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Captain Jack Wright and Men Fight With Indians Near
Capt. Jack Wright, Dick Cunningham, and Isaac Reed
of Comanche County, Elic Powers and Geo. Gentry of Hamilton County,
Luther Allen of Coryell County, Alexander from Camp Colorado, and
about five others during 1862, followed twelve Indians until they
reached a point near the present town of Buffalo Gap. Here the rangers
heard a peculiar whistle, and shortly afterwards, and about nine
o'clock in the morning they discovered the savages. During the fighting
that followed, the Indians captured the pack mules of these gallant
frontiersmen, who were stationed at Camp Colorado during the War.
The copper faced criminals from the plains, after the first fight
ceased, took the rangers' frying pans and beat them against the
rocks. Soon the soldiers and savages again became engaged in a bitter
conflict, and needless to say, this was one of the worst fighting
bunch of Indians that was ever encountered. Later in the day the
Indians, after the second fight had been fought, called a pow-wow
on a little cedar mountain very near the present town of Cedar Gap.
They again made a desperate charge against the whites, and a third
fight followed, in which both white men and savages were fighting
several desperate duels.
When the fighting had ended, Geo. Gentry, Elic Powers
and Billy Ellison were so badly wounded, the command could not move.
Capt. Jack Wright and others were also painfully injured by the
deadly aim of the plains Indians. Night was now near and both the
whites and savages camped within one half mile of each other, and
under the shadows of darkness, slipped to the same spring for water.
A courier was dispatched that night to Camp Colorado for aid.
During the succeeding day new recruits took the Indian
trail and discovered that only three savages went away. The trail
of these three Indians was followed for fifteen or twenty miles,
and bloody cloth found disclosed that at least one of their number
was wounded. That the Indians lost heavily in this engagement, was
further disclosed by the finding of bodies of nine warriors nearby
buried with rock and brush over their bodies.
This was one of the most desperate and stubbornly
waged fights ever fought along the West Texas Frontier.
Note: Before writing this section, the author personally
interviewed Richard P. (Dick) Cunningham, who was in the fight,
The above story is from the book, The West Texas
Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.
Fort Phantom Hill: Ten miles north of present day
This fort was established on Nov. 14, 1851 as a unit
in a chain of forts from the Red River to the Rio Grande, to defend
frontier settlers and West-bound 49'ers. Officially called the "Post
on Clear Fork of the Brazos", its everyday name became "Phantom
Hill", either from prevalent mirages or sighting of ghostly Indian
Phantom Hill like most forts in northwest Texas was
exceptional only in hardships shortages and supplies. Fortunately
for Phantom Hill's short span, only one major Indian occurrence was
recorded. A buffalo hunt brought twenty-five hundred Comanches near
,they scornfully observed the construction of the fort. A message
was sent to Major Silby, promising when the grass became good again
they would be coming back down to whip him.
From the book, Along Texas Old Forts Trail, by Rupert
N. Richardson, B.W. Aston, Ira Donathan Taylor:
On approaching the post from the north you will see
the remaining chimneys standing like sentinels on what looks like
a formidable hill overlooking the Clear Fork of the Brazos. As one
nears, the hill it disappears and becomes a gentle slope, barely
perceptible when one arrives; thus one of the stories of how the
post got its name. A second account has to do with a nervous sentry
firing on what he thought was an Indian on the hill. A following
investigation failed to discover the presence of any Indians, and
one of the troopers suggested that the man had seen a ghost. Whatever
the case, Maj. Gen. Persifor F. Smith, commanding the Fifth Military
Department (Texas), in General Orders Number 91 ordered a post established
"at, or in the immediate vicinity of, a point known as Phantom
Hill" on the Clear Fork of the Brazos. (Richardson 1963, 68).
Maj. J.J. Abercrombie was given the task and arrived
on the scene on November 14, 1851. His introduction to the region
was not kind, as exposure to a wet norther cost him one teamster and
twenty horses, mules, and oxen-all frozen to death. Not only was the
environment hostile, but Major Abercrombie soon discovered that the
site had been chosen from an earlier survey on the assumption that
the needs for the construction and maintenance of a post-wood and
water-were available. He immediately reported to his superiors that
neither wood for construction nor water suitable for men or animals
was to be had. Unfortunately, General Smith had left the field to
escort an ill General Belknap to Fort Washita, and could not be contacted
for several weeks. There was no one who could change the orders. Abercrombie
had to make the best of a bad situation, and construction of Fort
Phantom Hill began.
The hardships of surviving that first winter are well
described by Lt. Clinton W. Lear in a series of letters to his wife
in New Orleans. Somewhat of a romantic, Lieutenant Lear was taken
by the beauty of the area with its abundant fish, deer, wild turkeys,
and bear. He felt it unfortunate that such a beautiful place had so
little to offer a military post. He said that he spent most of his
time searching for timber-the best stand for construction purposes
was six miles away. The winter of 1851-1852 was spent in tents, pitched
in a grove of black jacks. The most immediate problem-water-was solved
when a spring was found nearby, but it disappeared during the dry
summer. A well of good water was dug some four miles from the site.
(Richardson 1963, 89-91).
With the coming of summer a permanent post was begun,
when a good stone quarry was located on the east bank of Elm Creek
about two miles distant, and with the arrival of a stone mason. A
stone storehouse, creditable stone quarters for the commanding officer,
a hospital of rude logs, and a half dozen or more quarters for officers
built principally of logs (jacal huts of upright poles interlaced
with bough and daubed with mud) were built.
Fort Phantom Hill was garrisoned by Companies B, C,
E, F, and K of the Fifth Infantry. The plans called for one hundred
horses to mount one company of infantry for scouting. The military
failed to understand at the time that putting an infantryman on a
horse did not make a cavalry. That problem, however, was not Abercrombie's
as he was transferred out on April 27, 1852, and was replaced by Ltc.
Carlos A. Waite. On September 23, 1853, four companies were transferred
out to be replaced by Company I of the Second Dragoons, bringing post
strength to 139 men. Maj. H.H. Sibley took command of the post then,
but only stayed until March of 1854, when he was replaced by Lt. N.C. Givens. Lieutenant Givens' command was short-lived, as the troops
finally shook the dust of Fort Phantom Hill from their shoes when
they marched out on April 6, 1854. (Richardson 163, 92-95).
Life at Fort Phantom Hill had been arduous for the men.
The lack of a post garden, which created a shortage of vegetables
in the men's diet, led to scurvy, intermittent fever, dysentery, colds,
and pneumonia. Nor were necessities provided by settlers in the area,
as happened at most posts, because there were no settlers, and no
town had grown up around the fort. The only break in the monotony
of fort life was excursions into the field, which meant extended marches
across arid land with inadequate supplies of food and water.
Shortages prevailed in all areas of the life of Fort
Phantom Hill, from uniforms to arms. Fortunately the men were not
engaged in hostile action, although it was reported that Indians did
visit the post where they made a general nuisance of themselves. The
post did receive a major scare when Buffalo Hump's tribe of 2,500
passed by the fort. The men were placed in battle array as son as
the Northern Comanche tribe was spotted. Whether the Indians would
have attacked the post is speculative, for once they saw the preparations,
they passed it by with scowls and angry looks. One arrogant Northern
Comanche did send Major Sibley a message that "when the grass
became good again he was coming down and whip him." (Richardson
1963). The Indian never came.
One final story of interest regarding Fort Phantom Hill
deals with who burned the post. There are three versions of its destruction.
One says that is was burned by trooper Scullion and a slave who slipped
back the first night after abandonment because of their distaste for
the post. A second has the Indians destroying the post, while a third
says that it was destroyed by Confederate troops. All that is known
for sure is that by November 9, 1854 when Charles A. Crosby camped
there it had been burned. (Rister 1938, 9. Richardson 1963, 95).
The withdrawal of the military did not mean the end
of occupants of Fort Phantom hill. In 1858 a Mr. Burlington and his
wife operated a stage station for the Butterfield line until it was
abandoned during the Civil War. After the war Fort Phantom Hill became
a subpost of Fort Griffin. Accordingly, on June 5, 1871, Capt. Theodore
Schwan and Company G of the Eleventh Infantry were sent to Fort Phantom
to protect the traffic through the area, and to provide a detail of
one noncommissioned officer and six men to guard the mail station
at Mountain Pass, the first stop south of Phantom Hill. In 1874, a
detachment from the fort was engaged by a force of seventy-five Comanches
and Kiowas. Following a brief battle of one and a half hours the Indians
broke off hostilities, with six killed and several wounded. (Rister
As hostiles moved further west and thousands of immigrants
began to settle in West Texas the troopers left Phantom, but in their
place grew a thriving frontier town of Phantom Hill, complete with
hotel, saloons, gambling halls, and various shops. When Jones County
was created it was hoped that Phantom would become the county seat,
but it lost out to Anson. It was not long before Phantom was once
again abandoned. (Rister 1938).
Today the remains of the fort are located on private
land. The owner, Jerry Eckhart, is doing his best to restore some
parts of the post and to make it a pleasant stop for travelers. It
is interesting to note that Fort Phantom Hill was originally built
on land that had been sold on August 3, 1851, to A. C. Daws for fifty
dollars and the only reason that it did not create a problem was its
isolation. The old powder magazine to the west of the road still stands,
as well as the post guard house. A part of the stone commissary can
still be seen on the east side of the fort, and of course the chimneys
still stand like sentries on the prairie. A poem written by ranch
poet Larry Chitenden fully catches the spirit of Phantom in the first
stanza which reads:
On the breezy Texas border, on the prairies far
Where the antelope is grazing and the Spanish ponies play;
Where the tawny cattle wander through the golden incensed hours,
And the sunlight woos a landscape clothed in royal robes of flowers;
Where the Elm and Clear Fork mingle, as they journey to the sea,
And the night-wind sobs sad stories o'er a wild and lonely lea;
Where of old the dusky savage and the shaggy bison trod,
And the reverent plains are sleeping 'midst drowsy dreams of God;
Where the twilight loves to linger, e'er night's sable robes are
'Round grim-ruined, spectral chimneys, telling stories of the past,
There upon an airy mesa, close beside a whispering rill
There to-day you'll find the ruins of Old Fort Phantom Hill.
(Rister 1938, 18)