SEMINOLE-NEGROES

Seminole-NegroOn April 8, 1875 four soldiers encountered 30 Comanche.  Three of those four soldiers received the Congressional Metal of Honor.  This was but one escapade in the life of a most unusual group of soldiers.

During the 1870’s there was a small group of men who guarded the Texas–Mexico border against Comanche Indians.  These men were the Seminole-Negroes.  They were runaway slaves who had gone to Florida and lived with the Seminole Indians. When the Seminole were chased west, the black families went with them.

In 1870, looking for extra help in fighting the marauding Comanche, the Seminole-Negroes were hired as a special unit to track down the Comanche Indians.  Although the Seminole-Negroes were a rag-tag looking bunch with a combination of military and Indian attire, which even included war bonnets, they had the ability to follow trails that were weeks old and live on nothing but rattlesnakes.

The commander of this group was a white Lieutenant by the name of John Bullis.  Lieutenant Bullis had the respect of the Seminole-Negroes, because he was willing to live and fight right along side of his men.  One time while on a patrol Lieutenant Bullis and three of his enlisted men encountered some 30 Comanche.  Being vastly outnumbered, the soldiers retreated.  Unfortunately, in the process Lieutenant Bullis was captured.  Not willing to leave their commander behind; the men changed into the midst of the Comanche, rescuing Lieutenant Bullis.  Each enlisted man received the Congressional Metal of Honor.

For their service, the government had promised the Seminole-Negroes land, but, mysteriously, when it came time to pay up, the War Department had run out of land.  But, living up to their commitment, and ever hopeful, they stayed on until their job was done.

Incidentally, as an indication of their skill as scouts and fighters, during the service of the Seminole-Negroes, not one was ever killed or injured in battle.

POWDER RIVER BATTLE

Just five months after the Little Bighorn Battle, on November 25, 1876, in retaliation, U.S. troops under the leadership of General Ranald Mackenzie destroyed the village of Cheyenne living with Chief Dull Knife on the Powder River.

Although the Sioux and Cheyenne had won one of their greatest victories at Little Bighorn, this victory actually marked the beginning of the end of their fight against the U.S. government.

News of the massacre of Custer and his men reached the East Coast during the centennial celebrations on July 4, 1876. This outraged the citizens and Americans demanded retaliation.

The government responded by sending one of its most successful Indian fighters to the region, General Ranald Mackenzie, who had previously defeated the Comanche and Kiowa Indians in Texas. Mackenzie led an expeditionary force up the Powder River in central Wyoming, where he located a village of Cheyenne living with Chief Dull Knife. Although Dull Knife himself probably wasn’t involved in the battle at Little Bighorn, many of his people were, including one of his sons.

At dawn, Mackenzie and over 1,000 soldiers and 400 Indian scouts opened fire on the sleeping village, killing many Indians within the first few minutes. Some of the Cheyenne were able to escape to the surrounding hills. The Indians watched as the soldiers burned more than 200 lodges that contained all their winter food and clothing. Then the soldiers cut the throats of their ponies. When the soldiers found souvenirs taken by the Cheyenne from soldiers they had killed at Little Bighorn, the assailants felt justified in their attack.

The surviving Cheyenne, many of them half-naked, began an 11-day walk north to Crazy Horse’s camp. Devastated by his losses, the next spring Dull Knife convinced the remaining Cheyenne to surrender. The army sent them south to Indian Territory, where other defeated survivors of the final years of the Plains Indian wars soon joined them.

It makes one wonder how things would have been different had the Little Bighorn not taken place.

BATTLE OF GONZALES

The ever patient Texans could take no more when on October 2, 1835 Mexican soldiers attempted to disarm the people of Gonzales.

Even though Texas had technically been a part of the Spanish empire since the 17th century, as late as the 1820s, there were only about 3,000 Spanish-Mexican settlers in Texas.

After winning its own independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico invited Anglo-Americans to come to Texas in the hopes they would be able to tame the Comanche Indians and the harsh land. During the next decade men like Stephen Austin brought more than 25,000 people to Texas, most of them Americans.

Even though these emigrants became Mexican citizens, they continued to speak English, and had closer trading ties to the United States than to Mexico.

In 1835, the president of Mexico, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, overthrew the constitution and appointed himself dictator. Recognizing that the “American” Texans were likely to use his rise to power as an excuse to secede, Santa Anna ordered the Mexican military to begin disarming the Texans whenever possible. This proved more difficult than expected, and on October 2, 1835, Mexican soldiers attempting to take a small cannon from the village of Gonzales encountered stiff resistance from a hastily assembled militia of Texans. After a brief fight, the Mexicans retreated and the Texans kept their cannon.

The determined Texans would continue to battle Santa Ana and his army for another year and a half before winning their independence and establishing the Republic of Texas.

OLIVER LOVING

On September 25, 1867 pioneering cattleman Oliver Loving died from gangrene poisoning in Fort Sumner, New Mexico. Living had been attacked by 500 Comanche at the Pecos River. Although he managed to escape and reach Fort Sumner, he had been shot in the arm and leg. Loving soon developed gangrene in his arm, a common infection in those days. Even then he might still have been saved had his arm been removed, unfortunately the fort doctor had never amputated any limbs and didn’t want to undertake such work.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because the lives of Oliver Loving and his partner, Charles Goodnight, were portrayed in the movie Lonesome Dove. Robert Duvall played Gus, a takeoff of Oliver Loving.

CYNTHIA ANN PARKER

On this date back in 1836 one of the Old West’s most tragic events began to unfold.

At the age of nine, Cynthia Ann Parker’s family was killed and she, along with some other children, was kidnapped. The Comanche took her, and she lived with them for 25 years.

She became the wife of Peta Nocona, and gave birth to two boys and a girl. Comanche warriors normally take more than one wife. Nocona was happy with just Cynthia Ann.

In December 1860 a group of Texas Rangers attached Nocona’s village and rescued Cynthia Ann and her daughter.

Rather than feeling she had been rescued, Cynthia Ann felt she was kidnapped a second time. Cynthia Ann resigned herself to a life among a people she no longer understood. In 1863 her daughter died. And she died seven years later of influenza brought on by self-imposed starvation.

Incidentally, her son Quanah Parker became the last great war chief of the Comanche tribe. One wonders if he would have gone to war had Cynthia Ann not been kidnapped.

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