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End of the Red River War: Comanche Women at Mow-wi Camp in Palo Duro Canyon

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

Comanche women and child at Mow-Wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon, possibly 1874. University of Texas at Arlington, Special Collections.

This photograph is possibly the last image of Comanche women in a traditional camp on the open prairie: the Mow-wi camp at Palo Duro Canyon during the Red River War.

It is noted by archivists that it was most likely taken in 1874 after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (Randall County vicinity, Texas). This battle was the final act of the Red River Wars. It pitted U.S. troops, led by Ranald S. McKenzie, against the Southern Plains Indian tribes led by Red Warbonnet (Comanche) and Lone Wolf (Kiowa), among others. The purpose of the Red River Wars was to force the tribes to remain on the reservation at Fort Sill, Indian Territory.

The camp was called Mow-Wi and was located within Palo Duro Canyon. Note the drying hides and the bison fur and deer hide spilling out of the tepee. I believe the women fashioned their tepee out of hides, a traditional practice that had become exceedingly rare at this point as the Indians adopted more modern means of manufacture, such as using canvas to construct their lodges.

A reader for Red River Historian stated that no photographers joined the army on its mission at Palo Duro Canyon. I can’t argue this, but I do argue that it took months for the native bands to break camp and trek to Fort Sill. After their horses were killed by McKenzie, they had to contemplate their place in this new world, and then walk to the fort – like refugees who had been forced out of their homelands.

Throughout most of its history, today’s Texas was the domain of the Comanche. Their empire, the Comanceria, proved a formidable enemy of the Spanish, Mexican, and American governments.

The Comanches were defeated in the Red River Wars of 1874-1875. The Red River Wars were fought by the U.S. army against the southern Plains Indian tribes, which included the Wichitas, Kiowas, Apaches, Cheyennes, and Arapahos.

The defeat meant that the Comanches had to remain on their reservation lands surrounding Fort Sill, Indian Territory, and accept “Americanization.” The reservation had been established via the Medicine Lodge Creek Treaty of 1867.

In 1876, the state of Texas passed a law that prohibited any of the Red River peoples from moving to Texas. I’m not sure if this law expired, but when Indians gained citizenship – through a federal act in 1924 – the law may have been nullified/voided.

Handwritten draft of Texas law from 1875, passed in 1876, that barred “Kiowas, Comanches, Apaches, Kickapoos, Cheyennes, Arapahoes, Wichitas, and bands affiliated with them from crossing the Red River from Fort Sill reservation into Texas.” (Texas State Library)

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01 jun

This picture most certainly was not taken of Moway's village teepees down in Palo Duro Canyon 1874. There was no photographer out in the field on the Llano Estacado and down in its canyons photographing Indians in 1874. On September 28, 1874, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry ambushed down in the canyon, the Indians who had sought refuge there: the Kiowa (under Lone Wolf and Mamanti), Comanche (under Moway) and Cheyenne (under Iron Shirt); the Indians escaped on foot up the sides of the canyon; and all of their teepees, supplies, and foodstuffs were burned by Mackenzie's troops, and their ponies rounded up, driven up onto the Llano and over to Tule Canyon, where most were s…

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