Chandler's Wise County Expedition: May 21, 1841

Wise County, Texas

    Eli Chandler's Robertson County Minutemen were vigilant in pursuing reports of hostile Indians. In mid-April, they had successfully recovered stolen horses from one band east of the Navasota. Things were relatively quiet around their post at Fort Franklin until news came in on May 16.

    The main company had not been active since April 16. By law, Chandler could employ up to five spies on patrol while the regular company sat idle. On April 28, he had sent out William Cox, John Graham, Charles Sevier, Neri Vanzant, and Harrison York as his spies.

    On May 16, several of Captain Chandler's spies brought in intelligence of a large Indian camp near the present Dallas-Fort Worth area. A large surveying expedition under Capt. Thomas I. Smith and Barzillai J. Chambers, who had settled in Robertson County in 1837, was working the northern areas of Texas and had happened upon a large body of Indians on Pecan Creek, a tributary of the Trinity River. This location was more than one hundred miles north of Chandler's ranger station at Franklin in Robertson County. Pecan Creek is located in present Wise County, just west of present Decatur and north of Fort Worth.

    Smith and Chambers dispatched two of their surveyors, John Hardisty and Robert Porter, to inform Chandler (the nearest ranger commander) of the Indians' location. These two men were members of the Robertson County Minutemen.

    According to his pay roll, Chandler immediately set out from Franklin on May 17 with forty-nine men of his command to make their second expedition. The rangers were joined by eight volunteers: Thomas I. Smith, Mr. Branch (of Milam County), Barzillai Chambers, Clinton M. .Winkler, John Copeland, Fountain Flint, and M. M. Ferguson. With these Franklin-area surveyors as volunteers, Chandler's posse numbered fifty-seven.

    The unit moved northward toward present Fort Worth over the next few days. By traveling all night on May 19, Captain Chandler was able to reach the area on Pecan Creek by morning of May 20 where the Indians had been reported.

    Believing we had not been discovered, I concealed my men, and dispatched reconnoitering parties, which resulted in Lt. Love's reporting his having found, down the creek a few miles, a deserted village, which had been visited within a few days by the enemy. But the lateness of the hour induced me to remain until the dawn of the next morning; at which time we took up the line of march for the deserted village.

The Texans moved toward the deserted village on May 21. After having proceeded about five miles through Wise County, Chandler's rangers suddenly spotted about eight to ten Indians (believed to be largely Wacos) some three hundred yards ahead. These Indians were pursed for three miles. Captain Chandler later discovered that they wisely led him away from their own village during the chase. "By their superior knowledge of the woods, they evaded us," wrote Chandler.

The rangers returned to the deserted village that had been discovered the previous day. They counted twenty-eight Indian lodges. More importantly, they found a good trail, which they could track. At the distance of one mile from the deserted camp, Chandler's men struck the Indian party again, on the same trail.

Chandler immediately ordered all of his men to charge at full speed. The path the Indians were following was treacherous in this area. It ran up on a ridge, which was no more than four hundred yards wide. The ridge was elevated and along each of its edges ran a creek, both running almost parallel to each other. On the opposite side of each creek ran extended bottomlands which were so densely packed with underbrush that Captain Chandler deemed them impossible for horsemen to penetrate.

The only chance was to give the Indians a fight on the open ridge before they could flee into the thickets. The rangers pursued them for five miles, but were unable to overtake the Indians before they had run right upon yet another Indian village.

The wild chase continued right on through the Indian camp, where frightened women and children scattered for safety. The Indians ahead fled before the rangers could get within gunshot range. Chandler found that they fled into "almost impenetrable thickets, abandoning every vestige of their property."

Chandler ordered Lieutenant William Love to stay with a detachment of seven men at the Indian village to watch the baggage and pack mules. Lieutenant Love's detail included volunteer Thomas Smith and rangers John L. Strother, Aaron Kitchell, and Neri Vanzant.

During Chandler's absence, Love's men had a brush with Indians. They were approached by a large body of Indians and were forced to fall back to a ravine for protection. They could only hope to defend themselves, as the nearby terrain made escape impossible. The Indians surrounded the baggage and supplies, where their chief spoke before his men. Watching from their ravine, Vanzant "carried the largest rifle of any of the men" and determined that he would shoot the chief. With Strother helping him to steady his rifle against a small bush, Vanzant fired and dropped the chief.

In the ensuing fighting, Captain Thomas Smith, leader of the former surveying expedition, was slightly wounded in the hand. In return, Lieutenant Love's party claimed to have killed three and wounded several of the Indians who fired upon them.

Captain Chandler and another detachment of his men had dismounted and left their horses with Love's men. Chandler took his men to search into the bottomlands across the creek from the hastily abandoned village. They succeeded in collecting some property. In the course of his scouting, Chandler's party traded shots with Indians several times. He claimed that his men returned the shots "with effect."

The rangers plundered the Indian village and took all that they could, including nine mules, twenty-three horses, powder, lead, exes, peltry-all of which Chandler estimated at $3,000 value. The rangers then destroyed anything that was deemed useful to the Indians and set fire to the lodges of the village.

The volunteers and rangers moved out for home with all that they could haul. The return trip was four days, but proved uneventful. The men reached Fort Franklin on the night of May 24, 1841, with only Thomas Smith being slightly injured from the whole expedition. In his report, Captain Chandler complimented his rangers on their performance. As for the surveyors who had sent him the intelligence and who had volunteered to go out on the expedition with him: "Too much praise cannot be given to those gentlemen."

The above story is from the book, Savage Frontier Volume III, by Stephen L. Moore.


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