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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
After a few year's residence at the Mormon mills, I procured a fine tract of land down on the Colorado, eight miles below the Marble falls, removing thither in the fall of '55. Here I opened up a fine farm of one hundred acres of bottom land, and built the first frame house I had ever owned, thinking myself settled for life. "Man proposes, but God disposes."
My location was rather isolated, being on the east side of the river, midway between the Doublehorn and Hickory creek settlements. Doublehorn, the name of a little creek which emptied into the Colorado from the west, was derived from the interlocked antlers of two bucks found near the source of the stream by early settlers. The bucks, presumably having met at the spring to drink, became engaged in a dispute, and in attempting to fight it out got their horns interlaced, and, being unable to extricate themselves, starved to death. At the bold spring which is at the head of the creek, in a beautiful grove of Spanish oak, was the home of Captain Jesse Burnham, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren living around in the vicinity. The other inhabitants were mostly Fowlers, one family of which, Levi Fowler's, were my nearest neighbors, the head of the family becoming my chosen companion in hunting bear.
The Doublehorn people were all in comfortable circumstances and had an excellent school, presided over by Professor W. H. Holland, a Yale graduate. The holdings of the different families were large; their houses thus being widely separated, the children had to go from two to three miles to school. The schoolhouse was four miles from my house, and across the river, but in order to give my children the benefit of Professor Holland's superior instruction, I mounted them on ponies and sent them on. The river in its normal stage was fordable, and when it wasn't they had to lose their time. Sometimes a sudden rise cut them off from home, when they had to be ferried over in a canoe, the horses swimming. Such were the difficulties we encountered in trying to educate our children in the sparsely settled frontier districts. The thirty-five pupils under Professor Holland's care ranged from four years up to twenty, their studies ranging over a correspondingly wide territory. I often think of that school when viewing the array of appliances deemed indispensable to the modern school. Among other things there was a large class instructed in the mysteries of astronomy, the only artificial agents to assist in which were maps, and loops made of willow branches. Nature, however, came to the professor's aid, generously contributing an eclipse of the sun, I think, in '59, in which that luminary was fully two-thirds hidden, and a magnificent comet, the finest I ever saw.
My neighbors on the other side in the Hickory creek settlement were all in very reduced circumstances, though some of them had seen better days. They were scattered along the creek from its source to its mouth, each one having a little plot of tillable land. Some of them had a few cattle of their own, and others took stock to keep on shares, as the lower country became settled up. The families were mostly related either by blood or marriage, were all on an equal footing financially, all belonged to the same church, and, take them all together, seemed to be happy and contented.
There was one discordant element in the person of "Bunk" Turner, who was among the first to locate on the creek, having a few cattle, which multiplied and increased until with the influx from other sources the range became overstocked, a state of things which "Bunk" warmly resented. That seeming the only thing to do, he concluded to migrate.
"Where are you going, Mr. Turner?" I asked.
"I dunno," he replied, dropping into a poetical vein -
"Whar the grass grows and the water runs,
And the sound of the gospel never comes."
There were others that had to seek fresh pasture for the immense herds that roamed over the hills in that vicinity. Levi Fowler's sons in '58 located a stock ranch on Pecan bayou, then away beyond the limits of settlement, taking thence 7,000 head of cattle. Thus was the advice of Horace Greely being acted on, the westward movement beginning with the stockman.
Among the Hickory creek settlers was an eccentric genius who was noted in that peaceful community for his profanity till a camp meeting gathered him under its wing, when he repented of his evil ways and faithfully tried to break off his vicious habits, succeeding fairly well in his laudable efforts till Satan in the form of a light-footed ox came to tempt him. In stooping to the beast, Jack incautiously presented a tempting target within range of "Bally's" dexter heel. Whack! Visions of childhood floated across his mind, but quickly recovering from the confusion occasioned by the sudden blow, Jack pulled off his hat, dashed it to the ground, and after a momentary struggle with conscience, addressed himself to the ill-tempered brute as follows:
"Well, Bally, I ain't swore none yet since I got religion, but ---- your soul." And with that he gathered a pole and proceeded to administer a more comprehensive rebuke. That was the story his brother-in-law told, adding his opinion that camp meetings would have to come often if they kept Jack straight. Contrary to experience, however, Jack not only kept straight but turned preacher.
Just below my farm there was a fall in the Colorado which again aroused my penchant for mill building, and having previously disposed of the Mormon mill, I set to work in the winter of '57-8 to build myself a mill from the foundation up. Calling to my aid the full working force of Hickory creek, and a contingent from Backbone valley, together with stone masons, carpenters and millwright, we quarried stone, burned lime and coal and put in a stone wall three feet thick, forty feet long by thirty in width, twenty feet high, laying the foundation upon the solid rock which composed the bed of the river. On top of the stone wall we erected a heavy frame building two stories high, the whole surmounted by a hip roof. The frame was securely bolted down to stone work, the wisdom of such precaution being demonstrated later. The natural fall in the stream being only about three feet, we put in a coffer dam; to facilitate the construction of which we built a boat of several tons burden, which we later employed as a ferry boat for the convenience of customers beyond. The motive power was at first applied through the medium of an undershot or current wheel, which was replaced a year later by a small horizontal wheel known as the Littlepage wheel, the inventor himself manufacturing and putting it in. One wheel proving inadequate, I afterward put in a second. The mill was as well equipped as any in the country, and cotton raising not having then extended into the highlands, there was ample business to pay a handsome profit on the investment. And, by the way, I am of the opinion that farmers in the south will find it the part of wisdom to return to the raising of grain again, at least enough for home consumption.
The dam in the river made a pretty little lake above, which, with the boat above mentioned, became quite popular as a means of recreation, along with fishing parties, who came to avail themselves of the schools of fish that ran up into the tail race while the mill was running and were left high and dry when the water was shut off. A party of the elite once went to the Marble falls for a day's fishing. They had fishing to their heart's content, but the fish failed to respond, and as the dinner hour drew near, and like those fishers of old, "only a few little fishes" were on hand, an emergency for which no provision had been made, a negro was forthwith dispatched to my place to procure the requisite quantity. Making the situation known, the darkey was sent to the race with a bag, when the obliging miller shut down the mill, and in a few minutes the messenger was on his way back to the famished multitude with his sack of fine fish.
In the summer of '60 there came an unprecedented rise in the Colorado, the water climbing into the second story of the mill, doing no damage, however, except to float out a threshing machine which was not secured. A mile alcove the mill there is a cut-off which in a flood takes the current away, leaving the mill in an eddy. The threshing machine, therefore, floated off up stream some sixty yards, where we succeeded in lassoing it and anchoring it to a tree. The rise came very suddenly, the first indication being noticed about noon, the highest stage being reached in three hours, by which time the water was running over the fall without even a ripple to indicate its presence, notwithstanding the volume diverted by the cut. A half mile below the mill the two streams came together, the river bed there narrowing to a deep gorge. There the spectacle was appalling. The maddened waters, freighted with driftwood and trees torn from the banks, rushed into the gorge, hurling the drifting timber high in the air and dashing it against the rocky walls with the roar and crash of a mighty battle. I am told that another flood some years later, went that of '60 several better, rising even to the roof of my old mill, which I am gratified to know held its own and is still intact. Founded on a rock, bolted to the massive masonry, it will stand till the stone itself crumbles.
A man's finest monument is that which he rears for himself. That old mill, which I believe still bears my name, is all the monument I desire. In justice there should perhaps be emblazoned on its wall an incident that occurred during its building.
My dwelling, which stood near the edge of a narrow strip of table land between the river and the hills, was headquarters for a number of the mill hands. One night, just after dark, my dogs ran to the edge of the hill barking furiously at something below. Stepping out to see what game they had flushed, I heard a stone fall among them, by which I knew it was some person, and suspected that he was skulking, as the road ran on the opposite side of the house. It was too dark to make observations and knowing the watchful nature of my canine guards, I didn't give myself further trouble. It was, perhaps, an hour later that a bright light like a campfire was noticed a mile or so above in the river bottom; coupling that with the incident earlier in the evening, we someway hit upon the theory that they must be runaway negroes, which were not desirable additions to the neighborhood.
We determined to investigate, but the light died down, and there being no other means of locating the supposed camp, we deferred the foray till morning. Bright and early a couple of the boys set out to reconnoiter. In an hour, before it was light, one of them returned, confirming our suspicions. A party of five of us then sallied forth, another having remained in the vicinity of the camp to watch the movements of the occupants, who were seen to be negro men. The runaways, too, were early astir, and by the time the storming column reached the camp were off. The dogs of course accompanied the chase, and among them was a noble fellow, half bloodhound, that could be depended on to track anything living. Tiger promptly took the trail and bounded away with the rest of the pack at his heels; we hurried on and directly heard the dogs baying and then a shot. In a few minutes the dogs came back, Tiger bleeding from a shot through the skin under the throat. This put a serious aspect on the affair; we had not counted on armed resistance. The sight of my wounded favorite aroused my wrath and what had before been a mere frolic now became a personal matter. Tiger, who was not seriously hurt, was also apparently eager for revenge, but to guard him against further injury I tied one of the ropes we had brought along to secure our contemplated prisoners with around his neck so as to keep him in hand. Finding him hard to manage I handed my trusty rifle to one of the boys, taking an old-fashioned horse pistol in exchange. The delay had given the fugitives a chance to reload and get away. The river being up prevented escape in that direction. A little way on we came upon a horse which they had stolen on Hickory creek: the animal had bogged in crossing a little creek and, there being no time to waste, his captors abandoned him. The negroes then took to the higher ground. By some accident favorable to the fugitives our party became separated, three of them carrying rifles getting off on the trail with the dogs, leaving me, armed with the old pistol, and two others with only small pocket pistols. For some reason the negroes doubled on their track and came back in full view of our position. We intercepted them and demanded an unconditional surrender, the only reply being the presentation of a rifle in the hands of a powerful black fellow. Thinking that he meant business, I threw up my pistol and without waiting to take sight, blazed away. There was a deafening report and something "drapped," but it wasn't the darkey. I sprang to my feet, the blood streaming from a wound just above my right eye; my right hand was also badly torn and bleeding, and my weapon nowhere to be seen. I comprehended the situation at once. The old pistol had been so heavily charged that when I pulled the trigger it flew into fragments, the butt of it taking me just above the eye. My blood was now thoroughly up, and thinking that the negro had fired simultaneously with myself I snatched a pistol from one of my companions and called to them to charge while his gun was empty. I discharged my piece without apparent effect, the only remaining shot was then a small pocket pistol in the hands of Billy Kay.
"Charge on him, Billy," I commanded.
Billy charged and received a bullet in the groin.
The negro had reserved his fire. By this time the other boys came up, but the negroes had gotten the best of the fight and were off, with the dogs in hot pursuit. Tiger had gotten away when I fell; directly we heard another shot and the dogs returned, Tiger having received a shot through the body. Neither Kay nor the dog were disabled, but Kay's wound was a dangerous one and we made all haste to get him home and get a surgeon. The chase had therefore to be abandoned.
In sorry plight we returned home. In our haste to get off after the game in the morning, hoping to bag them in camp, we had not waited for breakfast, thinking to be back in an hour or two. A messenger was dispatched for Dr. Moore, our Fourth of July orator, sixteen miles away. The doctor came post haste, but could not locate the ball with which Kay was loaded. The neighborhood was aroused and the country scoured in vain. Several days later the fugitives were heard from over on Sandy, where they held up Jim Hamilton and made him give them directions for reaching Mexico. We subsequently learned that the negroes had escaped from the lower part of the state. They were never recaptured, though one or two other parties attempted it. I hope they reached Mexico in safety. That big fellow deserved to; he certainly was as brave a man as I ever met. Singlehanded - his companion being unarmed - he had whipped six white men, all armed, and as many fierce dogs. That was unquestionably the worst fight I ever got into. I think now, looking back over a life of ninety years, that that was about the meanest thing I ever did. Though having been all my life accustomed to such things I did not then take that view of it. The capture of fugitive slaves was a necessity of the institution.
Billy Kay was laid up about two months, the bullet finally causing suppuration, by which means it was located and removed. Tiger's wound eventually caused his death. My injuries soon heated, but I still bear the scar, which might well have been the brand of Cain. The only portion of the double-acting pistol that was ever found was the guard, which caught on a bush some yards away from the scene of battle.
It was curious to note the different views taken of that affair by the negroes - a man and a woman - in my possession. The woman, who was a mulatto, openly avowed her sympathy for the fugitives, while the man, a full-blooded negro, took the other side.
It was, I believe, in 1858 that the grasshopper plague visited our section. They came on the wing and in such numbers that the sun was literally darkened with them. Anyone who has ever looked toward the zenith during a snowstorm will remember that the snowflakes looked like myriads of black specks. That is just the appearance the grasshoppers presented when first discovered. Soon they began to drop, and the ground was alive with them. It was late in the fall and they went into winter quarters, devouring every green thing in sight except the rag-weed, which is intensely bitter, utilizing the denuded bushes and weeds for roosting purposes. When the cold nights came on they were frozen on their perches, and in this state they fell easy victims to the hogs, which devoured millions of them, but there were still enough left to seed the ground for the next season's crop, which they did by boring holes into the earth with their tail-ends. They did not distribute themselves evenly, some farms being almost free of them. On one such place there were only a few dropped down, and the owner thereof, mustering his whole family when the hoppers began to light, gathered tin pans, beating them energetically until the main body of the pests passed over. After his neighbors had received the full force of the invasion he was wont to attribute their affliction to shiftlessness. "If you had just got out and fought them, as I did, you might have saved your crop." Pretty soon, though, there came on another detachment. When they began to drop our hero got out with his tin pans and brooms and "beat" and "shooed" till he was exhausted, but the hoppers kept on dropping, and lost no time in getting to work, cleaning out everything in sight.
In 1859 the first Indian raid was made in the vicinity of Burnet. They were discovered near town, and a party immediately went in pursuit. Being overtaken, the Indians showed fight, one of them slightly wounding Adam Johnson, later a general in the Confederate army, while he in turn wounded an Indian. Billy McGill, a lad of thirteen, had the honor (?) of killing the only Indian left on the ground, and on investigation it proved to be only a squaw. The savages got separated in the retreat, one party of them getting down into the cedar brakes below Burnet, where they made an attack on Joe Allen, the negro previously referred to. Joe had been spending Sunday with his wife at the Mormon mill, and started very early Monday morning for home. In passing through the brake about daybreak he was fired upon by the Indians. He made haste to seek the protection of a house a short distance away, reaching it in safety, only to find it deserted. The enemy did not seem to be aware of the fact so they did not venture to follow. The alarm was given, and all over the country private companies were organized, guards being stationed at intervals to watch for any signs of hostility. The Indian wounded by Johnson was found the next day and dispatched. That was the last Indian seen in the vicinity during my residence.
It would have been a distressing affair had old Joe Allen been killed, as he was the sole support of a poor widow with a large family, among them several grown-up sons. The injustice of the situation forced itself upon my recognition at the time, and I often wondered how it fared with Joe and his wife Mandy when they were free. Two more honest, faithful people could not have been found in all the country. Joe was so entirely trustworthy that his mistress permitted him to hire himself to suit himself, himself collecting his wages, which were faithfully delivered to the mistress, while his own wife went barefooted and in rags, her hire and that of one of her children by a former husband supporting another white family. I had both Joe and Mandy in my employ, and never had the least cause to find fault with either one. At another time the widow's family had a narrow escape from losing their means of livelihood. Joe was wending his way to his work early in the morning, after having Sundayed with his wife, when he was bitten on the leg by a rattlesnake. He had a chunk of tobacco in his pocket, which he chewed up, hastily binding it on the wound with his handkerchief, and went on his way, not losing a day's work.
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