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Monday, September 5, 2011


Mackenzie Park in Lubbock, Texas
A part of Yellow House Canyon

Growing up in Lubbock, Texas we attended what seemed to me a dozen reunions at Mackenzie Park each summer. I knew the park and one of our junior high schools were named for a military man, but nothing else about him, especially not that he went insane. I must have missed the day that was covered in Texas History class. Allegedly, Mackenzie had contracted syphillis, a destroyer of the brain if left untreated. His nickname of Bad Hand came from his losing part of his hand in a battle. His exploits were legendary, and it's said he was fearless and seemed indestructable. Although I find it hard, especially as one whose great grandmother was Native American, I try to see him as he would have been regarded in his time. Whether you view him as a hero or a villain, here's his story.

Ranald Mackenzie
Ranald Slidell (Bad Hand) Mackenzie, army officer, was born on July 27, 1840, in New York City, the son of Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, a popular author and naval officer who had taken his mother's family name of Mackenzie, and Catherine (Robinson) Mackenzie. (I suspect there’s an interesting story there!) Alexander Mackenzie was a Captain in the Navy, but he made a bad career move when he hung the son of the Secretary of War for mutiny.

Ranald received his education at Williams College and at the United States Military Academy, where he graduated on June 17, 1862, at the head of his class. He was commissioned a second lieutenant and assigned to the Army of the Potomac. Within two years he had fought in eight major battles and been promoted to the rank of colonel. Later, in the Shenandoah Valley, he commanded troops in five battles, and in the final campaign against Robert E. Lee he was a brevet major general. At Appomattox he took custody of surrendered Confederate property and afterward commanded the cavalry in the Department of Virginia. In three years he had received seven brevets and six wounds.

Buffalo Soldiers
In 1867 Mackenzie accepted an appointment as colonel of the Forty-first Infantry, a newly formed black regiment reorganized two years later as part of the Twenty-fourth United States Infantry. The unit had its headquarters at Fort Brown, Fort Clark, and later at Fort McKavett. On February 25, 1871, he assumed command of the famed Black Buffalo Soldiers, the Fourth United States Cavalry at Fort Concho (San Angelo, TX) and a month later moved its headquarters to Fort Richardson (Jacksboro TX).

Mackenzie awarding medals
That summer he began a series of expeditions into the uncharted Panhandle and Llano Estacado (the staked plain) in an effort to drive renegade Indians back onto their reservations. In October his troops skirmished with a band of Comanches in Blanco Canyon, where he was wounded, and on September 29, 1872, they defeated another near the site of the present town of Lefors. In 1873 Mackenzie was assigned to Fort Clark to put an end to the plunder of Texas livestock by Indian raiders from Mexico. On May 18, in an extralegal raid, he burned a Kickapoo village near Remolino, Coahuila , and returned with forty captives. That and effective border patrols stopped the raiding.

In July 1874 Lt. Gen. Philip H. Sheridan ordered five commands to converge on the Indian hideouts along the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado. Mackenzie, in the most daring and decisive battle of the campaign, destroyed five Indian villages on September 28 in Palo Duro Canyon (near Amarillo, TX) and on November 5 near Tahoka Lake (Tahoka, TX) won a minor engagement, his last, with the Comanches. His destruction of the Indians' horses after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, even more than the battle itself, destroyed the Indians' resistance.

Comanche Chief Quanah Parker
In March 1875 Mackenzie assumed command at Fort Sill and control over the Comanche-Kiowa and Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations. On June 2 Quanah Parker arrived at Fort Sill with 407 followers and 1,500 horses. The Red River War was over.

After Lt. Col. George A. Custer's troops had been annihilated on the Little Bighorn River in 1876, Mackenzie was placed in command of the District of the Black Hills and of Camp Robinson, Nebraska. In October he forced Sioux Chief Red Cloud, who had won a campaign in 1868 against the United States, to return his band to the reservation.

On November 25 Mackenzie decisively defeated the Northern Cheyennes. After a short tour of duty in Washington, during which he commanded troops mustered to keep the peace in the event of disturbances following the presidential election of 1876, Mackenzie returned to the Black Hills, then to Fort Sill Oklahoma. In late 1877 Indians from Mexico were again raiding in South Texas, and by March 1878 Mackenzie was again at Fort Clark. He began patrols and in June led an expedition into Mexico. His incursion prompted the Mexican government to act, and by October the raiding had ceased.

In October 1879 Mackenzie was sent to Colorado with six companies of cavalry to prevent an uprising of the Utes at the Los Pinos agency. The Indian Bureau eventually negotiated a removal treaty, but the chiefs refused to leave until Mackenzie informed them that the only alternative was war. Two days later, the Utes started for Utah. On September 2, 1881, Mackenzie received orders to move his cavalry to Arizona, take field command of all troops there, and subdue the Apaches. After a short and brilliant campaign, despite the opposition of the department and division commanders, Mackenzie was assigned on October 30 to command the District of New Mexico, where the Apaches ignored departmental and international lines and the Navajos were restless. Within a year the army was in control.

Mackenzie was promoted to the rank of brigadier general, but was seriously ill. He had taken several medical leaves during the last few years. On October 27, 1883, he was reassigned to command the Department of Texas. He planned to marry and retire soon on land that he had bought near Boerne, TX. The day before his marriage he went into a store, broke a chair, and threatened the store owner with the chair leg. He was restrained, babbling and incoherent. (A narrow escape for his bride-to-be!) By December 18 he was declared suffering "paralysis of the insane." A few days later he was escorted to New York City and placed in the Bloomingdale Asylum. Reportedly, he did not speak or respond. On March 24, 1884, he was retired from the army. In June he went to his boyhood home in Morristown to live with a cousin. In 1886 he was moved to New Brighton, Staten Island, where he died on January 19, 1889. He was buried in the military cemetery at West Point.

According to Johnny Hughes of Lubbock, Texas: “In this part of West Texas, Colonel Ranald "Bad Hand" MacKenzie is seen as the hero of the Indian wars of the 1870s. There were so-called battles in all our area canyons: Yellow House, Blanco, Tule, White River, and the last and largest battle of the Red River Wars, in Palo Duro Canyon against Quanah Parker, and several tribes. MacKenzie had to spend more time killing people than anyone in American history. He entered the Civil War in 1862. Right after the Civil War, he began leading cavalry charges on Indian villages against dozens of tribes in several states and Mexico. This went on until 1880.

Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo
"In several of the canyons, the bleached bones of the horses remain. In the final big ‘battle’ in 1875 in Palo Duro Canyon, MacKenzie burned all the lodges in five villages, and all the food stored for the winter. His troops captured 1400 horses. They kept 300 and shot the rest. They kept an accurate count on the horses, mules, and ammunition, but the number of Indians who died as a result of this government policy has not been written. MacKenzie led white and black soldiers, the famous buffalo soldiers.

"With winter approaching, the Indians were left without food, horses, blankets, warm clothes, or a place to hide. Most surrendered to face a long, cold, hungry walk to Oklahoma. Those that surrendered to the cavalry were in a herd on foot, and herded like cattle or horses.”

The 1958-1959 syndicated television series, "Mackenzie's Raiders," starring Richard Carlson in the title role, is loosely based on Mackenzie's time in Texas. According to Johnny Hughes, the scene in “Dances With Wolves” where Kevin Costner rides around between rebel and union lines was based on Ranald Mackenzie.

Caroline Clemmons is the author of HOME, SWEET TEXAS HOME, a contemporary sweet romance set in and near the West Texas towns of Lubbock and Tahoka, Texas. http://www.carolineclemmons.com/  her blog is at http://carolineclemmons.blogspot.com/
Buy link is www.thewildrosepress.com/caroline-clemmons-m-638.html


Kirsten Arnold said...

Interesting post, Caroline. I've heard of MacKenzie in some of my research, but didn't know the extent of his service. It's always hard to catagorize men like MacKenzie in either the hero or villian box. In any case, he's an fascinating historical figure.

Boy, did his intended dodge a bullet, or what?


Keena Kincaid said...

Hi, Caroline,
I my day job, we'd call hanging the son of the Secretary of War a CLeM (career-limiting move).

As to the bigger question of whether he was a hero or a villain, As Obi-Wan said it best: truth is a matter of perspective. To the settlers he was a hero, and they won. So history records him as a hero.

And I agree with Kirsten, his fiancee dodged a cannon-ball sized bullet. Lucky girl.

Susan Macatee said...

Interesting post, Caroline! Whether he was a hero or villain depends on your perspective, I guess.

Angelyn said...

great post---thanks, Caroline!

I think it was his sister that McKenzie went to live with. He met his fiancee when she was the base doctor's wife at the fort he was assigned to. Some contemporary accounts said it was she who instigated the engagement, even though it was fairly well established he was insane by that time. Strange.

McKenzie was Quanah Parker's mentor and they admired one another. I think Parker went to Theo Roosevelt's inauguration. He died a wealthy man with several wives and a big house in Oklahoma.

It was the clash of civilizations: industrial revolution man meets stone age man. A grim time.

I feel sorry for the women on both sides. They had it even worse than the men.

marybelle said...

A great post thank you!!


Denise Pattison said...

Hero or villain?

His status will always be determined by whoever is writing his biography. Don't the winners write the history? Therefore, he's a hero to the people he saved from the Indians.

However, looking at it from a politically correct view of our time--he was a vicious B*****d.

Great blog, Caroline.

Bkat said...

For a more balanced and accurate account of Mackenzie and his career, as well as Quanah Parker and the Comanche tribe, read S.C. Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon, a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Anonymous said...

He was not buried at West Point. He is buried Jan. 19, 1889 at
New Brighton Richmond County (Staten Island) New York, USA

rossbach451 said...

Strange, I stood at his gravesite in West Point in 1989. Was he moved at some time?