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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
In the spring of 1840 a third attempt to treat with the Comanches resulted in the Council House fight, the first of a series of bloody engagements with which all old Texans are familiar, but of which, for the benefit of the younger generation, a large majority of whom are probably, like those of other sections, averse to reading historical works, I beg leave to here insert a brief sketch.
Having signified their willingness to make a treaty to General McLeod, who was in command at San Antonio, they were informed by that gentleman that in order to secure a hearing they must bring in all their white prisoners. This they promised to do, but when they came in, brought only one, Miss Lockhart, she informing the commissioners that there were twelve others at their camp sixty miles away.
General McLeod in anticipation of trouble had summoned to his aid another company of militia, and it was well he did so for about thirty warriors accompanied the twelve chiefs who composed the embassy. Therefore, when the chiefs assembled in the council chamber without the other captives, they were informed that they would be held as hostages for their safe delivery. At this the twelve chiefs, headed by my old friend Muguara, true to their character, sprang to arms, preferring certain death to the disgrace of captivity under any circumstances, and not till the last warrior - together with three women and two children - was killed, did the fight cease. Seven white men were killed and eight wounded. Among the killed were Judges Thompson and Hood and Lieutenant Dunnington.
Twenty-seven women and children were held prisoners while a squaw was dispatched to the Comanche camp with a demand for the white prisoners in exchange. Several captives were then brought in and the Indians released. Deeply exasperated at what they deemed an act of treachery, the Comanches returned to their distant home to put their women and children out of harm's way and collect the various branches of the tribe to avenge their fallen comrades. Having perfected their scheme, they a few months later swooped down on Victoria and Linnville, plundering and burning the latter place, killing twenty persons and taking a number of prisoners, together with about two thousand horses and mules.
Apparently satisfied with the result of their raid, they were returning home in triumph when they were intercepted at Plum Creek by two hundred volunteers, conspicuous among whom were old Chief Placido and his little band of Tonkawas. Though the Comanches outnumbered their adversaries more than three to one, they were completely routed, leaving about eighty dead, while there was not a single loss of life on the Texan's side, and only a few wounded, all of whom recovered.
Hoping to put a lasting quietus on the tribe, President Lamar determined to follow up the victory at Plum creek by dispatching Colonel Moore with one hundred men, including twelve Lipan Indians, to find and rout them from their lair, which was located on the Red fork of the Colorado.
The expedition was entirely successful, the camp being burned and the occupants indiscriminately slaughtered, only thirty-four women and children being spared, and they were carried into the settlements and made servants of. It was but the counterpart of the Indians' raid upon Victoria and Linnville, and yet what a different aspect it assumed when the parties changed places. But, in spite of the heavy losses sustained by the Comanches in the three engagements narrated above, "enough for vengeance still remained" as the many ghastly deeds committed in the vicinity of Austin in the four succeeding years bore testimony. They, together with the threatening attitude of Mexico, constituted strong arguments in support of President Houston's claim that the exposed situation of Austin rendered it unsuitable for the seat of government. With hostile savages constantly lurking around (as their ever present moccasin tracks attested) and liable at any time to fire the town, it did seem an insecure place in which to store the archives of the republic. Still the capitol was maintained there till the occupation of San Antonio by the Mexican army rendered the position untenable, in the president's opinion, though the removal thence back to Houston made Gen. Houston many bitter and lifelong enemies. He was assailed through the newspapers; every incident of his life, including the sad domestic drama which darkened his early days and well nigh wrecked a noble life, being mercilessly dragged to the light and perverted to heap ignominy upon him. One of these vilifiers, presuming on the personal enmity known to exist between General Houston and Colonel Neill, reported the latter as saying that "when Houston was wounded at the battle of the Horseshoe, he bleated like a calf; and when he received a scratch at the battle of San Jacinto, he shouted 'Retreat, your general is wounded!'" This was more than Colonel Neill could stand. He came out in a communication to a conservative journal denouncing the story as a lie. Said he: "No personal quarrel, however bitter, could influence me to traduce General Houston's character as a soldier. At the battle of Horseshoe Bend he was the first man to mount the breastworks, and, even when wounded, continued to fight till several additional wounds completely disabled him. And a pretty 'scratch' it was he got at San Jacinto, his ankle being shattered so that twenty pieces of bone were taken out."
Those were dark days for the Lone Star republic - her treasury bankrupt; without credit at home or abroad; racked by internal feuds and beset by cruel and savage foes without; and the little army, which had been raised and equipped, sent to its death in Mexico, while our frontier was without protection.
In these desperate straits France consented to come to the rescue with a loan, to secure which the republic was to give her a lien on the public domain, which would virtually have made Texas a vassal of France.
From this humiliating condition the country was saved by a providential interposition in the character of a personal quarrel between the French representative at the capital and one Bullock, a pugnacious hotel keeper. The facts in the case were substantially these.
M. de Saligny, the French charge d'affaires, kept a pair of fine horses, which he fed on corn, a proceeding which did not long escape the attention of a drove of pigs belonging to Bullock. Having the freedom of the city, the pigs soon became regular visitors at monsieur's stables, ostensibly to pick up the grains of corn scattered on the floor; but, hog like, they were not content with the meager share that thus fell to their portion, and, climbing into the feed boxes, they helped themselves. Becoming exasperated at the troublesome visitors, the hostler finally pitchforked one of them and threw it over the fence. Old Bullock wasn't a man to be trifled with, so he thrashed the hostler, at which De Saligny swore out a complaint against Bullock, which so incensed the latter that when Saligny went over to pay a visit to the United States representative, the Hon. George Flood, who was domiciled at Bullock's hotel, the landlord, ignoring his high official position, promptly ordered him off the premises. The minister applied to the government to redress his wrongs, and, failing to get satisfaction, demanded his passports and returned to France, where his unfavorable report put an end to the pending negotiations.
Thus the amicable relations between the sister republics were disturbed, and a great international treaty which we had sent envoys across the ocean to secure was frustrated by so insignificant a creature as a pig. What M. de Saligny doubtless intended as an injury, proved a fortunate deliverance for Texas. We were poor, but still freemen.
Such was the condition of the country when news of the occupation of San Antonio by General Woll came as a climax to our numerous troubles. Prompt to meet the new danger which confronted us, men hastened to the front to repel the invader. But news traveled slowly, and by the time the Colorado contingent reached Seguin, Dawson and his men had been annihilated and the Mexicans were on the retreat, with Captain Caldwell in close pursuit. I had found out by this time that a man with a family was less eager to get into a fight than were those who were alone in the world; at least that was my experience, and, there seeming to be no further need of our services, Jonathan Burleson, Hutchinson Reed, David Burnett, Jacob Standifer and myself concluded to return home, the rest of the party going on.
The night we stayed at Seguin, Sam Craft's mare disappeared. The next morning our little party, all unsuspicious of danger, started for home. Arriving at the San Marcos, we camped for the night and were sitting down eating our supper when we were startled by the clatter of hoofs and were a moment later apprised of the near presence of a foe when Craft's missing mare ran up to our horses.
We knew at once that she had escaped from the Indians who were doubtless camping on our trail, waiting for us to go to sleep, when they would have fallen upon us. It was getting too dark to see any distance, so we concluded to get away from there as fast as possible. My horse was a poor one, so I caught Craft's mare and appropriated her. The weather was threatening and, the sky becoming heavily overcast, we were soon enveloped in an inky darkness which we trusted would conceal our movements from the savages until we could get a good start on them. By and by the darkness was relieved by occasional flashes of distant lightning, coming nearer, till low, rumbling thunder announced an approaching storm. We rode on at a rapid gait and, on the divide between the San Marcos and Plum creek, we met the full force of the storm, accompanied by the most imposing display of fireworks I ever beheld. There was one continuous flash of lightning darting its tongues of lurid flame so near us that some one suggested we had better throw away our guns. I said "No; hang onto the guns at all hazards and keep them dry if possible; we are liable to have use for them at any time." The crashes of thunder were deafening; the air was so charged with electricity that we could smell the brimstone. Our horses became confused and frightened, as when in the midst of fire, and refused to budge. The rain came down in torrents; but, it was not cold, and we comforted ourselves with the thought that if the Indians were in pursuit their horses were doubtlessly as completely paralyzed as our own. The violence of the storm soon passed, and we resumed our journey at as brisk a pace as the condition of the ground would permit. Late in the night we reached Plum creek, thankful that we had so far escaped. Our horses were considerably jaded and, after crossing the creek, we struck down stream about half a mile, where we turned into the bottom and, dismounting, sat on the wet ground and held our horses till morning, when, cautiously reconnoitering and finding the coast clear, we started back to the road. Soon we had ample evidence that the red devils had been hot on our trail in the large number of tracks they left, where they had apparently lost our trail and circled round in search of us; and had they pursued their search but a little further they would have found us. The rain had saved us by obliterating our tracks; but for that and the warning given by Craft's stolen mare the Indians would have had five more scalps to atone for comrades slain. Satisfying ourselves that they had not gone on in our direction, we breathed free again and felt our scalps to make sure they were in their natural places. Our pursuers had evidently abandoned the hunt.
The story of the Dawson massacre has been too often told in print to require a repetition here. There was, however, one pathetic incident connected with it that I do not remember to have seen, and yet it should not be allowed to disappear from view. Old Zedic Woods, as he was familiarly called, was then living at LaGrange. He had fought with General Jackson at New Orleans and with the Texas army in the war for independence, and was getting well along in years when the Mexican invasion rallied young and old once more to do battle. Although his form had lost its vigor and his eye its keenness, his martial spirit was undaunted and he was among the first to respond to Captain Dawson's call for volunteers. His family and friends tried to dissuade him from going, on account of his age.
"O, no!" said he, "I fought with General Jackson at New Orleans and with General Houston at San Jacinto, and I must give them one more chance at Old Zedic."
The old man and three sons joined the company. The father and two sons, Montroville and Norman, were killed, and Gonzalvo, the youngest, made his escape almost miraculously. As I was not there, I can only "tell the tale as 'twas told to me," but the story current at the time was that Gonzalvo's horse having been shot, a Mexican rushed upon him with a lance. Catching the lance, which was attached to the Mexican's wrist, he jerked his assailant to the ground, and himself mounting the Mexican's horse, dashed among the soldiers, yelling as loudly as any of them; and, having on a Spanish sombrero, he escaped detection amidst the confusion, and thus succeeded in getting through the Mexican line, and, once clear, having a good horse under him, he made good his escape.
Plum creek seemed to be a kind of haunted stream for me. It was at Plum creek where Early was murdered, and his horse, which brought me under suspicion of having committed the deed, was caught among a drove of mustangs, a full account of which is given elsewhere.
Some time after our narrow escape from the Indians at that ill-omened stream, I made arrangements with some parties from Bastrop to go out on the San Marcos and buy land, it being our intention to build a mill there. Mills had been a hobby of mine from the time I could remember. I started out from Webber's prairie alone, expecting to fall in with the balance of the party at Cedar creek. I was too late, however, and, thinking I might overtake them, I kept on to Plum creek, where night overtook me and I concluded to camp. The Indians, though still hostile, were confining their operation principally to prowling around the frontier settlements in small parties, but I took the precaution to turn off the road after crossing the creek, going some little distance up the stream. Feeling little apprehension of danger, I unsaddled my horse and staked him out, and, spreading down my blankets, lay down and was just beginning to doze when I heard an owl hoot a little way below, answered at a short interval by one above, and then another in another direction. I didn't wait to see whether it was owls or Indians, but just saddled my horse and struck out at a lively canter, nor drew rein till I reached the San Marcos, where I found my friends. Our land speculation fell through for want of title by the party holding it. I bargained for a hundred acres, including the site where General Burleson and Firebaugh afterward built a mill, for which I was to pay two dollars an acre, only one-half of it being cash; the other half was represented by a horse. I would like to know what the land is worth at present. There was not then a single settler on the old San Antonio road between Cedar creek and San Antonio.
As the Indian incursions gradually ceased settlers began to move out, but I was never out that way after it became settled. I may be somewhat at fault in locating some of the scenes and incidents in these sketches. Your newfangled maps, all bisected with railroads, throw me off my bearings. If I could get hold of one of those old Texas almanac maps, issued away back before the war, showing the wagon roads and crossings, I would know exactly where I was "at."
And speaking of "crossings" reminds me of a laughable story Jake Harrell used to tell on one of the old pioneers. The old man was one of a party of explorers that went out to look at the country along Onion creek. On his return his friends all gathered in to hear his report, which I give verbatim, as nearly as I can make the English alphabet answer to it.
Said he: "Low down on Ingern creek, down about the Sasser crossin', there's as fine sile as ever was seen on the face of the yearth, but high up on Ingern it's a nasty, rocky country, just precept upon precept."
Saucer crossing got its name from a saucer containing bee bait, which had been set on a stump at the crossing by some early explorer and left there. It is on the road leading from Austin to San Antonio, and may he known by that name still for aught I know. The first settler there was one of old Joe Burleson's sons, known as "Hopping" John on account of a lameness. Others of the early settlers on Onion creek were the Soul and Baker families.
Just above the mouth of the creek on the west side of the Colorado was located old Bobby Mitchell, who, having been the first settler, gave name to the locality, which was designated Mitchell's Bend. Uncle Bobby had his own troubles. He had an old trusted horse, John, which had long eluded the Indians, but one day old John made the acquaintance of a band of mustangs, and, being of a sociable disposition, concluded to take up his abode with them. The old man went out to hunt up John and found him, but the mustangs sped away like the wind, leaving old John far in the rear. Mitchell was riding a very good horse and gave chase. He swore he wanted to kill old John when he kicked up his heels and rushed away as wild as any of the band. His old joints were too stiff to keep pace with them, though he did his level best, and "fairly grunted" in his efforts to get away from his pursuer. Mitchell was very solicitous for the welfare of his animals, and would not see any of them hurt if he could help it. On one occasion he was out looking after his hogs, when his dogs, which always accompanied him, treed a panther. He shot the panther, wounding it, when it sprang upon the two dogs, which were unable to handle it. There was no time to load his gun; the enraged panther seized one of the dogs, and, lying on its back, proceeded to tear its victim with its hind feet. Mitchell jumped upon the panther's tail, thus holding its claws back till the dogs dispatched it.
Just across the river from Mitchell's Bend was Reuben Hornsby's place, which was the first settlement made above Bastrop. The family, consisting of Reuben, senior, and wife, Aunt Sallie; their six sons: William, Malcom, Reuben, Joseph, Daniel and Thomas, and one daughter. With them came Smith Hornsby, a brother of the elder Reuben. He was accidentally killed by one of his own party in an Indian fight. The Hornsbys built themselves a strong fort, which was several times attacked, but never carried. When there were no men on hand to defend it, Aunt Sallie was equal to the task. A party of Indians once made a demonstration of attack when all the men happened to be away. There were several families stopping in the fort, and Aunt Sallie mustered the women and, commanding them to don male attire, armed them with broom sticks and sallied forth. The Indians, surprised to find the place so well garrisoned, took to their heels, leaving Aunt Sallie and her broomstick brigade in undisputed possession. To Reuben and Sallie Hornsby and their bold and hardy sons the country owes a debt which it can never repay. Pitching their camp in the very gateway of the Indian country, they not only maintained their position, but opened their doors to all who chose to avail themselves of their hospitality. Thither in times of peril other families repaired for safety, and, if they needed it, more substantial aid was generously given.
There was another brother of the old man's, Thomas, who came on later. He was a good natured, simple soul; but, not having had the advantages of education to aid a naturally studious mind, he evolved some amusing ideas. He and I were out in camp together, when he fell to talking about the motions of the earth, while we sat around the camp fire after supper.
"Talk about the earth turning over every twenty-four hours," said he, "why, I can convince any man on earth that's got a particle of sense in five minutes that that's all nonsense."
Surprised and curious to hear his formula, I replied:
"If you can do that, Uncle Tommy, your fortune's made."
He got up and cut three stakes, then, pointing to the polar star, he said:
"That's the north star, ain't it?" I agreed that it was. He then set his three stakes in a line with the star.
"There now; you may get up at any time of the night and look at those stakes and you'll find them still in line. That ought to convince anybody that the earth doesn't move."
I knew it was useless to argue the question, so I acknowledged that the proof was convincing.
One other short story I wish to add to the long chapter of Indian outrages, and then we will pass on to another phase of the troubles of the settlers.
It was in 1840 that a little party of men went out to Brushy to kill buffalo. Claiborne Orsburn, a lad of 18, was left to bring up the pack animals while the men killed the game. There were a couple of Indians on the watch and, as soon as the men became engaged with the buffalo, they ran upon Claiborne, shooting his horse and then clubbing him over the head with a gun. Hearing the shots, the other members of the party hurried back to the rescue. Orsburn was stunned by the blow and his assailants, supposing him dead, scalped him. The flow of blood restored him to consciousness; but, hearing the Indians talking, he lay perfectly still for a few moments. He said they seemed to be disputing about the possession of the scalp, and, there being a double crown curl on his head, were apparently discussing the propriety of availing themselves of the remaining one to settle the dispute. Claiborne didn't relish that; so, taking advantage of their momentary distraction, he sprang to his feet, and, at the same instant perceiving Alec Hamilton galloping to his relief, ran to meet him. The Indians made off and, meeting Hamilton, Orsburn's first words were:
"They've cut my head; have they scalped me?"
His companions bound up his head with wet handkerchiefs and brought him to my house, where my wife dressed the wound, which was small, and soon healed over. Claiborne lived to a good old age, raising a large family; dying at his home in Bastrop County, March 6th, 1899.
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