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Savage Frontier Volume II 1838-1839

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This second volume of the Savage Frontier series focuses on two of the bloodiest years of fighting in the young Texas Republic, 1838 and 1839. By early 1838, the Texas Rangers were in danger of disappearing altogether. Stephen L. Moore shows how the major general of the new Texas Militia worked around legal constraints in order to keep mounted rangers in service. Expeditions against Indians during 1838 and 1839 were frequent, conducted by militiamen, rangers, cavalry, civilian volunteer groups and the new Frontier Regiment of the Texas Army. From the Surveyors' Fight to the Battle of Brushy Creek, each engagement is covered in new detail. The volume concludes with the Cherokee War of 1839, which saw the assembly of more Texas troops than had engaged the Mexican army at San Jacinto. Moore fully covers the failed peace negotiations, the role of the Texas Rangers in this campaign, and the last stand of heroic Chief Bowles. Through extensive use of primary military documents and first-person accounts, Moore provides a clear view of life as a frontier fighter in the Republic of Texas. The reader will find herein numerous and painstakingly recreated muster rolls, as well as a complete list of Texan casualties of the frontier Indian wars from 1835 through 1839. For the exacting historian or genealogist of early Texas, the Savage Frontier series will be an indispensable resource on early nineteenth-century Texas frontier violence.

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1 The Texas Militia Takes the Field



The Texas Militia

Takes the Field

December 1837–August 19, 1838

Colonel Henry Karnes, the cavalry commander stationed in San

Antonio, hoped to negotiate peace with the hostile Indian tribes of

Texas. He had most recently concluded a peace treaty with three

Tonkawa Indian chiefs in San Antonio on November 22, 1837. Just days after this accord, Colonel Karnes was notified that more of the aggressive local Indians were proposing to come in to work out a treaty similar to that agreed upon by the Tonkawas.

Karnes’ command was in a sad state by this time, however. The

Texas Cavalry had dwindled to forty-seven enlisted men by the end of

1837. When Karnes was promoted to command of the cavalry, some in

San Antonio resented his taking the local control from his new subordinate, Lieutenant Colonel Juan Seguín, a hero of the Texas Revolution.

Such dissatisfaction even forced Karnes to dishonorably discharge two dozen men. Almost all of his remaining cavalrymen were without horses and ill-prepared to fight in case of a crisis.1


2 “Shoulder Your Arms and Chastize the Enemy”



“Shoulder Your Arms and

Chastize the Enemy”

August 20–October 9, 1838

Two days after Rusk was ordered to disband his militiamen documentary evidence was obtained that proved the Mexican agents had been making proposals to Indian leaders in Texas. On August 20, the chief Mexican agent, Captain Julian Pedro Miracle, was killed on the

Red River by a Spanish man named Alexander Peñeda who had recently been held by Miracle as a prisoner. The journal and papers of Miracle were translated by Dr. A. G. Wright. These papers made their way into the hands of Daniel Montague, a Texas Militia leader of the Fourth Brigade, Fannin County Deputy Surveyor Seth Parker, and Asa Hartfield.1

Word was quickly spread of what was found on Miracle. In addition to his detailed journal, instructions from General Vicente Filisola were found which instructed him to visit with the leaders of the

Indians of Texas. Miracle’s correspondence showed that he had recently visited both the Kickapoo and Cherokee villages in east


3 The Kickapoo War



The Kickapoo War

October 9–18, 1838

As the Surveyors’ Fight survivors were struggling back to civilization, Major General Rusk was preparing his Texas Militia for another foray against the hostile Indians in East Texas. Almost all of the men who had followed him on the previous August 1838 expedition had been discharged back into civilian life. Word of the Killough

Massacre would help him secure new volunteers to assist Major

Mabbitt’s Fort Houston forces.

At 2:00 a.m. on October 11, Rusk was awakened from his bed in

Nacogdoches by a courier of Indian agent Charles H. Sims. The letter from Sims was sent from Fort Lacy. It informed Rusk that Sims had visited the village of Chief Bowles, the war chief of the

Cherokees, the previous day. He had found that the Indians had packed up and were in the process of departing.1

“I wrote a communication to Bowles,” Rusk wrote, “in very positive terms, demanding to know the cause of the movement.” He sent this letter back to the Cherokees via messenger William Goyens, a son of a free mulatto from North Carolina. Goyens had first come to


4 To the Border and Beyond



To the Border and Beyond

October 18–December 1838

News of Tom Rusk’s big battle at the Kickapoo village spread quickly. In Nacogdoches, Colonel William Sparks’ Second Regiment of the Third Militia Brigade of Texas was called back into service on

October 17, 1838. Sparks had commanded the Second Regiment during Rusk’s August campaign to Chief Bowles’ Cherokee village, but his staff had been discharged on August 22.

Determined to aid Rusk’s efforts, Colonel Sparks and Lieutenant

Colonel James Carter organized their staff. The other members were

Major Baley Walters, Adjutant Peter Tipps, Sergeant Major Joel

Burditt Crain, Quartermaster Thomas B. Garrett, First Surgeon James

Harper Starr, and Assistant Surgeon Henry M. Rogers.

Before the Second Regiment could join Rusk, another band of

Indians struck a deadly blow in Houston County only miles from where Rusk’s troops were at Fort Houston. On the night of Thursday,

October 18, 1838, a group of eleven Indians attacked the frontier home of John Edens. He and three other older men were protecting fifteen women and children, many of whose husbands and fathers were presently serving with Captain William Sadler’s volunteer rangers.1


5 Campaigns of the Red River Riflemen



Campaigns of the

Red River Riflemen

December 1838–January 7, 1839

Scheme to Raid Nacogdoches Uncovered

Major Baley Walters had a certain ability to glean information from his Indian sources. Through careful scouting and persistent interrogation of friendly Indians in December, he was able to uncover a planned night raid on Nacogdoches.

Walters had served with Colonel Sparks’ Second Regiment of the

Third Militia Brigade until its staff had returned to Nacogdoches on

November 13. He was then detailed by Brigadier General Kelsey

Douglass to take some men and monitor Indian activities around the

Cherokee Nation in East Texas.

During mid-December, he scouted in and near Chief Bowles’

Cherokee Nation, including the Neches Saline. Walters worked much of the time from the big Shawnee village just east of the Cherokee land in present Rusk County. Douglass had successfully enlisted a thirty-man mounted Shawnee spy company under his command.

Although Indian companies had not been employed by the Texas


6 Morgan Massacre and Bryant’s Defeat



Morgan Massacre and

Bryant’s Defeat

January 1–January 16, 1839

The new year of 1839 would prove to be a busy and bloody year on the frontiers of the Republic of Texas. Indian depredations, battles, and campaigns were more frequent than in any other year since

Austin had colonized Texas.

In the Third Militia Brigade, word soon reached General

Douglass that Rusk and Dyer’s Three Forks expedition had been concluded. Secretary of War Johnston wrote to President Lamar on

January 9 of his latest offensive plans. He explained that Douglass had been authorized to raise 800 volunteers, half to serve as infantry and half as mounted men. These men were to join one militia company and about 150 friendly Indians under Douglass who were already in the field.

I deem this force with that in the field under Gen. Rusk, together with the regiment to be raised under the command of

Col. Karnes, sufficient to prosecute the war with the Indians to a speedy termination.1

If General Douglass’ force was brought into active service,


7 Moore’s Comanche Raid and theBattle of Brushy Creek



Moore’s Comanche Raid and the

Battle of Brushy Creek

January 17–February 1839

Captain John Wortham’s rangers mounted up and departed Fort

Houston on January 22, expecting a confrontation with Indians. They had received reports that the Indians were on the move near Hall’s trading post, which was located about twelve miles away on the

Trinity River.

Wortham’s frontiersmen had not reached the Trinity, however, when a courier raced up on horseback with a message from Lieutenant

Colonel Jacob Snively. North of Fort Houston on the Neches River at the Neches Saline, Snively was still stationed with his Texas Ranger battalion. With him were the companies of captains James Timmins,

James Cleveland, and Lewis Sánchez. In addition, he had two Indian companies, the largely Cherokee ranger company of Captain James

Durst and Captain Panther’s Mounted Shawnees. From camp on the fringe of the Cherokees’ territory, Snively stated in his express that he fully expected to be attacked by a band of Indians the following morning.1


8 The Córdova and Flores Fights



The Córdova and

Flores Fights

March 1–May 18, 1839

Ben McCulloch’s Peach Creek Fight: March 1839

The winter of early 1839 was brutal in southwest Texas, with hard freezes and ice that snapped tree limbs and even many trees. The severe cold lasted about two weeks and cloudy days prevented ice and snow from melting. This cold snap occurred during mid to late

February 1839. It was during this harsh weather that an expedition was organized against the Indians by a soon to be famous Texan.1

Benjamin McCulloch, a veteran of San Jacinto, was twenty-eight years old at this time and a resident of Gonzales, where his younger brother Henry Eustace McCulloch had joined him during 1837.

During this period, the Tonkawa tribe of Indians was camped at the junction of Peach and Sandies creeks, about fifteen miles northeast of


Prior to the great sleet storm, Ben McCulloch had made an agreement with a portion of the Tonkawas to join him and other white volunteers in a winter expedition against the neighboring hostile Indians.


9 Bird’s Creek Fight



Bird’s Creek Fight

May 19–Early June 1839

Walters Ordered Away From Cherokees’ Saline

President Lamar, having decided that the Cherokees were conspiring with Mexico to forge another assault on his young republic, authorized Major Baley Walters to raise two companies to be stationed at the Neches Saline. Walters, a veteran of the 1838 Kickapoo battle, was to occupy the saline, located in present Smith County just inside the Cherokees’ claim.

The village of Chief Bowles was located near the Saline, just east of the Neches River. His village had moved several times since the

Cherokees had first entered Texas. His three hundred to four hundred tribesmen had made their home on the Sabine River in northeastern

Texas in 1828. In 1836, Bowles had been in the village that was about fifteen miles southwest of present Henderson. As many as six other

Cherokee villages existed north of Nacogdoches during the late 1830s, including that of Chief Big Mush south of the present town of Rusk.1

By 1838, the large tribe of Cherokees under Chief Bowles had moved their village to a location near the Neches Saline. In the course of operating his salt business at the Saline, Bowles entered into partnership with Dr. Elisha DeBard, who had been wounded at nearby Kickapoo and thereafter lived near the Saline. The Cherokees considered this Great Saline their tribe’s business source and were therefore aggressive defenders of this natural commodity.


10 The Cherokee War



The Cherokee War

June–July 16, 1839

About ten days after receiving Lamar’s ultimatum, Chief Bowles finally reported in mid-June that he and Chief Big Mush were unable to reach a peaceful agreement. From Fort Lacy, agent Martin Lacy,

Dr. Jowers, John Reagan, and their interpreter Cordray again visited the Cherokee leader near present Alto.

Reagan was impressed with how the Indians and his little negotiating party managed to carry on the talks.

These conferences produced a strong impression on my mind for two reasons. The first was that neither the agent nor the chief could read or write, except that Mr. Lacy could sign his name mechanically; and neither could speak the language of the other. The second was the frankness and dignity with which the negotiations were carried on––neither tried to disguise his purpose nor to mislead the other.1

Bowles told the negotiators that the younger men of his tribe were ready for war, although he and Big Mush wished to avoid it.

According to Reagan, Bowles said that the young braves “believed they could whip the whites; that he knew the whites could ultimately whip them, but it would cost them ten years of bloody frontier war.” The Cherokee leader said that he had no choice but to stand by his people’s wishes, for “if he fought, the whites would kill him; and if he refused to fight, his own people would kill him.”


11 Pursuit and Removal



Pursuit and Removal

July 17–October 22, 1839

The body of Chief Bowles remained on the battlefield as a grisly testament to the loss of the Cherokees. His lonely skull and skeleton were reportedly still visible on the spot for years. Some felt that his body was neglected by his followers due to a tribal custom which declared that Indians who had been scalped were not to be given funeral honors.1

A September 1, 1841, article in the Telegraph and Texas Register notes that “Some rude chaps scalped the poor chief after his death.”

Other Texans used their knives to cut away pieces of his body for personal charms and souvenirs.

Even those that had missed the fight were quick to mutilate the dead. Captain William Kimbro’s company, which had been sent to

Chief Linney’s Shawnee village on July 15 to disarm the Indians, made its way back to the main battlefield by July 17. Lieutenant

Joseph Burleson witnessed Alfred Polk, a private of Captain Todd’s

Nacogdoches company, “dismount to scalp a dead Indian” but was able to stop the act. The officer admonished his fellow soldier for what he considered behavior “too barbarious and uncivilized.”2


12 Colonel Neill’s Gunmen On the Offensive



Colonel Neill’s Gunmen

On the Offensive

October 23–November 22, 1839

By the end of September, Colonel Edward Burleson’s regular army was gearing up to move to the new capital city which was under construction. President Lamar and his cabinet would transfer the seat of Texas government to Austin by October 1. Colonel Pinckney

Caldwell, quartermaster for the Frontier Regiment, was in Houston on September 27. In a letter written that date, Caldwell indicates that the bulk of the army was preparing to depart Fort Burleson.

I returned to this place yesterday. I have been on a campaign against the Cherokees and other Indians for four months.

They [the army] have been ordered to the city of Austin, our new site of government––I will return to the Falls of the

Brazos tomorrow to join the Army again. From there I will go in a few days to the city of Austin where I will be stationed the balance of the winter.1

During early October, Burleson marched his troops toward Austin, leaving Company D behind to permanently man his namesake fort at the Falls of the Brazos River. The army marched from one old ranger post to another. Camp was next established near the site of Fort


13 Karnes’ Hill Country Comanche Expedition



Karnes’ Hill Country

Comanche Expedition

October 20–December 8, 1839

In Galveston County, the locals had wasted no time in organizing their sixty-man mounted gunmen company following

President Lamar’s August 24 requisition. Sheriff William F. Wilson volunteered his services and was quickly joined by the requisite number of young men from his county. The citizens preferred to raise their company voluntarily in order to avoid being drafted.

J. W. Benedict, a twenty-four-year-old New York native who had settled in Galveston with his family, joined this unit to help “quell the

Indian disturbances upon our frontier.” From the first organization of the Galveston Mounted Riflemen, Benedict kept a private journal of his experiences. He felt that many young Galveston businessmen saw this expedition as a chance to view the interior and thinking no better opportunity would offer itself of accomplishing their own desires and also of aiding their adopted country. On the 7th of September a list was circulated and on the 9th myself with the rest were on board the steamer R. Putnam on our way to the Capitol. As enlisted soldiers with light hearts intent on trusting to our fate in whatever may befall us in a savage wilderness. On arriving at


14 “Short But Decisive Affair”



“Short But

Decisive Affair”

December 1839

The summer’s Cherokee War had scattered the people of Chief

Bowles considerably. One small band of the Cherokees had a brush in late 1839 with Fort Houston settlers led by former General

Nathaniel W. Smith, who had brought his family to Fort Houston from Athens, Tennessee, in late 1838. Smith’s son-in-law, Dr. James

Hunter wrote that, “All we have to fear is incursions from small bodies of Cherokee Indians, burning and pillaging the frontier settlements.”1

Primarily along the Trinity River, General Smith had quickly purchased more than 50,000 acres of land in Houston County. He planned to locate some of his land in the former Cherokee Nation north of Fort Houston between the Neches and Angelina rivers. While out surveying, the party ran into a band of Cherokees, as Dr. Hunter wrote.

Eighteen of us, General Smith among the number, went up to their country to look at lands. We were too careless, thinking they would not attack us. They fired on us about 8 o’clock at night before we had stationed our sentinel.



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