|The Warren Wagon Train Raid and the arrest of Kiowa Chiefs
by General of the Army William Tecumseh Sherman1871
The Warren Wagon Train Raid occurred on May 18, 1871. Henry Warren was contracted to haul supplies to forts in the west of Texas, including Fort Richardson, Fort Griffin, and Fort Concho. Traveling down the Jacksboro-Belknap road heading towards Salt Creek Crossing, they encountered William Tecumseh Sherman. Less than an hour after encountering the famous General, they spotted a rather large group of riders ahead. They quickly realized that these were Native American warriors, probably Kiowa and/or Comanche.
The wagon train quickly shifted into a ring formation, and all the mules were put into the center of the ring. The warriors captured all of the supplies, killing and mutilating seven of the wagoneer's bodies. Five men managed to escape. One of which was Thomas Brazeale reached Fort Richardson on foot, some 20 miles away with the story of the raid. How at
midafternoon of the previous day, a party of one hundred or more Indians had attacked a ten-wagon train on the
open prairie about twenty miles west of Jacksboro. According to Brazeale, seven of his eleven companions had
been killed. He and four others had escaped into the nearby timber.
When General Sherman was told about the raid he order Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie of the Fourth Cavalry,
to take every available man and run down the raiders. Mackenzie took 150 men and reached the scene of the
attack early in the evening during a driving rainstorm. Six bloated and mutilated bodies were discovered, and a
seventh was found chained to a wagon pole and burned to a cinder.
As soon as Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie learned of the incident, he informed Sherman. Sherman and Mackenzie searched for the warriors responsible for the raid.
On Saturday may 27th the Kiowas came into the agency, and Indian Agent
LawrieTatum, called the chiefs into his office, told them about the raid on the wagon
train, and asked if they knew who had done it. A boastful and belligerent
Santanta rose immediately, berated Tatum for the many wrongs the
Kiowas had suffered, accused him of cheating the Indians, and demanded
guns and ammunition. He then bragged that he had led the raid and that
Chiefs Satank, Eagle Heart, Big Tree, and Big Bow had accompanied
him. Instructing his employees to go ahead with the handing out of the
rations, Tatum excused himself and penned a hurried note to Colonel
Grierson relaying the information Santanta had given him. Later Tatum
would describe Satanta speech this way.
Satanta made, what he wished understood to be a "Big Speech," in which
he said addressing me "I have heard that you have stolen a large portion
of our annuity goods and given them to the Texans; I have repeatedly
asked you for arms & ammunition, which you have not furnished, and
made many other requests which have not been granted, You do not
listen to my talk. The white people are preparing to build a R. R. through
our country, which will not be permitted. Some years ago we were taken
by the hair & pulled here close to Texans where we have to fight. But we
have cut that loose now and are all going with the Cheyennes to the
Antalope Hills. When Gen Custer was here two or three years ago, he
arrested me & kept me in confinement several days. But arresting Indians
is plaid out now & is never to be repeted. On account of these grievances,
I took, a short time ago, about 100 of my warriors, with the Chiefs Satank,
Eagle Heart, Big Tree, Big Bow, & Fast Bear, & went to Texas, where we
captured a train not far from Ft Richardson, killed 7 of the men, & drove
off about 41 mules. Three of my men were killed, but we are willing to call
it even. If any other Indian come here & claims the honor of leading the
party he will be lieing to you, for I did it myself.
Tatum then went in person to see General Sherman and Colonel Grierson,
whom he found on the porch of the latter's headquarters. They decided to
call a council in front of Grierson's house at which time the guilty parties
would be arrested. Orders were issued swiftly to the buffalo soldiers to go
to the stables, saddle, and mount. At a given signal the companies would
take up designated positions to prevent escape. In addition, a dozen troopers
were stationed inside Grierson's house behind shuttered windows facing
Hardly had these preparations been completed when Satanta arrived.
He had heard that a big WAshington officer was at the post, and he "wished
to measure him up." Under questioning from Sherman, the chief readily
admitted his part in the raid, but as he saw the general's temper rising, he
first altered his story and then rose and started for his pony. Grierson's alert
orderly drew his pistol immediately and ordered Satanta to sit down-
Some twenty Kiowas, among them Satank then arrived for the council.
Sherman informed them that the guilty chiefs were under arrest and would be
sent to Texas for trial
Sherman then hit on the ingenious idea of sending the Indian Chiefs to Jacksboro, Texas to be tried in state court for murder. He ordered them tried as common felons by the Court of the Thirteenth Judicial District of Texas. This would deny them any vestige of rights as a prisoner of war, which they might keep in a military court martial, and send a message that acts by a war party would be regarded as common crimes rather than legitimate resistance by representatives of a Sovereign state. This would mark the first time Indian Chiefs had ever stood trial in the white man’s court.
Santanta flew into a rage and clutched at the revolver under his blanket but
at this instant Sherman gave a command and the shuttered windows flew open,
revealing a dozen buffalo soldiers with carbines cocked and leveled. Satanta subsided
The Signal was now given to the troopers in the stables. The gates opened and D company
of the 10th Cavalry Buffalo Soldiers led by Lieutenant R.H. Pratt, trotted into position in line
on the left of Grierson's quarters while Captain Carpenter and H company positioned itself
on the right. For he Indians on the porch there was no escape. Another detachment under
Lieutenant l.H. Orleman, consisting of ten men from each of the companies, moved quietly into
position across the parade ground and behind a large body of Indians who had gathered there
to watch the proceedings on the porch.
At this point Lone Wolf rode up from the trader's store, where he, and Big Tree, and several others
had been helping themselves to supplies and rations, Lone Wolf dismounted, carrying two
Spencer repeaters and a bow and arrows. As he advanced towards the porch a certain slaughter
would have taken place if not for Colonel Grierson's grapping Lone Wolf's carbine and at the
same time shouting to the interpreter Horace Jones to tell the Indians that violence would not save
their chiefs. It was sound advice that the jittery Indians accepted and Satanta and Satank were
escorted to the guardhouse and put into chains.
A summons was sent to Big Tree and Eagle Heart, and when they failed to appear, Lieutenant
Woodward, Lieutenant Pratt, and D Company were ordered to the trader's store to take them.
When they reached the store, Woodward dismounted and with a detail entered to make the arrest.
Big Tree was behind the counter passing out goods when he saw the troopers enter. With no
wasted motion he dashed to the rear of the store, pulled his blanket over his head, and blunged
through the glass window. Once outside he raced across a fenced field. Pratt sent his troopers
at a gallop along the side of the fence, hemmed in the flying chieftain, and forced him to surrendered.
In a matter of minutes he joined Satanta and Satank in the guardhouse Eagle Heart, on his way
to answer the summons, saw Big Tree's arrest and, thus forewarned, escaped.
General Sherman also determined that there would be no lynching, or mob justice, involving the Indian Chiefs, but made clear his determination to see them convicted in a civil court. In a letter to Colonel MacKenzie, dated May 28, 1871, General Sherman said:
They must not be mobbed or lynched but tried regularly for murder and as many other crimes as the Attorney can approve; but the military authorities should see that these prisoners never escape alive, for they are the very impersonation of Murder, robbery, arson, and all the capital crimes of the Statute Book.
Satank, a proud member of the elite Koitsenko warrior society, had no intention of allowing himself to be tried and humiliated by the white man’s court. He refused to get in the wagon to be transported to trial, and was ignomously thrown in by guards. He famously told the Tonkawa scouts to tell his family they would find his body along the road to Jacksboro. As they left the Indian Agency, Satank began singing the death song of the Koitsenko, while he covered his head with the blanket. The guards did not realize he was knawing his wrists to the bone in order to get his hands free. Once this was done, he attacked one trooper with a knife hidden in his clothes, and after stabbing him, got his rifle from him. Before he could turn it on the remainder of his guards, he was shot and killed. The troopers tossed his body out of the wagon and left it in the road, as he had foretold. His body lay unburied there where it fell, with his people afraid to claim it, for fear of the Army, though Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie assured the family they could safely claim Satank’s remains. Nonetheless, they were never claimed
Trial at Jacksboro
No transcripts remain of the trial of Satanta and Big Tree, and all that is left are verbal accounts. On those, several things are undisputed. First, neither the town nor the army never counted on the attorneys appointed to defend them. Thomas Ball, a new-to-Texas attorney from Virginia who knew nothing about the Texas frontier or the Indian Wars, and Joseph Woolfolk, a rancher, Confederate veteran and Indian fighter who never wanted to be an attorney, and who but for financial pressure, would have long since ceased to practice, were appointed to defend the two Indians. They were appointed to answer the political pressure being brought by Quakers, but Ball and Woolfolk defended Satanta and Big Tree zealously against the best efforts of prosecutor Samuel Lanham. (Lanham went on to become Governor of Texas) The efforts of Ball and Woolfolk created even more of a stir than the case would have caused in any event, and even foreign reporters were present in Jacksboro, Texas. Secondly, all accounts agree the case became not just a national, but an international, cause celebre. Third, and ironically, Ball and Woolfolk, white men, defended the two warriors by arguing precisely what the Kiowa would have—that the Indians were but defending their land from invasion, that the United States had never followed a single comma of any of its treaties with the Indians, and that a state of war existed between the Kiowa and the Americans. Finally, all accounts agree that at the trial Satanta warned what might happen if he was hanged: " I am a great chief among my people. If you kill me, it will be like a spark on the prairie. It will make a big fire—a terrible fire!".
Nor was the government entirely unified on what should be done with the Indian Chiefs; while General Sherman and the Army were pressing strongly for their conviction and execution, the Bureau of Indian Affairs agreed with the attorneys for Satanta and Big Tree and said they should be acquitted since their actions were undertaken during wartime, that their people had been at war with the United States.
But the jury was local, and despite the efforts of Ball and Woolfolk, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the pressure of the press and the Quakers, and the warnings of Satanta, the two Indians were convicted. The trial became known in Texas for its "cowboy jury." The War Chiefs had been formally indicted on July 1, 1871, their trial began on July 5, 1871, and they were convicted on July 8, 1871. The two Indians were convicted of seven counts of first degree murder, and sentenced to death