Spaniards who originally explored the American southwest and it was the Spaniards who first changed the Apache way of life. This was the situation in the entire southwest, all the way from Texas to California.

See the Trips Into History articles on the links below…

The Sioux War and the Army’s First Victory After Custer’s Defeat

American Frontier Doctors

A Visit to Fort Apache Historic Park

Could Be The best Hiking Trail in Sedona Arizona

A Situation Out of Control

The act of the kidnappings and the escalation that followed went out of control. The killings of the kidnapped victims turned into a catastrophe that in all respects could have been avoided. When you consider what occurred, you almost have to ask if the higher authorities were involved or was the kidnapping of Cochise’s family by Lt. Bascom a decision made by him alone. If it was a spur of the moment decision by an inexperienced young officer then the 25 year long Apache War may have been avoided.

apache chief geronimo

Apache leader Geronimo

It should also be noted that the period from 1862 to 1886 when Geronimo (pictured left) finally surrendered was not the only period of conflict with the Apaches.

Skirmishes took place as far back as the 1840’s and even after Geronimo’s surrender there were small skirmishes up to about 1900. Most of the latter skirmishes resulted from the army trying to put wayward Apaches back on their reservation land.

Small fights also resulted between Apaches and miners and ranchers over suspected theft of livestock and property.

The question really is would there have been conflicts with the Apaches regardless of the Bascom Affair? With settlers heading into the territory in large numbers there certainly would have been problems. Would the warfare go on as long as it did without the Bascom Affair? You be the judge. Nobody knows for certain.

Visit Fort Apache

For those wishing to visit Fort Apache Historic Park, the site is located on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation about a 170 mile drive east/northeast of Phoenix Arizona, about a 190 mile drive north of Tucson and a 29 mile drive south of Pinetop-Lakeside Arizona.

(Article copyright Trips Into History. Photos of Fort Apache from Trips Into History collection. Remaining photos and images in the public domain)

Garryowen and George Armstrong Custer’s Seventh Cavalry

George Armstrong Custer and “Garryowen” 

Countless books have been published about George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. At the time the battle that took place along the Little Bighorn River in Montana represented the largest single Indian War military loss. An interesting side story about Custer’s 7th Cavalry was their unofficial regimental marching song “Garryowen“. Marching tunes have been used in the military for centuries. They are used today.

garryowen montana memorial

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Peace Memorial, Garryowen Montana

All branches of the military are known to have cadence calls. The cadence call requires no musical instruments and sometimes the lyrics are composed of call outs and answers.

When you look back to the time before mechanized transportation, a marching song during a protracted hike helps build cohesion, keeps the troops in step and makes a long march a bit less weary. Essentially these tunes add rhythm to a march. A march is work and you could say these are “work songs”. In the U.S. these cadences are sometimes referred to as “jody calls”. The name Jody appears in many traditional military cadences thus the term “jody calls“.

Custer Adopts the Irish Garryowen

The story is that George Custer first heard the tune being sung among his Irish troopers. It was a old Irish tune going back to around 1860 with some believing it came directly from this neighborhood of Limerick Ireland. Some historians believe it was introduced to Colonel Custer by Captain Myles W. Keogh, one of his officers. Keogh’s father reportedly had been with the Fifth Royal Irish Lancers who had used this song. The Seventh Cavalry officially adopted the tune in 1867.

myles keogh of the seventh cavalry

Photo of the Seventh Cavalry. Myles Keogh seated furthest in front.

It originated just outside Limerick, Ireland and translates into “Owens Garden“. Custer liked it and started humming it himself. He also thought the tune matched up pretty well to a regiment of Cavalry horse soldiers on the march.

The tune actually was used by Irish regiments as a drinking song and some say it’s quick stepped  rhythm can be traced as far back as the early 1800’s. It’s first introduction among U.S. soldiers was in the early 1860’s during the Civil War.

In 1981 the Army’s First Cavalry Division made “Garryowen” it’s official song.

Original Garryowen Lyrics


[Verse 1]

Let Bacchus’s sons be not dismayed,
but join with me each jovial blade,
come booze and sing and lend your aid,
to help me with the chorus:


 Instead of spa we’ll drink down ale
and pay the reckoning on the nail,
for debt no man shall go to jail;
from Garry Owen in glory

[Verse 2]

We are the boys who take delight
in smashing Limerick lamps at night,
and through the street like sportsters fight,
tearing all before us. (Chorus)

[Verse 3]

We’ll break windows, we’ll break doors,
the watch knock down by threes and fours,
then let the doctors work their cures,
and tinker up our bruises. (Chorus)

[Verse 4]

We’ll beat the bailiffs out of fun,
we’ll make the mayor and sheriffs run,
we are the boys no man dare dun,
if he regards a whole skin. (Chorus)

[Verse 5]

Our hearts so stout have got us fame,
for soon ’tis known from whence we came,
where’re we go they dread the name,
of Garry Owen in glory. (Chorus)

Visit the Custer Battlefield

The Custer Battlefield Museum is located in Garryowen, MT. The site is right along Interstate-90 a few miles south of the Custer Battlefield and about 55 miles northwest of Sheridan, Wyoming.

This museum offers a vast display of photos, weaponry, paintings, manuscripts and many many more interesting artifacts. Several events are scheduled including reenactments of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The museum also offers internships for interested students. If you are in the general area I think this would make an excellent stop.

Below are links to additional Trips Into History articles you may enjoy…

 The Buffalo Soldiers of West Texas

The Grattan Massacre in Wyoming and the Start of War

The Resting Place of the Heroes of the Alamo

little bighorn memorial

Little Bighorn Memorial on Last Stand Hill

Annual Battle of the Little Bighorn Reenactment 

This annual event is scheduled each June. Learn and experience the historic struggle for control of the West by visiting the amazing Little Bighorn Reenactment firsthand.

The Reenactment is located just south of Crow Agency, MT and between the historic points of Custer’s Last Stand Hill, Reno’s Charge / Retreat, and Reno – Benteen Battlefield. This battle has been called Custer’s Last Stand for over a century, with the National Park Service renaming of the Battlefield monument and park to Little Bighorn Battlefield.

For more information and for exact directions see website

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in public domain)

Battle of Palo Duro Canyon Texas


If you have the opportunity of visiting the Texas Panhandle you’ll want to be certain to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park. This stop make a great addition to your Texas vacation planner.

battle of palo duro canyon

Battle of Palo Duro Canyon Historic Marker

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about twenty-five miles southeast of Amarillo and about twelve miles east of Canyon Texas.

One of the things that make Palo Duro Canyon an amazing destination is it’s historical significance. Not only does Palo Duro Canyon tell the story of ancient geology, and in a quite beautiful way, but it also is the site of a very significant military campaign which for all intents and purposes ended the Indian Wars in the southern plains.

Visitors to Palo Duro Canyon today will see the exact location along with a Texas Historical Marker where one of the most, if not THE most, significant southern plains Indian Wars battle took place.

The exact site is along the state park’s loop drive. The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was a decisive event. The year was 1874 and the main participants on both sides had a most interesting background and even a more interesting and surprising future. This interesting story is told below.

palo duro canyon state park

Scenic Palo Duro Canyon Texas


The growth of Texas meant the encroachment upon Comancheria, the land of the Comanche Indian. Comanche raiding upon white settlers in what is now the state of Texas was violent and went back to the Spanish era, the Mexican era, the Republic of Texas era and lasted for about a decade after the end of the Civil War.

During the Republic of Texas years the Comanches went as far as raiding all the way southeastward to the Gulf of Mexico and the port of Indianola. That demonstrates how intense the Comanche conflict was.

Quanah Parker, Ranald Mackenzie and Palo Duro Canyon

When the decades long conflict between Comanche and Texan came to an end, two names involved with this historic event stand out from all the others.

Quanah Parker, perhaps the fiercest and wisest of all Comanche leaders, and Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, the head of the Army’s Fourth Cavalry at Fort Concho Texas, were destined to meet in battle at Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874.

palo duro canyon battle site

Palo Duro Canyon Battle site

Both men who met in battle came with unique backgrounds. Quanah Parker was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a child who was kidnapped from her Texas home and whose parents were killed during an 1830’s Indian raid. Cynthia Ann Parker would spend much of her life living among the Comanche who she grew to regard as family.

Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, a Civil War veteran who fought under Grant and leader of the Fourth Cavalry. Mackenzie had a high reputation within the army and has been recognized as being perhaps the most successful Indian fighter in the U.S. Army. Not a household name as George Armstrong Custer but arguably more successful.

The Red River War of 1874-1875

The Indian Wars in the West were essentially a series of wars that were settled for brief periods with treaties until hostilities began anew. Usually the cause of a flareup was a broken treaty and/or white settler encroachment. The geographic epicenter would vary from time to time but overall would continue on an east to west line.

palo duro canyon visitors center

Palo Duro Canyon Visitors Center

The military and the white settlers wanted land and they likewise wanted the Native Americans placed on reservations.

The Native Americans of Texas and all other regions of course desired to keep their historic lands and just as importantly their culture. Considering this reality conflict was inevitable.

Reservations historically were located on the least desirable land and the Indians were aware of this. The last big effort to place the remaining Comanche, Kiowa and Southern Cheyenne on reservation land was what the Red River War was all about. This was the conflict that eventually led to the historic Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, not far to the south and west of the then Indian Territory which is present day Oklahoma.

The Red River War ended with not just a single battle. It was an on again off again fight over nearly two years that eventually moved remaining Comanche, Southern Cheyenne and Kiowa inside Indian Territory.

The Battle of Palo Duro Canyon was decisive for the fact that after the skirmish Comanche leader Quanah Parker agreed to lead his people to the reservation and for the fact that this battle involved so many Native Americans.

palo duro canyon scenery

Canyon view from Visitors Center

During the battle the Fourth Cavalry, led by Col. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, broke up a large encampment of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne in Palo Duro Canyon, killing only a few Indians but capturing and slaughtering about fourteen hundred horses.

At the time only Quanah Parker and a leader named Mow-way were still being sought. As a result of the battle and loss of horses Quanah Parker’s band came into Fort Sill on June 2, 1875, marking the end of the Red River War.

The Red River War represented the official end of decades upon decades of conflict in Texas between the Native Americans of white settlers.

Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie…The Years After Palo Duro Canyon

Quanah Parker after relocating to Indian Territory eventually accepted the white man’s culture and was known to even dress accordingly. Parker went on to befriend noted ranchers as Samuel Burk Burnett and Daniel Waggoner as well as Theodore Roosevelt in later years.

Quanah Parker was also instrumental in urging his people to adapt to the white man’s culture much as possible. He is also credited with helping to establish the Native American Church. Quanah Parker died in 1911 at the age of fifty-nine in Oklahoma.

ranald mackenzie

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie

Ranald Slidell Mackenzie

Ranald Mackenzie was appointed brigadier general and assigned to the Department of Texas in 1882.

After buying a ranch in Texas and becoming engaged he started to have medical problems. Mackenzie had injured his head in a prior wagon accident at Fort Sill.  He eventually began experiencing mental difficulties and the accident he had was thought to be the cause.

The marriage never occurred and after showing more signs of mental instability he retired from the army in 1884. Ranald Mackenzie moved to his sister’s home on Staten Island New York and died in 1889 at her home at the age of forty-nine. He is buried at West Point.

Links to articles from our Western Trips site you’ll enjoy include:

The Battle of Slim Buttes

Exploring the Red River Valley Museum

Wagon Train Ruts from the Santa Fe Trail

Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles


hiking trails palo duro canyon

Palo Duro Canyon hiking trail

Visiting Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located a short drive south of Amarillo Texas and is easy to reach via the Interstate Highways. The park was opened in 1934 by the efforts of the Conservation Corp and contains over 29,000 scenic acres.

Upon entering the park you’ll want to stop at the Visitors Center and see the exhibits and artifacts that tell the story of how the canyon came into being. After the Visitors Center  you’ll want to make the loop drive where you’ll be able to explore some excellent hiking trails, see the site of the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon and view some amazing scenery. The park contains both day camping and overnight camping facilities.

Palo Duro Canyon is also well known for the musical TEXASThis outdoor musical drama and the official play of the state of Texas runs Tuesdays through Saturdays during the summer season in the Pioneer Amphitheater within the park. For more information regarding the musical see website

Two good books about the Red River War, Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie include Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History by author S.C. Gwynne.

Also, Bad Hand: A Biography of General Ranald S. Mackenzie by author Charles M. Robinson III.

(Palo Duro photos are from author’s private collection. Ranald Mackenzie photo from the public domain))

The Pony Express Battles the Paiutes


Most people know that the Pony Express system was created to deliver mail to the remote state of California during the time of the American Civil War. Prior to that, sending a letter from San Francisco to New York might take up to two months to get through. The federal government for a variety of reasons, the Civil War being a big one, needed a faster way to communicate with California and the Pony Express was the answer.

Russell, Majors and Waddell

pony express postmark

Pony Express postmark

What some might not realize about Pony Express history was that the system, while financially supported by the U.S. government, was indeed a private enterprise. It was a for profit company. The contract for this system was awarded to a freighting company by the name of Russell, Majors and Waddell headquartered in Lexington Missouri. The subsidiary of this company which operated the Pony Express was named the Central Overland California and Pike’s Peak Express Company. The parent firms other operations included stagecoach services, freighting and express.the sgag

Replacing the Butterfield Stage Line

The Pony Express system was launched with great fanfare from St. Joseph Missouri on April 3, 1860. This was quite a welcomed event in as much as the Butterfield Overland Stage Line which traveled with mail from Missouri to California via a southwest route through Texas and the New Mexico Territory was disrupted and abandoned due to Confederate operations in the southwest.

pony express postage stamp

Pony Express 1960 issue postage stamp

The Pony Express trail went from Missouri into Nebraska, Wyoming, the Utah Territory which included today’s state of Nevada and then into California via the Lake Tahoe area. It was this part of the route, the Utah Territory and in particular the Nevada portion that caused major disruptions.

Often, when we talk about the Pony Express, we talk about the brave young riders who carried their mochila’s through all types of weather, day and night. The story I’m telling in this article has to do with the people who operated the Pony Express stations along the route through Nevada. The story has to do with a war and massacres that transpired during the very first months of the Pony Express operation.

Today’s Nevada was home to the Paiute Indians. In a story similar to other Native American conflicts, the Paiutes were tiring of the American frontier advances. In the book, The Saga of the Pony Express, author Joseph J. Di Certo points out that the ill will started as far back as the 1830’s with fur trappers entering the area.

Shoshone Indians around the Humboldt River area were allegedly fired upon by the trappers. The intent was to send out some kind of warning. On one occasion, trappers shot and killed about twenty-five Shoshone just standing on the rivers opposite bank. The ‘warning” of course had the opposite effect. Rather than being intimidated, the Indians in Nevada became filled with hatred against the whites.

alexander majors

Alexander Majors, one of the Pony Express business partners

Years later in 1849, thousands traveled along the same route that would be used by the Pony Express heading to the California gold fields. History chronicles many instances of violence meted out by the gold seekers toward the Native Americans they encountered along the way. The federal government intervened with a treaty designating boundaries for the Indians as a way to stop the violence, but like treaties that would be made in later years, they were not fulfilled.

Another factor which may have contributed to the troubles was that Chief Winnemucca died in 1859. He had a reputation as being an ambassador of sorts and had success keeping the peace. In 1860 of course, his influence was gone. The present Paiute High Chief was Numaga who didn’t seem to have the past chiefs patience. The Indians anger built up over decades. Unfortunately for many, and in particular Pony Express station keepers, the anger boiled over in May of 1860, just a little over a month after the Pony Expresses inaugural run.

What resulted was a war referred to as the Paiute War. Sometimes it’s referred to as the Washoe Indian War or the Pyramid Lake War. Whatever you choose to call it, it was a bloody affair that threatened the very existence of the Pony Express. In particular, it brought great danger to the men who operated both the Pony Express relay and home stations.

Consider that there were no army posts anywhere in the immediate area of conflict. Try to imagine for a moment, operating a relay station in this area of Nevada alone. In some cases perhaps with two or maybe three others to help out. Your structure was probably made from wood and at night it would be as dark as it could get. At the same time, you’re aware that the Indian anger has reached the tipping point. You’re on your own and very outnumbered. This might have been the most dangerous job at it’s time in North America.

pyramid lake nevada

Pyramid Lake Nevada

The Day Was May 7, 1860

The spark that touched off violence and killing reportedly was as a result of an alleged kidnapping and assault on Paiute women. You could call it the last straw. A war council was held near Pyramid Lake and some hotheaded warriors didn’t wait for a decision. Although there were some opposed to war, the warriors rode off and their first target was a Pony Express station called Williams Station on the Carson River.

It was the people at this station who allegedly assaulted the squaws. In short order, the station was attacked. A man named J.O. Williams and his two brothers operated the station and as luck would have it, or bad luck, three visitors had just stopped by before the attack. There was a fight but the six men were overpowered. All six were killed by the Paiutes and the station burned to the ground. The warriors then headed for Buckland’s Station just to the west and dispersed cattle owned by a local rancher.

The Station Operators Were Sitting Ducks

To be sure, the Pony Express riders put up with many dangers and some lost their lives in the course of their duties. Compared to the station operators they probably had a better situation. Being on a fast horse, and the Pony Express horses were fast, you had a better than not chance of outrunning attacking warriors. The station operators were both taken by surprise and were greatly outnumbered. They also didn’t have a fortress as protection. These disadvantages would be apparent in the coming days and weeks.

chief winnemucca

Paiute Chief Winnemucca

In the book, The Saga of the Pony Express, the author writes that upon hearing the news of Williams Station, over one hundred men from the Carson City and Virginia City area organized and headed for Pyramid Lake. They were armed and the Indians had bows and arrows but the Indians had seen them approaching and laid a trap. In the ensuing battle about forty of the whites were killed. the remainder fled. Then in late May about eight hundred men set out after the Paiutes and were successful in driving them into the mountains. There was a pause but the war was far from being over.


Links to our related photo articles you’ll be interested in include the Annual Pony Express Re-Ride and A Visit to Old Town Sacramento California.

Also see our article Western Frontier Generals / Crook and Miles

The Paiute War Continues Against the Pony Express

The next attack was on Egan’s relay station. Two men there were attacked and after the Indians ate and took food supplies, they were to be burned at the stake. The tale is that at the very last moment a loud sound of hoof beats was heard and the Indians were driven off. The hoof beats were from a detachment of soldiers who went past the relay station and laid chase after the attacking Paiutes. The soldiers presence couldn’t have been a minute too soon. Unfortunately, those very same warriors later that night attacked the Schell Creek station and killed it’s three operators. The situation was out of control.

The next attack was on Dry Creek station. The Indians killed one man who was outside preparing breakfast, another was shot in the doorway and two remained inside to fight it out. A trader who lived across the road somehow made it inside the Pony Express station. The story here is that the wounded man shot himself in the head and the two remaining men incredibly made a safe getaway with the trader. The trader convinced the men that he had good relations with the Indians and they were not likely to shoot at him. Amazingly, he was correct and the three made it safely away.

pony express mochilla

The all important Pony Express rider's Mochilla

On another day, a Pony Express rider rode into Deep Creek station only to find that his replacement rider was nowhere to be found. The station operator didn’t have a clue but it turned out that the replacement rider had been killed by Indian warriors.

In yet another incident that certainly had a better ending for the station operators, seven Indians rode up to Willow Creek station asking for food. The operator offered them a sack of flour but the Indians insisted on one sack per brave. The short tempered operator drew out two pistols and ordered them to leave. Seeing that they were out armed the Indians left. On the way out they shot arrows into a cow and the station operator replied by shooting two Indians off their horses.

It’s important to recognize that both the station keepers and the riders were well aware of the massacres and killings during the Paiute War. Even with this knowledge, both continued to fulfill their duties although, in the case of the station operators, their firearm was always within an arms reach.

john coffee hays

John Coffee Hays

Putting an End to the Violence

There were countless other attacks on both Pony Express stations and riders. Many more would be killed. The citizens of the Carson City and Virginia City area called upon a famous Texas Ranger Colonel, John C. Hays, to help organize a force. Hays was a legend in his own time by his activities fighting the Comanches in Texas and by his successes during the Mexican American War.

Hays responded and organized thirteen companies of volunteers. The U.S. Army also responded by sending an artillery and infantry detachment from Fort Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. The second battle of Pyramid Lake involved both Hays’ volunteers and the regular army. During this battle, about 160 Paiutes and four whites were killed.  After this battle the federal government built a small fort at the southern end of Pyramid Lake. Captain Joseph Stewart of the U.S. Army eventually commanded Fort Churchill near Buckland’s Station.

Conflict continued into the summer months although on a smaller scale. In August of 1860, an informal truce was agreed upon with Paiute Chief Numaga.

The number of Paiutes killed during this war was not that large as a percentage of the population. Rather, it appears that Indian hardship and starvation during this war, and actually caused by the war itself, was the main reason the cease fire was achieved. The army abandoned the fort at Pyramid Lake in 1861. Amazingly enough, a formal peace treaty was never signed. As a historical note, the Paiute War was the only time that the Pony Express system experienced a disruption of services. The ten day Missouri to California timetable was intact at all other times.

pony express rider

Drawing of Pony Express rider passing telegraph building crew

The End of the Pony Express

As most know, the Pony Express was a short lived affair, lasting only about eighteen months. In fact, it’s successor, the telegraph, was being built all during the time that the Pony Express operated. As far as the Pony Express owners were concerned, it proved to be a losing investment although all involved were very aware that it was only a matter of short time until the telegraph lines were completed. The book Saga of the Pony Express writes that during the lifetime of the system, the Pony Express covered a total of 616,000 miles and delivered, 34,753 letters.

While the Pony Express was the highlight of the Russell, Majors and Waddell partnership, the company never recovered from their financial losses. Waddell was ignored by his high powered friends and died in 1873. The most successful of the three was Alexander Majors who paid off his debts and established a small freighting company in Idaho and Montana.

Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Museum and Visitors Center

Exhibits at this excellent multi-purpose museum describe the Paiute tribe’s history and culture and offer insight into why the Paiute people hold the lake and its surrounding landscape so sacred. The Pyramid Lake War of 1860 was the largest confrontation between Native American Indians and whites in Nevada’s history. If you’re traveling from the west, take I-80 east bound, exit at exit 18 (Pyramid Lake/SR 445) and head north 35 miles. This will take you to the museum.

Pony Express National Museum

The Pony Express National Museum is located at 914 Penn Street, St. Joseph Missouri. This is the site of the old Pony Express stables which today house an interactive museum. The exhibits found at this very historic site chronicle the need, creation, operation and eventual termination of the Pony Express. If your vacation plans take you to Missouri, this makes an excellent addition to your trip planner and is a great stop for the entire family.

An excellent book I’d recommend to learn more details about the Paiute War of 1860 is Sand in a Whirlwind: The Paiute Indian War of 1860 by author Ferol Egan.

(Photos and images are from the public domain)

Grattan Massacre

The Grattan Memorial

There is a memorial in present day Goshen County Wyoming that many historians would say commemorates the very beginning of the Plains Indian Wars. What is known as the Grattan Massacre ushered in a quarter of a century of Indian warfare along the Great Plains of the western U.S.

grattan massacre memorial

Gratton Massacre Marker

The marker shown in this article is located about 1/2 mile to the southeast of where the massacre occurred on August 19th, 1854. The marker is along Route 157 about 5 miles west of Lingle Wyoming.

At the time of the massacre, the battle site was east of Fort Laramie in Nebraska Territory.

A small detachment of U.S. Cavalty entered a Sioux camp and when it was all over a total of twenty-nine soldiers were killed plus a Lieutenant John Grattan and an interpreter.

The Ignition of Hostilities

Historians occasionally debate as to what represented the start of the plains Indian Wars. The Indian War was not one contiguous event but more of a decades long conflict with fits and starts and interspersed with weak treaties. History pretty much describes an escalating conflict that grew more violent and more fierce as more and more settlers traveled through traditional Indian lands. Of course, along with the settlers and emigrants heading to California and Oregon, so did the U.S. military increase it’s presence. In a very real way the Indian Wars were an event just waiting to happen. What was the spark that set it off? Was it a relatively small event that escalated into something much larger?

The Dakota War of 1862

The question then could be...just when did these hostilities begin? What was the beginning of the Indian Wars? In particular, what set off the Plains Indian Wars?

dakota war 1862

Settlers fleeing during the 1862 Dakota Indian War in Minnesota

One answer often suggested is the very bloody Dakota Indian war in the state of Minnesota that occurred in August of 1862 right in the middle of the American Civil War.

The Dakota Indians residing in Minnesota were from the eastern band of the Sioux. Leading up to the war and one of it’s causes was something that would plague Native American-U.S. government relations for years to come...late or unfair annuity payments of supplies as per treaties in force at the time.

White traders had something to do with this as well since they were making demands to the government to send the annuity supplies to the Indians through them. The Dakota’s on the other hand wanted the supplies directly from their Indian agents, not from the traders. Everything reached a standstill.

In this unhealthy atmosphere, four young Dakota Indians came upon a farmhouse and were allegedly caught stealing some eggs. One thing led to another, and there are various variations of the story, but when all was said and done, five whites at the farm were killed by the Dakota youths. This event alone would have caused certain retaliation but to make matters worse, that very night a Dakota tribal council agreed to go to war against the whites and drive them out of the entire area of southwestern Minnesota. The bloody conflict went on for several months and only ended when the U.S. Army intervened and caused the surrender of most of the Dakota Sioux.

mankato minnesota mass hanging

Drawing of mass hanging in Mankato Minnesota in 1862

There are no reliable numbers of how many white settlers were killed at the hands of the Dakota Sioux, but most estimates say several hundred and some as high as 800. In December of 1862, an event never seen before or after occurred when the largest mass hanging in U.S. history took place. This occurred in Mankato Minnesota on December 26, 1862. A total of thirty-eight Dakota Sioux were hanged in front of a large crowd. After the U.S. government shut down the reservations in the spring of 1863, the Dakota Sioux were formally thrown out of the state and wandered westward to what is today Nebraska and South Dakota.

Trouble on the High Plains of Wyoming

What often is overlooked as the start of the Plains Indian Wars is what occurred just outside of Fort Laramie some eight years prior to the Minnesota Dakota War. What should have been a relatively routine event in the year 1854 exploded into the history books as one, if not “the” turning point in how Native Americans would be dealt with by the federal government for decades to come. This 1854 event marked the beginning of the Plains Indian Wars.

Additional articles we’ve published that you’ll find interesting are a Frontier Soldiers LifeExcerpts from the Oregon Trail Diaries…and the Fetterman Massacre.

On our Western Trips site, see the articles The Battle of Slim Buttes and the Steamboat and an Indian War.

A Mormon and his Slain Ox

The story starts with a Mormon pioneer making a complaint to the commander of Fort Laramie. The complaint as filed was that one of his oxen was killed by an Indian. The Mormon emigrant was traveling along the Oregon Trail and his ox apparently wandered away. The emigrant was certain that it was killed by one of the Sioux camped nearby. Handling of something like this would normally be the duty of the assigned Indian agent. It was not thought of as being a military matter.

The Indian agent was due in several days with annuities. In the meantime the owner of the ox was demanding an immediate $25 payment. The local Sioux Chief Conquering Bear tried to negotiate unsuccessfully.

old fort laramie

Old Fort Laramie, circa 1840

At this point the military ordered the chief to bring the guilty Indian, who was identified as a Miniconjou, in to the fort. This is where things started to get out of hand.

The chief refused because he said he had no power over the Miniconjou’s. With things at a dead end in the affair, the military dispatched a young officer, Second Lt. John Grattan, to go to the Miniconjou Sioux camp and retrieve the wanted Indian. Lt. Grattan rode to the camp with twenty-nine armed soldiers. The task was to be relatively simple…arrest and bring the accused Indian back to Fort Laramie.

Similar to other historic events, the real details often come out sometime later as told by those who witnessed them. Sometimes they conflict but you can usually get a general idea of what took place.

In this particular confrontation most interpretations paint a picture of a relatively inexperienced young officer leading his heavily armed troops to the camp of the Miniconjou’s bent on returning with the accused Indian. During what turned into a standoff, one of the troopers apparently shot the Chief Conquering Bear. At that point the Indians attacked the small detachment of soldiers and killed all of them. It happened that quick.

cavalry and indians

An 1899 chromolithograph of U.S. cavalry pursuing American Indians, artist unknown

Much of the descriptions of this event were related by a James Bordeau who owned a nearby trading post. Bordeau witnessed the massacre. Bordeau placed some of the blame on the interpreter brought along who he claimed taunted the Indians prior to the violence. Bordeau escaped with his life only because he was married to a Sioux and was also on very friendly terms with the tribe. Regardless, his trading post was cleaned out by the frenzied warriors.

In the aftermath of the massacre, some warriors rode to Fort Laramie determined to attack what they knew to be a lightly defended post. They ultimately withdrew without an attack and then moved their camp to the north knowing full well that some form of retribution would be coming.

Outcry From the Press

Outrage hit the streets when the press reported the Grattan Massacre. The description “Grattan Massacre” was the exact headline used in newspapers throughout the east. Newspaper reporting during the westward migration embraced the policy of Manifest Destiny. Stories often times were greatly embellished to help sell papers in a competitive environment, however the outcome of the Grattan Massacre was evident to all. What the press did was just throw lots of fuel on the fire.

general william harney

General William S. Harney

Outrage Throughout the Nation

People were riled and tempers were flaring. The outrage wasn’t only in towns and cities but reached all the way up to President Pierce in Washington. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis, characterized the massacre as being preplanned and vowed a strong military response.

The military response did come about one year later headed by General William S. Harney. Harney, a southerner and later a Confederate soldier, led a scorched earth policy against the Sioux. Harney was looking for retribution, not parley, and one result was the wiping out of an entire Lakota Sioux camp in a raid known as the Battle of Ash Hollow and sometimes called the Battle of Bluewater Creek. The infantry pinned the Sioux down between themselves and the cavalry. Women and children were caught in the crossfire.

Dozens of prisoners were also taken back to Fort Laramie and some sent back to Fort Leavenworth Kansas. General Harney was able to put together a treaty with the tribes a year later which was on strictly U.S. Government terms but as with many treaties agreed upon and signed years later, they usually weren’t lasting.

Historic Sites to Visit

The bodies of Grattan and his troops were recovered and buried. Later they were reburied and memorial markers built. The troops were formally buried at Fort McPherson National Cemetery in Lincoln County Nebraska and that of Lt. John Grattan at Fort Leavenworth National Cemetery in Kansas.

chief red cloud

Chief Red Cloud in latter years

The Grattan Massacre in 1854 and it’s aftermath however was recognized as the first time the U.S. federal government officially set out against the plains Indians in a retaliatory mission. The military mission in 1855 was to answer the opening salvo which took the form of the Grattan Massacre. Many expeditions would follow in the ensuing decades.

From that point forward, through Red Cloud’s War in the late 1860’s and the resulting Fetterman Massacre, the Sioux War of 1876-77 and the Custer defeat, and then years later to the Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, conflicts took place on and off with various Native Americans of the Great Plains. The Plains Indian War was a war that raged on and off for almost four decades.

It all began with the Grattan Massacre on August 19th, 1854 in Nebraska Territory.

(Article copyright 2013 Trips Into History. Photos and images in public domain)