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Bass Canyon

Michael has a BA in History & American Studies and an MSc in American History from the University of Edinburgh. He comes from a proud military family and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Middle East and Asia. Please consider reading our editorial policy to understand how and why we publish the resources we do.

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Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria

Ca. January 6, 1869; Van Horn, Texas: Several different mail contractors operated the southern mail lines across Texas after the Civil War. By the fall of 1867 Frederick A. Sawyer and Benjamin F. Ficklin, combining their talents and resources, had their turn. Over the next several months, Indian attacks seemed to get bolder on the lower road, along the Rio Grande and Devil's River, so in the spring of 1868, Ficklin shifted the line to the upper road, which passed through Fredericksburg and went up the San Saba and Middle Concho Rivers. On either route, however, coaches had to take the dangerous road through west Texas.

On 5 January the eastbound stage left El Paso with James Bass driving and Jarvis Hubbell, ex-postmaster of El Paso, the sole passenger. The stage company should have known better, and the two men should have known better. It was practically suicide to attempt such a trip with only two men. Making matters worse, Hubbell was struggling at the time with a badly injured foot, on which he wore a woven slipper.

A capable frontiersman, Hubbell was chagrined at having to be helped up onto the coach. The stage rolled east easily on hard roads carpeted with a veil of snow. The two men passed Fort Quitman and turned northeast into Quitman Canyon then swung southeast. Snow and ice had gathered in the trail ruts along the draw between the Quit man Mountains and Devil's Ridge. The bad weather, the men assumed, meant that the Apaches were probably all huddled up around a warm

campfire. The stage made it to Eagle Springs Station, on the slope of the Eagle Mountains. The workers at the station were the last ones to see Bass and Hubbell alive.

Two days later, line agent Henry Morrell left El Paso with a driver and one passenger. The three had passed Eagle Springs Station and were approaching a pass through the Van Horn Mountains, about nine miles from Van Horn's Well, when they spotted something in the road. The mules shied away and the driver halted them. Morrell inspected the object; it was the battered head of James Bass. The driver hurried the coach on. A short distance later the travelers found a severed arm, and beyond that, a torso. They saw the wrecked stage about half a mile from the road. Arrows pierced the sides like a pin cushion, and bloodstains speckled the interior. On the ground was Hubbell's slipper, but his body was nowhere to be found. Morrell wanted to search the area, but when Apaches appeared in the distance, the travelers sped off for Fort Davis.

At the fort, agent Jim Spears quickly organized an expedition to search the site, but the small cavalry escort he secured turned back after thirty miles, claiming fatigued horses. Spears and the coach driver continued on their own. They buried what was left of James Bass, but they never found any trace of Hubbell. From then on, the pass was called Bass Canyon.

13 May 1880; Van Horn, Texas: About 20 Apaches attacked a well-armed westbound train of 20 wagons in Bass Canyon, east of Eagle Springs. Several wagons overturned as the frightened drivers tried to flee. Settlers D. Murphy and his wife and child hid in the brush, while the Indians found several others. The raiders killed Hames Grant, wounded Harry Graham, and mortally wounded Mrs. Graham. When they came upon Murphy and his family, Murphy was hit twice, but he bluffed the Indians away with a disabled rifle.

Meanwhile, driver "Dutch Willie" sped his wagon into the station at Eagle Springs. Capt. Louis Carpenter and Company H, 10th Cavalry, rushed to the scene, but the Indians were gone. About ten people from the train had been killed or wounded.

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