How to get there

Palo Duro Canyon is a state park that  
can only be reached on its western
side. Take FM 217 east from Canyon.
Canyon lies south of Amarillo on
Interstate 27.
You can also check out this map for
Canyon's location. Canyon is the
home to West Texas A&M and the
Panhandle Plains Museum, the
largest historical museum in Texas.
The United States' second largest canyon is breath taking in its beauty and tragic in its history. Lying just south of Amarillo, Palo Duro
Canyon's colorful rock is cut by forks of the Red River.

The Canyon was once home to the Comanche and the Kiowa, One can really visualize the camps they made along the bases of the
mountains, carrying water from the reddish stream that meandered along the clay soil. If you listen closely, you may even hear the distant
thunder of long forgotten buffalo herds.

But the Plains Indians way of life was under constant attack by powerful railroads, persuasive missionaries, expansionist politicians and
bankers, and desperate farmers and ranchers. To combat the influx of new peoples, the Plains Indians had raided settlements for many
years, often taking captives, who could be sold into slavery, adopted into the tribe, tortured to death, married off, etc. Anglo Texans
demanded that the "menace" be eradicated, and Palo Duro Canyon proved the last battleground in the
Red River War. In 1874, Ranald S.
MacKenzie, a general based out of
Fort Richardson, surrounded the Plains Indian camps on all sides. Though a shootout ensued, casualties
on both sides were slight, and the Plains Indians knew they were outnumbered and out gunned.

Surrender was not enough for the U.S. Calvary, however. In this war of attrition, MacKenzie and his troops took the Natives' horses, which
numbered over 1,000, to a clearing a few miles south of the Canyon. The troops then slaughtered the horses in a hail of bullets that must
have lasted hours. The cries of the scared beasts must have been deafening.

MacKenzie just did what other commanders did before him - George Custer had killed all of the Cheyenne's horses after the Battle of the
Washita, too. Both men knew that to kill the horse was to force the Indian off the land, for horses was the Plains Indians' only source of
wealth.

The Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa  and Apache surrendered - among them Quanah Parker,  Kicking Bird, White Bear, Satank, and Satanta.
They were forced to live their lives  on the reservations surrounding
Fort Sill in Indian Territory. Within five years after the Battle of Palo
Duro Canyon, the last buffalo herd of the Southern Plains was killed by hide hunters  near  Adobe Walls. The frontier ceased to exist.

Just remember when you visit Palo Duro Canyon that its stark beauty exposes dark wounds.
The marker commemorating the Palo
Duro Canyon battle.
Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River
The recreated Charles Goodnight dugout inside the park. Goodnight
ranched here for several years, and let Kiowa and Comanche
warriors to conduct buffalo hunts on the land, of which a film was
shot in 1915. The movie is available at the Palo Duro Canyon State
Park Store.
Palo Duro Canyon:
The Birthplace of the Red River
Know Your History
The history of how the Plains Indian
tribes and the Anglo settlers in Texas
interacted is very complicated. Both
sides had legitimate complains but
also, both sides were not always open
to peaceable interactions. This was
mainly due to the lack of insight into
either culture. A good book to learn
about these cultural
misunderstandings is "Empire of the
Summer Moon" by S.E. Gwynne.
The canyon floor is breathtaking. Within the crumbling rock hide
caves and jackals, used by Comanche, Mexican, and French
traders. Here, they bought and sold goods, food, and even slaves
(often, captives from Indian Territory or from Texas).
Intrepid explorer Randolph B. Marcy followed the Red River to its source at Palo Duro Canyon and was
mighty impressed. Read about his discoveries
here!
Questions or comments?
E-mail me:
robin@redriverhistorian.com