Massacre at Howard’s Well and Other Depredations – Indian Wars

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Closely following the outbreak of the Cherokees and half -breed renegades at Whitemore‘s, Barren Fork, came on attack by a similar party of Indians, half breeds, and Mexicans combined, on a train of supplies, en route to Fort Stockton, at Howard’s Well, near old Fort Lancaster. The facts of this one of the most inhuman massacres in history were reported to the “War Department, by Col. Merritt, through General Angua, under date of April 29th, 1872. We give the report as written:

On the 20th inst, I arrived with the cavalry of my command at Howard’s Well, a few hours too late to prevent one of the most horrible massacres that has ever been perpetrated on this frontier. A Mexican train, loaded with United States commissary and ordinance stores, on its way from San Antonio to Fort Stockton, was attacked by Indians, plundered and burned. All the people with the train, seventeen souls in all, were killed or wounded, except one woman. My command buried eleven bodies, and brought three wounded men and one woman into this post. Before arriving at the burning train, the first intimation we had of the horrible disaster were the charred and blackened corpses of some of the poor victims, but no one was alive to tell the horrors of the affair.

I supposed, up to this time, that Capt. Sheridan, with the infantry of my command was in camp at Howard’s Well, about a mile from the scene of the massacre, and while yet some distance from the point the smoke of the burning wagons, mistaken for his camp fires, confirmed me in this belief. I knew at least that a sergeant and four men were at the Well in charge of forage. The command moved rapidly toward the Well, and the sergeant in charge of the detachment at that point was met, and pointed out the course the Indians had taken with the stolen animals be-longing to the train. In less time than it takes to relate it, the trail was found and a rapid pursuit was at once made by companies A and H of the Ninth Cavalry, commanded respectively by Capt. Cooney and Lieut. Vincent.

After following the trail some seven or eight miles, the cavalry came upon the Indians in force on the summit of a steep and almost impassable bluff. Here a sharp fight occurred, in which I regret to say that Lieut. Vincent fell mortally wounded, while bravely leading and attempting to control his men. He died shortly after returning to camp, about 10 o’clock that night. Capt. Cooney was painfully, though not seriously injured, by his horse falling and dragging him while moving at a rapid gait. He, however, remounted and retained his command. The men of his company behaved very well, but being in a great part recruits without experience in Indian fighting, which was the case in Company H to a still greater extent, they squandered their ammunition, as sometimes even old troops not well under control will do, with repeating or magazine arms. Lack of ammunition and supplies, as the command was changing its station with limited transportation, made a protracted pursuit of the Indians impracticable.

A woman who escaped, reports that six Indians were killed in the fight. Words fail to convey an idea of the sickening atrocities committed by the demons who overpowered the train men. Several of them were taken alive, tied to wagons, and burned. An old woman was carried some distance from the place of the attack and then shot and scalped. Her grand-child had its ears cut off, was scalped and had its brains dashed out; while her daughter, the mother of the child, who witnessed it all, as also the death of her husband at the train, was carried off by the fiends. More than one poor wretch crawled from the burning wagons after the ropes which bound them wasburned off, only to burn to blackened unrecognizable masses with their charred hands and faces raised in positions of entreaty.

The train had nine men with it. The remainder of the party were women and children. It is feared one woman was taken away by the band, though it is possible that she, as well as the other body unaccounted for, was burned to ashes with the wagons. It is reported that the band consisted of from 125 to 150 men, and was composed of Indians, Mexicans and deserters from the army. A number of arms and supplies of ammunition were taken from the train by the band before burning it. How many arms I cannot say. It was the supply which was lately sent from the arsenal at San Antonio to Fort Stockton.

Apache Depredations in Arizona

On the 13th of September the Apache Indians attacked Hughes’s Bauche, near Crittenden, killed a Mexican, and stole the animals belonging to the farm. Lieut. Hall of the 5th Cavalry went to a ranch where a Mrs. Gabara and her children were besieged by Indians, and found the savages 100 strong, armed with breech-loading guns. They retired to the mountains, and defied the troops. A sergeant and five men were dispatched to warn the farmers of Sonata Valley of the presence of hostile Indians near Hughes’s Ranche, but were attacked, and Sergeant Steward, Corporal William Nation, and Privates Edward Carr, and John Walsh were killed. Lieut. Hall received orders from Gen. Howard not to fire upon the Indians in the mountains unless he found them engaged in actual outrages. The same order was sent to all the military posts south of the Gila River, on the day of the murder of the soldiers. Gen. Howard was at that time in the Dragoon Mountains with the noted Apache Chief, Cochise, trying to induce him to go to the Reservation. On the 6th of October a band of Apaches from the Santa Rilla Mountains, with a herd of stolen cattle, attacked a party of miners, 30 miles from Tucson, and robbed them of all their animals. Two of the miners are missing. The Indians are armed with the best kind of breech-loading guns and fixed ammunition.

A Fight With Comanche Twenty-Three Indians Killed.

Col. Mackensie‘s command had a fight with the Comanche on the North Fork of Red River, Oct. 6th, 1872, killing twenty-three Indians, whose bodies were found, and capturing the camp and one hundred and twenty-one squaws and children. In addition to the killing of Lieut. Crosby, Col. Stanley reports that Lieut. Lewis D. Adair of the Twenty-second Infantry was mortally wounded by an Indian on the 4th inst., and died on the 5th. Lieut. Adair mortally wounded the Indian who shot him, and the Indian was subsequently killed. Col. Stanley‘s servant was also killed by Indians who chased and came near catching Gen. Rosser. This all occurred near Heart River Crossing, forty-four miles from Rice. Lieut. Adair‘s body will be brought in. Stanley’s command will be at Rice on the 18th or 19th of October.

Policy to be Adopted by the Government

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Gen. Walker, had a talk with the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache delegations of Indians, Oct. 22d, 1872, at the Department of the Interior. The ultimatum of the Government was stated to these Indian representatives substantially as follows: The Government has ceased to accept mere professions of friendship and good faith, and now requires evidence of their honesty of purpose. The Kiowa and Comanche here represented must, before the 13th of December next, camp every chief, head man, brave, and family, complete, within ten miles of Fort Sill and the Agency; they must remain there until Spring without giving any trouble, and shall not then leave unless with the consent of their agent; they shall before that date give up to their agent all animals they have stolen from the Government or any person in their neighborhood, military authorities, agents and traders, and when they cannot return the same stolen animals they must make restitution from their own stock. All these things’ the representatives of the Indians have promised to do.

Gen. Walker informed them the Government does not propose to treat with those bands who have declined to send representatives to Washington, and they would soon hear that United States troops have been directed to operate against them. Every man belonging to any band not at the place named by the 15th of December is to be considered as an enemy of the Government and as having chosen to remain hostile. Such persons are to receive no further benefit from the Government; the troops would hit them wherever they were found.

The Indians remaining silent, they were asked whether they had anything to say, when one of them, after a short conference with his fellow chiefs, said: “We came in to do what our Great Father wants us to do. We told you what our Council did. If we did not intend to do well we would not come here from the Plains. “Several Indians said they would do all in their power to induce the stragglers to come to the meeting, but they did not express confidence in their success. The Indians retired, cordially shaking hands with the Commissioner, and acting as if they were pleased with his plain talk.



MLA Source Citation:

Frost, John, LL. D. Frost's Pictorial History of Indian Wars and Captivities, From the Earliest Record of American History to the Present Time; Nearly 200 Engravings from Original Designs, by Distinguished Artists. New York: Wells Publishing Company. Vol. 1. 1873. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 14 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/military/massacre-at-howards-well-indian-wars.htm - Last updated on Jan 25th, 2014


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