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
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
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.
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.
Indians of the third village, having had time to prepare their guns
and ammunition, fired rapidly. The minutemen drove them away. From
this point, there was no distinction between villages. For a mile
and a half the huts stretched along the creek. Soon the minutemen
became so scattered, General Tarrant, fearing the various groups would
be cut off and destroyed, ordered the men to rally at the second village,
to which the rear guard had now come with the packs from the first
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.