STINNETT, TX (KFDA) - The Texas Historical Commission roadside marker on Texas 207 just north of Stinnett states it clearly.
U.S. Army Col. Christopher Houston "Kit" Carson "made a brilliant defense – called the greatest fight of his career – the Indians won."
But did the Indians actually win the First Battle of Adobe Walls on Nov. 25, 1864, which happened to be Thanksgiving Day?
"That depends on who you talk to," said Clay Rinnick, director of the Hutchinson County Historical Museum in Borger.
"I think they fought to a draw," Rinnick said of the first of two battles of Adobe Walls.
"Look, Carson lost only three troops in that fight," Rinnick said. "But the Indians lived there. Carson and the soldiers then went home after the battle. I guess that's 'winning,' if you want to call it that," he said.
Rinnick said Col. Carson was sent to the Texas Panhandle from Fort Bascom, near Tucumcari, N.M. "He wasn't sure how many Indians were here," Rinnick said.
"The buffalo hunters had come here and they were taking away the Indians' breadbasket" through their indiscriminate killing of the bison that roamed the plains, Rinnick said. The Indians began resisting the hunters' incursion. "So, Carson was sent here to take care of the 'Indian problem,'" Rinnick explained.
Rinnick said Carson and his men were severely outnumbered. "I guess it was about 5,000 to 400," Rinnick said.
When the troops engaged the Indians, Carson soon realized he couldn't win the fight, according to Rinnick, so he ordered his men to commence a tactical retreat.
"When the Army teaches its battlefield tactics to its students," Rinnick said, "they study Carson's tactical retreat. It was that brilliant. He completed the retreat and didn't lose any men."
According to Alvin Lynn, a retired educator and historian who lives in Amarillo, most of the battles fought during the Red River Wars resulted in relatively light casualties. "I think the Army lost maybe five soldiers" during the entire Red River campaign, Lynn said. The Indians didn't suffer huge losses of life, either, he said.
Carson was able to deploy some state-of-the-art weapons against the Indians, Rinnick said, explaining that one of them was an easy-to-move mountain howitzer, a weapon the Indians called the "gun that shoots twice."
Lynn said the ordnance fired from the howitzer would explode on impact, earning the weapon the name the Indians attached to it.
Carson "didn't solve the 'Indian problem,'" said Rinnick.
A decade later, there would be a Second Battle of Adobe Walls. It involved Comanche warriors and 28 bison hunters who were defending the settlement that had been erected at the site.
The fight reportedly ended with a long-distance rifle shot fired by Billy Dixon, whose marksmanship took out an Indian warrior sitting atop his horse. According to eyewitnesses, the shot demoralized the Indians, who then retreated from the battlefield.
Lynn knows Carson's history well. He wrote what arguably is the definitive book – "Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls" -- on the storied soldier, mountain man and trapper.
Carson was a "good soldier," Lynn said. "He didn't read or write well," Lynn said of Carson, adding that Carson's wife wrote most of the correspondence for him.
"He gained a lot of his wisdom from his days as a mountain man and trapper," Lynn said. He explained that Carson traveled with John C. Fremont and others before enlisting in the Army.
"The Indians actually liked Kit," Lynn said. "They called him 'Uncle Kit,' which was a term of endearment."
Lynn recalled that the first Battle of Adobe Walls lasted only part of a day and that the Indians were armed with rifles as well as with their traditional archery weapons and spears. "They weren't very good shots," he said of the Indians, "but then again, neither were the soldiers. They were a little better, but not much better."
The Indians were able to trade for the guns with primarily Mexican traders called comancheros who roamed the region at the time, Lynn said. "They also acquired some of the guns in raids against white settlement camps."
Lynn – who studied geology and archaeology at West Texas State and taught at Dumas High School for three decades -- said he has done a "lot of digging" at the Adobe Walls battle site and has uncovered "quite a lot of artifacts," such as spear tips and arrowheads.
The first battle is considered a "victory" for the Indians, Lynn said, but he added that they lost a lot more than Carson's detachment of soldiers. "They lost almost all their provisions; their teepees, buffalo hides, food, weapons and blankets," he said.
The battle also cost Carson the use of his horses, Lynn said, explaining that the beasts were "worn out" from the fight as well as from traveling to Hutchinson County from Fort Bascom.