Battle of REd River - History

Battle of REd River - History

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Battle of Red River

General Banks undertook a campaign up Louisiana's Red River. His goal was to reach Shreveport. He was supported by the gunboats of Porter's river fleet. On April 8th, Banks' advancing forces were attacked by Confederate forces, led by General Richard Taylor, at Sabine Crossroads. The Union troops were forced to retreat. The next day, Taylor attempted to follow up with an attack at Pleasant Hill, the Confederate forces were repulsed. Banks decided to withdraw. The only problem was that the Red River had dropped and Porter's fleet was stranded above the rapids at Alexandria. The ingenuity of a Wisconsin colonel led to the building of a series of dams that raised the level of water sufficiently to float the fleet over the narrows.


Battle of Blood River

The Battle of Blood River [1] (16 December 1838) was fought on the bank of the Ncome River, in what is today KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa between 464 Voortrekkers ("Pioneers"), led by Andries Pretorius, and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 [2] Zulu . Casualties amounted to over 3,000 of King Dingane's soldiers dead, including two Zulu princes competing with Prince Mpande for the Zulu throne. Three Voortrekker commando members were lightly wounded, including Pretorius.

The year 1838 was the most difficult period for the Voortrekkers since they left the Cape Colony, till the end of the Great Trek. They faced many difficulties and much bloodshed before they found freedom and a safe homeland in their Republic of Natalia. This was only achieved after defeating the Zulu King, Dingane, at the greatest battle ever fought in South Africa, namely the Battle of Blood River, which took place on Sunday 16 December 1838. [3]

In January 1840 Prince Mpande finally defeated King Dingane in the Battle of Maqongqe and was subsequently crowned as new king of the Zulu by his alliance partner Andries Pretorius. After these two battles, Dingane's prime minister and commander in both the Battle of Maqongqe and the Battle of Blood River, General Ndlela, was strangled to death by Dingane for high treason. General Ndlela had been the personal protector of Prince Mpande, who after the Battles of Blood River and Maqongqe, became king and founder of the Zulu.

Red River Campaign begins

On March 12, 1864, one of the biggest military fiascos of the Civil War begins as a combined Union force of infantry and riverboats starts moving up the Red River in Louisiana. The month-long campaign was poorly managed and achieved none of the objectives set forth by Union commanders.

The campaign had several strategic goals. The Union hoped to capture everything along the Red River in Louisiana and continue into Texas. Additionally, President Abraham Lincoln hoped to send a symbolic warning to France, which had set up a puppet government in Mexico and seemed to have designs on territorial expansion. Finally, Union officials wanted to capture cotton-producing regions, as cotton was in short supply in the North.

The plan called for Admiral David Dixon Porter to take a flotilla of 20 gunboats up the Red River while General Nathaniel Banks led 27,000 men along the western shore of the river. Porter’s squadron entered the river on March 12. Two days later, Fort DeRussy fell to the Yankees and the ships moved upriver and captured Alexandria. The expedition was going well, but Banks was moving too slowly. He arrived two weeks after Porter took Alexandria, and continued to plod towards Shreveport. Banks traveled nearly 20 miles from the Red River, too far for the gunboats to offer any protection. On April 8, Banks’ command was attacked and routed by Confederate General Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. president Zachary Taylor. The two sides fought again the next day, but this time the Yankees held off the Rebel pursuit.

The intimidated Banks elected to retreat back down the river before reaching Shreveport. Porter’s ships followed, but the Red River was unusually low and the ships were stuck above some rapids near Alexandria. It appeared that the ships would have to be destroyed to keep them from falling into Confederate hands, but Lt. Colonel Joseph Bailey of Wisconsin, an engineer with a logging background, supervised several thousand soldiers in constructing a series of wing dams that raised the water level enough for the ships to pass. The campaign was deemed a failure—it drew Union strength away from other parts of the South and the expedition never reached Texas.

Red River Indian War

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Red River Indian War, (1874–75), uprising of warriors from several Indian tribes thought to be peacefully settled on Oklahoma and Texas reservations, ending in the crushing of the Indian dissidents by the United States. Presumably the Treaty of Medicine Lodge (Kansas, October 1867) had placed on area reservations a number of Southwestern tribes: the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kataka. Many braves, unwilling to accept this life of confinement, broke out repeatedly to raid white travelers and settlers. Encouraged by chiefs Big Tree and Satanta, Indians carried out an attack in 1874 that killed 60 Texans and launched the war. In the fall of 1874, about 3,000 federal infantry and cavalry, under the overall command of General William Tecumseh Sherman, converged on the Indians concentrated in the Red River valley, Texas. Resistance was so determined that 14 pitched battles were required to curb the Indian power by mid-November. The half-starved survivors surrendered the following summer and returned to their reservations.

Battle of REd River - History

The campaign called the Red River War was the last major conflict between the U.S. Army and the southern Plains Indians. The Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1867 had settled the Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and Kiowa on reservations in Indian Territory. Under the terms of Pres. Ulysses S. Grant's developing Peace Policy, American Indians who moved onto the reservations were given rations and offered an opportunity for education and training as farmers. Many of the Indians, but by no means all, accepted their assigned reservations. Some continued to raid, using the reservations as safe havens from retaliation. The Comanche and Kiowa were somewhat restrained by the imprisonment of Kiowa leaders Satanta and Big Tree for their part in a raid in 1871 and the capture of 124 Comanche women and children in 1872, but the release of all these prisoners in 1873 led to intensified raiding. White settlers in Texas, Kansas, and Colorado were loud in their demand that the Army suppress these raids.

Many factors led to the outbreak of full-scale war in 1874. Indian desire for revenge for losses sustained in earlier raids, continued delays and shortages in rations, fears of white encroachment on Indian land, and, especially, the movement of white buffalo hunters onto the plains of the Texas Panhandle, lands which the Indians believed were reserved for them, all contributed to their growing anger. All that was lacking was inspiring leadership, and that surfaced in early 1870 in the form of Isa-tai, a young Kwahadi Comanche medicine man. After gaining credibility by several feats of magic, Is-tai called for all the Comanche bands to join together in the Sun Dance, something the Comanche previously had not practiced. (Of the five major Comanche bands, the Kwahadi and the Yamparika were the primary participants in the Red River War). At this meeting the Comanche, joined by Kiowa and Cheyenne, targeted the camp of white buffalo hunters at the site of Adobe Walls, an old trading post in the Texas Panhandle. The Indians' attack at Adobe Walls may be considered the official beginning of the Red River War. It was followed quickly by a Kiowa raid into Texas and a Comanche attack on an army detachment at the Wichita Agency at Anadarko in Indian Territory. As many as five thousand Indians, representing many of the southern tribes, fled their Indian Territory reservations and moved onto their familiar hunting grounds in western Indian Territory and the Texas Panhandle.

At this stage the army and the Indian Bureau in effect declared war on all Indians off their assigned reservations. Officers and Indian agents enrolled the Indians still present on the reservations and designated all others as "hostiles." The army planned a five-pronged campaign to put constant pressure on the Indians considered to be enemies. Army departmental boundaries were ignored, and troops were allowed to follow Indians onto the reservations.

The most famous encounter between the army and the Indians was at Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle where the Fourth Cavalry, led by Col. Ranald Slidell Mackenzie, broke up a large encampment of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne, killing only a few Indians but capturing and slaughtering about fourteen hundred horses. No one battle, however, accounted for the defeat of the Indians. It was rather the constant and unrelenting pressure brought to bear by the various columns, some of which remained in the field until January 1875. Indians who had fled the reservations began to return as early as October, and by the spring of 1875 only some bands of Kwahadi Comanche, led by Mow-way and Quanah Parker, were still at large. Mackenzie, now commanding at Fort Sill in Indian Territory, sent post interpreter Dr. J. J. Sturms to negotiate the surrender of these Indians. Quanah Parker's band came into Fort Sill on June 2, 1875, marking the end of the Red River War.

Although less well known than other conflicts with American Indians, the war was of great importance. Seventy-four Indians who were designated as leaders were imprisoned in Florida, depriving the hostile southern Plains tribes of war leadership and forcing them finally to accept their assignment to reservations. To some extent the war helped to alert sympathizers to the harsh treatment of the American Indians by the U.S. government. It opened new possibilities of cooperation between the army and the Indian Bureau, as shown by Mackenzie's work with Kiowa-Comanche Indian agent James A. Haworth. The war taught that the army, if given free rein and adequate force, could successfully operate against American Indians, a lesson soon to be applied on the northern plains. Finally, the Red River War opened the way for the final extermination of the southern bison herd and the settlement of the Texas Panhandle by whites.


Donald J. Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963).

James L. Haley, The Buffalo War: The History of the Red River Indian Uprising of 1874 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1976).

Wilbur S. Nye, Carbine and Lance: The Story of Old Fort Sill (3d ed, rev. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969).

Michael D. Pierce, The Most Promising Young Officer: A Life of Ranald Slidell Mackenzie (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993).

Ernest Wallace and E. Adamson Hoebel, The Comanches: Lords of the South Plains (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952).

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society (unless otherwise stated).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Michael D. Pierce, &ldquoRed River War (1874&ndash1875),&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

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Engineer’s Solution to Disaster: Dam the Red River, Full Speed Ahead

As an earnest crowd watches from both banks, Union gunboats begin to exploit the breach in the dam on the Red River engineered by Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey. One, USS Lexington, “made several spasmodic rolls hung for a moment. and was then swept into deep water.” (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

Ron Soodalter
September 2019

Joseph Bailey built bulwarks to trap water, then let loose the rising flood and saved the Union fleet

The Red River Campaign, a joint Union Army–Navy endeavor in April and May of 1864, would forever stain the careers of Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter (right) and Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks. Porter at least had some moments of glory during the war. Not so for the political general Banks.(Left: Corbis via Getty Images Naval History and Heritage Command)

Under the joint command of Admiral Porter (who had earlier expressed grave doubt as to the campaign’s viability) and the inept, hard-luck political general Nathaniel P. Banks, the operation was the largest land-and-water expedition of the war. Banks’ force of more than 30,000 men was to act in concert with a 33-vessel flotilla consisting of troop transports, supply boats, ironclads, timberclads, tinclads, high-speed rams, river monitors, and support vessels—and boasted an impressive 210 heavy guns.

From the beginning, however, Banks’ men performed poorly. Because the roads they traversed did not necessarily follow the banks of the river, they advanced at a much slower rate of speed than Porter’s fleet and generally remained out of range of reliable support from the Federal naval guns. After fighting one losing engagement—the April 8 Battle of Mansfield, La.—to a numerically inferior enemy and narrowly surviving a second, the Battle of Pleasant Hill, the following day, Banks abandoned any thought of capturing Shreveport and ordered his dispirited men to retreat downriver.

This sketch from the April 30, 1864, edition of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper shows gunboats and transports in Porter’s flotilla at the critical Red River city of Alexandria, La. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper)

Porter’s gunboats and their support vessels reversed course as well and steamed back down the river, under incessant enemy fire. After five days, they came upon a mile-long, 758-foot-wide stretch of water at Alexandria, about midway between Shreveport and Baton Rouge, that featured two 6-foot-high waterfalls bookending three sets of rapids. The crews of Porter’s flotilla began to offload their heavy cargoes in preparation for running this daunting obstacle course. Unfortunately, within a short time, the water level dropped from nine feet to just more than three feet, virtually grounding the fleet’s 10 heaviest gunboats on the river bottom. Porter, with considerable distance between his vessels and the Mississippi River, was unable to move and faced the possibility of scuttling his entire fleet.

To make matters worse, Confederate artillery and snipers kept up constant fire on the vessels and their crews from the north side of the river near Pineville. Fortunately for the Federals, Banks had left a significantly sized force on the river’s south side at Alexandria during his retreat. Those troops were about all that stood in the way of total disaster.

Born in Ohio, Bailey made Wisconsin his home in 1850 at the age of 25. He became familiar with dams before the war while working on projects along the Wisconsin River. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

Porter and Banks faced potentially career-ending dilemmas. But just as things seemed utterly hopeless, an officer in the 19th Corps offered Porter a possible solution: Lt. Col. Joseph Bailey, a civil engineer in civilian life, suggested that they build dams to raise the water level. If anyone in the Union Army was familiar with the building of dams, it was Bailey. Before the war, he had been a Wisconsin lumberman, and had built his share of dams to facilitate the running of logs to the sawmills. And after the Union capture of Port Hudson, La., in July 1863, he had constructed a dam to float two abandoned Confederate vessels that were stuck in the mud.

Bailey actually had proposed the dam option in early April, while accompanying the army’s main body north, concerned that the falls at this point of the Red River would be a significant problem for the fleet’s heavier boats if the water level were too low. A few of those hefty boats, in fact, had been pulled across the falls heading upriver when that had occurred.

Porter, however, was not impressed, later recalling that his top engineers mocked the plan. “The proposition,” he would write, “looked like madness.”

Now, given the increasingly dire situation and aware the river was threatening to drop even more, Porter reluctantly gave his approval. In a message to Bailey’s commander, Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin, he wrote, “Tell General Franklin that if [Bailey] will build a dam or anything else, and get me out of this scrape, I’ll be eternally grateful to him.”

Porter immediately diverted sailors, flatboats, and barges to the project. He further enlisted Banks’ aid in reassigning some 3,000 troops, as well as scores of mules, oxen, and wagons.

Below the falls, Bailey constructed both a crib dam (filled with bricks, stones, and railroad iron) and a tree dam. Bailey then had four 24- by 170-foot coal barges, filled with anything that would sink, submerged at intervals in the middle of the resulting 150-foot-wide gap. This portion of the dam was designed to completely block the water’s flow. Farther upstream, he built two wing dams on both sides of the river to help funnel the water to the main dam area. It was his plan, once the water level rose to a sufficient height, to blast or break through the barriers, thereby allowing the Union vessels to ride the rushing torrent over and past the falls and rapids.

Trees were plentiful on the north bank near Pineville, and Bailey ordered the cutting and trimming of oaks, elms, and pines. The operation was blessed with soldiers from Wisconsin, Maine, and New York who were already familiar with the use of axes and the felling of timber. It also helped greatly that the 97th and 99th U.S. Colored Troops, two engineer regiments, were on hand to perform the majority of the main dam’s construction.

Thousands of spectators—Union officers, soldiers, and sailors as well as citizens of Alexandria and Pineville—observed the work from both banks, most of them convinced the plan was pure folly. Bemused Rebels watched from their positions, punctuating their sniping with mocking shouts of “How’s your big dam progressing?” Porter himself later wrote of the men working on the dams, “[N]ot one in fifty believed in the success of the undertaking.”

Union soldiers and engineers work on constructing a dam across the Red River to free 33 Federal ships stuck in shallow water. (Library of Congress)

Gradually the water began to rise. By May 8, it had gone up more than five feet. Then, early on the morning of the 9th, a thunderous roar was heard, as the tremendous built-up water pressure upon the structures broke two barges free of the dam. Bailey had always envisioned them breaking through at some point, but this was both an unforeseen accident and—if quickly capitalized upon—a great opportunity.

Porter immediately seized the moment and ordered the timberclad gunboat Lexington to run the gap between the two dams. As one Union observer wrote in his diary, “The Lexington succeeded in getting over the falls and then steered directly for the opening in the dam, through which the water was dashing so furiously that it seemed as if certain destruction would be her fate. Ten thousand spectators breathlessly awaited the result. She entered the gap with a full head of steam passed down the roaring, rushing torrent made several spasmodic rolls hung for a moment, with a harsh, grating sound, on the rocks below was then swept into deep water and rounded to by the bank of the river. Such a cheer arose from that vast multitude of sailors and soldiers, when the noble vessel was seen in safety below the falls, as we had never heard before, and certainly have not heard since.”

Three more gunboats successfully tailed Lexington. The other larger vessels, however, were slow to follow, their engines not yet running and steamed up. According to the State of Louisiana historical website:

“Had the rest of the fleet been prepared, all of the boats might have escaped at that time. However, the navy’s lack of confidence in the dam had given way to apathy, and as the released water rushed through the break, valuable time was wasted as the fleet gathered steam to attempt the run. Eventually, the water behind the dam fell and six gunboats still remained trapped.”

Joseph Bailey had this cloth map prepared to show his dam design to free a flotilla unable to move on the Red River in May 1864. Bailey was a lieutenant colonel at the time, not a brevet brigadier general. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

By now, it seemed, everyone had faith in Bailey’s plan, and work immediately began to repair the dam. Bailey used the same methods involving cribs and felled trees, but this time he built a series of smaller dams near the upper set of rapids. This achieved the dual purpose of easing the pressure on the original dam while creating a channel for the remaining vessels. To the strains of a military band playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the “Star Spangled Banner,” and with the banks again reverberating with the cheers of thousands, the remaining six gunboats made their way safely over the falls and past the last set of rapids.

With little delay, Porter continued steaming his tattered fleet down-river toward the welcome waters of the Mississippi. Meanwhile, Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, whose smaller force had already defeated Banks at Mansfield, continued to pursue and harass the Yankees, burning bridges, blocking roads, and shooting at Porter’s vessels as they attempted to resupply Banks’ beleaguered men.

When Banks’ army reached the Atchafalaya River, it found itself trapped on the wide river’s bank, necessitating Bailey’s services and ingenuity to be called upon again. He designed and built a bridge across the water, consisting of some two dozen transport vessels. As Orton S. Clark of the 116th New York Infantry later wrote: “They were all river steamers, and getting alongside each other, with their stems up stream, they formed a bridge which answered the purpose nicely. All our large wagon train and artillery had to be run over by hand. Hour after hour we worked until at last every army wagon, gun, caisson, forge, mule, horse and man were across the stream, and in a very short time the bridge had dissolved into distinct bodies, which ascending the Atchafalaya, were soon at the mouth of the Red River.”

The entire Red River enterprise had been, as Sherman stated, a series of disasters from start to finish, with not one objective fully attained. Some historians have suggested that campaign blunders actually prolonged the war by several months. Ultimately, the campaign cost the lives of more than 5,500 soldiers and sailors, as well as the destruction of a number of vessels, including an ironclad, two tinclads, and four transports. And though Porter would make a considerable amount of money from the sale of the cotton he had confiscated as a prize of war, Banks’ military career was virtually over.

There would be one bright note: The officers and men of the joint operation emerged from the dismal experience with a bona fide hero. After the campaign ended, Bailey and his dam were the subjects of Union-wide newspaper articles, in which he was touted as the “Hero of the Red River.”

Meanwhile, President Abraham Lincoln confirmed Bailey’s promotion to brevet brigadier general, and Congress voted him a gold medal and the official thanks of Congress. On behalf of the Navy, Porter gave him what was described at the time as “an elegant and costly sword, with a rich scabbard and belt, from the celebrated firm of Tiffany & Co., New York.” The dedication on the scabbard is engraved:

Presented to Brevet Brigadier General Joseph Bailey, U.S. Volunteers, by Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding Mississippi Squadron, as a mark of respect for his indomitable perseverance, energy and skill, in constructing a dam across Red River, enabling the gunboats under his command to float out in safety.

Sword presented to Bailey by Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter and punch bowl paid for with contributions from naval officers. (Wisconsin Historical Society)

A group of naval officers presented Bailey with a punch bowl, also from Tiffany. A scene is etched on one side of the bowl, depicting several Union gunboats above Bailey’s Dam. According to tradition, in order to afford such a lavish gift, each of Bailey’s fellow officers requested a part of his pay in silver coins, which were then sent to Tiffany to be melted down for the making of the bowl.

Joseph Bailey left the service in 1865, having served in the Union Army for the full four years of the war. Not only had he enlisted immediately following Lincoln’s first call for volunteers in 1861, he recruited 100 local men as well, whom he formed—as their elected captain—into a company called the Columbia County Rifles. Bailey and his company were mustered into the U.S. Army as Company D of the 4th Wisconsin Infantry and subsequently saw considerable action while serving in the Trans-Mississippi.

Tragically, after serving throughout the entire war without personal mishap, Bailey outlived the end of hostilities by less than two years. A year after returning to his home in Kilbourn City (now Wisconsin Dells), he moved with his wife and four children to Vernon County in western Missouri, where he was elected county sheriff. In late March of the following year, he set out to arrest two brothers (both of whom had reputedly served with Quantrill’s guerrillas during the war) on a charge of hog-stealing. For reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained, Bailey did not disarm his prisoners, and as he escorted them to the jail in Nevada, Mo., the brothers shot and killed him, and made their escape.

Despite the posting of rewards in excess of $3,000—a huge sum at the time, equal to more than $50,000 today—the two were never captured. Joseph Bailey deserved better it was a tragic end for the man who had led the gallant effort to save the Union Navy’s premier brown-water squadron from capture or destruction.

In 1895, the Wisconsin legislature voted to purchase the dress sword and presentation punch bowl and place them in the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Society. Seventeen years later, artist Hugo Ballin painted a mural on the wall of the new Wisconsin State Capitol’s Executive Chambers. It depicts a uniformed Joseph Bailey, being crowned with the laurel wreath of victory.

Battle of REd River - History

In late 1759 Spanish Col. Diego Ortiz Parrilla led a group of more than three hundred Spanish regulars and recruits, along with a number of Indian allies, against the Wichita Band's Twin Villages located along the Red River. The Twin Villages existed on both sides of the river, at the western edge of the Cross Timbers in Jefferson County, Oklahoma, and in the vicinity of present Spanish Fort in Montague County, Texas. The Battle of the Twin Villages was the largest military engagement in the eighteenth century in present Oklahoma.

Repeated war-party incursions into Spanish lands by the Wichita Indian bands (Taovaya, Wichita, and Iscani), Comanche, and other tribes situated in northern Texas primarily motivated the Spanish campaign. The raids were part of a continuous state of war between these tribes and the Apache Indians, who had been slowly pushed into Texas.

Due to the Spanish policy of strictly outlawing gun sales to Indians, the Apache became increasingly weak in comparison to their allied Indian opponents, who had willing firearms-trading partners in the French. Late in 1758 two thousand warriors surrounded the Spanish mission at San Sabá while searching for Apaches. While many of the mission's inhabitants escaped, the attackers killed two Spanish priests and a number of Indians. The raiders also burned the mission buildings, which had been constructed as a part of the Spanish plan to convert the Apache to mission life and religion.

The San Sabá calamity struck at the heart of Spanish honor and pride. Officials demanded retribution in the form of military action. Therefore, after months of political maneuvering by Spanish officials, a force was organized and outfitted for a campaign to find and attack the Wichita bands. Ortiz Parrilla, an experienced Indian fighter, led a mixed group of 139 Spanish soldiers and officers, 241 militiamen, 134 Apache Indians, 30 Tlaxcaltecan Indians, 90 mission Indians, and 2 priests. The expedition took along two cannons and sixteen hundred mules, horses, and cattle.

The column advanced from San Antonio to the burned mission at San Sabá before venturing north toward the Red River. Ortiz Parrilla disregarded French offers to mediate between the Spaniards and these tribes and pressed on with his mission. The expedition met with initial success. Nearing the suspected enemy base at Twin Villages, the Spanish force charged and routed a camp of Yojuane Indians. Fifty-five were killed and 149 captured.

Ortiz Parrilla and his men regrouped from their first taste of victory and approached the Twin Villages encampment. The attackers were shocked to see a French flag flying high above the settlements. The Indians, close trading partners with the French, had allowed a dozen traders/soldiers to be stationed at the towns, although with the outbreak of hostilities the French had removed their citizens.

An even greater shock was the fortress-like appearance of the village on the northern bank. Upstream were open fields of maize, pumpkins, beans, and watermelons, and almost half of the village was surrounded by the main fort complex, with its flanks secured against the river. The village's stockade was constructed from split logs that allowed the defenders to mount the walls and pour down fire on attackers. Inside the fort were a large corral and areas for the noncombatants. In addition, earthen breastworks had been constructed behind a deep-water moat, preventing any horseback attack. Spanish sources estimated the number of Indians defending the village to be between five hundred and six thousand.

After surveying the battlefield, Ortiz Parrilla formed his main body of soldiers in the center with his Indian allies on the flanks. For the next four hours he was decisively repelled in every attempt to break the Indians' strong defensive position. Eleven volleys from his two cannons only drew laughs and taunts from the defenders. Soon the villagers began to take the initiative. From inside the fort, sharpshooters fired into the main body as teams of fast-riding horsemen attacked the flanks of the Spanish force. Dismounted Indians quickly loaded additional weapons for the riders, allowing the Indians to keep up a rapid fire. Soon small groups of Indians began to circle behind the Spaniards in an attempt to cut off their avenues of retreat.

As darkness fell, Ortiz Parrilla's men stood demoralized and dismayed. Because of desertions and enemy reinforcements, his officers petitioned him to withdraw. Reluctantly, the commander ordered the retreat, but he officially declared the expedition a success. The Spaniards claimed to have killed one hundred Indians, including the Taovayas chief, and to have captured 149 in the initial engagement. Spanish casualties were nineteen dead, fourteen wounded, and a few deserted. Leaving in haste, Ortiz Parrilla's force abandoned most of their supply trains and both cannons. The Indians celebrated the victory with dances and songs but did little to harass the retreating Spaniards.

The defeat of the Spaniards at the Battle of the Twin Villages seriously injured their prestige and honor in the region, although the two warring sides would make peace in the coming years.


Henry Easton Allen, "The Parrilla Expedition to the Red River in 1759," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 43 (July 1939).

Donald E. Chipman, Spanish Texas 1519–1821 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1992).

Elizabeth A. H. John, Storms Brewed in Other Men's Worlds (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1975).

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society (unless otherwise stated).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Chad Williams, &ldquoTwin Villages, Battle of the,&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

Oklahoma Historical Society | 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 | 405-521-2491
Site Index | Contact Us | Privacy | Press Room | Website Inquiries

Red River War Battle Sites Project

In the summer of 1874, the U.S. Army launched a major campaign against the Southern Plains Indians in an attempt to permanently remove the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians from the region and move them onto the reservations established in western Indian Territory, now Oklahoma. This campaign, fought largely in the Texas Panhandle, is known today as the Red River War.

Cattle barons like Charles Goodnight established large ranches in the Texas Panhandle within a year after the battles ended. Roads and railroads soon crossed the region. With the influx of new settlers and the establishment of towns across the plains, the locations of many of the battle sites of the Red River War were quickly lost or forgotten.

Recognizing the historical significance of the battle sites, the Archeology Division of the Texas Historical Commission (THC) initiated the Red River War Battle Sites Project in 1998, aided by a grant from the National Park Service's American Battlefields Protection Program. The project had three purposes: to precisely locate and document the more significant sites to nominate sites for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and to evaluate each of the sites for heritage-tourism potential.

Download the 2010 travel guide, Red River War of 1874-1875, Clash of Cultures in the Texas Panhandle (PDF) or travel through time with our Red River War mobile tour.

Read more about Texas military heritage.

Read more about the Red River War Battle Sites Project in the Handbook of Texas Online.


The Red River Campaign of 1864 was one General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant's initiatives to apply simultaneous pressure on Confederate armies along five separate fronts from Louisiana to Virginia. In addition to defeating the defending Confederate army, the campaign sought to confiscate cotton stores from plantations along the river and to give support to pro-Union governments in Louisiana. By early April, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks' Union army was about 150 miles up the Red River threatening Shreveport. Confederate Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor sought to strike a blow at the Federals and slow their advance. He established a defensive position just below Mansfield, near Sabine Crossroads, an important road junction. On April 8th, Banks’s men approached, driving Confederate cavalry before them. For the rest of the morning, the Federals probed the Rebel lines. In late afternoon, Taylor, though outnumbered, decided to attack. His men made a determined assault on both flanks, rolling up one and then another of Banks’s divisions. Finally, about three miles from the original contact, a third Union division met Taylor’s attack at 6:00 pm and halted it after more than an hour's fighting. That night, Taylor unsuccessfully attempted to turn Banks’s right flank. Banks withdrew but met Taylor again on April 9th at Pleasant Hill. Mansfield was the decisive battle of the Red River Campaign, influencing Banks to retreat back southward toward Alexandria.

Red River

The Red River begins at the southern border between Minnesota and North Dakota and flows north through Manitoba and into Lake Winnipeg.


The Red River winds its way through downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba. Photo taken on 14 May 2015.

The Red River begins at the confluence of the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail rivers and flows north, creating the border between Minnesota and North Dakota. It then passes through Fargo and Grand Forks, North Dakota and is joined by the Pembina River just south of the Canadian border before reaching Emerson, Manitoba. Between Emerson and Winnipeg, the Red River flows through a rich agricultural area, is joined by the Roseau River, and passes through St. Jean Baptiste, Morris, Ste. Agathe and St. Adolphe. It then flows through the urban environment of Winnipeg, where it is joined by the Assiniboine River — the Red’s largest tributary — before returning to an agricultural region and flowing through Lockport and Selkirk on its way to Lake Winnipeg where it drains. Its course is meandering, with numerous oxbow lakes formed along the way. (An oxbow lake begins as a river curve that eventually gets cut off, becoming a lake as the river finds a shorter course.)

Flora and Fauna

The Red River is located in a temperate grassland region however, much of the natural landscape has been converted for agricultural purposes. The land adjacent to the river is home to willow, cottonwood, American elm, Manitoba maple, green ash, bur oak and basswood. Bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, quaking aspen, rough fescue and oak can be found on the surrounding prairie. Mussels, clams, snails, crayfish, walleye, northern pike, channel catfish, burbot, common carp, bass and crappie inhabit the river in addition to salamanders, snapping turtles, western painted turtles, three species of frog (wood, boreal chorus and northern leopard), muskrats and beavers. Great blue herons, belted kingfishers, ducks, geese, golden eagles, bald eagles, falcons and hawks are common migratory birds. The surrounding prairie is home to white-tailed deer, rabbits and ground squirrels.

Environmental Concerns

Water quality is a concern in the Red River,and is affected by both natural (e.g., sediment) and human (e.g., contaminants) substances. The river supplies drinking water to municipalities in southern Manitoba, Minnesota and North Dakota, as well as water for industrial and agricultural activities (e.g., irrigation). As a result of human activities in these regions, the Red River contains higher than normal concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, which enter the river through agricultural and urban runoff (e.g., fertilizers, feed lots, lawn fertilizers and household chemicals). High phosphorus concentrations have led to eutrophication (enhanced plant growth and decreased dissolved oxygen) in upstream lakes and wetlands, which has negative consequences for water quality and ecosystem diversity. Air pollution, as well as discharge of treated municipal sewage, also contribute to poor water quality. In one instance an accidental release of untreated sewage in September 2002 in Winnipeg led to high levels of fecal coliform upstream and in Lake Winnipeg.

The Red River has a lot of suspended sediment, particularly when floods erode the river banks. Because sediment acts as a repository for certain chemicals released into the environment, too much exposure to sediment can be harmful to aquatic species. Moreover, sediment makes the water more difficult to treat for human consumption. Contaminants bind to the suspended particles, or hide behind them, making it more difficult for water treatment plants to kill pathogens.


Flooding at Ste Agathe, Manitoba. The 1997 flood was the largest in 145 years. The Red River floods Selkirk, Manitoba, and subzero temperatures cause the flooded overflow to freeze. Flood waters surround St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, c. 1950.

The Red River is prone to severe flooding, particularly during the spring as snow melts and river ice breaks up. Major floods in 1826 and 1852 both contributed to the destruction of the original Upper Fort Garry (Winnipeg). Since then, severe flooding has occurred in 1861, 1950, 1966, 1974,1979, 1996, 1997, 2006, 2009 and 2011. The 1997 flood was termed the “flood of the century,” as it was the largest flooding event in 145 years. In Manitoba, it created a flooded area of about 2,000 km 2 (dubbed “the Red Sea” by the media) and caused more than $500 million worth of damage.

Evidence indicates that both the magnitude and frequency of flooding has increased. Numerous small communities have constructed ring dykes to reduce the risk of damage due to flooding, and, in 1968, the city of Winnipeg built the Red River Floodway, which diverts floodwaters east around the city. The floodway was instrumental in mitigating the effects of flooding in Winnipeg during the 2009 and 2011 floods.


For thousands of years before contact with Europeans, the Red River basin in what is now Manitoba was inhabited by the Sioux and Saulteaux (an Ojibwa people). The Red River and its tributaries were significant to transportation,trade and fishing,while the surrounding land was important for hunting and ceremonial activities. Archaeological evidence indicates early attempts at agriculture near Lockport in the early 1400s, and fishing and trading camps at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red rivers, commonly known as the Forks, dating back 6,000 years.

Prior to European exploration of the Red River, the Sioux, Saulteaux, and neighbouring Cree were in contact with Europeans through trade at York Factory, a post on Hudson Bay, south of the Nelson River Delta. Trade came closer to home for these First Nations groups when, under the direction of Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, Sieur de La Vérendrye, Fort Maurepas was built near the mouth of the Red River (1734) and Fort Rouge was built at the Forks (1738). These forts were soon abandoned, but with the establishment of Fort Gibraltar in 1809 (later Upper Fort Garry), the Forks remained an important hub for transportation and trade. In 1812, the Red River Colony — a settlement encompassing the length of the Red River — was established by Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. As Europeans continued to colonize the Red River Valley, the Métis population grew. In 1869, Louis Riel led the Métis resistance at Upper Fort Garry, formed a government, and created the province of Manitoba.(See also Métis Settlements, Red River Rebellion.)

River // Key Terms

Drainage area (or basin)

The land surface area surrounding a river, typically bounded by higher elevations, where all of the rainfall or snowmelt flows into that river.

Mean drainage

The average volume of water that flows out of the river over a specific unit of time, usually cubic metres per second. The average is calculated for the entire year, but there are months when flow is naturally higher or lower.


A river or stream that flows into a larger river. The point at which the two rivers meet is called the confluence.

Watch the video: The Red River War MIni Documentary- INED