The Indian attack on an army post at Buffalo Springs was a federal fiasco.
In 1866, about 300 Comanches launched an attack on a new army post at Buffalo Springs in Clay County. The Indians wanted the mules inside the fort, not the terrified soldiers. The possibly tragic but actually comic incident resulted from poor decisions by top officers in the U.S. Army and federal government.
The settlers in North Texas begged Gov. Throckmorton for a company of Rangers to protect them from Indian depredations. Instead, two companies of blue-coated soldiers of the Sixth Cavalry, who had never seen, much less fought an Indian, came to their aid. The Yankees may have won the Civil War, however, neither the soldiers, their stock of weapons nor horses could stop the Comanches from doing anything they wanted. The situation was desperate - ranchers in Jack, Wise and Young counties had already lost 5,000 to 6,000 cattle in raids.
The soldiers at Buffalo Springs were short on horses because of an epidemic. Eighty-six horses landed in sick bay from eating a shipment of bad hay. In contrast, Comanches had thousands of stolen horses and had the pick of the best horseflesh in the area. The Buffalo Springs soldiers could only scout with one horse each compared to the multiple mounts Comanches always brought along from across the Red River for long rides. The Indians mounted a fresh pony every 20 miles so they could easily escape a long-distance pursuit.
Most of the soldiers were on construction duty at Buffalo Springs, and few left the fort to scout for Indians. But in July 1867, a scouting detail of two Sixth Cavalry officers, 12 men and four government mule teams driven by civilians finally saw Indians. The troop was setting up camp about 18 miles south of Buffalo Springs when 300 Indians swept through the mule herd and stampeded 24 mules away from the camp. They lanced a nearby teamster from his horse, leaving him dead.
The shocked soldiers waited too long to grab their weapons to stop the raiders and their bounty. All the troopers could do was head back to the post. They didn't return to the post until the next afternoon, and when they did arrive, Capt. Benjamin T. Hutchins ordered pursuit. When the troop of 31 men rode off, that left only 45 soldiers and 60 civilian workers to man the fort with only 27 rifles.
The next day, 300 Comanches approached Buffalo Springs fort with all the confidence that the triumphant Indians had earned from previous victories. The officers' wives and camp laundresses scrambled for the best cover, log cabins, while the soldiers ran for the corrals, which were in the middle of the post.
The 27 men who had rifles checked their weapons and slammed shells into the chambers. The others stood armed only with sabres, hoping to eventually be armed with a fallen comrade's weapon.
The Indians formed an unbroken semicircle around the post, staying 400 yards away. The soldiers were ordered not to fire until they were closer. Meanwhile, two men crawled through a ravine outside and fired two shots. The Indians charged, giving an unearthly war whoop. At that critical moment, 60 unarmed construction workers ran from where they were working a half-mile from the post. Instead of attacking, the Indians paused for a quick council and fell back from the post.
They set up camp about a half-mile away, and everyone felt certain they would be attacked that night.
But, to their surprise, the rising full moon revealed that the Indians were staying in their camp. The morning of the second day of the standoff, the Indians disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared
The reason soon became apparent. The Indians had seen Hutchins and his soldiers returning and decided not to hang around.
Incredibly, while the post soldiers were facing annihilations, the captain and his troopers enjoyed a short holiday.
When the inept officer and his men could find no Indian trails, the captain alledgedly decided two days of playing poker at Fort Belknap were in order. This could not be proven in records, however, for the scouting party to miss the trail of 300 marauding Indians and many more horses was quite a failure, if not a serious dereliction of duty.
North Texas settlers endured more Indian attacks, scalpings, abductions and thefts for four more years. After Fort Richardson was established in 1870, more and better equipped soldiers defended the northern counties.
Not until Gen. Tecumsah Sherman took the settlers seriously did the situation improve. The intervention by Sherman offered settlers the best hope for security.