The battle of Blanco Canyon marked the climax of Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie's initial campaign against Comanche bands in West Texas. In September 1871 Mackenzie received permission from Gen. William T. Sherman to mount an expedition against the Kotsoteka and Quahadi Comanche bands, which had refused to come into their reservation in the aftermath of the Warren Wagontrain Raid. Mackenzie gathered eight companies of the Fourth United States Cavalry, two companies of the Eleventh Infantry, and a group of twenty Tonkawa scouts at the site of old Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos in late September. The column set out in a northwesterly direction on October 3, hoping to find the Quahadi village, including the warriors led by Quanah Parker, encamped in Blanco Canyon near the headwaters of the Freshwater Fork of the Brazos River, southeast of the site of present Crosbyton. On the fourth night out a base camp was established at the junction of the Salt Fork of the Brazos and Duck Creek, near the site of present Spur. The next day the infantry were left behind at the camp while the scouts and cavalry continued on.
On October 9 the cavalry column reached the White River and Blanco Canyon. Late that evening Quanah Parker and a Comanche force stampeded through the cavalry camp, driving off sixty-six horses. The following morning a detachment of troopers set off down the canyon chasing a small group of Indians who were driving several horses. Topping a hill in the ragged edge of the canyon, the soldiers were confronted with a much larger party of Indians waiting in ambush and suffered the loss of one trooper, the sole White fatality of the campaign. Lt. Robert Goldthwaite Carter and five men held off the Comanches while the rest of the detachment retreated, an action for which he was eventually awarded the Medal of Honor. The timely arrival of the Tonkawas and Mackenzie's main column saved the detachment from annihilation and forced the warriors to withdraw. The Comanches slowly retreated up the bluffs and walls of Blanco Canyon, sniping at the troopers and taunting their Tonkawa enemies before disappearing over the Caprock onto the Llano Estacado. Mackenzie continued pursuing the Indians over the next few days, forcing them to abandon lodge poles, tools, and many of their possessions as they fled. He finally caught up with them on the late afternoon of October 12 but was prevented from attacking them by an unseasonable blue norther, accompanied by blinding snow and sleet, that halted the cavalry and forced them to camp for the night. The column continued the pursuit the next morning, but the horses and men were becoming increasingly exhausted. After following the Indian trail for about forty miles, nearly to the vicinity of present Plainview, the column turned back. On October 15, as the cavalry descended the wall of Blanco Canyon, their scouts saw two Comanches spying on the column. In the skirmish that followed the two Comanches were killed, and Mackenzie and another soldier were wounded. The command continued to the mouth of Blanco Canyon, where they rested for a time. On October 24 Mackenzie attempted to continue the campaign, setting out for the headwaters of the Pease River with the remaining fit men and horses. His wound became worse, and he turned over command to Capt. Clarence Mauck. As the weather worsened and the condition of his command deteriorated, Mackenzie ordered Mauck to end the expedition. By mid-November the troops had returned to their posts at forts Davis and Richardson.
Mackenzie regarded the campaign as less than successful. He and his troops had marched 509 miles with the loss of one man and many horses and had accomplished no more than to frighten one hostile Comanche band. Yet they had penetrated into a hitherto unexplored area of the Llano Estacado and had become more knowledgeable in Plains Indian warfare as a result of the battle of Blanco Canyon. Never again would the vast Llano Estacado be a safe refuge for Comanche bands, as subsequent campaigns clearly demonstrated.
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Robert G. Carter, On the Border with Mackenzie, or Winning West Texas from the Comanches (Washington: Eynon Printing, 1935). Bill Neeley, Quanah Parker and His People (Slaton, Texas: Brazos, 1986). Ernest Wallace, Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier (Lubbock: West Texas Museum Association, 1964).
Campaigns, Battles, Raids, and Massacres
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
H. Allen Anderson,
“Blanco Canyon, Battle of,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 20, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
September 30, 2020