Paint Rock

In a letter to August Derleth, ca. July 1933, Howard details some of his travels through west Texas, including a visit to Paint Rock:

Another town I went through was Paint Rock, in Concho County, so named because of Indian paintings on rock cliffs near the town. It was to John Chisum’s ranch on the Concho River that the survivors retreated after that bloody fight on Dove Creek, where five hundred Texans fought three thousand Comanches for a day and a night, in 1864. It was from Concho County, in 1867, that John Chisum started for New Mexico, with ten thousand cattle, and, though he did not know it, the shadow of the Bloody Lincoln County War, and the stalking phantom of Billy the Kid.

Actually, it was the Kickapoos, a wandering tribe that avoided contact with settlers, often moving their camps to prevent potential confrontations with the Anglos, not the Comanches at Dove Creek.

On January 8, 1865, an estimated 160 Confederates and 325 state militiamen set on a sizable encampment of migrating Kickapoo Indians some twenty miles southwest of the site of present day San Angelo. The Texans were routed after a desperate fight. On December 9, 1864, Captain N. M. Gillintine and a militia scouting party of twenty-three, under the command of the Second Frontier District, discovered an abandoned Indian camp. Gillintine reported that it had ninety-two wigwam sites and was located about thirty miles up the Clear Fork of the Brazos River from the ruins of an old named Fort Phantom Hill. A militia force of 325 men from Bosque, Comanche, Coryell, Erath, and Johnson counties gathered under Captain S. S. Totten. State Confederate troops of the Frontier Battalion were dispatched under Captain Henry Fossett.

From the very beginning the two forces failed to cooperate fully or agree upon a unified command. After bivouacking for two days at Fort Chadbourne for a rendezvous that never took place, Fossett impatiently set out on January 3rd with 161 men and followed a wide trail to the North Concho River and beyond. Four days later his scouts found the Indians, whom they assumed to be hostile Comanches or Kiowas, encamped in timber along Dove Creek. As Fossett prepared to strike, Totten’s delayed militia arrived early in the morning of January 8th. Historians have argued that by then Fossett and Totten should have known that the Indians were peaceful. Depending on that old frontier assumption that all Indians were murderous, the two commanders recklessly formed a battle plan that was later criticized as inadequate and based on poor reconnaissance. The militia, riding horses exhausted from a forced march, were to dismount and wade the creek for a frontal attack from the north. The Confederate troops were to circle southwestward, seize the grazing herd of horses, and attack from the lower side, thus cutting off an Indian retreat.

The attack quickly went badly. Fossett later estimated the Indian fighting force at between 400 and 600. Totten said 600 and charged that Union jayhawkers were among their number. The Indians were in a superior position, in a heavy thicket that gave the well-armed defenders cover, high ground, and a good field of fire. The militiamen were slowed by crossing the creek, heavy briars, and brush. One of the participants in the battle, I. D. Ferguson later recounted the fatal wounding of three officers, including Gillintine, and sixteen enlisted men in the opening minutes. The militia was soon on the retreat and out of the battle.

As for the other group, Fossett’s mounted force quickly captured the Indian horses. He sent seventy-five troops under Lieutenant J. A. Brooks to hit the camp from the south, but they were repulsed by heavy fire that cost them twelve horses. The Confederate troops took positions in the timber and continued the fight; they were caught in a deadly crossfire and split into three groups as the Indians closed in under cover. An Indian counterattack early in the afternoon was repulsed, and the battle continued until almost dark before ending in disorder and confusion. The Indians recaptured their horses and inflicted additional casualties on the Confederates retreating toward Totten’s militia, which was tending to the wounded three miles away on Spring Creek. The battered veterans spent a miserable night, drenched by chilling rain that turned to heavy snow. They remained the next day, cold and hungry, forced to eat some of the horses in order to survive. A casualty count showed twenty-two dead and nineteen wounded. An exact number was never known because many militiamen departed without leave.

Indian casualties were even less certain. Totten said they numbered more than a hundred. Fossett gave a body count of twenty-three. The Indians, after crossing the Rio Grande near Eagle Pass, said they had lost twelve in the fight and two more who died after arrival in Mexico.

Carrying their wounded on crude litters strapped between pairs of horses, the Texans retreated eastward on January 11, after retrieving their dead. They found shelter and food at John S. Chisum’s ranch near the confluence of the Concho and the Colorado rivers.

The Kickapoos had been on their way to Mexico to escape the dissension and violence of the Civil War. The battle embittered this peaceful tribe and led to vengeful border raiding from the sanctuary given them by the Mexican government near Santa Rosa, Coahuila. White settlers along the Rio Grande paid heavily for the misjudgments that led to the Texans’ defeat on Dove Creek.

In May of 1873, Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led 377 men of the Fourth United States Cavalry from Fort Clark on a punitive expedition across the Rio Grande.  The Kickapoos were taken by surprise; Mackenzie’s troopers killed many of the raiders and captured 40 women and children. This attack ended most of the Kickapoo raids. The army moved their prisoners to Fort Gibson in Oklahoma where they eventually wound up on a reservation. The Mexican Kickapoo remained in the state of Coahuila on the reservation established by the Mexican government.