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Savage Frontier Volume III 1840-1841

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This third volume of the Savage Frontier series focuses on the evolution of the Texas Rangers and frontier warfare in Texas during the years 1840 and 1841. Comanche Indians were the leading rival to the pioneers during this period. Peace negotiations in San Antonio collapsed during the Council House Fight, prompting what would become known as the Great Comanche Raid in the summer of 1840. Stephen L. Moore covers the resulting Battle of Plum Creek and other engagements in new detail. Rangers, militiamen, and volunteers made offensive sweeps into West Texas and the Cross Timbers area of present Dallas-Fort Worth. During this time Texass Frontier Regiment built a great military road, roughly parallel to modern Interstate 35. Moore also shows how the Colt repeating pistol came into use by Texas Rangers. Finally, he sets the record straight on the battles of the legendary Captain Jack Hays. 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 casualty lists and a compilation of 1841 rangers and minutemen. For the exacting historian or genealogist of early Texas, the Savage Frontier series is an indispensable resource on early nineteenth-century Texas frontier warfare.

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The Comanches

January–February 1840

Four unknown riders made their approach to the outskirts of

San Antonio as the sun set low into the afternoon sky. Three wore the accoutrements of Comanche Indians––breechclout, leggings, moccasins, and buffalo skin robes to ward off the cool winter air.

The fourth horse bore a small young captive, secured to his horse to prevent his escape.

The four riders were hailed by San Antonio citizens as they neared the edge of town. The Comanches cried out loudly for

“Colonel Karnes,” demanding to speak with him.

The Indians were told to wait with their prisoner while someone was sent to fetch Karnes. The three Comanches who had thus entered San Antonio on January 9, 1840, sought to speak to a man familiar to their people from previous peace negotiations.

Although known to the Indians to seek peace, Colonel

Henry Wax Karnes had also led several campaigns against the

Comanches and other warlike Texas Indian tribes. A hero of the Texas Revolution, twenty-eight-year-old Karnes had consistently served as a leader of cavalry forces in and around the San





The Council

House Fight

March 19, 1840

On the morning of March 19, two Comanche runners entered

San Antonio and announced the arrival of a party of sixty-five men, women, and children. This peace party included many chiefs and warriors, plus one old man and about thirty-two women and children. The only prisoner they brought along, however, was one fifteen-year-old girl––Matilda Lockhart––whose appearance was shocking.

Matilda––the niece of early Texas Ranger Captain Byrd

Lockhart––had been captured by Comanches near the Guadalupe

River on December 9, 1838, with four other children. After fifteen months of captivity and abuse, the teenage girl was not a pretty sight. Local San Antonio resident Mary Ann Maverick saw

Matilda that day and recorded her condition in her memoirs.

She was in a frightful condition, poor girl, when at last she returned to civilization. Her head, arms and face were full of bruises, and sores, and her nose actually burnt off to the bone––all the fleshy end gone, and a great scab formed on the end of the bone. Both nostrils were wide open and denuded of flesh. She told a piteous tale of how dreadfully the Indians had beaten her, and how they would wake her from sleep by sticking a chunk of fire to her flesh, especially to her nose, and how they would shout and laugh like fiends when she cried. Her body had many scars from fire, many of which she showed us.1





Spring Expeditions

April–July 1840

Nine days after their Council House losses, a war party of at least two hundred Comanches rode down to San Antonio on

March 28 looking for a fight.

Chief Isomania, veteran of an earlier fight with frontiersman Jack Hays, boldly came into town with another Comanche.

They rode into the San Antonio public square, tauntingly circling around the plaza on their horses. The two paraded some distance down Commerce Street and back again, shouting all the while for the Americans to come out and fight them.1

Chief Isomania was nearly naked, his body streaked black with war paint. In front of the local saloon on the northeast corner of the public square, he halted his horse. Rising in his stirrups, he angrily shook his clenched fist and shouted defiantly. Mary

Maverick wrote in her memoirs, “The citizens, through an interpreter, told him the soldiers were all down the river at Mission

San José and if he went there Colonel Fisher would give him fight enough.”2

Chief Isomania did just that. He and his war party rode up to the mission, located four miles below town, and dared the soldiers to come out and fight. Colonel William Fisher was confined to his bed due to a fall from his horse and Captain William Redd was in acting command of the post.





The Great

Comanche Raid

August 1840

The Comanches of central Texas were stirred up to a fever pitch. They had not forgotten how their chiefs had been killed in

San Antonio in March. They had tried to provoke a fight in the week after the Council House affair, but the Texas soldiers had refused to fight them on account of the temporary truce. Captain

Cunningham’s little party had fired into another Comanche camp in early July. By late July, the Comanche leaders were planning a bold offensive against their white aggressors.

The Indian offensive was reportedly encouraged by General

Valentin Canalizo, the military commander of northern Mexico, who was headquartered in Matamoros. Dr. Branch Archer, the

Texas secretary of war, had given a warning to the country in

June of the dangers of attack. Since no attack had come, one early settler recalled, “the occasion became derisively known as the

‘Archer war.’”1

Canalizo’s spies had likely cautioned the Indians to delay their attack until Colonel Wheeler’s militia regiment broke up in mid-July. The Penateka Comanches mourned their thirty dead during the spring months of 1840, and then moved north by May





“If We Can’t Whip ’em,

We Can Try!”

August 1840

Ben McCulloch was determined to organize a group of men who would aggressively seek out a fight. As he neared Gonzales, he dispatched Alsey Miller to find Captain Mathew Caldwell, who was returning with a group of men from chasing other


Arch Gibson, also dispatched as a courier by McCulloch, rode hard to the Bastrop area, where he reached Colonel Edward

Burleson at noon on August 10. Burleson had orders from

Secretary of War Branch Archer, but immediately decided that this crisis overrode any standing military orders.

Burleson wrote Archer on August 10: “I am now raising all the volunteers in [my] power to go to their assistance.” He planned to ride out the following morning, in company with some of his trusted Tonkawa scouts.2

Burleson called a meeting and the men agreed to try to intercept the Indians at Isham Good’s cabin on Plum Creek, about twenty-seven miles below Austin. Burleson dispatched riders to round up volunteers.

Across the river from Burleson’s Mount Pleasant plantation, Thomas Monroe Hardeman and Susan Burleson, cousin of Edward Burleson, were enjoying their wedding ceremony.





Moore’s Comanche

Village Raid

September–October 24, 1840

General Huston arrived back in Austin on Friday, August 14.

Colonel Burleson’s Bastrop volunteers returned home several days later, on August 17. Burleson brought in a “magnificent

Comanche cap” from the fight, presenting it to his old San

Jacinto buddy George W. Bonnell, the editor of the Texas Sentinel in Austin.1

The Gonzales volunteers also reached home several days after the Plum Creek fight. Henry McCulloch had postponed his own wedding to take part in the pursuit of the raiding Comanches.

The battle won, he returned home to take up his vows, marrying

Jane Isabella Ashby on August 20, 1840, at the home of his wife’s brother-in-law, Bartlett D. McClure.2

Felix Huston, correctly perceiving that the Comanches were on the run, proposed to President Lamar that a militia expedition be dispatched into Comanche country immediately to finish the chastisement of the Indians. Lamar rejected this recommendation, likely because of his animosity toward Huston.





The Great

Military Road

October 25–December 31, 1840

On the night following John Henry Moore’s assault on the

Colorado River Comanche camp, the settlement of Franklin in Robertson County endured its first ever Indian depredation. Although Indians had passed through this community, the

November 7, 1840, edition of the Austin Sentinel noted this to be

Franklin’s first serious encounter with native Americans.

On the night of October 25, 1840, a party of five or six

Indians––who were believed to be Kichais or Caddos––came into Franklin and stole six horses. A small party of citizens immediately took up the pursuit. Six to seven miles from town, the

Indians were overtaken.1

During the chase, two Indians fell from their horses and were overtaken. One of them was immediately shot down by Andrew

C. Love. The other was charged upon by J. L. Hill, but his gun failed to fire, and he was severely wounded by the Indian. Two other settlers fired at the Indian, but missed him. Love next charged and killed the Indian with his Bowie knife. The settlers then resumed pursuit of the others and killed two more before they had fled the area of the settlements.





The New Frontier

“Minute Men”

January 1–April 7, 1841

The 1841 Texas Rangers

The December 26, 1840, legislation to raise three small companies of rangers was one of the acts most quickly followed up on. Within six days, Captain John Coffee Hays had been elected to command a company that would operate out of San Antonio.

Although already a veteran frontiersman, Hays had never officially commanded his own ranger company until 1841. He had served under Deaf Smith in 1837 and had led scouts on

Colonel Henry Karnes’ June 1839 expedition from San Antonio.

He had also fought at Plum Creek in August 1840. In between his

Indian fights, Hays was frequently leading surveying expeditions out of San Antonio to locate headright claims.

On February 15, 1840, Hays had been recommended to

President Lamar to be assigned to run the northwestern boundary line of Travis County. During March 1840’s Council House Fight, he had been below town on the San Antonio River surveying a tract of land. He was busy in the field throughout the year, locating eighty-nine land certificates in 1840. Twenty-three of these were as far as sixty miles from Béxar, on the Pedernales River.1





The Lewis


April 8–May, 1841

Captain Chandler’s Minutemen

Although George Dolson’s Travis County Minutemen had been the first new county rangers to find a fight, it was the

Robertson County Minutemen who would most consistently find action during 1841. The commander, Captain Eli Chandler, was an old-timer in the ranging system. He had served with

Captain Sterling Robertson’s January 1836 ranging company in

Robertson’s Colony and had briefly served with Captain John

Pierson’s cavalry company that same summer.

Chandler’s rangers were based out of the old settlement of Franklin, which was the original county seat of Robertson

County. This was the northernmost town between the Brazos and

Trinity rivers during its early existence. The town’s blockhouse,

Fort Franklin, was fortified with a brass, four-pound cannon supplied by the Lamar administration in March 1839.1

The Robertson County Minute Men were organized on March

29, one day after Captain Dolson had organized his minutemen in Travis County. Captain Chandler could proudly count some of the ablest rangers of Texas among his minutemen. His first lieutenant, William M. Love, had fought with Captain Harrison’s mounted riflemen in the 1839 Cherokee War and had narrowly missed the deadly Surveyors Fight of 1838 when he returned to fix a faulty compass. Chandler’s second lieutenant, John Marlin, was a trusted scout who had been involved with the Texas





The Village Creek


May 4–30, 1841

Tarrant’s Expedition: May–June 1841

The present Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex area was a hotbed of Indian expeditions conducted by militia and ranger forces during 1841. General Morehouse’s early spring expedition to the

Trinity was soon followed up by another large militia force from the Red River settlements under General Edward H. Tarrant.

A noted lawyer who had settled in the present Bowie County area, Tarrant had replaced General John Dyer as the northern

Texas commander of the Fourth Militia Brigade of the Texas

Militia. His regional headquarters was in Clarksville in Red River

County. He was eager to take to the field to counter depredations against the settlers by the northern Indians living in the area of present Fort Worth. In March, John Yeary’s home in Fannin

County had been attacked. He had been badly beaten, but had fought off his attackers.

Shortly after the attack on the Yeary family, General Tarrant received word of another Indian depredation in his district. This occurred on April 10, 1841, against the Ambrose Ripley family, who had settled in 1837 on Ripley Creek in what later became





“Active and Energetic


June 1841

Edward Tarrant was not satisfied with the result of the Village

Creek expedition. Immediately upon returning to the settlements, he began working to raise another, larger force to return to the area of the Cross Timbers near present Fort Worth.

General James Smith, a gallant warrior of the Creek War under General Andrew Jackson, was commander of the Third

Brigade of the Texas Militia in the Nacogdoches area. He had previously commanded ranger battalions in 1836 and in 1839.

By early June 1841, Smith was also busily organizing volunteers from the Nacogdoches area for an expedition into the Cross

Timbers area.

As he was writing a report to President Lamar on June 13 in Nacogdoches, Smith was handed intelligence from Captain

David Gage out in the field. Gage had taken his Nacogdoches

County Minutemen out to pursue Indians near Nacogdoches.1

Captain Gage’s Nacogdoches County Minutemen had been organized in early April. When the unit formed on April 4, Gage’s muster roll shows that he initially recruited thirty minutemen.





The Gulf Coast


July 1841

West Texas Rangers Captured

Stephen Dincans and his two fellow rangers found themselves on a very lonely vigil in a remote area of Texas. Members of Captain John Price’s Victoria rangers had gone into service on January 3, 1841, just days ahead of Jack Hays’ San Antonio rangers. His small ranger unit had scouted continually between the Guadalupe and Rio Grande rivers. During April, Price had established his ranging area around a good watering hole west of the Nueces River.

Captain Price had asked that each of his rangers equip themselves with three good horses while out in service. Dincans had done so, but he had since been forced to leave one of his horses just west of the Nueces, about thirty miles above Corpus Christi.

With his two remaining horses, Dincans and fellow rangers John

Blackwell and Thomas Lane were ordered to remain in camp in late April as the company rode back east for more provisions.

During the time that they were gone, however, the four-month service period which Price’s rangers had been authorized by the





“Bravo Too Much”

August 1841

Chandler–Erath Expedition: August 1841

Captain George Erath apparently bought into the philosophy that the best defense is a good offense. Involved with the Texas

Rangers since 1835, he had learned early the value of keeping mounted patrols in the field.

My policy was to penetrate the Indian country and to keep a few men continually in the territory occupied by the Indians, by those means harassing them and compelling them to retire for fear of having the camps discovered and being attacked by larger numbers.1

Erath’s Milam County Minutemen operated from Fort Bryant during the summer of 1841. Home of San Jacinto veteran

Benjamin Franklin Bryant, Bryant’s Station included the fortified blockhouse and was located on Little River in extreme western present Milam County. The site is designated by a marker six miles west of present Buckholts.2

Erath’s minutemen had already made three expeditions since their organization on April 11, 1841. Making preparations to set out on his fourth expedition on July 16, Erath found plenty of volunteers. He allowed a number of them to volunteer into his company as temporary substitutes for some of his regulars. Each man would be paid six dollars per day for the expedition.





Enchanted Rock and

Bird’s Fort

October–December 1841

The Legend of Enchanted Rock

After operating with as many as forty-five men in August

1841, Captain Jack Hays trimmed his Béxar County Minutemen unit to a more efficient size. Muster and pay rolls show that he returned to the field with only nineteen privates under his command on September 1. Public debt papers for his September company show Hays to be “Capt. of Minute Men in 1841.”1

All of the nineteen rangers now operating with Captain Hays had been under his command for the Uvalde Canyon expedition in late June, where Joseph Miller had been wounded. Hays’ own hand wound and John Trueheart’s chest wound from their recent

July 24 Llano River fight were not serious enough to keep them from their horses in September.

Hays’ rangers were out for a full month from San Antonio, disbanding again on October 1, 1841. The interesting thing about his command this particular month is that little has been recorded about what specifically his men did on this expedition.



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