Fort Belknap to Brit Johnson

Turn left as you leave Fort Belknap's gates, and head north to catch 380. Head west, continuing along the Texas Fort Trail and the stage route to California, next stop Fort Griffin. However, my road trip follows 380 through Newcastle to Hwy. 1769 where I turn north to Brit Johnson's marker.

 

Map of Northern Belknap

Road Trip Text Box

The people on the frontier dreaded the coming of the Civil War. First of all, U.S. markets to the east bought beef and filled Butterfield's stages. Furthermore, they already had all the fight on their hands they needed and though there was a scattering of slaves on the frontier, their situation was unique; to begin with, they were armed. Oliver Loving was stranded in Colorado at the beginning of the Civil War. Upon the old traildriver's return, reprints of his correspondence with Governor Lubbock enflamed the frontier's hatred of the Union.

"I saw a large number of Comanche with some four or five thousand horses that have be[e]n stolen from Texas. These Indians are fed by the U.S. Posts at Fort Adams on the Arkansas and Fort Bent, and the Indians are paid by the U.S. Troops occupying these parts for all the scalps taken from Texas. They are perfectly friendly with the U.S. Troops an[d] in fact with all except Texans. I am satisfied that we will not have any rest from these Indians until we go to their general rendezvous and destroy them."

Map from the book, Texas Frontier, by Ty Cashion
From the book, Texas Frontier, by Ty Cashion

The Texas Confederate Era began with renewed dreams of empire, which by 1863 had become a nightmare of darkness. Few would say but most knew; the war was lost. The Union held the Mississippi River and everything west was sieged. There was no money, food or medicine. Texas cotton and livestock were appropriated by Confederate authorities and the people were left to scavenge. The citizens came to resent Confederate Conscription Laws, which drained the state of able-bodied men needed for frontier protection.

The Elm Creek Raid had a black hero, Brit Johnson, whose wife and children, along with other members of the settlement, were taken captive by the Kiowas. He rode alone into Indian territory where he visited Milky Way's Comanche camp. The chief was openly jealous of the Kiowas' rich plunder and agreed to help Brit negotiate ransoms with the "tricky" Kiowas.

Frederic Remington's Ridden Down Picture
"Ridden Down" by Frederic Remington on display
at the Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth Texas
(click on picture for larger view)

Brit traveled many times over the next few years between the Elm Creek community and Indian territory, delivering ransoms and returning with captives. In the end, the Kiowas decided they had been cheated by Brit and a few years later when Owl Prophet and a few of his Kiowas crossed the former slave's path nine miles north of Graham, they paid dearly to even the score.

Esa-Havey (Milky Way) Picture Milky Way's Wife Picture
Esa-Havey (Milky Way) and his wife.

The drive toward Brit Johnson's Marker traces the Old Military-Butterfield Road. Along this route, Carter and Mackenzie led the Fourth Cavalry towards their new headquarters at Fort Richardson. Carter noted in his diary about passing a graveyard with three fresh graves. Those were Brit and his partners, protracted victims of the Elm Creek Raid.

The Searchers Movie Poster
The Searchers
Black Fox

Several movies have been based on this devastating raid including John Ford's The Searchers starring John Wayne and Black Fox starring Christopher Reeve. Nearly a dozen soldiers and settlers were killed and that many more captured as well as ten thousand head of livestock, which represented a substantial portion of the area's wealth.

Battlefield Drive

A historically valuable side-trip can be made to the northwest on Hwy 926 to the site where five Confederate soldiers were killed in the shadow of old Fort Murrah at the beginning of the Elm Creek Raid.

Three miles north of Olney is a historical marker about how this area uniquely serves as a watershed for three rivers. Depending on which way a rain drop ends up running, it can find itself in the Trinity, the Red or the Brazos. Archer City has a couple of interesting markers on its courthouse lawn. One describes Jesse James' frequent visits to Archer City and another is a tribute to Fort Cureton, located southeast of town. There is a marker two miles north of Archer City on FM25 that describes how French traders once operated in the vicinity.

Picture of Fort Cureton
Picture of W. C. "Uncle Billy" Kutch
Fort Cureton
Photo from the book, Trails Through Archer, by Jack Loftin
More Loftin
W.C. "Uncle Billy" Kutch

The Salt Creek Fight has that wonderful scene were W.C. Kutch asks his friend, Shapp Carter what he recommends they do as they are looking down at their friends being overwhelmed by a large force of attacking Indians. Carter says in effect, "If we don't help them, what will we say later?" Kutch replies, "How about a charge?" They go firing their pistols in what must have seemed like a suicidal exhibition of bravado.

Though the fight was certainly hot and there were many wounded, only one man was killed while on the field. Shapp Carter died two days later. Eight out of the eleven were wounded, all but one, at least twice. Kutch and the other wounded men endured a grueling wagon ride to Harmison's ranch, where they were laid out on the floor of the cabin and the wounded were tended to. A man named Whitten, who had pulled out Bill Peveler's arrowheads with bullet molds a few years earlier, was instructed by Kutch to do the same for him; Kutch had already pulled out the other two by himself.

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