Archeological excavations along the course of this Trinity River tributary have unearthed evidence of several prehistoric villages. Artifacts from the area date back almost 9,000 years and represent a culture of food-gatherers and hunters. In the 1830s the Creek served as a sanctuary for several Indian tribes who made frequent raids on frontier settlements. The conflict grew worse in 1841 when major attacks were reported in Fannin and Red River Counties. Brigadier General Edward H. Tarrant (1796-1858) of the Republic of Texas Militia led a company of volunteers in a punitive expedition against Indian villages in this area. On May 24, 1841, following brief skirmishes at several encampments, two scouting patrols were attacked near the mouth of the Creek and retreated to the main camp. Reportedly twelve Indians and one soldier, Captain John B. Denton, were killed. As result of the Battle of Village Creek, many tribes began moving west. Others were later removed under terms of the 1843 Treaty signed at Bird's Fort (10 mi. NE) which opened the area to colonization. Much of the battle site is now located beneath the waters of Lake Arlington.
They then made the start for the territory now embraced in the present counties of Tarrant, Denton, Wise, Parker and Palo Pinto. Allen Coffee accompanied the expedition for several miles, but soon turned back to his trading house on Red River, not far distant from Denison. About seven others also went back with him. So the company now only contained about seventy-two. It was believed the Indians were camped on the West Fork of the Trinity, somewhere in the vicinity of the present town of Bridgeport in Wise County. But when the party reached there the Indians were gone, and the village for sometime had been abandoned. The party then traveled south and westward for approximately two days towards the Brazos, and evidently reached somewhere in the vicinity of the Palo Pinto and Parker County line. From here they took a northeasterly course, and on the second day again struck the Trinity. The expedition followed the north bank of this stream until they camped for the night. The next day they followed a trail to an Indian encampment on Village Creek, which was a short distance above where that stream is crossed by the Texas & Pacific Railway today between Fort Worth and Dallas. The first Indian observed was a woman who was washing a copper kettle under the bank of the creek. The scout and spy who saw her and realized she failed to see him, slipped back to the main command and the news was conveyed to General Tarrant. Scouts continued to watch the Indian and shortly afterwards a second squaw came on the scene. When General Tarrant and his men came up, they were discovered by the squaws, who gave a loud scream and rushed into the bed of the creek. The Texans charged, for they supposed the warriors were there. A man named Alsey Fuller killed one of the squaws without realizing she was a woman. The other woman and her child were captured.
At this point the men scattered into several different parties in quest of the unseen enemy thought to be near by. Bourland with about twenty men, including John B. Denton, crossed the creek and found a road leading along its valley. About one mile farther on they came upon a large Indian camp. Bourland with about half of his men went to the right and the others to the left in order to check the retreat of the Indians.
Cochran and Elbert Early attempted to fire on a retreating warrior, but the guns of each of them snapped. The Indian then fired at Early but missed his mark. The entire command was badly scattered and soon became somewhat confused. The Indian village was already deserted. General Tarrant ordered his men to fall back to a second village. About forty men were now present and were waiting for the others, when Denton asked and obtained Tarrant's consent to take ten men and go down the creek, promising to avoid an ambuscade of the Indians. Bourland likewise took ten men and started in the opposite direction, and about a half a mile below, they came together. Bourland and Calvin Sullivan then crossed a boggy branch and captured some horses, one of which wore a bell; the others went farther down the branch toward a corn field and found a road leading into the bottom.
When the timber was struck to fulfill his promise of avoiding an ambuscade, Denton halted. Henry Stout then rode in front and said, "If you are afraid to go in there, I am not." Denton replied that if necessary, he would follow him into the infernal regions, and said, "Move on." About three hundred yards farther they descended the creek bank and had only followed that a short way when the three foremost men were fired upon. Stout was in front, but partly protected by small trees. He received a wound in his left arm then wheeled to the right and was again painfully wounded. Denton, immediately behind, was shot at the same time and as he wheeled to the right, showed signs of weakness. When John B. Denton reached the top of the bank, he fell dead with a wound in one arm, in his shoulder, and through his right breast. The others were now out of reach of the savages, who fled after the firing of a single volley. Griffin, however, was dazed by a ball that struck him on his cheek. The remaining men, somewhat demoralized, retreated back to where they met Captain Bourland, who with twenty-four men, went back and carried away the body of Denton. Due to mismanagement, the whites had failed to draw the Indians into battle; but eighty horses, a considerable number of copper kettles, many buffalo robes, and other articles were carried away. The Texans then retraced their steps to where they camped during the preceding night, and arrived about the midnight hour. The next morning the command buried the body of John B. Denton under the bank of a ravine, not far from where old Birdville later came into existence. The troopers then turned toward home and on their way the captured squaw escaped. The child, however, remained in the hands of Captain Tarrant and was restored during the Big Peace Council, two years later.
The above story is from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.
The following story is from the book, Fort Worth, A Frontier Triumph, by Julia Kathryn Garrett.
Indian hostilities almost depopulated North Texas after 1839. It dwindled to less than half. Those men courageous enough to remain, rarely experienced the joyful excitement of welcoming the arrival of new settlers. They joined companies of minutemen, the title given the volunteers authorized for frontier defense in the session of the Fifth Congress of the Republic of Texas. The act was signed in February 1841.
The act authorized the settlers in the frontier counties to organize companies of not less than twenty nor more than fifty-six minutemen, rank and file. Each company elected its own officers. The Republic's congress had made extravagant provisions for the military, according to the amount of money in the national treasury, but the number of troops was inadequate for the immensity of the northern wilderness. Texas was financially embarrassed. The creation of companies of minutemen therefore was a provident measure for frontier defense.
Prime essentials for a minuteman were not only character, but also the means to provide himself with a horse, saddle, and a gun with 100 rounds of ammunition, besides furnishing his food rations in the amount which his captain deemed prudent for the expedition. The sternness requirement was that he must at all times be prepared to ride promptly when the summons came.
Compensation for such rigid demands was ample. Minutemen were exempt from performing any other kind of military service, from working on the public road, and from paying taxes: state, county, corporation, poll; also on saddle horses. Then there was financial compensation of one dollar a day for not more than fifteen days of service for one expedition; and during one year their service on expeditions was not to exceed four months.
Word had come to the minutemen of Fannin and Red River counties to ride promptly to Choctaw Bayou in what was the Fannin County, but later became Grayson. It was May 4, 1841, the busy season for plowing and planting, when the men began to rendezvous at the bayou. Early arrivals relieved the tediousness of waiting for others by talking of crops, cattle, trade and Indian raids.
A recent atrocity had called these men from their plows. In March, Captain Yeary and his wife had been wounded when ten Indians stormed their home in southeast Fannin County. Captain Yeary became an eager member of the minutemen at Choctaw Bayou. Indian raids were becoming not only more frequent, but more daring. Kickapoos were driving herds of horses from the Red River Valley settlements. Scouts had reported that the villages of these Indians were at the headwaters of the Trinity.
Henry Stout, the famous scout of General Dyer's Fourth Brigade, who had gone with him in 1838 as related earlier, became informer of the massacre details perpetrated upon the Ripley family in Red River County, later Titus County. His story was a bloody one. Mr. Ripley had been absent from home. Young Ripley, twenty years of age, had been entrusted with the care of the family and the plowing. A band of Indians found the lone plowman in the field. The family heard a shot. Looking out they saw their brother dead in the furrow, and the Indians rushing upon the house. The family fled from their home toward a thicket. On the way the eldest daughter, sixteen, was shot and killed. Two younger daughters reached the thicket and survived to relate the tragedy. Mrs. Ripley, with her smaller children running to hide in a canebrake, were overtaken and beaten to death with clubs. After raiding the house, the Indians applied the torch. Ripley's infant child, asleep in his crib, was consumed in the flames.
Raids upon the Yeary and Ripley families, horse thieving by the Kickapoos, the vaunting boldness of the Indians, and a report that the villages of the marauders were on the headwaters of the Trinity prompted the assembling of the minutemen in Choctaw Bayou.
Sunrise of May 5 stirred the camp of volunteers in Choctaw Bayou to action. Since most of the citizen soldiers had arrived, the first order of the day was to organize into a military company and elect officers. They elected James Borland, Captain William C. Young, lieutenant, and Doctor Lemuel M. Cochran, orderly-sergeant. John B. Denton and Henry Stout were placed in charge of a few men as scouts. Edward H. Tarrant, General of the Fourth Brigade, Texas Militia, was a member of the group, but was not elected to a command. However, respected as a senior officer, he was consulted on every measure, and before the expedition ended, was in command. When members of the expedition wrote their memoirs forty years later, they recorded the event as Tarrant's expedition. Historians also have so credited him.
Soon after the plowmen and cattlemen of the Red River valley had been strengthened with military organization, they rode west to the abandoned Fort Johnson near the present town of Denison. This fort had been erected the year before by Colonel William Cooke of the regular army of the Republic. There the company spent several days in barracks waiting for volunteers who had been detained.
On May 14, 1841, sixty-nine men mounted their horses and rode from future Tarrant Country under the authority of the Republic was off to rout the Indians. (Tarrant County was to receive its name from this expedition.)
The minutemen believed that the villages of the hostile "Keechies" (Kichais) were on the upper banks of the West Fork of the Trinity near the present town of Bridgeport in Wise County. Five days of riding brought them to this place. They found two deserted villages of seventy lodges near fields desolate with last season's corn stalks. General Tarrant deemed it imprudent to burn the villages, situated on a high hill, for the smoke could be seen for miles. Axes slashed enough destruction to make the villages uninhabitable. The first blow in the war of retaliation had been struck. With rising spirits, the minutemen moved on. In the words of Tarrant:
We changed our course southeast following the course for some distance from the main western branch of the Trinity; and on the twenty-first we crossed the high divide; and that night camped on the eastern branch of the Brazos.
Two days of riding to the Brazos produced no results. No Indians or signs of their habitation appeared. The company decided to return to the Trinity to search the western branch to its mouth. Two days journey brought them to the Trinity toward the north. As they traveled down its valley in late afternoon, a new interest on the high prairie near the river aroused them from their weariness. A lone Indian was sighted. Tarrant gave the command. The company divided, cut off escape, and captured the savage.
It was time to end a day of hard riding. A high open prairie was no place to spend the night. They returned to the wooded shelter of the river and made camp at the fork of Fossil Creek which flowed from the north into the Trinity about eleven miles from present-day Fort Worth.
At sunset preparation was made to kill the Indian prisoner because he had been sullen and would not reveal the location of the Indian village. For the description of this incident, we have the words of Andrew Davis. At Fort Johnson, the minutemen had urged Andrew, a youth of thirteen, to return home. He had refused and had doggedly ridden his mule, though he was never able to gain a place among the company except in the last column of riders. This evening, Andrew stood at the front of the semicircle of men. To the youth, according to his own words, "The scene was awful in its solemnity. The Indian was placed with his back to an elm tree, his hands were drawn around the tree and tied, and his feet, bound together, were firmly fastened to the tree. Twelve men stood before him. The order rang out to present arms. The Indian cried aloud, his words were not distinct but his cry seemed to say 'Oh man!, Oh man!' Tarrant sent Captain Yeary with an interpreter to the prisoner, "We be friends,' he mumbled, and made a full revelation of the location of the Indian village."
Darkness came. Tarrant sent Stout with ten men to find the village, to select a point of attack, and to return by four o'clock in the morning
Men hurried about in the darkness preparing to break camp. Stout's scouting expedition had returned in the night with information and plans. Stout led the men east into the rising sun of May 24, 1841. They were silent. No doubt they knew one another's thought: the time of revenge was at hand, and there would be bloodshed. Thus they arrived at the fort of the Trinity where, in the words of General Edward H. Tarrant:
Generals Rusk and Dyer charged a Kickapoo camp in 1838, in sight of the lower cross-timbers. Here we recrossed the Trinity from the eastern side to the western side and came upon the high prairies one mile from the ford; we found very fresh signs of Indians.
On a buffalo trail, fresh horse tracks were discovered. In good scouting spirit, Henry Stout with six other scouts spurred their horses to follow the trail. They returned to report that a village was three miles beyond on a creek. The men arrived by nine o'clock within 400 yards of the village and took up a position behind a thicket. From their hiding place, they could see Indians moving about in their village. Orders were given in muffled tones, to divest themselves of blankets, packs, and all encumbrances; to mount their horses, to form lines, and, when the word came, to charge into the village. In five minutes, the men were prepared. Tarrant spoke.
"Are you ready? Now, my brave men, we will never all meet on earth again; there is great confusion and death ahead. I shall expect every man to fill his place and do his duty. Charge!"
General Tarrant, Captain John B. Denton, aide to Tarrant, and Captain Bourland led the charge. Four hundred yards of land lay between Tarrant's command and the Indian village. The space was covered in a flash. The onslaught was fierce, and the surprise complete. The sudden burst of bullets, like thunder over their huts, brought terror-stricken Indians running from their homes, some falling in death as they fled. The air was full of bullets. The village was captured. Indians fled along a wide trail leading down the bank of the creek. Hastily a few men were detailed to stand guard at the village, while the other horseman galloped in pursuit. Within two miles, they rode upon a second village. The work of death was fearful.
Young Andrew Davis was the last horseman to arrive at
the village, for his mule was slow. Soon this was shot from under
him, and he took shelter behind a tree. A feeling of desolation swept
his being. He felt, in the death of the animal, as though he had parted
from his best friend. Other riders lost their mounts, too, but they
fought on. Andrew, seeing this, left the tree and joined in the fight.
Thus this second village was quickly taken. There was another village
in sight toward which the horsemen dashed, and, many many men, now
unmounted, ran on foot.
Minutemen in tattered clothes, covered with dust, wet with sweat, and famished for food and water, assembled for roll call. The men quenched their thirst at a spring where Tarrant had taken his position for roll call. All the men answered "Here," for which Tarrant gave Divine thanks. Only ten were slightly wounded. He then ordered them to go to the nearest huts where they should satisfy their hunger with dried buffalo meat; and to be ready, after a brief rest, for further advance.
Denton and Bourland, each with a company of ten men, having promised Tarrant that they would not allow themselves to be ambushed, rode off in different directions to scout the woods. To their surprise, they met about one mile and a half from the second village, where the separate trails joined. At the junction of these paths, they discovered the largest trail they had yet seen. One end led over a mountain to the west; the other extended eastward toward the Trinity, crossing a creek upon which the villages stood. Looking across this stream through the timber, they saw a village which appeared to them larger than any other they had attacked. Words were exchanged as to the wisdom of entering the thicket and crossing the creek to it.
Stout and Denton challenged one another's bravery. This was against both wisdom and caution. But regardless, Denton, Stout and Captain John Griffin rode forward at a gallop, and the others followed.
Upon reaching the creek, they reined their horses to cross. As the hoofs of the horses of the first riders splashed in the water, bullets whizzed from the woods. Denton was killed and Stout was severely wounded, while Griffin suffered only a slight wound. Bullets came from the enemy; and being few in number, they did not attempt to rush into the wooded thicket. Instead, they dismounted, began to yell, and to make demonstrations as if to charge the creek. Soon the yells and bullets of the Indians ceased, and they suddenly left their grounds. Unable to hold its position, the scouting party hastily fled to the second village where Tarrant had made headquarters.
In the absence of the scouting party, Tarrant, with his men, had been making survey of the situation. After inspecting the villages and questioning the prisoners, they were in possession of disturbing information. The villages were inhabited by a thousand warriors, more than half of whom were away hunting on the distant prairie. The minutemen counted 225 lodges and there were more in the large village which they had glimpsed through the thicket but did not dare approach. They saw 300 acres in corn. There may have been more fields beyond the large village.
Being farmers, the Indians had an eye for farm tools when they went on their marauding expeditions, and had collected a large stockpile of every type except plows. In the huts, the minutemen found a huge supply of ammunition: guns, sergeants' swords, musket flints, musket powder, pig lead, and musket balls. Each lodge had two or three bags of powder and lead tied in equal portions. Some lodges had featherbeds and bedsteads.
One lodge was a blacksmith shop with an excellent set of blacksmith's tools. Recently the Indians had been molding bullets. These villages, they also learned, were depositories for the stolen horses from the Red River Valley and homes of the murderers of the Red River pioneers as well. They were members of many tribes: Cherokees, Creeks, Seminoles, Wacos, Caddoes, Kickapoos, Anadarkos, Kichais, Ionies, and others.
The sun indicated that it was mid-afternoon, and plans for the night should be made. A conference was held, for the Texan leaders were convinced that if the Indians discovered the smallness of their number, they would attack them as they crossed the Trinity, because they could easily be separated from one another in the woods on either bank and quickly overpowered. On the other hand, if they remained at the village all night, the Indians would have time to concentrate their forces, surround the village and annihilate them. It was decided to take up their march, to cross the Trinity, and to spend the night on the high prairie.
Before departing the village, a squad of men volunteered to return to the scene of Denton's death and recover his body. They feared that the Indians might have scalped him. However, their anxiety vanished when they found Denton's body unmolested where they had laid it. Carefully wrapping it, they tied it on a gentle horse, and returned to camp.
Upon their arrival, they found the company prepared for the return journey. The enemy's cattle and booty, which the minutemen had captured in the villages on the creek, had been made ready for the trip. This war prize consisted of six head of cattle, thirty-seven horses, 300 pounds of lead, thirty pounds of powder, twenty brass kettles, twenty-one axes, seventy-three buffalo robes, fifteen guns, thirteen packsaddles, three swords, and shovels, besides other sundries. Tarrant had not wished to take prisoners and had permitted them to escape, with the exception of a little Indian boy who became Tarrant's charge for the next two years.
Tarrant gave the order to start at five o' clock. Weary men spurred their horses' flanks and rode from the creek which was henceforth to be clothed in historic glory. For this small creek, rising in present-day Johnson County, flowing northeasterly for twenty-six miles and emptying into the Trinity about three miles from Arlington, was to be known as Village Creek.
The minutemen followed the route by which they had come that same day at sunrise. They jogged twelve miles, crossed the Trinity where the timber was thin, and camped for the night on the prairie; which in 1849 was to be incorporated into a county named for Edward H. Tarrant, the hero of the Village Creek Fight.
Next sunrise they were riding northeast. When the Indian villages were twenty-five miles behind them, the company halted to bury their friend, Denton. On a high elevation near Oliver Creek, they dug a grave of good depth with tools they had brought from the Indian villages. They lined the grave with rocks, placed another stone over the body and filled in the grave. Because of such precaution, Indians would not find the resting place of Denton. In sorrowful silence the company again took up their march. They would remember this man and his sacrifice, but would posterity?
Five years later, in 1846, the prairie land where the minutemen had buried their friend was to be organized into Denton County, and much later, the deceased scout's body was to be reinterred in the public square of the city of Denton.
May was drawing to a close. It was warm; the Indian fighters were weary. The horses jogged, then trotted, as the riders talked of the good lands in the Grand Prairie, the many springs, the good pastures, and the well-timbered banks of the Trinity. Some of the minutemen declared that the country at the forks was better land for homes than the Red River Valley, if only men could be free of Indians.
They rode along the west side of the East Cross Timbers and the Elm Fork through the area which was to be Denton and Cooke counties, and crossed Elm Fork where later Gainesville was to be founded. They then took the trail northward toward Fort Johnson, the point from which they had originally set out on May 14, 1841. After six days of arduous riding from the camp on the Trinity, they reached their destination. Safely within the barracks of Fort Johnson, they divided the booty seized from their enemy. They disbanded in June and hurried home, for they were late with their spring planting.
General Tarrant was an unhappy warrior since his return from the Village Creek expedition. He could not be content with an incomplete campaign- not such a soldier as he. In his youth, he had served with Andrew Jackson in several Indian campaigns; had marched off with "Old Hickory" to the war of 1812; and had passed through the blistering battle at New Orleans-General Jackson's immortal victory.
Born in 1792 in North Carolina, he was only a youth of sixteen when he left his Tennessee home for the War of 1812. Wars for liberty had been his life. He then left Tennessee for Texas, arriving in 1835 to fight in the army of the Republic in its struggle for independence from Mexico. He joined the newly organized Texas Rangers. In 1838, he had tried his talent in the role of congressman of the Republic of Texas, only to find it displeasing. Trained in the school of General Jackson, he had the spirit of the frontier warrior. Soon he returned to his Ranger duties in North Central Texas.
Tarrant was restless. He could not forget the fact that, with a band of minutemen, he had fled from an unfinished battle because the Indians outnumbered them. Early in June, he began measures to raise a large expedition for a second campaign to the upper Trinity. Volunteers were recruited by letters and by word.
He persuaded General James Smith of Nacogdoches, commander of the militia in that district, and a former soldier of Old Hickory's in the Creek war, to join him in the expedition. Smith agreed to raise a company of minutemen in East Texas and meet Tarrant with them somewhere in the East Cross Timbers. These two military units would clear Indians from the Cross Timbers and the forks of the Trinity. Then the promise of homes in this fertile region could be realized.
In mid-July, hundreds of men were riding in groups converging upon Fort English near present-day Bonham. There they organized a regiment with General Tarrant as supreme commander. By July 20, 1841, more than 300 men departed from Fort English. Tarrant led them southwest with speedy directness. On the west bank of the Trinity, they pitched camp, probably on the site of one of their former camps in present Tarrant county.
From this camp, scouting parties penetrated the woodland thickets to locate the Indians. For several weeks, minutemen lived in the saddle, persistently tracking down every sign of Indians, to find no enemy at the end of the trail. Fatigue and discouragement ruled their spirits. Neither the Indians nor General Smith's company from East Texas was discovered. Tarrant laid aside his well-planned attack, led the men back to Fort English, and disbanded the regiment- a frustrated effort.
Tarrant had failed to find General Smith in the Cross Timbers, but Smith had kept his word. Leaving the Nacogdoches district with a company, he moved northwest. On the way, he halted at King's Fort, now the town of Kaufman. The settlers related to him their experience of the previous evening when they repulsed a severe Indian attack.
Next sunrise, Smith was following the trail of these Indians which led him to the Trinity where Dallas now stands. On Spring Branch, a mile on the west side of the Trinity, Smith made camp near a spring. The water was so delicious that the men named it Honey Spring. On the same campsite, a few months later in 1841, the father of Dallas, John Neely Bryan, was to pitch tent.
From Honey Spring camp, Smith sent out twelve scouts under the leadership of Captain John L. Hall to seek the location of the Indian village of the famous Village Creek Fight. The scouting party crossed Mountain Creek, traversed the prairie on the west side of the Trinity, entered the East Cross Timbers, and came within a short distance of Village Creek, where they halted. There were many trails converging upon the creek which they decided was evidence that the Indian village was near. The area and the location was as it had been described to them, and they felt they were now on dangerous ground.
Captain Hall chose from his scouts two of the most skilled in woodcraft-John H. Reagan, a buckskin-attired surveyor, and Isaac Bean, an Indian trader. A half-day of spying brought reward. These men found the village occupied with Indians and discovered that the place was approachable at both the upper and lower ends. After memorizing the lay of the land, they returned to Captain Hall, who was hiding in an oak thicket. When darkness came, Hall with his scouts reported to General Smith, who had moved camp to Mountain Creek.
The following day at noon, Smith was at Village Creek. He divided the men into two battalions. Reagan, as guide, conducted General Smith's men to the upper end of the village. Bean guided Lieutenant Colonel Elliot's to the lower end of the village. The men successfully reached the positions, and as they waited for the signal of attack, their eagerness mounted. At length the word came, and they charged the village. To their dismay, the place was deserted. The enemy had fled, leaving their supplies and camp fixtures. Smith concluded that the Indians had discovered Tarrant's force and had departed barely in time to elude his regiment.
Failing to find Tarrant, he returned to Nacogdoches. The third expedition to enter the future Tarrant County in the year 1841 terminated in a bloodless adventure.