Bloody Raid in Bell and Coryell 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.

Bell & Coryell County, Texas

    During the spring of 1859 a band of Indians almost surrounded Judge Perryman, while searching for stock on Stampede Creek about eighteen miles north of Gatesville. But he successfully escaped into a thick cluster of timber.

    Early the next morning, several citizens, who lived in the Sugar Loaf Mountain Country, in northern Bell County, started to the Cowhouse and elsewhere for logs and rails to be used for building purposes. Y. Pierce, driving two yoke of oxen to an empty wagon, was killed almost before he realized the Indians had him trapped.

    Wm. Riggs and David M. Elms, then a boy of thirteen years of age, were walking while their empty wagons slowly bumped and bounced toward the cedar brakes. David asked whether or not the distant horsemen were Indians. Wm. Riggs replied in the affirmative.

    Within a very few seconds the hostile savages assaulted these two early citizens, and whipped them unmercifully with the tail of an ox. Mr. Riggs evidently lost control of his mental faculties, and started in a long run toward his home, about four hundred yards away. David was stripped of his clothing, and left in charge of two or three Indians. The remaining warriors followed and tantalized Wm. Riggs, not unlike a cat playing with a mouse. Several whipped this pioneer citizen on the back to make him move faster. Others, afoot, were laughingly trying to out-run him in his race for life. When the savages suddenly came in sight of the house, however, they were seemingly surprised, and quickly retreated back into the timber. Mr. Riggs, excited beyond thinking, hurried onto his residence.

    Shortly afterward, he left home with his wife and three little children. They had gone only about three hundred yards, however, when the screaming savages again made a flashing charge. Mr. and Mrs. Riggs were almost instantly murdered; the two daughters, Margaret and Rhoda, made prisoners and the baby, Wm. C. Riggs, Jr., left bathing in it's mother's blood. During these exciting moments, when the Indians were making such hideous yells, the two or three hostile savages holding David, left him alone and hurried toward their companions. Elms, of course, ran away and successfully escaped.

    The Indians, no doubt, realized the rangers would soon be on their trail, so they hastily took away the two little girls.

    After traveling eight or ten miles farther, the wild men from the northwest gave a Mr. Cruger an exciting chase; but he successfully made his escape. The warriors now turned their course west, and a few miles farther, murdered a Mr. Peevy, whom they found traveling alone. The savages, appearing to be somewhat excited, left the latter before he was completely dead.

    Shortly after the murder of Mr. Peevy, Indian spies reported white horsemen were riding in the distance. Among these cowmen was Thomas Elms, the father of David Elms. The savages rode away through the roughest parts of the country, and as they ran, the red men repeatedly tossed the children from one to another. But finally when an Indian failed to catch Rhoda, she fell flat on the ground. This accident was observed by Margaret, who attempted to jump from behind the Indian with whom she rode; but was caught be her clothing before reaching the ground. Shortly afterwards, however, the little heroine grasped some timber and jerked away from the warrior. As soon as the older sister recovered from her fall, she went back to the place where the smaller child had dropped. Bruised and wounded as they were, these two lonely little girls started homeward. The larger sister quite often carried little Rhoda.

    About dark, the little girls came to a vacant and deserted cabin where they remained until the next morning. During the night, the children heard horses passing, and thinking the disturbance was caused by Indians, concealed themselves in the fireplace. Can you picture these two little orphan girls approximately six and ten years of age, hiding from Indians, in a black and dirty fireplace of a deserted log-house during the dark and cold hours of night?

    The horsemen, however, were the frontiersmen getting together to pursue the Indians. The next morning the children resumed their journey, and about five or six hundred yards further came to the home of R.B. Renick. The Renick family however had gone to the hoe of Cornelius Roberts, where many citizens had "forted up." Shortly afterwards, when a horseman came riding alone, the two little girls became frightened, and ran around the house. But when he called, they made their appearance and, of course, were greatly elated to be in the hands of friends.

    Can you think of a more pathetic picture? The younger girl said, "The night being very cold, sister pulled off her dress and wrapped me up, and nursed me all night."

    After Dave Elms escaped, he soon met a Mr. Ambrose Lee, who lived in the community. Mr. Lee immediately took his gun and went to the place where Mr. and Mrs. Riggs had been murdered. There he found the baby boy still crawling around in his mother's blood.

    The fleeing Indians successfully made their escape.

    These brutal murders bear some resemblance to the massacre of the Mason and Cameron families in Jack County during the preceding year. Another thing to be noted, there was a redheaded white man among the Indians, and the little girls said this white barbarian could speak English. From time to time, on several different major raids, a redheadedwhite man was on raiding expeditions with the hostile Indians. Was it always the same individual? Was it some one the Indians had captured when a child, and reared to be a savage? Or was it some renegade white, who renounced his own race?

    Note: Before writing this section, the author personally interviewed David L. Elms, who was whipped with the oxtail; J.H. Renick, who lived in the community at the time; Mart Fleming, who numbered among the settlers who tried to overtake the Indian; B.F. Gholson, J.W. Cox, and others who were living in Bell, Coryell, and adjoining counties in 1859.

    Further Ref.: Wilbarger's Indian Depredations in Texas.

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

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