Struggle for the Southern Plains Transcript

No war occurs in a vacuum, and no matter how brief the Red River War’s duration, its causes had developed over time.  

In the 1830s, whites expanded into the Southern Plains, a land traditionally inhabited by American Indians. Although attacks, raids, and counter-raids occurred often, the U.S Army involved itself only sporadically in these conflicts. When the Civil War prompted the U.S. military to withdraw from the western frontier, the tribes of the Southern Plains exerted control, staging attacks on settlers.

After a public outcry, the government established the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867, calling for two reservations to be set aside for the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes. According to the treaty, the government would provide basic services, training, housing, food, and supplies, including guns and ammunition for hunting. The tribes could hunt on any lands south of the Arkansas River, as the treaty said, “so long as the buffalo may range thereon.” Some tribal leaders endorsed the treaty, agreeing to stop their raids; many members moved voluntarily to the reservation.

Immediately, in defiance of the treaty, commercial hunters moved into the area reserved for the tribes, killing buffalo with the U.S. government’s unspoken approval. Desperate in the face of this threat to their primary source of food, clothing, and shelter, the tribes struck back—uniting against a common enemy.

After witnessing the tribes’ violent attacks on buffalo hunters and on settlers, the government resolved to force Southern Plains tribes onto the reservations.  Throughout approximately 20 military engagements, the better-equipped army kept American Indians on the run until June of 1875, when the last of the tribes—the Kwahadi Comanche—and their leader, Quanah Parker, surrendered.