Warren Wagontrain Raid

By: Allen Lee Hamilton

Type: General Entry

Published: 1976

Updated: April 1, 2021

In 1871 William Tecumseh Sherman, visited Texas to investigate complaints against Indians from the Fort Sill Reservation. The government had attempted to insure Indian containment by encircling the Indian Territory with a ring of defensive forts and allowing the Society of Friends to manage the Indian agencies, but neither approach had worked. Sherman left San Antonio on May 2, 1871, accompanied by Maj. Randolph B. Marcy, inspector-general of the army, two aides, and seventeen mounted Black troopers of the Tenth Infantry. He traveled north through forts Concho, Griffin, and Belknap, and by May 17 reached Fort Richardson, the northernmost outpost on the Texas frontier. The party had seen no Indians, and Sherman was convinced that the Texans' reports were unjustified. On May 15 over a hundred Kiowas, Comanches, Kiowa-Apaches, Arapahoes, and Cheyennes from the Fort Sill Reservation crossed the Red River into Texas. Satank (Sitting Bear), Satanta (White Bear), Addo-etta (Big Tree), and Maman-ti (Skywalker) were the leaders. On May 16 the war party reached Flint Creek on the Salt Creek Prairie in Young County, eight miles east of Salt Creek and twenty miles west of Fort Richardson. The next day they allowed General Sherman's small column to pass unmolested not a half-mile from their hidden position. Indian informants later testified that Maman-ti's magic had predicted that an attack on the second group of Whites to pass would be successful. Historians have speculated that the Indians recognized the first party as soldiers and decided to await a less well-armed prey. On May 18 the Indians attacked a wagon train belonging to a freighting contractor named Henry Warren traveling on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. They killed the wagon master and six teamsters and allowed three to escape. The Indians suffered one dead and five wounded. They immediately returned to the reservation. One of the escaped teamsters, Thomas Brazeal, reached Fort Richardson late that evening, where he told his story to Sherman and Col. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, the post commander. Sherman ordered Mackenzie to pursue the Indians with three companies of his Fourth Cavalry. Sherman then traveled on to Fort Sill where, on May 27 he personally arrested Satank, Satanta, and Big Tree in a tense confrontation on the front porch of the Fort Sill commandant. Sherman ordered that the three prisoners be returned to Fort Richardson and tried for murder in the civil courts in nearby Jacksboro. On June 8, while being transported to Texas, Satank tried to escape and was killed. On July 5 and 6 Satanta and Big Tree were tried separately, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. This was the first time Indians had been tried in civil courts. Supporters of the Quaker peace policy convinced Governor Edmund J. Davis to commute the Indians' sentences to life imprisonment. Then in October 1873 they were paroled. The Warren Wagontrain raid was not the most destructive of Texas Indian raids, but none held more significance for the future of the Plains Indians. It caused General Sherman to change his opinion about conditions on the Texas frontier, which signaled the end for his own defensive policy and the Quaker peace policy as well. Sherman ordered soldiers to begin offensive operations against all Indians found off the reservation, a policy which culminated in the Red River War of 1874–75 and the cessation of Indian raids in North Texas.

Benjamin Capps, The Warren Wagontrain Raid (New York: Dial, 1974). Allen Lee Hamilton, "The Warren Wagontrain Raid: Frontier Indian Policy at the Crossroads," Arizona and the West 28 (Autumn 1986). Wilbur Sturtevant Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1937; 3d ed. 1969). Carl Coke Rister, "The Significance of the Jacksboro Indian Affair of 1871," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 29 (January 1926).

  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Military
  • Campaigns, Battles, Raids, and Massacres
Time Periods:
  • Reconstruction

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

Allen Lee Hamilton, “Warren Wagontrain Raid,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/warren-wagontrain-raid.

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April 1, 2021