The First Battle of Adobe Walls, was one of the largest ever battles between United States Army and native Americans. The Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache tribes drove from the battlefield a United States Expeditionary Force that was reacting to attacks on white settlers moving into the Southwest. After forcing the American retreat to high ground the natives assaulted continually until a successful United States counterattack was launched. The battle resulted in light casualties on both sides but was one of the largest engagements fought on the Great Plains.

First Battle of Adobe Walls Background

The battle of Adobe Walls occurred on November 26, 1864, in the vicinity of Adobe Walls, the ruins of William Bent's abandoned adobe trading post and saloon near the Canadian River in Hutchinson County, Texas. The battle came about when General James H. Carleton, commander of the military district of New Mexico, decided to punish severely the plains tribes of the Kiowa and Comanche, whom he deemed responsible for attacks on wagon trains on the Santa Fe Trail. The Indians saw the wagon trains as trespassers who killed buffalo and other game the Indians needed to survive. As the American Civil War drained available troops, attacks on the Great Plains worsened, leading in the later part of 1863 to cries from settlers for protection.

General Carleton wanted to put an end to the raids, or at least to send a sharp signal to the Indians that the Civil War had not left the United States unable to protect its people. He selected Col. Christopher (Kit) Carson to lead the expeditionary force as the most seasoned veteran Indian fighter at his disposal. Col. Carson took command of the First Cavalry, New Mexico Volunteers, with orders to proceed against the winter campgrounds of the Comanches and Kiowas, which were reported to be somewhere in the Palo Duro Canyons of the southern Panhandle area, on the south side of the Canadian River. The Carson expedition was the second invasion of the heart of the Comancheria, after the Antelope Hills Expedition.


On November 10, 1864 Carson started from Fort Bascom with 335 cavalry, and seventy-five Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts that Carson had recruited from Lucien Maxwell's ranch near Cimarron, New Mexico. On November 12, Carson’s force, accompanied by two mountain howitzers under the command of Lt. George H. Pettis, twenty-seven wagons, an ambulance, and with forty-five days' rations, proceeded down the Canadian River into the Texas Panhandle. Carson had decided to march first to Adobe Walls, which he was familiar with from his employment there by Bent over 20 years earlier.

Inclement weather, including an early snow storm, caused slow progress, and on November 25, 1864, the First Cavalry reached Mule Springs, in Moore County, approximately 30 miles (48 km) west of Adobe Walls. Scouts reported the presence of a large enemy encampment at Adobe Walls, and Carson ordered his cavalry forward, followed by the wagons and howitzers.


Approximately two hours after daybreak on November 26, 1864, Carson's cavalry attacked a Kiowa village of 150 lodges. The Chief, Dohäsan, and his people fled, passing the alarm to allied Comanche villages nearby. Marching forward to Adobe Walls, Carson dug in there about 10:00 am, using one corner of the ruins for a hospital. Carson discovered to his dismay that there were numerous villages in the area, including one very large Comanche village, with a total of about 3,000 warriors. Carson saw thousands of men pouring forward to engage him in battle, a much greater force than he had expected.

"Throw a few shells into that crowd over there".

Kit Carson to artillery officer Lt. Pettis

Dohäsan, assisted by Satank and Satanta, led the Kiowas in the first attack. Fierce fighting developed as the Kiowa, Kiowa Apache, and Comanche warriors repeatedly attacked Carson's position. Reportedly, Satanta replied to Carson's bugler with his own bugle calls. Carson succeeded in repelling the attacks only through his clever use of supporting fire from the twin howitzers. After six to eight hours of fairly continuous fighting, Carson realized he was beginning to run low on howitzer shells, and ammunition in general, and ordered his forces to withdraw. The natives tried to block his retreat by setting fire to the grass and brush down near the river. The wily Carson, however, set back-fires and retreated to higher ground, where the twin howitzers continued to hold off the Indians. When twilight came, Carson ordered a group of his scouts to burn the lodges of the first village, which also resulted in the death of the Kiowa-Apache chief, Iron Shirt, when he refused to leave his tipi.

First Battle of Adobe Walls Aftermath

United States victory

The United States Army declared the First Battle of Adobe Walls a victory. To give Carson credit, he had probably been outnumbered by 10–1, and only his clever use of back-fires and the howitzers prevented his force being overrun and massacred as Custer was later at the Little Bighorn. As it was, Carson lost six dead and twenty-five wounded, while the natives lost approximately fifty to sixty killed and as many as 100 wounded.


The First Battle at Adobe Walls would be the last time the Comanche and Kiowa forced American troops to flee the battlefield, and marked the beginning of the end of the plains tribes and their way of life. A decade later, the Second Battle of Adobe Walls was fought on June 27, 1874 between about 700 Comanche and a group of 28 hunters defending the settlement of Adobe Walls. After a four-day siege, the Indians withdrew. By this time, fewer than 2,000 Kiowa and Comanche warriors were left, compared with the approximate 3,000 available ten years earlier. The Second Battle is historically significant because it led to the Red River War of 1874-75, resulting in the final relocation of the Southern Plains Indians to reservations in what is now Oklahoma.

Placement of Historical Marker

In 1964, the Texas State Historical Survey Committee erected Historical Marker 1690 to preserve the memory of the First Battle of Adobe Walls. The marker is not located at the actual battle sight, but is located 15 miles to the west of the battle site.

First Battle of Adobe Walls
Part of the American Indian Wars, Apache Wars
Date November 26, 1864
Location Hutchinson County, Texas
Result United States victory
United States United States Kiowa
Plains Apache
Commanders and leaders
United States Kit Carson Dohäsan
Iron Shirt
321 soldiers
75 native scouts
2 artillery pieces
3,000 warriors
Casualties and losses
6 killed
25 wounded
~55 killed
~100 wounded