Lyman's Wagontrain

By: H. Allen Anderson

Type: General Entry

Published: March 1, 1995

Updated: November 24, 2020

The five-day siege of Capt. Wyllys Lyman's wagontrain, sometimes known as the battle of the Upper Washita, was the longest and one of the most publicized engagements of the Red River War. During Col. Nelson A. Miles's first thrust against recalcitrant Cheyenne, Comanche, and Kiowa bands in late August 1874, Miles overstretched his supply lines despite warnings from the department headquarters, and provisions began to run dangerously low. He sent a military escort under Lyman back with thirty-six empty supply wagons. Lyman met the train from Camp Supply at Commission Creek, in what is now Ellis County, Oklahoma, and, after transferring the supplies to his own wagons, started back with 104 men to rejoin Miles. On the way the train encountered Lt. Frank D. Baldwin and three scouts carrying dispatches to Camp Supply. The four men had with them a White Kiowa captive named Tehan, whom they had taken prisoner while skirting Lone Wolf's camp. Thinking that Miles would be interested in questioning Tehan, Baldwin left him with Lyman's wagons before continuing.

Lyman was aware of the potential danger from Indians in the vicinity. On September 9 he had his wagons form a double column with about forty infantrymen flanking either side and the thirteen-man cavalry unit at the front. The Indians, after discovering that Tehan was missing, came upon the train as it was crossing the divide between the Canadian and Washita rivers. They began firing at it from long range while a small group ascended the ridge ahead of the wagons; but the cavalry's defensive maneuvers enabled the train to move twelve miles farther south, to almost a mile from the Washita. About mid-afternoon, as the wagons emerged from a steep ravine, they were suddenly set upon by about seventy mounted warriors, who rushed in with heavy rifle fire. As Lyman hastily formed the vehicles into a protective circle, the Indians came close to overrunning them. At sunset the Indians broke off the attack, allowing Lyman's men to dig protective rifle pits, organize a better defense, and get water from a pool about 400 yards away. The Indians likewise dug in for a prolonged siege.

On the afternoon of September 10, Lyman, seeing that the situation was critical not only for his own men but for Miles's column, penned a formal message to the commander at Camp Supply, telling of his plight and requesting reinforcements. In the meantime Tehan slipped away and went back to his adopted people. He probably advised the Kiowas to fortify the waterhole, and the besieged train endured nearly two days without sufficient water as the Indians, whom Lyman estimated to be nearly 400 in number, continued taking potshots at the Whites. By September 12 various parties of Indians had begun pulling out to continue their intended trek south toward Palo Duro Canyon. Perhaps the sighting of Maj. William R. Price's column in the distance influenced that move. The troops and a drenching rainstorm cleared the thinning ranks of warriors away from the waterhole. Nevertheless, Lyman's men remained within the protection of the wagons until the arrival of the long-awaited reinforcements from Camp Supply in the early-morning hours of September 14. With the siege broken, Lyman moved out with the loaded wagons later that morning to join Colonel Miles on the Washita.

During the siege Lyman lost two men killed and three wounded; Indian casualties were estimated at thirteen or more. Lone Wolf, Maman-ti, Satanta, Big Tree, Big Bow, and Tohauson were among the Kiowa leaders present at the engagement; indeed, the episode was probably a factor in Satanta's subsequent reincarceration at Huntsville for violation of his parole. On the recommendation of Colonel Miles, thirteen troopers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery in the fight; Lyman was eventually promoted for his performance. A historical marker describing the battle is located in Hemphill County on State Highway 33, eighteen miles southeast of Canadian and some four miles from the actual site, which is marked by a small granite memorial.

Ernest R. Archambeau, ed., "The Battle of Lyman's Wagon Train," Panhandle-Plains Historical Review 36 (1963). Claude W. Dooley, comp., Why Stop? (Odessa: Lone Star Legends, 1978; 2d ed., with Betty Dooley and the Texas Historical Commission, Houston: Lone Star, 1985). James L. Haley, The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1976). Ray Miller, Eyes of Texas Travel Guide: Panhandle/Plains Edition (Houston: Cordovan, 1982).

Time Periods:

  • Reconstruction

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

H. Allen Anderson, “Lyman's Wagontrain,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed September 23, 2021,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

March 1, 1995
November 24, 2020