The Warren Wagon Train Massacre  

White Man's  Version


There were many Indian massacres or atrocities committed in the nineteenth century that resulted in many more deaths to whites and Indians.  This story tells of an incident that was particularly brutal.

May 18, 1871, the next day after General Sherman, Gen. Marcy, and their escorts passed over the road between Fort Belknap and Fort Richardson, and two years and two days after the famous Salt Creek Fight, a wagon train, loaded with corn, and belonging to Capt. Henry Warren, who was a contractor at Ft. Griffin, was attacked by Chief Satanta, Satauk, (Satank), Big Tree, and perhaps other chiefs in command of about 100 warriors, not a great distance from Flat Top Mountain, about half-way between Fort Richardson and Fort Belknap, and on the identical road over which Gen. Sherman, Gen. Marcy and others passed during the preceding day.

The train, when attacked, was under the command of Nathan S. Long, wagon-master. Many warriors were armed with the most modern rifles, known at that time. The teamsters were as helpless as children, Nathan Long, John Mullins, J. S. and Samuel Elliot, B. J. Baxter, Jesse Bowman, and James Williams, were killed. Thomas Brazeale was seriously wounded, but escaped, and R. A. Day, and Charles Brady, escaped unharmed. Samuel Elliott was burned to death. The savages chained him to the wheel of a wagon so he could not move, and then built a fire around his feet.

It was difficult for Gen. Sherman, Gen. Marcy and others to believe that the Indians had committed such crimes. After making a personal investigation, Col. McKenzie reported to Gen. Sherman that the report was true, as related. Thomas Brazeale, the wounded man, also found his way to Jacksboro, and related how the savage tigers from the reservation near Ft. Sill sprang upon the defenseless teamsters, killed seven of their number, one of whom was burned to death, and carried away about forty mules, as well as such other things that seemed to suit their fancy.

This example of savage butchery has often been referred to as the Monument Fight, for after it happened, Capt. Henry Warren erected a nicely painted wooden monument where the tragedy occurred. We are told that this monument decayed and disappeared many years ago.

William Tecumseh Sherman, General of the Army, traveled north on an inspection tour of the forts. He was accompanied by Inspector General Randolph B. Marcy, who had been retained by United States government twenty years prior for several explorations, including, blazing a southern route to Santa Fe, locating the head waters of the Brazos and the Red Rivers and, with Major Neighbors, establishing suitable locations for the Indian Reservations. Sherman and Marcy were accompanied by two staff members and only fifteen cavalry men.

Mackenzie dispatched his Adjutant, R. G. Carter, and a detachment to intercept and escort the General and his party. This precaution was prudent, considering the 80 plus miles the party traveled between Ft. Griffin and Ft. Richardson, at its midpoint, crossed the Salt Creek Prairie, and considered one of the most dangerous places on the entire United States frontier. These were the closest settlements to the Indian Territory (United States Indian Policy did not allow pursuit of the Indians onto the Reservations) so they were not only most convenient targets of short raids-, but also the first and last targets of opportunity for longer raids.

Sherman gracefully declined Carter's assistance indicating an air of nonchalance which suited his political philosophy about the degree of danger presented by Indians. When Marcy pointed out to Sherman that the area was dramatically less inhabited than it was when he had passed through there twenty years prior, Sherman pointed out the houses were spaced far apart and did not indicate serious concern on the part of the builders for Indian defense.

Sherman believed a large portion of the raiders to be ex-Confederate renegades, and he had written to General J. J. Reynolds, commander of the department of Texas:

"I have seen not a trace of an Indian thus far, and only hear stories of people which indicate that what ever Indians there be, only come to Texas to steal horses... and the people within a hundred miles of the frontier ought to take precautions such as all people do against all sort of thieves... but up to this point the people manifest no fears or apprehensions, for they expose women and children singly on the road and in cabins far off from others as though they were in Illinois."

Sherman's party crossed Salt Creek unaware that they were being watched by a Kiowa raiding party of one hundred fifty warriors, led by Chiefs Satank and Satanta, accompanied by the mysterious medicine man, Maman-ti.

Upon their ascension to the top of the hill, Maman-ti consulted with his owl, a symbol of death to the Kiowa. They feared even to look at an owl, which was fortunate for Maman-ti because his was only an owl skin with button eyes; he could blow air into the owl skin causing the wings to flap. He told the braves the owl warned against attacking the first target they saw, but glory would be theirs if they waited for the second. Luckily for Sherman, they saw his party first. Sometime later, traveling in the opposite direction towards Ft. Griffin, the Warren wagon train and its teamsters were the unfortunate ones.

Satanta (White Bear) blew his trumpet signaling the attack. As they charged, the drivers attempted to circle their wagons. Addo-etta (Big Tree) and Yellow Wolf cut off the lead mules, scoring the first two coups. The teamsters opened fire, wounding --Red War Bonnet, a Kiowa, and killing Or-dlee, a Comanche. Big Tree shot one of the drivers out of his seat. Light-Haired-Young-Man, a Kiowa-Apache, was knocked off his horse and carried from the fight.

The warriors circled the train, their fire killing three more drivers and wounding a fourth. The remaining seven bolted through a gap in the -circling Indians and sprinted -toward the timber around Cox Mountain. Two more died as they ran and a third was injured.

The Indians didn't pursue them into the timber, returning to their primary interest, the booty in the wagons. They continued circling the train, unsure of the number of defenders still remaining. An inexperienced young Kiowa, named Hautau (Gun Shot), charged a wagon. As he touched the canvas to claim it, Samuel Elliott, lying wounded inside the wagon, shot him in the face. Elliott was overtaken and chained, face down, to a wagon tongue and roasted over a slow fire.

At this time in Ft. Richardson, Sherman was receiving local citizens who related their individual accounts of the Indian atrocities they had encountered. The settlers recounted hundreds of deaths, and kidnappings in the depredations which had occurred over the last decade. Sherman was polite but unmoved, and spent the evening at a reception in his honor attended by the officers and their wives. Later that night he was awakened from his sleep and informed of the fate of the wagon train on the road he had just crossed. Now visibly moved, he ordered Mackenzie to take a detachment to investigate the report, and if true, to pursue the raiders even to the Reservation.  

Mackenzie departed with four cavalry companies consisting of over two hundred men, and headed west along the Butterfield Road in a heavy rain storm. Confirming the report, Mackenzie searched to the north for over 20 days with no success. On June 4th, the detachment arrived at Ft. Sill to find the leaders of the raid in chains and Sherman already departed, continuing his inspection tour into Missouri.

A Quaker Indian agent, Lawry Tatum and Colonel Grierson, commander of Ft. Sill, greeted General Sherman upon his arrival at the fort on May 23. When informed about the wagon train massacre at Salt Creek, Tatum stated that Satanta's tribe was reported off the reservation and he would make inquiries, several days later when Indians picked up their rations. When asked, Satanta, in a proud statement, had not only condemned himself, but also Big Tree, Satank and Eagle Heart as accomplices.

When given the information, Sherman, lacking authority to make arrest on the reservation, asked Tatum to call the chiefs to a meeting on the porch of Colonel Grierson's home at Fort Sill. A large number of chiefs gathered and Satanta again confirmed that it was he that had led the raid, and if anyone said different, they would be a liar. Sherman stated that Satanta, Satank, Big Tree and Eagle Heart were under arrest and would be sent to Texas to stand trial for murder, and that the Kiowa tribe would be responsible for returning the mules stolen in the raid.

Satanta then changed his story, saying he only went along to blow his bugle (signaling commands to his warriors and confusing the commands given by the army) and observe the young men learning to be warriors. Kicking Bird offered to produce a large number of mules in retribution, but pleaded that they not arrest the chiefs.

Then the shutters around the porch banged open and dozens of previously concealed soldiers brought their rifles to bear on the gathered Indians who had weapons concealed beneath their blankets. In the next few seconds, one warrior was killed and Eagle Heart escaped. The remaining three suspect chiefs were arrested and put in irons and confined awaiting their deportation to Texas.  

On the morning of June 8th, Mackenzie and his troops left Ft. Sill, escorting the wagon containing the three manacled chiefs on their way to stand trial in Jacksboro, Texas. Satank told a Caddo scout "Tell my people I died beside the road. My bones will be found there. Tell my people to gather them up and carry them away." The old chief then covered his head with a blanket and began his death song.

Over the next mile he had chewed enough of his hand off to escape a manacle. With a concealed knife, he stabbed one of the guards in the wagon and grabbed a rifle but before he could fire, Corporal John B. Charlton killed him. The soldiers left his body by the road approximately where he predicted he would be, and proceeded to Jacksboro with the surviving two chiefs.

The trial was a nationwide media event, as it was the first time raiding Indians had been made to stand trial for their deeds in the community where they committed their crimes. Newspapers across the country carried headlines stating that twelve Jacksboro jurors had found them guilty of murder and that Judge Charles Soward sentenced them to be hanged.

Governor Edmund J. Davis was ultimately pressured to overturn the sentence. He was swayed by two sound arguments, first that the Kiowa would be easier to control if there existed a possibility of the Chiefs being returned, and second that Indians feared confinement more than death. Thus, on August 2, 1871, he commuted their sentences to life imprisonment.

The chiefs were sent to the Huntsville State Penitentiary and paroled in 1873. They immediately violated their parole by leading new raids into Texas and both were eventually rearrested. Satanta died of a fall from an upper story window while in prison. Big Tree was eventually released and helped establish and became a deacon in a Baptist church in Oklahoma.

Mrs. Barbara Belding-Gibson points our in her book, Painted Pole, that the freeing of Satanta and Big Tree was a successful ploy by Lone Wolf to get them released. He represented himself to the U. S. as premier chief of the Kiowa and one who could speak for the Comanche. He insisted he would have to confer with Big Tree and Satanta before he could go to D. C. and make a treaty.

The Indians were transported to St. Louis to meet with Lone Wolf then returned to Huntsville while he went to Washington. There he declared he couldn't control his young warriors without the aid of Big Tree and Satanta. If they weren't going to be released, he promised there would be open warfare. The United States representatives agreed, without authority, and then pressured Governor Davis to release the Indians.


Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - 2009