In 1874 a leader emerged in the person of Isa-tai (White Eagle) of the Quahadi Band of Comanche. Isa-tai was doing his best to incite a war against the Americans. A plan was formed that the Indians would attack and destroy the camp of buffalo hunters at Adobe Walls.
On June 27, 1874 some 300 Indians, led by Isa-tai and Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, attacked Adobe Walls. Though the 28 hunters who occupied the post were outnumbered, they were well armed with long-range rifles and were able to hold off the Indians. With their failure at Adobe Walls, many of the Indians began to spread over the plains of north Texas. For the Indians, this brought retaliation by the U.S. Army, defeat, and confinement to the reservations.
The attack on Adobe Walls caused a reversal of policy in Washington; the “peace policy” of the Grant Administration had failed and the Army now was authorized to subdue the Southern Plains warriors permanently. By late August, 1874, the Army faced some 1,800 Cheyennes, 2,000 Comanche, and 1,000 Kiowa, mounting in all about 1,200 combat fighters.
The offensive utilized five columns converging on the general area of the Texas Panhandle and specifically upon the upper tributaries of the Red River where the Indians were believed to be. The strategy aimed at full encirclement of the region, thereby eliminating virtually all gaps through which the Indians might escape. Colonel Nelson A. Miles moved southward from Fort Dodge; Lieutenant Colonel John W. Davidson marched westward from Fort Sill; Lieutenant Colonel George P. Buell moved northwest from Fort Griffin; Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie came northward from Fort Concho; and Major William R. Price marched eastward across the Panhandle from Fort Union. The plan called for the converging columns to maintain a continuous offensive until a decisive defeat had been inflicted on the Indians.
During the Red River War of 1874, as many as 20 engagements took place across the Texas Panhandle region. The well-equipped Army kept the Indians on the run until eventually they could not run or fight any longer.
The decisive Army victory came when Mackenzie trapped the main enemy force with their families and winter food supply in their base in upper Palo Duro Canyon. In a dawn attack down the steep canyon wall, Mackenzie’s troops killed only three Indians, but destroyed 450 lodges and all the supplies and slaughtered a thousand Indian horses. The warriors were not captured, but on foot and out of food, they could fight no more and went back to their reservations. It proved to be a war of logistics, with supply shortages slowing the Army’s advance and, finally, the loss of their supplies forcing the Indians to give up.
The Red River War officially ended in June 1875 when Quanah Parker and his band of Quahadi Comanche entered Fort Sill and surrendered; they were the last large roaming band of southwestern Indians. The Comanche and the Kiowa were granted reservation land in southwestern Indian Territory.