Johnny Hughes © 2010
In this part of West Texas, Colonel Ranald "Bad Hand" MacKenzie is seen as the hero of the Indian wars of the 1870s. There were so-called battles in all our area canyons: Yellow House, Blanco, Tule, White River, and the last and largest battle of the Red River Wars, in Palo Duro Canyon against Quanah Parker, and several tribes. MacKenzie had to spend more time killing people than anyone in American history. He entered the Civil War in 1862. Right after the Civil War, he began leading cavalry charges on Indian villages against dozens of tribes in several states and Mexico. This went on until 1880.
To hell with the movies, there was a real sameness about Bad Hand's methods and goals. They wanted all the Indians in West Texas to die or leave for Oklahoma reservations. When the cavalry found an Indian village, they attacked, shooting Gatlin guns, and repeater rifles. They had artillery and superior numbers. The Indians rarely fought back. The Indians were basically retreating and hiding for a few years. At the first shot, the Indians would flee. Some of the warriors would harass the cavalry some, so that the women and children could get a head start on the sabers. My home town of Lubbock has a large park named after Col. MacKenize and a Junior High. The Indians camped in these area canyons near the edge of the Caprock so that the women and children could climb up the sides to the flat Llano Estacado to escape when the cavalry attacks began. Who knows how many were killed? Or died later from their wounds, disease, exposure, and starvation. From Montana and into Mexico, across decades, MacKenzie would ride in after the initial assault and they would burn every thing the Indians owned: lodges, blankets, buffalo robes, stored food stocks, weapons, clothing. They killed all their horses. In several of the canyons, the bleached bones of the horses remain. In the final big "battle" in 1875 in Palo Duro Canyon, MacKenzie burned all the lodges in five villages, and all the food stored for the winter. His troops captured 1400 horses. They kept 300 and shot the rest. They kept an accurate count on the horses, mules, and ammunition, but the number of Indians who died as a result of this government policy has not been written. MacKenzie led white and black soldiers, the famous buffalo soldiers.
With winter approaching, the Indians were left without food, horses, blankets, warm clothes, or a place to hide. Most surrendered to face a long, cold, hungry walk to Oklahoma. Those that surrendered to the cavalry were in a herd on foot, and herded like cattle or horses.
One reason researchers don't find as many Indian artifacts in the panhandle is that crazy ol' Ranald MacKenzie burned them all. The Indians said they lost sixty or so in the initial assault in Palo Duro. MacKenzie reported three. There weren't as many killed in these battles as one might think. Who knows? The reports are obviously falsified. Sul Ross has a college named after him. He reported on attacking a small Indian village when all the men were off hunting. He killed some Comanche women. Bat Masterson, the famous lying gunfighter, probably only killed one man in an actual gunfight. He was one of MacKenzie's scouts. MacKenzie's allies were the Tonkawa Indians a.k.a. the Tonks. This was a smaller band that hated the Comanches. They scalped, dismembered, and ate some of the Comanches. They'd burn all the dead and wounded and it made an accurate account of the Indian losses difficult to ascertain. Women and children weren't mentioned, but the United States government policy was to make war upon them if they were not on the reservation. Texas Rangers, buffalo hunters, and anyone else were welcome to assist in the policy.
The Indians would make attacks when they had superior numbers, and atrocities were a regular occurrence on both sides. The Indians attacked Adobe Walls, a trading mini-town, with hundreds of warriors. They killed two guys sleeping in a wagon, and scalped them and their St. Bernard. Then the eighteen men in town killed some of the Indians from inside fortified buildings. I don't think the Indians ever won.
Oh come on, Generals Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan knew all those years that Ranald MacKenzie was nuts. One biographer said he had syphilis, the worst sexually contacted disease which leads to insanity. Every once in a while he'd take a mental health leave, and had five orderlies keeping him focused on the burning left to be done. In the scene in Dances With Wolves where Kevin Costner rides around between rebel and union lines trying to get shot, that was based on Crazy Ranald. He was brave like only a crazy man can be. He got shot with bullets and arrows. He was also called Bad Hand because he lost two fingers in combat.
MacKenzie never married. After he freaked out and had a mental leave, they made him a general. He decided to get married. On the night before his marriage, the now general went into a store. He broke the leg of a chair and nearly beat the owner to death. A crowd subdued him, babbling and incoherent which he was to remain most of the time for the rest of his life. They retired him from the Army and placed him in a mental institution in New York.
Later, he was released to live out his days with a cousin. He did not speak or appear to communicate. Col. Ranald MacKenzie's father had also been a military man. He was a Captain in the Navy, but he made a bad career move when hung the son of the Secretary of War for mutiny.
Johnny Hughes is the author of Texas Poker Wisdom.