The battle of Yellow House Canyon, which occurred on March 18, 1877, near the site of present Lubbock, ended a brief Indian uprising known as the Staked Plains (Hunters') War. It also was the last fight with hostile Indians on the High Plains of Texas. In December 1876 a group of Quahadi Comanches led by Black Horse obtained a permit from the reservation agent at Fort Sill to hunt in Texas. Black Horse had been angered by the rapid decimation of the buffalo herds and planned to camp in Yellow House Canyon and attack every buffalo hunter he saw. Earlier in the winter, a buffalo hunter named Marshall Sewell, accompanied by skinners Alexander Gilbert, Louis Keyes, and Joe Jackson, established a camp below the Caprock near the head of the Salt Fork of the Brazos River in western Garza County. On the morning of February 1, 1877, Sewell spotted a buffalo herd, left camp and set up a station, and, with his Sharps rifle, killed the animals one by one until he ran out of ammunition. Black Horse watched the slaughter, surrounded Sewell on his way to camp, and murdered and scalped him. The three skinners and a hunter named Billy Devons witnessed the killing from a ravine a mile away and hurried to Rath City, the principal supply base in the area, to report the incident. Reaction was swift. About forty men rode to the Salt Fork, buried Sewell, and followed the Indians' trail. In a brief skirmish, they wounded a half-breed hunter named Spotted Jack before returning to Rath City. Black Horse and some 170 warriors, including the White captive Herman Lehmann, continued to plunder hide camps, including those of Pat Garrett and Willis S. Glenn. Buffalo hunters in Rath City demanded that the raiders be driven from the country.
On March 4, 1877, a group of forty-six men left Rath City to find the renegades. Jim White was elected captain, Jim Smith and Hank Campbell lieutenants, "Smokey" Thompson wagon master, and Bill Beldon and George Holmes the cooks. A former Comanchero from New Mexico named José, who had allegedly scouted for Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie, served as guide. Twenty-six of the men were mounted; the rest rode in wagons. During the second night out White's lungs began bleeding, and he returned with a companion to Rath City. Jim Smith was elevated to captain; Joe Freed moved up to third in command. At Sewell's camp the group picked up the Indian trail leading westward, and northwest of the site of present Post the guide predicted that the Comanche band would be in Yellow House Canyon. At the site of present Buffalo Springs Lake, they drove their wagons into Yellow House Canyon, and at noon killed a Comanche sentry. When scouts sighted the Indian camp, the group started on an overnight march. They left the wagons, provisions, and teams at the spring. During the early hours of March 18 they reached the canyon fork (in present Mackenzie State Recreation Area), mistakenly followed the north fork, then turned south to the Long Water Hole (where University Avenue in Lubbock now crosses the canyon). Moving west, they found Black Horse's camp in "Hidden Canyon" (now the site of Lubbock Lake). The day was advanced, but the buffalo hunters decided to attack. They divided into three groups. Smith and Campbell each led mounted men onto the plain on the sides of the canyon, while Freed took the dismounted men along the creek in the center. When they were within rifle range, Campbell ordered a charge. The Comanches, frightened momentarily, started for their horses, but quickly discovered their attackers were a small force, and rallied. Indian women ran toward the charging horsemen firing pistols, while the warriors took a defensive position on a slope northwest of their camp. Surprised by the spirited defense, Campbell withdrew his men to a draw to the northwest. Joe Jackson had been shot in the abdomen, and Lee Grimes broke a wrist when his horse fell. Willis Glenn was caught in a crossfire, but ran to safety. Smith's column, advancing down the west side of the draw, drove the Indians back. At one point in the fight, Glenn, Devons, John R. Cook, Holmes, and "Whiskey Jim" Greathouse repulsed a flanking Comanche movement. José was shot in the shoulder. The outnumbered hunters withdrew along the Long Water Hole. The Indians set the grass afire for a smoke screen, and Herman Lehmann and another warrior charged but were met by deadly gunfire. Lehmann was wounded in the thigh, but managed to escape; his companion was killed. At mid-afternoon Smith and Campbell ordered a retreat to Buffalo Springs. The Indians followed briefly, then left. The hunters built a bonfire to the west to decoy the Indians, drove their wagons out of the canyon under the cover of darkness, and at daybreak set fires behind them to obscure their tracks. On March 27, twenty-three days after they took the field, the buffalo hunters returned to Rath City. They had suffered three casualties; only Joe Jackson died.
When news of the fight reached Fort Griffin, Capt. P. L. Lee took seventy-two troopers of the Tenth Cavalry to bring in the Comanche band. At the Lubbock Lake site, Lee turned northwest and on May 4 overtook the Indians at Quemado (Silver) Lake in Cochran County. In a brief skirmish, the soldiers killed Ekawakane (Red Young Man) and his wife. The Indians surrendered, accompanied the soldiers to Griffin, and were sent back to the reservation at Fort Sill. John R. Cook and Willis S. Glenn described the Yellow House Canyon fight in their memoirs. Herman Lehmann gave the Indian side of the affair in his autobiography. Today, the battle site is in Lubbock's Canyon Lake Project.
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John R. Cook, The Border and the Buffalo: An Untold Story of the Southwest Plains (Topeka, Kansas: Crane, 1907; rpt., New York: Citadel Press, 1967). Lawrence L. Graves, ed., A History of Lubbock (Lubbock: West Texas Museum Association, 1962). William C. Griggs, "The Battle of Yellowhouse Canyons in 1877," West Texas Historical Association Year Book 51 (1975). Herman Lehmann, Nine Years among the Indians (Austin: Von Boeckmann-Jones, 1927; 3d ed., A New Look at Nine Years with the Indians, San Antonio: Lebco Graphics, 1985).
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,
“Yellow House Canyon, Battle of,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 03, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
February 1, 1996
Most Recent Revision Date:
April 7, 2021