The Texas frontier suffered a great deal from Indian attacks from the first settler settlement through the First World War The always felt that the land belonged to them and that the white men were unfairly taking away from them what was rightfully their possession. They therefore conducted several raids with the objective of frustrating the settlers and therefore keeping them at bay. The settlers riding on the promise of getting security from the federal government continued their westward movement.
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However the federal government failed in that duty many times and many settlers lost lives and property due to the Indian raids. The general observation was that the federal government policy on Indians was very lenient making them more courageous to attack (Zelizer 274). The policy did not punish the Indians for the attacks. The government policy treated the Indians as primitive and unqualified to be judged under the civil law. This leniency was taken advantage of by the Indians knowing they could do anything and get by with it. This paper is going to discuss the role the Indian policy played in furthering the Indian problem in the Texas frontier from the end of the civil war to WWI.
After the civil war, the Texas frontier suffered more from neglect than from federal troops or the carpetbaggers. Between 1865 and 1867, over 120 persons had been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner by the Indians, yet of the 3,000 soldiers in Texas, less than one-sixth of them were stationed on the frontier with the rest ‘maintaining law and order for governor E.J Davis and for his reconstruction’. The region was therefore suffered from neglect from the federal government. By 1866 the federal troops began to re-occupy the old forts and to build new ones.
After the civil war the Indians renewed attacks on the frontier with increased intensity. In response Port Richardson was established to protect the frontier from these raids but it took time before it could effectively do so because of lack of enough soldiers. Frontier setlers, officers and some legislators wrote many letters to General of the Army William T. Sherman and General Phillip Sheridan, commander of the Department of the Missouri, requesting more troops on the frontier. For several months federal policy remained indecisive. General Sheridan believed the Indians should be held accountable for their actions the same as the white men. Sherman himself narrowly on a tour of the frontier in 1871 narrowly missed an Indian attack on him which convinced him of the urgency of taking action. Immediately after, more troops were brought in to border posts. An agreement was made with the Indian bureau that hostile Indians who are without the reservation would be attacked by the army. Thus in 1871 the army embarked upon a new Indian policy (Francaviglia 123).
The army however faced an uphill task because of its ignorance of Texas geography. When it came to terrain, the Indians were more acquainted with the geographical features of West Texas. The Indians would take advantage of this to take the army in circles on long chases until the army is completely exhausted. Raiding parties were usually Comanche, Kiowa and Apaches. The Comanche raided the white settlements to steal horses which to them were a medium of exchange, a form of capital and a status symbol. Killing was not the primary reasons for the raids but rather was used as a means of ensuring the primary reasons of stealing is successful.
To discourage further westward movement by the settlers, the Indian militia attacked the military camp at Buffalo Springs with the aim of capturing it in July 1867 (Grant and John 536). It was attacked at a time when Major B.O. Hutchins, the commander in-charge was away pursuing other Indian raiders. The camp was nevertheless defended by a small detachment of the army that had been left behind. Although this attack was not successful, it nevertheless showed how bold the Indians had become.
In 1868 Grant was elected the President of the United States. His government adopted a new Indian policy largely influenced by the Quakers who advised him to appoint religious men as Indian agents. These agents they argued would try to influence the Indians through religious convictions and by improving relations between the settlers and the Indians. However this policy failed and attacks continued. Even the Quakers came to the conclusion that the only language the Indians understood was force. In 1870, a battle was fought between the Indians and Captain C.B McClellan and a band of about 250 Indians. McClellan was able to evacuate his men but albeit a lot of fire from the Indians who had divided themselves into three groups. Two men were however killed, fourteen wounded and eighteen horses killed.
While on patrol in September 1871 Captain W.A Rafferty came across some Indian raiders whom they followed for two days after which they clashed with them killing two, injuring one while eight escaped. It was established later that one of the dead was an Indian Chief named Quash who had on his body a medal bearing the date 1839 issued from time to time to friendly Indians by the federal government. In 1871, a wagon train was attacked by 150 men. The wagon master K.S Long and six men were killed. Five men escaped the attack at a time when General T. Sherman was touring the frontier. Among the attackers were Indian Chiefs Big Tree and Satanta who bragged to Tatum, an Indian agent about it.
The two were arrested and charged for it. They were to be hanged but the sentence was reduced to life in prison after the intervention of Governor Davis. The two were released in 1874 after intervention from Washington. Their arrest scared the Indians as it showed the federal government was now serious with them and as it was the first time an Indian was tried in a civil court. The attacks decreased afterwards until they finally died out. The impact their arrest had showed that the Indian problem persisted largely because of the inaction on the part of the federal government and a weak policy towards the Indians.