Monday, November 28, 2011

Muddled Comanche Command at a Wichita Village

U.S. Army Major Earl Van Dorn was anxious to fulfill his new orders to march against the Comanches.    The Texas Rangers had been having success pursuing maurading Indians deep into their own home territory.  The U.S. Army, embarassed by their own lack of success, had recently authorized a change in strategy in Texas: commanders no longer had to wait and launch responses to attacks, but could now emulate the Rangers and actually initiate action against the Indians, even if it meant going deep into Comancheria.   Anxious to follow through on the Army's new orders, Van Dorn set up Camp Radziminski in Indian Territory (near present day Highway 183) along Otter Creek in what later became Kiowa County, Oklahoma.  He had four companies of 2nd Cavalry troops and a unit of friendly Indian scouts captained by young Lawrence Sul Ross along with him.  Not long after Camp Radziminski was established, Ross's scouts returned with news that they had located the  Comanches they were pursuing at a nearby camp beside a village of Wichita Indians along Rush Creek.   Dorn ordered his troops to head out right away in order to conduct a stealth attack on the located Comanches.

Wichita encampment (

Comanche encampment (Fort Sill Museum photo)

The Comanche and Wichita people were peacefully mingling at that time in their encampments at Rush Creek, unaware of any danger from the U. S. Army -- and with good reason, too.  In addition to the return of stolen horses as a peace offering to the Wichita,  the Comanche had also just concluded a peace treaty agreement with the U.S. Army's Post Commander W. Prince at nearby Fort Arbuckle.

Battle of Wichita Village

Unaware of this treaty at Fort Arbuckle, Van Dorn's troops launched a brutal attack against the camping Indians at dawn on October 1, 1858.   According to S. C. Gynne in his excellent book Empire of the Summer Moon, "Ross and his (scouts) had run off the horses, so most of the warriors were forced to fight on foot.  It was more of a massacre than a fight.  Two hundred blue-coated troops were in the village, blasting away into the tipis, while the Indians frantically tried, as they aways did, to cover the retreat of their families.  Seventy Indians were killed, untold numbers wounded....The army burned one hundred twenty tipis, along with all the Comanche ammunition, cooking utensils, clothing, dressed skins, corn, and subsistence stores.  Those who escaped had only the clothing on their back, and many were afoot, since the soldiers had captured three hundred horses, too" (p. 171).  

Van Dorn and Captain Ross were both severely wounded in the battle suffering from arrow and bullet wounds.   Too injured to be moved right away, they were left lying on the field for five days after the battle until they recovered sufficiently to be taken back to Camp Radziminski.  The desperate Wichitas who survived the attack were left with no food, housing or clothing.  They eventually found their way on foot to Fort Arbuckle for assistance.  Van Dorn, a West Point graduate, later joined the Civil War as a Confederate General.  A renowned womanizer, Van Dorn died during the war at the hand of a spurned husband.   Sul Ross, who also became a Confederate General, was elected the 19th Governor of the State of Texas in 1887, and later became President of Texas A&M University.

The Army continued to operate Camp Radziminski as an outpost for a little over a year after the Battle of Wichita Village.   It was abandoned in 1859 and was taken over later as a temporary post by the Texas Rangers before being abandoned altogether.    The memory of Camp Radziminski may be lost to all but those few who happen upon the little roadside marker off Highway 183, but the story of  the Battle of Wichita Village is not forgotten.

Courtesy Exploring Oklahoma History

1 comment:

Rob From Amersfoort said...

It reminds me of a scene I once saw in a Dustin Hoffman movie (Little Big Man, 1970). The roadside marker is a reminder that these kind of things really happened.