During my research for a new project on the effects of the Civil War on the Panhandle of Texas, I discovered something I already knew, but hadn’t thought about in ages … it didn’t!
The War Between the States never came to the Texas Panhandle, although the last battle of the Civil War was fought in Texas down by Brownsville. Reconstruction didn’t touch the Panhandle either … not until at least a decade later.
The Panhandle was occupied by sheepmen with their short-lived, peaceful culture along the Canadian River, buffalo hunters, the Comancheros, and the southern Plains Indians. Neither the sheepman nor the cattleman owned an acre of Panhandle property; but they were, in that vast land, the law unto themselves.
The “Mother City of the Panhandle” Mobeetie was founded in 1875; followed by Tascosa in 1876, and Saints’ Roost later known as Clarendon in 1878. Amarillo didn’t surface until nearly a decade later in 1887 … and, there was a very good reason why!
Up until the end of the war, the southern Plains Indians remained essentially undisturbed, mainly because of the sectional controversy and the war itself. In the early 1870’s professional buffalo-hide hunters entered the Panhandle from western Kansas. Normal Indian resentment toward this incursion was heightened by their understanding that the Medicine Lodge Treaties of 1867 guaranteed them exclusive hunting grounds south of the Arkansas River.
The renowned Comanche war chief and mentor between the Indians and the white nation, Quanah Parker, probably would never have become a Comanche war chief if it had not been for the war. He was only thirteen in 1860 when a concerted effort was launched to subdue the Plains Indians in Texas; however, the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 gave the American Indians a thirteen year respite from determined military attack.
Texas Governor Sam Houston, victorious in the 1858 Texas election on a platform of quieting the Indians on the frontier, launched an ambitious program for merciless pursuit of the incorrigible Native Americans by the whites. By the end of 1860, a sizable number of men had been raised in Texas to fight the Indians: rangers, minute men, and federal troops. With such forces available, it looked like doom for the Indians who regularly depredated in the state. It was a combination of these three forces which attacked the Nokoni camp on the Pease River in 1860 and recaptured Cynthia Ann Parker, Quanah’s mother.
But in 1861 the Civil War broke out, and the frontier was temporarily forgotten, the people of Texas continuing to pay in blood and plunder by Indians. The planned subjugation of the Comanches and their friends was postponed until more than a decade later.
In order to avoid the expenditures necessary for Indian wars, both North and South made overtures to the Indians. The Comanches, on finding themselves sought after by both governments, accepted peace with one or the other, as it suited their convenience. Peace with the Indians meant that troops could be withdrawn from the Texas frontier to be used on the Civil War battlefields.
The “Comanches of the Prairies and Staked Plains” signed a treaty with the Confederacy in 1861, promising to prepare to support themselves (the Confederacy would supply them with cattle to start herds and furnish them with supplies and to live in peace and quietness. But as long as there were buffalo to chase and unprotected farms and ranches to raid, the Lords of the South Plains had no intention of holding themselves to such an agreement. All nine of the Comanche bands except the Antelope band signed the treaty … probably the most representative gathering of Comanches ever assembled up to that time. If he survived the 1860 Pease River recapture of Cynthia Ann, it is assumed that Nocona, chief of the Wanderers (Nokoni), attended the treaty-signing council and possibly brought along his young brave, Quanah, who was 14 at the time.
The North failed to live up to its 1863 treaty with Comanches, Kiowas, and Apaches which promised $25,000 in presents and annuity goods to the Indians I they would stop terrorizing the plundering travelers on the Santa Fe road. These southern tribes, planning retaliation, made an alliance with the northern tribes (Cheyenne, Arapahoes, and Sioux). In 1864 attacks on the frontier were heavier than ever, Indians capturing thousands of horses and selling them to the army through the Comancheros. The route to Denver was under heavy attack by Indians. Emigration was stopped and much of the country was depopulated.
After the Civil War came to a close in 1865, the government fluctuated for almost a decade between a modified “get-tough” policy with the Indians and a Peace Policy, administered by Quakers, who believed that honesty and kindness could solve the problem. Sporadic token military marches into the Panhandle area included Kit Carson’s 1864 First Battle of Adobe Walls and Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie’s 1871-72 Battle of Blanco Canyon and Battle of McClellan Creek. None of these brief campaigns really damaged the Plains Indians.
Quanah Parker had almost free rein in the Llano until the the Red River War, 1874-75. It was only then that the determined attitude evidenced in 1860 was adopted once more … this time by the federal government.
Of interest, the Battle of Palmito Ranch, also known as the Battle of Palmito Hill and the Battle of Palmetto Ranch was fought on May 12–13, 1865, on the banks of the Rio Grande a little east of Brownsville, Texas. Many historians, as well as the Official Record of the Civil War consider the battle to be a post-Civil War encounter, with the Battle of Columbus in April being the last recognized battle of the War Between the States.
I want to acknowledge Pauline Durrett Robertson, a life member of Panhandle Professional Writers, and her book Panhandle Pilgrimage, as the source for much of my information. Pauline’s book is definitely my bible of the history of our region.
“A Texas Christmas” hit the New York Times bestselling list the last two weeks, and the USA Today last week, thanks to our readers. For one lucky commenter, I will send you an autographed copy of the anthology.
This is Minnie the “boss” of Books and Crannie Books in Terrell, Texas. Minnie is a Hurricane Katrina rescue cat and knows her books!