The Battle of Plum Creek

Battle of Plum Creek Wikipedia

Battle of Plum Creek
Wikipedia

Mirabeau B. Lamar, the second president of the Republic of Texas, maintained a harsh anti-Indian policy. Like many of the folks that elected him, Lamar claimed that the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

In January 1840, three Comanche chiefs entered San Antonio seeking a peace agreement that would recognize the borders of Comancheria—their ancient homeland. The Penateka, the southernmost band of Comanches, were feeling intense pressure as white settlement moved steadily westward. Smallpox, the white man’s disease, swept through the Indian camps. And Cheyenne and Arapaho from the north pushed into Penateka buffalo ranges.

Although they had no intention of halting westward expansion, Texas officials agreed to a council the following March 19, providing the Penateka return with all the white captives held by Comanches. Few Texans understood that Comanches were many separate bands without authority over hostages held by other groups.

On the appointed day, thirty-three chiefs and warriors accompanied by over thirty women and children—painted for the occasion and dressed in their finest feathers—came to the Council House in San Antonio. They brought only one captive, Matilda Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old girl whose body was covered in bruises and burns so horrible that her nose was melted away. During the eighteen months of captivity, she had learned the Comanche dialects, and she reported that she had seen at least fifteen hostages.

As previously arranged, Texas soldiers entered the Council House and the authorities informed the Indians that they were being held until all white captives were returned. Believing 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. Seven Texans were killed, ten wounded. One woman was released to deliver the message that all Comanche captives would be held for twelve days and then killed if the white captives were not returned. A young man who later was freed from captivity recounted that when the Comanches heard the news of the Council House fight, they grieved violently for days and then turned their revenge on thirteen captives—“roasted and butchered them,” including Matilda Lockhart’s six-year-old sister.

In early August under the leadership of Buffalo Hump, over 600 Comanche and Kiowa, including women and children, swept down across Central Texas in the “Great Comanche Raid.” At Victoria, they killed several people and stole about 1,500 horses that were corralled outside town. They raced on to Linnville, a 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, gathering 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 just in from New Orleans waiting to be sent to San Antonio.

By the time the Indians retreated, only one structure remained. Joyous in their triumph, the Comanche began the long trek back across Central Texas as word of the raid spread among white settlements.

On August 12, volunteer militias and a company of Texas Rangers gathered at a crossing on Plum Creek, 120 miles inland from the coast. The whites watched the approach of the great army of Indians and horses stretching for miles across the prairie, singing, 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.

Stories vary as to the outcome of the ensuing battle. Some accounts claim that Texans discovered silver bullion on the pack animals and stopped pursuing the Indians. Others say that eighty Comanches died (twelve bodies were recovered). One Texan was killed, seven injured. The Battle of Plum Creek ended the Comanche presence in settled regions of Texas. They were finally driven from the state in the campaigns of 1874-75—another story for another day.