The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 43, July 1939 - April, 1940

EIGHTY-SIX HOURS WITHOUT WATER ON THE
TEXAS PLAINS
W. CURTIS NUNN
Not long ago I was in Washington, D. C., making an historical
investigation concerning life on the Texas frontier in the eighteen
seventies. Among the records I came upon were two of the most
extraordinary reports of human suffering connected with the
Plains of West Texas that I have seen. These documents both
picture the tragedy of thirst-the torture a detachment of United
States cavalrymen endured for eighty-six hours in 1877 when,
on an Indian scout, they became lost on the Staked Plains west
of the present San Angelo. The accounts were found in the
Old Records Division of the Adjutant General's Office in the
Department of War.
The first of these reports was made by the post surgeon of
Fort Concho, Captain J. H. T. King, who described the affair
with startling vividness. Captain King wrote as follows:
On the evening of August 4th, 1877, two non-commissioned
officers and one private belonging to Company "A" Tenth Cavalry,
came into Fort Concho, Texas, reporting that Captain Nolan and
Lieutenant Cooper with twenty-six soldiers, while in pursuit of
marauding Indians, had wandered amongst the sandhills on the
Staked Plains; that no water could be found, and that when last
seen, the whole command was exhausted and dying of thirst.
A relieving party, to which the writer was attached, was organ-
ized at once and left immediately in search of the missing men.
After a rapid march of sixty-two hours we reached Capt. Nolan's
supply camp situated seven miles north-east of the Mucha Koway
mountains and one hundred and forty miles from Concho, where
we learned that Capt. Nolan, Lieut. Cooper and all the men
except four had just come in safely one hour previously. As the
lost men advanced toward us, we remarked their changed appear-
ance since we had last seen them, a few weeks before, their aged
and care-worn faces portrayed the hardships they had undergone,
while additional gray locks and other indications of suffering
were visible. The following is the painful history which they
narrated.
Capt. Nolan, Lieut. Chas. L. Cooper, and forty troopers of
Company "A", 10th Cavalry, with eight pack mules had for some
days been scouting in the region of Double Lakes and Cedar Lake
looking for Indians. On the 26th of July 1877, a rumor was
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 43, July 1939 - April, 1940. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101111/. Accessed September 1, 2015.