The battle of the Little Wichita River, a military engagement between troopers of the Sixth United States Cavalry and about 100 Kiowa Indians led by Kicking Bird, occurred in Archer County on July 12, 1870. Though the exact location of the conflict remains unclear, experts claim that it took place in the northwestern part of the county on the Little Wichita River, about six miles northwest of Archer City and just south of the site of present-day Lake Kickapoo.
In general the origins of the hostilities lay in the Kiowas' dissatisfaction with life on their reservation in southeastern Indian Territory. Frustrated by confinement and inadequate supplies, many warriors responded by crossing the Red River into Texas and terrorizing White settlements. Their raids enraged settlers and had the effect of aggravating an already tense situation. On the reservation, however, the raiders were greeted as heroes, and their new status as warriors effectively undercut the authority of those chiefs who counseled peace.
Kicking Bird was among those accused of cowardice for attempting to establish close relations with Whites. With his influence waning, he formed a war party of his own and sought to restore his lost prestige by doing battle with White soldiers. In late June or early July he led his followers, about 100 strong, across the Red River and into Wichita County. Their journey, which took them through portions of Archer and Young counties, was uneventful until a small group of young warriors broke away from the main group and, disregarding Kicking Bird's orders forbidding hostile contact with civilians, attacked and robbed a mail stage at Rock Station, near the site of present Jermyn, Jack County. Word of the attack reached Fort Richardson on the morning of July 6. In response, Capt. Curwen B. McLellan, commander of the Sixth Cavalry, assembled a force of fifty-five troopers, two officers, a surgeon, and a civilian scout to fight the Indians. About an hour and a half out of camp, McLellan arrived at Rock Station and found the stage upturned, part of the mailbag, and one package addressed to the quartermaster at Fort Richardson. After gathering the remaining bits of mail, the cavalry resumed its search for Kicking Bird. Moving northwest, McLellan's force pursued the Indians' trail for five days and about fifty miles but, despite several false alarms, failed to find the main group of Kiowas. In his report McLellan claimed that Kicking Bird was difficult to track because he divided his party and skillfully masked his trail.
He finally caught up with the Kiowas on the evening of July 11, and at 10:00 the following morning his forces attacked the Indian camp. However, shortly after attacking, McLellan realized that he was outnumbered by more than two to one and, to make matters worse, was facing a group that, armed with Spencer rifles, possessed superior weaponry. Making the most of his opportunity, Kicking Bird led a charge on the disorganized cavalrymen and, according to most reports, personally killed Cpl. John Given with a lance. For the rest of the afternoon McLellan's men were attacked from all sides as they tried desperately to retreat. Although the unit lost just two more soldiers during several hours of battle, the fighting was so fierce that the army was forced to abandon its dead on the field. Finally, after the Kiowas cut off their attack early in the evening, the cavalry was able to escape across the West Fork of the Trinity River. Exhausted and suffering eleven wounded in addition to the three killed, McLellan and his troops made camp ten miles northwest of Flat Top Mountain at midnight. There they were reinforced by a group of cowboys from Terrell Ranch and twenty cavalrymen stationed at nearby Jean.
The next morning McLellan dispatched couriers to Fort Richardson for ambulances and prepared to make his final retreat. Fearing another attack, he ordered all excess baggage burned and moved his unit to a more secure location. The ambulances arrived later that day, and on July 14 the Sixth Cavalry returned to Fort Richardson. In his report McLellan praised Kicking Bird's superior generalship and called for larger forces to protect the frontier. He reported that the Kiowas had suffered casualties of fifteen killed and an undetermined number wounded. This was the last time Kicking Bird was involved in hostilities of any kind. After breaking off the attack and returning home with his prestige restored, he dedicated the remainder of his life to establishing peaceful relations between the Kiowas and the Whites.