The following was published in "Our Ellis County Heritage 1885-1979"
Reprinted with permission of Jerry Denson and
The Ellis County Historical Society, November, 1999.
Photo Credit: Mandel Brown.
Photos overlooking the area of the Battle Of Little Robe Creek and the Antelope Hills.
THE BATTLE OF LITTLE ROBE CREEK, 1858
WRITTEN BY JERRY DENSON
Little Robe Creek is a peaceful, crystal clear stream, that flows into the South Canadian River in western Oklahoma. The tranquility of the area was broken early in the morning of May 12, 1858, by the sound of gunfire, horses galloping through water, and death. Determined to strike at the Comanche deep in their own territory to repay the great amounts of property damage the Comanches had done. Texans inflicted death and destruction as revenge at the Battle of Little Robe Creek.
The years 1858 and 1859 were bloody years on the Texas frontier due to Indian raids. The newly elected governor, Hardin R. Runnels, was determined to protect the Texas citizens living on the frontier from these attacks. The Comanches of Indian Territory were responsible for much of the depredations and had become so troublesome that the Texas legislature passed a law for the defense and protection of the settlers living on the Texas frontier.
On January 28,1858, Ranger John S. Ford, considered by state authorities the best man to command an expedition into Indian Territory, took command of all state forces with the title of Senior Captain. Authorized to call an additional one hundred men and instructed to establish headquarters at some suitable point on the frontier, Ford left Austin in February for the frontier.
Governor Runnels gave direct orders to Ford, "I impress upon you the necessity of action and energy. Follow any trail and all trails of hostile or suspected hostile Indians you may discover and if possible, overtake and chastise them if unfriendly." On March 19, 1858, Captain Ford went to the Brazos Reservation, near Present day Fort Worth where he planned to induce reservation Indians into his force. An Agent, Captain L. S. Ross, called the chief to council where he stirred their war spirit against their traditional enemies, the Comanches. Appoximately 100 warriors volunteered and spies were sent to locate Comanche camps north of the Red River. The allied Indians were under the command of Shapely P. Ross, son of the agent, and Chief Placido. A few of the tribes that were represented in this force leaving the reservation on April 20, were Caddoes, Wacos, Anadarkos, Tonkawas and a few others.
A cavalcade consisting of 102 men, two wagons, an ambulance, and 15 pack-mules left Camp Runnels, near the Brazos Reservation, on April 22. The force traveled north until they met the 113 braves from the reservation at a location known as Cottonwood Springs. Ford's subordinates on this expedition besides Ross were W.A.Pitts, J.H. Tankersly, and W.G. Preston. "Old Rip", as he was known to his men, recognized the eagerness in his men to fight to compensate for the huge amounts of property damage that the Comanches were causing on the frontier. The reservation Indians needed no encouragement to join the Rangers in the fight because they already hated the Comaches.
Traveling north from Cottonwood Springs, Captain Ford's force crossed the Red River on April 29 and traveled up the north bank making stops and sending out spies along the way hoping to locate the hostile camps. After traveling up the river more than a week without finding any signs of enemy forces, the expedition headed north for the Washita River on May 7. The Rangers followed the ninety-eighth parallel until they reached a branch of the Washita the following day.
The force had been marching for 21 days when they first encountered signs of Comanches in the area. Spies sent out by Captain Ford, found a crippled buffalo and killed it on May 10. Two Comanche arrowheads were extracted from the beast. The following day Captain Ford and a few of his men stood in the road from Fort Smith to Santa Fe just north of the Rio Negro or False Washita, and watched a few Comanches chasing buffalos in the valleys to the north. The direction that the meat ladden Camanche ponies took indicated the way to the camp. The Texas force was now very deep into Comanche territory and in order to keep from being discovered, Ford left the wagons and baggage behind, plus a few men to guard them. Late in the day, a Keeche Indian tracker, found the location of a small Comanche camp. The attack had to be postponed because of approaching darkness.
The Comanches in this small camp of five lodges were completely unaware of the approaching danger. Chief Palcido and his braves completely destroyed the camp before dawn on May 12. A few women and children were taken captives. Preferring death to capture, not one Comanche warrior was taken alive, nor did even one Comanche escape to warn other camps across the South Canadian River.
After sunrise, a much larger camp was sighted on the north side of the Canadian River, near the mouth of Little Robe Creek. This Village contained 70 lodges. Soon after they had spotted the camp, a lone Camanche was sighted riding south toward the stricken camp completely unaware of its fate. The Rangers tried to overtake him, but he turned and fled back across the river towards the main camp. He led his pursuers to a safe crossing on the almost impassable river.
The rider was able to give warning just before the rangers charged through the camp, the momentum of which carried the Rangers through the village and beyond. As Captain Ford was regrouping the Rangers for another charge, the Comanches trying to give the women and children time to escape, formed a line between the village and Rangers. Suddenly a lone rider appeared from the Comanche line. He rode an iron-gray colored horse and was carrying a lance with a white flag attached. The rider wore the horned headdress and a buffalo robe of the Koteoteka, or Buffalo-eater Comanche. This Comanche was the chief Pohebits Quasho or Iron Jacket, a title he obtained because of the Spanish coat of mail he wore.
As Iron Jacket bore down on the Rangers, he was followed by a few of his warriors. The white flag he carried was probably a trick because the Comanches had learned to use the flag of truce to get close to the whites and attack them easily. If that was the purpose it did not work this time, and the Rangers opened fire. The chief passed through this heavy fire without a scratch. Iron Jacket believed that because of magic breath he possessed, he could make bullets and arrows directed at him fall harmlessly at his feet. He shot a few arrows at the Rangers as he rode up and down the Ranger line. As the chief was turning his horse, he suddenly fell to the ground. His fatal mistake was leaning away from the gunfire from the Ranger line allowing a bullet, which was said to have been fired from the gun of Jim Pock- mark, an Anadarko chief in the Ranger force, to slip under one of the flaps of armor, killing the chief.