5. Quanah: Leader of the 1874 Attack on Adobe Walls

By Bill Neeley

Three years had passed since Quanah and the Quahadas had, with the aid of Providence, eluded Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry on the level plain above Blanco Canyon. A young medicine man of increasing influence was very likely with the Quahadas who escaped the blue coats that October night. Esa-tai (sometimes spelled Ischiti) Rear End of a Wolf, also known as White Eagle, may have taken credit for the blizzard that stopped Mackenzie in his tracks as he pressed in on the fleeing Comanche village.

The deeply spiritual Comanches depended on each individual's guidance from the spirit world to help tribal members chart their journey through life. Quanah's Bear medicine was strong, but the Eagle clearly respected the power of Esa-tai's medicine. The story of a medicine man causing the blizzard to suddenly appear was passed down through many generations of Comanche story tellers.

Whether from Esa-tai or other medicine men, the Comanches needed special powers to oppose the numbers of well-armed white men killing buffalo on the southern plains in alarming numbers, some for hides and others just for the tongue, a delicacy in parts of the East coast and Europe. Such wanton slaughter alarmed the plains Indians, and warriors from the Cheyenne and Kiowa tribes, some living free like the Quahadas and others living restively on the reservation, met in councils all over Indian country to decide on a course of action.

In the summer of 1874, Quanah had lost a friend in a raid on Texas settlements, and in a camp on the headwaters of Cache Creek, he announced for all to hear, "I fill pipe." Those who smoked with Quanah agreed to go on the raid with him, Quanah told Captain Hugh Scott in 1897. After offering the pipe to men in that camp, Quanah moved on to a Kiowa camp on Elk Creek and to Quahada and Cheyenne camps. "Lots of 'em smoke pipe," Quanah said, referring to warriors from all the camps. "Cheyenne camp up on Washita near Fort Elliott (before the fort was built) and lots of Comanches there – Otter Belt, He Bear, Tabananica and old man White Wolf there. I hear somebody say, 'Quanah, old men want to see you over here."' Quanah, followed by several young warriors, went to the place where the old men sat in council. "You take pipe first against white buffalo hunters, you kill white men, make your heart feel good. After that, you come back and take all young men on warpath to Texas." Quanah agreed.

At the same council, according to Quanah, "Esa-tai make big talk that time. Lots of white men. I stop bullets in gun. Bullets not penetrate shirts. We kill them just like old women. God told me truth." Quanah paused and added, "Before that pretty good medicine." "That" referred to the fact that the white men's guns at Adobe Walls penetrated the warriors' skins, and since most were naked to the waist, indeed bullets did not penetrate the warrior's shirts. Yet before the battle, Quanah had not only trusted the power of Esa-tai's medicine, he also recommended his fellow Quahada to the other warriors as a medicine man of great power.

Missionary teacher Thomas Battey took notice of Esa-tai as well, though it is not likely that any of the Quahadas came near Battey's school and mission at Fort Sill until a year later when the Quahadas surrendered to Mackenzie who was commanding officer at Fort Sill. So Battey probably knew Esa-tai only by reputation and described him as follows: "This young medicine man makes bold pretensions. He claims that he has raised the dead to life. He is reported to have raised from his stomach nearly a wagon-load of cartridges at one time, in the presence of several Comanches." He then told his fellow Comanches that he could supply all the ammunition they would need in any battle in the future. "He can make medicine," Battey heard, "which will render it impossible for a Comanche to be killed, even though he stands just before the muzzle of the white man's guns. He ascends above the clouds far beyond the sun – the home of the Great Spirit, with whom he has often conversed."

As several hundred warriors gathered under Quanah's leadership, Esa-tai showed the magic yellow paint he had applied to his and his horse's bodies. No bullet could penetrate the sacred yellow paint, he told them. Several warriors used the paint. On the way to Adobe Walls, situated on the north bank of the Canadian River near present Borger, Texas, some Cheyenne warriors killed and ate a skunk. Several Indians fell before the hunters' big caliber rifles, many after attacking the thick walls of the buildings in an effort to break in. Eventually the warriors retreated to assess the surprising situation.

Part of Esa-tai's vision did come true. He told the all-believing warriors that the hunters would be killed in their beds. The two Shadler brothers sleeping in their wagon near the complex of buildings were killed just after they awoke to the collective yells of three to five hundred warriors. Quanah, leading the attack, reached the Shadler's wagon, and with another Comanche, killed and scalped the brothers along with their guard dog.

Billy Dixon, one of the great marksmen of the West, saw bison as providing the opportunity for a money-making adventure. To that end Dixon had led a group of merchants and hunters to the old abandoned store and supply center, scene of Kit Carson's defeat and harrowing retreat in 1864. Now ten years later Dixon had fewer men, and they weren't soldiers like Carson's. They were, however, far better armed with one of the most powerful rifles in the world. Technology had built the railroads spanning Comancheria, and access to the rails would bring the greatest threat to the existence of the plains Indians: bison killers.

Dixon was up early on the morning of the attack. Just over two dozen men and one woman, a Mrs. Olds, found places to sleep either in wagons, on the ground, in Myers and Leonard's Store, of picket construction, Hanrahan's Saloon or Rath and Wright's Store, which were made of adobe. It is unlikely that anyone slept in O'Keefe's Blacksmith Shop. That morning just before dawn in Hanrahan's Saloon a loud crack was heard, and the men, many no doubt still under the influence of alcohol, were jolted awake. The saloon owner pointed up toward the lodge pole, indicating that it must have cracked.

The most likely scenario is that the merchants at Adobe Walls had been tipped off about the impending attack. Lee and Reynolds were the post traders at Camp Supply in Cheyenne country, and had heard about the Indians' plan to attack Adobe Walls. Well known hunter, J. Wright Mooar, had this to say about the purpose of government scout Amos Chapman's presence at the "Walls." He was accompanied by six soldiers, so, in Mooar's opinion, Chapman was on a serious mission: to warn the owners of businesses about the coming attack, but not the hunters. Mooar stated, "Lee and Reynolds had sent him (Chapman) from Supply, and he delivered the message to them: the day and the hour that they proposed to massacre the Adobe Walls: the morning of the 27th of June, 1874."

James McAllister had ridden to Adobe Walls with Chapman. "The Indians around Fort Supply," he later said, "would be in the fort every day, and they told us that they were going down to Adobe Walls and kill the buffalo hunters. When we passed there (Adobe Walls), we told the hunters what the Indians had said, and that they were coming, but they wouldn't believe us. They weren't even looking for them when they came."

According to Billy Dixon, the ridgepole when examined was found to be sound. He did not know that until informed by a man who examined it that morning told him about it later. Many believed that Hanrahan fired a shot to wake up the men because he thought the attack would come that day, and he wanted the hunters to be prepared. They were, only because Hanrahan had woken them. Fortune was on the side of the hunters that day. Hanrahan had neutralized Esa-tai's medicine. Now the men other than the Shadler brothers would not be asleep and killed like women.

Since he was already awake, Dixon said he "turned to pick up my gun, which lay on the ground, I looked in the direction of our horses." He had just sent Billy Ogg to the creek to get them. After seeing the horses he had sent his assistant to retrieve, something else caught Dixon's eyes. "Just beyond the horses at the edge of some timber was a large body of objects advancing vaguely in the dusky dawn toward our stock and in the direction of Adobe Walls."

Leading the "body of objects" was Quanah. The warriors had painted their faces and were primed for the attack. Still believing in the medicine of the Wolf Prophet, Esa-tai, the pride of the plains Indians could hardly contain their enthusiasm. They were fighting to preserve their food supply, the foundation of life itself. But "the chiefs try to hold young men back," Quanah said. "Go too fast – no good go too fast – pretty soon they call out 'all right to go ahead.' We charge down on houses in wild charge."

Billy Dixon saw the Indians as they began the charge. "Then I was thunderstruck. The black body of moving objects suddenly spread out like a fan, and from it went up one single, solid yel l- a war whoop that seemed to shake the very air of the early morning. Then came the thundering roar of running horses, and the hideous cries of the individual warriors each embarked in the onslaught. I could see that hundreds of Indians were coming. Had it not been for the ridgepole, all of us would have been asleep."

Dixon fired one shot and ran for the nearest building, Hanrahan's Saloon. "There was never a more splendidly barbaric sight," said Dixon. "In after years I was glad that I had seen it. Hundreds of warriors, the flower of the fighting men of the southwestern plains tribes, mounted upon their finest horses, armed with guns and lances, and carrying heavy shields of thick buffalo hide, were coming like the wind. Over all was splashed the bright colors of red, vermillion, and ochre, on the bodies of the men, on the bodies of the running horses. Scalps dangled from bridles, gorgeous war bonnets fluttered their plumes, bright feathers dangled from the tails and manes of the horses, and the bronzed, half-naked bodies of the riders glittered with ornaments of silver and brass. Behind this head-long charging host stretched the Plains, on whose horizon the rising sun was lifting its morning fires. The warriors seemed to emerge from this glowing background."

Though the adobe walls were two feet thick, Indians tried to poke holes in the walls and also in the roofs. The handful of men had good cover, excellent weapons, and plenty of ammunition. Thirteen Indians died in the attack, and several, including Quanah, were wounded. Before being shot in the side, Quanah rode in front of one of the buildings and lifted the wounded Howeah up behind him and rode to safety. With Indian dead piling up outside the buildings, Quanah continued to lead the attack until he was shot around mid-day. He hid behind the carcass of his horse until a warrior carried him from the field. The bullet had penetrated Esa-tai's sacred paint.

As the action died down, a group of chiefs, including Esa-tai, sat their horses on a hill almost a mile away. A few of the hunters continued to fire, and suddenly Esa-tai's horse staggered and fell. Blood oozed from the yellow paint on the horse's forehead. Cheyenne warriors angrily threatened to quirt the Wolf Prophet, but the old chiefs protected him. Esa-tai blamed the Cheyennes for killing the polecat, saying it weakened his power. "You polecat medicine," the Cheyennes said derisively.

Not long after that, Billy Dixon shot one of the chiefs off his horse at close to a mile. The Battle of Adobe Walls was over.

The above is excerpted from The Last Comanche Chief: The Life and Times of Quanah Parker by Bill Neeley. Copyright © 1995 Bill Neeley. All rights reserved.

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