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CANADIAN RIVER EXPEDITION

CANADIAN RIVER EXPEDITION. The Canadian River Expedition of 1868 was the westernmost prong of Gen. Philip H. Sheridan's winter campaign, launched in the late fall of 1868 for the purpose of chasing down Cheyennes and Arapahos who had fled south of the Arkansas River after raiding white settlements in northwestern Kansas. The campaign began after Nathaniel Taylor's peace commission, in a meeting dominated by the military (including Gen. William T. Sherman), voted to use military strength to force the Indians to move to the reservations set up under the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867. The commission also resolved to annul a provision in the treaty that had allowed the Indians to hunt outside the reservation. Many Indians had set up winter camps near the villages of the Comanches and Kiowas in the Canadian and Washita valleys, thus compounding the problem, since those two tribes were not considered hostile in Kansas at the time. Indeed, peaceful Indians were supposed to report to Gen. William B. Hazen at his base at Fort Cobb, where he was supervising the southern reservations that had been set up under the Medicine Lodge treaty. Sheridan and his immediate superior, Sherman, opted for total war to drive the raiders onto the reserves in Indian Territory.

The main force in the campaign, led by Gen. Alfred Sully and including Lt. Col. George A. Custer's Seventh Cavalry, moved south from Fort Dodge, Kansas. After establishing Camp Supply on the North Canadian, the troops engaged in several forays, highlighted by Custer's victory in the battle of the Washita, near the site of present Cheyenne, Oklahoma, on November 17. In December Sheridan himself led troops down the Washita to Fort Cobb, which he designated as his temporary headquarters.

Since several hostile groups had fled westward, particularly after the fight on the Washita, Sheridan ordered certain columns of troops to come in from the north and west to act as "beaters-in" for his main forces. The leader of the western contingent was Maj. Andrew Wallace (Beans) Evans, a native of Maryland who had risen through the ranks since his graduation from West Point in 1848. During the Civil War he had been brevetted twice—for meritorious action at the battle of Valverde on February 21, 1862, and for his cavalry actions in the Union campaign leading to Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. One contemporary described him as "the most even tempered man in the Army—always cross," while another recalled him as a "melancholy, philosophically inclined officer, devoted to literature, suffering from an old wound, and having, to all appearance, registered a vow never to smile."

On November 18, 1868, Evans left Fort Bascom, New Mexico, with more than 500 officers and men, including six troops of the Third Cavalry, one company of the Thirty-seventh Infantry, a battery of howitzers, and several civilian scouts and guides. Following the left bank of the Canadian, the column encountered a blizzard two days later, but despite deep snow, sleet, and freezing temperatures the troops trudged their way over the Fort Smith-Santa Fe route across the Panhandle and eventually established a supply depot between two sand hills at the mouth of Monument Creek, probably in what is now Hemphill County, Texas. From there scouting parties searched the eastern Panhandle for Indians, but none was found. Leaving Capt. Arthur B. Carpenter with twenty men to guard the base, Evans moved down the Canadian on December 15 and struck a fresh Indian trail going southeast a few miles west of the Antelope Hills. After ten days of hard marching, his command came upon a Comanche village of sixty tepees at Soldier Spring, on the North Fork of the Red River in what is now Greer County, Oklahoma. A sharp battle on Christmas Day drove the surprised Indians from their lodges with several casualties and resulted in the destruction of vast quantities of dried buffalo meat and other provisions on which they depended for winter survival. The troops lost only one killed and two slightly wounded, while the Indians sustained twenty-five fatalities. Evans moved northeast toward the Washita in the still frigid weather and sent a small escort with dispatches for Sheridan at Fort Cobb. On January 3, 1869, he marched his contingent back westward toward his supply base on Monument Creek.

Captain Carpenter, in the meantime, had lent some supplies and forage to the beleaguered northern column from Fort Lyon, Colorado, led by Maj. Eugene A. Carr, whose own base of operations was twenty miles west of Evans's depot. By the time Evans returned on January 13, however, Carr's troops had started back to Fort Lyon without having located any Indians. Evans's own troops were famished and suffering from exposure and had suffered heavy losses in livestock. Nevertheless, as it turned out, the village he and his men had destroyed at Soldier Spring was that of Horseback's Nokoni band, which had committed several depredations in Texas the previous summer and fall. At the height of the engagement the Nokonis had been reinforced by Kiowa braves under Woman's Heart, whose lodges were downstream from Horseback's village, but to no avail. Afterward, several Nokonis and Kiowas surrendered to the authorities at Fort Cobb, while others came in at Fort Bascom in such haste that they arrived even ahead of Evans, who had returned there by February 7.

By the end of December 1868 most of the Kiowa and Comanche bands, except for the isolationist Quahadis, had been consolidated at Fort Cobb. The following spring, after the establishment of Fort Sill as the new headquarters for the Comanche and Kiowa reserve near the Wichita Mountains, Custer made a sortie into the eastern Panhandle and cowed several recalcitrant Cheyenne and Arapaho bands into reporting to Camp Supply for assignment to their new reservation. Although lasting peace was not effected for almost another decade, the raiders of the southern plains realized that the winter season was no longer a guaranteed safeguard against campaigns by white horse-soldiers. Evans, who was brevetted colonel for his action at Soldier Spring, received a brigadier general's brevet in 1890 for his gallantry in an engagement against Apaches at the Big Dry Wash in Arizona on July 17, 1882.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Duane F. Guy, "The Canadian River Expedition of 1868," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 48 (1975). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). William H. Leckie, The Military Conquest of the Southern Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963). Frederick W. Rathjen, The Texas Panhandle Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973). Robert M. Utley, Frontier Regulars: The United States Army and the Indian, 1866–1891 (New York: Macmillan, 1973). Robert M. Utley, The Indian Frontier of the American West, 1846–1890 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984).

H. Allen Anderson

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

H. Allen Anderson, "CANADIAN RIVER EXPEDITION," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qfc01), accessed April 20, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.