Gertrude's Massacre

    On the 18th of April, 1858, the Indians came to the house of my uncle, James B. Cambren. He was plowing in the field right close to the house, his two oldest sons, Luther and James B., Jr., were hoeing corn with him. Aunt Cambren called to them that dinner was ready, Uncle said, “Wait a few minutes, it won’t take more than twenty minutes to finish this piece and then I am done.” About this time they looked down the road and saw some Indians coming up from below the field. Since the Indians were still on the Reservation they supposed they were friendly Indians. Two dismounted and jumped over the fence to where Uncle was plowing, one shot an arrow into his left side. It came out on his right side and he fell dead. The other Indian shot the oldest boy dead, then shot the other boy who was at work there. He was near the fence and got through the fence before he died. The balance of them went into the house and took aunt and the other children out into the yard and guarded them while part of them robbed the house.

    They then sent part of the Indians, about six or seven, over to the house of Tom Mason about a mile away to kill and rob them. Mason and his wife were eating dinner. Mrs. Mason looked out of the door to where his horse was standing and said, “Tom, yonder are the Indians coming after your horse.” He jumped up and started to run down there. He had his six-shooter buckled on, when he got a little way he called to his wife to bring his gun. Just before he got to the horse the Indians shot him down. Mrs. Mason had got near him by now and they shot her down. They had two little boys, the youngest just beginning to walk. They did not bother the house or the children. This bunch down at Aunt Cambren’s house robbed the house of everything, they took her and the four children out on a high mountain, out of sight of the place. The bunch from Mason’s joined them there on that mountain. They had stolen some horses the night before down on Beans Creek. They roped a wild mule and tied it to a tree. They were fixing to tie the oldest boy they had there on to the mule, and aunt began screaming and crying, the little boy three years old began screaming and crying, they ran a spear down his throat then speared him twice in the side and killed him. They then killed Aunt Cambren, shot her three or four times. They then tied the oldest boy, Thomas, on the mule and turned him loose. They all put in after the mule and left there, leaving the little girl, seven years old, and the boy two years old right there by their dead mother and brother. The next morning they roped the mule, took the boy off and one Indian took him up behind him.

    There was an emigrant train bound for California, on the old Government road leading from Fort Arbuckle to San Antonio, by way of Belknap. They got their breakfast that morning, then two young men told them, “We will take a circle out around here to the north, maybe we’ll kill a deer. We will come to you.” They got off about a mile and saw the Indians coming with this boy and loose horses. They turned and rode back to the emigrant train, corralled the wagons, got three more men and started after the Indians, leaving the other men to guard the women and children. They got in sight of the Indians and crowded them so close the one who had Thomas on behind him shoved Thomas off.

    He was so near dead and worn out that he dropped off to sleep. They run the Indians quite a distance and could not overtake them so they turned around and came back. They were talking pretty loud, Thomas woke and saw they were white men and called to them. They came back and got him and took him to the wagons. They doctored him up the best they could and sent a courier to Belknap, the nearest place, for help.

    They dispatched a bunch of soldiers out from Belknap to meet and guard them into Belknap. The little girl, Mary, and her little brother, Dewitt, who were left on the mountain beside their dead mother and brother remained right there until nearly sundown. Mary finally took her brother by the hand and started to go back to the house. She did not know which way it was, as she could not see it but luckily she started in the right direction and soon came in sight of the house. Then she knew which way to go. She came along right by where her father was lying dead. She stopped and took hold of the arrow that was shot into him, pulled it out and hid it under the fence. She and her little brother then went into the house, closed the door and barred it. The Indians, in robbing the house, had left the under bed on the bedstead and one old quit. The children remained there until the next day about three o’clock.

    Old Man Lynn, father of Mrs. Mason, the next day after killing, picked up his gun and told his wife, “I will go over and see how Tom and Mary are getting along.” He got tolerably close to the house and saw their two little boys there with their dead father and mother. They had been there ever since twelve o’clock the day before. He could see down to Uncle Cambren’s place and saw the feathers scattered all over everything, everywhere. He took the little boy under one arm, his gun in his other hand and the other little boy walked. They went down to the Cambren place and went up to the house and called but nobody answered. He started off, went a little way and turned and went back again and called pretty loud, “Is there any one here alive?” Little Mary answered and said, “Me and Witt’s here.” As he came along he had seen uncle and two boys there dead, that was why he asked the question. When Mary answered him she got up and opened the door. He took them to his place on Lynn Creek, the same being named after him, and fixed them something to eat, the first they had had since the morning before.

    The next day in the afternoon some parties came along, trailing the Indians, and found the dead people there. Some of them went down to Old Man Lynn’s and saw that they were all alive and got the particulars about the thing. Old Man Gage, Arch Hall and Dan Gage were detailed from this party to stay and bury the dead. They had lain so long they had to dig graves and put them right where they found them. They finished burying them just after dark. Arch Hall came to Jacksboro and on down to my place and father’s and let us know. Old Man Gray and Medaris went with father and me up there to the Cambren place. We got the two children from Lynn’s, went to the Cambren house the next day and gathered up the cattle and what household goods the Indians did not carry off and carried them down to father’s place. There was another Indian scare down there when we got back home. I went on after the parties and before I got back father had taken his family and my family and carried them to a relative’s down in Tarrant County to get them out of reach of the Indians.

    After so long a time father and I brought our families back, but the Cambren children remained down there. The little boy that I took away from there, with his sister, has a son living at Newcastle, Young County, Texas, and he is a candidate for sheriff of Young County.

    This letter was found in the Cambren home by Isaac Lynn, father of Mrs. Mason: Jack County

    January 12, 1858

    State of Texas

    Dear Brother and Sister:

    I take my pen in hand tonight to address a few lines to you. We are all well and doing well. We received your letter dated August 10, on Saturday last, it had been mislayed or we should have gotten it sooner. We regretted it very much as you wished some advice. But I must confess I feel some delicacy about giving it for that which would suit us, perhaps would not suit you. As to this country, we like it best of any we ever saw. We live about thirty miles from where we first settled on Keechi and are living twenty-two miles northeast of Belknap, our nearest neighbor is exactly seven miles. I have seen only three white men since August except my family. We have good land, good range, timber enough and good water. This country consists of mountains, the valleys are from one to ten miles across. The land is of grey chocolate color.

    On account of the drought and late frost, we have not had a chance to give corn a fair trial. Wheat does as well here as it does anywhere; our wheat was cut entirely down by the frost when it was heading. It came out and made ten bushels to the acre. I can’t advise you to move but I think you would do well to come here and look at the country. If we were there we could come here and think we are doing well.

    But some will say, “Oh, I know they are afraid of the Indians.” Let me tell you I dread them no more than I do the citizens of Tyler. They come to see us often; they are well behaved and sociable and friendly. The wild Indians have stolen a great many horses on the frontier, but we think they will not steal much more. There has been a petition sent out for a thousand rangers for the frontier but I must hurry, it is late.

    I will say a few words concerning our family. We had a daughter, born the twenty-seventh of last June. Her name was Flora Alice. She was a beautiful child but alas, death, that cruel monster, layed hold on her and tore her away from us. She died September the 19th, but we do not mourn with those who have no hope, for we know we have a child in Heaven. Dear brother, I am here alone, there is not an individual in the land with whom I can converse except my family. The sound of a church-going bell, these valleys and rocks never heard or sighed at the sound of a knell or smiled when the Sabbath appeared, but I have the Bible. I have the recollections of the sweet gospel sermons which I had in days which are past and gone, and better than all I have the spirit of Jesus. I often feel happy in this heathen land, I often think I have friends that pray for me. I ask your prayer my dear and youngest brother. I hope you live like a soldier of the cross. I want you to bring your family in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and if we should meet no more on earth I hope we shall meet in Heaven.

    Mr. Cambren has a remedy for his eyes and has cured the disease but he can’t see yet how to read or write. Consequently I have to write for him. Our family are all healthy. People in this country are healthy. If you wish to come to this country you will come from Tyler to Canton, from there to Birdville, from Birdville to Rockwell, from there keep on the Belknap road to Russell’s Store, from there to Terry’s, and from there inquire the way to our house. When you write to Hannibell and Columbus, remember my love to them. I can’t tell you anything about the connection here, the Jews and Samaritans have no dealings. I have gotten no answers. I don’t know whether you all have forgotten us, what is the matter? Hope we will have a post office nearer soon. Direct your letters to Weatherford. You can move to this country at any season you think best, except the heat of summer or in the winter. We would prefer the fall. I must come to a close. Nothing more, but remain your brother and sister. M. C. and J. B. Cambren

The above story is from the book, History of Jack County, by Thomas F. Horton.