Friday, October 17, 2014


Of the two battles, 1874's Second Adobe Walls is the more famous event, but the November 25, 1864 Battle of Adobe Walls has enough drama and consequence to make it deserving of more recognition. There's an obvious Civil War connection worthy of investigation, but it was also one of the continent's largest Indian Wars engagements.

Alvin R. Lynn's Kit Carson and the First Battle of Adobe Walls: A Tale of Two Journeys (2014) is a non-traditional treatment of the subject. The research is adequate enough to construct a reasonably good overview of the campaign's background, approach march, battle, and aftermath, but, as the subtitle indicates, the narrative is really a combination of history and personal travelogue. The author spent well over a decade of dusty field work attempting to accurately trace the path of Carson's command from Fort Bascom in New Mexico to Adobe Walls in the Texas Panhandle, so his own "journey" is integrated into Carson's.

Kit Carson's historical campaign was undertaken in response to 1864's bloody upswing in western trail raiding. The battle, fought between a few hundred New Mexico and California volunteers (with Ute and Jicarilla Apache scouts) and 1,300 or more Kiowa and Commanche warriors led by Dohäsan, was indecisive, with a pair of howitzers instrumental in keeping the aggressive Indian forces from the type of close range combat that might have overwhelmed Carson's command. Both sides claimed victory in the 29 day campaign. While Carson retreated from the field, Lynn views the complete destruction of the Kiowa village and heavier than previously believed Indian casualties as reasonable factors to justify U.S. claims. This part of the book is less than 90 heavily illustrated pages, the rest (more than half the total) is devoted to Lynn's archaeological discoveries, complete with methodological discussion, artifact tables, relic distribution maps, and photographic register of each unearthed item.

The author's maps of the Carson march route and the battlefield itself are disappointingly spare, lacking both period detail and modern reference points. The B&W as well as selected color photographs, on the other hand, are wonderful visual records of campaign related sites and vistas, many of which are probably little changed today. Unlike a recent study of the 1862-65 U.S.-Sioux war that began in Minnesota, Lynn is less interested in developing a Civil War context for Adobe Walls. Overall, the book leaves ample room for a better campaign and battle history of First Adobe Walls but those interested in the growing field of military archaeology will relish Lynn's thoroughly documented labor of love in that regard.

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