Fourth United States Cavalry

By: Ernest Wallace

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 6, 2016

The Fourth United States Cavalry regiment, one of the most effective units of the United States Army against Indians on the Texas frontier, was organized on March 26, 1855, at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, as the First Cavalry Regiment. It was redesignated on August 3, 1861, as the Fourth United States Cavalry. Its first commanders were Col. Edwin V. Sumner and Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston. From 1855 to 1861 the First Cavalry served against hostile Plains Indians, sought to keep peace between the opposing factions in Kansas, and fought against Confederates in Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory. In 1861–62 two companies served with distinction in Virginia before being reunited with the regiment in Tennessee. The regiment fought gallantly and continuously in the western theater from Shiloh to Macon.

In August 1865 the Fourth Cavalry was sent to Texas. At various times during the next thirteen years units of its twelve companies occupied the military posts between the Rio Grande and Jacksboro and between San Antonio and San Angelo. Before 1871 the operations of the regiment were limited to guarding the mail and settlements against Indians and to desultory attempts to overtake bands of Indian raiders. Col. Lawrence Pike Graham never led a major campaign, and none of the regiment's fourteen skirmishes with Indians was of major significance.

In December 1870 Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie was given command of the Fourth Cavalry, with orders to put a stop to Comanche and Kiowa raids along the Texas frontier. On February 25, 1871, Mackenzie took command of the Fourth Cavalry at Fort Concho. A month later he moved the headquarters of the regiment to Fort Richardson, near Jacksboro; companies of the Fourth remained at Fort Griffin and Fort Concho. In May, while Gen. William T. Sherman, commander in chief of the army, was at Fort Richardson, the Kiowas brutally mutilated some teamsters with a wagon train on nearby Salt Creek Prairie (see WARREN WAGONTRAIN RAID). A few days later at Fort Sill, Sherman had three leaders of the raid, Satanta, Satank, and Big Tree, arrested and had Mackenzie return them to Jacksboro for trial for murder. On the way a trooper killed Satank when he tried to escape; Satanta and Big Tree were sentenced to hang, but Governor Davis commuted the sentence to life imprisonment then ordered them released on parole in August 1873.

In August Mackenzie led an expedition into Indian Territory against the Comanches and Kiowas who had left the agency, but he was later ordered to return to Texas. He then led eight companies of the Fourth Cavalry and two companies of the Eleventh Infantry, about 600 men, in search of Quahadi Comanches, who had refused to go onto the reservation and were plundering the Texas frontier. On October 10 he skirmished with a group in Blanco Canyon, near the site of present Crosbyton, but the entire band escaped across the plains. The following summer Mackenzie, with six companies of the Fourth Cavalry, renewed his search for the Quahadis. After establishing his supply camp on the Freshwater Fork of the Brazos (now the White River) southeast of present Crosbyton, Mackenzie with five companies of cavalry followed a cattle trail across the unexplored High Plains into New Mexico and returned by another well-watered Comanchero road from Fort Bascom, near the site of present Tucumcari, New Mexico, to the site of present Canyon. At the head of 222 cavalrymen on September 29 he surprised and destroyed Chief Mow-way's village of Quahadi and Kotsoteka Comanches on the North Fork of the Red River about six miles east of the site of present Lefors. An estimated fifty-two Indians were killed and 124 captured, with a loss of three cavalrymen killed and three wounded. For almost a year both the Kiowas and Comanches remained at peace.

In March 1873 Mackenzie and five companies (A, B, C, E, and K) of the Fourth Cavalry were transferred to Fort Clark with orders to put an end to the Mexican-based Kickapoo and Apache depredations in Texas, which had cost an alleged $48 million. On May 18, 1873, Mackenzie, with five companies of the Fourth Cavalry, surprised and burned three villages of the raiders near Remolino, Coahuila; the cavalrymen killed nineteen Indians and captured forty-one, with a loss of one trooper killed and two wounded. The soldiers recrossed the Rio Grande into Texas at daybreak the next morning, some of the men having ridden an estimated 160 miles in forty-nine hours. The raid and an effective system of border patrols brought temporary peace to the area.

When the Southern Plains Indians opened the Red River War in June 1874, the Grant administration discarded its Quaker peace policy and authorized the military to take control of the reservations and subdue all hostile Indians. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan, commander of the Division of the Missouri, ordered five military expeditions to converge on their hideouts along the upper Red River country. In the ensuing campaign the Fourth Cavalry was the most successful. On September 26–27 it staved off a Comanche attack at the head of Tule Canyon and on the morning of September 28 descended by a narrow trail to the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon. There it completely destroyed five Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne villages, including large quantities of provisions, and captured 1,424 horses and mules, of which 1,048 were slaughtered at the head of Tule Canyon. Afterward, Mackenzie, with detachments of the regiment, made two other expeditions onto the High Plains. On November 3, near the site of Tahoka, in their last fight with the Comanches, the cavalrymen killed two and captured nineteen. In spring 1875 Mackenzie and the units of the Fourth Cavalry from various posts in Texas were sent to Fort Sill to take control of the Southern Plains Indians.

Meanwhile, the Indians in Mexico had renewed their marauding in Texas. In 1878 General Sherman, at the insistence of the Texans, transferred Mackenzie and six companies of the Fourth Cavalry to Fort Clark. This time Mackenzie led a larger and more extensive expedition into Mexico, restored a system of patrols, and reestablished peace in the devastated region of South Texas.

Outside Texas, Mackenzie and the Fourth Cavalry administered and controlled the Kiowa-Comanche and the Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations for several years, and after the annihilation of George A. Custer's command on the Little Big Horn in June 1876 forced Red Cloud and his band of Sioux and the Northern Cheyennes to surrender. In the autumn of 1879 Mackenzie with six companies of the Fourth Cavalry subdued the hostile Utes in Southern Colorado without firing a shot and in August 1880 forced them to move to a reservation in Utah. Immediately thereafter, the Fourth Cavalry was transferred to Arizona, where Mackenzie was to assume full command of all military forces in the department and subdue the hostile Apaches. Within less than a month the Apaches had surrendered or fled to Mexico, and on October 30 Mackenzie and the Fourth Cavalry were transferred to the new District of New Mexico. By November 1, 1882, when W. B. Royall replaced Mackenzie as colonel, the Fourth Cavalry had forced the White Mountain Apaches, Jicarillas, Navajos, and Mescaleros to remain peacefully on their respective reservations.

From 1884 to 1886 the Fourth Cavalry operated against the Apaches in Arizona. In 1890 the regimental headquarters was moved to Walla Walla, Washington. The regiment was on the Mexican border in Texas from 1911 to 1913. From 1913 to 1919 the regiment served at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. In 1919 the Fourth Cavalry returned to Texas, and was stationed at Fort Sam Houston and Fort Brown. In 1925 the regiment was posted at Fort Meade, South Dakota, and stayed there until 1943. In 1942 the unit was reorganized and redesignated the Fourth Cavalry Mechanized. The following year the unit was sent to Europe, where it participated throughout the remainder of World War II. Afterward in Vietnam the unit served with undiminished valor.

James M. Merrill, Spurs to Glory: The Story of the U.S. Cavalry (Chicago: Rand McNally 1966). Ernest Wallace, Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier (Lubbock: West Texas Museum Association, 1964).

Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

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

Ernest Wallace, “Fourth United States Cavalry,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

October 6, 2016