Stone Houses

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Jack Loftin's Battle of Stone Houses Story

From the beginning of Texas' war for independence, Rangers shouldered the fight against the Indians. The New Republic authorized funds for the establishment of an organization of gunmen, which became the Rangers, as well as a series of block houses to protect the frontier settlements. From these fortifications, a series of probes into North Texas were undertaken. In October 1837, Lieutenant Van Benthusen led his company of men from Little River Fort into North Texas, in search of stolen horses. A little over a month of riding took them near the confluence of the Trinity, Brazos and Red Rivers. In this high country, which the lieutenant described as “full of mesquite prairies and very well watered,” they encountered a large band of Keechi Indians. The battle that ensued is now called the Battle of Stone Houses because part of the fighting took place next to an Indian ceremonial ground which had rock formations that looked like teepees.

Picture of the Stone Houses Rock Formations
Photo from the book, Savage Frontier, by Stephen L. Moore

Thanks to the invaluable history written by Mr. Webb called The Texas Rangers, we have Lieutenant Van Benthusen first-hand account of the fight.

    “I stood at the top of this mound until I saw about one hundred and fifty mount their horses and come towards us. I then ran down and stationed my men in a point of timber; the Indians immediately charged upon us, uttering the most savage yells. They soon surrounded our little party of eighteen men, and for about two hours a severe fire was kept up on both sides without ceasing, most of the time they were not farther than fifteen or twenty steps; they were led on by a chief who was most splendidly mounted; our men shot this forward chief down, when the savages ceased firing and fell back for some distance; I thought the battle was over; but I was mistaken, for in about fifteen minutes the Indians again advanced upon us, led by another chief. At this time I had lost but four men and six horses.

    Presently we discovered a smoke rising around us, the Indians had made a ring of fire completely around our position, the fire was advancing rapidly, our only alternative was to leave our remaining horses and charge the savages on foot. The charge lasted about ten minutes; six more brave men fell in routing the Indians… We then commenced our retreat on foot.” The retreat with the wounded men required seventeen days, ending at the Sabine on November 27, after an absence of fifty-eight days.

    This story is also referred to as the Battle of the Knobs. Get the historical marker information by clicking here.

Map of the Eastland Campaign and the Stone Houses Fight
Map from the book, Savage Frontier, by Stephen L. Moore

The following narrative, related by one of the few survivors of the engagement known as the Stone House fight, furnishes a striking example of the trouble that may result from the reckless deed of one unscrupulous individual.

    It was, I think, late in the summer of 1837, during the temporary truce growing out of my missionary labors, that Captain Eastland, then in command at Coleman's fort, led an expedition up the Colorado river to the mouth of Pecan bayou and out on the latter stream to its source.

    The precise object of the expedition, if there was any, I know not, but my impression is, that during the temporary lull in the Indian wars, the rangers at the fort became restless; and, partly to give them exercise and employment, and partly to take advantage of the cessation of hostilities to explore the unknown territory with perhaps a view to future operations against its wild inhabitants, Captain Eastland planned the jaunt. Be that as it may, he evidently had no intention of making hostile demonstrations against the Indians, and, having reached the head of the bayou, gave the order to return. A part of the company, some eighteen or twenty men, refused to obey the order, and, bent on further adventures, set out in a northerly direction, going on till they reached the rock mounds known as the stone houses, in the vicinity of which there was quite a large Indian encampment, composed of several small tribes, who for safety had formed an alliance against the more powerful tribes. Among the Indians were some Delawares, who went out to the white men's camp, and while there a lone warrior was seen approaching from the direction of the encampment.

    Felix McClusky, the wild Irishman before mentioned, at once gave chase to the lone Indian. The Delawares tried to stop him, and, when he came within hailing distance, his victim made signs that he was a friendly Indian; but McClusky, heedless of signs or consequences, ran onto the savage and killed him, taking his scalp and rifling his pockets. The Delawares, thereupon, warned the men that the murdered Indian was of a friendly tribe, and his comrades would certainly avenge his death. Some of the men began to upbraid McClusky for his ruthless deed. Exhibiting a chunk of tobacco extracted from his victim's pocket, he recklessly swore that he "would kill any Injun for that much tobacco."

    The Delawares made haste to withdraw themselves from the men's camp, and, true to their prediction, the little party was soon confronted by a hundred warriors clamoring for the man who had killed their comrade. McClusky wasn't hero enough to give himself up to save the lives he had imperiled, and, of course, his companions would not give him over to the hands of the fiends, who would have tortured him to death by slow degrees, so there was nothing for it but to make the best defense possible.

    Entrenching themselves in a ravine, they held their assailants at bay till the Indians at length set the grass on fire and, sending some of their party around to cut off retreat, awaited the result.

    The only hope of escape then lay in cutting their way through the enemy's lines. This they attempted to do, only five succeeding, two of them being wounded. But for the reckless bravado of the Irishman they might have hunted and explored the country unmolested. As is usually the case, the innocent had to suffer, McClusky being one of those two who escaped.

    He was afterward killed in a drunken brawl.

The following account of the Stone Houses Fight is from the book, Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger:

Stone House story by Wilbarger

Stone House story by Wilbarger

Stone House story by WIlbarger

Stone House story by WIlabarger

Stone Houses/Texas Ranger Dispatch Magazine Article

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