Battle Island

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. His passion is travel, and he seizes any opportunity to share his experiences in the most immersive way possible, whether at sea or on the land.

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

Date unknown, ca. 1831; Matagorda, Texas: Elisha Flowers and Charles Cavina (or Cavanaugh), along with their families, were among the first emigrants to join Stephen Austin's colony. Both families settled near Live Oak Bayou, which empties into East Matagorda Bay. In 1831 about seventy Karankawa Indians attacked the area. They ransacked Cavina's cabin after killing his wife and three daughters. Flowers's wife, who had been visiting the Cavinas, was also killed. A little girl, perhaps the daughter of Flowers, survived despite a serious arrow wound.

Charles Cavina, returning from a trip with two of his slaves witnessed the Indians plundering his cabin. Being unarmed, he ran off to warn Flowers, but he arrived too late. The Karankawas had already murdered Elisha Flowers and the remainder of his family.

Cavina immediately set out to raise a militia to pursue the Karankawas. About sixty men gathered, choosing Aylett C. Buckner--a soldier of fortune, filibusterer, and duelist--as their captain. This company trailed the Karankawas west to an island near the mouth of the Colorado River, near present-day Matagorda. One of the militiamen, Moses Morrison, crept up to a high bank overlooking the Indians' position. When he leaned over for a better look, the ledge crumbled, sending him tumbling down about forty feet into the camp. Though dazed, Morrison quickly recovered and shot at the nearest warrior. He then dove into a hole in the riverbank, from which he fended off the Indians.

Buckner heard the shots and swept into the fight with the remaining men. Some Karankawa warriors scrambled to save their families, giving Buckner's men an advantage. Buckner's party killed many Indians on the island and others in the river; women and children were hit in the process. A militiaman named Williams recalled shooting a warrior who sprang up from behind some driftwood. When he later investigated, he discovered to his "surprise and regret" that he had in fact killed a woman with a baby on her back.

By the time the fighting ended, between forty and fifty Karankawas were dead. The Colorado River was said to be "literally red with blood." Later, a treaty was signed at the site, which the locals named Battle Island.

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