The Warren Wagon Train Massacre – Indian Version


In a previous story, we wrote of this massacre from the white man’s point of view.  This story is of the same massacre, only written from the Indian participant’s point of view.

You may wonder how we can do this one hundred fifty years later.  The answer is a most informative book called “Carbine and Lance” written by Col. W. S. Nye and published in 1937 by the University of Oklahoma Press.

Colonel Nye was indeed most fortunate to be assigned to the Ft. Sill Artillery School in 1935.  Many of the warriors who were involved in some of the Indian atrocities of the latter 19th century were still alive and living in the area of Ft. Sill.  Nye took an interpreter to the various villages and recorded the stories of the old men in an effort to record these events from the Indian’s point of view. 

The information on this story was obtained from Yellow Wolf, a Kiowa, who was the only living survivor of the battle.  Other information was obtained by Col. Nye from Ay-tah, the wife of Set-maunte who was a participant and George Hunt who obtained his information from Big Tree.

In 1857 Congress voted to subsidize a semi-weekly overland mail service. The line was to run "from such point of the Mississippi River as the contractors may select, to San Francisco." Further, this service was to be performed with "good four horse coaches or spring wagons suitable for the conveyance of passengers, as well as the safety and security of the mails."

John Butterfield, who had been an owner and a stage driver for some eastern stage lines, and had started the American Express Company in 1850, bid successfully for the six-year contract. The famous Butterfield Overland Express Company carried the mail from St. Louis, following a southerly route through Indian Territory, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona and then up the California Coastline to San Francisco. 

From Tipton, Missouri to Fort Smith Arkansas, he used existing roads.  From Fort Smith west to California he used Marcy's Road, laid out in 1849, and the Gila Trail, while inside California he again used existing roads.

After the Butterfield Trail left Indian Territory at Colbert’s Ferry, it was now in Comanche Country.  The stage line made a pass through most of the small towns and forts the army had built in north-central and west Texas on its way to El Paso. 

Captain Marcy had established the forts about seventy-five miles apart.  This was done so the army patrols could make the trip between forts in two days, spending only one night on the trail.  In Indian country it was often necessary to have a “cold camp” while on the trace.  Cold food made for unhappy troopers.

In 1859, the Pony Express was established to deliver the mail to California more quickly.  In 1861 the telegraph was completed to California.  This competition caused loss of revenue to Butterfield.  By the mid 1860’s, the Civil War, rising cost, loss of revenue and increasing problems with the marauding Comanche and Kiowa caused the end of the Butterfield Stage Line.  The road was still used by freighters and settlers at the risk of death and torture from Indian attacks.

Several days before the attack, Kiowas, Kiowa-Apaches and Comanches were at a camp on the North Fork of the Red River near present day Granite, OK.  The warriors had gathered to plan a big attack on the Tehannas.

Scarcely known to whites and history, the leader of this group was a Kiowa called Do-ha-te, the Owl Prophet.  His real name was Maman-ti (Touches-the-Sky) and he was seen only as a minor sub-chief by the army.  He was in fact the strongest chief of the time.

Through superior intellect, he could influence his people and pretend to foretell the future concerning warlike efforts.  The war party crossed Red River near Vernon, TX at a place the Indians called Skunk Headquarters named for the prolific skunk population.  Here they removed their saddles, blankets and other unnecessary items.  They hobbled their spare horses and left a few young boys behind to guard the headquarters. 

Since there was the plan to steal as many horses and mules as possible, many of the braves did not ride their own horses.  They rode double and carried many lariats and bridles for the captured livestock.  By May 17th, the war party had entered Young County and headed for the old Butterfield Trail between Fort Belknap and Fort Richardson, one of their favorite ambush point.

After dark, Maman-ti consulted his oracle.  After a while he rejoined the waiting braves and raised his arms and said “Tomorrow two parties of Tehannas will pass this way.  The first will be a small party and must not be attacked.  Later in the day a second party will pass and they may be attacked”. 

The next day the words of Maman-ti came true.  Early in the morning, an army wagon and seventeen troopers passed by, unaware that 150 pair of angry eyes were watching their every move from behind the hills.  The wagon was an army ambulance carrying Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman and now Brigadier General Randolph Marcy, Inspector General of the Army and a honor guard of 17 mounted troopers.  Maman-ti had forbid an attack on the first party, so the warriors sat silently and unknowingly watched their greatest adversary ride past unmolested.

Several hours passed and no one else had appeared.  The younger braves became restless and wanted to set out on their own.  They came for action and were not getting it.  Maman-ti scolded the young men and held them there.

About mid-afternoon, a wagon train owned by Warren & Duposes was near Cox Mountain, half way between Ft. Richardson and Fort Belknap.  The entourage consisted of ten covered wagons, a wagon master, ten teamsters and a night watchman.  The train carried sacks of corn for the army from the railhead at Weatherford to Fort Griffin. 

At about 3:00 in the afternoon, the train was preparing to make camp as was the custom so as to spare the animals from the heat of the day.  Maman-ti waited until the train was in the middle of the plain.  He then motioned for Satanta to blow his bugle to signal the attack.  Just as the bugle touched Satanta’s lips, the impatient young men dug their heels into the flanks of their ponies and charged down the hill.

Unexpectedly, the advancing Indians were finally noticed and an attempt was made to circle the wagons.  The Indians were well armed with modern carbines and revolvers.  An attempt was made to unload the cargo and make a breastwork from the sacks of corn.  The unrelenting fire from the approaching Indians was so intense that the task had to be abandoned.

Down the hill charged the young braves trying to be the first to make coup.  A fast horse and reckless daring was a tremendous advantage.  Coup was the touching of the enemy with a lance, stick or hand while he is trying to kill you.  Each time coup was made, the warrior was awarded an eagle or other type feather.  Enough feathers and the warrior received a war bonnet and was made a war chief.  Anybody could kill an enemy but it was very difficult to touch the enemy while he was shooting at you.  Coup had to be witnessed by at least one other Indian.  That must be sort of like making a hole-in-one today.

The horseless Indians had dismounted on the hilltop.  Down the slope came the hoard with Big Tree and Yellow Wolf leading the way.  They dashed between the half circled wagons and Big Tree made coup first followed by Yellow Wolf.  The party rode through the half circled wagons as the teamsters were grabbing rifles from leather boots attached to the wagons.

Yellow Wolf saw a young man jump from his horse and run toward the teamsters to engage in hand-to-hand combat.  It was Or-dlee a young Comanche.  He dropped to the ground, shot dead.  He was the first to die in the battle.  Then Red Warbonnet was shot through the thigh and fell from his horse.  The white men were now shooting “dangerously” and the Indians withdrew to outside the wagons. 

Amid the yellow dust and white puffs of gun smoke the Indians began to circle the wagons shooting and yelling.  The Kiowa were wearing red and white war bonnets and blue breech cloths.  It must have been a blur of color for the teamsters as they fired their rifles from underneath the wagons.

Yellow Wolf saw three teamsters die in the first attack as he rode between the wagons.  He didn’t know how many more were dead.  He also saw three Indians wounded and one killed in the first rush.

Yellow Wolf didn’t know if Satanta blew his trumpet to give signals because the gunfire was so intense.  But he thought if anybody did hear the trumpet, they didn’t pay any attention to it.

The sky was now growing darker and streaks of golden sunlight made for a strange setting among the dead and dying .  A big storm was brewing. 

As Yellow Wolf circled around the wagons to the east he saw a group of white men run from the wagons toward Cox Mountain.  Several Indians pursued them and one was killed a little way from the wagons.  The white men ran toward an arroyo and some timber.  Just as they neared the timber, another white man was killed.  The rest escaped into the timber and the Indians returned to the wagons as that was their prize.

The big storm continued to build and the Indians were anxious to hurriedly finish their work.  The battle site was now totally silent.  The Indians stood a good distance away from the wagons afraid to approach to soon as they didn’t know how many white men were still in the wagons.

Suddenly a young man named Hau-tau (Gun-shot) ran toward the wagons.  Two of the older men grabbed him and tried to hold him back.  They yelled “Keep back, it’s too dangerous”.  Hau-tau avoided the grasp of White Horse and Set-maunte and ran toward a wagon.  Hau-tau laid his hand on the back of the wagon and said “I claim this wagon and everything in it”.

At that instant a wounded teamster inside the wagon, stuck his rifle out the back of the wagon and shot Hau-tau point blank in the face. The young Kiowa fell to the ground horribly wounded.  White Horse and Set-maunte were laying their hands on the team of this wagon claiming the mules.  They ran around the wagon and dragged the youth to a safe place.

This act so enraged Maman-ti that he ordered the Indians to “tear up everything”.  At this point, the Indian version of what happened next suddenly breaks off and no Indian will tell what happened after the shooting of Hau-tau. 

The story then picks up with the return trip north.  The dead warrior Or-dlee was carried to the top of Cox Mountain and placed in a crevice.  Rocks were then placed over him so the army could not find his body.  The wounded were tied to their horses and lead back north.  The captured mules were herded north.

What happened to the teamster who shot Hau-tau was reported by army officers.  On May 19th the army arrived to survey the massacre site.  Col. J. H. Patzki, Asst. Surgeon, U.S.A. in a report to Col. R. S. McKenzie noted “One of the bodies was more mutilated than the others.  He was chained to the pole of a wagon lying over a fire, face down, his tongue being cut out.  Due to the charred condition of the body, it is impossible to tell if he was alive or dead when burned.  All had been scalped except one.”  The army tried to follow the marauders but the heavy thunder storms had obliterated the Indian's trial.

Col. McKenzie ordered all of the corpses to be placed in a wagon body and buried at the site.  Two field stones were placed as markers and seven marks representing the body count were cut into the stones. 

When the Indians reached the Red River, it was swollen from the recent rains.  The Indians built boats out of willow boughs and canvas.  They then placed the wounded and the booty from the raid in these boats and crossed the Red River back into Indian Territory.  Those warriors who were still fit plunged their horses into the river and held onto the horse's tails as the horse swam for the north bank. 

Hau-tau was carried across the Red River in one of these boats and into Comanche country near the Wichita Mountains and Ft. Sill.  A few days later he died as a result of screw worms infesting his head wound .

The total fatalities of this raid were three Indians, seven whites and 41 captured mules.

© Contributed by Dennis Muncrief - 2009