SAN ANGELO, Texas — This is the tale of how Colonel Ranald Mackenzie went from being the “most promising young officer” at the start of his career to an Asylum in New York and his place in Fort Concho history.
Colonel Mackenzie was a decorated veteran of the Civil War and was stationed at Fort Concho where he led the 24th Infantry Regiment of Buffalo Soldiers. It was in 1871 that he assumed command of the Fourth United States Cavalry at Fort Concho and the following summer he began a series of escapades in an effort to drive renegade Indians back onto their reservations. His men were known as the Mackenzie’s Raiders who aided him in two victories during the Red River War, which forced the Comanche, Kiowa, Cheyenne, and the Arapaho Native America tribes from the Southern Plains. By the end of 1872, he had killed 23 warriors and taken 123 women and children prisoner from a Comanche camp to Fort Concho.
By the summer of 1875, the Red River War had officially ended after Mackenzie’s destruction of five Indian villages in Palo Duro Canyon as well as their horses. Shortly after he took control of Fort Still as well as the Comanche-Kiowa and Cheyenne-Arapaho reservations.
Mackenzie led several more years of success in his field until 1883. By this time he had become Brigadier General Mackenzie and was given the command of the Department of Texas which led him to San Antonio where an old flame also resided. The old flame was a woman by the name of Florida who by 1883 was ten years a widow. Before her first marriage, however, she and Mackenzie had shared a mutual affection for each other which still burned as they announced that they were to be married by Christmas the same year.
Tragically Mackenzie was already in severe decline by the time of this announcement and had rapidly been getting worse even turning to heavy drinking making it increasingly difficult for the General. The night before they were supposed to be wed Mackenzie and a few citizens from San Antonio had a severe altercation that figuratively put the nail in his coffin.
This had been the last straw for his subordinates who were convinced he had lost his mind and thus he was removed from command. Mackenzie was taken to Bloomingdale Asylum in New York where he was diagnosed as insane and retired from the Army. He was quoted to have said, “I would rather die than go to the retired list.”
Mackenzie died on January 19, 1889, and Florida Sharpe never remarried passing away in 1946.
According to Fort Concho legend, his spirit still haunts Fort Concho grounds. His is associated with the sound of knuckles cracking, something he had a habit of doing in life and is said to have been seen at times in Officers’ Quarter 3, a building he resided in when he wasn’t away on his campaigns.