The Battle at Plum Creek

In 1977, I wrote my first Texas Historical Marker for the Battle at Plum Creek. The marker stands in the Lockhart Lions Club City Park on US 183, about a mile from the battle site. Even if you stop and read the account of 200 Texans waiting in ambush for over 600 Comanches, you will miss the full significance of this painful chapter in Texas history.
In 1840, when Texas was still a Republic, its second president Mirabeau B. Lamar maintained a harsh anti-Indian policy, in fact, like many of the folks that elected him, Lamar claimed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.
White settlement moved steadily westward into Indian homeland, Texas Rangers patrolled throughout the region to protect white residents, and smallpox swept through Comanche tribes at the same time as Cheyenne and Arapaho attached them from the north. In that climate leaders of the Penateka Comanche felt pressured to seek a peace agreement with Texas government officials that recognized the borders of the Comancheria—the Indian homeland.
On March 19, after receiving promises for their safety, thirty-three chiefs and warriors along with over thirty others including women and children arrived at the Council House in San Antonio. After being told in advance to bring in all white prisoners, the delegation arrived with several Mexican children and Matilda Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old girl that had obviously been abused. Chief Muk-wah-ruh tried, unsuccessfully, to explain to the white officials that he did not have authority over prisoners held by other Comanche bands.
When it became clear that the Indians would not, or could not, produce the other white captives, Texas soldiers entered the Council House, and the commissioners informed the Indians that they were being held hostage until all white captives were returned. Suddenly realizing they had been tricked, the Comanches shouted for help to those waiting in the outer courtyard and tried to fight their way to freedom. Thirty of the chiefs and warriors were killed as well as about five women and children. Most of the others were taken prisoner with only one woman being released to deliver the message that all Comanche prisoners would be held hostage until all whites captives were returned.
The Indians that escaped headed back to their homeland to grieve and plot their revenge for what they considered a bitter betrayal. In early August under the leadership of the only surviving chief, Buffalo Hump, over 600 Comanche and Kiowa including women and children swept down from far West Texas and across Central Texas in the “Great Comanche Raid.”
At Victoria they killed several people and stole about 1,500 horses and mules corralled in town for a sale. They raced on to Linnville, a prosperous seaport village on Lavaca Bay. Residents clambered into boats anchored in the shallow water, and watched in horror for an entire day as the warehouses, businesses, and homes burned while the Indians—warriors, women and children–shrieked in glee as they gathered all the loot they could carry from the burning structures. Three people were killed and three taken hostage; the plunder valued at $300,000 consisted of goods intended for San Antonio that had just arrived from New Orleans.
By the time the Indians retreated only one structure remained. Residents that did not abandon the coast moved three miles down the bay and began the town of present day Port Lavaca. The Indians, joyous in their triumph, began the long trek back across Central Texas as word of the raid spread among white settlements.
On August 12, a volunteer militia and a company of Texas Rangers gathered at a crossing on Plum Creek, 120 miles inland from the coast. The whites watched the approaching army of Indians and horses stretching for miles across the prairie, singing and gyrating and adorned in the booty from Linnville. Brightly colored ribbons waved from the horses’ tails; one chief wore a silk top hat and a morning coat turned backward with shiny brass buttons glistening down his back.
Claims vary as to the outcome of the ensuing battle. The Indians, hampered by the enormous load of plunder, lost over 80 chiefs and warriors. Some accounts claim that the whites found stolen bullion on some of the mules and abandoned the fight. The Battle of Plum Creek succeeded in ending the Comanche presence in settled regions of Texas. Indians were finally driven out of Texas in the campaigns of 1874-75–another story for another day.

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11 thoughts on “The Battle at Plum Creek

  1. Pingback: Indianola: Gateway to the Southwest | myrahmcilvain

  2. The part where they were ambushed in the town house, was right out of a film. Thank you for bringing me right there beside them with your words. Sympathy goes out to native indians. Native people where always treated this way. Aborigines in Australia and even here in sweden, we have sami people. They too had it difficult. Nevertheless, You right inspiring as always. Thank you.

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  3. I think yearsticken’s comment was quite noteworthy. You never make any personal comment. I find myself flooded with emotions both for and against each side of the battle. I suppose that’s the complexity of history. It’s rarely one-sided. Thank you so much for presenting it with so much life and objectivity. What great writing.

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  4. Always love your blog Myra! I enjoyed history in school and your blog is a great way for me to keep learning. I’d never heard of this battle, so found it an interesting read. I’m thinking I might have to look up some more information on this one 🙂

    Thanks for sharing!

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