|Depredations, the Civil War, and Indian Policy
on the North Texas Prairies
Laymen tend to argue that southern states seceded from the Union in 1860 and 1861 because the
Confederacy was defending its respective states' rights, but that's not the whole picture. In reading the
original secession documents, it becomes clear that southern states were galled that the Union wasn't
enforcing, and in many cases allowing northern states to supersede, federal laws such as the fugitive
slave acts. Most southern states actually demanded a stronger federal government that would protect
their right to keep slaves. So, the "states' rights" is a double-edged sword of an argument. But there
was a whole 'nother agenda that one particular secession document addressed as well.
Texas argued in its Declaration that the US was not doing enough to protect
the slave system, or defending civilians against Indian depredations. The
"frontier" - an imaginary boundary where Anglo settlements collided with
Comanche and Kiowa territorial claims - was a dangerous place, with very
few forts built for protection and too friendly an Indian policy. Many Texans
even resented the fact that they were not allowed to settle inside Indian
Territory - it was, they claimed, as if the United States liked Indians better
than its white children!
While the Texan "whine" regarding what was fair was not very palatable
(especially to those whom Anglo Texans were unfair to), the Declaration of
Secession did have a point: raids on settlements and homesteads were not
uncommon, but the United States Army lacked urgency to build more forts.
In fact, the few federal, antebellum forts that had been erected tended to
act more as places where supplies could be bought, troops could be
mustered to build roads and serve as guides, prostitutes and card sharps
could ply their trades, and the occasional peace be fostered. Very few
problems between settlers and Native Americans seemed to arise, so the
government in Washington just didn't see the need to build a line of forts
along a relatively peaceful frontier. (Oddly, the same argument of "lack of
protection against Indians" was raised by colonists against the British
before the Revolutionary War).
|Young County pioneer cabin
|Robert S. Neighbors was born in Virginia but sought adventure
as an Indian agent in the "old southwest" of Louisiana, Texas,
and Indian Territory. His dedication to protecting Native
American tribes was punished in 1859, when Edward Cornett, a
white settler, shot and killed him.
North Texans, however, saw things a little differently. Raids and attacks between
settlers and Native Americans were on the rise, and federal Indian agent, Robert S.
Neighbors, seemed to favor Comanches and Tonkawas more than the white men (he
was eventually murdered for protecting Comanche bands against Texans by bringing
them into Indian Territory).
The "depredations," as Texans called these attacks, were acknowledged after the
Civil War, when the US would use the "Indian menace" as an excuse to force all
Native American tribes onto reservations so that the country could expand
unhindered. The attacks on settlers became fodder for the "Quaker Peace Policy" (a
pejorative used to describe the Medicine Lodge Treaty).
Following are a few examples of the depredations in North Texas that were used as
evidence to change federal policy towards Native American tribes.
|J. W. Wilbarger's book, "Indian Depredations in
Texas" (1890) chronicles and condemns the raids
against white settlers. In a drawing accompanying the
book, white child captives are rescued by yelling "We
are white children!" (courtesy Texas State Library and
Warren Wagon Train Raid
William Tecumseh Sherman, who had once trained at
Camp Cooper in Thorckmorton County, visited Texas
in 1871 to witness these so-called "depredations." A
day after he traveled on the road from Fort Griffin to
Fort Belknap, Kiowa, Apache, and Comanche warriors
from Fort Sill ambushed a wagon train on that very
road, killing six men. Sherman decided that the men
responsible for the raid should stand trial for murder.
This decision changed Indian Policy, as raids had
been previously viewed as acts of war, not as crimes.
Satank, Satanta, Big Tree, and Skywalker were
arrested at Fort Sill and brought to trial in Jacksboro
(Satank was killed in an escape attempt on his way to
Jacksboro). This raid brought an end to the "Quaker
Peace Policy" and immediately impacted the Red
|Warren Wagon Train Raid site on the Salt Creek Prairie, Young County
Elm Creek Raid
in 1864, Kiowa and Comanche warriors descended on settlers near Fort Belknap, where they
scalped a young woman, killed an enslaved boy, and kidnapped the Fitzpatrick and Johnson
families. Several settlers, soldiers, and warriors were killed in rescue attempts following the
ambush. Comanche Chief Asa-Havey, of a different Comanche band, brokered peace by
ransoming the captives and returning them to their families (legend has it that Britt Johnson,
an enslaved man, rescued both families instead).
Lost Valley Raids
In the 1860s and 1870s, several raids took place
between Kiowas, who had been forced onto
reservations in Indian Territory, and Anglo
settlers. Many of the attacks focused on stealing
or spooking cattle. Texas Rangers tended to
patrol the valley.
The first permanent Anglo settlement in
Young County was also home to various
Indian tribes, as the springs provided a
steady supply of water. Several raids took
place around Flag Springs in the 1860s and
1870s, including a raid on horses and cattle.
|More information on "depredations" to come!
|What is a depredation? Basically, it's an attack by Native Americans on
white people. In the latter years of the term's usage, the attacks could
occur to anyone not of Native American ancestry.
|Why did I put quotation marks around the word "frontier"? I did that to show
understanding that the word has some contentious history: the idea that a line
separated "civilized" Americans from "savage" Indians is rooted in racism.