During July of 1864, David White and family, Earl E. Kemp and family,
were living on the old Jack Bailey place, on Big Keechi, about ten
miles southwest of Jacksboro. Mr. White was one of the early settlers
of Palo Pinto County, and had moved to Jack only a short time before.
During the day, Mrs. White and Mrs. Kemp, had washed on the banks
of Big Keechi, and hung out their clothes on the bushes to dry. Late
in the evening, Sarah Kemp, a girl about sixteen years of age, and
Elonzo White, aged about 10, were down on the creek after the clothes,
which were about 100 yards away, when several Indians suddenly dashed
upon them. Sarah started in a run toward the house, but Elonzo was
captured. The Indians were, also, on the very verge of catching Sarah,
but about this time, had a new problem to solve, for a large vicious
dog, belonging to the two families, drove his teeth into the Indian's
flesh. This permitted Miss Kemp to make her escape. When the wild
men saw, however, that she was going to get away, an Indian shot an
arrow into her breast. Other children were also playing out of doors
at the time, and their screams soon frightened Mrs. White and Mrs.
Kemp, whose husbands were away. Fortunately the Indians retreated
back in the timber.
Poor little Elonzo, however, was carried away, and remained an Indian
captive, far from home on the headwaters of the Canadian and Arkansas
Rivers for many months. He was finally recovered by his father, and
Negro Brit Johnson. Sarah Kemp recovered from her wound, and after
the capture of Mr. White's son, Uncle Davy White, moved back to Palo
Pinto County, and settled on Palo Pinto Creek, about two miles north
of the present town of Santo.
Note: Author personally interviewed: Mrs. W. J. Langley, an aunt
of Elonzo White; L. V. Arnold, Elonzo White's brother-in-law, Mrs.
H. G. Taylor, Mrs. Huse Bevers, Mrs. Jerry Hart, A. M. Lasater, James
Wood, B. L. Ham, Joe Fowler, and others who lived in Palo Pinto and
Jack Counties at the time.
In the mid-1800s Indian depredations were an unavoidable aspect of
daily living for settlers living in the North Central Texas frontier.
No settler went about his or her daily work without keeping a keen
eye out for approaching Indians. Raids were commonplace and it has
been said that more deaths were attributed to fighting between the
settlers and Indians than any other reason during that time period.
The stories of the atrocities that occurred on both sides cut a bloody
path through the region's history. One of the most daring stories
of that time period, however, is not focused on death, but on survival,
and on how one man's determination to reclaim his son led him to persevere
against all odds. It is the story of a father's love.
The story begins in the summer of 1864, on a hot, sullen day in late
July. The place is along Keechi Creek on southern Jack County, where
David White and his family shared lodging with a family named Kemp.
The womenfolk had spent the biggest portion of the day doing laundry
at the creek, hanging the newly washed clothes out to dry on bushes
growing along the creekbed. Mr. Kemp was away from home, but David
stayed within earshot of the women, busying himself with the endless
chores demanding his attention. Throughout the evening, thunderclouds
had been building in the west, and the threat of rain was growing
more imminent. David had been needing to speak with a neighbor living
about three-quarters of a mile away, and as the black clouds continued
to gather, he finally decided he'd best go while he could and hopefully
return before the storm hit.
In that twilight period between sunset and dark, both Mrs. White
and Mrs. Kemp were busy preparing the evening meal, leaving Kemp's
grown daughter to bring in the clothes left drying before the storm
hit. She left the house with her two younger brothers and White's
9-year-old son, Lon, in town, heading for the creek, completely unaware
of the danger she was about to face.
Hidden by the clothes draped over the bushes, the small party of
Comanches raiders waited quietly until Miss Kemp and her young charges
were almost to them before springing out, surrounding the girl and
her brothers swiftly, giving them no time to react. Lon, however,
had run ahead of the others and was now well beyond the fracas. When
he turned back and saw the Indians, it was too late. He was cut off
not only from his friends, but from the safety of the cabin, too.
In the confusion of the attack, Miss Kemp's younger brothers somehow
managed to break away and run toward home, but before she could do
likewise, two of the Indians armed with rifles took aim at the young
woman and fired. One bullet pierced her left side, as the other tore
through her right side. Falling backward, another of her attackers
grabbed her, yanking at her hair, no doubt preparing to wield a scalping
knife, but his fingers caught instead on the intricate weave of the
hairnet she wore. In the next instant, a fierce and wildly protective
bulldog belonging to Mr. Kemp emerged from the bushes, sinking his
teeth into the Indian's leg, and forcing him to loosen his hold. Miss
Kemp broke free and ran for her life.
Halfway to the house she was met by her mother and Mrs. White, both
bearing guns. At the sight of the two armed women advancing toward
them, the Comanche raiders retreated. Unaware that Lon was still in
danger, the two older women then busied themselves getting the younger
woman safely back to the house where her wounds could be tended. It
was only later as darkness fell completely that anyone realized Lon
was missing. By then, they had not idea where he might be or even
if he were still alive.
Sounds of hysterical crying and moaning reached White long before
he came within sight of the homestead. His first thought was that
one of the children had fallen in the creek and drowned and he rushed
into the cabin, his heart pounding with fear.
When told his son was missing, White went immediately to the spot
where Miss Kemp and her brothers reported they had last seen young
Lon. It was dark and difficult to see anything at all, but the frantic
father hunted out the creekbed and ravines as best he could. The alarm
had been sounded, and neighbors soon came to help with the search.
But it was not until the next morning, when White found his son's
footprints leading toward the creekbed and signs of a struggle in
a nearby sandbar, that he knew for certain Lon had been captured.
Though White and several other men set out immediately to follow
the Indians' tracks, a rain show soon washed away all hope of quickly
finding the boy. With no tracks to follow and no way of knowing which
route the Indians took, the searchers were forced to return home.
Treated by Dr. Valentine of Weatherford, Miss Kemp recovered from
her wounds. But no physician in the world had enough medical knowledge
to help David White and his wife recover from the loss of their son.
For several weeks they could no nothing, but wait and watch and hope.
The chance that young Lon was even still alive was remote. The chance
of finding him if he was, was even slimmer.
In the weeks that followed, White moved his family from Jack County
into Palo Pinto County, settling near where the town of Santo is now
located. He kept up with news of every raid in the area and talked
with anyone and everyone he thought might have knowledge that would
help him in his search.
In October of that same year, a raiding party in Young County claimed
several lives and captured a young white girl along with a black woman
and her two small children. News quickly spread that the black woman's
husband, a free man by the name of Britt Johnson, was searching for
his family and had vowed not to give up. The talk got White's attention,
and by February, he'd not only managed to meet Britt Johnson, but
the two men had struck an alliance.
For the next several months, both men devoted their lives to find
the loved ones the Indians had taken from them. Legend has grown up
around the story of Johnson's efforts and it has become increasingly
difficult to distinguish truth from fiction regarding the part he
played in the rescues. Sources differ on what events actually transpired
to make the successful rescue possible. Some say that Britt Johnson
actually went to live with the Comanche and Kiowa Indians and was
given the name Black Fox by a Kiowa Chief.
According to these sources, it was Johnson who negotiated a successful
return of his family by establishing himself as a man who could be
trusted. However, other sources credit friendly Comanches led by Chief
Asa-Havey for the return of Johnson's children.
David White's account, however, gives us the story from his perspective.
In later years, White told his granddaughter, Ruth White Phillips,
that following his move to Palo Pinto County, he journeyed to Wise
County where he met with an old acquaintance, General Jim Throckmorton
of the Confederate Army. After telling the general of his son's capture,
Throckmorton informed White that an Indian Council was being held
along the Canadian River in Oklahoma Territory and suggested he travel
there and meet with the Indians. White did as Throckmorton suggested
and reported that Britt Johnson accompanied him.
The two men stayed at the Council for about a week, White said, and
just as General Throckmorton had predicted, they were able to learn
where the captives were being held. In addition, the two men were
present at the Council when Comanche Indians brought in two other
young captives, one being the young white girl captured at the same
time as Johnson's family and the other a young boy of 11 or 12, an
orphan who had been in the foster care of a Parker County man prior
to his capture. Through a painstaking bartering process, White was
eventually able to purchase the little girl with trinkets and material
he'd been given by Gen. Throckmorton. The boy, on the other hand,
cost him nothing. Considered "too mean to keep," the Comanches
were more than willing to hand him over to White.
White and Johnson bartered for the return of their own family members,
as well, and eventually it was agreed upon that White would give a
horse, a Mexican blanket and a few other minor trinkets for the return
of his son, while Johnson made a similar trade of horses and goods
for his family. Another child-a boy who had been taken from Jack County
in an earlier raid-was also available for trade. The Indians wanted
a $20 gold piece for his return. White made a quick trip to Gainesville
and borrowed the $20 from a colonel stationed there and the barter
It took a couple of days for White and Johnson to lay hands on all
the goods demanded in the bartering process, but when they did the
two men, accompanied by Asa-Havey, left the Council and headed northwest,
traveling almost 200 miles to the Kiowa village where their loved
ones were being kept. So many Comanches and Apaches were in the village
it appeared another Council was in session.
In the months since his capture, young Lon had been traded to the
Apaches and it was to them that White paid the agreed upon bartering
fee. The others were still being held captive by Comanches, and Johnson
eagerly made the necessary payments to them.
White later reported that when he and Johnson arrived in the camp,
he was told his son was out herding horses. Only after the deal was
struck did the Indians send for the boy and at first, he seemed reluctant
to enter the tipi where he was told his father was staying. He may
have thought it a trick. But once the boy saw his father, he threw
himself into his arms, asking in broken English if his mother and
the Kemp family members were still alive.
White was shocked by his son's appearance. Once fair-skinned, Lon
was now as dark as any of the Indians surrounding him. His skin had
been stained with dye made from pecan shells and then he'd been held
for long periods over a fire to bake the pigment in.
As they journeyed back to Texas, word preceded them and in communities
all along the ways, crowds would gather to watch them pass. Her parents,
having been killed in the raid in which she was taken, the little
girl from Young County was taken to live with her grandmother in Weatherford.
The young boy with a reputation for meanness was returned to his foster
father in Parker County, and the boy for whom White had paid a $20
gold piece was sent back to his mother in Jack County.
And 13 months after he had been captured, the boy the Indians stole
from the banks of the Keechi was at last reunited with his mother.
Because one father refused to give up his son, four children were
saved and a story of a parent's love became part of the region's rich