The Big Raid in Young County During October of 1864
Part of our in-depth series exploring the forts of Comancheria
Harmonson Ranch Historical Marker
Marker Title: Harmonson Ranch
Address: US 380, E of Newcastle
Year Marker Erected: 1982
Marker Location: From Newcastle, take US 380 about 5 miles east.
Marker Text: Kentucky native Peter Harmonson (1797-1865) came to Texas in 1845 as a settler in the Peters Colony. The following year he helped form Denton County, where he served as the first sheriff. In 1854 he brought his family here and established a ranch near this site known as Harmonson Rancho. An organizer of Young County, he served as its first chief justice. He died from a wound received in an Indian raid on the Elm Creek community. In 1869, after it was sold, his ranch site and his son Z.J. "Jack" Harmonson figured in a skirmish between Indians and local cattlemen.
Indian Raid on Elm Creek, C.S.A. Historical Marker
Marker Title: Indian Raid on Elm Creek, C.S.A
Address: US 380, W of Newcastle
Year Marker Erected: 1964
Marker Location: From Newcastle, take US 380 West about 8 mi.
Marker Text: Indian troubles continually plagued the Texas frontier in the Civil War, with great loss in lives and property. One of the most serious raids occurred near here on Oct. 13, 1864, at Fitzpatrick Ranch. Comanches killed seven ranch people and five Confederate soldiers. Six women and children were kidnapped. 10,000 cattle were stolen. Brit Johnson, African slave who that day lost his whole family, later "joined" the Comanches, got their confidence, and freed his people. Later Indians punished him with mutilation and death.
To describe a gigantic Indian raid, when a large number of blood-thirsty warriors break into smaller bands and each division simultaneously depredated upon a frontier community, in many respects, is not unlike attempting to describe a huge circus having five or six rings showing at the same time. Too, another complication arises from the fact that each individual naturally views an occurrence of this kind directly from his or her own angle. But we shall attempt to give a logical presentation of this raid, which shook the entire frontier, and one of the largest ever made in West Texas. During the latter days of 1864 the people were suffering from the effects of a long and bitter war. Furthermore the year brought one of the most devastating draughts ever witnessed in West Texas. And Indian depredations had made life miserable. So the despondent citizens were already living in despair.
Following these prevailing conditions, October 13th, 1864, the wild hordes of the plains made one of the worst onslaughts that ever occurred along the West Texas frontier.
The savages made one of their first appearances when they assaulted Peter Harmison and son, Perry, who only about three weeks previously narrowly escaped death when Will R. Peveler and State Cox received their mortal wounds. Harmison and his son hastily retreated into the thick timber. But a surprising large number of savages soon had them surrounded.
After these pioneer citizens made a stand, Perry crawled to the edge of the brush, and with his six-shooting rifle, took particular aim at the brass buttons on the army shirt of a certain Indian, who assumed the role of leader or chief. When Harmison fired this Indian fell dead from his steed. The proof of Perry's good marksmanship was discovered three days later when the place of burial of this particular Indian was found. After this chieftain fell, the other savages withdrew. But took Peter Harmison's horse, six-shooter, which was buckled to his saddle, and a new jeans coat, Mrs. Harmison had recently made. The horse had been wounded before the Judge and his son reached the timber. Consequently, when Mr. Harmison stepped from his saddle, his steed ran away with his coat and pistol. Judge Harmison, however held to his double-barrel gun.
During this episode, an Indian about sixty yards away fired at Peter Harmison, who was the first Chief Justice, or County Judge, of Young County. The ball struck the barrel of his gun, and then passed through his hand. It was this Indian that afforded the splendid target for Perry Harmison. After the Indians were gone, Peter Harmison and his son, Perry, mounted the latter's horse, and hurried to Fort Murray.
By this time it was discovered, not only at Fort Murray, but elsewhere that a large number of Indians, variously estimated from 300 to 1000 in number, were storming and destroying the Young County settlement, particularly along Elm creek. The citizens dispatched runners to the various ranches, and in a short time, the settlements of the western part of Young County were ablaze with excitement. The large number of hostile Indians, in many instances, caused the hysterical pioneers to leave their homes and seek shelter among the cliffs and in the timber. It was not a question of whipping the Indians or driving them away, but a struggle for existence.
Either the same Indians or a different division from those that assaulted Peter Harmison and his son, appeared at the Fitzpatrick Ranch, which was about nine miles west of the present town of Newcastle. At the time, Mrs. Elizabeth (Carter) Fitzpatrick; her son, Joe Carter; her widowed daughter, Mrs. Susan Durgan, and her two little girls, Lottie and Milie Durgan, four and six years old respectively; and African Brit's Johnson's wife, Mary Johnson, and their two small boys and girl, were at the Fitzpatrick ranch.
Here, again the mysterious, red-headed man made his appearance. When Mrs. Susan Durgan picked up a gun, this red-headed man told her to put it down, or she would be shot. She refused and was killed. Two Indians caught one of African Brit's boys named Jim, and each seemed to want him. But when neither Indian relinquished the boy to the other, he was knocked in the head and killed. So Mrs. Susan Durgan and African Brit's boy now lay dead on the ground. Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick and her son, Joe Carter, her two surviving children were made Indian captives. But Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick refused to go with the Indians. When she did, the mysterious red-headed man informed her that she must go or be killed. She then consented to go with the Indians.
About the time, or shortly after the Indians left the Fitzpatrick Ranch, these same savages, or a different band, went east a short distance, here from a high ridge, they could see Joel Myers, hunting a yoke of steers. In a short time he was surrounded by the savages, killed, scalped and stripped. His death occurred not far from the mouth of Elm creek.
The Indians then returned to the Fitzpatrick ranch, and after stealing everything that apparently suited their fancy, made a dash for other frontier homes.
With their plunder and white captives, the Indians went to the Hamby Ranch, where Tom Hamby and his son, P.K. Hamby, and T.J. Wilson, together with their families, made their home. But these frontier citizens were already aware of the approaching savages. So when the Indians arrived at their home it was deserted.
Tom Hamby, and son, P.K. Hamby, and T.J. (Dock) Wilson, hid their families about 250 yards southwest of the houses, in a rock cave. These heroic frontiersmen then mounted their steeds, and hurried to the home of Wm. Bragg and warned the families there to leave their home and hide in the rocks, as their families had been hidden. From Wm. Bragg's home, they swiftly rode to the ranch of H.G. Williams, and then hurried to the home of Geo. Bragg to warn them the Comanches were coming, and crushing everything in their path. And here at the George Bragg Ranch, where three or four families had "forted up," occurred the hardest fighting.
When Tom and P.K. Hamby, and T.J. (Dock) Wilson, reached the Bragg ranch, the members of the various families were thrown in the same house. The following people were then present: Tom Hamby and son, P.K. Hamby, T.J. (Dock) Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Bragg, Mrs. Mason Brag, Mrs. Mart Bragg, Billy, Margaret and Sabil Bragg, who were small children; also Eliza and -- Bragg (Colored), and an African woman named Frank.
In a short time, many Indians surrounded the house, which was constructed in accordance with frontier fashion, out of pickets, in the ground. Here was fought one of the most desperate fights ever fought on the West Texas frontier. The women and children were ordered under the bed. The very few male frontiersmen defended as best they could, the little picket pioneer cabin, which was stormed by approximately two hundred savages, hideously decorated for war. T.J. Wilson received a mortal wound early in the fight, and said, "Bragg, I am a dead man."
Before they could place him on the bed, life had left him, and he numbered among the immortals.
Shortly afterwards, Geo. Bragg received an arrow wound in the chest, and Tom Hamby, two wounds in the shoulder, so close together they could have been covered with a silver dollar. Then with one man killed, and two severely wounded, Thornton Hamby was the only one left to do the fighting. It now began to appear the occupants of this little frontier home were doomed to die.
About this time, a very huge Indian seized a mattock, lying in the yard, and began to dig up the pickets of the little frontier cabin, just at the point where the women and children were concealed under the bed. P.K. Hamby's attention was called to the maneuvers of this hideously painted savage. So Hamby lay on the bed, pushed the point of his pistol through the opening between two pickets, at a point only a few feet from the Indian's head, and when he fired, the huge Indian was instantly killed. This caused his companions to be more cautious.
In cases of extreme emergency, it so often happens that the occurrence of some miraculous thing turns the tide and saves the day. It so happened, while this fight was furiously raging. Lt. N. Carson, and fourteen men, were having a very desperate battle with another division of the Indians, some distance away, and the report of their guns together with the exciting noise of the screaming savages, decoyed most of the barbarians from the Bragg ranch. Nevertheless, according to reports, several savages remained, and the Geo. Bragg Ranch was stormed until late in the evening.
The action of Lt. N. Carson and his men is vividly disclosed by the following reports which the author found among old Confederate records, and so far as we know, have never before been published.
Headquarters Border Regiment,
Gainesville, Tex., Oct. 20, 1864.
Colonel: Inclosed please find a letter from Lieutenant Carson, reporting the late Indian raid on the Brazos, sixteen miles above Fort Belknap. I learn from one of the men who was in the fight that the Indians struck the settlement six miles below their camps and killed several families. The Indians attacked five men in a house, but left when they heard the firing of the guns of Lt. Carson's men, who were then attacking the main body. He also stated they discovered a white man in their front. The Indians left in a northwest direction. The courier states that about 200 or 300 men followed their trail, though the Indians were one day ahead of the foremost party and I am fearful they are too far behind to overtake them as the Indians are well mounted. They will, no doubt, strike at some other point.
I am, Colonel, most respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Border Regiment."
"Fort Belknap, October 16th, 1864.
Colonel: The Indians came into the settlements on Elm on the 13th. I was camped thirteen miles west of Belknap. Fields and J. Jones charged two Indians and cut them off from their horses, and judging from their maneuvers there were more Indians near. J. Jones came two miles to camp to get assistance. I took fourteen men and started in pursuit, leaving six men in camp. When I reached a high point I discovered the two, and ran them one mile and a half into Elm Flats, where I discovered a large body of some 300, formed in a semi-circle and almost concealed within fifty yards of me.
While I was forming my men in line the Indians were advancing and firing on me. I ordered my men to fall back some 100 yards to gain a better position, in slow order, to save the men that were on weak horses, fighting them from one position to another until five of my brave men were killed. I received two flesh wounds. We killed some seven or eight Indians, and saw a number fall. The retreat was continued some one-quarter of a mile to McCoy's house, where two women were taken behind the men, and I gathered my men and horses that were at camp and crossed over to Ft. Murray, one mile and a half. The Indians followed in hot pursuit, came up to McCoy's house, destroyed and carried off everything that was in it, then advanced on the camp, which was a half mile from the house. They took all the tents, blankets, and clothing that were left in camp, breaking up and destroying all the vessels belonging to the company, the boys saving but little of their clothing, and the most of them are now entirely destitute, having nothing left them, except what is on their backs. The names of the men killed are: J. Jones, Private Henry Snodgrass, Robert Neathrey, J.G. Walker, and Erastus Blue. These men fell fighting bravely, disputing, inch by inch, until shot from their horses, and yielded only with their lives. Samuel Brison's horse was shot from under him and lost. Henry McGuire's horse was wounded. J. Wallis', George Wimberly's, and my horse were slightly wounded. J. Buckingham was thrown from his horse, but made his escape to Fort Murray. Fields was shot through his pantaloons with an arrow across the thigh, grazing the skin. My men were cool, and acted with unexampled bravery As far as I have been able to gain information, there has been eleven citizens killed, seven women and children carried off, eleven houses robbed. It is estimated that there were 350 or 450 on the raid. Mr. Peveler, a citizen of Fort Murray, got on the top of his house with his spy-glass, counted 250 passing over the flats and by our horses. The Indians captured two of my mules. They were some one-half mile from camp and had no time to get them.
Second Lieut., Commanding Company D, Border Regiment."
When the Indians had only been raiding a short time on Elm, one large division of the savages came in contact with Henry Wooten, whom they successfully cut away from Lt. Carson and his men, shortly before they were surrounded. Accounts differ concerning the given name of Mr. Wooten. In one instance he was called William, in another George, and in a third instance, he was referred to as Henry Wooten, and we are inclined to believe that the last name was correct. Nevertheless, Mr. Wooten started out to Belknap alone, and was pursued by a large number of savages who succeeded in killing his horse. When the Indians were dangerously close, Wooten, would draw his gun, and this, in each instance, caused the savages to fall back; when they did, Wooten advanced farther. During the exciting chase he lost his hat, so the savages scalped his horse, which had been killed and took the pony's ears, and Wooten's hat, and put each on the point of a spear, which they defiantly displayed in the presence of Hen. Wooten, who continued to make his retreat as rapidly as possible. Finally he was followed by only two savages. When this citizen waded through the water, about waist deep, in Elm creek, the two remaining Indians declined to cross, and they, too, turned back and joined the main division. Although he was then no longer pursued, Mr. Wooten hurried to the home of Rolland Johnson, and told them of the wild raid being made by the raging red men. Finally he reached old Fort Belknap and conveyed the news to the post. But some were inclined to discredit his statement. Nevertheless, Mr. Wooten was almost exhausted, his flesh torn by brush and brier, and his retreating trail almost blazed with bits of his clothing.
After Lt. Carson and his men reached Fort Murray, the citizens began immediately to be prepared as well as possible, for they expected the Indians to storm the citizens' fort sometime during the day.
France Peveler, Lewis Peveler, Champ Farris, Cole Dunken, Will Farris, and possibly one or two others left the plaza and hurried about one-half mile north for the purpose of bringing home some horses, but they were too late. A squad of savages were seen about three-fourths of a mile away, driving approximately forty head of stolen horses.
F.M. Peveler and Perry Harmison climbed on top of one of the cabins at Fort Murray and from here, they watched the maneuvers of the Indians through a telescope, during most of the evening. They counted 372 Indians in the distance, and no doubt there were many others that could not be seen.
An attack was expected at any moment, and the older men ordered that each and every vessel be filled with water, and as many bullets moulded as possible, and other necessary precautions taken, so that the citizens would be prepared in event they were besieged by the enemy. Consequently, everybody, young and old, went to work, and every precaution was taken to prevent a repetition of another massacre similar to that of Parker's fort in Limestone County, during 1836.
Mrs. McCoy had already been brought to the fort by Lt. Carson and his men. But while watching the Indians through a telescope, F.M. Peveler said to Perry Harmison that he could see the Indians killing James McCoy and his son, Miles. Considerable anxiety had been felt about them for some time. They agreed not to mention the fact to Mrs. McCoy, who was already in the fort. James McCoy and his son, who were massacred where Lt. Carson and his men were assaulted, were after rails to build a corral.
Several houses, vacated by the citizens, were robbed and wrecked by the thieving hordes of the plains, who loaded their plunder on pack horses. As the Indians moved across the western prairie, they presented a dreadful, yet spectacular scene.
At Fort Murray it was suggested that runners be sent to Fort Belknap for reinforcements. F.M. Peveler, who lived at the citizens fort, volunteered to go, and asked that he be furnished a companion. As a consequence, Fields, one of the rangers, stated that he would go. It was now late in the evening. The spies reported several fires burning in the distance, and an attack on the post was expected at daybreak of the following morning. There were only thirty-two able-bodied men at Fort Murray to fight such overwhelming numbers of savages. So F.M. Peveler and his companion hurried on to Fort Belknap for reinforcements. Every precaution was made to avoid the savages, nevertheless, they passed close to where Lt. Carson and his command came near being wiped out of existence. During their night ride, when their horses shied, they saw the form of some individual, which no doubt, was slain by the savages, for he was dead and stripped of clothing. When they reached Ft. Belknap, it was reported that Joel Myers was missing, and it was later disclosed the individual they passed proved to be Mr. Myers.
When Ft. Belknap was reached, similar precautions had been taken by the citizens there, to withstand an expected attack of the savages. But Ft. Belknap was considerably more isolated from the camp of the Comanches and their allied tribes. Nevertheless a high state of excitement prevailed at the post, for Mr. Wooten and one or two others had already reported the presence of the Indians. Most of the rangers were away, so there were only twenty-five men at Ft. Belknap and as a consequence, reinforcements for Ft. Murray were not available. A.C. (Chess) Tackett was then dispatched to Veale's Station in Parker County. Veale's Station was reached in record time. But young Tackett rode down six horses before he reached his destination. Again no reinforcements were found, so the news was conveyed to Major Quale and his command, who were stationed at Decatur.
Major Quale, in record time, dispatched 280 men to the rescue of the citizens in the western part of Young County. But when these troops were within fifteen miles of their destination, they learned the Indians had already gone.
During the memorable day of October 13, a runner was also sent from the Geo. Bragg ranch to Ft. Belknap for Dr. W.H. Robinson, the surgeon at the post. Dr. Robinson, however, felt it unsafe to venture out until the succeeding day. But when he reached the Bragg ranch, the arrow-point imbedded in Geo. Bragg's back was quickly removed and the patient recovered.
The many fires discovered late in the evening of October 13, were later found about six miles from Ft. Murray, and from authentic sources, we are told that approximately 700 bon-fires were built by the savages. Mrs. Fitzpatrick, who was carried away into captivity, and present when these fires were built, later said it was done by the savages as a strategic move to cause the citizens to think they were still near.
And according to the further statement of Mrs. Fitzpatrick, for three days and nights the Indians rode without stopping, towards the northwestern wilds, and toward their homes somewhere on the headwaters of the Canadian, Cimarron and Arkansas Rivers.
During this gigantic raid, eighteen people were killed and captured, and several others wounded; five rangers; Mrs. Susan Durgan, Joel Myers, Dock Wilson, James McCoy and son, Miles, and African Brit's boy, were known to have been killed. Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, and son, Joe Carter; Mary Johnson, wife of African Brit Johnson, and her two children; Lottie and Millie Durgan, daughters of Mrs. Susan Durgan; were carried into captivity. After traveling many miles, little Joe Carter became sick while the savages were running from their shadows; and to avoid any delay, the poor little fellow was killed, and his body thrown away.
The news of this raid rapidly spread from ranch to ranch, village to village, and in a short time, it was known all over the northern frontier. Drouthy conditions prevailed in Texas at that time, and since this raid occurred during the dark days of the Civil War, its shocking effect was felt for many miles. As a consequence, many of the early frontiersmen bagged their few belongings, and started toward the east. This and other raids had a dynamic effect in decreasing the early population. The Census of western counties, readily discloses that in many instances, the population, during 1860, was considerably greater than in 1870.
Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, her two granddaughters, Lottie and Millie Durgan, Mary Johnson, wife of African Brit Johnson, and their two children, were taken by the Indians somewhere on the headwaters of the Canadian, Cimarron, Arkansas and Red Rivers. Due to the heroic efforts of David White and African Brit Johnson, these people were finally returned to the frontier, but the details of their adventure will not be given at this time, for the story is related elsewhere.
But let us remember, and picture the heroic deeds of T.J. Wilson, Tom Hamby, P.K. Hamby, those patriotic and unselfish pioneers, who hid their families about 250 yards from their home, then dashed away to notify the various families the Indians were coming, and assisted them to hide in the cliffs, crags and thick timber. Had it not been for the thoughtfulness of these heroic men, no doubt, it would be necessary to relate an entirely different story. For many more women and children would have been murdered, and carried into captivity. No doubt, too, several men, whose lives were saved, would have been killed; and too, the Indians may have extended their foray further into the settlements. But this daring ride, not only necessitated these heroic frontiersmen abandoning their families during such critical hours, but also cost the life of T.J. (Dock) Wilson, and caused Tom Hamby to be seriously wounded. To them and others, today, a monument should be erected in Young County, and the author's pro rata part of the necessary fund is waiting.
Can we imagine the breathless anxiety of the mothers and children of Wm. Bragg's family, H.D. Williams family, Rolland Johnson's family, and others, as they lay concealed in the cliffs and thick timber during these trying hours, when hundreds of blood thirsty warriors were marching nearby. In some instances they were afraid a baby would cry or a dog bark, and disclose to the Indians their place of concealment.
Another thing of interest. H.D. Williams of Newcastle, today has a peace medal, approximately three inches in diameter, which his brother found after the Bragg ranch fight, and which was no doubt, dropped from the neck of a savage. On one side, this medal presents the picture of President James Monroe. On the reverse side, this token of peace presents a friendly handshake, and a cross of a tomahawk and peace-pipe. The complete history of this peace medal, of course, no one knows, but it is similar to others issued about that time. This particular medal bears the date of 1817. It reads, "James Monroe, President of the U.S.A., A.D. 1817." On the reverse side we find the words "Peace" and "Friendship" But it apparently does not disclose any information about any peace treaty made with the Indians during that year. The government records and reports disclose, however, that during 1817 the U. S. made treaties of peace with the Cherokee, Wyandot, Seneca, Shawnee, Delaware, Ottawa and Chippewas and other tribes.
Note: Before writing this section, the author personally interviewed: M.M. (France) Peveler mentioned in this section, Henry Williams and Mann Johnson, then boys about eight years of age, and who with their mothers, hid in thick timber.
The above story is from the book, The West Texas Frontier, by Joseph Carroll McConnell.
Elm Creek Raid-Second Story
…“The Indians had ripped open Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s feather bed and pillows and emptied the feathers out on the ground. ‘A strong north wind blew them southward into the timber and foliage where they seemed to cover an acre or more, resembled snow in the midst of the green, and would have been very attractive had it not been for the sad sight at the house and the thought of the unfortunate inmates. The same thing had happened at Mr. Hamby’s about half a mile farther up the creek.”
Goodnight arrived at the Hamby house, finding the Indians had taken everything except their clothes, he gave them a blanket. Hamby hid his family in a cliff and took his son to warn the Williams’, who had already hidden in the brush. They then rushed on to Bragg’s house.
…‘At the Bragg Ranch they made a fight,’ said Goodnight, ‘and I don’t think such a fight was ever made before or since. The Bragg house was an jacal-the timbers being set on end, daubed with mud between and covered with dirt-probably sixteen by twenty feet. Bragg had two marred sons besides his own family. Doc Wilson and wife were also there; in all four women and some children who lay under the beds on the dirt floor.
‘Old man Hamby took the only window in the house, and the others took care of the door. In front of the house was a small stockade of post-oak logs, and in front of the door, close to the stiles over the stockade, stood an oak tree. An Indian got behind it early in the fight, killed Wilson and severely wounded old man Bragg.
‘Hamby told me he tried to get a shot at the Indian for some time. Finally some Indians went down to the barn and got a pick and mattock, commenced to dig out the pickets which formed the house. Knowing they could not protect themselves if the Indians got another opening, young Hamby told old man Bragg to get on the bed, punch the mud out of the cracks in the side wall and fire down at random among them. Bragg had been shot in the breast and replied that he was dying, but luckily the arrow had struck a rib and followed it around to his back, where it was taken out next morning. Hamby bullyragged Bragg until he made the effort, and when he fired he hit an Indian right in the eye.
‘It seemed to have created quite a commotion among the diggers, and the Indian behind the tree leaned out to see around the corner. Hamby, who had been watching him closely, shot him with a double-barrel gun. He fell across the stile, and from appearances the shot had almost cut him in two, as the steps were a mass of blood when I got there, though the Indian had been dragged away.
‘Old man Hamby received several wounds in his arms and a slight cut on his breast, as it was necessary to expose himself a little in order to get good aim at the Indians. He must have done some splendid shooting, as the ground in a semicircle around the window was smeared with blood. Of course the Indians took away all their dead except the one of the stile, which they could not get, and it will never be known how many were killed, but their loss must have been considerable. A day or two later some of us followed the trail about forty miles, and we found several who had died of wounds.’
The above story is from the book, Charles Goodnight-Cowman & Plainsman, by J. Evetts Haley.
Elm Creek Raid-Third Story
From Comanches, The Destruction of a People, by T.R. Fehrenbach:
During 1864 there were fewer raids, but the Comanche war parties increased in size, a sure sign of growing Amerindian boldness.
The Brazos frontier was not the only region affected. To the north, the Cheyennes and their allies and the Kiowas and Comanches had taken the warpath against the Colorado-Kansas settlements. The Santa Fe Trail was paralyzed; stage stations were attacked and burnt out and wagon trains massacred. This did great damage to Union military communications in the West. It also halted immigration, which never entirely ceased during the Civil War, as hundreds of whites were slain on the Kansas-Colorado plains and the survivors flocked to the nearest military outposts.
This situation, the great "outbreak" of 1864 on the southwestern plains, became intolerable. The various territorial and army forces in this country began organized campaigns against all Indians. When these started, they had the effect of pushing many Comanches and Kiowas south into Texas. In the early fall of 1864, some thousands of Comanches and Kiowas camped along the Canadian River in the Llano Estacado, and along the Red River south of the Wichitas. Spoiling for war, they came under the influence of an ambitious leader known as Little Buffalo.
Little Buffalo had carefully scouted the Brazos country on earlier raids. He moved from camp to camp, holding council, telling the Kiowas and Kiowa Apaches that the horse soldiers were gone, and that the tejano Rangers were too few to matter. He held out the vision of great victories, with immense spoil and prestige accruing to all warriors who rode with him. By October 1864, he had gathered at least seven hundred warriors; he crossed the Red into Texas with a great band of approximately a thousand allied and associated Amerindians. Large numbers joined from all the northern bands of Comanches, and the famous war chief Aw-Soant-sai-mah (Aperian Crow) led a powerful contingent of the Kiowas. Many horses were assembled, for Little Buffalo had learned Buffalo Hump's hard lesson: this was to be a heavy but a lightning blow, with a quick return from the Brazos.
On October 13th Little Buffalo's horde crossed the Brazos about ten miles above Fort Belknap, where Elm Creek poured into the river. The Comanches and Kiowas swarmed up the creek bottoms, which were inhabited by between fifty and sixty stubborn white frontier people. The raiders, bold in their numbers, split and rode along both banks at noon on a bright, crisp, beautiful day. The burning and killing began.
The Comanches came upon a settler and his son, who were looking in the brush for strayed livestock. They killed, stripped, and mutilated the man and boy. They then moved along the creek to the Fitzpatrick ranch. Here there were three women and a number of children. The men were away, gathering supplies at the Weatherford trading post. As the Indians rode up, young Susan Durgan seized a gun and rushed outside. She fired on the warriors, but they cut her down and stripped her naked, mutilated her corpse and left it lying in the yard. They captured the other women and children: Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, Mary Johnson—the wife of Brit Johnson, a black man who was legally a slave but treated as a free man on this frontier by an owner who had inherited him—and three black and three white youngsters. Two warriors quarreled over who had seized the oldest black child, and settled the mater by killing the boy. The women, the two surviving African children, young Joe Carter, aged twelve, and Lottie and Millie Durgan, aged three and eighteen months, were carried off.
But now smoke was rising in the clear air, and the shots had been heard. The Hamby men, one of whom was a wounded Confederate veteran on recuperation leave, rushed their women and children into hiding in a cave and mounted their horses to spread the alarm through the valley. The Hambys raced along the stream, firing at pursuing Comanches as they rushed from homestead to homestead. The Williams family hid in the thick brush, guarded by a fifteen-year old boy with a rifle. While Judge Williams' house was looted, the women and children were not discovered.
The two Hamby men, with Tom (Doc) Wilson, rushed for the George Bragg ranch house, which was a small but picketed and sodded cabin, built to serve as a fort. As the three men abandoned their horses in the ranch yard, Doc Wilson was struck in the heart by an arrow. He staggered into the house, jerked the missile free, and died in a gush of blood. George Bragg, five white women, an African girl, and a large brood of children were in the house. The ranch was immediately surrounded by a horde of howling warriors. As Thornton Hamby, the Confederate soldier, later said half-humorously, he might have hid under the bed—except that three families of refugees already had preempted that dubious spot of safety. With young Hamby coolly directing the defense, the whites prepared to stand off a siege.
The women were directed to reload all the rifles and pistols. One woman stood at Thornton Hamby's elbow and gave him great assistance. As the Comanches rushed the cabin, trying to dig out the pickets, he opened fire from the tiny gun ports that were a feature of all west Texas ranch houses. The elder Hamby killed one Indian, but he had suffered four wounds, and old George Bragg was not much help. Young Hamby saved the whites as he emptied pistol after pistol pressed into his hands by the desperate women who reloaded them at a table. All afternoon, while some unseen warrior blew mournfully on a captured army bugle, Hamby held the fort. He was wounded again; then he killed Little Buffalo himself, who was directing the attack, with a lucky shot. The Comanches withdrew, after a few parting shots and a bugle blast.
Meanwhile, the Pevelers, Harmonsons, and other local clans had assembled within the walls of Fort Murrah. The warriors who now swarmed everywhere along Elm Creek were now frustrated by this small stockade. They stayed beyond rifle range, rampaging up and down the creek. France Peveler, who had a spy glass, saw warriors gathered in the mesquite around two white men. He told his companions that the Comanches were killing "old man McCoy and his son right now." One of them told him to keep quiet. The McCoy women had made it to the fort, and would be "mightily distressed" if they knew that the Indians had their menfolk.
On this same afternoon, realizing that there was trouble. Lieutenant N. Carson of Bourland's Border Regiment of militia rode toward Elm Creek from Fort Belknap with fourteen men. He struck some three hundred warriors. Five militiamen were killed at once, several others wounded; the rest fled for their lives. A stand would have been futile in any case. The militia did save several women on their mad dash to safety at Fort Murrah. They came in riding double; some horses were pin-cushioned with Comanche-Kiowa shafts.
That night, while the courageous Thornton Hamby left the Bragg ranch under the cover of darkness and slipped through a screen of warriors to reach the Fitzpatrick place and bury the corpses there, the survivors in Fort Murrah prepared for what they believed would be a dawn attack. They could see Indians moving constantly on the ridges, and a great fire blazed up in the north as somewhere a house went up. The settlers agreed that someone had to ride for help. The state troopers (Carson's report maintained that they "acted with unexampled bravery") absolutely refused to leave the fort, so two settlers, France Peveler and a man named Fields, volunteered to go. They slipped past the nervous outside picket, a boy of seventeen who had taken this dangerous duty beyond the walls, and rode along the low ground, so that the Indians would not "sky-light" them against the ridges. They passed a nude white body in the dark, and a pitiable horse pinned to the ground by a lance, still trembling in its agony. They dared not stop; when they were clear, they galloped the full six miles to Belknap.
All the militia was gone—out hunting Indians, someone said. But among the people forted up at Belknap, a young boy, Chester Tackett, volunteered to ride seventy-five miles to Veal's Station. Tackett slipped away at one in the morning, and changing horses at every white cabin he passed, arrived at Veal's Station, the closest white settlement, at nine. But again there was not militia to be found. Another volunteer raced on to Decatur, another thirty miles. Here, at sundown, Major Quayle, commanding the local militia, heard the news. Quayle pushed his men for sixty miles without halting, until, when he was still some twenty miles from Elm Creek, he met a rider who told him that the Indians had withdrawn. He rode after the Comanches for about a hundred miles, because the raiders had taken white women and children, but at last broke off pursuit.
This was a classic frontier Texas Comanche raid, different only in the greater scope such raids were once again assuming. Eleven settlers had been killed, eleven homes destroyed, seven women and children carried off. The frontier people survived as they could, both by heroism and flight. The militia, as always, arrived too late. The Comanches an Kiowas had taken almost everything, and what they could not carry or had no use for, they had destroyed. Flour sacks were emptied, or mixed with sand, livestock was killed. That winter was a hard one on Elm Creek.
J.W. Wilbarger, in his book Indian Depredations in Texas, provides another description of the Elm Creek Raid:
The following version is from the book Frontier Defense in the Civil War, by David Paul Smith:
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