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Horrible Massacre on the Frontier

Portsmouth, Ohio - May 25, 1872

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Wholesale Slaughter by Indians - An Entire Train Annihilated - Men and Women Burned Alive


Washington, May 17, 1872 - A report has been received at the War Department giving details of the massacre by Indians, Mexicans and Negroes, combined, of persons in charge of a train of supplies en route to Fort Stockton, at Howard's Wells, near old Fort Lancaster. The facts, as reported to General Augur, by Colonel Merritt, of the Ninth Cavalry under date of the 29th of April, from Fort Clark, are given as follows:


On the 20th instant I arrived with the cavalry of my command at Howard's Wells, a few hours too late to prevent on of the most horrible massacres that has ever been perpetrated on this frontier. A Mexican train, loaded with United States commissary and ordnance stores, on its way from San Antonio to Fort Stockton, was attacked by Indians, plundered and burned. All the people with the train, seventeen souls in all, were killed or wounded, except one woman. My command buried eleven bodies, and brought three wounded men and one woman into this post.

Before arriving at the burning train, the first intimation we had of the horrible disaster was the charred and blackened corpses of some of the poor victims, but no one was alive to tell the horrors of the affair. I supposed up to this time, that Captain Sheridan with the infantry of my command was in camp at Howard's Well, about a mile from the scene of the massacre; and, while yet some distance from that point, the smoke from the burning wagons, mistaken for his camp fires, confirmed me in this belief. I knew, at least, that a sergeant and four men were at the well in charge of the forage.

The command moved rapidly toward the well, when the sergeant in charge of the detachment at that point was met, and pointed out the course the Indians had taken with the stolen animals belonging to the train. In less time than it takes to relate it, the trail was found, and rapid pursuit at once made by Companies A and H of the Ninth Cavalry, commanded respectively by Captain Carney and Lieutenant Vincent. After following the trail some seven or eight miles the cavalry came upon the Indians in force, on the summit of a steep and almost impassable bluff. Here a sharp fight occurred, in which, I regret to say, Lieutenant Vincent fell mortally wounded, while bravely leading and attempting to control his men. He died shortly after returning to camp, about ten o'clock that night.

Captain Carney was painfully, though not seriously, injured, by his horse falling while moving at a rapid gait. He, however, remounted and retained his command. The men of his company behaved very well, but being in great part recruits, without experience in Indian fighting, which was the case in Company H to a still greater extent, they squandered their ammunitions. Lack of ammunition made a protracted pursuit of the Indians impracticable. A woman who escaped reports that six Indians were killed in the fight.

Words fail to convey and idea of the sickening atrocities committed by the demons who overpowered the train-men. Several of them were taken alive, tied to wagons, and burned. And old woman was carried some distance from the place of attack, and then shot and scalped. Her grandchild had its ears cut off, was scalped, and had it brains dashed out; while her daughter, the mother of the child, who witnessed it all, as also the death of her husband at the train, was carried off by the fiends. More than one poor wretch, crawled from the burning wagons after the ropes which bound them had burned off, only to burn to unrecognizable masses, with their charred hands and faces raised in positions of entreaty.

The train had nine men with it. The remainder of the party were women and children. It is feared one woman was taken away by the band, though it is possible that she, as well as the other lady unaccounted for, was burned to ashes with the wagons. It is reported that the band consisted of from 125 to 150 men, and was composed of Indians, Mexicans, and deserters from the army. A number of arms and supplies of ammunition were taken from the train by the band before burning it. How many arms I cannot say. It was the supply which was lately sent from San Antonio to Fort Stockton.

General Augur, in this report, expresses the opinion that the Indians came from Mexico, and this belief is sustained by the fact that Mexicans and deserters from colored regiments were with them, such deserters universally escaping into Mexico.






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