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Copyright © 2002-2003 by Helen J. Eldridge and James E. Eldridge, all rights reserved.
Reprinted here with the permission of the authors.

The morning of July 7th 1848 found Colonel William Gilpin and his battalion of Missouri Mounted Volunteers encamped at Fort Mann, which was located at present day Dodge City Kansas. There had been a series of raids on traffic along the Santa Fe Trail conducted by Comanche Indians in June 1848. These raids culminated on July 4th 1848 with a daring raid on a cavalry detachment commanded by Captain Gabriel de Korponay. Colonel Gilpin had resolved to mount an offensive operation to put an end to these raids. This action signifies a change in tactics in guarding the Santa Fe Trail. Up until this time the army's role was that of escort and defense.

As the morning broke on July 7th 1848, Col. Gilpin ordered Captain John C. Griffin to proceeded with a detachment of men and move south to the Cimarron river in search of the Indians responsible for the raids on the trail. The detachment consisted of Captain Griffin's cavalry Company A, reinforced with elements of cavalry Company B under the command of First Lieutenant Joseph C. Eldridge; a six-pounder howitzer with two sergeants and thirteen privates from Company C (artillery), and five privates from D Company (infantry). A total force of 101 men and officers. I would assume that since this was the first ever offensive strike against the Comanche's, that the detachment had been hand picked by Gilpin.

The detachment departed noon on the 7th and traveled South camping on the banks of Crooked Creek the evening of the 7th. They followed Crooked Creek the following day and reached the mouth of Crooked Creek late on the afternoon of the 8th.  The detachment proceeded east along the north bank of the Cimarron. Just before sundown, Griffin rode ahead, and from a high vantage point observed a stand of trees on the south bank of the river. Captain Griffin wanted to examine the grove of trees in the morning, and order the detachment to cross over to the south side of the river to make camp. (A note for us modern day city dwellers, the reason for the river crossing that evening was in case heavy rains fell that night, then they would have been on the wrong side of the river)

The morning of July 9th 1848 found the troops already on the move as day broke. After a ride of about twelve miles they entered the grove of trees that Griffin had observed and discovered the remains of a Comanche village, which Griffin estimated to have been large enough to have held a thousand Indians or more. Captain Griffin posted sentries and the troop stopped for breakfast and to graze and water the horses. During breakfast, one of the guards reported sighting a mounted Indian. Captain Griffin ordered Lieutenant Eldridge to take twenty men and reconnoiter the vicinity of the abandoned Indian camp.

Lieutenant Eldridge and his men started east when they very quickly met a Mexican boy coming toward them. He was taken into custody and brought back for questioning. He revealed that a Comanche village was just nine miles east of their present location. Captain Griffin prepared the troop for battle and stared eastward along the south bank of the river. As the troop got closer to the village a large body of Comanche warriors were spotted on the north back in battle formation similar to a backwards "C" with their flanks extended out past the center of their line. Capt. Griffin ordered the troop across the river a took up positions across a dry ravine or arroyo from the Indians. Most likely that of Day Creek. From here Griffin could size up the Indian force and had good ground to receive a charge if the Indians so desired.

The Indians line ran from north to south. Their northern flank was on higher ground and their left flank ran down to the bank of the river, with a dry arroyo in their front. Over all a very sound defensible position. Griffin decides that he can successfully attack the Indians on their right flank, but before he can make preparations, the Indians advance into the arroyo exactly where he was preparing to attack. Griffin ordered Lt. Benson and sergeant Clark to clear the Indians from the arroyo and take and hold the high ground on the other side of the arroyo, which they did. However, once they had secured the high ground they found a new threat of about 200 warriors directly in their front, on the reverse side of the hill. Lt. Benson orders a dismount and sets up a skirmish line. The Indians seeing the dismounted troopers move to flank them on their left which was exposed. Lt. Benson's men are now receiving fire form their front and left flank. They are dismounted and therefore fixed in position, but they have the high ground. With the arroyo separating Lt. Benson and the rest of the detachment, there is a very real risk that Lt. Benson's men could be cut off from the main body, and Captain Griffin is aware of their plight. Captain Griffin makes a bold, and some what reckless move. He brings the remainder of the detachment across the arroyo and successful takes the high ground on the opposite side. Lt. Benson is no longer in danger of being cut off, but the entire troop is now endanger of being surrounded. Once on the other side of the arroyo, Captain Griffin orders Lt. Eldridge with twenty men to the aid Lt. Benson. The Indians now move to flank Captain Griffin on his right, which means that both his flanks are now turned. If it had not been for the howitzer, which Captain Griffin finally fired killing two Indians, the Indians would have surrounded them. Had the Comanches been willing to take causalities, the troop would have been in for a rough day or two. But fortunately, this was only a delaying action fought by the Indians to enable the village to be packed up and moved. So just as the Indians were about to encircle the Missourians, the Indians began to withdrew. Captain Griffin order Lt. Eldridge to follow which he did until he was ordered to return to main body of troops. The battle had lasted three hours. The troopers suffered two wounded, Sergeant Gibson of Company A suffered a minor wound to the head and Lieutenant Eldridge was slighted wounded in the hand by an arrow.


See Also:

James Bryant Hoover's Diary
Second Battle of the Cimarron River, July 20th 1848

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