Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Ranald Slidell Mackenzie was one of the most capable officers in the frontier army and would probably be one of the most famous were it not for the circumstances of his retirement and death. Mackenzie was born on July 27, 1840, near Tarrytown, New York. He entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1858 and graduated first in his class in 1862. During the Civil War, Mackenzie gained a reputation for bravery and distinguished leadership and finished the war with the rank of major general.

After the war, Mackenzie served briefly with the Army Corps of Engineers before being assigned to a field command. In 1871 he was given command of the Fourth Cavalry Regiment with the rank of colonel. In the next few years Mackenzie pioneered the use of large bodies of troops on the Llano Estacado in Texas, fought several engagements with Comanches and Kiowas, and led a controversial raid on a Kickapoo village in northern Mexico. Mackenzie's most famous fight was his victory at the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, which was instrumental in putting an end to the Red River War. In 1876 Mackenzie participated in Gen. George Crook's campaign against the Northern Plains Indians. He spent the rest of his active career as a roving troubleshooter on the Texas border and in New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado.

In November 1883 Mackenzie, now a brigadier general, established his headquarters in San Antonio as the new commander of the Department of Texas. By this time he was behaving in an erratic manner, and his condition quickly deteriorated. After an incident that left him beaten and tied to a wagon wheel, Mackenzie's aides put him on a train to New York, where he was briefly committed to the Bloomingdale Asylum. He was released after a few weeks but never regained mental stability. He died on January 19, 1889, almost forgotten by the general public, and was buried at West Point, New York.

Michael D. Pierce Tarleton State University

Pierce, Michael D. The Most Promising Young Officer: A Life of Ranald Slidell Mackenzie. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993.

Wallace, Ernest, ed. Ranald S. Mackenzie's Official Correspondence Relating to Texas, 1871-1879. Lubbock: West Texas Museum Association, 1967-68.

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