Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls: A Tale of Two Journeys, by Alvin R. Lynn, Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 2014, $34.95
Kit Carson’s name automatically evokes adventurous images—both true and mythic—of the exploration and settlement of the American Southwest. Given that fame, it is understandable if Colonel Christopher Houston Carson’s Civil War service has been comparatively overlooked. His principal stand against the Gray was in February 1862, commanding a regiment of New Mexico volunteers at Valverde, a battle that did not go well for the Yanks, even if the Confederate offensive into the Southwest ultimately fizzled. The next year saw him campaigning against the Mescalero Apaches and directing the Navajos on the well-intentioned but agonizing exodus to the Bosque Redondo reservation in New Mexico Territory known popularly as the Long Walk. Carson’s next assignment, in 1864, was an offensive along the Canadian River in western Texas in reprisal for a recent spate of Indian attacks on wagons along the Santa Fe Trail. The 200-mile expedition climaxed at the ruined trading post of Adobe Walls on November 25, as 335 troops and 72 native scouts backed by two mountain howitzers confronted some 1,400 Kiowa, Comanche and Plains Apache warriors in one of the largest battles ever fought on the Great Plains.
Although the outcome at Adobe Walls was indecisive, at least Carson, unlike a certain Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, extricated his command intact. That no doubt is part of the reason Carson’s fight in Texas gets nowhere near the publicity of Custer’s debacle at Montana Territory’s Little Bighorn 12 years later. Carson’s very act of venturing deep into Kiowa- and Comanche-dominated country, where no U.S. Army force had dared go before, set the precedent for future campaigns that led to the defeat of those tribes in the 1874 Red River War. On June 27 of that year U.S. buffalo hunters fought off a Comanche attack in what became known as the Second Battle of Adobe Walls. Ever the well-known pathfinder, Carson—aging, exhausted and destined to die just four years after the First Battle of Adobe Walls—had shown the way one more time.
While researching Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls, author Alvin Lynn closely and quite literally retraced the expedition’s steps. Starting in 1995 and continuing off and on over the next 15 years, he walked the route while searching for archaeological evidence with a metal detector and finding some 80 relevant artifacts to pinpoint locations along the way to an unprecedented degree. The book really comprises two volumes, the first giving a day-by-day account of the expedition, and the second examining the sites and what they yielded to lend new insights to the saga. Profusely illustrated, including photos of descendants of participants from both sides, the book will fascinate scholars of American archaeology as much as it should interest Western buffs unfamiliar with Adobe Walls or anyone seeking a change of pace from the Little Bighorn.