Mrs. Martha Sherman


Ezra Sherman

    Mrs. Sherman's maiden name was Martha Johnson, a sister of Jerry Johnson, an early settler of Parker County. She had been previously married and later wedded to Ezra Sherman. They moved to Staggs Prairie in Palo Pinto County, and lived there only a short time before this raid. Mr. and Mrs. Sherman made their home in a small log cabin.

    On November 27, 1860, Mr. and Mrs. Sherman and children were eating dinner, when the same Indians mentioned in the preceding sections, surrounded their home. Some of the warriors stepped in the door and told the family to "Vamoose." Ezra Sherman then took his wife and children and started east toward their nearest neighbor, who lived on Rock Creek in Parker County. Mr. Sherman, like Mr. Brown was unprepared to fight and had no guns at home.

    When this pioneer family reached a point about one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards east of their residence, about six of the warriors suddenly dashed up, took Mrs. Sherman by the hair of the head and started back toward the house. Mr. Sherman was again advised by the Indians to "Vamoose." The oldest child, a son of Mrs. Sherman by her former husband, hid in a brush pile where he could see all that transpired. Mr. Sherman with the two smaller children went on to the home of a neighbor.

    The wife and mother was then carried back toward the house, being robbed by the remaining Indians. When the blood-thirsty barbarians dragged Mrs. Sherman, to a point, about two hundred yards from the house, she was tortured in an inconceivable manner. This faithful frontier mother was outraged, stabbed, scalped, and left for dead. An Indian on a horse held up her hands while another pushed an arrow under her shoulder blade. Neil S. Betty later placed this arrow in a museum, perhaps in Dallas, as a symbol of the severe suffering administered to Mrs. Sherman, by the blood-thirsty savages.

    The house was completely robbed and pilfered by the Comanches. The warriors took cups and saucers and drank molasses out of a large barrel, which Mr. and Mrs. Sherman had stored away for the winter. The blood-thirsty warriors also ripped open feather and straw beds, took the ticking and emptied the contents on the floor and ground. They took Mrs. Sherman's family Bible, for what purpose no one knows, unless as a token of war. The savages then took a southwest course almost in the direction of the present city of Mineral Wells.

    Mr. Sherman secured a gun from a neighbor and returned. His wife was found still alive and in a pitiable condition. His house after being robbed and ruined by the raging savages, was fired; but since it was a rainy day, the building refused to burn.

    The splendid frontier citizens, the trail blazers of the great west, administered to Mrs. Sherman all possible aid. For three days she lived and continually talked about her horrible experience.

    Many times she shamefully referred to that "Big old red-headed Indian." No full blooded Indian was ever known to be red-headed. Was this red-headed man the same individual who made his appearance in other raids before and after this time? Was it some one the Indians had captured when a child and reared to be a blood-thirsty savage? Or was it some renegade ruffian of our own race? Nevertheless, again we find the presence of a red-headed man with the red men.

    Mrs. Sherman was buried to the west of the Fox family in the Willow Springs Graveyard, several miles east of Weatherford.

    Note: Before writing this section, the author personally interviewed a daughter of R. C. Betty, Mrs. William Porter, who stayed with Mrs. Sherman a great portion of the three days she lived, after being brutally assaulted by the savages. Also corresponded with Mrs. Joe Sherman a daughter-in-law of Mrs. Ezra Sherman, and interviewed those mentioned in the preceding and succeeding sections relating to this particular raid.

The above story is from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.

Mrs. Martha Sherman-Second Story

    They rode up to the cabin while the Shermans were at dinner on November 27, 1860-dinner in rural Texas then and up into my young years being the noontime meal. There were half a hundred of them, painted, devil-ugly in look and mood. It was the year after the humiliating march up across the Red under good, dead Neighbors; the frontier country was not yet strange to The People, nor were they yet convinced they had lost it. They wanted rent-pay for it in horses, and trophies, and blood, and boasting-fuel for around the prairie campfires in the years to come. Horses they had taken in plenty-300 or so of them by the time they reached the Shermans'-and they had just lanced John Brown to death among his ponies to the east, and the day before had raped and slaughtered and played catch-ball with babies' bodies at the Landmans' and the Gages' to the north.

    Though the Shermans did not know about any of that, their visitors lacked the aspect that a man would want to see in his luncheon guests-even a sharper frontiersman than Ezra Sherman, who, in that particular time and place, with a wife and four kids for a responsibility, had failed to furnish himself with firearms.

    The oldest boy, Mrs. Sherman's by an earlier husband who had died, said: "Papa…"

    But by the time Ezra Sherman turned around, they were inside the one-room cabin, a half-dozen of them, filling it with hard tarnished-copper bodies and the flash of flat eyes and a smell of wood smoke and horse sweat and leather and wild armpits and crotches.

    Behind them, through the door, were the urgent jostle and gabble and snickering of the rest.

    "God's Heaven!" Sherman said, gripping the table's edge. Martha Sherman said: "Don't show nothin'. Don't scare."

    She had come to the frontier young with a brother and his family, but even if she'd only come the year before she'd have known more about it than her husband. There was sense in her, and force. Her youngest started bawling at the Indians; she took his arm and squeezed it hard until he shushed, looking up the while into the broad face, slash-painted diagonally in scarlet and black, of the big one who moved grinning toward the table. He wore two feathers slanting up from where a braid fanned into the hair of his head, and held a short lance.

    "Hey," he said. "Hey," Ezra Sherman answered. The Indian said something. "No got whisky," Ezra Sherman said. "No got horse. Want 'lasses? Good 'lasses."

    "You're fixin' to have us kilt," his wife said, and stood up. "Git!" she told the big Indian.

    He grinned still, and gabbled at her. She shook her head and pointed to the door, and behind her heard the youngest begin again to cry. The Indian's gabbed changed timbre; it was Spanish now, she knew, but she didn't understand that either.

    "Git out!" she repeated.

    "Hambre," he said, rubbing his bare belly and pointing to the bacon and greens and cornbread and buttermilk on the table.

    "No, you ain't," she said, and snatched up a willow broom that was leaned against the wall. But his eye caught motion to the left and she spun, swinging the broom up and down and whack against the ear of the lean, tall, bowlegged one who had hold of her bolt of calico. She swung again and again, driving him back with his hands raised, and then one of the hands was at a knife in his belt, and Two-feathers's lance came down like a fence between them. Her broom hit it and bounced up. The three of them stood there… Two-feathers was laughing. The lean Indian wasn't. The calico lay on the floor, trampled; she bent and picked it up, and her nervous fingers plucked away its wrinkles and rolled it again into a bolt.

    "Martha, you're gonna rile 'em," her husband said.

    "Be quiet," she told him without looking away from Two-feathers's laughing eyes.

    "Good," the big Indian's mouth said in English from out of the black-and-red smear. With his hand he touched the long chestnut hair at her ear; she tossed her head away from the touch, and he laughed again. "Mucha Mujer," he said.

    The lean one jabbered at him spittingly.

    Martha Sherman's oldest said calmly: "That's red hair."

    It was. In the cabin's windowless gloom she had not noticed, but now she saw that the lean one's dirty braids glinted auburn, and that his eyes, flickering from her to the authoritative big one, were green like her own. Finally he nodded sulkily to something that Two-feathers said. Two-feathers waved the other warriors back and turned to where Ezra Sherman stood beside the dinner table.

    "No hurt," he said, and jerked his head toward the door. "Vamoose" "Yes," Ezra Sherman said, and stuck out his hand. "Friend. Good fellow."

    The big Indian glanced ironically at the hand and touched it with his own. "Vamoose, " he repeated.

    Ezra Sherman said: "You see?" He don't mean no trouble. I bet if I dip up some molasses they'll just…"

    "He means go," Martha Sherman said levelly. "You bring Alfie."

    "Go where?"

    "Come on!" she said, and the force of her utterance bent him down and put his callus-crusted farmer's hands beneath the baby's arms and straightened him and pulled him along behind her as she walked, holding the hands of the middle children, out the door into the stir and murmur of the big war party. It was misting lightly, grayly… The solemn oldest boy came last, and as he left the cabin he was still looking back at the green-eyed, lean, redheaded Comanche.

    Two-feathers shouted from the door and the gabble died, and staring straight ahead Martha Sherman led her family across the bare wet dirt of the yard and through the gate, past ponies' tossing hackamored heads and the bristle of bows and muskets and lances and the flat dark eyes of fifty Comanches. She took the road toward the creek. In a minute they were in brush, out of sight of the house, and they heard the voices begin loud again behind them. Martha Sherman began to trot, dragging the children.

    "Where we goin' to?" Ezra Sherman said.

    "Pottses'."

    He said: "I don't see how you could git so ugly about a little old hank of cloth and then leave the whole house with-"

    "Don't talk, Ezra," she said. "Move. Please, please move." But then there was the thudding rattle of unshod hooves on the road behind them, and a hard-clutching hand in her chestnut hair, and a ring of ponies dancing around them, with brown riders whose bodies gave and flexed with the dancing like joined excrescences of the ponies' spines.

    Before she managed to twist her head and see him, she knew it was the redheaded one who had her; he gabbled contemptuously at Ezra Sherman, and with the musket in this other hand pointed down toward the creek. The pony shied at the motion, yanking her off balance. She did not fight now, knowing it pointless or worse.

    "Durn you, let her be!" Ezra Sherman yelled, moving, but a sharp lancepoint pricked his chest two inches from the baby's nose and he stopped, looking up.

    "Go on, Ezra," his wife said. "They'll let you go."

    Ain't right," he said. The lancepoint jabbed; he backed away a half-foot. "Go on."

    He went, trailing stumbling children, and the last she saw of them was the back-turned face of her oldest, but one of the horsemen made a plunging run at him, and he turned and followed the family… The redhead's pony spun and started dancing back up the road. The hand jerked her hair, and she went half down, and a hoof caught her ankle; then she was running to keep from dragging. Snow was drifting horizontally against the chinaberries she had planted around her dooryard, though it was not cold; she saw finally that it was feathers from her bed, which one of them had ripped open and was shaking in the doorway while others laughed. In a shed some of them had found the molasses barrel and had axed its top and were drinking from tin cups and from their hands, throwing the ropy liquid over each other with yells. The old milk cow came loping and bawling grotesquely from behind the house, A Comanche astride her neck, three arrows through her flopping bag…

    Deftly, without loosening his grip, the redhead swung his leg across his pony's neck and slid to the ground and in one long strong motion, like laying out a rope or a blanket, threw her flat. Two of the others took her legs, pulling them apart. She kicked. The flame-pain of a lance knifed into her ribs and through her chest and out the back and into the ground and was withdrawn; she felt each inch of its thrust and retreat, and in a contraction of shock there relaxed elsewhere, and her legs were clamped out wide, and the lean redhead had let go of her hair and stood above her, working at his waistband.

    Spread-eagled, she twisted her head and saw Two-feathers a few yards away, her big Bible in his hands, watching. Her eyes spoke, and maybe her mouth; he shrugged and turned toward the shed where the molasses barrel stood, past a group that was trying to light fire against the web cabin wall…

    The world was a wild yell, and the redhead went first, and the third one, grunting, had molasses smeared over his chest and bed feathers stuck in it, and after that she didn't count; though trying hard she could not slip over into the blackness that lay just beyond an uncrossable line. Still conscious, and that part over, she knew when one on horseback held her arms up and another worked a steel-pointed arrow manually, slowly, into her body under her shoulderblade, and left it there. Knew, too, when the knife made its hot circumcision against the bone of her skull, and when a horseman messed his fingers into her long hair again and she was dragging beside his panicked, snorting pony. But the hair was good and held, and finally a stocky warrior had to stand with a foot on each of her shoulders as she lay in the plowed field before the house, and peel off her scalp by main force. For a time after that they galloped back and forth across her body, yelling-one thing she recalled with a crystallinity that the rest of it lost, or never had, was that no hoof touched her-and shot two or three more arrows into her, and went away. She lived for four days (another writer says three, and another still says one, adding the detail that she gave birth to a dead child; take your pick), tended by neighbor women, and if those days were anything but a continuing fierce dream for her, no record of it has come down.

    In delirium, she kept saying she wouldn't have minded half so much if it hadn't been for that red hair…

    The oldest boy had quit his stepfather and had circled back through the brush and had watched it all from hiding. No record, either, states how he felt about Comanches afterward, or the act of love, or anything.


Younger brother, Joe Sherman with wife, Pearlina Underhill Sherman. No picture or record exists of his older brother.

The above story is from the book, Goodbye to a River, by John Graves.

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