Ellison Spring Fight

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.

Eastland County, Texas

    During the Civil War, the citizens of Eastland, Callahan, and perhaps other western counties, formed a company, and Lt. Singleton Gilbert was placed in charge. The company's headquarters were at Nash Springs, about three miles northwest of Gorman. Since about one fourth of the company was always required to be out on a scout, August 8, 1864, Corporal J.L. Head left camp with about eight men, for a ten-day scout, and camped the first night at McGough Springs, about five miles south and east of the present town of Eastland. The next morning, this scout struck an Indian trail about two miles southwest of Eastland. It led up the Leon River to the end of Mangum Mountain, where a burning fire and signs seemed to indicate that about thirty-five Indians had camped for the night. From here the trail went through the shinnery brush, then found so abundantly in that section. The savages were overtaken less than two miles north of the Jowell Ranch, and about three miles west of Gorman, on the headwaters of Savannah Creek. Harrison York's horse had given out, and he had returned to headquarters. So there were now only seven poorly armed men to fight approximately thirty-five savages. These brave frontiersmen, nevertheless, made a charge as the savages crossed through a glade in the timber. But realizing they were unable to cross swords with so large a number of Indians, some of whom were walking, and others riding, the rangers repaired to the Gilbert Ranch for reinforcements. At this ranch the scouts were reinforced by Lt. Singleton Gilbert, Ben Gilbert, Tom Keith and about two others. The command now consisted of the following: Lt. Singleton Gilbert, Burton Keith, James Ellison, Tom Caddenhead, Tom Gilbert, J.L. Head, W.C. McGough, Ben Gilbert, Harrison York, Maridy York, James Temple, James Stubblefield, Jasper Gilbert, James Temple and perhaps, one or two others. These rangers went back to the place where the preceding fight had occurred, and picked up the Indian trail. The savages were again overtaken near Ellison Springs, about two miles east of Gorman. A bitter engagement followed and Burton Keith was killed during the early part of the fighting. W.C. McGough attempted to place Keith on McGough's horse, but before this could be done, Keith was dead, and fell to the ground. By this time an Indian appeared to be reaching for McGough's bridle rein, so this savage was shot with the only load in McGough's pistol. The fighting was so intense, the Texans were forced to fall back, and hastily retreated to the Ellison ranch house, a short distance away.

    Singleton Gilbert received a mortal wound in his jugular vein, and bled to death about two hours later. James Ellison, Tom Gilbert, and Tom Caddenhead were also wounded. Two coffins were made out of wagon beds, and runners sent to Stephenville and adjoining ranches, to convey the news and report the presence of Indians. Singleton and Gilbert and Burton Keith's frontier funeral march started that night for Stephenville, where they were buried, and where guards were out to watch for Indians. About the time they arrived the Indians were discovered a short distance from town, and a running fight followed with the savages in the lead. This time the Indians made no stand, but hastily retreated from the field. The whites recovered eighteen stolen horses and other property. The property recovered included: the captured rifle of Burton Keith, shotgun of Tom Gilbert, and common rifle of Tom Keith, which fell into the hands of the savages during the Ellison Spring Fight.

    These Indians next appeared at the old Rubarth Salt Works on Sunday Creek, about five miles west and south of Santo. This salt mine was established by Joseph Rubarth in 1861 or 62. He sent to Louisiana for twelve large kettles, which were shipped from across the water, and which were freighted overland to Palo Pinto County in ox-wagons. When the Indians appeared here, they destroyed some of the large kettles, stole horses, and then made their retreat to the northwest from which they came.

    Note: Author personally interviewed: W.C. McGough, who was in the fight; Mrs. Sarah Jane Keith, sister-in-law of Burton Keith; W.J. Langley; D.R. Bradford; Dave and Bud Littlefield, close relatives of Sing. Gilbert; and others who lived in Palo Pinto, Eastland and Erath counties at the time.

    Further Ref.: Pioneer Days in the Southwest, History of Eastland County by Mrs. Geo. Langston, Indian Fights on the Texas Frontier, by E.L. Deaton.

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

Join the discussion

  • Tom GIlbert was my great, great grandfather. He was wounded by an arrow in the Ellison Springs battle and died three months later from the infected wound.

  • Mr Trevis, my name Micheal Keith, Tom Keith is a distant cousin. It is the person who is identified as Burton Keith, he is Leroy “Button” Keith, the 14 yr brother of my Great Grandfather Berry Moore Keith, who was home sick so his little brother took his place. Thank you

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