Big Tree’s Bloody Raid Through Montague and Cooke Counties

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.

Montague and Cooke Counties, Texas
Randolph Vesey Historical Marker

Marker Title: Randolph Vesey
Address: State Street, at Courthouse
City: Decatur
Year Marker Erected: 1965
Marker Location: east side of Courthouse Square.
Marker Text: Respected African citizen and homeowner. Champion pioneer fiddler, popular at Forts Belknap, Griffin and Richardson and over county. Once when he was an Indian captive, held in Kansas, Texans sent ponies to ransom him. He is buried in Oak Lawn, Decatur. Born in Georgia. He served during the Civil War as body servant and voluntary battle aide to General W.L. Cabel of the Confederate army. Vesey's courage and loyalty were typical. Hundreds of slaves went to war with masters. Many operated farms and ranches of soldiers away at war, producing cotton and food for the Confederacy. Others did work for hire, with wages supporting the master's family. On patrol duty they protected homes from Indians, bandits, outlaws. During War years, 1861-1865, some 30,000 to 50,000 Africans - free and slaves - aided Confederate armies. They served with the Nitre and Mining Bureau and departments of medicine, engineers, quartermaster general, ordnance and commissary general. They built fortifications on coasts from Brownsville, Texas, to Norfolk, Virginia, and at inland points. Many were army teamsters, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, butchers, shoemakers, cooks, and nurses. Texas and other states later provided land grants and pensions for army. (1965)

Randolph (Uncle Ran) Vesey Historical Marker

Marker Title: Randolph (Uncle Ran) Vesey
Address: Cemetery Road
City: Decatur
Year Marker Erected: 1979
Marker Location: Oak Lawn Cemetery, Cemetery Road -North Decatur; enter at main gate, turn left at first paved road; drive past gazebo, marker on left near telephone pole.
Marker Text: Born a slave near Savannah, Georgia, Randolph Vesey was body servant to Confederate General William Lewis Cabel during the Civil War. In 1868, while living on the Montague-Wise County line, Vesey was captured by Indians and taken to Kansas. Black scout Brit Johnson ransomed Vesey with horses contributed by friends in Texas. A natural musician, Vesey often played the violin at dances in this area. He married Missouri (Zoe) Light and had two children. Recorded 1979.

    January 6, 1868, the Indians under the leadership of Big Tree, made one of the bloodiest raids ever perpetrated by the savages in their onslaught against the pioneer settlements of the West Texas frontier. They first appeared in Willa Walla Valley at the homes of A.H. Newberry and W.D. Anderson. A.H. Newberry and his wife had gone to visit a neighbor about one mile away. Henry Newberry a son of A.H. Newberry, and W.D. Anderson were gathering pecans when the savages appeared. So. H.D. Newberry, brother of A.H., Mrs. W.D. Anderson and her sister, were the only ones present when the Indians appeared. H.D. Newberry barred the doors, had his guns in readiness, had axes, and other articles handy, and ready for the attack. The Indians arrived, surrounded the house, but discovering they were going to receive a warm reception, decided to move on down the Willa Walla Valley.

    The savages had hardly gone, however, when W.A. Morris and D.S. Hagler, who were returning to their homes from Montague, and who had already discovered the Indian trail, appeared at the Newberry home. From there, Morris and Hagler hurried to the home of W.R. Eaves, about one mile further south, where A.H. Newberry was visiting. Here Morris and Hagler were joined by W.R. Eaves and the three hurried on down the valley to warn others. When these citizens reached the McCracken home, they discovered that no one was around and the home had been burned to the ground. In a few moments Charlie McCracken and his family came out of the thick timber, where they found concealment while the savages charged their home. Here the trio were informed that George Masoner, another runner, had already preceded them down the valley to notify the citizens that Big Tree and his blood-thirsty savages were coming.

    W.A. (Bud) Morris, D.S. Hagler and W.R. Eaves proceeded down the valley to the home of G.W. and Alfred Williams, where they again discovered they were trailing instead of being in the lead of the Indians. The three then hurried to where W.A. Morris and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Dennis, lived. Since it was Sunday, here Mr. Morris learned his wife had gone home with W.H. Perryman, and family, when they return from church. So W.A. (Bud) Morris, D.S. Hagler, W.R. Eaves, F.R. McCracken and Sam Dennis then left the home of Mrs. Dennis and hurried in the direction of the Perryman wagon, for fear its occupants would be slain by the savages. Fortunately the wagon was also trailing behind the Indians, who had already gone ahead.

    Let us now briefly consider the brave ride of George Masoner, who no doubt, saved several lives during Big Tree's raid. He was at the home of Chas. McCracken when the Indians appeared, and from here on a fleet horse hurried to the pioneer homes further down the valley. Consequently, when the Indians arrived, the citizens were more or less prepared.

    Now let us follow the bloody trail of the warring savages themselves, and briefly picture Big Tree's path, which was blazed with human blood, and the fires of burning pioneer homes. After leaving the residences of A.H. Newberry, and W.B. Anderson, the savages came upon John and Dan Leatherwood. John Leatherwood was killed, but Dan successfully escaped. The Indians next appeared at the home of Chas. McCracken, and when it was found vacant, the savages pilfered and plundered to their heart's content, and then burned the little building to the ground. Since Mr. McCracken, a brave Indian fighter, had two savages scalps hanging in his house, it has been surmised these scalps were discovered by the Indians, and, perhaps, it was this fact that caused them to set fire to the building.

    After leaving the McCracken home, the Indians came across Dave McCracken, and gave him a lively chase. But he hurried to the home of D.W. and Alfred Williams, where he intended to sell his life as dearly as possible. But the Williams families had already been warned by Geo. Masoner, and were soon leaving their home for the thick timber. Dave McCracken overtook Alfred Williams and his family just as they were crossing the road. D.W. Williams, at the time, was away. He and his family had gone to church. Fifty raging savages about this time came charging as if they intended to run completely over Dave McCracken, Alfred Williams, and the latter's family. Dave McCracken made a sudden stand, drew his shotgun, and when he did, the Indians made a sudden halt. But McCracken did not fire. When the Indians made a charge, he again drew his gun causing them to fall back, and in this way could keep the Indians bluffed away. McCracken then hurried into the thick timber and joined Alfred Williams and his family. The Indians themselves, in their usual way, ripped open feather beds and pillows, robbed the Williams' home, and then moved on down the valley.

    They crossed over to the home of Mr. Carlton, who had also been warned by Geo. Masoner. Here they captured Miss Perilee Carlton, a beautiful daughter, about sixteen years of age, and a sister of Rias Carlton, who was killed in Young County during the preceding year.

    The Indians next appeared at the home of Austin Perryman. But they too, had already been warned by Geo. Masoner. Austin Perryman and his wife, were the only ones at home at the time. So Mrs. Perryman, dressed in her husband's clothes, put on his hat, took a gun, and stood by a porthole, ready to help her husband defend their home. The savages discovering they had a fight on hand, passed up the Perryman home, and extended their foray further inland. The Indians then came upon Mr. Nathan Long, who rushed into the timber, but was soon killed. Mrs. Nathan Long and her children were at home alone, but had been warned by Geo. Masoner. So they had previously escaped to the timber before the Indians reached their residence. Mrs. Long closed the door, however, before she left. When the Indians appeared, they rode around three or four times, then proceeded on their journey. No doubt, they were afraid some men were concealed therein, and if an attack were made, some of their number would be killed. The savages next appeared at the home of Savil Wilson, whose wife was dead, and who was raising four or five of his small children. Mr. Wilson was away, and the children were at home alone. But when Geo. Masoner appeared, he hid the little tots in the timber, and hurried on to warn others. The doors were left open, and when the Indians appeared, in their usual way, robbed everything and fired not only the dwelling, but also the corn crib. A few minutes after they had gone, W.A. (Bud) Morris, D.S. Hagler, W.R. Eaves, F.R. McCracken, and Sam Dennis, arrived at the Wilson home and a few seconds later, Savil Wilson, himself, came rushing up only to find his house in flames. At that time, he did not know the fate of his children. Savil Wilson only saved a piece of burning bacon out of his smoke house. Shortly afterwards the Wilson children came from their place of concealment and Mrs. Long and her children also appeared at the Wilson home, where they could receive the protection of the six men. While the Indians were at this residence, they left a saddle stripped of stirrups and straps, and when Mrs. Long arrived, she almost instantly recognized the saddle as that of her husband, Nathan Long. So she quickly concluded that evidently her husband had been killed.

    After the Indians extended their major foray about five miles further, they came upon Mr. Menasco, his daughter, Mrs. Shegog, her baby, and two little daughters, and an African boy. Mr. Menasco had previously discovered the Indians were raiding, so he was attempting to carry his daughter and her children to a place of safety. When the Indians appeared, he was killed, and Mrs. Shegog, her children, and the African boy made prisoners. After going a short distance, Mrs. Shegog's baby began to cry, and this so exasperated the warring savages, they took it by the heels and in the presence of the mother, beat out the baby's brains against a tree.

    After sundown, about twenty citizens who had hurriedly thrown together, overtook the savages on Blocker Creek, and on the prairie, but were soon repulsed by an overwhelming number of savages. During the fighting, however, Miss Perrilee Carlton slipped from her horse, and hid on the ground. Apparently she was not missed by the Indians, who moved on toward Gainesville. Guided by the barking of dogs, Perrilee Carlton went to the home of Dr. Davidson, on Williams Creek, where she spent the night. About one o'clock in the morning, an extremely cold blizzard came rolling from the northwest. In a short time, the thermometer was only a very few degrees above zero, and the two sweet little daughters of Mrs. Shegog and the African boy evidently froze to death. When the Indians reached a point close to the Samuel E. Doss home, about one mile southwest of Gainesville, they threw Mrs. Shegog from her horse, for they no doubt, thought she was frozen to death. She was, in fact, almost lifeless, but fortunately when she fell, Mrs. Shegog heard the chickens crow at the home of Samuel Doss. But because of her numbness, she was barely able to reach the Doss home. Here she received the kindest of attention, remained several days, and partly recovered from her experience, which was hardly possible for anybody to endure. The Indians went to a little mill about one-half mile west of Gainesville on Elm Creek, and from here they turned northward, crossed Red River, and the pioneers thought this major foray was over. During the succeeding day, the citizens began to bury the dead, and clear away the debris of such a severe storm.

    During the evening of Monday, January 6, while the bereaved were burying their deceased, the Indians again crossed Red River, and appeared in Willa Walla Valley. Arthur Parkhill, who lived about one mile from W.A. (Bud) Morris, and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Dennis, was at the Parkhill home. For the first time, Arthur Parkhill heard of the Indians' raid during the preceding day. So he hurried to the home of his brother, B.G. Parkhill, and brought them over to his home, which was enclosed with a picket palisade, and was therefore better fortified. Arthur Parkhill then hurried to the home of T.J. Fitzpatrick, who lived about one mile away and was moving them to his home, when they came in contact with the savages, who were still searching for human blood. During the fight that followed, Arthur Parkhill and T.J. Fitzpatrick were both killed, and Mrs. Fitzpatrick escaped alive, and liberated. Her baby, and two little girls, four and seven years of age, were carried away. Early the next morning, a posse of citizens came upon the body of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, which was lying in the path, with her skirt bound around her head, and her corpse frozen stiff. The snow-storms were still raging, so the citizens were unable to follow the Indian trial. A short time after the tragedy, however, W.A. (Bud) Morris found the little body of Mrs. Fitzpatrick's baby where it had been murdered by Big Tree and his savages, and thrown away to be devoured by the beasts of the woods, and vultures of the air.

    The fate of the two Fitzpatrick girls were unknown until nearly two years later, when they were found among the Indians in Western Kansas, by Colonel Leavenworth. The two Fitzpatrick girls were taken to Washington by Col. Leavenworth, and Congress appropriated $10,000 for their care and education. They were then placed in a Catholic Convent, where the girls grew to womanhood.

    Col. Leavenworth corresponded with W.A. (Bud) Morris concerning the girls. A few years ago, a story of these children was printed in the Houston Post and reprinted in the Baltimore Herald. The piece was read by Mrs. Thomas W. Hardy, who was one of the Fitzpatrick girls. So she wrote to W.A. (Bud) Morris herself, and related some of her recollections and life history.

    During this major raid, fifteen people were killed and carried into captivity, besides, others assaulted, and homes robbed and destroyed. And needless to say, the Indians always drove away all the horses that could be found.

    Note: Before writing this section, the author personally interviewed W.A. (Bud) Morris and F.R. McCracken, mentioned above, Charlie Grant and his wife, who, if we are not mistaken, was formerly Mrs. Nathan Long or her daughter. Also interviewed others then living in that section.

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

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