Does that title ring any bells for you western fans? It’s the name of a TV series starring Richard Carlson that ran for one season – 39 episodes – in 1958-59. I’m sure my dad watched it.
Each episode opened like this: “From the archives of the United States Cavalry, the true story of Colonel Ranald Mackenzie and the Cavalrymen he led—‘Mackenzie’s Raiders.’ His secret orders from the President of the United States—clean up the Southwest…make it a fit place for Americans to live…wipe out the renegades, outlaws and murderers. If necessary, cross the Rio Grande, knowing capture means hanging by the enemy…discovery, court martial by the United States Army.
The series was based upon the exploits of Colonel Ranald Slidell Mackenzie. A young lieutenant fresh out of West Point in 1862, when he entered service in the Civil War, he proved himself a brave, able soldier. Wounded six times, he quickly climbed the ranks to brevetted major general by war’s end. Soon after the war, he was transferred to the frontier, where he eventually commanded the 4th Cavalry Regiment for twelve years. The 4th was based part of the time at Fort Clark in south Texas, and part of the time at Fort Sill on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).
Handed a job many men had failed at, Col. Mackenzie did more to tame the southwestern frontier than perhaps any other military commander. While headquartered at Fort Clark, he led those not so secretive raids into Mexico after bandits and raiding Indians, putting an end to a problem that had plagued Texans for decades.
Although Texans had fought and won their independence in 1836, Mexico never recognized Texas as a separate nation, instead considering it to be a province in rebellion. Incursions by Mexican troops and bandits were frequent along the southern border. Then the United States admitted Texas to the union in 1845, setting off the Mexican War. The lopsided conflict lasted a year and a half, from spring 1846 to fall 1847, ending in Mexico’s defeat.
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in February 1848, was a monumental event in the history of the West. In one fell swoop, Mexico ceded to the U.S. all land north of the Rio Grande River. This huge chunk of territory included what are now the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, California and Nevada. The treaty also put to rest, once and for all, Mexico’s claim to Texas. However, it didn’t stop raids by Mexican bandits and Indians determined to drive out the white intruders.
The Comanche, Kiowa, Apache and Southern Cheyenne Indians had ruled the southern plains for centuries, often fighting among themselves and raiding Mexican settlements in Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. With the coming of American settlers, who pushed farther and farther into the Indians’ domain, their raids became ever more frequent and bloody. Attempts to stop them by the daring, unconventional Texas Rangers found limited success, but when federal troops, largely infantry, were pitted against mounted warriors – the greatest horsemen on the continent -- it was a dismal failure. Finally learning a hard lesson, the Army assigned cavalry units to the daunting task.
Key to the campaign was Col. Ranald Mackenzie. He adopted the Indians’ own methods, tracking them to their strongholds and ruthlessly destroying their way of life. This was no gallant knight, but a man intent on bringing peace to the frontier. Called the “Fighting Colonel” and once described by Ulysses S. Grant as “the most promising young officer in the Army,” Mackenzie accomplished his goal. As commander at Fort Sill, he oversaw the surrender of the last free Comanche band, the Quahadi, led by their great war chief, Quanah Parker.
Tragically, Ranald Mackenzie met a sad end. In late 1883, he suffered a mental breakdown and was declared unfit for duty. He never recovered, dying in 1889.
Book excerpt: Col. Mackenzie appears twice in Dearest Druid (Texas Druids, Book 3 -- still under construction.) In this scene, the main characters, Rose and Jack, have arrived at Fort Sill and are just meeting Mackenzie.
Slim and middling tall, the youngish looking man was far from imposing, but Jack knew him to be a ruthless Indian fighter. He’d defeated the Comanche, Kiowa and
Southern Cheyenne in what whites called the Battle of
Palo Duro Canyon, burning lodges and winter food supplies and ordering more
than a thousand Indian ponies shot. Left afoot and starving, the tribes had
been forced onto reservations.
The commander nodded at Jack and gave Rose a smile. “Col. Ranald Mackenzie, ma’am. May I ask your name?”
“Aye. ’Tis Rose, Rose Devlin, sir,” she said, nervously fiddling with her shirt collar.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Miss Devlin. I understand you need my assistance.”
“Aye, sir, we must go to Jack’s mother. She’s very ill and perhaps I can help her, but I won’t know until we get there, and –”
“Whoa, slow down,” Mackenzie said, holding up his good hand, keeping the other with its two missing fingers – the reason Indians called him “Bad Hand” – behind his back. He aimed a piercing look at Jack. “What’s this about your mother, LaFarge?”
“I got word a few days ago that she’s near death.”
“Sorry to hear that, but I suspect I’d rather not know how you found out.” When Jack didn’t respond – he wasn’t about to admit Tsoia had jumped the reservation to bring him the bad news – Mackenzie turned to Rose again. “May I ask why you think you can save the woman, Miss Devlin?”
“I-I’m not a’tall sure I can, but I’m a healer, ye see. So when Jack, uh, Mr. LaFarge asked if I might help his mother, I . . . agreed to try.”
Jack hid his amazement behind a blank stare. His captive had just told an outright lie for his sake. No, for his mother’s sake, he corrected himself.
“You mean you’re a physician?” the Colonel asked, sandy brows knitting.
“No, but I’ve knowledge of herbs and such. ’Tis a skill passed down through my family.”
“Ah, I see.” Mackenzie turned to Jack. “I take it you want my permission to escort Miss Devlin to your mother’s lodge, is that right?”
Jack nodded once. “I figure a paper from you ought to prevent trouble.”
“Mmm.” Crossing his arms, Mackenzie paced slowly back and forth in front of his desk, thinking. After a moment, he stopped to face Rose. “Ma’am, are you sure you wish to do this? You could be putting your life at risk.”
Briefly meeting Jack’s gaze, she lifted her chin. “I’m sure, Colonel. Mr. LaFarge has protected me from danger several times. I trust him to keep me safe on the reservation as well.”
She trusted him to protect her. Glad as he was to hear that, Jack knew she did not, in fact, trust him completely. Along with the flash of longing in her eyes last night, he’d read fear. What lay behind it, he didn’t know, but he vowed to find out.
Ranald S. Mackenzie on the Texas Frontier by Ernest Wallace
Empire of The summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
Western Clippings: Do You Remember? by Boyd Magers