THE POWELL MIGRATION TO TEXAS 1854-1856
by O.B. Powell – Published in 1933
|The following account is from the book entitled Some Interesting Sketches in the History of Various Powell Families compiled by O.B. Powell during the years 1921-1933. Nancy Bowen, a daughter of O.B. Powell, has given permission for James Barrett, a descendent of W.G.W. Powell, to transcribe the material, and for the Hood County Genealogical Society to post it on the internet for historical and genealogical purposes.|
MIGRATION TO HOOD COUNTY, TEXAS
My father, Lewis Jasper Powell, was about four years old when the Powells removed from Arkansas to Texas. The date when this removal actually took place is not definitely known. From the best records that I have obtained, it must have been during the year 1856. In talk with my three uncles, Jackson, Robert (Bob), and Charles Powell, who were attending father’s funeral at Spur, in January 1921, it was impossible for them to agree upon any exact date.
From this conference with my three uncles, it was agreed that grandfather, William George Washington Powell, together with several other families, left Scott County, Arkansas, early in the year 1856. From their best recollections, the trip was begun perhaps around April 1, 1856. In Ewell’s “History of Hood County”, one entire chapter is devoted to the early experiences of the Powells’ when they first came to the country now known as Hood County. The date he sets, is in the spring of 1853 or 1854. As Ewell said that he obtained his information, first hand, from grandfather, and as he wrote this history ten years before grandfather’s death in 1897, it may depended upon to be fairly accurate. Ewell states that he obtained his information from a personal conference with grandfather and that he was not certain, himself, just when he settled in Hood County. In McGaughey’s “Reminiscences of the Early Settlers in Hood County,” as published in the “Tolar Standard”, a local newspaper then published at Tolar, it is stated that “Uncle Billie” Powell first arrived in Texas on a scouting and hunting trip in 1852 or 1853 and later settled permanently on Squaw Creek, Hood County, about July or August first, 1856. He based this statement on conversations that he stated occurred between him and “Uncle Billie” on many occasions.
In 1932, I talked with Uncle John R. Powell, the only surviving member of my father’s family, and he set the date when grandfather made settlement on Squaw Creek, at about July 1, 1856. He based his conclusion on the fact that an older brother, George Powell, was born in Scott County, Arkansas, on March 14, 1856, just before they embarked for Texas. He declared that it was a known fact that grandfather and the others made a trip to Texas, prospecting and hunting, several years before they actually settled here. This accounts for McGaughey’s statement that the party landed first in Texas about 1852 or 1853.
I made a special trip to Tolar, Texas, in 1932, and talked with Owen West, who was a lifetime neighbor of the Powell families and whose father came to Texas and settled on Squaw Creek, adjoining the Powells’, about 1860. He was emphatic in declaring that the Powell’s settled on their old homestead place on Squaw Creek four years before his father came to Texas. This would make the date be 1856.
My father has told me, many times, that he was a lad about four years old when they settled on Squaw Creek. He was born in 1852. This agrees with the above references.
Since the party was some two months getting to Dallas after leaving Arkansas, camped near Dallas and Fort Worth for several days before going to the frontier, then camped for several days near what is now known as Thorp Springs, before going into permanent settlement on Squaw Creek, a few miles West from Thorp Springs, it would seem that the above date is pretty accurately fixed. I am, therefore, saying that the party left Waldron, Scott County, Arkansas, about April 1, 1856, and landed near Thorp Springs in the early summer of 1856. They remained camped here till late summer or fall of 1856 when they went into permanent settlement slightly Northwest of Comanche Peak, on what is now known as Squaw Creek, in Hood county. This was about September 1, 1856.
This caravan of immigrants came along the trail marked out by the old Butterfield stage coach line from Waldron, Arkansas, on for several hundred miles, then turned Westward through what was then Indian Territory and on to Texas. The road crossed Red River at Colbert’s Crossing, about four miles North of where Dennison, Texas, is now located. They varied from the regular traveled road through Clarksville, Texas, which was farther East. They preferred doing this in order that they might pass through a region less settled and where civilization was more in the raw.
Colbert’s Crossing was the only entrance point into Texas near this region after leaving the crossing on the main traveled road through Clarksville. The ferry boat there was a mere barge, owned and operated by an Indian by the name of Colbert, which had given the name to Colbert’s Crossing. The ferry was small and capable of carrying only one wagon and team at a time. A few head of cattle could be carried across at one time.
Such a barge as this one operated by a rope stretched from bank to bank across the river. The operator held onto this rope, either with his hands or a hook, while mules or a team of horses pulled the load across the stream. During times when the river was low, cattle would be driven across by forcing them to wade the water. The river would have to be very low for wagons and other vehicles to ford across.
The charge for conveying wagons and immigrants across was usually about twenty-five cents per wagon with one team or seventy-five cents for a double team. Each person was charged five cents additional which was also the charge for a single cow or other animal. Sheep and goats were transported at about half the usual rate for a horse. A man riding a horse was usually charged ten cents.
The Red River was up considerably at the time the Powell party reached it. Some ten or twelve wagons were in the party as well as several horsemen. The river was too high to be forded so all that they could do was to take their chances and cross on the ferry.
Trains of immigrant wagons were headed for Texas in long chains at this early date. This fact, coupled with the slow movement of Colbert’s ferry, held immigrants, oftentimes, for several days at a time before their turn came to cross. This was true with the Powell party. When their train reached the crossing, there were already a number of wagons waiting on each side of the river to be ferried across. All that could be done was for the party to go into camp and wait for their turn to cross.
This delay of a day or so proved quite worthwhile, however, as it gave travelers a chance to talk with others who were coming and going at the time. This gave opportunity for each to learn conditions of the country from the other which was especially interesting to a traveler coming into Texas from the older settled states. It was very common to find a train of immigrants that would camp for a week or so before crossing into a new country such as Texas and make inquiry from every traveler chancing along before they could make a final decision to go on. It was common for a long train of pioneers to turn back if the accounts related to them were too discouraging. Some of these people who had become disgusted with the raw frontier life, could tell some weird tales concerning the hardships of the settler and the ravages of the Indian. Regardless of the truth or falsity of the story, impossible as it might appear to us today, these early folk always accepted it without question and directed their lives accordingly.
Perilous encounters with the Indian proved to be the most fascinating and exciting tale that could be related. Many were the bloody encounters with the vicious “red man”, yet there was always a note of encouragement to the “newcomer” since the settler was always victorious even if he had numerous wounds and scars to show for his experiences. Such stories, together with those dealing with the abundance of wild game roaming the hills and river bottoms, served to give added zest and hopefulness to the Powell party then headed for Texas. They were accustomed to hardships and were headed for Texas. They were not to be discouraged by anything.
Grandfather and his party were not headed for any particular part of Texas. They had scouted over the Eastern and North-central parts of the state previously. They liked most any part of it but preferred the wilder, less settled regions. Frontier life meant nothing to them as they were accustomed to such experiences. They had braved frontier life in Georgia, Alabama, then Arkansas. Natures wilds had simply hardened them to the tasks and perilous undertakings. Several of the older men in the party had seen service in fighting the Indian before. Grandfather had served in the Creek Indian war fighting the Seminole Indians in Southern Georgia and Northern Florida when young man. Other members of the party had had similar experiences. These were trained frontiersmen and had little to fear of such hardships as they knew awaited them.
Grandfather had left Georgia at the age of 21 and with a young bride, had settled in Tallapoosa County, Alabama, about 1839, where he lived a life on the frontier and reclaimed a farm from natures wilds. After about ten years here, he joined others on the Westward march of progress and settled in Scott County, Arkansas, which was then but a wilderness country. Here he remained some five years among Powell relatives that had settled previously. It was while living here that he had made plans to remove to Texas.
Isaac Powell, my grandfather’s father, had joined the movement to go to California with the rush of the “forty-niners”. It was on this west bound journey that many Powells settled in Kentucky, Arkansas, Texas, and Indian territory. Some had come on several previous occasions while others actually left for the gold fields of California. Grandfather’s party had decided however, to come to Texas in preference to going to California. This location had been their desires for many years. Some kindred Powells’ had already come to Texas and settled in the Southern and South-central parts of the State. Here thousands of other American families had left Georgia and Alabama and settled. It was Texas for them and to Texas they were bound.
There were numbered in this caravan bound for Texas, several families of Powell’s, including grandfather, two or three of grandfather’s brothers, his father, Isaac Powell, two or three of Isaac’s brothers, a family of Whitlock’s, Ben West, one family of Arrington’s and others not remembered by those living today. Each family had a number of children of various ages, which all told, made quite a number in the party. These people had intermarried and now constituted a rather large family of kin people.
While these pioneers were camped for their turn to cross Red River, they made up their minds to settle some where either in Denton County, or at some point in Dallas County, or perhaps a few miles West. As I have stated previously, members of this group had been to Texas before. Such information as they had about the State had come through this early experience and glowing accounts communicated to them by others who made the trip at an earlier time and had returned to the “old states” to visit folks. Many land companies had filled the older states with glowing advertisements boosting this new country and its opportunities. Such land agencies were the means of settling up a new region such as Texas at the time. After Texas gained their independence from Mexico and became a Republic, and later joined other American forces to route Mexico from all claims to Texas in 1848, great immigration companies spent thousands of dollars inducing settlers to come and make settlements. Land was cheap or free to the homesteader and nature most generous in supplying man’s needs. It was indeed the one chance for the poor man.
After a delay of nearly a week, grandfather’s party at last came to their turn to cross Red River. As they had some ten or twelve wagons, pulled by from one to two span of horses or oxen, it required some time to get all across. As these people were coming to make permanent settlements, they had brought all of their earthly possessions along with them. The wagons were loaded with household goods, farm implements, and supplies of all descriptions. The stuff was sticking out under openings in the wagon sheets, tied to the sideboards of the wagon, swinging from the coupling poles, and any and all places where stuff could be hung safely.
The women and small children usually rode all of the time while the men either rode horse-back or walked along behind, at the front, or even at the side of such an outfit. The women usually drove while the husband walked or rode a horse beside the wagon. The older children often took turn about walking to lighten the load on the teams. They usually enjoyed a certain part of the walking for exercise and to while away the time during the slow progress of the wagon train. It was common to stack most of the household goods in wagons other than the ones used for travel by the family.
When the weather was bad, they would all crowd into the wagons which increased the load on the weary teams doing the pulling. It was common to have an extra team trailing along to be used while the other team rested. Sometimes two such teams were trailing along.
Along with such a caravan, would be cattle and other domestic animals that were brought along. The cattle were driven, sometimes, ahead and sometimes, behind the family wagon. A pack of hunting dogs or hounds usually trailed along. The dog was always a part of the early settler’s necessary defensive equipment for hunting and rounding up the stock. All chickens, ducks, geese, etc., were in coops tied on behind or at the side of the wagon.
It has just been stated that several families made up this immigrant train. In addition to the ones mentioned, there was a family of Lockridge’s also, who married into the Powell family. All of these people had large families which sometimes required more than one wagon, even to care for one family, not to mention the necessary wagons to care for household supplies and provisions.
As stated, grandfather’s two brothers, Seaborn and Whitt, were in the party. It is also likely that one or two of his sisters were along. His immediate family consisted of eight or nine children, ranging in age from 30 years down to only a few weeks for the youngest. The West family was large as was also the case of every other member of the party. Ben West was a brother-in-law of grandfather, he having married Sarah Powell, one of grandfather’s sisters. The Lockridges had not yet married into the family but later one of the Lockridge boys married another sister of grandfather. One of grandfather’s boys also married one of the Lockridge girls a few years after they settled in Texas. Another daughter married one of the Arrington boys. The most of these marriages occurred later and will, therefore, be left for discussion later in this story.
It required the greater part of one whole day for the wagon train to be ferried across Red River. After a good part of another day checking up and getting everything rounded up, the caravan again headed for central Texas. They were a happy lot now for they were really on Texas soil.
Sometimes people moving into Texas as these were doing, secured a guide to direct them through the unmarked country. This party found no need for such assistance and began to wind its way along partially marked freighter lines as best they could. A few large farms were already in a good state of improvement along the red River. Scattered along all the way to the Denton County line, they encountered several rather thickly settled communities for the time. A number of these farms were settled by Indians. These were a semi-civilized tribe representing various mixtures of whites with the early Indian bloods. Such people as this were great traders and everytime that a traveler stopped to talk with them, they had offers to make concerning some article that attracted their attention. Necessary supplies could be obtained rather easily from these Indian people. It could be depended upon that every settlement in which they passed, extended a welcome to them to stop and rest for a few days or weeks as they chose. Some settlers even offered to feed and shelter the entire party, people, cattle, and all, without any charges whatsoever, if they would stop and camp with them for a few days. Such sounds like great hospitality but it was more nearly based upon the desire of such people to get information from “back yonder” where they had once lived and from settlements where they had kinfolks living. When a party came by from their old home, they were always welcome to stop over and give them the news of the day.
The Powell party found the roads rather well marked out on the first day or so of the journey. After this, the roads grew dim with often only a bare trail to guide them. Continued spring rains delayed and annoyed them as well as to help blot out any marks or signs along the road. A few times they were forced to go into camp till roads would dry up enough for them to travel. They were delayed often, till pole bridges could be built over small streams and mud holes. Occasionally they were forced to throw rocks and brush in mud holes before risking to cross them. They did not permit such conditions to worry them much as it gave them opportunity to scout over the country more. While some patched up the roads and attended to other duties about the wagons, others had more time to hunt for game and explore the country round-about. Sometimes those riding horseback would stop and talk with other travelers or with some settlers for an hour or more getting all the information possible about the country or to learn any news that might be passed along to them. They could soon strike up a gallop and again join the slowly moving wagon train. When they did so, it was always interesting to the entire group for them to report any information concerning the people or the country where they had been.
All sorts of wild game common to the region were to be found in great abundance. This enabled the party to keep an ample stock of provisions. Corn had been purchased from the Indians just after crossing Red River so plenty of bread was to be had at all times. They had sufficient lard and cooking oils packed away with them. Their greatest difficulty was that of getting fires started readily with so much rainy weather. This problem was solved, finally, by packing live coals of fire in a bucket of ashes, then swinging it under the wagon to the coupling pole. When they came to a camping place, they would take this bucket and turn the ashes and coals out and soon have a roaring fire. Before leaving, they were certain to refill the fire bucket and replace it on the coupling pole so that it would be ready at the next stop.
The early pioneer was fond of hunting and fishing so a good supply of ammunition was always carried along. Power horns served to store the powder in a dry place while plenty of cotton and paper were carried along to serve as wadding in loading the old muzzle-loading rifles and pistols. Plenty of grass could be found along to furnish for the team and stock. An occasional prairie fire alarmed them. It was always necessary to take every precaution possible to see that the wagons and teams were protected from such a fire in case it broke out. The much rain and wet weather tended to help protect them from this danger. Too, these fires were not so common then as they were a few years later after the country settled up more. Many thought such fires were caused by the Indian as he attempted to drive the white settlers out.
Sufficient guns of all sorts available at the time were owned by various members of the party. Every child, woman and man, were good shots in those days regardless of the weapon used by them. Grandfather had purchased a famous Colt’s “cap and ball” revolver, known as a six-shooter, just after he crossed the Red River. He struck a trade from a party and swapped a yoke of oxen, valued at the time at $75, for the gun. He was very fond of the gun and lost no time in using it to great advantage on the hunt and chase. He used this old “six-shooter” all through the rest of his life and on many a hunt for wild game and Indians. It was in the family possession till 1914 when brother Vernon’s house at Tolar, Texas, burned. After the fire, some one picked the steel part of it up and took it away. I have tried, in vain, to locate this gun but no trace of it has been found.
The Indians had not yet become troublesome in North Texas at the time the Powell party was coming to Texas. The many Indian farmers and hunters scattered along the route were friendly traders and trappers or just plain wanderers meaning little harm to any one.
Most every settlement reached, after the third day’s journey, was a new settlement just being developed. Occasionally the party drove upon an older community but only one or two of them were sufficient magnitude to be called a town. The main settlements and towns were East from this region in Texas. Most settlers encountered were originally from Missouri or other places in older states. Quite a large settlement of such people were encountered just over the line in Denton County. These people were from Missouri and Alabama. Since grandfather’s party had once lived in Alabama, they all felt quite neighborly and it was with considerable difficulty that grandfather’s party was allowed to go on without stopping for several days visit among them. Grandfather decided to go on as the country was too thickly settled for him. Grandfather remarked to the members of his group that when as many as two or three houses could be passed in a day’s journey, (about fifteen or twenty miles) it was too thickly settled for him and he would go on.
After this brief rest, they again headed for Dallas and Dallas County. The name Dallas had been the central point of conversation for many days. To the traveler of that day, it meant North Texas.
It was a pleasant experience for them after two or three days journey when they camped near a settlement of people and were informed that they were in Dallas County. At last, Dallas, was only a few miles farther on. More rain began falling and the black mud was almost impassible. The heavy wagons, drawn by muddy teams, moved along slowly. At the very best possible rate of travel, only a few miles could be made each day. By the time they were in Dallas County, several other wagons had joined the party. There were now some twenty-five or thirty wagons stringing along in the caravan. When the rain would cease, the mud would get thicker and waxier. Occasionally, one of the heavier wagons would mire down entirely and could not be moved till extra teams were hitched to the end of the wagon pole to aid in pulling out. In several instances, it required four teams to pull one wagon out of a mudhole.
As slowly and almost impossible as the party moved along through this almost impassible mud, the town of Dallas was reported to be just ahead. According to plans previously made, the party was to camp near the city, rest their teams and scout about over the country before deciding definitely what to do. This was the first town of any consequence located this side of the Red River and on the route selected by the caravan.
Dallas had not been settled as a village many years before this time. As grandfather recalled it, there was a small general store, a confectioners shop, a blacksmith shop, and a good sprinkling of houses scattered about used as residences. The most of these houses were of logs or semi-log and clapboard. The town was built right on the banks of the Trinity River which had been out of banks for several days due to the heavy rains. The tall, fine grass around what is now White Rock and Oak Cliff, attracted them and they spread camp for several days. I have heard my uncles say that as a horse or cow entered this tall grass which grew right on up through the very village itself, it came up to the animals back which almost hid them from view. It was a splendid place to graze cattle and tired teams such as was then in the possession of the Powell party. From the descriptions given me, this party must have camped somewhere in the regions of where Highland Park is now located or perhaps nearer in toward the main business district of present day Dallas. Anyway, the river was up and after they decided to camp for a few days, they drove back a few miles from the little village then called Dallas.
After a few days of rest, the party decided to go across the trinity River and Westward toward the village of Fort Worth. The raging Trinity had somewhat subsided by this time and traffic was beginning to move across it. It was not possible for the Trinity to be forded so the semi-ferry boat was their only chance. This ferry did not appear any better, if as good, as the one used in crossing the Red River into Texas. This ferry was used as a boat when the river was up and simply as a bridge across the lower banks of the stream when low water time in the river. The party took their time before risking a crossing where the banks were slippery and muddy such as they were here.
When the water receded from flood-stage, the banks were left so muddy and with so much fresh slime and silt deposited all along the banks, that a team could scarcely pull a load up out of the lower bottoms to the upper banks. The roads were poorly marked out so after being ferried across about all that could be done was for the driver to look about for the clearest looking spot to be seen and head straight for it. This was often a very hazardous undertaking since many wagons slipped into bog marshes or were turned over into shallow ditches under such circumstances. If a wagon under such circumstances could ever manage to be gotten up on the grassy banks, it was usually safe and could go on its way. Most of the drivers were familiar with such conditions and usually managed, with assistance from other drivers in the party, to make the crossing safely.
The first wagon to cross sank down deeply in the soft mud and slime on the opposite bank as was expected. Each wagon was finally pulled safely across by doubling teams as was done in crossing Red River. It required almost a whole day to get the entire train across the Trinity here at Dallas. Of course, after the first wagons crossed, the mud had to be dragged away sufficiently for another one to cross, which helped clear the way for those following. The last wagons to cross made the crossing comparatively easy after mud had been cleared away somewhat. The cattle were next driven across and the caravan was again through with one of the most exciting experiences encountered by the traveler.
The charges for ferrying a party across a river such as the Trinity here at Dallas was rather expensive. The customary fees were as follows: 25 to 50 cents for a wagon and one team, 75 cents to one dollar for a wagon with two teams, ten cents for a rider on a horse, 5 cents for each foot passenger, head of cattle, etc. By the time an entire train of fifteen or twenty wagons and their cattle had crossed, the bill mounted up considerably.
After crossing, the party again struck camp as soon as a high and dry location could be found. Such a place was located on Chalk Hill, just Southwest from Dallas. Here the grass furnished splendid grazing for the cattle. This land was already under claim and it was not quite as far West as the party desired, so after a short while the caravan moved on. At this time, the party split up into two groups. Grandfather and his party wanted to pass on West from Fort Worth, while others more recently joined to the Powell group desired to turn South more in the direction of Cleburne. After the usual well wishes and good luck salutations had been exchanged, the two parties moved on, perchance, never to see each other again.
Grandfather’s party moved on Westward till it came into the regions now known as Grand Prairie. Here the grass was so fine and the weather had cleared up so beautifully that they decided to camp for a few days rest and relaxation. After taking the much appreciated rest, camp was again broken and the party headed for Fort Worth. Fort Worth was nothing more than a Government post at the time. Only a short time was spent here, after which the party drove to Birdwell (Birdville), which was the county seat of Tarrant County at this time. This small village was only a few miles from Fort Worth and located in a very beautiful country when viewed in the early summer after so much rain and fine growing weather.
The party again went into camp near Birdwell. While here, grandfather and several members of the party made a scouting trip through Erath and Parker Counties. Only a few settlements were encountered in this entire region. They found plenty of open range and unsettled land wherever they went. They visited the government post at Comanche Peak which was nothing more than a supply store and lookout point established to safeguard the interest of the settlers against any dangers from the Indian. Here, they were told where the unclaimed land was located and just how claims could be made. Several days were spent in such exploration and investigation. Finally Grandfather and his party decided to stake their claims along tributaries of the Brazos River, in the Eastern edge of Erath County, just over the Western boundary line of Tarrant County.
To any one who has traveled over the hills and rolling prairies between Weatherford and Fort Worth and through the region where Cression, Hood County, is now located, will have an understanding of what a pretty country is really like. Especially is this true when made during a rainy spring when everything is growing in abundance and the streams are full of sparkling water. Fish and game were plentiful everywhere. Grass was waving like wheat fields across the rolling hillsides. Plenty of timber line the banks of every stream.
Fort Worth was but a few miles to the east and connected with a road being marked out Westward through Stephenville and on West. This road ran right through the heart of this wonderful country. Weatherford was a small village on slightly North of West from this location.
THE OLD POWELL SETTLEMENT
A dream could scarcely picture a more beautiful location than the one selected here by grandfather. It was then located in the western part of Tarrant County, which had been organized only about five years. It was soon cut off into Erath County which was created in 1856 from Tarrant County. In 1866, the region was again cut off into a new county, this time to be called, Hood County, which name exists to-day. It was thus that my grandfather never moved from his first location, yet lived in three counties in Texas, since his settlement in 1856, First Tarrant, then Erath, then Hood County. (Note: based on information from the General Land Office and “Texas Boundaries: Evolution of the State’s Counties” by Luke Gournay, Tarrant County was formed Dec. 20, 1849. Its boundaries have remained unchanged and would never have included the area near Tolar. Jim Barrett Oct. 3, 2001.)
This was a rolling and hilly country with Squaw Creek, Stroud’s Creek, Robinson’s Creek, the Paluxy, and various smaller streams, all circling around furnishing excellent drainage for the region. These were all running streams filled with the choicest varieties of fish that could easily be caught with the ordinary hook and line. Unlimited quantities of channel and blue cat fish, perch, bass, trout, etc., abounded in all streams. (Note: I checked with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. This the reply I received. “No trout were native to Texas with the exception of a small number in the Davis Mountains. Texas is too hot for most salmonids.” Jim Barrett Oct. 3, 2001.)
This was known as the Cross-Timber belt of Texas. The hills were not high but were simply rolling elevations blending into the prairie land so perfectly that the country could be crossed readily without many obstructions save the streams that have been mentioned. There were wooded regions on top of some hills and between the various streams. Along all streams, and especially along the bottoms of the Brazos River, were plenty of timbers of all descriptions, such as oak, walnut, pecan, elm, sycamore, etc. On the up-lands, the prairies were broken frequently with clusters of trees consisting of post oak, black jack, and live oak. No more beautiful clusters of trees could be found than those of the stately live oak. Some of them were of enormous size in diameter but, of course, did not grow very high.
There was not such a growth of under-brush as one finds through that country to-day. This is doubtless due to the older and larger trees having since been cut off, thus leaving the younger growth with a chance to grow, and to the fact that fires are not quite so common through the woods and over the prairies to destroy this smaller brush, as was true at that time.
The prairies were covered with as fine grass, both of the mesquite and sage varieties, as one could imagine. Except where the grass chanced to burn it grew so high that it came up as high as the backs of the cattle as they ranged along through it. But few weeds existed here at this time. The weed came later as the land was put into cultivation and as the cattle grazed the fine grass away.
While the grass was young and tender, it furnished a very succulent plant for range cattle. Later it was mowed and put up for winter use. Finally it was cut and baled for hay. Good prairie hay was much in demand when the cattle industry came into importance.
No land had been put into cultivation through this region as yet. Only a few settlements had been made any ways near here. These were to be found several miles south on the Paluxy and several miles down the Brazos. Several settlements were found some thirty miles north and west in the lower edge of Parker County. Other settlements had been made some twentyfive miles west in what was later to be Erath County. There were no other white settlements near the location chosen by grandfather.
The Powell settlement was made on a rolling elevation that looked like a hill from the west but was only a gradual rise from the east and south. It was about a quarter of a mile from Squaw Creek which circled the crest of the hill beginning on the West and continuing to the South as the creek bent around the farm. There was almost a mile of creek circling around the settlement. This elevation overlooked the country for miles about save from the Northeast where the woods began only a few hundred yards from the crest of the elevation. Observation was clear from the northwest on to the west, southwest, south and far around and back to the East. The location was on the old stage line that was just being opened up through the West and connecting with the line on to El Paso, Texas. It was also near the road leading from San Antonio by the outpost at Comanche Peak and on through the settlements in Parker and Jack Counties.
Grandfather camped till he could build a log hut in which to live for the time being. All of the party camped around the same location till they could have the opportunity of making a location for themselves. Steps were taken immediately to throw up a pole house in which to live till a more substantial log cabin could be built. A small spot was broken up and a garden planted so that the families might have vegetables before the coming of another winter. The immediate yard and lots, as well as the garden, were fenced with brush and poles till a better fence could be built. Some grain was planted and the settlers began developing their settlements with all the vigor and enthusiasm common to such people.
Down along the streams and through the woodlands, an abundance of wild game such as, wild turkey, prairie chickens, quail, deer, antelope, etc., could be found at will. On the prairie just west of the settlement plenty of buffalo roamed. Numerous bear were to be found on the brakes of the Paluxy only a few miles south. Grandfather could stand in his door and shoot deer and antelope most any day. Wild Turkey and prairie chickens came right up to his lots and ate with his own chickens that he had brought along with him. A large roosting place for wild turkeys was just below his cabin near the creek. Wild cats, panthers, wolves, wild goats and sheep, as well as wild hogs, were also plentiful. On about the second or third night they had settled in camp a large panther was killed in one of the large live oak trees in the yard.
The only neighbors near were some Indians that were camped just across the creek about a quarter of a mile. These Indians were a semi-civilized family and apparently a remnant of the Indians on the government reservations. They camped here, hunting and fishing, through the summer and went some sixty miles about on the Indian reservation along the Brazos, to spend the winter.
This band of Indians was headed by a sort of “chief” called by grandfather “Caddo Jack”. They soon became quite friendly with grandfather and began loafing about the new white neighbors every day. Grandfather found Caddo Jack a good hunter and very familiar with the country for miles. He proved a splendid guide which grandfather welcomed very much. He also proved to be a skilled hand to tan and dress hides and in making skin clothing. As grandfather brought in fresh deer hides, etc., he turned them over to this Indian to be dressed into leather for various uses that a frontiersman could readily make of them at the time. For this, he would gladly accept milk and butter and anything that might be offered to him that he could use.
This friendship existed for some three or four years till the Indians on the upper reservation in the edge of Palo Pinto County were attacked by a party of drunks, one night, and caused the whole Indian population to strike out on the “war path.” This was about the year 1859. A considerable number of horses and cattle had been stolen at various times throughout Palo Pinto County. This was sufficient for the settlers to get suspicious of the Indians. One night a bunch of Indians were seen driving off a goodly number of horses and cattle belonging to the settlers. It later developed that these were not reservation Indians but Kiowas and Comanches from north of the Wichita River in the upper reservation. Soon after this bunch of horses and cattle were taken. In retaliation a bunch of rowdy cow hands, lead by a party of intoxicated citizens, rushed down, one night, and slew a number of the Indians encamped on the Brazos River. This aroused their hatred for the whites and they declared vengeance on all.
When Caddo Jack learned of this he came in the middle of the night to tell grandfather about it and to bid him good bye. With the deepest feelings, he related the entire history of the troubles that had been brewing between his people and the whites for some time and told grandfather that from that time on there would be much trouble between his people and the settlers. He assured grandfather, however, that as long as he let the Indians alone that he would assure him that no harm would ever come to him or his family. So far as grandfather ever knew, this promise was kept. At no time during the many raids throughout Hood County and all of this part of the State for the next twelve years, was anything of grandfathers ever harmed. Many times almost every settlement in the region for miles about lost horses and cattle, together with the lives of women and children, but at no time was grandfather ever harmed.
During the last raid made into Hood County, by Indians, about the year 1869, seven Indians plundered through the Squaw Creek settlements for two days and nights, stealing horses and committing other pilfering acts, yet not one thing was harmed on grandfather’s place. I have heard Uncle John Powell say that he and one of his sisters were out driving up the milk cows about five o’clock in the evening when they saw these Indians. The entire band came riding in a gallop right up to them, jabbering and yelping something as they approached. He and his sister Julia turned toward them. The children had been taught not to run from Indians as that would mean death. As a result he and his sister stopped and watched them as they came galloping up to them. After some little hesitation the leader jestured to his companions and waved his hand toward the children as if telling them good bye, and the entire bunch rode on down the creek.
Uncle John Powell says that grandfather had several experiences after Caddo jack left, that convinced him that his possessions were left unharmed all because of his early friendship with this Indian. Uncle John always expresses the belief that grandfather did wrong when he helped kill these seven Indians a few days later, when they had done nothing more than commit a few robberies. No life was endangered as they passed through. He attributes that he and his older sister, Julia, were unharmed because these Indians, in some way, recognized the settlement was that of grandfather’s. As the Indians plundered settlements on down the creek, it did look very much like they were keeping a promise that had been made at an earlier time by one of their number, yet the settlers doubted if an Indian could ever be depended upon to keep any promise.
A complete account of this Indian raid will be given later on in this history. It is mentioned here only due to the connection that it bears to the story of the early settlement. The reader may find this complete story under the heading of Indians Troubles, “The Point of Timber Fight.”
After the Powell settlement was fairly well under way, the members of the West family and others began making their permanent location. The best holes of Water along the creek were selected to be included in their claims. They were not anxious to build too near the water holes as they wished them to be far enough away so that wild animals would come to them for water, thus furnishing an opportunity for them to be killed as they were desired. Many severe droughts were known to visit this country during the long summer months. Sometimes water was very scarce so each family wanted to be certain to have command of as good water hole as available. This precaution proved to be very valuable to them later on.
Fort Worth was still a sort of army post at this time consisting of a garrison headquarters and a stockade enclosure surrounded by several picket buildings that were used by the government in which to keep supplies, and to quarter soldiers. Surrounding this entire stockade there was a picket fence inclosing the fort. A number of small residences were being built around the settlement by this time.
The Powell party had traded the most of their steer teams for horses and mules by the time they had reached this region.
Weatherford, some 30 miles Northwest, was only a beginning village when grandfather’s party first encountered it in 1856. A few log cabins were scattered through the brush about where Weatherford now stands, The greater part of the houses were built along the creeks North and East from present Weatherford. A fuller description of this village will be given later in this story.
While the Powell party was scouting through the country, Isaac Powell declared his intentions of “squatting” on land near Weatherford as soon as he could return to Arkansas and bring the other members of his family and settle his affairs. Grandfather, and other members of the party, chose to settle on Squaw Creek, just West from the present Granbury, in Hood County. They first selected the site where Thorp Springs is now located but for some reason not now known they removed to Squaw Creek within a few days. Here the Powell party made permanent settlement. As the sons grew to manhood and married, land consisting of from 160 to 320 acres, adjoining the original homestead, was bought and another family was begun. Most of the daughters settled near also which accounted for the early day communities headed by the original land grantee, surrounded by the children.
Owen West still lives, at this writing, 1933, on the place settled in 1860, by his father, Robert West. This place was located just East from the old Powell Settlement and just Northeast from the original settlement made by Ben West who came with the Powell party. Ben and Robert West were brothers. I drove over this country in 1933 and could still find many signs of these early settlements, especially my father’s old place where I was born and where many childhood memories still linger with me.
This location was only a few miles West and North from Comanche Peak, where the government post was then located as just mentioned. This outpost had been established in 1843 before any of the other county had been settled. The object of the post was to mark the boundary of the treaty that Sam Houston made with the Indians to aid in controlling them on the Western frontier. It was never intended for a fort and was never marked with more than an old stone building and look-out tower. Comanche Peak stands today as the sentinel overlooking civilization just as it did in that day to mark the early traveler’s way through those hills and valleys before roads were known in the country.
Thus was that the Powell party came to Texas. Perilous was their journey but fate was kind to them and not a soul was left beneath the sod along some trackless roadside to mark where death stole an entrance into the camps of the early pioneers. The entire party reached the end of their journey and life began anew in this region where the races of man soon began to follow. The next section of this story will describe the Powell settlement and trace its growth, through many hardships, into another settlement of early pioneers who helped make the Western frontier of Texas a wholesome place in which to live.
THE PIONEER LOG CABIN
Grandfather and the other families that settled here within the same locality pooled their efforts and erected what was known as pole log cabins. They lived in these till a more substantial house could be built. Such a house was usually a one-room structure built high enough for an attick room above where part of the family could live, and with one or two “lean-to” rooms sufficient to accommodate the entire family. The size of the family determined just how large the main log house would be and just how many side rooms that were built.
The main living or family room spoken of above was usually from 16 x 16 to 20 x 20 feet square. The average was perhaps 18 x 18 feet. The logs were usually simply poles in the first house to be erected and which was converted into “cribs” when the final finished log cabin was built. When the permanent cabin was built, the logs were dressed nicely and notched to fit at the corners and with plenty of chinking worked in to close the cracks and crevices. The picket type of log house was not used in this part of the State. Instead the poles were simply notched and laid alternately, one on the other, so as to make a square corner and prevent the poles from slipping off. Slabs were driven between the poles and a mortar of mud and clay, mixed with grass, packed against this, all making an air tight seal for the crack.
In the end of such a house, was a large chimney built so as to take large logs, often four feet long, as well as large stumps or chunks of wood. It was necessary to have plenty of fire during cold weather and to have a supply that would keep for a long time if possible.
Fires were kept burning almost continuously from early fall to late in the spring. When they were used to cook with, they must burn for the year round. When summer came, however, much of the cooking was done out in the open, usually in the back yard. Coals of fire were banked up in the ashes and thoroughly covered so that fire might not be lost during the wet weather. Losing a start of fire during these early times when people lived so far from each other would work quite a hardship on any family. I have heard my father say that it often took an hour to get fire started from the old flint and “spunk” that was used by the pioneers in kindling their fires when they lost fire. It was especially a task when the wood and kindling chanced to get wet.
In another chapter, I am giving a fuller account of the old log cabins, both the single room structure and the old double log cabin that was so famous during these early days.
After a couple of years, grandfather enlarged his small plot of ground to include an orchard and several acres that could be planted to corn and wheat. During the first winter, the older boys were put to clearing land so that sufficient ground could be planted to gardens and such feed as cane. This additional land was fenced partly with rails made of trees felled in making the clearing and with rock. The old fashioned “zig zag” rail fence was used a lot during that time since there was plenty of timber suited to splitting such rails. Some use was made of various cactus and thistle hedges, also.
Building a rock fence was a considerable task and took an experienced hand to build one properly. A good rock mason, though, that understood his business, could build from ten to twenty feet of such a fence four feet high per day when helpers were supplied to keep him in rock. The rail fences also required a lot of work. Logs were usually cut from ten to fourteen feet long and then split lengthwise into rails the size desired. Timber cleared away in order to clear a field was usually converted into such rails. The rocks lying on the surface or that were turned up at the first few ploughings were used to construct the old rock fences.
The rock fence was preferred almost altogether in and around the houses and barns because it furnished better fire protection as well as protection from weather. The wild animals and later the Indians were better guarded against with the rock fence as well. A fire often burned miles of a rail fence before it was discovered or while the grass and weeds of the old fence row were being burned. A rock fence was not bothered in such a way.
The usual crops raised during the pre-war days and for some time after the Civil War, were a patch of corn, several acres of wheat or oats, a few rows of cotton and a couple of acres in a garden. Plenty of sweet potatoes were always grown if possible. The cotton was used to make “bats” for quilts and mattresses and for making thread with which to knit socks, clothing, etc.
There were no markets near enough so that any excess products could be sold. All that was necessary was to supply the needed quantity for home consumption. This virgin land was very fertile and produced an abundance of most anything planted in it. It required but little work to produce a crop as grass and weeds were not so bad then. But little rainfall would supply sufficient moisture as the humus in the new soil held moisture so much better than the average cultivated land of to-day. Land that is not overfarmed and that is in a country where little is in cultivation will stand dry weather far better than it will during these days when so much is in cultivation.
The sweet potato mentioned above was not the fine flavored yam that we know to-day, but the old fashioned “dry weather” or “nigger choker” red sweet potato. Such a potato, when baked, required quite a lot of butter or other seasoning before one could scarcely swallow it. The white potato or common Irish potato was not so common at that time. Seed were scarce to get and as the whole potato was necessary before this potato could be planted it was seldom found among the early settlements.
I have heard father say, many times, that he was a boy some six or eight years old when his first saw the Irish potato. Grandfather had been on a trip to Jefferson, Texas, for supplies and had brought back some Irish potatoes with him. Like all children, father and his brothers wanted to eat some of them or try them out at least. Father said that he had not seen anything that looked half so good as those potatoes looked. Regardless of their insisting to grandfather that they have one to eat, they were refused as they were brought home to be planted so that some might grow in the garden. The potatoes were put away and the law laid down to the boys that they were not to be bothered. Regardless of this decree, father and his brothers watched for their chance and stole some of them out for a trial. They left immediately for the back corner of the field where they could hide in the corner of the rail fence and eat them. They soon found that the peeling was not so delicious but by removing them the potato tasted fine. They proceeded to bite this peeling off and bury it as the best way to cover up their mischief. This being carefully done, the boys felt very secure. After a few days grandfather went to get the potatoes to plant them and decided that something had been into them. He called the boys and asked them about it. Thy stoutly denied any knowledge of the potatoes being bothered. Several days later, grandfather was passing through the field and found several clumps of potatoes pushing the ground up in great heaps. By digging down, he found where the peelings and pieces of potatoes had been buried. He could even detect the impression made by their teeth on the small bits of potato peelings. I have heard my father laughingly tell how bewildered they were when grandfather escorted them down to the corner of the fence to show them what he had discovered. They then had to confess to taking the potatoes. They were punished by being required to mind the cows from off the wheat while they grazed along the fence rows and the sides of the field. This task might not seem very severe but when it is recalled that this required careful watching right during fishing season and just as the “going in washing” time of year was approaching it becomes doubly severe. At any rate, father said this was the last Irish potatoes that they ever stole.
The small patches of cotton that were planted were purely for home consumption in making quilt bats and for making thread. The seeds were picked from the lint by hand while the women took the lint and carded it into “bats” which were later spun into thread to be knitted into sock, underwear, or cloth which was used for making clothing.
A sort of machine was invented similar to Whitney’s first experiments with the cotton gin and the early pioneers made copies of this machine with which they separated the lint from the seed of the cotton that they raised. This machine was similar to the ordinary clothes wringer of to-day that we use with the washing machine. It consisted of two rollers of wood some half to three quarters of an inch in diameter placed side by side in a frame. A crank was fastened on the end of one of the rollers so that it could be turned by the operator. As the operator turned this crank, the other roller turned as a result of friction between the rollers. As cotton would be fed slowly between the rollers the lint would be rolled through. The seeds could not pas through and as the rollers were small the seed would not catch between them and they simply slipped by till all of the lint would be pulled from them when they would drop down into some place prepared to catch them. This simple contraption speeded up the amount of cotton lint that could be pulled from the seed in a day by one person. This was quite an important item in cloth making.
Each family also had a small herd of goats and sheep to furnish wool with which to card and spin thread to make woolen cloth and woolen knitted garments such as socks and underwear. The wool was clipped and stored away to later be carded into batts to be stored or spun into thread which was wound into balls or “hanked” for future use.
This work gave the early pioneer family plenty to occupy themselves during the long winter days and evenings. Much of the outdoor clothing for the men was made of buckskin and bear skin. Various other hides were tanned and used for such purposes also. The hides were carefully “dressed” or cured and stored away to be used later in the making of leather clothing, rugs, etc.
All clothing of that early day was much warmer than the average clothing worn to-day. All socks, under-garments, jerseys, etc., were made of this coarse thread described above. It would be either wool or cotton depending mainly on the season that it was to be worn. The children, both boys and girls wore a long, loose, shirt. This was about the only type of clothing worn till about ten or twelve years old. This was made from linsey or woolsey cloth as this home made cloth was called. Another cloth came into vogue known as jean and furnished goods for the manufacturing of most of the clothing for the men for a number of years.
I have heard my father say that he was twelve or fourteen years old before he had his first pair of jean pants. These pants were made by grandmother from thread and cloth made by her own hands. He felt very proud of them and wore them several years.
Grandfather was quite a clever hand with the cobblers tools and made all the shoes and leather clothing for the entire family. All of the family, especially the women and children, went bare-footed the greater part of the year. Grandfather always had a new pair of shoes made for each member of the family for a Christmas present for Christmas morning. These shoes given on this morning were the only ones they would receive during the year so they made a very enjoyable present. Sometimes women would have more than the one pair as they usually had to have a pair for company during the summer time. The children were very careful to take care of their shoes, however, as they knew they would not have another pair till the next Christmas.
They would wear their shoes only during the very worst weather and on Sundays so they would last as long as possible. I have heard father say, on many occasions, that when he was going to church, to school, or on a visit, he would pull his shoes off and carry them over his shoulder or through mud holes or rough places so that he would not soil his shoes or wear them out too rapidly. He older members of the family usually managed to care for their shoes well enough to wear them on all important occasions without so careful thought.
EARLY DAYS ON SQUAW CREEK IN HOOD COUNTY
Mention has been made previously of the early difficulties in the way of settling up so wild a region as was Hood County back in the days before the Civil War and before the county had been settled by more than half a dozen families. I shall again relate many incidents in the life of these early pioneer settlers. The incidents that are to be mentioned have been given to me by my own people as well as others who actually lived here during the early days.
The old pioneer house consisted, usually, of one room and a “lean-to” side room built of round logs or more frequently poles. The first log cabin had to be built hurriedly and was not so elaborately constructed as the ones of a few years later that were to be permanent headquarters for the family. The settlers threw up the pole house as hastily as possible, usually just off from where they eventually meant to build their main residence. This pole house would then be converted into the barn and such out houses as they desired. The “smoke house” was always a necessity.
These “pole houses” were made of un-hewed log or poles. The main room was usually 14 to 20 feet square and from 10 to 12 rounds high. Knotches were cut in the ends of the poles from four to eight inches off the ends so that they might be stacked on each other at the corners and leave as small space between the poles to be chinked as possible. Two-foot boards were laid on rib poles and weight poles laid on the boards to hold them down. All of this work was done with the ordinary ax as but few saws were to be found and the saw mill had not been brought to the settlement as yet. Good oak timbers could be split rather uniformily in making boards to be used in the lathes and shingles for these early houses. Stick and dirt chimneys with rock back and jams, a door of clap-boards chinked and daubed with mud and a dirt or puncheon floor and the house was completed and good enough for the first few years.
This type of house was first used by grandfather when he settled on Squaw Creek. Several years later and just before the Civil War, he began the building of a more elaborate mansion in which to live. The main room of this house was made of large logs carefully hewn and notched so as to fit almost solidly one on the other. The double log cabin had not found its place at this time but the houses were built of large logs, carefully dressed, and notched with rafters usually made of cedar, and oak or cedar material for the lathing. Grandfather’s house was not completed till after the Civil War or till about 1868. He worked on it at odd times till finally the walls were completed but these stood for several years before the final top was put on. The older boys were off in the war and grandfather busied himself in the crop and on the hunt and the work of finishing the house went slowly. In fact, everything stopped at a standstill during the war then, just as it does during war to-day. After the war, grandfather joined a band of rangers and hunters to go into the western part of the State to drive the Indians back and to hunt and scout over the country for a possible new location. After several months he made up his mind to return to Squaw Creek to his family and remain there. Several of these hunting companions, including Col. John R. Baylor, came back with grandfather and staid with him for sometime while scouting about for locations here and to watch the movements of the Indians. It was while these men were here that grandfather accepted their offer to assist him and finish his log house.
When finished, this house consisted of one large room of hewn logs with a side room and an attic above. The pole houses were still used for a kitchen and such adjoining structures as were needed. A large chimney was built in the north, while just at its left the up-stairs led to the attic through an opening in the wall. The stairways were placed on the outside or in a corner of these early homes so as to take up as little space as possible. Usually, as was true in grandfather’s case, the up-stair had an opening from the outside and also from the inside so that it could be reached from either way.
The doorway was carefully pinned with wooden pegs to the logs so that a very substantial structure resulted.
HOME LIFE OF THE FAMILY
Wood hauling was a very necessary thing with the early family. I have heard father say that grandfather built on a hillside, or rather on top of the hill so that his farm be on the hillside, so that the place would have a commanding view of the entire country. This was necessary in the early day so that a commanding view could be had of the surrounding country in case Indians or other danger threatened. Many of the first settlers built down near the creeks and in dense thickets of brush. This proved to their sorrow as when the Indians began raiding the country, these settlers would be ambushed and murdered before they scarcely knew the Indians were in the country. The experienced pioneer knew this and picked the hill to make his settlement. The Indians would have to expose himself to view for too long a time before he could reach the house. He did not like this and would often leave such a settlement alone as he made his raids through the country.
As the house was usually from a half to a mile from the woods, which was true of grandfather’s location, wood had to be hauled to the house. This was usually done by simply felling a tree then “snaking” it to the house where it was cut up in desirable fuel for all purposes. “Snaking” a tree simply meant to cut it down, and put a chain around the butt end and drag the entire tree by means of a team of oxen, up to where it was needed. I have heard father say that he had helped drag trees in this manner for two miles. They would be taken to the house and then cut into such desirable lengths of wood and kindling as was needed. The small limbs could be used for kindling while the chips and broken pieces made fine “wash pot” fuel.
The furniture owned by grandfather was very simple. His father, Isaac Powell, as well as he himself, were both pretty good cabinet makers. They had brought several pieces of furniture along with them made of walnut and other hard woods. They had several tables, including the dining table, a bureau, a number of stools and chairs, all made of walnut. This furniture was simple but very substantially constructed. He had a bedstead made from walnut, but it was not very appropriate for this new home and was stored away till a better house could be built.
Till a better house was built, the family made use of what was known as the “one legged” bedstead. This was simply a bed built into the corner of the room with holes bored in the two sides of the room and one side of the end and one side of the head fastened to the wall with pegs being driven in these holes. The corners furnished support for the foot rail while one leg out in the floor furnished support for the other corner of the bed.
The four legged bedsteads were made in this manner. With an augur or chisel, a hole was mortised into the side and the end pieces for bed the rails to enter. The rail was then dressed down to exactly fit this hole. Holes were then bored in each rail and end piece every eight inches and a raw-hide rope or strip of unfinished cow or buffalo hide run through the holes while the hide was still green. As the strips or ropes dried they would draw up and pull the bed together with great force. This network of stretched hide made very comfortable bed “springs” for the sleeper. When thick straw mattresses were made to fit the bed and a thick feather bed put on top of this a very comfortable bed resulted. The three cornered, one leg beds, were a permanent part of the fixtures of a house but four legged beds could be moved about as desired. Both types of beds were very attractive pieces of furniture when carefully made and polished.
Grandfather used quite a deal of skill in making the tables. He carved the legs and sides in an interesting manner. Sometimes animals were carved on such pieces of furniture while often trees, houses, and even water scenes were so carved.
The chairs and stools were also often ornamented with such carvings. They were made of heavy pieces of material. The chairs all had “raw-hide” bottoms while the stools were usually bottomed with a solid piece of wood made heavy enough to withstand all necessary wear and tear.
The kitchen was very plainly furnished. The cooking utensils consisted of a three legged skillet, an iron oven, a pair of pot hooks, a large pot or two, and sometimes two or three iron skillets with a long handle. Such utensils were quite sufficient to prepare any meal supplied for the family in those days. The most of the cooking was done in the main room in the large fire-place constructed for that purpose.
The pioneer family depended, at first, upon the native streams for his water supply. Such water was pure, then, as there was but little to contaminate and pollute it. Along this stream and at the nearest water-hole to the house, was found the old wash-place where the family washing took place. A near-by thicket supplied a splendid place for clothes to be hung out to dry in the sunshine. The necessary equipment for doing the “washing” for the family, consisted of a large wash pot or boiler, two or three blocks of wood cut about two feet long from a tree of large diameter, and one or more small wash-tubs if such could be obtained. The wood blocks were carefully smoothed across the top. They were used for battling the heavy home-spun clothes.
I have listened, on many occasions, while father related his dread for wash day to come because it was his job to battle clothes. Clothes were made of heavy material and ordinary wash-board or “rub-board” has not come into the possession of the settler of this time if indeed it had been invented.
Clothes were usually cleaned by boiling them in a strong water of “lye-soap” or soaking them in such a solution if they could not be boiled, then lift them from the pot by means of a “punching-stick” onto the “battling-block” while they were steaming hot. They were then pounded with a “battling-stick” as they would be turned from side to side, till they thoroughly foamed with the soap and water solution. They would then be turned over and beaten again. After this, they would be carried through several rinsing waters and if clean, would then be carried to the bushes to be hung out to dry. If there were no rinsing tubs to be had, a tub was usually made from a piece of a hollow tree of considerable size, by splitting the tree in half and then fastening up the two ends so that it would hold water. This trough made a very good water container for many purposes.
The “lye-soap” mentioned above, was quite familiar to the old time household. I can recall, myself, when practically all of our soap used was made at home. All soap used for “washing-day” was home-made.
The old “ash-hopper” consisted of a barrel placed on some sort of support, filled to near the top with good clean wood ashes, while water was poured into the barrel on top of the ashes. After about two days, a strong chocolate colored liquid will begin dripping out of the bottom of the barrel. A trough is then placed under the bottom of the barrel to catch this dripping solution. This is the lye used to make soap.
When enough of this liquid is caught, the remnant grease saved in cooking, as well as scraps of fat meat and bacon rinds, are all poured into a pot and melted. It is usually strained and the clear grease cooled. After this, the lye water obtained from the ash barrel drippings, is added in sufficient quantity and the grease-lye mixture boiled till it is thoroughly blended. Regardless of the method used, the essentials are the same.
As the mixture boiled, small quantities were taken occasionally and dropped into cold water to see if it would harden into soap. When this mixture would harden in cold water, the fire was withdrawn from under the pot and the solution allowed to cool.
When the soap was cold, the pot would be inverted and the white soap placed on a table or boards where it was cut into squares of convenient size for handling. Sometimes moulds were used and the hot liquid poured into the moulds where it was allowed to cool. This made bars of soap suitable for any desired purposes. Sometimes various home-made dyes were used to color the soap before being poured into the moulds. This soap was considered quite a luxury and would be used only on special occasions.
FARMING AND FARM IMPLEMENTS
Most farming such as grandfather did was done by oxen or the ordinary pony such as was used during this early time. A couple of good horses were always used for hunting purposes and later when the stage coach passed through this country and the station was located at grandfather’s place several good horses and even mules were kept at all times. Most of the farming was done for some time with oxen regardless of their ownership of horses.
When prairie was being broken, from two to four oxen were often required. This land was hard to break and it was often poorly cleared of grass and brush before attempting to be ploughed which added to the difficulty. The old fashioned plow would not turn the sod very well as our modern plows will do.
The farm implements were rather simple and not a very great variety of different kinds. Such as there were usually were hand made and very simple. A turning plow, a V harrow, a rake, a shovel, an axe, an eye-hoe, a scythe blade, a briar hook, a post-hole digger, a spading fork constituted the average farm equipment.
Some of these tools were brought to Texas when they left the old states, while others were made as the need arose. I recall as a small boy, my father showing me where grandfather cut a large limb from an elm tree in order to make some plow handles. It was very visible where the limb had been removed. There was a large elm tree just at the lower side of our farm that always bore a great cavity near the ground. Father said this block had been cut out many years ago for the purpose of making a mop head. In 1931 when I visited this old place, I noticed this tree was still standing and the scar still quite visible where this block had been cut out some 65 or 70 years before.
A mop head was a simple thing. A piece of elm or some such light wood was worked into a block about 12 or 14 inches long, 6 inches wide, and three inches thick. Holes were bored through this block about an inch or so apart. These holes were about an inch or two inches in diameter. Shucks would then be twisted together till of the desired size, run through the holes, then fastened with pegs driven in the hole till it was tight. The shucks were then cut to even length and a scrubbing mop was ready for use. Smaller and larger mops were made to fit the kind of scrubbing demanded of them. Most any one could refill the mop-head after the workman had completed it and the holes bored properly.
Corn, wheat, oats, barley and various garden vegetables, together with various medicinal herbs, were the principal things planted then.
Corn was dropped by hand and covered with a hoe. The entire field was “checked” into squares and a hill made in each square in which the corn was planted. This enabled the crop to be cultivated both ways and kept clean. The hill of good soil for each stalk furnished plenty of food for the plant and kept moisture necessary to mature the plant.
An ordinary shovel plow with a long narrow bull-tongue point was used to plough most all crops. A turning plow that was hand made did all of the preparation of the soil save where the V or A harrow was used. This harrow was also hand-made and consisted, often times, of a tree fork about four inches in diameter with holes bored in each fork about six inches apart and a wooden pin driven in each hole so that it would project about eight inches. Sometimes a more finished harrow was made by shaping the wood with which to make the two sides of the angle. These sides were mortised together nicely and the entire harrow nicely finished.
Another scratcher was made by taking a log some eight or ten inches in diameter, or larger, cutting it about eight or ten feet long, boring holes into it about eight inches apart, then driving stout pegs into these holes. A piece of material was fastened to each end of this log and brought together making sort of shafts to pull the “scratcher” by. This was used to tear up the sod from a newly broken piece of ground. Such an implement might be made heavy and large enough to be pulled by two oxen or horses. Such an apparatus would scratch land pretty well.
Sometimes a “brush drag” would be made by cutting a log as above but sharpening the butt ends of brush limbs and driving them into the holes till every hole was filled. This would be dragged over land to help level it and to help break clods and pulverize the soil. Such a brush as this was used to brush in small grain after the seed had been sowed over the land. It tended to cover the seed in drills as the brush dragged along.
I remember quite well, the pleasure that I used to get when a boy, as I drove the old family horse to such a brush drag as the one described above. Sometimes a seat would be built so that a boy could ride as he brushed the land. It was a very tiresome task to walk through freshly ploughed land behind a brush drag all day long. Most any kind of seat was welcomed.
I recall, once, when my younger brother Vernon, and I were having to run such a brush drag over a piece of land that had been listed so as to drag the rows down sufficiently for a horse to get up on top and walk on the ridge. Father had given us the old family horse known to all of us children as “Old Sailor.” This horse was gentle and was the one used for children to drive and do such work as they were required to do. We were supposed to take turn about in brushing this land. This went along very well till we were both almost tired out. All that we had to do was turn Old Sailor and he would go right down the furrow till the other end was reached. The rows were almost a half mile long, so we had little to do save follow the old horse back and forth. We decided that this was useless so we planned for one of us to get at one end of the field and the other at the other and turn the horse and he would go on to the other end where he would be turned around and started back. This proved a great idea and all that we had to do was get up and turn the old horse and start him back to the other end to again be turned and headed back. We kept this up for almost a half day before father discovered what we were doing. When he found this out, he gave both of us a good scolding and threat and started us back in the old form of trailing the brush round and round the field.
The only reason that father ever gave us for not permitting us to save labor such as this was doing, was that the horse had to work and we might as well work as to make him. Father had worked hard all of his life and never believed in saving yourself by putting extra burdens on a horse. He never would use a riding cultivator as he said that was unfair to the team. Many a hard task was performed on a farm during those days simply because it had been done that way from the earliest times.
Such wheat as was grown at this early time was threshed out by means of driving horses or oxen over the straw till the grain had been trampled out. Sometimes the wheat would be taken up by handfuls and the heads beaten with a pole or stick. When trampled out the wheat was arranged in a large circle with the butt ends inward and the heads forming the outer circle. Horses or oxen were then driven round and round till all of the grain was trampled out. Men on the inside kept the straw and grain stirred up while the tramping process went on. After the wheat was trampled out, the straw was removed to a pile and the grain, dirt, chaff, and all, picked up and put in sacks or some sort of containers. After this, a sheet or heavy canvas cloth, or even a smooth grassy plot was selected where the “winding” process was carried out. This process consisted of dipping the grain up by some container and raising it several feet into the air then pouring it out slowly while the wind blew the chaff and dirt away and left the heavy grain to fall on the sheet in piles. This process was repeated several times till the grain was as clean as a modern combine can make it. This was the method used to separate all kinds of small grain.
The nearest post office to this Squaw Creek settlement was at Birdville, in Tarrant County, some 50 miles away. The government post at Comanche Peak was sometimes used for distributing mail but usually did not handle anything except that of apparent great importance till a later date.
Grist mills were located near Fort Worth and at Barnard’s Mill on the Paluxy. Corn and wheat could be taken to either of these places and ground into meal, flower, or grits as desired. A certain part of the grain was measured out and turned over to the owner of the mill as “toll” for grinding the customers grain.
The main place where these early settlers had to go to obtain supplies was Jefferson. Sometimes trips were made to McKinney and Clarksville but Jefferson was the terminal point for navigation up the Trinity and other rivers so this was the main base of all supplies.
A trip to either of these towns required several days and sometimes weeks. Jefferson was reached via Fort Worth, Dallas, and on east over the old National road. This National Highway was one of the most famous passageways from the frontier to east Texas for many years. Just last week, July 6, 1935, I drove out to one of the famous camping grounds on this road where early day travelers once spent the nights and many a noon-day meal over the camp fire while they quenched their thirst from cold sparkling water from the well still to be found here. This camping spot is some twenty miles out of Dallas and just east of the old ferry crossing on the east Fork of the Trinity. It was about a day’s journey east from Dallas. The road can be traced very accurately across the ravines and small prairie spots here in the edge of Kaufman County some three miles south-west from Forney.
Grandfather and his boys, including my father, made many trips over this old road. As I strolled about over this old camping ground I could imagine days long gone bye when father was only a lad going here and yon assisting with the duties connected with camp as the old oxen graized about on the hills near about. I recall hearing my mother tell of camping on the East Fork of the Trinity at the old camping grounds in the edge of Kaufman County when they were on their way to Hood County. As this same camping spot is some two miles west from Black Land, Kaufman County, where mother once lived. I am almost certain that it is the same place where she trotted about when a girl about 13 years old as they removed from this county. It feeds my imagination with pleasure as I mark this spot to be the one where both father and mother have camped in the long ago.
The usual method of travel was by ox-wagon when this trip was made for supplies. It was a slow tiresome journey back to Jefferson from Hood County. Time did not mean very much for the early pioneer settler, however, and he learned to take things in an easy going manner.
Grandfather usually sent his boys on this trip while he attended to the chores about the place or went on one of his famous hunting trips, either for game or Indians.
When a wagon left for supplies it usually was loaded down with any surplus crops or with grain that was to be ground into flour or meal. Any wagon going on the journey was usually joined by others desiring to make the trip at any time soon as it was to the advantage of all to go together for mutual assistance. It was no uncommon thing for a wagon leaving on such a trip to be loaded with sacks of grain from half-dozen to a dozen neighbors in the community. All sacks were branded with the owners name or brand so that each could identify his own product when it was returned.
I have told above how wheat was threshed out but have not yet told how it was harvested. All wheat and other similar grain was cradled by hand. A good cradler could cut about two acres of good clean grain per day. A man usually followed the cradler to bind the grain as it was cut. This man was usually known as the “binder.” A good binder could usually keep right up with the cradler who was cutting the grain. Often times the women and children were used to bind the grain. A man could use his wife and children and cut and bind an acre or an acre and a half of grain as a hard day’s work.
A cradler would make a swing through the grain, cut it with a jerking movement, catch the grain on the prongs of the cradle, then take each bundle off and pile it so that the binder could pick it up and tie it into bundles. This was usually done by taking several long straws of grain and tying each bundle by wrapping one end of the straw around the other end, then tucking the other end of the wisp under and around the first. When twine came into use, it was universally used for tying all such bundles of grain. When using twine it was usually prepared in short lengths sufficiently long to make convenient bundles to handle. Loops were made in one end and the twine swung in the belt of the operator. One string was pulled out at a time and tied around each bundle by running the loose end through the loop after circling it around the bundle, then looping the knot so that it could later be untied by simply taking hold of the looped knot and giving it a jerk whereupon the knot would be loosed and the string easily removed from the bundle without having to cut the string. A string could be used over and over many times when handled this way.
After these bundles were tied up they were then shocked into “cots” containing twelve to eighteen bundles to the shock. After these bundles were stacked on their cut ends and shocked up a string was usually tied around all of them to hold them into place and this shock capped over with a bundle or two of grain to help protect the shock from rains. An expert could shock grain in this manner in such a way as to withstand a lot of rainy weather without spoiling the grain.
Matches were a rare thing in those early days. A few matches were usually kept hidden away in a glass jar in the cellar or in some place where it was not too dangerous. These were used only in extreme need. These sulphur or phosphorous matches were very poisonous when a child got hold of them and put them in his mouth. A small box consisting of a dozen matches cost twenty-five cents. Matches were, therefore, quite a luxury for any one to have about.
Fire was usually kept by burying live coals deep in the ashes or by covering up a smoldering fire where an old stump had been set on fire under the ground. A stump of a large tree would often burn for weeks and during the worst rainy weather without dying out.
When fire did chance to go out or be lost, the piece of flint and steel that had been kept for the purpose was brought out together with the piece of “spunk” or rotten dry wood and a fire kindled. The spunk wood or cotton would be put down and a lot of dry kindling gathered close. Sparks would then be produced by striking the steel against the flint and then ignite the cotton or spunk. The kindling would then be put on and a fire would soon be going in good headway.
It was not uncommon to send for miles to a neighbor’s house to borrow some coals of fire. The coals were carefully covered with ashes in a shovel or tin bucket and carried back home where they furnished the coals with which to build your fire. I can recall as a child, neighbors going for a mile or more to borrow some live coals in order to build a fire.
LIGHTING THE HOME
Lighting the home was done in several ways. Grandfather often built a large fire in the fire place during cool weather so that the blaze would furnish sufficient light. During warm weather the tallow candle or the grease pot was usually used. A glowing pine knot or cedar knot furnished a splendid light for most any purpose.
Tallow candle making was another art that employed the household quite often.
Almost every one had candle moulds to be used for candle making. Long wisps of cotton were spun into loose threads for the wicks. These were often dipped up and down into melted tallow till enough tallow formed on the wick to make the candle. Many expert candle makers could simply pour the melted tallow down over the wick and by turning the wicks as they poured the tallow form a cylinder of tallow the size they wanted their candles. Grandmother Powell was said to be an expert at this method of candle making.
Better candles were made by using the candle moulds. When made this way a piece of cotton used for the wick was stretched from end to end of the mould and the mould then closed. Melted tallow would then be poured in the mould and the mould plunged into a basin of cold water to make it set quickly. The mould would then be opened and the candle taken out. If the candle stuck to the mould, a little heat applied to the sides of the mould would cause it to come out easily. Such moulds as these came after the days of the Civil War. All early candles were prepared according to one of the first methods mentioned.
The grease torch consisted of a wick being inserted into a can or bowl of clean lard or grease. By a little care this wick could be ignited and the grease would soon melt sufficiently to be drawn into the wick when it would burn with a bright light. If the wick were properly choaked, that is clamped tight through a hole so as to keep the lard from igniting, it would burn for a long time and furnish a bright light.
CARDING WOOL AND COTTON
Carding both wool and cotton has been described previously and will not be given more space here. The fleece and fibers of wool and cotton could be combed out rapidly with cards. After combing the fleece out it was not difficult to spin it into thread by using the spinning wheel. The spinning wheel simple twisted the fibers of wool or cotton and by gently them apart as the machine twisted the fibers they would form a well cored thread.
THE OLD GRIST MILL
The old grist mill was an interesting gathering place during the early days. The power for operating this mill was derived from the force of a running stream of water. The water was caused to flow rapidly against the great paddle wheels or to fall on top of the great wheels and pull them over and over. This was cheap power and could be controlled as the operator desired.
As the water drove this large water-wheel power was conveyed to machinery that caused two large rocks to grind against each other to crush and grind the grain. These rocks were usually of granite or flint and were roughened into “spurs” that would cut and grind the grain. The faces of the rocks were large and flat and as the grain poured down between them it was crushed by the slowly rotating or grinding motion of the two rocks against each other.
Going to mill was quite a venture for a boy. Here many other boys could be found coming from all over the country. As each customer had to wait for his turn to grind his grain and the process was a slow one at best, these boys had a lot of time to make each other’s acquaintance.
I recall hearing father relate one incident centering about one of his early trips to such a mill. Father and his younger brother, George, were on their way to the mill at old Barnard’s Mill on the Paluxy. Along the side of the road they saw a round flint rock about the size of their two fists. They picked it up and because of its peculiar looks carried it along with them. When they reached the mill and waited for their turn they were looking at the rock as the miller’s son came up. He was about the same age of my father who was then about fourteen years of age. He became interested in the rock and began making inquiries concerning it. The boys saw that he was entirely ignorant as to what it was. He soon asked them what it was and they told him that it was a coconut. They had no idea as to what a coconut looked like themselves but that was the first thing that entered their heads. The boy became greatly interested and wanted to trade for it. After taking the joke this far they decided to go on with it and see what would happen. After making several bantering offers he finally offered to give them a six-shooter for their coconut. The boy had quite a collection of pocket-knives and two or three old six-shooters. Father and his brother had neither and as is always dear to a boy’s heart, a gun or a knife are two things always desired. The trade was hastily talked up and the boy had the coconut and father had the gun.
Father and his brother gave special instructions for the boy to go bury the coconut till it was fully ripened before trying to eat it. Father said this was done partly to appear learned before the boy and partly for them to make their get away before the fake was discovered. They knew no more about the ripening of a coconut that the breeding of kangaroos.
They went with the boy to bury the coconut so they could show him just how to do the job well. Each party was greatly elated over the trade. All through this and the next day till father left for home the boys were great friends.
When the boys got home they immediately showed their gun to grandfather. He recognized it as being a high class six-shooter and demanded its history. They finally retold their experience with the miller’s son and the trade. Grandfather took the gun away from them and told them they had to return it the next time they went to the mill. This disappointed the boys for two reasons. They hated to lose their cherished six-shooter and as badly to face the boy after his experience with the coconut. It was several weeks before they made another trip to the mill. On this trip they were required to return the gun and make their apologies to the boy for their misrepresented coconut.
The boy accepted their apologies and they became the best of friends. This same boy grew up and in later years became a close friend and neighbor to my father. No greater joy ever came to him than getting my father in a crowd and telling the story of his trading for the coconut.
LONG JOURNEYS FOR NECESSITIES
During the late fifties and up till late after the Civil War it was no uncommon thing for the pioneer settler to journey from 50 to 100 miles for certain necessities or learn to do without them altogether. I have just recounted how the mills were reached only after a long trip. Travel was slow and the roads were often almost impassible. This was especially true when supplies were to be obtained from east of Dallas where the black mud had to be gone through.
Sometimes it required several weeks to make the roundtrip to Jefferson and Clarksville. When a party was gone on one of these trips those remaining at home seldom heard anything from them till they returned. The family never was uneasy unless the usual time elapsed when they should be able to make the trip and they failed to return. A trip to the mill or to town some 40 or 50 miles away was considered only a short trip and a town thus located was considered a “handy” place to go for trade. During the summer time the trips were not so hazardous as the tripper could camp out each night and have little to fear unless there was a water shortage as was sometimes the case. When winter came the trip was often very dangerous as the grass and weeds died down and great danger always stood out in fear of prairie fires or that the woods might catch fire and make travel dangerous. Grazing was not good during the winter and oxen had to be fed more carefully than when the grass was green.
Grandfather was always fond of hunting and fishing and got much pleasure out of any trip that carried him where game and fish abounded. Late in the seventies and from that time on when game became scarce through Hood County, grandfather joined many hunting parties to the west and southwest part of Texas.
Grandmother Powell was typical of many women of her day. She thought it nothing uncommon to remain at home for days and weeks and look after the family while grandfather was away on a hunting trip or had to join the ranger force for a few weeks or months to drive the Indian back to his reservation.
Women of that time were not so afraid to stay by themselves as they are to-day. It was nothing uncommon for a woman then to pick up a gun and defend the family from Indians or go hunting for game to furnish meat for the table. Grandmother had her own rifle and could use it with deadly effect.
On one occasion grandfather had been gone for several days and was past due to return. This always made women anxious regardless of how well they could accept their fate when being left alone. Grandfather had been gone on a trip about Buffalo Gap and was overdue some three or four days. Far late in the night or early one morning grandmother heard the dogs barking down on the creek some half mile from the house. The dogs were barking the alarm that they something bayed. Grandmother got up and took her rifle down and went down to investigate. She found that the dogs had a wolf surrounded in a hole of water in the creek. She could see the wolf wading about and snapping at the dogs. She raised her rifle to her shoulder and fired. At that instant she heard the voice of grandfather as he spoke on the other side of the creek, exclaiming, “Adarine what are you doing down here?” He recognized the crack of her rifle and realized that she was down investigating the noise of the dogs. He too, had come by to see what the dogs were barking at as he was returning home from his trip.
Grandmother was an expert shot with the rifle or six-shooter as she chose. It was necessary for women to know how to handle guns as well as men.
On one occasion, a panther came into the rock lot adjoining the yard and attacked a small baby calf that was in the lot with its mother. Grandmother heard the bleating of the calf late in the night. While the cows were bellowing and the hounds all barking to the top of their voices, grandmother grabbed her rifle and went out to investigate. The moon was shining at full light and grandmother immediately recognized a panther on top of the rock fence with the small calf in its paws while the cows were bellowing and the hounds barking and jumping up in an effort to attack the beast. Grandmother seized this opportunity to drive a rifle ball into it before it could decide just the best thing for it to do. At the crack of her rifle the panther sprang high into the air and down among the dogs and cows where a mighty struggle took place. Grandmother lost no time in seizing her pistol so as to be ready for another volley should she have the opportunity. When the noise subsided she realized that the animal had been slain.
The well trained dogs had done their job well, however, as she called to them the faithful “Old Trailor” as her favorite dog was called, met her with the assurance that it was all okay. After cows, hogs, sheep and dogs got out of the scramble grandmother quieted things down so that she could examine the animal. It proved to be a very large panther and one that had been causing trouble for many nights before.
Grandmother found that she had shot it right through the left side just back of the heart and the bullet came out on the other side through the right shoulder, breaking the shoulder as it came. This blow would have been sufficient without the deadly work of old Traylor and Bounce, grandmother’s two favorite dogs. They were there to assist however, as was always the case when grandmother was at home and by herself.
Grandfather always kept a large pack of hounds as did every early pioneer family. He had a large pack of trained hunting hounds that accompanied him while away on his hunting expeditions. The old mother dog and the young dogs were usually left at home to act as guards around the place. An old hound that had become too feeble to stand the long trips of a hunting expedition often made the very best sort of watch dog about the place. The old mother dog with a litter of puppies also made an excellent watch dog at any time.
Grandfather kept a little red and black spotted dog as long as he lived. This little dog that he called Tolar was a great favorite with him. It accompanied him where ever he went and everybody knew Tolar. Just a short while before his death he was at my father’s house where my younger brother and I were boys some five and seven years old. We wanted to rip and play with Tolar who had become rather old and cared for little romping from two rough boys such as we were. Grandfather had become old and rather childish by this time. He tried to keep Tolar under his chair but we kept trying to pick a play with him. Finally grandfather tired of this and went home. He reported to Uncle John R. Powell that he never wanted to go back to Lewis’ house any more because the boys kept bothering his dog and he would not have anybody worrying him or his dog.
I do not recall that father ever knew anything about this and of course we boys didn’t know anything about it. Uncle John told me about this when I was up to see him in 1931. Uncle John said that grandfather took sick shortly after this and never did visit my father again, of course, as he soon died.
EARLY CHURCH SERVICES
Church services were attended by every one in the community and each seemed to look upon such as a necessary part of life. A few missionaries traveled through this country at regular intervals but the older settlers usually arranged to have their favorite minister come and conduct a week or two week’s service at some time during the year. Grandfather was a staunch believer in the doctrine up-held by the Church of Christ and welcomed a preacher of this faith at any time.
The usual time for holding meetings at the earliest time was centered around the Christmas holidays. Grandfather always wanted a meeting at this time of the year which was conducted in his house. It will be remembered that his house was the half-way stop between Fort Worth and points West on the stage line. This gave him an opportunity of contacting every member of the Church of Christ who traveled through the country and especially learn of the preaching brethren. This enabled him to send and receive — with a preacher for the home services at Christmas time. The early day camp meeting had not yet come into vogue at this time. Possibly the first church erected in this community was the church and school house at Old Mount Pleasant, some quarter of a mile south of Squaw Creek, and about two miles down the creek from grandfather’s place. This was used as a church for all kinds of services of any denomination.
On old fashioned brush arbor was first built here and later a log church and school building was constructed. Another log church and school building was constructed about the same time over on the famous watering hole on Stroud’s Creek. This was the place where father received such schooling as was furnished at the time.
I recall as a small child the entire family attending church at the old Stroud’s Creek church building. Of course, it was a boxed house during my time but the old log church location was practically in the same spot. Father used to load up the entire family in the old wagon and attend Sunday services at Stroud’s Creek. This always meant that the family took both dinner and supper along and did not return till after the night services which might not be over till near mid-night. After this final service, the team would be hitched up and the family return home a distance of five or six miles over all sorts of roads. All of the children would soon be sound asleep on a pallet spread down in the bed of the wagon.
Children usually slept during the night services. Large pallets would be spread down on the hay at one side of the arbor. Soon all of the children of the community would be stretched out on this pallet and allowed to sleep during the services. All children up to about ten to twelve years of age were handled in this wise. Sometimes the pallets would be spread out in the bed of the wagon and the children would be allowed to go here and sleep in case they remained quite and did not get up a play and noise making enjoyment.
It was expected that everybody would attend the day service where the children were required to remain silent during the long hour or more services.
Otto Hufstedler said that the first time the he ever saw my brother Walter Powell was at a singing and church meeting at the log church on Stroud’s Creek. He said that he had just moved into the country from Arkansas and of course knew no one. After the spreading of the old fashioned dinner on the ground, he said that he came up to Walter who spoke to him and asked who he was. Otto told him and said that he and Walter immediately became friends. When Otto was at Walter’s funeral at Spur he told me this and stated that they remained life-long friends as long as Walter lived. This was over a period of some forty years or more.
In traveling to church during grandfather’s and father’s day here on Squaw Creek, the most of the people who lived within two or three miles would walk, while those living at a greater distance would usually come on horse back or in wagons. The most of the wagons at this time were the tar-pole or wooden axle type. If this wagon was not kept greased well it could be heard squeaking for miles as it came slowly along. I have heard father say that the boys would know who the various people were who were coming, long before they got into view, all from the varying squeaks of the old “thirsty” wagon.
During the early days in Hood County, the men went to church armed, as Indians were dangerous up till about 1870. After that time arms were slowly left off till an armed man at church was seldom seen.
Owen West told me that the first time he ever saw my mother, she was riding behind father on the way from attending a singing and church service at the old West school house and Arbor about two miles below grandfather’s place on Squaw Creek. A community arbor had been built here. He said father had a pretty black horse that he always rode every where that he went. One Sunday in the fall of 1873 he was sitting on his horse at the forks in the road just before going into the gate pasture on his way home. As he was talking with other boys father passed by with her on the horse behind him. He said that he inquired from the boys, “who was that girl behind Lewis.” The bunched laughed and some remarked that it was father’s wife. He said that he could not believe it at first as she looked so little and young. He said he had not heard that father was married till he saw them. He said that mother had real black hair and a little high waisted dress or “empire” dress as most girls wore at the time. As they rode on he could not imagine a little girl like that being married. Mother was but sixteen at the time and was always small as a woman.
During these old camp meeting times, dinner was always served in the “dinner-on-the-ground” fashion. Families took turns about killing a beef to be barbecued or cooked otherwise for such an occasion. No one paid for the beef but all were expected to bring bread and various cakes and pies to complete the dinner. When dinner was called, every one went and helped himself just like one large family.
A COMMUNITY WEDDING
A wedding was nearly always a public affair. Every body was invited and most every body went. There was always a wedding supper or dinner that followed to which every one invited would participate. After this supper, the bridal couple would go to the home of the bride in case such was convenient, if not to the home of the groom. It was the business of the rest of the community for miles around to gather and make arrangements for the grand charivari of the couple. This was looked forward to with great interest. The couple would be “tick—ed” and charivaried all through the night if possible.
One week after the weeding would be the great “in-fai—” dinner. This was another public affair given by the parents of the groom. It was always a great time looked forward to in a community.
My most vivid experience as a child was going with my father to Cook Ranch over across Stroud’s Creek, some ten miles to get a mutton for the dinner when my oldest sister married. I was then a child only a little more than four years of age, but the smell of that sheep and the smell of the fancy spiced candy in the candy decorated cakes are as visible in my memory as anything that I have ever experienced.
THE OLD SORGHUM MILL
Three or four families owned a sorghum mill between them. The rollers of the early mill were made from hard wood such as live oak, well dressed and rounded so as to fit perfectly when turning against each other in the mill. Even the cog wheels to this early mill were made of the same wood. The owners of such a mill helped each other in the act of sorghum making. It was not called sorghum in the early days but simply molasses. When molasses making was over, the young people of the entire community had a candy pulling. No one was too old but he would enter heartily into the enjoyment of this entertainment. A large wash-pot was often used in which to cook the molasses into candy. As the mixture thickened enough to be pronounced done, each person present would take out a large lump and join a partner for the pulling. The two parties would grease their hands and each take hold of the ball of thickened molasses and begin pulling it out to a long string and just before it was to break, it would be lapped back to the hands of the partner and the ends put together and the two lapped ends and the middle become the two new ends, when another pull would be made. This was kept up till the molasses became almost white and till it began to harden. It would then be twisted into screw fashioned sticks and be put back to dry. This was great sport and all joined in the pulling and the eating after it was all pulled.
VISITING THE SICK
Everybody went to visit the sick. Often time when a person was real bad and not expected to live the entire community would gather in and remain till the death or till the turn was for better.
In case no doctor was present, which was often true, each person would take a hand in assisting with the patient as he felt that he was needed or as called upon. A big fire would be built up out in the yard where the noise would not bother the sick party and a large pot of coffee would be made for the community that was sitting up with the sick.
Often times, large families would come to such a place and remain all of the time, children and all. I can recall when it would require three or four women working all of the time and two or three handy men to prepare food enough for the crowd that would always be ready to eat while visiting the sick. Nothing was known of sanitation and cleanliness more than soap and water in case soap would be handy. In case the patient were a child or woman, the most of the women would have to take turn assisting to nurse the patient and administer the various remedies proposed that had effected certain cures when everything else had been known to fail.
When sickness came to a home and forced the folks to get behind with their crops, the neighbors would all come in on some appointed day and work out the crop. I have attended such a working when from fifty to seventy-five hands gathered in to work out a man’s crop. I recall one such crop of about 100 acres of cotton that was all chopped out and ploughed up nicely in one day. The grass was so green in this crop when we began till the cotton was scarcely seen at all. At the end of the day the entire field was clean and the cotton dirted up nicely and ready to be laid by for the season. This help was most valuable to a man when in such need of assistance. Often times several such workings would be carried out over the community during one season. Typhoid fever and malarial fever were often very bad years ago. Sometimes the entire family would be down sick for weeks at a time.
GRANDFATHER ON THE TEXAS FRONTIER
Texas Ranger, Indian Fighter, Buffalo Hunter
Many frontiersmen who scouted the length and breadth of the Texas frontier of the late 50’s and on through the 90’s left a varying description of their experiences. Some of these narratives are quite accurate accounts of the actual experiences of these men while others are highly colored by the imagination of the men writing the story or by the author who conferred with the rugged old frontiersman during his late years and then wrote it as his imagination pictured the reader would enjoy.
Grandfather left no written records of his experiences. All that can be gathered concerning his activities must be gleaned from those who heard him relate the story and from others who were with him and have written of their experiences. It is from both sources that I am recounting some of these experiences as a part of this family history. Under no circumstances am I attempting to over magnify his experiences on the western frontier. A man of that day had enough harrowing experiences to occur in his life each day that excite the present day imagination without spoiling the story by inserting any extra imaginary scenes to add color. When I quote from the pen of others, I give them credit; when I relate the story in my own way, it is only after a through comparison with all the facts his story has recorded the same.
In order to understand the times here in Texas just before and a number of years after the Civil War, I am quoting somewhat of other writers. Occasionally I add experiences related by grandfather so that that this will be a history of his experiences rather than that of another man’s life.
Evetts Haley, in the Southwest Review, describes the frontier of central West Texas at this early time, thus: “Beginning west of Fort Worth the ragged edge of the upper Cross Timbers shades off into nothing but open and rugged broken country. Two hundred miles or more beyond this ragged line is one more rugged still, formed by the escarpments delimiting the eastern edge of the Staked Plains. Between these two lines are rolling mesquite prairies. Beyond the escarpments of the cap-rock lie the High Plains, or Llano Estacados. Draining from these canyons along their eastern edges are the headwaters of many of Texas’ rivers, such as the Colorado, Brazos, Trinity, and Red.”
At the outbreak of the Civil War this was practically unknown country. Many settlers had braved locations all through what is now Hood, Jack, Erath, Parker and Palo Pinto counties on the southern part of what is now Young County. Some of these settlers remained here through the Civil War while many removed to the more densely settled regions of Tarrant, Bosque and Johnson counties.
Grandfather Powell was one settler to remain in Hood county throughout every hardship after his first settlement about 1855. Few settlers, scarcely, remained west of the timber line, however, which left grandfather one of the very few western most settlers for several years. Only a few families braved such strategy when the Indian was taking advantage of the large number of men away in the war to raid the country and pilfer such things as he desired from the settler.
About the year 1862 the state of Texas made some effort to stem this backward movement of the settlers. Frontier regiments were organized along the frontier and given the rank of Texas Ranger. Men who were members of these squads were exempt from service in the Civil War. They were in no wise objectors to military service and were encouraged to remain at home to protect this frontier region.
The scattered squads of such forces were stationed along the outside edge of the frontier settlements, from the Red River on the North to the Rio Bravo on the South. Such a company of rangers was stationed at Weatherford and captained by John R. Baylor, another at Fort Belknap captained by J.J. Cureton, another in Stephens County under Peter Garland, and another in Jack County under A.J. Hamner.
These forces were not gathered except at intervals but were subject to call when anything interfering with the safety of the settlements arose.
Grandfather was a member, at various times, of the force captained by John R. Baylor out of Weatherford. He also served for some time with Captain William H. Culver’s company with headquarters at Stephenville, in Erath County. He also made several trips with Captain J.J. Cureton who operated out of Fort Belknap on the upper Brazos. Major George B. Erath was in command of all of these divisions.
These frontier rangers were furnished supplies of ammunitions from the Texas arsenal and received $2 per day. They had to furnish their rifles and clothing, as well as their own horses. They were subject to call at any time.
When not in ranger service, these settlers were organized into bands of “Home Guards” whose business was to protect the settlements and ward off any suspected dangers. This home militia often proved of great value and was recognized by the military authorities of Texas as a reliable method of protection. After the Civil War and during reconstruction days they would often clash with the officials of the provincial government and the Union soldiers who occupied the various frontier camps to protect the settlements from Indian depredations but these clashes were usually as a result of differing ideals and jealousies between the soldier in government employment and the citizen who felt his private interests were being neglected. Without such service the early pioneer settler would have received little actual protection from any military source. This fact is too well known by any one who have made a study of the times and who understands the psychology of military against civilian life.
Two or three Indian reservations were located through this region at the time. One reservation was in the upper edge of Palo Pinto County along the Brazos River. Here some 150 Indians were located. Further over in Young County and near Fort Belknap a much larger camp of semi-civilized Indians was on government reservation. Farther up in the Panhandle and across North to the Texas-Indian Territory border were the reservations where most of the Indians were located.
Various smaller bands of Indians were scattered throughout this section doing a sort of half-farming, half-hunting, sort of existence. They were usually a lazy sort of people and gave little trouble to the settler till robbing bands of Indians came down from the northern reservations and stirred up a rivalry between them and the settlers.
These smaller bands of Indians often moved from one place as game and fish became scarce or as the weather became too cold or too hot to suit them.
They rode their horses as they dragged their household equipment which had been packed between the long poles used in their tee-pees which were then tied together at one end and forming sort of shafts and fastened to a horse as though a buggy were being pulled while the other ends dragged on the ground behind the horse.
Many Indian camps were scattered throughout the hills and valleys over the country where Indians were busy making flint head spear points and various other warring and hunting equipment. Many are the places where such camps were once located and where flint points may still be picked up. I have quite a collection of my own gathered together from various places where I personally picked them up.
As previously stated, often were the times when from somewhere in that vast and unexplored prairie country came maraudering Indian bands, transient as the wind, to fall upon the whites and these semi-civilized Indian camps to destroy them or to pilfer them as they chose. For mile upon mile, this open country stretched beyond the Cross Timbers westward, into the gently rising and rolling short grass land. In many places near the Llano Estacados it broke into various stretches of choppy country, actually red clay “badlands”, where water – when there was any – was bitter as gall to the palate, and devastating to the stomach. Where game was scarce and fuel still more difficult to find, till it required the most experienced and expert guide to enter very far and get back to civilization in safety.
Beyond this land of gentle swells, where the rock capped buttes and mesas signaled the way, reared the high and colorful abutments to the prairies in flaming reds and yellows against a cold gray background of sky. Sometimes the barren wastes took on the color of a somber brown or a subdued purple all depending upon the time of the year the traveler chanced to view it.
Above the “cap-rock” was a vast stretch of rolling plateau only occasionally broken with deep ranged canyons often with the most ragged approaches imaginable. This lasted as far as the human eye could see.
This was the country that Marcy described so carefully, he logged the general topography in the early 50’s and concluded with his report to the Government that he found “a great barren waste that was of no earthly use to man or animal and where civilization could never exist.”
Far westward from this region were the markets of New Mexico. To the northeast, were located the trading post of the “Yankee” settlements, and to the North continued this vast stretch of waste to the “bad lands” of the Dakotas. Up far in this Texas “Pan-handle” region was to be found the Palo Dura canyon. Through this region the wild red man traded with the settlers of the North and East and West.
Such was the nature of the country from which the Indians came, and back into this forbidding plains, rode the frontier rangers to trail and hunt them down. These rangers adopted the methods used by the red man and traveled without camp supplies, without forage, without shelter, and with little water save that he could carry in his canteen. They ate where the country afforded meat and were often half starved when they returned to the south where game and vegetation were plentiful.
While on such expeditions in this waste country a cook often experimented with many new dishes. Meats and stews were prepared in various fashions.
The rangers found out that the only way to subdue the Indian was to follow him into this “bad lands” region. When the Indian was followed far into this region it would be weeks as — thing before another raid would be made into the settlements.
From the Rio Grande north to the northern edge of the Plains the frontier regiment generally ranged through rather fertile country and one that was fairly well watered. Game was plentiful at most places, grass good and shelter fairly easily found.
Upon the northwest edge, however, only the man who knew the country to the very grass roots could afford to venture with any assurance of making a safe return. This was a country, as previously described, of forbidding stretches of sand and “bad lands.” The trip here had to be made at the proper season. Few men could keep the course through such a region even when food and water were in their grasp. The ranger and scout had to be seasoned outdoor men well versed in the art of plainscraft and the deception of the red man.
Indians were clever thieves and judicious fighters if left to their own methods of handling things. No system of patrolling the border was successful. McKenzie, who was sent by the government in 1876, to drive the great Chieftain Lone Wolf and his band back to the reservation in Indian Territory, with the United States troops behind him would likely have failed had it not been for the trail scouts who went along to guide him in his maneuvers.
It was during the Civil War that Texas decided not to wait for the Indians to raid, but to raid him. Proven scouts were sent into their country in search of their encampments, and there to give battle on their own grounds. It was at this time that the experienced minute men of the ranger force proved of greatest value. Stores of food supplies were taken when such expeditions were sent out by the State government. Ample food supplies were often obtained as these men passed through the upper Cross Timbers where wild game abounded.
As soon as one scouting party returned to the settlements on the frontier, another immediately headed for the vast region. Grandfather made many trips to this region with these scouting parties. Some twenty to thirty men made up such a scouting party.
When Indians or their trails were not encountered, these frontier soldiers occupied the time on the hunt for anything interesting to them. The discipline of such a force was so lax as to drive the military trained soldier stark mad, yet it was by the efforts of such men that the red man was held to his last stand.
Such a group of men as these was a rather picturesque group. They were dressed entirely without any sort of military uniform, in clothes designed for utility, hatted, booted and spurred, like the frontier cattleman of his day. Often they wore buckskin clothing from their jackets to the bottom of their boots, and all of home-made quality. Partly from simplicity of taste, partly because of their isolation, and partly from their impoverished circumstances, their appearance was mean rather than impressive. However, their appearance in no sense would divulge their true characters. Access to markets and choice of garments made these men, of necessity, equip themselves as each individual’s taste and opportunity afforded him.
History often pictures these men as of the type who had entered this service only to escape the Confederate draft but the most of them were men of sufficient age and experience to have but little fear of any war or enemy. They had come a long way to settle and reclaim a home from nature’s wilds and felt that chasing the Indian back was of more consequence than traveling a thousand miles to engage in a war that but few men could explain. These were real men as later history proved. They were men who loved the smell of campfire, the whinny of a horse, and the lure of the trail.
No other unit of fighting men was quite like them. In their belts they carried the vicious Bowie knife, often sheathed in scabbards made from the tails of buffalo calves, slipped whole from the tail bone and dried over a stick the exact size of the knife to be carried. The bushy tail hung over as a tassel ornament or was used to clean the owner’s comb. Except for this knife, there was little uniformity of weapon carried by them. Grandfather’s party thought much of the long range rifles and the old cap and ball six shooter. Each man carried well finished powder horns, one of which could be used to sound the old familiar “hoot! hoot!” to recall the pack of hounds when on the chase or to guide the direction of the camp as a member chanced to lose his way.
When there was little danger of surprise from Indian attack, the rifle was carried on the saddle in a leather or rawhide scabbard, with the stock forward and the barrel backward. However, on the march when Indians were near, the gun was carried across the fork of the saddle, swung in a leather sling cut in elongated diamond shape, with holes at either of the longer points.
This was a very convenient device and no motion was lost in case of sudden surprise. The sling could be flipped from the saddle horn in an instant, and the gun was ready in hand, almost in exact position to be fired. The weight of the gun was carried in the fork of the saddle by this means and whether the horse was in a trot, a walk, or gallop, the gun could be balanced quite easily.
Fighting with these muzzle-loading guns was slow work at the best while an Indian was keeping from two to three arrows whizzing about a man only fractions of seconds apart. These men adopted a shot pouch to swing from the left shoulder to the waist line which was exactly convenient to the right hand. It was divided into two pockets and served for a multitude of purposes. Against the back strap of the pouch a bullet-mould was tied with a buckskin thong, while immediately above this was the handle of the sewing awl. In the back pocket were sewing and pegging needles, sinew and buckskin strings, buckskin scraps for bullet patches, flint, steel, spunk, and the other implements for the making of fire. In the front and most accessible pocket were extra bullets and a box of caps. Swinging below this pouch by buckskin strings and attached to the shoulder strap, was the all important powder horn. This was made of white horn dressed so thin that light came through readily indicating the powder level when held up to the sun light. The peg or stopper to this horn was usually made of hickory or bois d’arc and was tied to the end of the horn by a short buckskin thong. Such a stopper, well polished and greased, would seldom get wet and swell in the horn so that it could not be removed.
Attached by yet another string was the powder measure, or “charger” made of horn or a small joint of cane trimmed to hold the exact amount of powder to be used at each loading. In the rush of battle this measure was seldom used, for it was quicker to guess at a proper charge as it was poured out in the palm of the hand. When a ranger, re-loading at leisure, had no charger, he often measured by placing a bullet in his palm and pouring enough powder to barely cover it up. This was the correct load to be used.
Two more adaptations were made by this pioneer ranger and hunter to save time when firing at as rapid speed as possible. Upon the front of the shoulder strap was sewed a heavy semicircle of leather, slightly larger than a silver half dollar. Its upper edge was carved like the cogs of a wheel, while the lower edge was sewed in the strap as stated. A cap was forced tightly over each cog so that it would not lose under ordinary riding circumstances. Such caps were immediately at hand when rapid firing was necessary. Swinging beneath by a cord was a “loader” made of a disk of leather half an inch in thickness and three inches across. Around its outer edge were a number of holes slightly larger than the caliber of the gun into which were forced bullets almost encompassed by patches of tallowed buckskin. The excess buckskin at the top of the loader was trimmed away leaving each bullet exposed from above. Cloth patches were sometimes used but due to the greater resiliency of buckskin, more power was utilized from the charge, and longer range obtained from the gun.
Each ranger carried some fifty bullets at a time that he had previously moulded with round bullet moulds. He did not like the long or slugged shaped bullets as they jammed in his gun barrel quite often. Each of these bullets was carefully trimmed of any spurs or excess metal that might have remained as it was being moulded. Often times bullets were shaken in a gourd or some such resecptacle for several minutes to smooth off any defects that might have previously existed. A bullet must be perfectly smooth and round if it is to do its best work. This the ranger had learned from many experiences in his past life.
In loading, the open face of the buckskin patch was placed toward the muzzle of the gun. When the bullet passed from the muzzle of the gun, the patch dropped off without impeding the velocity of the bullet. Extra tallow for lubricating was carried in the end of a cow horn prepared for the purpose, this horn tied to the fork of the saddle, or as was sometimes the case, the stock of the gun had a place especially prepared to carry a small quantity of tallow.
The “home militia” often accompanied the regular rangers on these scouting expeditions. Grandfather belonged to this force all of the time that he was not on regular ranger duty.
When either of these forces left the settlements to explore the outer frontier for Indian signs, it was usually made up of from twenty to twentyfive men. These men all rode their own horses and were expected to care for their own mounts. If they had more equipment than was easy to carry on their mounts, they usually carried one or two pack mules on which they carried their stuff. Once in a great while, especially where meat was to be brought back, a “chuck” or supply wagon went along with the force.
These riders all had rather heavy saddles for the usual size of the pony. A pony had to be a wirey animal to stand such a trip and all the hazards accompanying such a life. The mustang pony was about the only one that could withstand such punishment as a journey like this demanded.
As these men rode away from settlements, some twenty-five strong, they presented a picturesque group. No extra horses were among them and each man was expected to take complete care of his own charge. Beneath the headstall of each bridle, and encircling the nose of the horse, was a loop of a long hair or grass rope. Its thirty to thirty-five feet are coiled up and tied at the left of the saddle fork by one of the saddle strings. The hair ropes were always preferred as they are not affected by wet weather, will not coil easily, and can be dried almost instantly by simply twisting them in the hands. It was also tradition among these men that a snake would not crawl across a hair rope when surrounding the sleeping form of the ranger while taking his night’s rest.
Along with this mounted force is a pack-mule for each ten men. This mule is loaded with frying pans, a small amount of flour, a supply of bacon, and a little salt. A pair of blankets for each man is carried on top of the pack — behind the cantle of the saddle. Tied upon each man’s saddle is a big tin cup and perhaps a buffalo horn spoon. This pack mule follows behind. Accompanying this group is a scout for the party. The scout picks the best road for travel and keeps an eye on anything that might be dangerous to the men.
The scout communicates with the group following by mounting a high point and waving his hand or hat or by the firing of a gun as a signal that had previously been agreed upon. There is little noise made by these men when they travel other than the squeaking of saddle leather and the sound of the horses hoofs are about all that can be heard except the constant monosyllabic murmuring of the men as they comment on the journey or discuss problems of mutual interest. Sometimes when the expedition is for the purpose of obtaining bear and buffalo meat a wagon or two will trail along far behind the advance party. When such a wagon is brought along some of the equipment needed on the camp is packed in the wagon. When actually chasing the Indian, however, the wagon train could not keep up and was often several days journey behind unless a fear of attack kept the men grouped up.
As such a train is moving along slowly there is often a sudden interruption caused by a scouting signal who is some half mile ahead. The signal may be to inform them of a herd of buffalo on ahead or that Indian signs are being picked up or even perhaps that a camp of Indians are seen in the distance. If Indians are sighted, the scout drops back to confer with his party and plan what is to be done. If the force is truly that of a ranger force the only objective is that of an attack on the Indians unless the number of Indians is entirely too great to risk an attack with such a small band of men.
If the attack is decided upon, gun slings are raised from the saddle horns, percussion caps are examined to make sure they are in place, slip knots are jerked undone and the coil of stake ropes drawn under each rangers belt. In an instant they are ready for action for they must make their charge before they are discovered by the scouts of the Indians. The advantage goes to the party discovering the other first. No time is lost but the entire force advances, headlong, over the ridge in a wild dash down upon the Indians. Noise is the proper thing at this critical moment and the more of it the better. The wild ripping of the cowboy yells help greatly to magnify the appearance of the attack. The Indians will immediately scramble for their horses and spread out like a covey of quail. The rangers will spread out and go after them in hot pursuit, some of them firing with their rifles while some are instructed to hold their fire or to use their pistols if within range. Such a battle will be over within a very few moments so far as the first wild skirmish was concerned. — — — form in a body and prepare to resist the attack. More caution had to be used at this stage of the encounter. A few rangers always withheld shooting while the main body had been firing so that they would be prepared if the Indians made a sudden surprise charge from their flanks which they often did. Troopers are usually ordered to dismount after this first flurry and seek shelter at any place of advantage such as a rock, precipice, or tree. Such protection is worth a lot if the Indians decide to make fight. No trooper mounted on his horse could equal the deadly aim of the Indian with his bow and arrow at short range. Each ranger kept his long lariat rope on his left arm so that his horse could not gallop away through a sudden fright. This also permitted more deadly aim than could be trusted when the horse was held by the bridle reins. A horse dreaded an Indian attack and was often very restless at the time.
There is little danger of a horse hurting a trooper in case he attempts to gallop away when the rope is tied around the trooper’s waist. All that usually happens is for the trooper to be jerked down and the horse soon stops. When the rope is fastened in this manner the ranger can mount his horse and prepare for flight in an instant. All of these things must be known when a man’s life hangs in the balance.
In case the Indians prove brave and meet the rangers in face to face encounter, each ranger’s actions conform to about the same maneuvers. After each rifle shot, the butt of the gun is swung to the ground, the barrel remaining in the crook of his arm. His right hand seizes his powder horn and with a quick twist with his teeth, the stopper of the horn is removed. A little powder is then poured into the palm of the left hand when it is then instantly carried to the end of the rifle where it is poured down the gun barrel. While this movement is taking place he slips the ram-rod from the carry with his right hand, catching the leather “loader” with his left which is now free again, presses a ready patched bullet into the mouth of the barrel, and rams it down with the hickory rod, then seizes his gun with his left hand, lifts it upwards, while with the right hand a cap has been lifted from the leather cog previously described. The recoil from the gun has kicked back the hammer and recocked it so all that he has to do now is to place the cap on and he is ready for another shot. This entire procedure requires at least one minute for the very fastest operator. He can attend to it without having to watch every action which leaves him an opportunity to keep up with the enemy while the process goes on. The average ranger requires two minutes to reload his gun. If the man is mounted he goes through the same general movements but more time is required to reload.
Loading the six-shooter was somewhat the same only it required more time since six barrels or chambers had to be refilled. The six-shooter was usually kept for the very last resort by the Indian hunter. A brace or pair of such guns were desired and always carried on such trips. Some of these guns had a rather long range but usually were accurate for only seventy-five or a hundred yards. The charge of powder was so heavy in them that a considerable recoil interfered with accurate aiming at great distances. I have heard father say that an experienced man always raised his pistol from the ground upward to aim instead of bringing it from the shoulder downward as such a movement tended to cause the bullet to strike the ground in front of the object aimed at while if the gun were raised and aimed with an upward movement it tended to overcome the natural tendency for the shot to begin falling from the time it left the barrel of the gun.
The Indian dreaded the six-shooter. He always held back after a man emptied his rifle before making a charge in dread of the shots from the pistol. A man had six shoots to defend himself with and the second gun which was held back as long as possible still carried six more chances to spoil the purpose of the red man when he charged his enemy. It was this weapon that finally conquered the Indian. Many a man saved himself by dropping behind some protection as the Indian started to make an attack. When this was done, the Indian always changed his mind for fear that the pistol would be brought into play when he reached within a few yards of his enemy.
THE RAID OF THE SEVEN INDIANS
It was on a beautiful moonlight night in September, 1869, when the last Indian raid took place in Hood County. This raiding party of Indians was first observed passing down Squaw Creek just to the west and at the foot of the hill below grandfather’s place. Uncle John R. Powell and sister, Julia, were driving the cows in home about five o’clock in the afternoon when they first saw them. The children had just crossed on the homeward side of the creek when they were attracted by the sound of galloping horses hoofs at their backs. They turned and looked back toward the sound, apparently, just as the Indians discovered them. The Indians opened up with a lot of yelping and jabbering noises that the children, of course, could not understand. The children stopped and looked in the direction of the approaching Indians when presently the entire bunch came to a sudden halt. The Indians then came riding on up slowly till they were on the opposite side of the creek from the two children. They were then about two hundred yards away.
Uncle John was about seven years old at this time and his sister, Aunt Julia, about twelve years old. Aunt Julia had been sick and was scarcely able to do more than barely walk along slowly at the time.
I listened to Uncle John as he related this incident and he said they were not really scared when they saw these Indians. Seemingly, the Indians were not intending to harm them, yet they realized the Indian seldom meant anything very good in those days. He said they stood counting them while the Indians were apparently talking to each other and occasionally making some wild jestures in their direction and attempting to say something to them. The children stood for a moment then started on toward the house. As they did this, the Indians came across the creek and again came riding up within some two hundred yards of them again. This rather excited the children and they kept on going in the direction of the house which was, now, some two or three hundred yards away. Uncle John said they again stopped and faced the Indians to have them, again, stop and talk over the situation. The Indians then rode directly toward them till they were in perhaps, fifty or seventy five yards of the children. They again murmured some understandable words to the children. By this time the cows had got up to the house and the children were still standing or moving along rather slowly while the Indians were determining just what move they purposed to make. Suddenly the Indians made a series of wild yelps and a number of unintelligent motions to the children and struck a gallop off to their left and in the direction toward the creek. They then turned as if going to circle between the children and the house but the dogs at the house started barking and they again turned and galloped on down the creek.
I spent the night with Uncle John Powell in 1931 and talked with him concerning this experience that he had as a child. He said that he and Aunt Julia were not really scared when these Indians approached them. They came up so quietly and more on the order of people who desired to make inquiry concerning their way or some other matter of information. He said they did not appear to desire to harm them at all. He said that he and Aunt Julia remembered and remarked to each other that they must not run as they had been taught to never run or show fright when Indians came along or they might be killed. He said that they decided to keep from showing any fear, if possible, as they had been taught that an Indian would not likely do harm unless you showed a lack of bravery. He recalled that he had heard many weird stories told about the Indians but these seemed more like the ones that he had heard grandfather speak so much about that once lived neighbors only a few years before. In fact, Aunt Julia remarked at the time that they were those Indians coming to see grandfather and not bad Indians.
As soon as these children could get home, they reported what they had experienced to grandmother Powell. The older boys and grandfather had gone down to the back of the north field which was being cleared up that summer and fall which left grandmother at home with the smaller children. All of the children were called into the house and grandmother watched the Indians as they rode on down the creek around the hillside. They were almost out of sight by the time the children reported their story, yet she feared they might decide to return.
Grandmother went in and sounded the horn for the men folk to come home. This signal always brought the men to the house at this early time. It was never sounded unless actual danger seemed near or as a dinner signal. Grandmother waited till the Indians were far enough away to not hear the horn as she knew if the horn was sounded so they could hear it themselves, they would likely know that she was by herself. This might cause them to return.
When the men came in, grandmother hastily told what the children had experienced and what she had seen herself. Grandfather began making all preparations to protect his home in case they should make an attack. He doubted they meant to do so at that time, however, for they would not have gone on down the creek so far had this been their plans. Grandfather feared th attack might be intended for the settlement lower down on the creek and lost no time in getting ready to go down to Ben West’s place about a mile and a half down the creek in the direction in which they had gone. One or two of the older boys were left at the house while he and two more of them mounted their horses and went down the creek to see if any harm had come to the lower settlers and to confer with them about the presence of the Indians in the neighborhood.
Uncle John went with grandfather to show him were he had seen the Indians. He path crossed the creek along a rocky hillside but it was not a difficult thing to find that Indians had been here and that the children were correct in their story.
Grandfather lost no time in starting down to investigate anything that might have happened down on the lower settlements. As he rode down in this direction, he met Ben West and one of the Aston’s coming to see if anything serious had happened to the upper creek settlements. No time was lost in detailing how the party of Indians had passed on down the creek from the lower settlements only a short while before.
This same bunch of Indians had passed along the creek near the lower settlement along between sundown and dark. Aunt Sarah West (nee Powell) and some other women in the neighborhood had done their family washing that day and just finished hanging the clothes on the bushes near the old wash hole on Squaw Creek and reached the house when they turned and saw the Indians. Aunt Sarah stood in the door of her home and watched the Indians gather up her clothes from the bushes where she had just hung them a few moments before. She had just stepped to the door with a dipper of water to take a drink when she first saw them. It was not more than a couple of hundred yards to the bushes where Indians were then gathering the clothes. She counted them as she was standing and observed that one of them appeared to be dressed slightly different from the other six. It later developed that this Indian was a squaw. She said that the entire bunch of seven Indians were apparently watching her very closely when she first saw them. She decided that they were studying the situation over and trying to make up their minds whether or not to come to the house. She recalled that the men folk were all over at the back of the field where they were clearing land and that she was there by herself at the time. She decided that the long gourd-handled dipper that she held in her hand might look like a gun so she placed it to her shoulder to make it look so if possible. The Indians started on down the creek in a slow moving manner as if they were undecided just what to do.
This same band of Indians was seen, also, passing by the Aston place on down the creek some mile below the West settlement. By the time they reached John Aston’s place they had put on the clothes stolen at West’s and had their horses all decorated in white sheets and gowns. Aunt Bettie Aston witnessed their feats of horsemanship and the many other didos they were going through as they they passed on down the creek about dusk.
Owen West says that he was a boy about 14 years old when the Indians made their raid and stole the clothes from the brush at the “old wash hole”in his father’s pasture. He remembers it quite well because his mother had made him two pair of “ducking” suspenders from some old “bed-ticking” and had washed them that day along with the other clothes. The Indians stole both pair of these suspenders which made him quite angry. The next morning, bright and early, he was out in quest of his lost suspenders. To his great joy and surprise, he had not trailed them more than half a mile down the creek where they had gone the day before, till he found his suspenders. It appeared they could find no use for them and pitched them aside. He lost no time in rushing home to let the folks know that he had found his suspenders. He also found rags of clothes scattered about on almost every bush where they had been torn into threads by the Indians.
After leaving these settlements, the Indians went on down the creek as far as William McDonald’s place. McDonald was an owner of a number of fine race horses as well as other breeds of good horses. The Indians stole the most of McDonald’s horses during the night and rode off with them.
Several other places in McDoland’s neighborhood were visited and their horses stolen. All told, they obtained somewhere between 50 and 60 of the best horses in these settlements. From the behavior of this band of Indians, it would seem unquestionable that they knew where these horses were and intended getting them during the raid and had timed their journey perfectly.
When John Aston, Bob West, and Uncle Billie Powell met as each was on his way the afternoon of the raid to learn if anything had happened to the families in the neighborhood, they lost no time in making plans to follow the Indians. The news was soon spread to all of the surrounding neighborhood. According to McGaughey’s “Reminiscences of Early Squaw Creek” and published in the Tolar Standard many years ago, grandfather was selected to take the lead in organizing the settlers into a party to pursue the Indians. According to this article by McGaughey, it was grandfather that laid the trap that proved the doom to these red skins. His knowledge of the country and the habits of Indians rendered him a most valuable guide for such a purpose.
Due to the fact that no settlers place had been harmed by these Indians on their journey through the settlements, it was agreed that it was not their intention to do more than get these horses to be sold to the Indians on the upper reservations or to the government at the army post at Fort Richardson in Jack County or some other place.
According to grandfather’s idea, these Indians would raid the settlements below and make a swing back out of the country near what was called at that time, “the point of timbers” in the north part of the county near the head of Stroud and Robinson creeks. It was a place where the timber land of Squaw creek and Paluxy jutted out into the prairie where the dividing ridge of the prairie was narrow and known for a long time as a point where Indians entered and departed when passing through the country.
The Powells, Wests and Astons had lived here for some twelve years or longer and for the past ten years Indians had been through the county with considerable frequency. Each time they entered from this neck of woods in the northwestern part of the county from the southeastern part of the county where they had been on a swing through Erath county, thence east, and back through Hood. They seldom went farther east nor north at this time as this part of the country had been pretty well settled up and was too dangerous for their plundering expeditions. Hood county thinly settled as was true of the eastern part of Erath county. It was a pretty easy task for them to cross these counties and raid the settlers, then make a hurried get-away back to the upper reservations before the settlers could organize for an attack. This time they made the mistake of passing during daylight, right by the settlers houses where they could be seen.
About 11 p. m. of the same night these Indians were seen going down Squaw creek, the Squaw creek party, headed by grandfather, Bob and Ben West, John Aston, four of grandfather’s boys, viz., Jackson, Robert, Charles, and Jode, a man by the name of Holt, and all other settlers that could be spared from the community, repaired to the “Point of Timbers” described above. This was the spot picked out by grandfather as the one where they would move out during the night or early the next morning.
Grandfather had sent Lewis Powell, my father, a lad of but sixteen years of age and a boy by the name of Baz Holt, who was about fourteen years old, to Stroud’s creek, Thorp Springs and all intervening settlements to spread the news of Indians. These communities were north and east from the Squaw creek settlements and in the region that Indians seldom frequented at this time. These boys were to notify the settlers so they could mass together and join the other parties at the place chosen to watch for them. It had been agreed among all of these various settlements that an effort would be made to kill out any Indians attempting to raid any part of either settlement again as they had done during the past. Several families on the upper frontier in Jack and Palo Pinto counties had been murdered only a few months before and the white men had generally sworn vengeance against the molesting Indian prowlers. Only a few years before this, a party of some twenty-five Indians raided through this country and several isolated people were murdered and their property destroyed. Grandfather and other rangers had been banded together for frontier protection on several different occasions and were aware of the provisional governments poor efforts to protect the settlers during this period following the Civil War. In fact, the Indians had more liberty and privileges during this time than the white settlers enjoyed. The government claimed to have several companies of soldiers at Fort Richardson, near Jacksboro to enforce the various Indian treaties but this proved of little value to the settlements. The soldiers were poorly equipped to overtake a band of Indians and were not greatly interested in chasing them very far. The experienced settler knew that it took more than a half hearted effort to do anything with an Indian. They had sworn to mass together and take the Indian problem in their own hands the next time they visited them. This was their opportunity.
Father had related this trip to notify the settlers during the midnight hours on this September day, to me many times. During the summer of 1920 when he lay in the Spur Sanitarium before his death in January, I had him recount the entire story to me again. He said that grandfather put him on one of the best horses that he had and would not allow him to carry any sort of gun in this trip. He said that grandfather told him that he could not hope to make a fight against them in case he chanced upon them so the best thing he could do would be to outrun them in case they should be met. He said that grandfather told him the horse that he was riding could outrun any horse the Indians would have and that would be his safest method to escape. Grandfather did not think these Indians would dare turn back in that direction and did not feel that it would be very dangerous for thse boys to make the trip. They left about 11:30, just as the other party left for the “point of timber” agreed upon. They had visited the Stroud creek settlement and on to Thorp Spring by about 2:30 or 3:00 o’clock in the morning. The entire trip required them to cover some fifteen miles of country. This was done as fast as their horses could take them. The boys did not return by themselves but came back early the next morning as the various parties in and near Thorp Spring came. When this party reached Stroud creek and directly north of Squaw creek settlements, the boys turned and came home so that grandmother would know they had made the trip safely. It was also part of the plan that these boys should return home to act as messengers again in case the Indians should return the next morning. In case this should happen, it was the plan for these boys to go out the Stephenville stage line, west, for some five miles, then turn north to the place where the settlers were waiting. This was a very dangerous thing, according to my father, but grandfather was so certain the Indians would leave out through the night that he wasted little time planning for anything else.
The Squaw creek party arrived on the prairie near what was known as “the point of timber” about 1:30 or 2:00 o’clock in the morning. The moon was shining perfectly during its full. No clouds were to be seen in any direction. No more beautiful night could have been wanted by the settlers themselves than the Indians had selected for this last ride.
The men were armed with rifles and cap-and-ball pistols various descriptions. The government of Texas had been furnishing ammunition to frontier settlers for several years. A generous supply was always kept. They did not have the latest guns but such as they did have, they knew well how to use. Some of these rifles were the old long range guns, some were the shorter barrels which were more easily handled on horseback in case the fight took this turn. The most of the pistols were of the old cap-and-ball revolver type that had to be loaded with care if they were very reliable.
Grandfather posted Uncle Jode (Joseph) Powell in the forks of a big live-oak tree which overlooked the entire country and which grandfather had watched on many occasions himself previously. This tree stood just off from the old Indian trail that had been used from the earliest times by the Indians as they traveled through from south and east Texas to the western panhandle country. Uncle Jode was instructed to keep a sharp ear and a careful watch for any signs of the Indians that might reach him through the stillness of the morning day break. The other members of the party selected vantage points behind trees and thickets or hills where they could conceal themselves and yet not be too far separated.
Time lingered along rather slowly while these settlers stood their watch. Many were the distant noises that brought a tremor to the bravest of them while they were straining every organ of sense to detect the first signal from their approach. No one had any idea just how far down Squaw creek the raiders would venture before turning back, if they turned back in time to reach this point before daylight overtook them as was their usual habit, they could not be many miles away.
Grandfather declared they would never raid the settlement and attempt to hide out anywhere near during the next day to wait until the second night but would turn and get out during this night. If it was going to be true this time, it could not be very long before they would make their appearance. It was not known that they had gone as far as McDonald’s place or it would have been known that they would be near daylight in making their appearance. Several horses had been stolen from the Wests and Astons and it was not thought that so small a band would attempt to drive many horses away with them. It could be possible that they had managed to make better time than usual and had already left through this point before the settlers had arrived. This could hardly be possible, however, as the settlers lost little time making preparations.
The morning hours approached quietly. All was still save an occasional hoot of the owl or the yelping bark of a distant coyote. A scream of a panther almost upset the entire program as it chanced to scent the party from the hollows just ahead. The quick ear of the experienced hunter soon silenced any doubt as to what its cry could be.
Now and then the party would gather for a consultation only to hastily return to their posts when another distant noise would be heard. Presently the morning star appeared over the eastern hillside which meant that daylight was not far away. The party became especially anxious at this long wait as the Stroud creek party should have been here by that time. This delay brought fears that the Indians might have reversed themselves to raid the settlements that night or else turned back through the Stroud creek settlements which they rarely could be expected to do. It was certain that considerable noise would be made by them as they drove the horses through the prairie country. Sounds like rapidly moving horses hoofs could usually be heard for some distance on a quiet morning such as this was.
They could not be too quick to attack an on-rushing party as they might make the mistake of firing on their own men who had been —ied to come from Stroud creek. Daylight was just breaking when one of their horses raised its head and neighed to the northward. A horse was heard to answer it only a few hundred yards away. This meant one of two things, the Indians were passing them to the north or the party from Stroud creek was approaching. Suspense was not long, however as the low sound of the hunting horn sounded to assure then it was the approach of other settlers. The entire party went into a hasty consultation when these six men arrived. If the Indians were going to return before daylight, they must soon make their appearance. It was suggested by some of the new arrivals that they believed the Indians had passed to the north of the party as they heard noises of wolves and owls in that direction that apparently indicated some excitement had been taking place. Grandfather still maintained that he believed they had gone farther down the creek than had been anticipated and were not due as yet. Some of the party was becoming uneasy and could imagine they had remained to raid the settlers through the night. Grandfather still contended that so small a band of Indians would never attempt to raid the settlers after it was known they were in the country and would be prepared for them. He still held out theat they would turn westward at the end of their trip and would leave through that very neck of the wood. He would remark, “No boys, they will go out this way, let us stay longer. I have traced too many Indians right through this point of timber. They will certainly pass by here before much longer. Every man get ready. I look for them any moment now.”
Just before the sun arose over the tree tops on the eastern hills and while the party was talking with the Stroud creek party the watchman in the live-oak tree raised the alarm of the Indians approaching.
The Indians were reported approaching rapidly as they evidently thought they were just about out of any danger from the settlers. The party lost no time in getting ready to fire when the Indians got in range. Grandfather cautioned every man to examine his gun carefully and see that caps were in position and that the guns were properly primed for action. No snaps nor flashes were wanted at this critical time.
The Indians were now seen approaching in a long line with a considerable bunch of horses being driven between the front and rear horseman. It was apparent that they had been traveling rather rapidly in an effort to reach the prairies before daylight so they could the better keep a sharp lookout for any pursurers.
When at a reasonable distance, grandfather gave the signal, and the Powell party opened fire. The Indians seemed completely surprised and horsemen and horses sprang in every direction.
The point of attack was some mile east of Star Hollow, a small tributary of Robinson creek. The Squaw creek and Stroud creek parties had scattered out rather widely along the cedar hill side so as to cover the entire point of timbers so that the Indians might no slip by at some unexpected point. Some of the settlers had left their horses hidden in the cedar brush a few paces up the hillside and stationed some of the party here to protect them. These men were to bring the horses out immediately in case the Indians attempted to dash around and get away when the first volley of shots were fired. Instead of attempting anything like this the entire bunch turned squarely around and started in full dash right back in the direction from whence they were coming.
The settlers rushed to their mounts and headed for them at full speed. The Indians did not go far, however, till they made an attempt to skirt the party as had originally been expected. They shifted to their right, keeping the thicket between them and the party of settlers. The settlers saw that it was their intention of getting across the creek if at all possible. The attack now took on the nature of a horse race with neither party having time to do much firing at the other. The Indians soon realized that the settlers were cutting them off from their intended crossing and began firing arrows in their direction. The settlers had steadied down somewhat and their aim had apparently wounded one or two of the party as well as crippled one or two of the horses. The settlers began getting off their mounts to fire which the Indians clearly disliked. They seemed to know, full well, that the settlers aim was much better when fired in that manner. The Indian was more accurate with his bow and arrows from a rapidly moving horse than was the settler. As a result of this, the settlers had settled down to rushing up to within good firing range, dismounting, then firing a volley into the group then remounting and returning to the other party. The Indians did not like this and kept attempting to keep the party chasing them at full speed which the settlers did not wish to do.
About this time, one of the party by the name of Weir, had allowed himself to get cut off from the rest of the party and was being hard pressed by the Indians. His outlook appeared hopeless for an instant but just at this time the Thorp Spring party came galloping up to the surprise of the Indians. They had heard the firing and had come in post haste. Weir saw them and yelled to them to come to his aid. The entire party headed directly for him which seemed to surprise the red men again and they turned back for the neck of woods. Weir had fallen directly into the trap that they had been setting for the whites all of the time. If they could cut one man off at a time and get him they could soon get a decided advantage in the fight.
The Thorp Spring party was headed by John Clark, another experienced Indian fighter. He was mounted on an excellent race horse. It was now about 8:30 or 9:00 o’clock in the morning. The settlers decided to make as quick work as possible for they anticipated that another party of Indians might be hidden out to their west waiting for a contact with these when they returned. The battle now developed into another running attack. Enough settlers had come till they felt they could afford to rush the Indians and possibly divide them. The Indians headed for the upper head of Star Hollow. The settlers kept between them and the creek so as to keep them from crossing to the other side where they might get away.
Neither side had shown any noticeable damage up to this time. Several of the Indians ponies had been crippled and their horses had become badly scattered. They kept the ones that they were riding in good condition.
The Squaw creek party felt that too much time was being spent and that the fight was too much of a circus performance. They still feared that the Indians were playing for time from some cause. They decided to allow various settlers to rush the Indians on their horses if they chose, but they were going to dismount a pick out Indian and see if they could not take him off the horse. The plan worked and one Indian was badly wounded. This seemed to bother the entire bunch. Another horse or two were soon seen to be badly limping. The party grabbed this advantage in good style. John Clark, on his race horse, sped in advance of the Indians and forced them to turn slightly to the left. As he did this several members of the attacking party fired broad side directly into the huddle of Indians. Clark then turned and fired directly backwards toward the oncoming Indians. His shot took effect in the shoulder of one of the Indian horses and dismounted the savage.
This event apparently caused the Indians to change their efforts. They went into a sort of huddle for an instant then started a wild dash toward the creek with the Indian that had been dismounted grabbing hold of one of the horses tails and running behind him on foot. One of the Indians kept off to the side by himself, letting arrows fly at a rapid rate all of the while he was going as fast as his horse could carry him.
The men mounted on fast horses galloped in ahead of the direction the Indians were seemingly headed for and began shooting their horses from under them. The settlers had been hoping that they could save the horses since they belonged to the various parties but this idea was being given up by this time. An Indian is a pretty difficult mark to hit when he is lying down on a rapidly moving horse and lying down behind his shield.
The settlers decided, finally, that the lives of the settlers were in too great danger to be fooling around trying to save horses. The most of the stolen animals had fled by this time so the party decided to direct their firing at the horses and dismount the red men. With the Indians on foot there would be far less chance for them to get away.
The Indians passed on up this ravine to its head where a hole had been formed by the fall of water over the rocks forming a ledge bending about in a sort of semi-circle. Here was a natural rendezvous for the red man. High banks overlooked the depression from one side, while a dense thicket of brush stood on the other side, and a bend in the ravine furnished protection from below. A large cottonwood log had fallen across the stream from the upper approach and much trash and brush had lodged against this obstruction. This gave the Indians about the best place in which to conceal themselves that it was possible for them to find.
Beyond this natural shelter, the little stream (Star Hollow) spread out all over the prairie for some distance to the south. That made it impossible for the Indians to escape in as much as they were being hardpressed by the settlers by this time. It was either to die here in defense of their lives or risk the settlers giving up the attack which would hardly be expected at this late stage of the encounter.
The Indians, themselves, appeared to give up all hope or it was their intentions, as some still though, to get re-inforcements from the reservation only about sixty miles to the west of them at that time. Many of the actions of these Indians during the entire fight had appeared to indicate that they expected to be met by other Indians. This was partly borne out by later developments which were found out when it was known that a large band of Indians had invaded Palo Pinto and Erath counties during the same time that this small bunch had dropped down several miles to the east to plunder in Hood county. It would hardly seem probable that so small a band would have made a long trip of seventy-five or more miles to get horses when they had to pierce so deeply into the white settlements to obtain their object.
The pursuing party consisting of the Squaw, Stroud, Robinson creeks and the Thorp Spring party, and various re-inforcements from most everywhere by this time, came to a halt when they found the Indians had hidden under the bank. They could not see them and it was impossible for them to shoot in under the bluff, so they all grouped together to hold a consultation as to the best procedure to follow. It was now about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and the sun was beaming down right into the entrance to the bluff where the red men had secreted themselves. News of the fight had spread throughout the entire country about and men were coming armed from almost every direction. Several men had come from as far away as Weatherford and other places in Parker county. The party now numbered some seventy-five or eighty men all eager to get a chance to kill the first red man they chanced to see.
Many propositions were advanced as to the best manner to use in routing the seven Indians from this cavity. One suggestion was for the white men to approach the hole from the hill just east of the entrance and roll rocks off the bluff upon them. This was tried out. Each time that rocks were rolled over the bluff, a volley of arrows flew through the air and over the heads of the white men. It was soon found that the rocks were rolling entirely over the entrance of where the Indians were hidden and were not doing any damage. There was only one place from the thick brush on the opposite side of the ravine where a glimpse of the Indians could be had. No sooner did a man approach this position than the Indians covered the spot with a volley of arrows. It would mean death to some man if any attempt was made to rush them from this point. Grandfather and other men of experience in the party, had considerable trouble keeping some of the younger men from this view. In spite of the warning from these men, a young fellow rushed down near, where-upon Weir again attempted to exploit his bravery by rushing down with him in an effort to get a close shot at them. No sooner did Weir expose himself than a volley of arrows were directed at him and he received a wound that caused his death a few days later. He was shot right in the breast near the heart. This so angered some of the men that they were hard to restrain at any cost. The Indians had used guns several times during this fight so the men expected them to use them again when the opportunity came. About this time, several young men, among whom were J.D. McKenzie, rushed up in an effort to peep over the rock bluff to see if it would be possible to see any Indians. At this instant, McKenzie was shot and severely wounded, this time from a gunshot from the Indians. By this time the party had decided that it would be better to find a safer way of getting to them than useless exposure.
Some one suggested that a fire be built and burn them out. This would have been a dangerous undertaking, however, as it would have likely set the entire country on fire. The older white men were afraid the Indian would attempt this very thing himself. Finally along about four-thirty or five o’clock it was discovered that a considerable cloud was forming back in the southwest and thunder was heard in the distance. Soon a drenching rain was falling that came up very quickly. A torrent of water soon came down the little ravine which rapidly filled up the hole where the Indians had hidden themselves. The Indians were forced to come out from under the roots of the tree under the bank and hide along the rock ledge any where they could. All of their ammunition was wet and the bow strings were wet and stretched so badly that they were in-effective. While this was going on among the Indians, the settlers were preparing to rush the attack as soon as the rain ceased.
As soon as the rainstorm was over the settlers renewed the attack before they had learned what advantage the rain had given to them. At this time, John Toby, a young man from Robinson Creek who had been a bugler during the Civil War, stepped forward with his tin trumpet that he had brought home with him from the War and took his position near the top of the bank. As he began blowing blast on this trumpet, the young men who had returned from the War only a few years before, began forming in battle line immediately. This event had the desired effect and midst the yells and cheers of the 75 or 80 men a general rush proceeded while the men surrounded the hiding place of the Indians. Their perilous plight was discovered when it was seen that they could not use their bows and arrows. The few guns that they possessed were pistols and they were practically out of commission. The settlers made quick work of six of the red men. Some alarm was felt when the seventh Indian was no where to be seen. They knew there were seven before they huddled into this bank but where the seventh one was now could not be readily determined. Finally he was seen crawling up under the log of a tree at the brushy side of the creek bank. When he saw that he was discovered he grabbed his bow and let fly several arrows with almost disastrous effect. He kept himself out of view from the gun fire of the settlers by using his foot in the bend of the bow and shooting arrows while reclining flat of his back. Finally a bullet from a settler’s rifle struck him in the hip and he jumped high in the air and with a mightly cry and whoop grabbed his bow and directed an arrow right at the breast of one of the white men just as a volley of shots took the top of his head almost completely off. It was said that this Indian spoke in plain English while he was hidden under this log and begged for his life, declaring that he was a “good Indian” and would harm no one. At the same time he was making these remarks he was using his bow and arrow as effectively as possible.
The settlers scalped all of these Indians, a thing that the white men seldom did. The scalps were taken home with them. Grandfather had one or two of these scalps hanging under the shed next to his smoke house for a number of years. Later, Uncle Jackson took the down to his house and I well remember seeing them hanging there when I was a boy playing about the place. They were hanging up on a nail with the skin on the nail and the long flowing black hair dangling in the wind.
One of these Indians was a squaw. This accounted for one of the band being observed by Aunt Sarah West as being somewhat differently dressed from the others and slightly smaller in appearance.
Among the settlers who took part in this raid were the following: from Squaw Creek, Robert Tramble, Marion Self, John Dennis, W.G.W. Powell (grandfather), Jode Powell, Jackson Powell, Charles Powell, Robert Powell, Robert West, Ben West, John Aston, and others; from Thorp Spring, J.J. Daws, J.B. Sears, T.J. Scott, Mark Herring, W.H. Johns, W.M. Clark, John Clark, Lee Wright, James Parnell, H.P. Thorp, and others: other men from various places were William Weir who was wounded and died about ten days later, J.D. McKenzie, who was wounded but recovered, (wounded with a bullet), Peter Garland, Wm. McDonald, Alvin Martin, Claib and John Oxford, Charley Arrington and others.
After the seven Indians were killed the settlers recovered practically all of the stolen horses and returned them to their owners. One or two were killed from under an Indian as some of the Indians had changed mounts just before they were discovered by the Squaw Creek party at the beginning of the fight.
This battle with the red man was the last real engagement ever to take place in Hood County. This band of Indians apparently belonged to the Caddo tribes. This was determined from the type of bows and spears used by them as well as some of the dress worn by three of the men.
ADDITIONAL NOTES ON THE INDIAN SLAUGHTER
AT THE POINT OF THE TIMBER FIGHT
These additional notes given below concerning the Point of Timbers fight with the Indians in Hood County, in the year 1869, were furnished to me by Owen West, Tolar, Texas; W.H. Scarborough, Fort Worth, Texas, and a pioneer by the name of Self, who lived in 1932, near Lipan, Texas. All of these men were boys about twelve years old at the time of the above fight, and lived right in the neighborhood where the fight took place. All of them had brothers or parents who participated in the fight and have good memories of the actual facts as they occurred. All of the above parties visited the scene where the Indians were slaughtered the next day after the fight. Mr. N.B. Self lived within two and a half miles of where the fight took place and remembers, very distinctly, how they could hear the shots of the settlers guns as the fight was in progress. Mr. Self states that his father was in the battle from the time the Squaw Creek settlers encountered the Indians at the point of timber on the upper headwaters of a little stream known as Star Hollow, till the last Indian was killed. He stated that he was around the place every day for perhaps a week while various curious people were coming and going as they strolled over the scene and viewed the mangled bodies of the Indians.
Each of these men state that Ewell’s account of this massacre in his History of Hood County, is inaccurate in many instances. Ewell gives a great part of the credit for the leadership of the attack to the Thorp Spring party. The actual truth of the matter is that the Thorp Spring and Parker County parties did not get to the battle scene till the Squaw Creek and Stroud’s Creek parties had already dismounted the Indians and had them cornered in the ravine. The Clark party from Thorp Spring was greatly welcomed as they arrived just when re-inforcements were needed but to give them the honor of driving the Indians into the ravine is not giving proper credit to the settlers who had fought the Indians for several miles up and down the hill sides all of the morning on that day.
It matters little where honors are placed in the encounter such as this was. The truth of the entire matter is that there were no appointed leaders among the different parties of settlers who kept gathering all through the day as the report was noised abroad and they could gather in the fray. It was not a military encounter, at all, but simply a hastily gathered mob of settlers that had outwitted a band of plundering Indians and were determined to end their career.
I talked with the above men, myself, and they all gave practically the same version of the story. They stated that grandfather Powell and Ben West had been leading the attack from the time the Indians were first seen early in the morning till they began secreting themselves under the bank in Star creek. Each of the men rode large gray horses on this day. They were both large men and the settlers kept laughing at them as they rode back and forth between the various squads of settlers, keeping everything in proper order, and keeping a watch upon the Indians to be certain that they did not get away. Grandfather rode a large gray horse that he called “General Lee” while Ben West rode a large gray mare that he called “General Washington.” These names apparently were given on the day this battle was raging simply as humorous remarks to keep the general spirits of the men up. Various neighbors would remark as they galloped back and forth directing the attacking parties that the Indians were evidently a bunch of inexperienced marksmen or they could hit as big a mark as either of these men presented to them. Owen West said that grandfather was a larger man than Ben West and his horse grew tired of carrying his weigh of more than two hundred pounds and began lagging behind Ben West’s horse with a lighter load. Ben West, who was a brother-in-law to grandfather, would tease grandfather and tell him that he was afraid to keep in front for fear some Indian would think him a chief and plug him.. Grandfather would reply by saying that he had not ridden his fastest horse on that day but had come to fight Indians instead of running races.
The first horse that was shot from under an Indian on that day was shot by grandfather. The first Indian that was known to be wounded during the fight was shot by Joseph Powell, one of grandfather’s sons. Uncle Jode (the name worn by this son) used grandfather’s old long range gun that he called “Old Baylor.” This name was given to it because grandfather had traded the gun from John R. Baylor only a few years before this time. Uncle Jode got off his horse and took careful aim from under the neck and shoulder of grandfather’s big gray horse and fired. As his shot rang out, one of the Indians was seen to throw his hands into the air and almost fall backwards from his pony. Other Indians rushed to him and pulled back upon his horse and ran along beside him as if to help him keep his horse. This Indian was seen to lie down on his big bay horse several times and finally to be taken from his horse and pulled up behind another Indian as they turned down into the creek.
One of the Indians was seen to drop his shield about an hour after the fight started. After the encounter was over, some of the men, including grandfather, went back to see if they could find it. They finally found it and on examination were able to see where more than a dozen bullets had struck it. This was evidence that the settlers aim was good but the splendid condition of the shields of this band of Indians prevented much damage so long as they were in good condition for fighting. The most of the settlers were not acquainted with the proper way to shoot at Indians as the bullet marks indicated. An Indian must be aimed at low or else he is able to protect himself when mounted on a horse. If he is first crippled in the leg or foot, he usually becomes a good target as he cannot handle his shield so skillfully when in so great a pain. It was usually a waste of time to shoot directly at the head or the body of an Indian who was trained for fighting and had good weapons such as these Indians had.
After the fighting slowed down and began to be a real business, the settlers began using their long range rifles instead of their old cap and ball pistols such as most of them were armed with when the fight began. Most of the settlers came armed only with the pistols, leaving their rifles at home as they did not think they were needed in a running fight such as this was proving to be. As men were coming in to re-inforce the settlers, others were being sent back for the rifles. When these rifles made their appearance, the Indians were plainly worried. They could be more heavily loaded and carried a larger ball. It was noticed, several times, that a point-blank shot from these rifles would almost knock an Indian from this horse. The shields were seen to turn completely over on the Indians arms on several occasions. The hard shooting rifles were found to be the proper weapon to use in killing the horses from under the Indians when it was determined that the horses could not be saved during the battle. Many of these horses belonged to the men who were engaged in the effort to kill the Indians. Mr. Self stated that his father said one of the hardest things he ever did was to aim directly at one of these Indians and fire when he recognized one of his big black stallions was being ridden by him all through the fight.
After the Indians were killed and the various equipment used by them was being examined, it was found to be almost a miracle how long these Indians were left in the fight. Two or three of them were riding saddles that had been stolen from the settlements during their raiding. Each of these saddles was punctured by several bullet holes. One saddle had the entire pommel shot off and another had several holes through the skirt. The shield mentioned above was found to have two bullet holes right through the center. One Indian bow was split right in the center by a rifle shot. Several bullets were found in a hair shoulder ornament that one Indian was wearing. How the Indian could escape so long when the aim of the settlers was apparently so good can scarcely be accounted for. Some thought that many of the settlers did not load their guns carefully enough and failed to pack the wadding down on the bullet sufficiently which would prevent as forceful shot as would result from more careful loading. This might be the satisfactory explanation.
Owen West said that much comment had passed back and forth concerning the reason why the settlers did not kill the Indians immediately rather than keeping the fight going all day. He said there were various reasons for this. One being that the Squaw creek party did not want to kill the horses if they could make the Indians give the horses up in good shape. Another was that the whites did not really want to harm the Indians if they could get their horses and other stolen things without having to kill them. Many of the settlers felt that it would be wrong to kill the Indians when they had made no attempt to murder any of the settlers during their raids. Others felt that if they killed them it might cause other invasions through the country by other bands of Indians who would have no mercy on the settlers who had killed some of their party. Still others felt that if they could get the bunch to surrender they could be turned over to the governmental officials and get better protection in the future than in any other way.
This parlying had been going on for some time when men from Thorp Spring and the upper frontier country in Parker and Jack counties arrived. Some of these men had lost relatives from the hands of the red man and had sworn vengeance on any Indian they encountered. Several of these new comers were drinking rather heavily, also, and it was not long before they were in a condition to refuse any suggestions as to leniency with them.
Before the last mad rushes into the ravines where the Indians had secreted themselves took place, several of the more conservative members of the attacking party attempted to communicate with the Indians and get them to surrender. Several settlers had come close to them as they were down under the bank and found that they were able to speak in some recognizable words. Settlers attempted to talk with them but they kept very quiet when any settler attempted to draw any conversation. The settlers dispatched a courier to Thorp Spring to bring a man who was known to be able to speak several Indian dialects but he did not get back before the uneasy mob had become so unruly that nothing would satisfy but storm the hide out and kill the Indians. After one or two of them had been killed the interpreter arrived but nothing would persuade any Indian to talk to any body. The interpreter could not get the mob to wait long enough for him to attempt to get the confidence of the Indians so they might talk to him. It was decided that the only thing to do would be to see that no Indian escaped alive.
I talked with Owen West and N.B. Self during the same afternoon in 1932 and they each state that no white man would have been wounded in this fight had some of them not been drinking pretty heavily throughout the afternoon. In fact, some of them were too drunk to really know what they were doing. Wilbarger speaks in tribute to the men that were wounded in this battle and calls them such brave men, etc., while the truth of the thing is that both men who were seriously wounded were so drunk that they would not listen to the older and more experienced men in the party. Many of these men would be running their horses up and down the hill side up above the bend in the ravine where the Indians were hidden, shouting to the top of their voices, “Where are the damn red skins. We can lick hell out of ‘um. Come on you rusty old men. Let’s see how brave you are, etc.” It is regrettable that the settlers were not left alone so they could have communicated with the Indians and protected them if they deserved it. However, to the credit of these men, let it be stated that many men drank heavily when on such expeditions as this was. May it also be said that it was much harder for a man to be reasonable with a bunch of Indians when he had seen some of his own people brutally murdered by them.
Considerable difference of opinion arose, also, after the last Indian was killed as to whether or not they should be allowed to be tortured by some of the party. When they were dragged up on the bank, some of the men rode onto their bodies and made their horses trample them with their hoofs. The older settlers persuaded the men to stop this but no sooner did this stop before some of the men rushed up and began scalping them and cutting various parts of their limbs off to take away as relics. Most of the party had no desire to do more than pile them all under a tree and leave them till the next day. It was not long, however, before the entire bunch had been scalped and the body of the squaw had been badly mutilated. The most of the settlers were utterly disgusted at this but nothing could be done to prevent it.
N.B. Self told me that he visited the place daily for some time after this battle took place. He said these Indians simply laid there and rotted or rather dried up on their bones like a carcass of any other animal would do. The grass died all about the spot where the bodies lay. He stated that it was a year or so before the bones were entirely gone. The most of them were dragged away by wolves and dogs months after the killing. He related that he went to the place about two or three years afterward and saw several bones still lying around. People began carrying the off, however, and in a few years nothing remained to mark the spot where the last battle with Indians took place in that part of the state.
I have heard father tell how grandfather had several bows and arrows, one shield, and a lot of arrows, that he picked up after he and the boys were ready to come home. These were kept about the place for a number of years. Finally as grandfather was showing them to a bunch of New Yorkers who were traveling through on the stage and relating the incidents of the battle, they asked him for them and grandfather let them have them. It will be remembered that grandfather ran a stage station on the old stage route between Fort Worth and places west. Meals were given to travelers who desired to eat. Many of these travelers enjoyed hearing grandfather relate experiences he had on the frontier. It always seemed to please grandfather when one of the party began begging for something to take along to remember the trip by. These old pioneers had little thought of the value of these things to future history and thought little of parting with it when some one came along, who was clever in making friends with them.
Uncle John Powell says that he remembers when grandfather gave these things to these people. He says that the party promised to return them after taking them home with then and showing them to the people there. Nothing more was ever heard from them which, of course, was expected.
Grandfather kept a stage station during a long period of time. The stage driver kept his horses, and often time an extra stage, at grandfather’s place. Travelers frequently made such places their headquarters for day and night lodging and to stop off for rest when making long journeys. Some times parties would stop off and spend several days when one of them became ill or they desired rest.
I have heard Howard Peek, of Fort Worth, and Ben Estes of Granbury, talk of the many times they had spent the night or taken a meal at grandfather’s place. Mr. Peek was a traveling man, working out from Fort Worth, for some forty years during the frontier days. He told me that he had spent many an hour sitting listening to the stories told by grandfather and grandmother about the early times in that country. Each of these men asked me for a picture of grandfather’s old place when they found out that I had been up to take it. I gladly consented and gave them one. They related many interesting stories they had learned from grandfather during those days.
These men told me that grandfather and grandmother were as fine and noble people as they had ever met. They stated that grandmother was a well educated woman for the time and would talk about business problems of the day with the ease of the trained business mind. They said that grandfather was always ready to aid and help any body that needed help. Their place was always one of refuge to any weary traveler.
I took a trip to Fort Worth, to meet and talk with Howard Peek after I learned that he was so well acquainted with grandfather. I also went to Granbury and talked with John Hiner, Bev Estes, and Jim Doyle. All of these men were glad to know that I was a descendent of grandfather and spent some time in going over certain points that I have used in the sketch. They were glad to correct any errors that they found as I read over the briefs to my work. Such narratives as I have included, herein, cannot be far wrong when all of these old pioneers agreed with the details.
Howard Peek and Bev Estes traveled over all of West Texas from soon after the Civil War to near the year 1900. Up till the building of the railroad through Tolar in 1889 they always traveled over the old stage road that led directly by grandfather’s place.
GRANDFATHER’S ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE INDIAN
Grandfather Powell did not enjoy killing Indians himself nor did he approve those who did so. He, like all settlers on the frontier, believed in protecting both life and property against attacks regardless of the source but to go in search of human lives just for the sport of the thing could never be justified in his sight. He would ride over the rough country for days and weeks, suffering both hunger and thirst, while driving the Red Man to cover or in retrieving stolen property, yet he always felt that man’s life was a sacred gift from God and should be spared when at all possible. I have heard my father say that grandfather never boasted about killing Indians. When he recounted his many encounters with them, he would admit of only one or two instances when he was positive that he did actually kill one.
Grandfather always admitted that he felt a sense of shame when he recalled the numerous murders committed by white settlers and Indians against each other. He could never excuse the vicious Red Man for his deeds of violence nor did he look lightly upon the scene where settlers homes and families were destroyed. As he would tell about these experiences, he always made it plain that he did not believe such things really had to happen. No settler was more ready and willing to seek out the ravaging “red beast” who would stoop to murder innocent women and children and destroy homes than was he. Like all pioneer people, to him, there was but one way to meet out justice to any one who would commit such deeds and that was to seek out and destroy him.
However, he never believed that the cases where such deeds did happen, frequent as they were in those times, could justify the unwanted slaughter inflicted against the Indians by lawless bands of white men who would raid and murder innocent women and children simply because they were Indians. He was not the type of settler who believed that the only good Indian was the dead ones. During his last few years, he would talk often over these experiences and remark that the whole thing was unfortunate and resulted from an unwise handling of the Indian problem by unscrupulous governmental officials. This part of Texas was settled during a period of unrest throughout our nation. Men were taking sides all over the country concerning the differing political views relative to the proper handling of both the slave and Indian problems. Neither savage nor white man could act wisely when there were those encouraging strife and discontent purely for the fun of the thing. It is a recognized fact known to us today, that many of these Indian raids made against these settlers were instigated by low principled white men and often times actually lead by them. This was true, especially, just before and after the Civil War times. To grandfather, there was no greater criminal than the white scabs roaming the country during those days who would commit thefts and even murders and excite the blame upon the Indian and see that he suffered for it. He never had a doubt but that such instances were many.
Grandfather singled out two particular raids to which he was a party that he always regretted and felt that they were unwarranted. One of these was made against the peaceful Indians encamped on the Salt Fork of the Brazos above where Graham, Texas, is now located. This raid took place about 1858, the other was in 1865 and took place on the Concho river, near where San Angelo is now located. This is known as the Dove Creek battle.
In each of these assaults against the Indian, the white man were attempting, as grandfather saw it, to slaughter the Red Man, women, children and all, because of a general feeling of hatred that had developed against the entire race. No red-blooded American citizen of that time or this could sit down peacefully and see his neighbor killed and his family maimed and scalped. Such atrocious crimes would cause anyone to reach for his rifle and go in pursuit. This would be true, more especially, when law and order had not become fixed in a community. Grandfather looked at the problem in that way. However, he did not believe in rushing out among the Indians and begin killing every one in sight without first making some effort to determine the guilt or innocence of those involved.
In the first instance mentioned above, Indians had been sneaking through the country round in the upper Brazos in what is now Palo Pinto and Hood counties. These Indians were mainly from the Indian reservations in the upper Panhandle and across the Red River line. Occasionally these warring Comanche and Kiowa bands incited the semi-civilized Indians on the Brazos to join them. During these moon-light raids, they would steal horses and occasionally attack a home when they found such unguarded and murder the family. Usually they pilfered through the country without committing murder unless attacked by the settlers. If attacked, however, they would commit the most atrocious crimes against any unprotected home that they ran across unless they were immediately driven out of the community. Such raids became quite frequent in the year 1858. The settlers became so alarmed that the cry arose everywhere, “Down with the savage Red Man! Arise and let’s kill them all.” People became so worked up over the situation that the communities were divided into two factions, one side, known as the “Red Men”, looked more mercifully toward him just as they did toward the freedom of slaves; the other believed in slavery, generally, and in solving the Indian problem by rising up and driving him out of the settlements. These last, were commonly called “White Men.” The line was not always drawn so as to include the black race as a part of the Indian question but, as a whole, the two problems went hand in hand.
During these “Regulator and Moderator” days, the Indian depredation became frequent. Home-guard bands of men joined into parties throughout the country to defend the settlements against attacks. Some of these “minute men” restricted their actions simply in defense while other more daring bands determined on hunting the Indian camps out and driving them back into the reservations as the best policy. One such band was led by Peter Garland of Stephens County, who had organized a home guard in that vicinity. Another squad of men was lead by John R. Baylor, who had been sent to Palo Pinto County to act as a sort of government commissioner to handle the Indian situation. Grandfather was a member of John R. Baylor’s squad. Baylor was stern and unmerciful when he became thoroughly stired up but used better judgement, on the whole, than certain other leaders such as Garland and H.A. Hamner, who represented leadership in Stephens and Jack counties.
There were a number of small bands of Indians living along the creeks and ravines, during these days, that needed watching but were not really guilty of the things that was held against them. One such group lived near grandfather and was referred to earlier in this story. Due to strained conditions that arose about 1858, the men who opposed the Indian most bitterly, became almost ungovernable. Everytime any harm was done over the country, whether stealing or murder, threats against the Indians grew worse. Finally a group of men lead by Peter Garland, influenced by feelings and liquor, raided several Indian camps in Northern Palo Pinto county and the Brazos reservations. Several innocent Indians, including women and children were murdered and their villages destroyed. Grandfather was not actually with these men but was with Baylor a few miles away and was considered a party to the deed. He never could quite excuse this incident and always referred to it as cold blooded murder on the part of the leaders and all those engaged in it. It later developed, that it was very harmful to the settlers because the government sent agents and military guards with instructions to protect the Indians and punish all those attempting to take the matter into their own hands. This action on the part of the government simply served to encourage the Indian and make him feel that his efforts to rid the country of the white men was right. The presence of military authority was not welcomed in the settlements and those in charge of the soldiers always dealt with the citizen soldiery in a manner as to stir up unwarranted rivalry between them. When a raid occurred, the military authorities refused to acknowledge the true facts in the case, since to do so, would show them up as poor sentinels as protectors of both the settlers and the Indian. To acknowledge that they were unable to safeguard the settler and control the Indian or that they were careless of duty, a thing a soldier would seldom admit.
The other incident that worried grandfather when he talked about it was the Dove Creek battle on the Concho river. The facts that brought about this battle, though unknown at the time, have been summed up by several writers. It seems that a large number of Kickapoo Indians had become dissatisfied with life among the masses of Indians on the reservation and asked the government for permission to remove themselves to Mexico where they would be among their own tribes. Permission was granted them and about 1200 in a band, started across the upper settled frontier counties, moving all of their possession with them. Nothing was known of this among the settlers till a band of scouts who rode the frontier as sentinels to warn settlers when Indians were near, spied them. The whole country was soon in a panic when reports spread everywhere that so large a group of Indians was seen moving into the region. Captain Gillentine of Erath county, who was scouting the region at the time, lost no time in dispatching couriers throughout Erath, Johnson, Bosque, Hamilton, Brown, Parker, Jack, Coleman, and other counties, to sound the alarm and request men from these counties to meet him at once at Camp Selman, in Stephens county. At the time, grandfather was with a small bunch of men on the “upper frontier” near Red river under the leadership of Captain Buck Barry of Parker county. Gillentine sent a messenger to inform Barry of the trail with request that he come at once. Barry detached a small bunch of men to scout the Indian maneuvirs and ordered the rest to join Gillentine’s band at Camp Salem. Grandfather was one of the men assigned to track the Indians. Their trail led them by the Indian reservation on the Brazos where the Indians had camped near the military post. The Indians were indifferent to the scouts and apparently gave them no consideration. They showed no alarm and appeared to not recognize any danger from the whites at any time. Such action puzzled Captain Barry and he finally approached some of them and found that they spoke fairly good English. They reported to him their intentions and assured him that they would do no harm. Captain Barry dispatched this information to Gillentine. However, by this time, a number of settlers began reporting stock being stolen and homes raided, till that country was excited into a panic stage. Reports were circulating that the thing was a hoax and such promises as were made to Barry were to protect the real intentions and just as soon as they were far enough from the government protection to feel safe, they would turn and wipe out the settlements before protection could be sent.
The settlers were too greatly alarmed to accept such a movement in good faith. During the several days that elapsed before the Indians resumed their journey, the settlers were reporting all sorts of wild tales as they drifted through the country. Excitement was everywhere. The settlers recalled the agreement that Indians would be kept behind the reservation. This agreement was made in 1843 between Sam Houston and the Indian and Federal authorities. It has been renewed time and again. The treaty had become fixed in the minds of the settlers and no raids against Indians had been made into the reservations for years. This was true, despite the fact that Indians raided frequently from the reservations into the white settlements.
In the course of ten days, men from every direction had rushed to join Gillentine in defense of the frontier. During the same time, these Indians were moving on slowly across the upper settlements, killing game and cattle as they chose, ranging their large number of horses wherever they desired. Gillentine became perplexed at such action. No amount of reasoning could convince the frontier settler that such actions were in good faith. Ever expectation was directed to the belief that so large a band had any other purpose than to fake good intentions till the time would be right, then turn and destroy the settlements before help could reach them. All plans of the settlers seemed futile save that they should act immediately and drive these Indians out of Texas before they paid with their own lives and property.
By this time, something like 450 men had gathered in Stephens county and were following the trail of the Indians. They were joined in Brown county by a state militia force of some fifty men under the leadership of Captain Totten who had headquarters at Fort Chadburn at the time. Captain Totten was placed at Fort Chadbourne with about 125 Confederate troops for protection of the settlers from raids out of the Southwestern Indian reservations along the Mexican borders. After holding a consultation with Gillentine and other leaders, Captain Totten, agreed that the Indians should be attacked as a warning against such movements if for nothing else. Grandfather recalled that Captain Barry, Baylor, and others were reluctant to accept this view but to disagree under so much excitement would be to invite censure in case this did not work out to the best, so they agreed to go forward. The Indians were overtaken on Dove Creek, a tributary of the Concho River, near where San Angelo is now located. When the advance scouts first saw them, they were intrenched in camp and apparently without any though of being pursued since the only sentinels on guard appeared to be a few men guarding the large bunch of horses being driven along in the party. The settlers decided to strike hurriedly and get an advantage of the suprise attack. The men were not in agreement as to the plan, but the more forward rushed action in a most careless manner. The frontier troops were divided into squads and ordered to attack from all fronts as one body and slaughter every Indian possible so as to excite them into mob retreat before they would have time to plan a defense. At the first attack the Indians showed complete surprise and several of the older men and one woman with a babe in her arms signaled for a parley by raising a white cloth before them and advancing toward the settlers. No sooner than one such appeared than they were shot down. Even the woman and babe fell as a result of some well aimed shot. This seemed to rally the spirits of the Indians and arouse every savage bit of their blood. Within a short time they were pouring volley after volley of lead directly into the face of the charging militia. The settlers still believed that no Indian would long stand up and fight in a body such as these were doing but would soon break up and dash for cover when they would then have the opportunity to surround them and soon put them to flight. Such was not the case, however. It was soon discovered that these Indians were fighting with army rifles and using government ammunition. They were far better armed than the settlers with the varied sorts of guns collected by them when they joined the chase. After several hours of the most severe sort of fighting, the settlers retreated for cover to discuss the next move to be made. After careful deliberation and the fact that they had already lost some fifty men, not to count the wounded, the frontier leaders decided that the loss would be too great for them to continue battle. They had proved to the Indians that they would fight to protect their settlements and would not tolerate Indians remaining long off their reservations. Despite the fact that several of the leaders showed utter disgust because of such a cowardly decision, the settlers decided to withdraw and not needlessly sacrifice any more men. From grandfather’s way of looking at this occurrence, the whole thing was utterly disgusting. The government could have furnished these frontier scouts with information concerning the movement of these Indians. Too, government escorts should have gone along with them to make sure that nothing violent would happen. It was known that the settlers resented the Indians coming through this country. It was known, as well, that Indians could not be trusted to keep their promises any more than ruthless blood-thirsty leaders among the frontier rangers could be depended upon to use good judgement when feelings were aroused by the Red Man. This battle resulted in the loss of more than fifty whites and more than a hundred Indians. Many settlers carried bullets and slugs in their bodies to their graves from wounds of this battle. The actual battle results were no more disgusting to grandfather than the fact that the federal government had no more respect for the frontier guards than they showed when they made no efforts to warn them that these were peaceful Indians and moving with their permission. It later developed when the government investigated the attack, that the entire fighting forces among the Indians were armed with government weapons furnished them at the government arsenal for protection as they crossed this frontier region.
Many writers today, speak in the strongest language against the actions of these frontier “minute men” but when thoughtful consideration is given to the fact that they were never taken into the confidence of governmental officials and civil law was so far removed from them to be worth much they had to take the law into their own hands. Governmental leadership sent to control the Indian problems was usually sympathetic towards the Indian and had little respect for any semi-military organization out side of the realms of the federal army. True, little respect could be shown for an organization more or less self appointed but Texas authorities recognized them and furnished them equipment with which to defend themselves. What people would act differently today under similar circumstances? Though grandfather could not sanction such raids as those just described, yet he could never lay all of the blame on the settlers when their safety and homes depended, not upon governmental protection, but upon the good marksmanship of the colt’s revolver and the “cap and ball” rifle of the day.
This was an age when Indian attacks against the settlers had so enraged these determined pioneers that they were not eager to accept promises and assurances when they had no assurance that such were made in good faith. It was common for both settlers and Indians to make promises that peaceful relations between them would be pursued in the future without any effort being shown to comply with such promise. Even the government would supply all assurances possible when embassadors were sent to ask for mercy but nothing ever came of it. It was a case when civilization was again in the act of making progress in the face of most bitter opposition that could be mustered by a stubborn and treacherous people who believed anything right according to their laws that would thwart or stem any encroachment upon their unrestricted freedom that they had so long enjoyed. Killing each other under such circumstances was not considered murder. It was simple warfare conducted on a plane with the surroundings of the day. To grandfather, such memories often brought regrets but the deed had been committed and there was nothing that could be done to undo it. He appeared to find some consolation, however, in acknowledging freely and frankly, that such should never have occurred and, in so far as he was concerned, was a thing to be regretted deeply but was the price they had to pay for their homes and their lives.
Grandfather was in many other Indian skirmishes during his day. For a year or so preceding the Civil War and on till its close, all able bodied men and the most of the young men not called into service, were enlisted into service for frontier protection. Such men were organized into militia units, furnished ammunition by the State, and depended on to protect the frontier region from Indian depredations. This militia organization was recognized by the governor and received his sanction when such service was in accord with the military operations at the time. When a more concerted attack was necessary against the Indians or a long pursuit to be made against some outlaw band, these settlers joined the regular ranger forces and were then directly under some ranger captain assigned for service in the region. At least three different muster rolls of ranger reported on file in Austin include grandfather among the enlisted men in service.
The home militia was not such a formal organization as the regular ranger force but was considered as a part of it. In this organization, a unit consisted usually of ten men who took turn about patrolling the country in ten day shifts. It was their duty to keep a watch on any Indian signs or movements and if such appeared destructive, to spread the alarm and use every means possible to suppress it. At the expiration of ten days, the unit in service would return home and another unit would take its place. Such scouting parties were responsible for the safety of the settlements over a span of country reaching some three hundred miles from Montague county on West as far as settlement was made at the time. When these “home guards” encountered roving Indians or picked up signs of where they had been, they rushed couriers to the nearest ranger headquarters to spread the news and usually engaged the party of Indians direct unless the band was too large for their small numbers.
During the Civil War, all of this Northwest Texas region was declared dangerous and a great number of the older men were exempted from regular service to serve in these protective units. The younger boys were also allowed to remain at home and aid in such protective service or with crops at home.
Grandfather and his younger boys remained at home subject to such service while the three older boys enlisted in the Civil War. This was a proportion found among all pioneer settlers during the time. The young boys could help the mother and girls care for the home while the father and older boys were occupied in driving the Indians out of the community when they came through the settlements.
The Indians became especially annoying during the Civil War when they became aware that many of the young men and older men too, were away from home. It was true, also, that during the last years of the War, many raids made into the settlements were actually accompanied by Northern soldiers disguised as Indians. The country was in a state of Civil War and most anything is considered legitimate during such times.
It has been recounted how grandfather regretted at least two raids in which he participated. Among other raids in which he participated, there were at least two that he always enjoyed describing and always spoke, with pride, when he remembered being a party to. One of these raids is familiarily known as the battle of “Indian Gap” or as sometimes referred to, as the battle of Rescue Gap which took place in Palo Pinto County.
Following the raids into their camps as made by Peter Garland and previously described, the Indians became more brutal and vicious in their relations with the white settlers. Their raids through the settlements became more frequent and their crimes became more hideous. On one occasion a band of some twenty-five Indians charged down through Parker County, stealing horses and ravaging settlers wherever they chanced upon them unguarded. This band moved swiftly, stealing horses and raiding at least five homes and killing three settlers. From one home, two children were taken captive. After leaving Parker County they made the usual swing through Hood County, thence Northwestward through Palo Pinto County preparatory to leaving the settlements in their usual manner through the gap in the mountains at the foot of the Westward prairie reservations in what is now Stephens and Eastland Counties. Before they had time to complete this swing, couriers were sent post haste throughout the vicinity with the usual cry of Indians! The settlers organized themselves quickly and instead of following the usual custom of trailing the Indians, sufficient men were posted about in the communities to protect the homes while the most of the fighting men struck immediately for this pass through the Palo Pinto mountains. This gap is known today as Metcalf’s Gap and is a familiar marker on Highway 180 above Strawn where the Breckenridge road leads off from the main highway. The Indians had just reached this gap when the “home militia” arrived. The settlers discovered the Indians in the act of making camp. Since they had been riding long and hard that day and their horses were tired, they elected to delay their attack till the Indians were encamped and their horses rested. Scouts were sent to watch the manoauvers of the Indians. They were not gone long before returning with the report that the Indians had apparently discovered them and were breaking camp and leaving out the pass. The settlers divided their forces and charged forward immediately, part rushing the Indians from the rear and the others attempting to climb the mountain side and head them off, thus forcing them into pitched battle. Due to the steep hillsides, little could be gained by attempting to circle ahead of the Indians retreat. Plans were made to rush the Indians from the rear and get as many of them as possible before they could get through the pass. The men moved rapidly and darkness began setting in the dense cedar breaks. About this time two small objects were seen several yards ahead climbing upon a large rock and waving at the settlers. The settlers hesitated for a moment since they were too experienced to be caught by any trickery attempted by Indians. Presently it was discovered that these were white children that had been left by the Indians while they were making their hurried get away. The settlers approached them cautiously but soon found that no Indians had stopped in an effort to pick up the children. One of the children was a boy about ten years old, the other his little sister only about six years old. The little boy told them of their capture some two or three days before and how they had been carried and dragged by the Indian women till the settlers began firing, wounding two or three of the Indians, which so excited them that they left the children.
It was so late now that the settlers could scarcely see. They dropped back a few yards and went into a hasty camp to watch to see if the Indians would attempt to return for the children. Nothing was heard from these Indians again. The next morning the settlers rode up the pass in search for Indians but nothing save cold signs were to be found. Two or three horses were found dead and several so badly wounded that they were turned loose by the Indians. Much evidence was found to indicate that the Indians were attempting to care for wounded Indians but no dead ones were found. The Indians had escaped to the high rolling country on top of the mountains which stretched far to the Northwest into the Indian reservations.
The settlers began their return home sorrowfully because they had failed to kill any of the Indians. They were glad, however, that they had recaptured the two children. When they returned, they found people hunting for the children and learned they belonged to a family from Parker County and had been captured two days before.
Grandfather’s only regrets that he participated in a raid like this one were that they never knew whether they killed any of the Indians that were so cruel as to capture children and attempt to carry them away with them. This type of Indian never had any mercy shown to him by grandfather.
Among other raids in which grandfather participated without ever showing any regrets were those of the Mesquite Flat fight and the Paint Rock battler.
The Mesquite Flat fight was so called because of its location. The Flats were a depression in the divide between Paluxy and Squaw Creeks located about two miles above and Northwest of Barnard’s Mill, now Glen Rose, Texas. This fight occurred near the close of the Civil War. Indians had made raids through the country quite frequently about this time. This was due, perhaps to the fact that a large band of Indians had raided the country about a year before and managed to carry off a large number of fine horses and get out of the country before being attacked. Such an experience always encouraged Indians to return. On this occasion, a band of some twenty-five Indians swept down through Palo Pinto County, stealing horses and plundering the settlements generally. They were about to make their get-away from the settlements without being intercepted but chanced to run across a settler, unarmed, in search of some milk cows. They lost no time in killing and scalping him. News of this passed through the settlement rapidly. Every man rose up with his gun ready to join in the chase for Indians. After killing the Squaw Creek settler, the Indians went hastily down the creek without running onto but one more party of settlers. All of these settlers managed to escape them save one poor Negro who was riding a mule. He was caught and so unmercifully treated that he died within a few days.
After killing the Negro, the Indians crossed the Paluxy, stole more horses, and were returning through the Squaw Creek region when the alarmed settlers met them. The settlers had ridden so hard in rushing to overtake the Indians that their horses were all practically exhausted and in no condition to make an attack upon a band of Indians riding the best horses to be found in the community. Nevertheless there was nothing left to be done than attack the Indians. The Indians met the attack with great skill and confidence. When fired upon by the settlers, they returned the fire with Springfield rifles and army ammunition. The settlers charged them time and time again and kept up a running fight over a space of some fifteen miles. One of the settlers was seriously wounded and several others had minor wounds. The chief, or leader of the Indians, was dressed in a blue hunting coat and shirt, such as was worn at the time, only by Northern soldiers and government officials. He rode back and forth at the front of the band of Indians just like a cavalry officer showing much skill in his ability to withstand the charge made by the settlers.
The settlers decided to call a halt for the purpose of making plans to cope with a band of Indians so well armed and trained as these Indians were. While discussing new plans, the settlers heard much firing in the direction of the Indians. They were first encouraged into thinking perhaps the Indians were being attacked by another party who had come to join them. The firing ceased after a few moments and everything was again still and quiet. The settlers decided to move up cautiously in the direction of the Indians and learn, if possible, what had taken place. When they reached the point of the firing, they found that the Indians had killed all of the wounded horses, killed and jerked meat from a number of cattle that they had stolen, mounted the best horses and had gone. The settlers started in pursuit but were never able to again catch up with them. They had stolen about thirty head of the best horses to be found at two breeding farms on lower Squaw Creek. The settlers could not cope with a band mounted so well. Several army saddles and blankets had been left by the Indians on horses that they had killed.
This band of Indians rode all night, dodging through the settlement, riding around farms as well as if they knew every location in the region. When the settlers realized that they could not overtake the retreating Indians, they returned to their points where attacks were made to further examine articles discarded by the Indians. They found several dead horses were those captured from settlers several months previous. They found saddles and bridles bearing the insignia of the U. S. Army. They found, also, a white woman’s scalp displayed high on the end of a spear staff sticking out of the side of one of the dead horses. This had been so arranged to be certain that it was found. Such things were often done by Indians to mock and further enrage the settlers when they were found to be helpless in their attacks on the Indians. Remnants of clothing and other household furnishings were found that had been stolen as far as a year before by raiding Indians.
Grandfather would lose himself and go into a nervous state little short of a rage when he recalled such experiences as this one. They found themselves so helpless and wasted their opportunity against a band of Indians so well armed and trained as this one proved to be.
It is difficult for us to view the situation confronting these settlers in fairness to them. We who are trained to respect our government and cooperate with it rather than attempting to take things into our own hands for settlement often forget the fact that there was little central government during those days and each community had to be responsible for its own welfare to a great extent. Grandfather always admitted that many Indians were made to suffer innocently because of the actions of the more vicious tribes. That is the case with law-abiding citizens of today as has always been true. According to grandfather, these settlers tried to live peacefully with the Indians. They also tried to respect the federal government and those placed in charge of Indian affairs. But when he recalled the many instances where he had seen, with his own eyes, his neighbors tortured, women and children brutally murdered and scalped, he would declare that it astonished him to think how long the settlers tolerated such situations as they did. He could recall numerous times where he went with groups of settlers to confer with federal agents at Fort Belknap concerning the depredations being made against the settlements only to be coldly received or promised immediate consideration which was as soon forgotten as made after they returned home. A few agents were more cordial and would give careful consideration to the settlers complaints but would meet them with the reply that there was nothing that could be done about the whole matter unless they could prove before the authorities that certain Indians were responsible for certain definite raids. Of course this was impossible. The most of these Indian agents were Quakers in faith and belief and were opposed to capital punishment for any offense. They lived among the Indians and could not conceive of the Indian being the vicious character described by the settlers.
Grandfather spoke of three different instances where a large group of the enraged settlers, lead by such men as John R. Baylor, Buck Barry, Charles Goodnight, and others, went to confer with the governmental officials at Fort Belknap. They were coldly received and met with threats against them unless they kept themselves out of the management of Indian affairs. Such treatment served to enrage the settlers and cause them to meet among themselves and organize for their own defense. Twice while these councils were being held, Indians raided through the settlements stealing cattle and horses and pilfering property generally.
Politics played its part among governmental agencies at that time just as it does today. No doubt these frontier citizens were untrained in diplomacy and military courtesy and often rather unruly to deal with but on the whole, they were honest and would do the right thing when proper consideration was given to them. Many of our present day writers and even authors of books dealing with these early affairs, cast considerable blame upon such men as John R. Baylor, H.A. Hamner, “Buck” Barry, and others, for their part in taking leadership over bands of settlers and making war against these Indians. Such writers take the position that the problem could have been handled more satisfactorily by the government had they let the government alone in handling the problem instead of, as they view the situation, stirring up feelings against the Indians. Such writers deplore the murder of such men as Robert S. Neighbors, who was murdered while acting as Indian agent at Fort Belknap. The most of these settlers felt that such an incident was an unfortunate happening and one that could have been avoided, yet they felt that their own women and children who were being murdered by the Indians in such merciless manner should be given immediate consideration. Such incidents as these were also unfortunate and should have been prevented.
When one goes to various letters and documents that are preserved in the various archives and that deal with these problems, he must remember that they usually present only one side of the question themselves. They are, for the most part, documents written by various governmental officials to other officials, and do not usually present both sides of the cases. I have read dozens of these papers that are now on file in the archives at the State Capitol at Austin. I have read scores of petitions of grievances as sent by the citizens themselves as they gathered in mass-meeting to discuss the Indian problems. They all sound about alike. The various officials represent that they were doing all that is within their power to safeguard the frontier and claim that, after through investigations were made into the facts, the Indians were not altogether responsible or that the development attributed to them was grossly misrepresented and oftentimes untrue. The settlers presented a hazardous picture of massacres where women and children were mutilated beyond imagination and plead with the government to take immediate steps to safeguard their homes. Often these petitions contained threats as to what the citizens would do unless their petitions met immediate action.
I am presenting two of these documents so that the reader may have some idea of the conditions that really existed at this time. Both of these documents were written just after the raid was made on reservation Indians by Peter Garland and a band of enraged citizens that has been referred to already in this story.
The first one is not given in full but only as a reference is made to actual Indian affairs. It follows the grand jury review of Peter Garland and others who were investigated after the raid on the reservation Indians in 1858. It was written to Governor Runnels in this manner:
You will admit, Governor, that if such outrages as this are permitted to go unnoticed and winked at in such manner by our courts, this region will soon be nothing more than the home of outlaws and murderous gangs.
I should like to call to your attention another point that you must admit germane to this problem. If something is not done, and that immediately, you are going to suffer the loss of much political prestige and strength. No longer than yesterday ago, I was conversing with a group of influential leaders in this very community and they were of the opinion that the Houston followers were gaining sentiment in their favor at a most rapid rate, over the apparent negligence and indifference manifest by those representing you in these parts. My admonition to you is that you act without delay and strike with crushing blow towards those citizens in this district in charge of civil law and who are negligent in its enforcement.
The Indian problem is not one of easy solution, we all admit, but openly ignoring it and those instigating it will not be a solution. Such will soon turn these citizens in favor of Sam Houston and his Indian policy. To favor Houston, means that we shall be thrown into the clutches of slavery and Unionism, a problem and a situation even worse than involving the Indian.
This letter was accompanied by a clipping from a Palo Pinto County newspaper summarizing the report of the grand jury and its actions in no-billing those responsible for the raid on reservation Indians.
The other letter is given in full and, unlike the one above that had no signature, contains the signature of E. J. Gruley. It discusses the Indian problem in this manner:
May 5, 1859
Governor H. R. Runnels.
Dear Sir:- I am just in receipt of a reliable information confirming my worst suspicions in regard to the designs of the frontier people, or rather, those who control them. There is in progress a conspiracy to massacre, not only the Indians, but the whites upon the Reservations. The determination is that the Indians shall not be removed but be killed either at the reservation or on their route to Red River. These are not idle threats of an excited populace but the deliberate determination of their leaders and of which, the mass of the people are ignorant.
Their plan is to use as many of the Minute companies as they can – take advantage of the general excitement – and enlist the whole frontier, form a secret treaty with the Tonkawas, seize upon the most favorable opportunity and massacre the Reservation Indians. These leaders make it their business to watch closely the public sentiment from one extent of the frontier to the other. Immediately following any pacific demonstration, they take steps to counteract it, and to increase the excitement and animosity against the Reservations. George B. Erath has just returned from a tour upon the frontier. Wherever he went, he addressed the people and in some of the counties he succeeded in restoring reason and judgment. No sooner than he left, however, his influence was counteracted by firebrands of some kind from these designing men. Col. M.J. Johnson has also been among them and advised pacific policy. He succeeded in one or two counties but in others they even threatened to stake him to a limb and compelled him to desist. Judge Gregg and several of our attorneys and citizens have just returned from the courts in the Upper Brazos country and have startled me by their positive assurances that those of us best informed can form no conception of the intensity of the excitement that prevails amongst the frontier people, that what we know and hear of it is but “a drop in the bucket.”
I have been lead to write you thus fully, not only by a sense of duty as a citizen, but by my personal friendship to yourself. The information I give you is reliable, it is not mere rumor, it is knowledge, and comes from a reliable source. I have just started an express to the Reservations with information to Capt. Ross that he might know the extent of the conspiracy and guard particularly against the corruption of the Tonkawas. I send this by mail also a letter to Maj. Neighbors. I do not know what you can do, whether anything. I do not believe that this rebellion, if allowed to take its course, will die away, instead, it will inevitably have a sanguinary termination. I do not believe that it can be quelled by a show of force or the exercise of force without disastrous consequences. But one feasible plan suggests itself to my mind, that is, that some person upon whom you can rely, not only to execute sound judgement and discretion in the performance of his duties generally, be commissioned to raise a company for protection of the frontier, with instructions to get his men from the frontier, receive as many of the Minute men and companies as will join him and have the others disbanded. I believe that a company of this sort with an efficient commander, doing service in the protection of the frontier from depredation of the Comanches, taking a decided stand in favor of law and order, using active measures to quell the tumult, having the confidence of both parties and cooperating with the U. S. troops when necessary, would be a nucleus around which all the elements antagonistic to the present state of affairs would concentrate good citizens. At least it would encourage good citizens to dare to speak their sentiments. These sentiments would carry conviction and very soon assume their proper ascendency in the country.
There is not a shadow of doubt in the minds of any who have had an opportunity of judging, but that the best citizens are overawed and dare not express their sentiments. In this way, reason has been hushed. So long as this is the case, we will look in vain for a reaction in public sentiment. On the other hand, let the suppressed sentiments of the better portion of the community begin to have utterance and they will grow with such rapidity as very soon, to recover the ascendency. The Minute companies of Belton and this place under Captains Smith and Brown (I believe) will be reliable companies and, if united under one of their captains and uniting with them other companies above and acting under your commission and control. More could be effected by thus inspiring confidence amongst the people and starting an undercurrent in public sentiment than could be by any hostile military manifestations practiced by the federal government. This unwise practice will always result disastrously.
I enclose you the presentment of the Grand Jury of Palo Pinto County. There was no bill found against Peter Garland and his company for killing the Caddo Indians.
Very respectfully your old servant and friend,
Edw. J. Gurley
P.S. My principal information is Capt. Geo. B. Erath. I did not mention his name in my letter because he is particularly anxious not to have his name known in the matter.
E. J. Gurley
This post-script was not written in the body of the letter but attached by a clip to the letter so that it might be removed if desired.
At a mass meeting held in the spring of 1859 on Baylor’s ranch in Palo Pinto County, the settlers did meet and discuss such matters as are referred to in the two letters above. Grandfather attended these meetings. According to accounts given me by John R. Powell as he remembered hearing grandfather speak of them, a great number of the leading citizens gathered there at this assembly spoke on both sides of the question. There were men representing the more radical view, such as H.A. Hamner, Peter Garland, and others, who felt that nothing short of entire annihilation of the Indian would ever safeguard the settlers. At the same time, there were men like John R. Baylor, Charles Goodnight, Cureton, and others, who felt this attitude would be a mistake because it would arraign the entire United States army against them and rob federal government sympathy from the entire settlement. Such men as these, admitted that the settlers had been grossly neglected and the Indians unwarrantingly excused from his mischief but his extermination would be more than they should undertake except as he was caught raiding about over the settlements. These men, though often misrepresented by the Indian agents at Fort Belknap, really meant to cooperate in controlling the Indian. They were simply disgusted with the lack of aid and sympathy that had been extended to them.
The final outcome of the whole thing was the handling of the problem in a manner similar to that suggested by Mr. Gurley in the letter above. Grandfather served for several months in the ranger force organized and under the command of George B. Erath. The roster now in the archives at the State Capitol at Austin, shows him in two different companies during the time from 1863 to 1865. He served as a private, furnishing his own mount and gun. Records (Documents and Records, TX National Gaurds, Archives, State Capitol, Austin, Texas) show him a serving during the following periods and in this manner:
Powell, W.G.W., private. Rank and File 93. N.M. Gillentine, Capt., Erath County Militia. Enrolled under Governor’s proclamation of August 7, 1863 for the purpose of drafting 75% thereof in certain counties for local defense. One muster roll dated August 8, 1863. Erath County Militia, 20th Brigade, Texas State Troops.
Powell, W.G.W., private. Company C for 2nd Frontier District, Erath County, Texas state Troops, Maj. George B. Erath, commanding. Rank and File 73. William E. Matheral enlisting and mustering officer, William H. Culver, Cap’t. Served from February 1, 1864 to May 31, 1864. Muster Roll dated February 1, 1864. One pay roll dated February 1, 1864 to June 1, 1864. One rifle and arms furnished. Served 19 days at $2.00 per day, $38.00. Stephenville, Texas, enlistment point.
It has already been recounted that grandfather was a member of the Home Militia practically all of the time and continued to serve in this manner up until the Indians were finally driven out of the lower reservations in the seventies.
The last battle in which grandfather was a participant that shall be included in this story occurred during the year 1860. Incidents relating to the Powell’s in early Hood County would not be complete without a full account of the happening. The reader will understand for himself why I choose to include it.
It was in June of 1860, that John R. Baylor left his ranch in Parker County and was spending a few days up on the Clear Fork of the Brazos where he had formerly lived while acting as the Indian agent of the District. While there hunting cattle, he and his party learned of the recent killing of Josephus Browning and the sever wounding of Browning’s brother by a large body of Comanche Indians raiding through the settlements. Baylor’s experiences with the Indian and his subsequent dismissal from the head of the agency by the government did not leave him overly friendly toward the Indians nor the government’s policy in dealing with the red man. No sooner than he heard of the killing, he called his party together and repaired to the Browning farm where he viewed the situation first hand. Many other settlers had likewise gathered here to look upon the murdered body of browning and the ruins of his property. Grandfather was among the crowd. General Baylor called the crowd together and agreed to lead a party in pursuit of the murderors if sufficient men would follow him. Every man present was ready to volunteer at once. Without making any efforts to obtain permission from any civil or governmental authorities, the settlers took the matter into their own hands and left immediately in pursuit of the roving Indians.
After about five days travel the Indians were overtaken on Paint Creek near the border of what is now Stephens County. The sight of the Indians so enraged the settlers that they proceeded to attack immediately without delaying till their plans could be made. The band of Indians was well armed and met every charge of the settlers most viciously. Finally they gathered themselves in the nearby timber and brush where they concealed themselves behind trees and rocks for a desperate stand against the charge of the enraged settlers. The battle lasted four or five hours before the firing from the Indians ceased. The settlers approached with the usual caution but soon found the last Indian was either dead or too badly wounded to keep up the fight. Those wounded were soon put out of their misery by a well aimed shot from some settler’s gun. A careful check was made and thirteen Indians were dragged out of the brush and placed side by side while the settlers calmed their feelings with the satisfaction that another settler’s brutal murder had been revenged.
Nine of the best scalps were jerked from these Indians and many trophies such as, bows, arrows, darts, quivers, shields, tomahawks, a white woman’s scalp, etc., were collected to be carried back to Weatherford as evidence of the success of the chase.
The feeling was so great against Indians throughout the frontier at this time that the entire party was decidedly lionized for their prowess and bravery. The news of the slaughter spread to adjoining counties and people began flocking to Weatherford from every direction to pay their respects to the heroic men and to view the scalps of the dead Indians. Speeches were made by civil officers and influential citizens of the town, as crowds viewed the remains of this band of Indians. Most everyone felt that they were the very ones responsible for many heart aches amongst the settlements that had been saddened by the sight of loved ones brutally murdered at the hands of such cruel characters.
Following some one’s suggestion, preparations were begun to turn the evening into a grand celebration in honor of the victory and the spoils of battle being viewed by the crowd. The decorations for the occasion which was to be held in the little log court-house on the public square, consisted of the Indian scalps and trophies which were suspended from corner to corner of the court-room above the heads of the merrymakers. The scalp of the white woman was hung on the wall so that all might see it and be reminded of the perils of the red man and his atrocious deeds.
In a conference (Personal Interview, Graham, Texas, 1930) with Mrs. John West (nee Mollie West) who lives a mile east of Graham, Texas, a complete description of this “jubilee and dance” was given as told to her by her mother (Sara West) who was present and took part in the affair. Mrs. Sarah West was the younger sister of grandfather Powell. She was a large robust woman but a very popular member of the middle-age group and loved dancing. She had come to Weatherford with a party from Squaw Creek, just South of Weatherford and some 28 miles in Hood County where the Powell and West settlements had been made some four years previously. She, like many other of the women, had not come prepared for such an occasion but did not desire to miss it above all things else. She had worn an old homemade pair of shoes not suited for dancing. She was not to be outdone, so she went to purchase a pair of shoes for the occasion. Her feet were large and broad but she finally managed to find one pair of shoes in Weatherford that she could wear. She purchased these and put them on in the store and went immediately to the “public-square festivities.” She, like many another woman, danced the whole night through till the approaching dawn of the next morning brought it to a close according to the customs of the time. Aunt Sarah was a woman of some thirty-five years of age at the time and was the mother of several children. When the dance closed, she discovered that her feet were worn to blisters and that her shoes were completely worn out.
In the excitement incident to this celebration, those sponsoring it forgot that the prominent decoration honoring the occasion were the unmistakable evidences of death and murder and the relics of barbarism then quite frequent in this section of Texas. Efforts of a few citizens to arouse sentiment against such a celebration as was held in Weatherford on this occasion served only to direct attacks upon them by infuriated citizens which quickly sent them to cover.
Colonel Baylor traveled all over this section of the State exhibiting the trophies of this battle to the public as a reminder to everybody that such methods in dealing with the Indians as the exhibit portrayed were the only ones that would eventually bring about a solution to the Indian problem.
Such festivities as this served to strengthen the general feeling over the country against the red man. To censure these pioneer settlers for taking part in such conduct is to censure us of today. What can arouse the masses more quickly today, than the sight of the innocent dead who are victims of a criminal gang that has just robbed a bank or committed an immoral crime against a helpless woman or child? What will attract a greater crowd than will be attracted at the sight of a bandit’s body riddled with bullets from the hands of officers who have succeeded in overtaking and slaying some notorious gangster? What explanation can we give today as to why people will pay admission by the thousands to view the bullet riddled car occupied by this same gangster during his last perilous efforts to evade pursuing officers? The answer to this will help us better understand the feeling deep within the hearts of our early pioneer folk when the news spread throughout the sparsely settled communities that bands of Indians had been overtaken and slain by the pursuing frontier fathers whose most solemn duty it was to protect the homes of their loved ones.
GRANDFATHER’S INTEREST IN COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
Reference was made earlier in this story to grandfather’s interest in religious affairs. When he first made settlement on Squaw Creek there was no church near. Within a year or two enough people had come into the community to justify the building of a house where worship could be held. A brush arbor was first built about two miles down Squaw Creek from grandfather’s location. The arbor was built on Ben West’s settlement where it was more nearly in the center of the neighborhood. It served for a community place for worship and other gatherings for several months. Grandfather never missed having a week’s meeting of some sort of religious nature during Christmas time at his home. He would go away on a hunt and bring back fresh meat for grandmother to prepare so that every one in the settlement could be invited to spend several days and nights during Christmas week. If no preacher could be secured to lead these community celebrations, some more devout men in the community would assist grandfather in carrying out a suitable program. These celebrations did not take on the character of riotous gatherings but of very serious and solemn activities. While thus gathered, plans were made out by the older members of the group for all community affairs during the coming year. Interspersed with this more serious planning would be modest parties enjoyed by the younger members of the group. Uncle “Bob” Powell stated that at no time did grandfather ever permit drinking or horseracing, etc., to be indulged in during this week’s celebration. The week was kept strictly as a time to commemorate Christ’s birthday and as a sort of thanksgiving for such prosperity as had been theirs during the year.
After a year or so, a Christian minister, Silas Scarborough, moved into the settlement and staked claim about three miles Southwest from grandfather’s place. Mr. Scarborough was a minister, schoolteacher and farmer combined. He proved to be a staunch citizen and the very type of leader that the little community needed. He had not been in the settlement very long till he obtained the right to establish a post office in his home, which became the first recognized post office in the community West of Comanche Peak. Soon after the arrival of Mr. Scarborough, another Christian preacher and evangelist by the name of Mansils Matthews, drove into the settlement one hot summer day and announced that he had come to live among the people, to preach, practice medicine, and to act as the legal adviser for the community. Before the arrival of Mr. Mathews, however grandfather, Mr. Scarborough, and other members of the settlement had come together and erected a small log church and schoolhouse to take the place of the brush arbor already described. This church first bore the name of the West school house and church till a later date when it was replaced by the Center Point church and schoolhouse which was erected higher up on the hill overlooking Squaw Creek and about a mile Southwest.
Mr. Mathews held the first real “big Meeting” during the year 1859 that had been held by any other preacher in the settlement. Mr. Scarborough had been the preacher for more than a year but no evangelistic efforts had been introduced by him. Mr. Mathews belonged to the “reformed” church of Christ belief and differed somewhat from the practices and principles of Mr. Scarborough, yet their differences were so little and the religious needs so great that no difficulties arose between them during the early days.
Old fashioned “revivals” had been held in nearby settlements by Methodist and Presbyterians before this time but not in the Squaw Creek neighborhood. By the efforts of these two ministers, regular worship was held to which the entire community was encouraged to participate. Religious differences and factions were not common in those early time. The people were too necessary to each other to allow such differences to exist.
Another school building and church had been established just prior to the West school house about three and a half miles North from Squaw Creek settlement over in the Stroud’s Creek settlement. A school was maintained for about three months each year in this Stroud’s Creek settlement. It was here that my father went to school for his first time and for most of the time that he attended school.
By about 1860, and on to the close of the Civil War, enough settlers had come into the community to have all the leading religious denominations common at the time represented. All those desiring to use the little log school house for Sunday religious services were welcome to do so. The entire community usually joined in such services regardless of the faith of the preacher conducting them. Any singings and “spelling Bees” and other forms of literary societies used the little log buildings. At all such services or gatherings, the entire community gathered.
Sometime during the ’60’s grandfather fenced off a small plot of ground in the South corner of his holdings to be used for a community church, schoolhouse, and graveyard. He had planned to do this since making settlement but was not moved to do so till an old Irishman who had been living in the settlement for several years died. This old fellow was without any people, had drifted into the region as a tramp and had been rather fond of grandfather. At the death, someplace had to be selected for the community burying grounds so grandfather decided that arrangements might was well be made then as later and the plot was prepared. This church and school was named Amulet by grandfather but for the public, it was usually known as the Powell schoolhouse. Grandfather did not like to have a place named for him and never call it by the name of Powell church or schoolhouse.
The first member of grandfather’s family to be buried in the Amulet churchyard was that of his own son, Joseph Marlein. Joseph was never well after returning from the Civil War where exposure and minor injuries broke his health down. Joseph died in March, 1871, and was buried in Amulet graveyard which marked the beginning of a long list of Powell’s and their kindred who now rest in this family burial ground.
The first efforts to erect a building at Amulet were wrecked at the advent of the Civil War. Grandfather and other men in the community cut part of the logs and began a log church and school house about 1862 but when it was evident that the Civil War was going to be more than was first believed they delayed the erection of the building to later date. A small one-room clapboard building was finally erected and finished about 1872. This building served for all community gatherings till about 1888, when the community needs demanded a larger building. My father purchased this building and added it to his residence to form additional room and a better and larger building was constructed in which to house the school, church, and other community gatherings. This second building stood on the spot till about 1896 or 1897 the community decided to move the building to Tolar and join two or three other small communities that had developed around this little town. This step did away with Amulet as a community center and all that remained to serve the community was the graveyard which has continued in use to this date (1940).
Grandfather took great interest in all gatherings held at Amulet school house. After he became too feeble to walk the half mile across the creek people would go by after him and take him along to church or other community meetings. Just after the first building was erected, he felled a large live oak tree and trimmed it into a smooth log and placed it across Squaw Creek between his house and the new school house to be used as a foot-bridge when the creek was too high to be crossed in the usual manner. This old “footlog” was known throughout this community for a long period of time. I remember crossing it many times and as far back as a small child in the early nineties and on till after we moved from the old home-place about 1903.
Beginning about 1872, a teacher was secured to open a school at Amulet schoolhouse. From this time on for the next thirty years, or till the building was moved as stated above, school was conducted at Amulet each year. All of my brothers and sisters, including myself, except my younger brother Vernon, started their school during the first year in this building. It also served as a meeting place for each community organization as the Grange, a semi-political organization during these days, and the weekly literary societies that supplied the community with its social and entertaining “get-togethers” for many years. A union church and Sunday-school service was conducted, uninterruptedly for many years where the entire neighborhood came together for religious and social purposes.
In 1925, I had a long conversation with Mr. Howard Peak, an old time resident of Fort Worth, Texas, who was, at one time, a traveling salesman throughout that part of West Texas, and who was well acquainted with grandfather. Mr. Peak made grandfather’s place his headquarters for several weeks back in the ’80’s when he was selling lightning rods and installing them throughout this territory. He had the greatest respect for grandfather and grandmother and recalled them as typical representatives of the fine old time pioneer settlers found along the frontier of Texas at that day. He recalled them as being very religious in the customary traditions accepted by religious believers of the time. They were quite devoted to such ceremonies as thank offerings before each meal, entertaining the preacher in their home, observing Lord’s day worship, visiting the sick, etc. Mr. Peak stated that he frequently put up lodging over the week end at grandfather’s and when time came to go to church, grandfather would insist that he go with them. He usually excused himself and stated that he would have to check up his sales and write some letters which would take him most of the morning. To this, grandfather would reply: “Mr. Peak, you had better go to church and worship. God will not protect you with your lightning rods like he will your house.” He recalled that one night about 1886, when he was spending the night at grandfather’s, something was going on over at Amulet schoolhouse. Grandfather had not been feeling very well but he wanted to go. It had been raining and things were rather slippery and muddy. As grandfather attempted to cross the old foot-log he slipped and fell in the water and came near drowning before he managed to pull himself out. When he got home, all wet and muddy, and told what had taken place, he said that he told grandfather that his religion and worship did not seem to care for him any better than his lightning rods had been looking after his own welfare. To this, grandfather replied, “Now Mr. Peak, it was my own foolishness and not my neglect that God permitted me to fall into that hole of water. I am getting too old to go about myself in such weather as we are having tonight. God has not promised to protect me from my own foolishness and carelessness. He only protects me from my sins when I cannot do so myself.”
Mr. Peak stated that he thought of grandfather’s statements many times after that. Many times when he got caught in storms and bad situations after that time he would always recall grandfather’s reply to him after he had fallen into the hole of water from the old footlog.
Those acquainted with grandfather and grandmother and their home life all spoke well of them. Mr. Peak told me that he had gone to sleep many a night in the adjoining room from these two old people as he listened to grandmother reading the Bible while they both listened and joined in discussions between themselves.
Grandmother read history and law and was well versed in most common legal and political problems of the day. They were both staunch prohibitionists and always took great stock in the many political gatherings when prohibition was the central theme under discussion. From a period ranging from about 1880 on for fifteen years, every community in Texas was divided into two great factions, viz., those believing in prohibition as a means of controlling the liquor traffic and those who were anti-prohibitionists and desired liquor sold over the State. In a conversation with Mr. Jim Doyle in 1930, at Granbury, Texas, he told me that he had been well acquainted with grandmother and grandfather for more than 30 years and till their deaths. He stated that grandmother was the more determined in her views between the two. She would not permit an anti-prohibitionist to spend the night at her house unless he were sick or could not get away from bad weather or such.
A preacher or a tramp always found a ready welcome in their home regardless of his looks. Mr. Doyle stated that grandmother gave as her reason for this that a preacher should be entertained wherever he goes since he is from God and a tramp should be entertained because he is a stranger in a strange land and he who entertains him may be entertaining angels unaware. Sound philosophy for that day and worth careful consideration at any time, reasoned Mr. Doyle.
Grandfather was a Mason and placed great faith in any one who claimed to be a brother Mason. He met disappointment a few times because of placing confidence in another claiming to be a Mason but never did he weaken in his faith in the organization. Grandfather often had to meet the charge from grandmother that he was not faithful to her because he would not confide in her completely in that he had certain secrets that he would not divulge. Of course, grandmother meant this jokingly and they often remarked that this was the only differences that had ever come between them even when they thought of moving to Arkansas and later even to Texas.
Those acquainted with them stated that they never knew them to quarrel among themselves. Each would stand determinately for what he thought best on any matter but they would not permit such differences to become personal. Mr. Owen West stated in 1930, that he had known them for many years and had never known them to quarrel over differences but one time. He stated that it must have been about 1877 or 1878 when they were visited by a very cold and disagreeable winter. He was over at grandfather’s house with the boys one very cold day when grandmother came in an announced that she was out of meat and could not cook anything for dinner unless she had some meat. Grandfather asked her if she thought the fish would bite on such a day as that and she replied that fish came out to bite on pretty days and that they had many such but a man would have to have enough “get-up” to go where they were before he could hope to get them when they wanted to bite. This remark appeared to “cut” grandfather rather deeply but he turned away and left the conversation at the point.
Grandfather was not what we would call today an industrious man. He loved nature and depended upon each day taking care of itself. He did many days of hard work but would rather get up and leave any country so long as there were open range conditions in existence before making a slave of himself trying to dig out a living by the sweat of his brow. He enjoyed the wilds of nature and loved to hunt and fish. He always claimed that he could make a better living by going where God had provided things for man’s enjoyment rather than attempting to make such provisions for himself.
GRANDFATHER AS A HUNTER AND FISHERMAN
When but a boy of fourteen years of age, grandfather let his father’s home in Columbia county, Georgia, and joined a hunting party into the wilds of the then Alabama territory. After several weeks, the party returned and grandfather with them. When a lad some sixteen years of age, he went with another party far into southern Alabama, scouting the Indians that had settled in that region. As already related, when but eighteen years of age, he joined a military company and spent several months fighting back the Indians toward the Florida coast in what is commonly referred to as the Florida Indian Wars of 1836.
I have made mention in this story, previously, that grandfather desired to live in a sparsely settled region mainly because he enjoyed hunting and fishing and the beauty of nature in the raw. Such interests were not enjoyed by him merely from the sport that he derived from hunting and fishing but he, like all frontier people of that day, made a business of such in helping provide the needs of a large family.
When grandfather first settled in what is now Hood County, game of all kinds was plentiful. From the beginning here, some wild meet was cured each fall to last during the winter. However, since all sorts of game and fish were so plentiful at the time, that it was not common nor necessary that any great amount of cured meet should be on hand. When meet was needed, the woods abounded in many kinds of game, so the hunter simply went out on a short chase and could easily kill enough deer, bear, turkey, wild-hogs, prairie chicken, or quail, to meet his needs.
After the country became more thickly settled, game became more scarce and the hunter was forced to go farther away from home to get his supply. This recession of game continued till by 1865 on, the hunter was forced to go up into the mountains of Palo Pinto County or in regions now known as Baylor, King, Kent, Taylor, Fisher, and other adjoining counties. The upper edges of Stephens, Palo Pinto and Young counties still had plenty of small game. Deer, antelope, bear, etc., were vanishing rapidly to the lower plains regions and southwest Texas counties.
A favorite hunting ground from this time on till up in the 80’s was centered around Buffaloe Gap, in Taylor county. Here was the hunter’s paradise. Men would gather in this vicinity and camp for weeks, kill deer, bear, antelope, etc., jerk such meet as they desired, hang it up in the trees till it dried, then load it on a wagon and bring it home for a winter’s supply. The hides would be cured, tanned, and worked into robes, or cut into such clothing, shoes, etc., as was desired.
In 1932, I spent a couple of days with Uncle John R. Powell who then lived at Tuscola, Texas. While there, we went to this famous camping ground at Buffalo Gap. He pointed out to me the exact spot where the famous water springs once flowed out of the banks of Jim Ned creek. These springs furnished an abundance of running water throughout the year which attracted all sorts of animals then ranging through the country. We went and stood under a grove of large liveoak trees where these old hunters spent many a night while camping on the frontier. I noticed a number of old rusty chains and wire cable loops, high up on several branches on these old trees. I called Uncle John’s attention to them. Some of the loops were made of the old fashioned wire fencing which proved to us that they had been put there many years previous. He told me that old settlers living then in the community said these loops of chain and wire were there when they first settled in the country and that they were doubtless remains of the early drying racks placed there by the old hunters, many years before, on which to hang their meet while it was drying. If this was the case, they had been placed there more than fifty years. This appeared probable as the type of barbed wire showed this to be true.
We also viewed the remains of the old log cabins built here at an early day as shelters for these hunters and trappers. Nothing remained except the rock foundations and a few caved-in half dugouts and a few stretches of tumbled-down rock fence that once formed the corrals on these famous hunting grounds.
We then drove to the foot of Mount Moro and scanned about, looking for signs of the early trails that meandered up the sides of the hill. Here, Uncle John told me, was the starting point in climbing the mountains where grandfather made many an ascent in order to scout the country over for possible herds of antelope, deer, buffaloe, wild goats, etc.
After this region ceased to be a paradise, it became the headquarters of the cattleman when the entire country was one vast open range, free to all who were aggressive enough to take advantage of it.
I strolled down the rocky creek bed and picked up several splendid specimens of Indian flint points and was rewarded by finding one excellent spear point some four inches long and three inches wide carefully chiseled from ebony black flint rock such as is found only among the hills of Arkansas. I gathered a number of large lumps of yellow and blue flint rock and took them to Jacksboro to use in decorating various rock garden formations that I had planned to build at a later date.
This was evidence to me that these sand hills and the clear streams of water running through them once furnished camping grounds for the various tribes of Red man as well as the later pioneer hunter. I would enjoy reading the history that could have been written with a setting that my imagination pictured to me as I roamed over this country.
All hunters have experiences while on the chase that sound almost unbelievable to those who have never gone into nature’s wilds and matched wits with wild life in its various forms. My father has told me many interesting stories connected with some of grandfather’s experiences while on these hunting expeditions. I shall relate some of them as I remember hearing my father describe them so that the readers today may get actual pictures of what such pioneer hunters as grandfather encountered without fear or favor.
The first of these experiences describes grandfather’s encounter with a mother bear in the mountains of Palo Pinto county about 1858. The pack of hounds had trailed a bear to a rock ledge along the mountain side to the entrance of a small cave leading directly into the side of the mountain. Fresh tracks showed that the bear had come out of its den and gone up into the brush above. Grandfather interpreted this to mean that there were young cubs in the den and the mother bear had used this method of decoying the dogs from the den and her young. Grandfather decided to take advantage of this absence to crawl back as far as possible into the den and see what he might find. His hunch proved correct and he located a den with young bear only a few feet back in the cave. Just as he was about to come back out with one of the little cubs he heard the men on the outside calling to him to hurry and get out as the dogs were bring a bear directly in the direction of this den. Grandfather was a large man, with broad shoulders, and could barely squeeze through the small opening into the den. He had just crawled under a low rock overhead and gotten into the opening where two rocks came near together but ranged higher than was the case the most of the way back to the den. When he reached this place the mother bear came surging into the cave. Instead of attacking him, the bear seemed to be more intent on rushing to her young. Grandfather saw there was a chance of his getting her to go back so he simply dodged down and let the bear crawl over him and on into the den. He could not climb up into the roof of the entrance as the rocks were so slick that he could not get hold anywhere sufficiently to lift himself. He had no time to make any plans, all that he could do was to dive forward and allow the bear to crowd over him. The bear clawed him somewhat but made no effort to attack him more than was the natural result of its weight as it hastened on, mad and wearied, into the cavity where she knew her young to be.
This was a narrow escape for grandfather. Had he been only a few feet further back in the cave where the roof was low and he had to crawl, the bear would have attempted to squeeze through and would have likely mashed him against the sides till both of them would have stuck. This would have been his finish for an enraged mother animal gives no attention to her own care when she senses that her young are in peril. Instinct teaches her to get to her young so that she can protect them against all hazards.
Another experience which came near giving grandfather a narrow escape for his life was witnessed by father. Grandfather, my father who was a small lad at the time, and a neighbor were out deer hunting a few miles from home. Grandfather sighted a large buck and four or five does feeding along a grassy ledge just across Squaw Creek some half mile from them. He told father and the other party to wait there while he attempted to crawl down the creek through a brushy entanglement on the upper banks till he was opposite the deer when he could get a close range shot at the buck. The two waited while grandfather got down on his hands and knees and crawled along out of sight of the deer and in a direction so that the wind would carry any scence of him away from the deer. After some time, they saw the buck raise his head and begin slowly circling the does. They knew the buck had become suspicious, either from hearing some unusual noise or had gotten a sence of danger in some way. As they stood there waiting for something to happen, they noticed the big buck jump high into the air and throw his head backwards. Just as they looked at each other they heard the crack of grandfather’s rifle. They started in the direction of the deer as fast as they could trot and keep their guns ready to shot in case the herd came in their direction. Another crack from grandfather’s gun assured them that he had used a second shoot to complete the kill or had been favored with another chance to bring down a second member of the herd which was rare with a muzzle-loader rifle such as was used in those days. This encouraged them into a run in the direction of the deer when they last saw them. Within a short time they were near enough to see grandfather closing slowly in the direction of some object not yet visible to them. They had all crossed the creek and were now on the same side where the deer had been feeding. They whistled to grandfather so that he would know they were approaching and not turn his gun toward them in case a deer should come out of the thicket which lay between them. Grandfather signaled for them to come on. Just at this instance they saw grandfather trotting toward a large tree as if to conceal himself so as to get another chance at a shot at a deer. Just as this occurred, father said he saw a thing happen that raised the very hair from his head. He saw the big buck come charging toward grandfather leaping high in the air and landing on all four feet after each jump as he hit the ground. Grandfather dodged behind the tree trunk but the deer came charging with without slackening its speed in the least. Just as it reached jumping distance of grandfather it made one great leap toward him and struck the tree trunk with a crack of its horns that could have been heard for a mile. This seemed only to antagonise the wounded animal as it backed off a few paces and charged again with all of its fury as though no tree were between them whatsoever. This was done several times, after which, the deer appeared to make an effort to get in between grandfather and the tree. While they approached, father said that he saw grandfather sieze the spikes of the big buck’s antlers and pull him against the tree. This fastened him so that he could do nothing save lunge and kick as he tried to get away. Grandfather held him close with all his power while protecting himself by keeping the buck’s body on the other side of the tree. Father and the other party grabbed clubs and began pounding the wounded buck on the head but this had seemed to make him more furious and harder for grandfather to hold. Grandfather instructed them to take his hunting knife from his scabbord and cut the animal’s throat. They had to be careful in doing this so that they would not cut grandfather’s arms and hands but after considerable struggling they managed to bring the animal down. Father said that it was hard to tell which was the bloodiest when they were through, themselves, grandfather, or the buck. Each of them had received more than his share during the time that the deer was kicking and pawing in its effort to get away.
Father said as they walked to one side, panting and discussing such a experience, grandfather turned toward the tree and while looking at it remarked, “Well that is a tree. I thought it was a little bush. I could plainly feel it give and sway in my arms as I wrestled with that lunging critter.” Father said that the tree was fully twelve or fourteen inches in diameter. To grandfather, it seemed quite small when he thought of the precarious situation that he was in while holding on to its antlers so that he would not be gored to death by it.
The second shot that had been heard while the two waited for grandfather, had been true to its mark and a few paces from where they stood, grandfather pointed to a large doe that he had brought down just after wounding the buck. The two men threw the deer across their shoulders and declared that the hunt had been successful and they were now ready to go home.
A typical hunting party usually gathered in the fall and spent several weeks killing, jerking and drying, sufficient meet to last the family through the winter. The length of the trip depended somewhat upon the supply of game. If plenty of rain had come through the summers so as to make grass and “mass” abundant, there was usually plenty of game and the hunter would secure his needs in a short time.
Grandfather did not like to destroy game needlessly. He wanted the supply to last. He killed many buffalo and hunted them from the time he — but his motive was for food and clothing. He did not believe in killing anything just for the sport of it. Even after buffaloe hides found a market and were being freighted out of the country by millions, grandfather thought that the whole business was wrong and that man would live to be sorry for his acts. He did not believe the profit from the sale of hides justified the extinction of the animals. Of course, he was not in the cattle business on a large scale and doubtless never considered the effects the large herds had on the open range where grass was none too plentiful to satisfy the cattlemen at any time.
After the country began settling up, game of all sorts began disappearing rapidly. By the period beginning about 1880, grandfather turned more to fishing than hunting. He realized that man could no longer depend upon nature in the wild for his meet, so he began raising domestic animals for this food. For his sport, he took up fishing, despite the fact that he never enjoyed it like he did hunting game. Up to about 1890, he spent much time with various fishing parties up on the Clear Fork of the Brazos around the vicinity of where Lueders, Texas is now located and out on Devil’s River and other Southwestern streams. All streams in this section abounded with many varieties of fish at this time. Fishing was never profitable like hunting. Fish could not be dried and carried home to be kept till needed. Domestic animals, such as the hog, sheep, goats, cattle, chickens, etc., furnished the meet for all consumption from now on as well as the hides to be used for such clothing and other purposes as were needed at this later day. These fishing trips were more for the pleasure of those taking them than for profit. Grandfather enjoyed them till he became too feeble to withstand the exertion. He always said that he was an outdoor man and had to get out in nature’s wilds to keep his health as well as keep reconciled with civilized life.
By this time, grandfather’s family had all grown up and settled in their family homes. This took much responsibility from his shoulders and permitted much more freedom for him to enjoy his trips. Grandmother could stay with one of the children while he was away and he would not have her welfare to bother him. He never did attempt very much farming himself. Enough small grain and corn was raised to meet the home needs and he never seemed to care about raising such for the market. He always had a considerable orchard and enjoyed tending to it.
Grandfather and grandmother Powell were both lovers of trees and all nature in general. When I was a small boy growing up on father’s place which adjoined grandfather’s old homestead, I remember large numbers of trees like mulberry, peach, apple, plum, bois d’arc, pecan, walnut, etc., were scattered all along the creek banks and in most every fence corner and out-of-the-way place throughout the settlements. The most of these were not native to the region but were planted out from the seed by grandfather. Many of these trees were planted from seed many years previously by grandfather. Whenever he went on the hunt, he would bring various varieties of seed home with him and plant them some where on his place. I recall gathering the old fashioned “blood peach” or Indian peach, wild plums, etc., from large trees scattered about the premise after I had grown up to youngmanhood. In 1932, Joe and Sid Powell from Granbury, Texas joined me in a ramble over these old familiar grounds. We found much evidence still remaining of these old fruit trees, grape vines, etc., that we could remember from childhood. We found some pecan trees with pecans on them, grape vines with grapes on them, bois d’arc with their apples, that were planted and nurtured many years ago by grandfather. We attempted to calculate the ages of some of these trees and found some of them to be more than sixty years old as we could recall them. Sid Powell was then fifty-seven years old and he could remember some of these trees were rather large when he could first remember them. They were likely planted by grandfather when he first settled the country. If this were the case, they were possibly seventy-five years old at the time.
While on this trip, we gathered mustang grapes from vines that I recalled climbing and gathering grapes from near thirty-five years previously. These vines covered large trees from the roots to the top. They were known to have been set out by grandfather during a very early day as the section was being settled by him. Both Sid and Joe could recall gathering grapes from the same vines when they were small boys and the vines appeared to be no larger on that day in 1932 than when we could recall them during our earliest memory.
There are many such signs still left there to remind those who care to explore them that these early pioneer people were not of an indolent nature as some would picture those who might prefer such a life as they lived. They were energetic, hardy individualistic, usually above the average person of the day in education, and fearless. They loved nature and God and started to build in a region where white man had not yet ventured.
Thus it is that I bring to a close this part of The Reminiscenses of the Powell Family as I gathered it from the many varied sources. This family of three girls and six boys all grew up on Squaw Creek in Hood County, Texas, some 2 and 1/2 miles from what is now Tolar. The remains of the most of them now lies buried in Amulet or Friendship cemeteries near the Old Powell Homestead.
I was not quite 4 years old when my Grandmother Powell died. My only memory of her was seeing her lying in the bed caressing and playing with her pet Prairie dog of which she was quite fond. Father had carried me over to see her. While there, she had requested the family to bring the little dog to her bed. I remember standing there with my Father at the foot of her bed as Uncle John R. Powell brought the dog in. She lay there rubbing it and stroking its back as she talked to it. I do not recall a word that she said but my memory is quite vivid to this day of watching her pet the little animal. I also recall the folks digging around in the burrow of the little dog and hunting for it after my Grandmother had been buried.
In recounting this to my Uncle John when I visited him in 1932, he said that my memory was quite clear on the first part of this but as to their hunting for it on their return from the funeral, the facts were these, my Grandfather had requested that the dog be killed while they were at the cemetery burying my Grandmother. This was a dying request of my Grandmother. When they returned, he and other members of my family, including my Father were seeing to it that the little pet dog had been killed and they were seeing to it that it was properly buried in its burrow where it had lived for several years. This of course was unknown to me, a bit of a child, and I thought they were trying to find it and so remember it that way.
I was about 8 and 1/2 years old when my Grandfather died. My Father never took me to see my Grandfather during his last illness. My memory is very clear of his funeral. He was a mason and I recall quite vivid seeing these men with their robes and white aprons marching around his coffin, throwing twigs of cedar and other evergreens down on his coffin as they marched around it chanting their funeral song while he was being lowered in his silent grave.
After the death of my Grandmother, my Grandfather went to my Uncle John R. Powell’s home in Tolar to live. I recall several different times when my Father went to Tolar and drove by to see my Grandfather. Somehow, I was always left in the wagon when my father went in to talk with him. I can remember seeing him sitting on the South porch, which was also the front porch of the home, in his large cane-back rocking chair with his walking stick hooked on one arm of the chair. My Grandfather sat in this position many hours, day after day, watching the traffic go by, during his last few months on this earth. I recall hearing my Father say, “Well I see Pa sitting on the porch, you stay here in the wagon and I’ll drop in and see how he is getting along.”
With this, I close Book One of my family history. My Grandmother Powell lived slightly more than 70 years of age and my Grandfather just under 80. Both of these pioneer settlers lie buried at Amulet Cemetery midst the graves of many members of their immediate family and a host of the Powell kinder. This cemetery is about one-half mile South of the Old Powell home where settlement was made sometime in 1856.