Dove Creek Battle

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

The following is Captain R.B. Barry's first hand account of his patrol of the Civil War.

    Another incursion was made by the Indians in the winter of 1863, while I was at Fort Belknap in command of six companies. Captain Guilentine, of the frontier militia, reported that the Kickapoos were in full force, and were passing up the Clear fork of the Brazos, near Phantom Hill.

    At that time the Confederate authorities were pressed for soldiers and there was no force to spare for frontier service, but my command. The State of Texas exempted the frontier counties from conscription and organized all the citizens able to bear arms, for their defense, who scouted in companies by turns, the whole being placed under the command of Brigadier General James W. Throckmorton.

    Captain Guilentine sent an express to the nearest militia captains at once. I dispatched one hundred and ten Confederates under Captain Henry Fossett from the nearest Fort. Captain Totten, of Bosque county, being the senior captain of militia, hurried to the objective point with what men he could collect, numbering over three hundred, making in all about four hundred and fifty men. This force pursued the Indians and followed their trail notwithstanding the ground was covered with snow, from a fearful snow storm. They crossed the Colorado and Concho rivers, and overtook the Indians at Dove Creek. The Kickapoos, together with refugees from other tribes, numbered as estimated, about nine hundred. They took their position in a dense thicket, a deep ravine on one side and Dove creek on the other with its high bluffs. This left but few places open to attack.

    Our officers held a consultation and the plan agreed upon was that Captain Totten, with the militia, should charge the thicket, and that Captain Fossett with his one hundred and ten men was to approach on horseback, take possession of the Indians' horses, if possible, and avail himself of any other advantages that might present themselves. Captain Fossett and his men captured all the Indian horses, with the exception of about fifty that were near the camp. They numbered between six hundred and one thousand head.

    Captain Totten meeting with some delay in getting his men across the deep ravine, got them somewhat out of order. Just then the Indians opened a heavy fire upon them from the thicket. The whites being in open prairie, across the ravine, were thrown into confusion. The most of the officers, with some of the men, having gained the thicket across the gulch, were nearly all killed or wounded. The Indians would have followed up their advantage with heavy slaughter to Captain Totten's men, but at that critical moment Captain Fossett, seeing the situation, left the herd of horses he had just captured and charged upon the thicket at the opposite side, right amongst the tents, wigwams, women and children, thus drawing the attention of the Indians and preventing them from following up the advantage they had gained over the militia. Their lodges extended along the bank of Dove creek for about a quarter of a mile, and Captain Fossett charged the whole length of the encampment, firing at whatever could be seen from the brush. The Indians, hearing the firing in the direction of their camp, hastened thither and came near cutting off all retreat from the thicket. Captain Fossett's men had discharged all their guns and there was no time to reload. They were compelled to retreat, in many places in single file, and they suffered considerably. Among the killed of the Confederates was Lieutenant Giddeon, of Captain Rowland's company.

    The Indians, having no other force to contend against, pursued them until they reached the open prairie, where another desperate struggle ensued around the horses, extending over several miles of ground. Captain Fossett, having to cover the retreat of the militia, was compelled to abandon a portion of the captured horses, but he succeeded in carrying off about three hundred head. When he came up to where Captain Totten had rallied the militia some ten or twelve miles from the scene of action, they halted there and laid on their arms until the next morning with the determination of renewing the fight next day, but a heavy snow storm set in during the night, which put an end to all further hostilities.

    It continued snowing until the ground was covered three or four feet deep. Some of the men came very near freezing to death. Some of the horses, those that had been greatly fatigued in the fight, froze during the night.

    Captain Totten returned to the battle ground and buried the dead. There were about fifty whites killed in this fight and probably about as many Indians. The Indians evidently thought themselves badly whipped, as they left their camp equipage and dead on the battle field. They fled across the Rio Grande into Mexico.

    Among the last visits the Indians made to this (Bosque) county they stole many horses, and they also raided at the same time several of the adjoining counties. A good many small parties of citizens scoured the mountains in pursuit of the Indians, one of which, my neighbor, Bill Erwin, commanded, having with him his sons and stock hands, together with my sons and stockmen. He stopped one night near the Leon bottom. He put out two of the youngest boys, Will Barry and Jim Erwin to guard the horses, thinking there would be but little danger while cooking and eating supper, but the boys discovered some Indians reconnoitering the camp. They reported the fact to Captain Erwin, who took the older men and placed them in ambush near the horses. He then made the young men build up big fires and dance, sing and wrestle around them for about an hour and a half to make the Indians believe they had not been discovered. They all then laid down around the fires as if they were going to sleep. The ruse had the desired effect. The temptation to steal horses was too strong. About two hours afterwards the Indians crawled up noiselessly and approached the horses. When very near Captain Erwin and his men fired upon them and killed one of the Indians. They think they killed another but supposed he was carried off by his comrades.

    Another party of Indians went out through the mountains and crossed the Paluxy into Hood county. When on the divide between the Paluxy and Brazos they were discovered by a party of whites from Hood and Erath counties. They pursued the Indians, who, after quite a race, took position in a thicket on a small branch. The creek had a hole of water in it about waist deep. The brush and vines hanging over this hole of water from the banks hid the Indians from view, and the whites were compelled to approach within a few yards of them before they could be seen. This gave them a great advantage over the whites. But, after some maneuvering, the whites obtained a favorable position and picked off the Indians one by one, until there was none left to inform Brother Tatum, of the Sill agency, of the massacre.

    It finally reached his ears, however, through some cow hunters who were driving beeves to the agency to feed the female tribespeople and papooses while the warriors were plundering and murdering the settlers. Brother Tatum told the cow men that it was an outrageous act to have killed such an innocent party of Indians; that they were merely a doctor and his escort who were going into the settlements to get roots and herbs for sick Indians, which grew there in greater abundance than anywhere else. This may have been so, but the settlers did not understand what benefit the sick Indians would derive from their stolen horses. There were seven Indians in the doctor's party, and all of them were killed. Two of the whites were killed and several wounded.

    About the same time this fight took place, twenty Indians were discovered on the Paluxy. Fifteen citizens, under Haley and McDowell, pursued them. They overtook the Indians, and a sharp skirmish ensued which lasted some time, and resulted in the recapture of all the horses they had stolen. Several of the whites were wounded, but none killed. Several Indians were also wounded, but none killed, as far as known. The Indians fled in haste to some place of safety. This was near Hanna's mill, in Hood county.

    [Note.-It is but proper to say that the Kickapoo Indians, who were attacked on Dove creek, afterward claimed that they were on their way to Mexico with their families, and that the attack made upon them was unjust and uncalled for.]

The above story is from the book, Indian Depredations In Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

    The United States made treaties of peace with the Kickapoos as far back as 1805. At that time, these Indians were closely associated with the Delawares, and were joined in the same treaty. From that date up until June 28, 1862, twenty treaties were made with the Kickapoos.

    Colonel R.B. Marcy found 100 Kickapoo warriors and their families on the Clear Fork of the Brazos in 1849. During 1852 a large band of Kickapoos, together with some Potawatomies, passed through western Texas and moved into Old Mexico, where they became known as the Mexican Kickapoos.

    During the Civil War the Kickapoos of Kansas and elsewhere aided both the North and South. In 1864, however, a large band of Kickapoos, together with some Potawatomies, decided they had seen all the Civil War they cared to see, and as a consequence, about 400 warriors took their families and earthly possessions and started out to join the Kickapoos in Old Mexico. We are reliably informed that at least a part of these Indians had some kind of a passport. Nevertheless their presence on Texas soil was soon discovered, after they crossed Red River somewhere near the mouth of the Wichita.

    Several times before the outbreak of the Civil War, Indian depredations along the West Texas frontier were traced to the door of the Kickapoos, although they usually professed to be friendly. So when these savages crossed Red River, Brig. Gen. H.E. McCulloch, who was commanding Confederate forces on the northern sub-district of Texas, and Brig. Gen. Throckmorton, then in command of the first frontier district, and stationed at Decatur, as well as others anticipated that these Indians would locate somewhere either in West Texas, or across the Rio Grande in Old Mexico, and like the Comanches continually depredate upon the frontier settlements.

    Capt. Gilentine and his command discovered where the Kickapoos had passed near the ruins of Fort Phantom Hill, and had camped very near where R.B. Marcy found them in 1849. Their trail was followed for a considerable distance, and several of their camp sites found. Other indications disclosed that there were, no doubt, several hundred warriors in the band. Broken dishes, instances where they had been digging with pick and shovels, etc., also disclosed that these Indians were evidently considerably more civilized than the wild tribes of the plains. Feeling that his few men were unable to cope with such a large number of savages, Capt. Gillentine reported to his superior officer, Maj. Geo. B. Erath, and as men were scarce on the West Texas frontier, runners were, also, sent to Maj. R.B. (Buck) Barry, then stationed near Ft. Belknap, and to Brig. Gen. Throckmorton at Decatur, advising them that a trail of many hundreds of Indians had been discovered near old Fort Phantom Hill, and that the trail lead in a southwesterly direction. Col. R.B. (Buck) Berry dispatched Capt. Henry Fossett with 110 men belonging to the Frontier Regiment to take the trail as soon as possible and watch the maneuvers of the Indians, until reinforcements could arrive. Capt. Totten, of Bosque County, being the senior captain of the militia, or state troops, hurried to the relief of Capt. Henry Fossett, with about 325 men. Under the command of the two captains, Capt. Henry Fossett and Capt. Totten, there were about 450 men, whose homes were in Montague, Wise, Parker, Jack, Young, Stephens, Palo Pinto, Erath, Johnson, Bosque, Coryell, Hamilton, Comanche, Brown, Coleman, and elsewhere. Most of Capt. Totten's men rendevouzed at camp Salmon, in Stephens. Capt. Fossett's men started on the trail first, and consequently, was several miles in the lead. The troops were approximately ten days on the road and took the trail near the old fort Phantom Hill on the clear fork of the Brazos, about the 30 th of December 1864. In a report of Brig. Gen. J.D. McAdoo, commanding the state militia, made Feb. 20 1865, and giving the details of the Dove Creek fight he said:

    "The Indian trail was a large one, ad separated into two trails. Capt. Totten took the one running nearest to the settlements. It continued in a southwesterly direction, diverging from the settlements. It continued in a southwesterly direction, diverging from the settlements and pointing to the headwaters of the Concho. The other trail (said to be larger) bore in a more westerly direction, still further from the settlements. The trail followed judging from the general appearance of the location of the wigwams, and the number of camping places, etc., indicated several hundred. The evidences seemed abundant to all with whom I have conversed, that they were civilized Indians, and there was nothing discovered but that led to the belief that they were unfriendly, further than the simple fact that they were Indians traveling upon the soil of Texas, without any notice being given to the civil or military authorities of the country, of their presence in the country of their intentions. The distances from their respective camps, showed moderate travel, and at some of the camps they had remained several days. Here they left signs of dressing great numbers of buffalo and deerskins and pieces of broken tableware, cups, and saucers, plates, etc., scraps of calico and other goods were found about the camp. At one place, a newly made grave was found. The body was exhumed. It was that of a child two or three years old, well and tastefully dressed. The grave was dug with a spade and a vault made similar to graves prepared by the whites, with a board at the head."

    On the Clear Fork of the Brazos somewhere in Jones County, this Indian trail perhaps, passed on into Nolan County, or Taylor, Coke, or Runnels, and the Indians were encamped and encountered on Dove Creek, in Tom Green County. For a time the Indians followed Bitter Creek, then crossed to Plum Creek, then to Oak Creek, on which Fort Chadbourne was located. From Oak Creek, they crossed to the Colorado, and then to the north Concho, and from here they moved to Dove Creek, where the famous Dove Creek Fight was fought. Capt. Fossett and his men located the Indians, and established temporary quarters about three miles from the Kickapoo and Potawatomies' encampment. Capt. Totten with reinforcements which had never joined Capt. Fosset's command, the night of Jan. 7 about 9 o'clock p.m., camped about 35 miles behind Capt. Fossett, who sent a runner to Capt. Totten notifying him of the location of the Indians, and that it was necessary to move at once in order to strike the Indians before they moved away. Consequently, Capt. Totten moved his men immediately and although both men and animals were already tired and fatigued, they marched all night and did not reach Capt. Fossett's camp until about 8 o'clock Jan. 8, 1865. It was now too late to strike the Indian encampment just at the break of day, so the two leading captains conferred with other captains and with each other, and it was decided to charge the Kickapoos' encampment at once. So without perfecting a better organization and understanding, the soldiers and militia rushed forward toward the camp of the Kickapoos and Potawatmomies. In addition to Capt. Fosset and Capt. Totten, the following captains were in the two commands: Capt. Totten, of Bosque County; Capt. Sam Burns of Bosque County; Capt. James Cunningham of Comanche County; Capt. Nick Gillentine, of Erath County; Capt. J.J. Cureton, formally of Palo Pinto and Stephens County; Capt. Culver, of Erath County, and others. James Murkey and Lee, were the able scouts and guides. Joe Byers and, perhaps, others, were also scouts for the command.

    It was agreed that Capt. Fossett and his men attack the upper, and Capt. Totten and his command, the lower portion of the Indian encampment. Since it was generally supposed the Kickapoos would stampede and start west, it was the plan of the two commands for Capt. Totten to head the retreating Indians, and capture their several hundred head of horses. Orders were given and the charge was made. But when the Texas troops came in sight of the Indian encampment, the Kickapoos and Potawatomies, who had about 500 warriors, were already concealed in the nearby timber, and in an advantageous position, waiting for the Texans to advance. But a conflict, the Kickapoos, no doubt, intended to avoid if possible.

    Conditions suddenly changed, the Texas troops, no doubt, made a mistake, for they did not have sufficient evidence to justify an attack upon these Indians. But the commands of Capt. Fossett and Capt. Totten had marched too many miles across the frontier to be cheated out of a fight, and in behalf of the Texas soldiers, we must say that some considered these Indians to be Siouxs or members of some other hostile tribes from the north, and were moving further south, where they would only add to the then critical conditions existing along the frontier. In commenting on the justification of the attack on the Kickapoos and Potawatomies, Brig. Gen. J.D. McAdoo in the reports mentioned above said:

    "Lt. Murkey is an old Indian guide of Indian descent, was born and raised in the Cherokee nation, and is well acquainted with Indian character and habits. He believed the Indians to be chiefly kickapoos with some remnants of other tribes. From their general outfit and movement he does not believe they were unfriendly, and he informs me that he so told Capt. Fossett, suggesting to him that they ought to be communicated with before being attacked. Capt. Fossett declined to communicate with them, saying that he recognized no friendly Indian on the Texas frontier. I met with many rumors before my arrival here that pledges of truth made by the Indians, had been disregarded, and their bearers shot down in cold blood. I have met no one who saw any flags of truce, but it is currently reported, and on good authority, that an Indian went out from the encampment with two children to Capt. Fossett, where he and his command had taken some of the Indians' horses, and unarmed, with his hands raised, told Capt. Fossett that they were friendly Indians and that if he would see their principal chief, all things would be made satisfactory. Capt. Fossett told the Indian he recognized no friendly Indians in Texas. The Indian then told him he was a prisoner. According to reports, Fosset's reply was, 'We take no prisoners here,' and whereupon ordered him shot, which was done. He also, it is said, ordered the children shot, but the men interposed and they were taken as prisoners, though they subsequently made their escape in the retreat. The Indian who was shot by Fossett's order is said to have been Patowatomie, and to have had a pass signed, W.M. Ross, agent of the Patwatomies, authorizing the bearer to hunt until Feb. 4, 1865. He showed his pass to Fossett before he was shot."

    This report, which was made a few days after the fight, has, in substance, been collaborated by living witnesses, who were in this battle, and who were interviewed by the author.

    To Capt. Totten's command, which charged the Indian encampment from the north, the Kickapoos or their allied tribe, sent an Indian female tribesperson as a peace messenger to avert the fight. But the Texans on so many occasions had been trapped by Indian intrigues, to them, an Indian was always an Indian, as much so as a rattlesnake was always a rattlesnake, and because of the many depredations, were hated about as badly along the West Texas frontier. So Capt. Totten, like Capt. Fossett, disregarded the commissioner and ordered her shot down. According to reports we have received, Isaac Young and Capt. Totten were the first men to fire. The reports further state Capt. Totten killed a female tribesperson, and Isaac Young an Indian warrior.

    A general fight then followed. But the morale of the Texans was far below normal, because many of the men sincerely thought that no charge should be made. Capt. J.H. Dillahunty and Capt. Joe Curtis, of Palo Pinto and Stephens counties respectively, no doubt, entertained this view, because they turned back and went home several days before the Indians were encountered. But the Texans fought bravely and contrary to their expectations, instead of the Indians stampeding as had been previously supposed, they showed remarkable dexterity, and marksmanship and the fighting in the war had trained them well in military tactics. The Texans were also surprised to find the Indians had better guns and better powder. Since the Indians were already entrenched and the Texans were forced to fight in the open, by far the Kickapoos had the better advantage. In a short time, the results were in their favor. The Texans retreated, and then made counter charges. But each time the Indians held their ground. Capt. Fossett and his men captured about 600 head of horses, which were placed in charge of a detachment of his command. But the fighting became so fierce, most of these horses were finally released, excepting approximately 75 head, which were driven completely away by four faithful Tonkawas. It is not unlikely that Capt. Totten would have lost more heavily than he did, had it not been for the firing of Capt. Fossett and his men, which attracted the attention of the Kickapoos in that direction. The converse of this is of course, also true.

    According to one account, a Dr. Bateman sat on a little hill, where he could see the fight, and timed the engagement, which lasted five hours and thirty minutes. According to the account of another who took part in this battle, Dr. Robinson sat on a hill and timed the engagement which, according to this report, lasted six hours and forty minutes. We have been unable to reconcile these two conflicting statements. But the main fighting lasted up until the middle of the evening, when a retreat was ordered. The Texans were pursued about one mile. When a stand was made in a live oak thicket, however, the Kickapoos ceased their fighting and returned to camp.

    E.L. Deaton, who was in this fight, said, "Capt. Fossett fought in self-defense nearly all day. He was cut off from Totten's comand early in the engagement, and never saw any chance to join us during the day. I heard the last gun fire about sundown. Fossett came to our camp between sundown and dark, with his men terribly cut up. They had fought like demons all day. After we were all in camp, an examination showed that we had lost and left 25 killed on the battleground, and about 60 wounded, of whom several died afterwards."

    The Texans also lost approximately 65 horses, killed and disabled in the engagement.

    E.L. Deaton further said, "Just after dark it began to snow, and it snowed all night, following the day of fighting. The following morning the ground was covered to a depth of three feet with a fleecy covering. Our pack mules were completely cut-off from us by the storm. We were out of provisions, and started to travel, but the snow was so deep that we could not travel, so we had to return to our camp-fires and await the melting of the snow. We had nothing to subsist on but horsemeat. Our packs had some provisions, but they were completely hemmed in by the storm, and thirty miles distant. After the snow had melted a little, we moved down the Concho as best we could, carrying our wounded on litters, made of two poles strapped to the mules. About the third day, we intercepted our pack mules. They had enough grub to give us a fine supper. While we were in the Colorado Country, it was thought best to have some beeves, so a detachment was sent to the nearest cattle to drive a few fat head toward the command."

    When the Texans reached the mouth of the Concho, a detachment was detailed to return and bury the dead. The following March, Jack Wright organized a party of men with ox-teams and proceeded to the battleground, where they exhumed the bodies of Capt. Culver, Don Cox, and Tom Parker. Capt. Culver was re-buried in the family graveyard in Erath County. Don Cox in Comanche County, and Tom Parker, in the family graveyard on Homsley's Creek.

    While interviewing the surviving old-timers from the Red River to the Rio Grande, we made a special list of those killed in the Dove Creek Fight, and believe it to be the most complete, ever offered. According to the list, the following were killed: Jake Dyer, brother-in-law of Chas. Goodnight; Lt. James T. Gideon, Montague County, and member of John T. Rowland's company; Don Cox and Tom Parker, residents of Comanche County, and members of Capt. James Cunningham's company; Joe Byers, of Coleman County; James Gibson, Nelson Maroney, Lt. Latham, Wm. Persons, Noah Bible, Sergeant Land, and Private Harris, of Coryell County; Capt. Culver, Capt. Nick Gillentine, and son, John Gillentine, of Erath County; Capt. Sam Barnes, and James Mabry of Bosque County; Albert Everett, Noah Gibbs, John Stein and Wm. Etts, whose residences were unknown. If twenty-six were killed, as reported by E.L. Deaton, who was in the fight, this list lacks only five names of being complete. Wm. Gillentine, a son of Capt Nick Gillentine, was also severely wounded in this fight, and died two or three years later. His early death was attributed to injuries received in the Dove Creek Fight. Others wounded, no doubt, also later died from the effects of their wounds.

    The Kickapoos, who evidently expected a counter attack, fled from the battlefield as rapidly as possible, into Old Mexico.

    We have been unable to ascertain the exact number of Indians killed, except as related in the following report, which was made by Brig. Gen. J.B. McAdoo from Burnet, Feb. 28, 1865. Gen McAdoo, who was in command of the state militia, reported as follows:

    "On my arrival here this afternoon I received a letter from Maj. John Henry Brown, commanding the Third Frontier District, dated Fredericksburg, Feb. 21, in which he says, 'Young Hester of Mason, who was vouched for as trustworthy, has arrived here from Eagle Pass. He states that he saw and conversed with those Concho Kickapoos, in Piegras Negras. The Indians repeated their friendly intentions; said that when our men appeared, they sent a woman and a child out with a white flag; that our men killed the woman and compelled them to fight; that their total lost was eleven killed and seven wounded.' The Kickapoos proceeded on into the interior of Old Mexico and located in the northern part, near the Santa Rosa Mountains, from where they often depredated back into Texas and extended their forays along the west Texas frontier."

    March 31, 1873, H.M. Adkinson and T.G. Williams were appointed special commissioners by the U.S. Government to visit the Kickapoos in Old Mexico for the purpose of inducing them to return to the United States and locate on the Kickapoo reservation in Indian Territory. The 30 th of April following, these commissioners reached Ft. Duncan on the Rio Grande. From there they had a long and perilous journey to the Kickapoos who promised their return, provided they were supplied with necessary provisions to make the journey and offered ample protection across the Texas frontier. Approximately 400 Kickapoos and Potawatomies started back for the United States on the 28th of August, 1873, and were located on the north fork of the Canadian, in Oklahoma.

    Concerning the Mexican Kickapoos and their removal to Okla., the commissioner of Indian affairs in his report of 1874, among other things said, "These Indians have for many years, been a great annoyance to Western Texas and bring with them a bad record." Whether or not these depredations were largely due to the attack on the Kickapoos at Dove Creek, of course, no one knows. But judging from their previous records it would have been reasonable to suppose that if the Dove Creek Fight had never been fought the Kickapoos would, no doubt, have had a tendency to depredate. Nevertheless, we believe we voice the consensus of opinions of not only a majority of those, who engaged in this fight, but the entire citizenship along the frontier, by saying the officers in command failed to exercise their best judgment when they charged the Kickapoos and Potawatomies on Dove Creek in Tom Green County, January 8, 1865.

    Note: Before writing this section the author personally interviewed: Isaac Young, mentioned above, who was the second man to open fire on the Indians; Dave and Dick Cunningham, George Jones, and corresponded with John Cureton, all of whom were in this particular fight. Also interviewed many pioneers who were living on the frontier at the time, and who were familiar with the facts. Further Reference: Reminiscences of Col. R.B. (Buck) Barry, as printed in Wilbarger's Indian Depredations in Texas; Texas Indian Fighters, by A.J. Sowell; Indian Fights on the Texas Frontier, by E.L. Deaton; Early Days in Central Texas, by F.M. Cross; Early History of Bosque County, by H.J. and C.M. Cureton; 70 years in Texas, by J.M. Franks; and the following government books and bulletins: Handbook of American Indians, North of Mexico, by F.W. Hodge; Reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for 1873 and 1874, and the Reports of Brig. Gen. A.D. McAdoo, as found on pages 26-30 of series I, volume 48, Part I of the Official Records of the United and Confederate Armies.

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

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