Colonel Dodge Reaches Villages of Western Indians

Trailing through broad and verdant valleys, they went, their progress often arrested by hundreds of acres of plum trees bending to the ground with tempting fruit; crossing oak ridges where the ground was covered with loaded grapevines, through suffocating creek-bottom thickets, undergrowth of vines and briars, laboring up rocky hillsides and laboring down again, the horses picking their way through impeding rocks and boulders, until on the twenty-ninth of the month, two hundred miles from Fort Gibson, General Leavenworth and his staff reached Captain Dean’s camp, a mile or two from the Washita, where there were quartered two companies of the Third Infantry from Fort Towson. Reports of sickness among the men were alarming. They were dying daily, and failure of the expedition was threatened. General Leavenworth, who had intended to send the command on from the Washita in charge of Colonel Dodge, announced that he himself would proceed in charge to the Wichita country. It was not until the first day of July that the regiment came dragging into camp with forty-five men and three officers ill from exposure, the surgeon said, brought on by marching through the heat of the day. A contributing cause was the strange diet to which these untrained, undisciplined men gave themselves, and the sudden and intemperate indulgence of their appetite in abundant buffalo meat. On arrival at the Washita, seventy-five horses and mules were also disabled past proceeding.

Several days were consumed here in disposing of and caring for the sick, and reforming the badly disorganized regiment. Whole companies were incapaciated by sickness, and as the hardest part of the campaign was ahead of them, the prospect was discouraging, but General Leavenworth did not falter.

The third and fourth of July were employed in crossing the Washita River, with the loss of five horses and a mule by drowning. Where they crossed was a narrow, deep stream with miry shores and steep banks, requiring nearly a company of men to pull a wagon out. A ferry was arranged by building a platform on two canoes, and all of the third was consumed in crossing the left wing of the expedition. The right wing was put over on the fourth, but it was after night before the last wagon was safely across. To add to the difficulties caused by sickness and the terrific heat, many of the horses and mules had worn out their shoes and were traveling on tender, sore feet. There was bitter disappointment in the regiment on arrival at the Washita, when it was found that horseshoe nails that were expected from Fort Towson had not arrived, and the blacksmith was at once sent to that post to make the nails.

By the fourth of July, General Leavenworth realized that he was too sick to travel, and reluctantly gave over his plan to accompany the expedition. He accordingly ordered Colonel Dodge to head the reorganized command of two hundred fifty able-bodied men, half the number that had left Fort Gibson less than three weeks before. Eighty-six sick men, including General Leavenworth and Lieutenant McClure, were left behind at Camp Leavenworth, about twelve miles west of the Washita, with one hundred nine men fit for duty under Captain Trenor 1 to hold the post and care for the sick.

New Command

The new command was composed of six depleted companies, with Colonel Dodge, Colonel Kearny, Major Mason, Lieutenants Wheelock and Hamilton as field officers. The captains at the head of the companies included Nathan Boone, Sumner, Hunter, and others. Jefferson Davis 2 was transferred to Company E, under Captain Perkins. Lieutenant Izard was in command of a company. The command was furnished with ten days rations and eighty rounds of cartridges to a man, and baggage was reduced to the lowest possible quantity; and thus they started upon the hardest part of their journey, with two hundred miles between them and their objective. All seemed gay and buoyant at the fresh start which they hoped was to release them from the fatal miasma hanging over the Washita. The country west of the Washita was frequented by the western tribes as their hunting grounds, and as the dragoons were then crossing hostile territory, they were keyed up to the possibility of combat, though with less assurance of their own prowess since their force was so much reduced. Their situation and the state of mind of the green recruits of this organization were illustrated by an incident of the first night after they got away. For safety they formed a camp on four lines, forming a square fifteen to twenty rods across. Upon these lines their saddles and packs were all laid at a distance of five feet from each other; and each man, after grazing his horse, had it fastened with a rope or lasso to a stake driven in the ground at a little distance from his feet; thus enclosing the horses all within a square for security in case of an alarm or attack. On the night mentioned, a poor horse that had strayed away the night before and had faithfully followed the trail of the dragoons, in the darkness of the night was picking his way through a thicket of bushes into camp to join its comrades, when a stupid sentinel mistook the horse for an Indian and fired, and killed him. The report of the gun and the groaning of the horse alarmed the camp and set off in a stampede the rest of the horses; and the whole command was kept in camp the next day while the troopers combed the country for the lost horses, all but ten of which were brought in.

Meeting with the Comanche

It was not long before they began to see roving bands of Comanche hunters on horseback, who warily avoided the dragoons, for the officers tried by every means to come up with them for a talk. Finally, on the fourteenth, by dint of much patience and tact, they were able to make a favorable impression on a small band after the interesting process described by Wheelock:

“The command had advanced today about half a mile, when on a hill to our right, we discovered a party of horsemen. Our spy glasses soon determined them to be Indians; Colonel Dodge halted the columns; ordered a white flag; and with it and his staff, moved in the direction of the Indians. After some delay, one of the party advanced upon full gallop, bearing a white flag on his lance; he proved to be a Spaniard, who, early in life, had been taken by the Camanches. Colonel Dodge received him kindly; and through our interpreter, who spoke a little Spanish, made known to him our pacific disposition; gradually the whole band, about thirty Indians, came to us and shook hands. They proved to be Camanches; discovered a good deal of alarm and eagerness to convince us of their disposition to be friendly; they rode good horses; they were all armed with bows and arrows and lances; and carried shields of buffalo hide.”

They told Colonel Dodge that they were a very numerous people, whereupon the Colonel, not to be out-done in assurance, answered that the whites were a very numerous people, and that more troops were coming behind with large guns. 3 After the dragoons camped for the night, the Comanche came to buy tobacco and to talk with Colonel Dodge. The Colonel told them that the President, the Great American Captain, had sent him to shake hands with them, and that he wished to establish peace between them and the red brothers, to send traders among them, and be forever friends. The Indians shook hands with the Osage, Cherokee, and Delaware, and with the Dragoons, and offered to accompany them to the Tawehash village. Wheelock says:

“The Camanche is a fine looking Indian, in general naked; some of them wear blankets. The squaws are dressed in deer skins, and are good looking women. Among them were several Spanish women; evidently long used to Camanche habits. Appearance of a Camanche fully equipped, on horseback, with his lance, bow and quiver, and shield by his side – beautifully classic. This has been an interesting day for us; our goal seems in sight; uncertainty of reaching the Pawnees much lessened.”

Colonel Dodge learned that the Kiowa, Comanche, and the tribe called by them Pawnee Picts, but correctly termed Tawehash or Wichita, were allies; but as the Comanche were the largest band, the proudest and boldest, he decided to visit this band first. As they proceeded they were joined by more Comanche, among whom the Wichita girl recognized a friend, and through her Colonel Dodge was able to converse more freely by way of the Osage tongue, which she had acquired during her stay with that tribe. Arriving near the Comanche town in the vicinity of the Wichita Mountains, they were greeted by a hundred mounted warriors who had come out to meet them. 4

Sickness continued to take toll of the men and horses, and some of the former were carried in litters, seriously retarding the movement of the troops. When they reached the camp at the Comanche village, there were thirty-nine sick, and six of them, including Mr. Catlin, were in litters. The Kiowa girl even was very ill. Colonel Dodge decided the success of the expedition could not be jeopardized by the care and delay occasioned by the sick, and ordered breastworks to be constructed, within which the fever-stricken men were to be left protected. Twenty-six able men under Lieutenant Izard 5 were detailed to protect the sick, and the command, reduced to one hundred eighty-three men, proceeded to the Wichita village. Game had been scarce for several days and Colonel Dodge, anxious to complete the undertaking that now seemed so near achievement, pushed on as rapidly as possible, so there was little time to hunt. After four days of marching west, they arrived at the Wichita village on the north side of the North Fork of Red River, about four miles. below the junction of Elm Fork. Their provisions consumed, the country destitute of game, and no wholesome water to drink, men continued to fall sick, and there was the added misery of the suffering horses laboring, barefooted and sore, over the granite rocks.

Last Day of the Expedition

On the twenty-first of the month the expedition entered upon the last day of their westward march, which is full of interesting details graphically set down by Lieutenant Wheelock:

“The command marched at 8 o’clock for the Toyash village – proceeded a mile or two, when we met about sixty Indians who had come out to meet us, and shook hands with them and moved on in company with each other. They stated that the principal chief was absent on a visit to the Pawnee Mohaws’ country; passed their corn fields on our way to their town; these fields are well cultivated, neatly enclosed and very extensive, reaching in some instances several miles. We saw also here melons of different kinds, squashes, &c. The Indians discovered a good deal of alarm as we approached their village – frequently halted and begged Col. Dodge not to fire on them; Col. Dodge promised them safety. These Indians are chiefly naked, and are armed with bows and arrows. They have few horses and seem altogether an unwarlike people. Before we started this morning, the uncle of the Pawnee girl rode up to our camp – he embraced his relation and shed tears of joy on meeting her. We soon reached the village, which was situated immediately under mountains of granite, some six hundred feet in height – in front of the village runs the river; we counted near two hundred grass lodges. These are made of poles, fixed firmly in the earth, fastened together at the top, and thatched substantially with prairie grass and stalks from their corn fields; many of these lodges are thirty feet high and forty feet in diameter; in the center of the floor a shallow excavation serves as a fireplace; around the sides are comfortable berths, large enough to accommodate two persons each. We encamped on a fine position about one mile from the village. Toyash men are less fine looking than the Camanches; their women are prettier than the Camanche squaws; indeed some of their girls are very pretty – naked save a broad garment of dressed deerskin, or red cloth worn about the middle; some of the men wear coats of red cloth, obtained from the Spaniards of Mexico; most of our officers visited them on the day of our arrival, and were hospitably entertained; our own provisions were almost entirely exhausted; we had met with little or no game for several days, and found most excellent fare in the dishes of corn and beans, which they dress with buffalo fat; they served us thus liberally, and for desert gave us watermelons and wild plums. Our men purchased green corn, dried horse meat and buffalo meat; we depended, during our stay with them, on their dried meat and corn; which, with vermillion and articles of clothing, knives, &c, we were able to purchase of them. The Camanches now began to arrive.”

Colonel Dodge then told the Indians that he wished to make a treaty of friendship with them; that he desired information concerning the ranger Abbay, who was taken prisoner the summer before; and the boy, Matthew Martin, who was made captive in May when his father was killed near the mouth of the Washita. He told them further that they had brought from Fort Gibson a Pawnee girl, who would be restored to them if the white persons were given up, and that they would all then be friends. The Indians replied that they had nothing to do with the taking of Abbay, but said that a roving band of Indians living near San Antonio in Mexico had captured him, and that when they reached the vicinity of Red River they killed him. They produced little Matthew Martin, a boy of about eight or nine years, who was entirely naked. He was delivered to Colonel Dodge, who expressed to the Indians his pleasure at the exchange of prisoners and told them he was going to restore the little boy to his mother; that her heart would be glad, and she would think better of the Pawnee. The exchange of prisoners had established the friendliest feelings between the Indians and whites, where before had existed distrust and resentment.

Colonel Dodge then passed to the question of the selection of members of the tribe to accompany him to Fort Gibson. After extended discussion, and with much reluctance, the next day it was agreed that one of the Waco chiefs would go.

Here the following interesting ceremony took place:

“The boy whom we recovered yesterday is the son of the late Judge Martin of Arkansas, who was killed by a party of Indians, some weeks since. The son was with the father on a hunting excursion, and being parted from him (his death, however, he did not witness, and is now in ignorance of it), the boy relates that, after being parted from his father, the Indians who had taken him were disposed, save one, to kill him; this one shielded him and took care of him in sickness. Colonel Dodge, as a reward for this noble kindness, gave him a rifle, and at the same time caused the little boy to present him, with his own hand, a pistol. Colonel Dodge now assured the chiefs that they should have further presents if they would go with him to his country.”

The chiefs responded in satisfactory manner, and speeches were made by the Indians who came with the dragoons. Colonel Dodge assured the western Indians that if they would come to Fort Gibson and enter into treaties of peace, the Government would cause trading posts to be established among them, of which they were much in need; they would no longer have to rely on the Spaniards for their commerce, and the Americans could furnish them articles of trade much better and much cheaper. Before the conference was over, a band of thirty Kiowa, in a very threatening manner, rushed into camp on horseback and almost into the door of Colonel Dodge’s tent. The indignation of these Kiowa

“…against the Osages had kindled to a great pitch, and could scarcely be kept in respectful bounds in their relation to us. The Osages, not many months previously, had murdered a large number of the women and children of the Kiowas, whilst the men were absent hunting. We held in possession, of which they were informed, a Kiowa girl, who was taken on the occasion of the massacre alluded to. The Kiowas, who had just arrived, were not aware of the intention on our part to restore the girl, and consequently presented themselves in warlike shape, that caused many a man in the camp to stand by his arms. Colonel Dodge, however, immediately addressed them with the assurance of our friendly disposition, and gradually led them into gentleness. They are bold, warlike-looking Indians; some of their horses are very fine; they ride well, and were admirably equipped, today, for fight or flight; their bows strung and quivers filled with arrows; they kept their saddles chiefly. A relation of the Kiowa girl’s embraced her and shed tears of joy at the intimation that she should be restored to her father and friends. She proved to be a relation of one of the chiefs.”


  1. Eustace Trenor born in New York; attended at West Point from October 1, 1817, to July 1, 1821. Served at Fort Gibson in 1833 as captain of of the First Dragoons. He became major of the First Dragoons June 30, 1846, and on February 16, 1847, died in New York City at the age of forty-four.[]
  2. Jefferson Davis was born in Christian County, Kentucky, June 3, 1808. Appointed from Mississippi to West Point, he was graduated July 1, 1828. As second-lieutenant of infantry he served at Fort Crawford and Fort Winnebago, Wisconsin, Yellow River, Dubuque, Iowa, Rock Island, Illinois, and Jefferson Barracks; as first-lieutenant and adjutant of the First Regiment of Dragoons he began his service at Fort Gibson early in 1834. After his return that summer from the expedition to the prairie Indians he was absent on leave until 1835 when he resigned from the army June 30, 1835. Served in the war with Mexico as colonel of the First Regiment of Mississippi and was severely wounded in the battle of Buena Vista. He was disbanded on July 12, 1847, and reappointed in the United States Army with the rank of Brigadier-general on May 17, 1847, but declined the appointment. Subsequently served as presidential elector, congressman, senator, secretary of war, and President of the Southern Confederacy.[]
  3. After Dodge’s departure General Leavenworth took up the march again with sixty men and a six-pounder cannon to support Colonel Dodge, but proceeded only about twenty-five miles west of the Washita where they encamped at a place they called Camp Smith. Unable to travel farther General Leavenworth remained here where he died July twenty-first. He had appointed Kearny in charge of Camp Smith and Camp Washita. (Dodge to Jones, Adjutant-general, August 24, 1834, Adjutant-general’s office, 114 D. 1834).[]
  4. “The Comanches are represented as wild, savage-looking fellows, armed with bows, well filled quivers, spears, knives and shields, well mounted, and appeared to be accomplished and daring horsemen. Their camp consisted of about two hundred lodges, made of skins, and having a conical form; and the number of Indians occupying them appeared to be about four hundred. It appears scarcely credible, but the officers unite in saying that the number of horses possessed by this small hunting party, and were grazing in the vicinity of the camp, exceeded three thousand.” From account by S. C. Stambaugh in Niles Register, vol. xlvii, p. 74 ff.[]
  5. James Farley Izard was the son of Major-general George Izard, who served in the War of 1812-15 and was governor of Arkansas Territory from 1825 to 1828. Born in Pennsylvania he was graduated from West Point in 1828 in class with Jefferson Davis; in 1829 he accompanied Major Bennet Riley on an expedition for the protection of Santa Fe traders, and served at Fort Gibson until 1835 when he was ordered to Florida to engage in the war with the Seminole Indians. He died there March 5, 1836.[]

Foreman, Grant. Pioneer Days in the Early Southwest. Cleveland: Arthur H. Clark Co. 1926.

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