ADOBE WALLS, FIRST BATTLE OF
ADOBE WALLS, FIRST BATTLE OF. The first battle of Adobe Walls occurred on November 25, 1864, in the vicinity of Adobe Walls, the remains of William Bent's abandoned adobe fort near the Canadian River in what is now Hutchinson County. The battle was one of the largest engagements between whites and Indians on the Great Plains. It resulted from the determination of Gen. James H. Carleton, commander of the military units in New Mexico, to halt Comanche and Kiowa attacks on Santa Fe wagontrains; the Indians saw the wagoners as trespassers who killed their game.
Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson, commanding the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, was ordered to lead an expedition against the winter campgrounds of the Comanches and Kiowas, believed to be somewhere on the south side of the Canadian. On November 10 he arrived at Fort Bascom with fourteen officers, 321 enlisted men, and seventy-five Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts and fighters he had recruited from Lucien Maxwell's ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. Two days later the column, supplied with two mountain howitzers under the command of Lt. George H. Pettis, twenty-seven wagons, an ambulance, and forty-five days' rations, marched down the Canadian into the Panhandle of Texas. Carson's destination was Adobe Walls, where he had been employed by Bent nearly twenty years earlier. After a delay caused by snowstorms the column set up camp for the night of November 24 at Mule Springs, in what is now Moore County, thirty miles west of Adobe Walls. Two of Carson's scouts reported the presence of a large group of Indians, who had recently moved into and around Adobe Walls with many horses and cattle. Carson immediately ordered all cavalry units and the two howitzers to move forward, leaving the infantry under Lt. Col. Francisco P. Abreau to follow later with the supply train. After covering fifteen miles Carson halted to await the dawn. No loud talking or fires were permitted, and a late-night frost added to the men's discomfort.
At about 8:30 A.M. Carson's cavalry attacked Dohäsan's Kiowa village of 150 lodges, routing the old chief and most of the other inhabitants, who spread the alarm to several Comanche groups. Pushing on to Adobe Walls, Carson forted up about 10 A.M., using one corner of the ruins for a hospital. One of the several Indian encampments in the vicinity, a Comanche village of 500 lodges, was within a mile of Adobe Walls. The Indians numbered between 3,000 and 7,000, far greater opposition than Carson had anticipated. Sporadic attacks and counterattacks continued during the day, but the Indians were disconcerted by the howitzers, which had been strategically positioned atop a small rise. Dohäsan led many charges, ably assisted by Stumbling Bear and Satanta; indeed, Satanta was said to have sounded bugle calls back to Carson's bugler.
With supplies and ammunition running low by late afternoon, Carson ordered his troops to withdraw to protect his rear and keep the way open to his supply train. Seeing this, the Indians tried to block his retreat by torching the tall bottomland grass near the river, but Carson set his own fires and withdrew to higher ground, where the battery continued to hold off the attacking warriors. At dusk Carson ordered a force to burn the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache lodges, which the soldiers had attacked that morning. The Kiowa-Apache chief, Iron Shirt, was killed when he refused to leave his tepee.
Concerned with protecting the supply wagons and Abreau's infantry column moving up from Mule Springs, Carson decided to retreat. The reunited forces encamped for the night and remained there throughout the next day. On the morning of November 27 Carson ordered a general withdrawal from the area. In all, Carson's troops and Indian scouts lost three killed and twenty-five wounded, three of whom later died. Indian casualties were estimated at 100 to 150. In addition 176 lodges, along with numerous buffalo robes and winter provisions, as well as Dohäsan's army ambulance wagon, had been destroyed. One Comanche scalp was reported taken by a young Mexican volunteer in Carson's expedition, which disbanded after returning to Fort Bascom without further incident.
General Carleton lauded Carson's retreat in the face of overwhelming odds as an outstanding military accomplishment; though the former mountain man was unable to strike a killing blow, he is generally credited with a decisive victory. Carson afterward contended that if Adobe Walls was to be reoccupied, at least 1,000 fully equipped troops would be required. The first eyewitness account of the battle other than Carson's military correspondence was published in 1877 by George Pettis, who had served as the expedition's artillery officer.
M. Morgan Estergreen, Kit Carson: A Portrait in Courage (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1962). C. Boone McClure, ed., "The Battle of Adobe Walls, 1864," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 21 (1948). George Henry Pettis, Kit Carson's Fight with the Comanche and Kiowa Indians at the Adobe Walls (Providence: Rider, 1878; rpt., Santa Fe, 1908). Edwin L. Sabin, Kit Carson days (1809–1868) (Chicago: A. C. McClurg & Co., 1914).