Published on February 3, 2013 by Carol
Like their counterparts in the north, the Southern Plains tribes’ way of life depended definitively upon the buffalo. They used virtually all of the animal for food, tools, shelter, clothing, sacred objects and even playthings for their youngsters. Perhaps 60 million buffalo thundered across the plains in the early 1800s.
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After the Civil War, impoverished white hunters were hell bent for leather to exterminate vast numbers of buffalo for their hides, which threatened the tribes with radical destitution. The Indians violently resisted, but following the Treaty of Medicine Lodge in 1867, the Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, Kataka and Kiowa were relegated to reservations in Oklahoma and Texas. Under these circumstances, the tribes had to depend upon white patronage for survival. The U.S. government failed to adhere to the treaty terms for their support, which resulted in a hard and unjust life for the residents.
Over time, some braves slipped away, took up arms against this outcome and began to maraud white sojourners, settlers and hunters. In June 1874 Indians attacked about 30 buffalo hunters in their camp at Adobe Walls in northern Texas. The assault was expensive; many warriors were cut down by the hunters’ long-range rifles, including one owned by Bat Masterton — and the incident precipitated the Red River War.
In the fall, General William T. Sherman, aided by General Philip Sheridan, directed U.S. infantry and cavalry against the renegades in 14 see-saw battles in the Red River Valley of northern Texas. The soldiers never gave their quarry rest; half-starved and disheartened, the surviving warriors gradually returned to their reservations and their leaders were clapped in irons in Florida. After the Red River War, there were no independent tribes ranging the Southern Plains by the end of 1875 and most of the buffalo were wiped out.
This was a significant chapter in the area’s history in another respect: The region was thrown open to white settlement, including ranching and farming.