4.14.2008,2:39 PM
Fort Richardson: Kiowas are trouble
Part Two: Kiowas are trouble.


Because of a late start I chose the most direct route north to Jacksboro on Hwy 199. After gassing up in Azle, the only other stop was at McDonald’s in Springtown to fill my thermos full of coffee. The last of the coffee in my house was consumed the day before and I truly don’t function well without it. I had to squelch the massive headache from coffee withdrawal as soon as possible.

Traffic north of Springtown was almost non-existent. As I rode north over rolling hills and approaching short mesas in the distance, I felt as though I was alone on a fast horse traveling the plains. While alone with the thoughts in my head, I wondered if Hwy 199 was once a military road or Indian trail. Later I learned that Hwy’s 380 to Graham and 281 to Mineral Wells were military roads. Butterfield’s Overland stagecoach trail –a 2,800-mile route across the US linking Missouri and California- connected most of the Texas forts, including FortRichardson and nearby Fort Belknap via present day Hwy 380 [1].

Just south of downtown Jacksboro, the GPS alerted me by a green area on the map that I was approaching the state park. Turning onto the park road the park headquarters was the recognizable brown wooden building seen at most Texas parks. Actually, the headquarters at most of the Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee state parks are similar: plain, simple, brown wooden buildings (there are notable exceptions, of course).

While inside paying my three-dollar fee for a day pass, the friendly staff alerted me that the buildings would be closed and locked at 12:30 pm for a local Easter Egg Hunt. Since it was already near noon-time, I felt compelled to hurry on my way to the historical site.

The park road runs very close to the historical site so it was easy to find. Pulling in the parking lot, I parked the bike in a front spot in between a truck and a SUV. A few people milled around the grounds, mostly staff preparing for the Easter activity. I fished the camera out of the sidebag and walked towards the closest building.


(I walked around the grounds and on the paths along Lost Creek for an hour or so before heading back to my bike. On the way I was told by a park staff that the buildings would be reopened after the children had gathered their Easter eggs and departed. So I peeled off the rest of my gear under which I was profusely sweating, and sat on a rock while finishing off my coffee and watching the foray. I met up with the staff I had spoken to before and I had my own personal guided tour. I don’t recall his name -I have Name Amnesia- but he was a walking encyclopedia of the fort, and all the Texas forts. Not satisfied with general media accounts, he has researched the history of the fort in original documents –diaries, journals, personal statements and letters, federal and state documents, etc. He related information that few are probably privy to. I am grateful and indebted to his guidance and sharing. So, basically, I visited some of the landmarks twice; first on my own, later with his narrative. For purposes in my story, I will intermix his information in with my retelling of my visit to avoid redundancies and confusion.)

The interpretive center is a reproduction of an officers’ barracks and contains displays relating the history of the fort. Luckily it was open so I walked in and obtained a guide to the park and historical grounds. Everyone was busy so I decided to guide myself rather than try to recruit a staff guide. Before I left the building I quickly glanced at the exhibits on one end wall. There were photographs of several Kiowa chiefs that were involved in a decisive battle that was the Fort’s most famous Indian excursion.

In May of 1871 three Kiowa chiefs led 100 or more warriors on a raid, later called the Salt Creek Massacre, attacking a wagon train carrying corn contracted by the government to feed the armies. On a stretch of road called the Salt Creek Prairie, from Jacksboro to Graham, seven of the twelve teamsters were killed. In response to the outrage of the local settlers and army personnel General Sherman ordered Colonel McKenzie, whom was stationed at Fort Richardson, to pursue the Kiowas with companies of soldiers from his fort and nearby Fort Griffin.

The Kiowa chiefs –Santanta, Big Tree, and Satank- rode to Fort Sill in Indian Territory (Oklahoma) where Santanta boasted about his part in the raid. The three chiefs were turned over to General Sherman who ordered that they be returned to Fort Richardson to stand trial for the murders. (Satank was killed during an escape attempt en route to Jacksboro.) The trial was a celebrated event because it was the first time Indians were forced to be tried in civil court. The jury convicted the two Kiowa chiefs and sentenced them to hang [2].


I wanted to get to the other buildings before they were closed and doors locked, so I left the building before browsing the remainder of the exhibits. My first destination was the most prominent building on the grounds, the hospital.

To be continued.........

[1] This year marks the sesquicentennial of the Butterfield Overland trail in Texas. Several celebrations and events are scheduled at various points around Texas. I’m very tempted to attend the event in Fort Davis, August 30th.

[2] Because of uneasy political climate between all the Indian tribes and Texas factions, Santanta and Big Tree were escorted to the state penitentiary in Hunstville. Their death sentence was commuted. In later years, Santana committed suicide by jumping out of a building window after he was re-arrested and returned to Huntsville.

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