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Savage Frontier Volume I 1835-1837

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This first volume of the Savage Frontier series is a comprehensive account of the formative years of the legendary Texas Rangers, focusing on the three-year period between 1835 and 1837, when Texas was struggling to gain its independence from Mexico and assert itself as a new nation. Stephen L. Moore vividly portrays another struggle of the settlers of Texas to tame a wilderness frontier and secure a safe place to build their homes and raise their families. Moore provides fresh detail about each ranging unit formed during the Texas Revolution and narrates their involvement in the pivotal battle of San Jacinto. New ranger battalions were created following the revolution, after Indian attacks against settlers increased. One notorious attack occurred against the settlers of Parker's Fort, which had served as a ranger station during the revolution. By 1837 President Sam Houston had allowed the army to dwindle, leaving only a handful of ranging units to cover the vast Republic. These frontiersmen endured horse rustling raids and ambushes, fighting valiantly even when greatly outnumbered in battles such as the Elm Creek Fight, Post Oak Springs Massacre, and the Stone Houses Fight. Through extensive use of primary military documents and first-person accounts, Moore documents the organization of the early ranger units and their activities. Of particular interest to the reader will be the various rosters of the companies, which are found throughout the book. Many of these muster rolls have been compiled from multiple sources and not published together previously. For the exacting historian or genealogist of early Texas, the Savage Frontier series will be an indispensable resource on early nineteenth-century Texas frontier warfare.

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1. Attack and Counterattack

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Chapter 1

Attack and

Counterattack

1823–1835

The campground was ominously quiet as the first rays of sunlight filtered through the trees along Sandies Creek. The dawn air was cool on the mid-April morning in South Texas. The tranquility was violently interrupted by the sudden report of rifles and resounding war whoops as more than five dozen Comanche

Indians descended on the scene.

The men of the camp scrambled to make a stand. Improvising breastworks of carts, packsaddles and trading goods, the biesieged fired back at the Indians, who outnumbered them by upwards of six to one. The contest was fierce but it was over before it had begun.

From a small porthole type window in his pioneer cabin several hundred yards away, John Castleman could only watch the massacre in anguish. He was frustrated that he could not assist the besieged and that they had not heeded his advice.

His gut instinct was to open fire with his rifle, however futile the effort may prove to be. Only the pleading of Castleman’s wife restrained him. The first shot he fired would only insure that he, his wife and children would also be slaughtered. Even still, it was difficult to watch as others died before him.

 

2. The Original Ranger Battalion

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Chapter 2

The Original

Ranger Battalion

May–September 1835

Indian encounters began to accelerate throughout 1835 in the wake of the Rio Blanco battle. Noted Texas Ranger George Bernard

Erath wrote in 1844 that, “The war with the Indians began in 1835.”1

While battles with Indians had occurred since the first white settlers arrived many years before, Erath was correct in noting that 1835 was a true turning point in “the war.” The continued heavy flow of immigrants, the continued Indian depredations and the revolution with Mexico during this year forced Texas' provisional government to take new steps to protect its frontiers.

Among the more important steps was the legal creation of the

Texas Rangers during 1835. This fabled body was organized in several stages, as will be seen.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Killing of Chief Canoma: May-June 1835

Within two weeks of the San Marcos battle, a Brazoria-bound party of traders was attacked by a party of Tawakonis armed with bows and arrows. The traders fired on the Indians, killing one and causing the others to flee. A description of this battle was published in the May 2, 1835, edition of The Texas Republican in Brazoria.2

 

3. Frontiersmen of the Texas Revolution

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Chapter 3

Frontiersmen of the

Texas Revolution

September 29 - December 10, 1835

Freshly returned from their Indian campaign, Colonel

John Moore’s volunteers immediately became engaged in a confrontation that ignited the opening shots of what became known as the Texas Revolution. This action would serve as a uniting force to enlist thousands into the effort to gain Texas independence. It also forced the provisional government of the frontier territory to establish a formal military system.

Mexican troops under General Martín Perfecto Cos had originally landed at Copano Bay near Gonzales about September 20 and had marched into San Antonio. In San Antonio de Bexár, Colonel

Domingo Ugartechea, the Mexican military commander in Texas, sent a force of one hundred soldiers under Lieutenant Francisco de

Castañeda about seventy miles east to the town of Gonzales. Their mission was to retrieve a bronze cannon that had been given to the citizens of Gonzales four years earlier to protect themselves against hostile Indians. In light of declining relations between Texas settlers and the Mexican authorities, Ugartechea considered it wise to remove this weapon from the possession of the settlers.1

 

4. "Loathsome Trophy”

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Chapter 4

“Loathsome Trophy”

December 11, 1835 - February 23, 1836

Parker’s Rangers Form Second Company

During early December, the new ranging corps under Major

Willie Williamson was still in the early stages of organizing.

There were only two companies of the previously approved regional rangers in the field, those of captains Daniel Friar and Eli

Hillhouse.

The company of Hillhouse continued to operate from Fort

Sterling and add new recruits during the month under the superintendence of Silas Parker. Parker had been authorized by the

Council to add an additional ten-man company under his charge, but this group would not be assembled before year’s end.

Silas Parker wrote from Fort Sterling on December 17, 1835 to the General Council in San Felipe, informing them of the latest efforts of his rangers.

Through much difficulty, I have engaged about thirty of the rangers under my superintendence. Several of them have lost their horses and the horses continue dying, so that it is extremely difficult to keep horses for them. I find it very difficult to procure provisions. Indeed, I cannot engage any beef or pork for them though store is plenty in the country. Such is the indifference of the people as to the cause of Texas. I have no other chance but to go to those that has cattle to spare and have them valued myself; and the people of my vicinity has turned out all the beef that we had—the amount of which I shall make out in my next. I have drawn about 100 Lbs. Lead & 1 1/2 Keg. of powder from Mr. Lott.

 

5. The Alamo’s “Immortal Thirty-Two”

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Chapter 5

The Alamo’s “Immortal

Thirty-Two”

February 23–March 6, 1836

“Victory or Death”

By February 23, the Texan forces in San Antonio were aware that something big was up. San Antonio citizens slipped out of town, having been warned by a Mexican courier that General Santa

Anna’s advance cavalry was only eight miles away. Lieutenant

Colonel Travis, Dr. John Sutherland and scout John W. Smith left town and soon spied on the advance Mexican forces.1

Travis and his co-commander, Jim Bowie, decided to use the security of the Alamo for a defensive stronghold. Travis scribbled a note appealing for help to Colonel James Fannin in Goliad and sent it off with a young courier named Johnson. That afternoon around 3:00 p.m., Dr. Sutherland left the Alamo, joining company with John W. Smith. They carried a note to Gonzales stating that the enemy force was in sight. Travis also noted that his 150 men were “determined to defend the Alamo to the last.”

The first Mexican troops were starting to pour into San

 

6. The Road to San Jacinto

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Chapter 6

The Road to

San Jacinto

March 7–April 22, 1836

The message of Alamo courier John Smith was read before the

Convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos on March 6, 1836. The delegates had declared the independence of Texas on March 1 and had worked non-stop writing and signing their formal Declaration of Independence for Texas. The convention would then spend the next seventeen days and nights forming the draft for the Republic of Texas’s Constitution. These men, however, had no way of knowing at the time that the desperate appeal of Travis was now too late to respond to.

General Sam Houston, who had been appointed by the convention as commander-in-chief of the Texas Army, departed for

Burnham Crossing on the Colorado River on March 6. He planned to take command of his Texas forces to repel the threat of Santa

Anna’s advancing troops.

At the time of the Alamo’s fall, the ranger company under

Captain Louis Franks was operating near the Little River settlements in Robertson’s Colony. He wrote a letter from the home of

 

7. Parker’s Fort and Little River Depredations

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Chapter 7

Parker’s Fort and Little

River Depredations

April 23 - June 5, 1836

Lieutenant Colonel Griffin Bayne’s rangers arrived on the San

Jacinto battlefield one day after the historic conflict. The group included Captain Wilson’s company and a ranger detachment that had been commanded by Captain Tumlinson prior to the Runaway

Scrape.

Noah Smithwick, who had recently joined Bayne’s party, later described the carnage they witnessed.

The dead Mexicans lay in piles, the survivors not even asking permission to bury them, thinking, perhaps, that, in return for the butchery they had practiced, they would soon be lying dead themselves. The buzzards and coyotes were gathering to the feast, but it is a singular fact that they singled out the dead horses, refusing to touch the Mexicans, presumably because of the peppery condition of the flesh.

There they lay unmolested and dried up, the cattle got to chewing the bones, which so affected the milk that residents in the vicinity had to dig trenches and bury them.1

 

8. Burleson’s Battalion

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Chapter 8

Burleson’s Battalion

June 6–August 9, 1836

Coastal Defense: Captain Burton’s “Horse Marines”

Sprawled in the dunes hugging the coast of Copano Bay, the sentinels studied the outline of the silent Watchman as day broke. The two-masted schooner had slipped into the key deep-water Texas seaport and was awaiting a signal to begin offloading its valuable cargo, provisions to supplement the retreating Mexican Army.

At 8:00 a.m. on June 3, two Texans sent a distress signal to the

Mexican vessel which was anchored in the bay. The schooner’s skipper had his crew run the American Stars and Stripes flag up the mast. When this received no response from the men ashore, he then hoisted the red, green and white Mexican flag. Upon sighting the Mexican flag, the two men on the beach excitedly beckoned for the sailors to come ashore.

The Watchman’s skipper and four other sailors quickly lowered a small boat and boarded it. The Mexican sailors rowed strongly for shore, likely eager for word of how the Texans were holding out against Santa Anna’s superior army.

 

9. A Chain of Frontier Forts

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Chapter 9

A Chain of

Frontier Forts

August 10–December 1836

By the fall of 1836, the corps of Texas Rangers was at an all-time high in terms of number of men enrolled and number of companies.

Colonel Edward Burleson had at his disposal the companies of captains Billingsley, Hill, Lockhart, McGehee, York and Robertson. The original corps, now under Major Burton, included the companies of Captain Putnam and Lieutenant Smith by late August.

During August, authorization was given for Colonel Robert

Coleman to create three additional companies. In September,

Major James Smith in the East Texas area became supervisor of yet another three ranging companies. Although Captain Lockhart’s company disbanded in August, by mid-September there were thirteen ranger companies on the frontiers comprising approximately

450 men in four battalions.1 Not counting later expeditions by the

Texas Militia, this strong showing of ranger companies would not be equalled until 1839.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Captain Robertson’s Senate Race

 

10. Elm Creek and Trinity River Fights

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Chapter 10

Elm Creek and

Trinity River Fights

January–February 1837

The sweeping changes to the ranger forces dictated by the First

Congress took several weeks to complete. Colonel Robert Coleman remained in command of his ranger battalion during December

1836, although the process was already in progress for his own removal.

Major William H. Smith, based initially from Nashville-onthe-Brazos, would eventually command this mounted rifleman battalion during 1837. His quartermasters frequently bought supplies in Nashville, as it was the most sizable town in the

Colorado River area at the time. Hauling contracts were arranged, frequently with local merchants and farmers of the Nashville area, to deliver the supplies to Smith’s ranger posts.1

During January, Coleman’s battalion still consisted of three companies. Each of these was reorganized by the first of the year.

Captain Tommy Barron, the former commander of Company B, took command of the new Company A. His first lieutenant was

Charles Curtis and his second lieutenant was David Campbell.

 

11. Spring Setbacks for Smith’s Battalion

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Chapter 11

Spring Setbacks for

Smith’s Battalion

March–May 1837

By the time Abram Anglin was discharged from service with

Captain Haggard’s Fort Houston area rangers on March 19, he was already an old hand with the Texas Rangers. He had previously served under captains Hillhouse, Seale and Parker during the Texas

Revolution. Anglin had survived the Parker’s Fort Massacre in

1836 and mostly recently on January 28, he had been wounded by

Indians at the Trinity River, narrowly escaping with his life. Three of his fellow frontiersmen had been less fortunate.

Anglin remained undaunted by his recent brush with death.

The frontier service provided adventure. More importantly, it was a paying job that also rewarded its employees with free land in Texas.

Within two weeks of the breakup of Captain Haggard’s company,

Anglin had found a new ranger unit to join.

The battalion he joined would serve an important role in protecting the frontiers as the Texas Army soon began reducing its size. Many of these ranger companies would find their fair share of interesting encounters with Indians during the spring of 1837.

 

12. Stone Houses Fight

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Chapter 12

Stone Houses Fight

June–November 1837

New Mounted Rifleman Battalion: June 12, 1837

The killings near Nashville in May and the recent furloughing of the regular army required action on the part of the Texas

Congress. President Sam Houston officially excused himself from government business for thirty days on June 7, 1837. By means of a joint resolution, he provided himself a month to help organize the new corps of mounted gunmen which would protect the northern frontier in the absence of a regular army.

On June 9, Senator Sterling Robertson published an announcement in the Telegraph and Texas Register stating that the ranging corps needed thirty or forty good horses. Robertson set aside a league (4,428.4 acres) of his own premium land to pay for these horses, at a rate of one dollar per acre. Those interested were to contact Captain John Bowyer or Niles F. Smith, who supplied goods to ranger companies during 1837, at Houston.1

The Second Congress on June 12 officially approved the battalion of mounted riflemen, a corps to consist of six hundred mounted men, rank and file included. The act was entitled “An act for the better protection of the northern frontier.”

 

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