Antelope Hills Expedition

Published on February 25, 2013 by Carol

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Capt. John “Rip” Ford

Advancing from Texas to Oklahoma

Scouts were sent to locate Comanche camps north of the Red River in the Comancheria. In April 1858, Ford established Camp Runnels near what used to be the town of Belknap. Ford and Placido were determined to follow the Comanche and Kiowa up to their strongholds amid the hills of the Canadian river, and into the Witchita Mountains, and if possible, kill their warriors, decimate their food supply, strike at their homes and families and generally destroy their ability to make war.

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Once he had advanced far into the Texas Comancheria, Ford intended to go further, law or not. On April 15, Ford’s Rangers and the Indians from the Brazos Indian Reservation crossed the Red River and advanced into the portion of the Comancheria in the Indian Territories in Oklahoma. Ford knew full well he was violating federal laws and numerous treaties by moving into the Indian Territories, but stated later that his job was to “find and fight Indians, not to learn geography.”

Battle at Little Robe Creek

At dawn on May 12, 1858, Ford attacked a small Comanche village in the Canadian River Valley, flanked by the Antelope Hills. Later that day they attacked a second, which provided much stiffer resistance, till its Chief, Iron Jacket, was killed. His son, Peta Nocona, arrived with reinforcements, which led to a third distinct clash between the Texas forces and the Comanche. At day’s end the Rangers and their allies retreated back to Texas, as the Comanches, though in retreat, were gathering reinforcements as more of their tribe arrived, together with Kiowa and Kiowa Apache allies. Having suffered only four Ranger casualties, plus over a dozen Tonkawas, the force killed a reported 76 Comanche and took 16 prisoners and 300 horses. It had burned Iron Jacket’s village and the original small village which they had attacked. There is limited mention in history, and none in Ford’s official reports on the battle, that the Tonkawa ate their dead Comanche rivals on the night of May 12, 1858, in what is referred to as a “dreadful feast.”

Aftermath

Ford returned to Texas and requested that the Governor immediately empower him to raise additional levies of Rangers, and return north at once to continue the campaign in the heart of the Comancheria. However, Governor Runnels had exhausted the entire budget for defense for the year, and disbanded the Rangers.

Although Ford was unable to continue this campaign, it changed the face of Indian fighting on the plains and marked the beginning of the end for the Comanche and Kiowa. Only the Civil War delayed the inevitable). For the first time, Texan or American forces had penetrated to the heart of the Comancheria, attacked Comanche villages with impunity, and successfully made it home. The U.S. Army would adopt many of Ford’s tactics – including his attacking women and children as well as warriors, and destroying their food supply, the buffalo, in their campaigns against the plains tribes after the Civil War

Source: Legendsofamerica

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