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The Red River War - Showdown for the West


Pre-1960s American histories often emphasized Native atrocities against white Americans, such as in Charles Shreyvogel’s In Safe Hands, while post-1960s works often reversed the emphasis. In reality, both sides killed thousands of the others’ non-combatants in a tragic, desperate centuries-long war for the continent across which the United States of America now stretches.

 

The epic Red River War confrontation proved to be the single most important campaign in the United States winning the American West. Following a prelude of years, even decades, it took place over many months from the summer of 1874 through April of 1875, across tens of thousands of square miles in five states and territories including present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, and with thousands of combatants. When it concluded, no doubt remained as to which civilization ruled by its might of armed power the Southern Plains and most of the Southwest.

William Tecumseh Sherman, Philip Sheridan, and campaign commander Nelson A. Miles—all renowned for their triumphal Civil War exploits—and the War Department crafted a masterful strategy to clean out the Quahadi Comanches, Southern Cheyennes, and any other Natives who remained armed and in the field. Five columns of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, totaling three thousand men, converged on western Indian Territory (in present-day Oklahoma) and the Texas Panhandle. They rode out from forts in four different states and territories: Fort Dodge, Kansas; Camp Supply and Fort Sill, Indian Territory; Fort Concho, Texas; and Fort Bascom, New Mexico.