A U.S. Army force, the Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition, was sent in mid-1834 to negotiate with southern Plains Indian tribes who endangered Santa Fe traders and frustrated government efforts to move eastern tribes west. After expeditions in 1832 and 1833 had failed to contact Plains Indians, Brig. Gen. Henry Leavenworth, commander of the Southwestern Military Department, and Col. Henry Dodge and his recently established First Dragoon Regiment were assigned to Fort Gibson with instructions to persuade the plains tribes to respect the immigrating Eastern Indians and white traders.
The dragoons departed Fort Gibson on June 15, 1834. Many of the regiment's officers, including Lt. Col. Stephen W. Kearny and First Lt. Jefferson Davis, later earned fame in the Mexican War and Civil War. Accompanying the expedition were also civilians, including George Catlin, an artist determined to paint pictures of the Plains Indians. Thirty Cherokee, Delaware, Osage, and Seneca warriors served as guides and hunters. Leavenworth had obtained two Plains Indian women, previously abducted by the Osages, to return to their tribes as goodwill gestures. By the time the expedition encamped near the Washita River's mouth, nearly one-third of the regiment was incapacitated by disease, which necessitated reorganization into six companies of forty-two men each. General Leavenworth, wracked by a high fever, abandoned plans to lead the dragoons and ordered Dodge to proceed.
As Colonel Dodge's contingent marched west, signs of Indian activity increased. On July 10 the regiment entered the Cross Timbers, the boundary between the Plains Indians and their eastern neighbors, and picked its way through dense brush for three days before reaching the plains. On July 14 Dodge encountered Comanche, who led him to their village. There the soldiers encamped, establishing a hospital for the latest fever victims. Because the Comanche chief was absent, Dodge was unable to arrange negotiations, and he proceeded west to a Wichita village he had learned about from the Comanche. Leaving more men at another sick camp, the 183 remaining men moved slowly through the Wichita Mountains.
On July 21 the dragoons encountered Wichita, including the father of a woman accompanying the expedition. Their reunion facilitated negotiations the next day, and Dodge invited the tribe to send representatives to Washington. During the parley Dodge failed to obtain a ranger private captured during the 1833 expedition, but he succeeded in winning the release of a white boy kidnapped earlier in the spring. During the second day of negotiations the Comanche and Kiowa appeared. Dodge established friendly relations with the Kiowa by returning a woman abducted by the Osages in 1833. After urging the three tribes to refrain from attacking whites and Eastern Indians, on the afternoon of July 25 Dodge, accompanied by more than twenty Plains Indians, marched his men eastward.
Colonel Dodge sent General Leavenworth a report of his meeting and his plan to return to Fort Gibson by the most direct route. Despite his fever Leavenworth and a small force had followed Dodge. While in the Cross Timbers, the general died on July 21, the same day Dodge reached the Wichita village. Unaware of the general's death, Dodge paused a few days near the Canadian River and then pushed rapidly eastward. By mid-August the expedition reached Fort Gibson. Small parties of the sick straggled into the post for several weeks. Deaths continued at the rate of about four to five a day. From his room in the hospital Catlin estimated that as many as 150 had died since June.
Dodge wrote, "Perhaps their [sic] never has been in America a campaign that operated more severely on man and horses." In military terms the expedition was a success. Colonel Dodge accomplished his mission, but the price paid did not produce corresponding results. Although the expedition led directly to the signing of the first treaty with the Plains Indians, the southern plains would not be pacified for another half-century.
Brad Agnew, "Brigadier General Henry Leavenworth and Colonel Henry Dodge, 1834–1835," in Frontier Adventurers: American Exploration in Oklahoma, ed. Joseph A. Stout, Jr. (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1976).
Brad Agnew, "The Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition of 1834," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 53 (Fall 1975).
George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians, 2 vols. (4th ed.; London: David Bogue, 1844).
Louis Pelzer, ed., "A Journal of Marches by the First United States Dragoons, 1834–1835," Iowa Journal of History and Politics 7 (July 1909).
Fred S. Perrine, ed., "The Journal of Hugh Evans, Covering the First and Second Campaigns of the United States Dragoon Regiment in 1834 and 1835," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 3 (September 1925).
George H. Shirk, ed., "Peace on the Plains," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 28 (Spring 1950).
The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Brad Agnew, "Dodge-Leavenworth Expedition," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=DO004.
© Oklahoma Historical Society.
Links of Interest
- Joseph A. Stout, Jr., ed., Frontier Adventurers: American Exploration in Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1976)., The Gateway to Oklahoma History