|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 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.
|Mackenzie awarding medals|
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|
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.
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.”
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