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Attack on wagontrain precipitates decisive Indian war

May
18
1871

On this day in 1871, more than 100 Kiowas, Comanches, Kiowa-Apaches, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes from the Fort Sill Reservation in Oklahoma attacked Henry Warren's wagontrain on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. They killed the wagonmaster and six teamsters and allowed five to escape. The Indians, who suffered one dead and five wounded, returned to the reservation. One of the escaped teamsters reached Fort Richardson, where he told his story to General Sherman and Colonel Mackenzie. Chiefs Satank, Satanta, and Big Tree, leaders of the raid, were subsequently arrested. Satank was killed while trying to escape, and Satanta and Big Tree were tried by civil courts in Texas (the first time Indians had been tried in civil courts), found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Governor Edmund Davis commuted the Indians' sentences to life imprisonment. The raid caused General Sherman to change his opinion about conditions on the Texas frontier, thus ending his own defensive policy and the Quaker peace policy as well. Sherman ordered soldiers to begin offensive operations against all Indians found off the reservation, a policy that culminated in the Red River War of 1874-75 and the resulting end of Indian raids in North Texas.

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