Beall's 1849 Expedition


Maj. Ben Beall to Lt. John Dickerson, 2d Arty., AAAG, Head Quarters, 9th Military Dist.

Don Fernando de Taos, NM, March 12, 1849


Agreeably to a letter of instructions from Head Quarters 9th Mily Department, dated 27th January 1849, directing me to “proceed as soon as possible to the country inhabited by the Kiowa Indians” for the purpose of releasing “a number of prisoners in their possession who have been captured in New Mexico,” I have the honor to submit the following report.

On the morning of the 10th ultimo I left Taos with Company I 1st Dragoons under the command of 1st Lieut Whittlesey accompanied by 2d Lieut. J. H. Adams 1st Dragoons acting adjt to the Detachment, and asst. Surgeon H. R. Wirtz. I crossed the mountains of the “Rio de la Mora” by different passes and through deep snow and reaching the Prairie on the eastern side I was joined Lieut. A. Pleasanton in command of Co. H, 2d Dragoons, on the 14th. I then took the most direct route to the Arkansas River and camped on the “Rio Lempa” on the 22d being then within thirty miles of Bent’s Fort.

It appears that news had reached Bents Fort from the “Green Horn” that a military force was en route to the Kiowa Nation to liberate the Mexican prisoners in their possession and accordingly on the evening of that day I received a letter by express from the Fort from the U. States Indian Agent for the Upper Platte and Arkansas (Mr. Fitzpatrick) and also one from an influential resident at the Pueblo. The purpose of these letters was as follows—That the Indians in the vicinity of the post were at present exceedingly civil, but that if forcible measures were resorted to in order to liberate the prisoners in the hands of the Kiowas, the lives and property of the Americans residing in that portion of the country would be in the most imminent danger if they were not absolutely compelled to leave the settlements at the sacrifice of all they possessed. The Indian Agent, therefore, requested that I come on to Bents Fort in advance of my command in order that we might confer together about the feasibility of the expedition. On the following morning, I marched to the Arkansas, and early the next day reaching the Fort encamping my command on the South bank of the Arkansas river.

By the letter of instruction to me directed, I understand that every possible measure was to be adopted in order to secure the liberation of the captives in the hands of the Kiowa Indians, but that if they could not be obtained “peaceably” they must be obtained “otherwise.”

I was convinced by the opinion of every person on the Arkansas who was acquainted with Indian affairs that to obtain the Mexican captives by peaceable means was a thing impossible and great stress being laid in the above mentioned letter of instruction upon the desirability of a continuance of the friendly relations between the Kiowas and Whites I was in doubt how to act.

On arriving at the Fort I learned from the U. States Indian Agent that the greater part of the Kiowa nation was absent on a great hunt with the Comanches and that but a few lodges were at that time on the Arkansas River. The majority of the prisoners I also understood were with the absent party.

The expediency of an attack upon the few Kiowas who were then on the Arkansas (for I was convinced they would not release their captives without a fight) and the chance of losing thereby those persons who were with the remainder of the nation, thus defeating in a measure the object of the expedition, induced me to call a council of my officers, and I now present for the consideration of the comg officer of the 9th Mily Department my reasons for acting as I have done, and the conclusion which I have adopted.

1st In the first place I thought it best to learn the disposition of the Kiowas in regard to their prisoners, and I obtained the following information—the majority of the captives are women who are married to Indians and have by their numerous children. This portion is perfectly satisfied, with but a few exceptions, to remain, and even if offered their “liberty” would doubtfully refuse to leave a nation with which they have so many ties. The male portion of the captives have become perfectly barbarianised, and in their mode of life and custom have affiliated themselves            more or less completely with their captors. These individuals if liberated would be totally unfitted for and made miserable by the usages of civilized life. The Indians themselves are much attached to their prisoners from affection or cupidity and would fight for them with as much tenacity as for their own people. I therefore saw that the Kiowa would must certainly give us battle rather than give up a portion of their own nation as it were into our hand.

2dly  The feasibility and expectancy of successfully resorting to forcible measures was there to be considered. (1) The great map of the Kiowa nation was absent. The majority of the prisoners was with them. To attack those who were in camp on the Arkansas was no easy matter.  Here was a Kiowa lodge, there Arapahoe lodge; here again a Kiowa lodge — there a Cheyenne lodge, for about fifteen miles along the river bank, indeed so interrupted and scattered were they that in a sudden attack upon the Kiowas, many Indians of other tribes would have been there fired, and many Kiowas would have escaped.  To tell them the object of the expedition, to order them to separate themselves and fight us, would have been the extreme of folly, inasmuch as if they did present a bold front, the prisoners would certainly be run off or if there was no chance to effect this they would massacre them rather than let them fall into our hands. (2) Even supposing it to have been reasonable to have obtained every prisoner there from the Arkansas, all hope would have been lost of our regaining by forcible means the remainder and the majority.  In the inaccessible vastness of the mountains and in the wide spread plains of the Indian country they would have hidden them from us most probably successfully. (3) Again — several Comanche chiefs have lately arrived at this post suing for peace.  Now the Comanches have more prisoners than any other tribe of the Plains, and as a peace with the Comanches was considered a desireable object by the U. States Indian Agent, and as a statement of the object of my expedition would most certainly have interrupted such arrangements by informing them that the United States intended to take all prisoners from the Indians forcibly and not purchased them as has always been done heretofore I give to this consideration also its proper weight. (4) There was still another consideration of great importance, namely defenseless condition of the American citizen on the Arkansas, far away from the new Mexican settlements, exposed to the cruelty of outraged savages and unable by their number or strength to stand such odds.  The effect of a fight with the Kiowa would have certainly have broken up the prospect of civilization along the course of the Arkansas and the valley of the “greenhorn.”

Under these adverse circumstances I concluded according to the best of my judgment that it would be to the interest of the service and the general Government to delay forcible measures until I could lay the state of the case before the army officer of the 9th mily and Department and at the same time to avail myself of every piece of useful information I could collect for their action.

That the expedition might not be unproductive of useful results, and there being present at the fort several principal Chiefs of the different tribes, I concluded to call them together in Council and give them some advice and information with regard to the present State of New Mexico, Texas and the Plains carefully advising in conformity with my conclusions herein stated, any mention of the Mexican Prisoners in the hands of the Kiowas.

Leaving Bents Fort on the 2d inst, I directed my course up the Arkansas, ordering Lieut. Pleasanton with his command to return to Santa Fe via the Mora intending myself to reach this post with Company I, 1st Dragoons via “Sierra Blanca” leaving the Spanish peaks on my left.

The passage of this mountain was very difficult.  The snow in many places ten or fifteen feet deep, and was only by the most untiring exertion on the part of the command in beating down the drifting snow that a track was formed. The command reached this Post on the 9th inst.

Subjoined are the minutes of the council, and two letters from the U. States Indian Agent, and one from a citizen of the Pueblo.

I am very respectfully your obt. Servt.,

B.L. Beall, Major, 1st Dragoons Comy

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Thomas Fitzpatrick to Beall

Bents Fort, February 2, 1849


Being at the Puebla a few days ago on my way to the Katty [?] I learned that you were en route for this place, and being apprehensive that some difficulty might arise out of your mission I thought it best to return and be present. There are great numbers of Indians in this vicinity at present all of which are exceedingly civil, but should you be obliged to resort to harsh measures in regard to the Mexican prisoners I doubt much whether they will remain civil longer than your presence will keep them in awe. Such a state of things, you are aware will leave many American citizens in a very dangerous situation in this country. But I hope that your judicious management in the matter will not leave the least appearance of danger behind. Your arrival here at this time is very opportune for more reasons than one, as four Comanche Chiefs suing for peace have just arrived.

You may rely implicitly on my cooperation with you and would be glad if you could arrive here in advance of your command in order that we might confer together on the whole subject.

Thos. Fitzpatrick

I have just arrived last night late in haste.

Thomas Fitzpatrick to Beall

Bents Fort, February 24, 1849

Sir, For the purpose of fulfilling, and carrying out the 4th article of the late treaty between the United States and Mexico (which obligates the United States to liberate and restore to Mexico all persons in possession of Indians residing within the territories of the United States), being the object of your visit here at present, with your command. I hope you will not consider me presuming too much if I take the opportunity of submitting my opinion and views on a matter which so deeply interests the general government, as well as many American citizens whose business leads them into this remote and unprotected region.

I am not aware, nor do I make pretentions of possessing any power or authority whatever that could give one a right to interfere in the smallest degree with the performance of your duty or instructions. On the contrary I feel bound by duty as well as inclination to cooperate with and aid you to the utmost of my abilities, and inasmuch as I consider myself acquainted with the disposition, manners, customs, habits and prospects of the Indian tribes of this country, as well as the situations of the whites thereby, I respectfully lay before you the following statement in order that you may thus more readily decide on the most proper course to pursue.

There is immediately in the vicinity of this place at the present time, a portion of several tribes—Cheyenne’s, Kiowas, Aripahoes [sic], Apache, and a delegation of Comanche Chiefs now in this fort who have first arrived and are immediately suing for peace with the American people. Of all these tribes, the Kiowas are the only tribe who have prisoners amongst them, and I am quite certain that they will never surrender them without ransom of by force of arms, which if resorted to will not only cause the death of some of the prisoners, but will drive them once more into an inveterate state of hostility against us. What is meant by force of arms causing the deaths of a part of the prisoners is that, whenever the Indians are attacked on their account, those having any in possession will immediately will put all those to death whom they suppose have any inclination to leave them. A similar effect with a like policy will be produced on the Comanche, who have, perhaps more Mexican prisoners than all the others put together, and are now, as before observed, within this fort seeking the “olive branches”. But the greatest difficulty which I perceive you are likely to meet with in the accomplishment of the object of the present campaign is that the Indians are so scattered and interspersed, that in making an attack on any encampment you will liable to injure necessarily olf each of the above tribes and thereby embroil yourself with the whole.

In bringing to you notice all of the foregoing considerations you will perceive that I have said little or nothing in regard to the very dangerous, and precarious situation which such a state of affairs as I have referred to, would place many American citizens pursuing a lawful and laudably, and laudable business in this country. But the many disasters and misfortunes which American citizens have been subjected to in this country, are well known, yet up to this moment there has never been the slightest effort made towards their protection, or redress for wrongs.

The foregoing is but a brief and hasty writing of what is likely may arise out of any attempt to obtain the Mexican prisoners by force of arms. Indeed, the whole matter seems to be so different from the first and various usages of the United States government towards the red man, that I can with difficulty, and only because coming from so respectable source, realize or believe the fact. It is well known that any thing taken in war by Indians, according to their notions is of more value than any other sort of property, inasmuch as it becomes a portion of the history and fame of the warrior.

When I first became acquainted with the article of the treaty which is the subject of this letter I at once came to the conclusion that congress as soon as practicably devise and means for its fulfillment, by appointing commissioners, or agents to treat with the friendly tribes and thereby accomplish the object amicably. I wish to be understood as having no objection whatever to any thing or course you may see proper to pursue. I only beg to be allowed to say that this is not the proper season of the year to accomplish this object in view, over winter, is your command sufficiently strong in case of a union of the bands now almost together, as it were in one camp on the river.