Famous Paint Creek 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.

Throckmorton County, Texas

After the Indians made the preceding raid, the local citizens elected John R. Baylor as their leader. Mr. Baylor suggested that it would be inadvisable to attempt to immediately pursue the Indians. For in such cases, the red men expected to be followed, and to protect their retreat, posted spies on adjoining hills and mountains.

The local citizens set to work molding bullets and preparing for an extended invasion into the Indian country. It was, also agreed, the pursuing party rendezvous at the ranch of John Dawson.

    About three days later, John R. Baylor, George W. Baylor, Elias Hale, M. Wright, Tom Stocton, and John Dawson started out for an unknown destination in search of the hostile savages. This was one of the most dangerous, yet one of the most successful raids ever made by such a small band of citizens.

    The first day the old Indian trail was followed to a point a few miles above old Camp Cooper, where the citizens camped on the Clear Fork for the night. The following morning they discovered the retreating Indians, also camped very near this same place, and that the warriors sent their scouts on an adjacent high point of land. During the second day while the citizens were searching for the trail, George W. Baylor found the scalp of Josephus Browning, which had been accidentally lost by the Indians. This scalp was returned and buried in the lonely grave with young Browning's body. The half dozen brave Texans pursued their journey and followed the trail into hostile territory.

    As usual, those interviewed slightly differ concerning the details of the famous Paint Creek Fight. On one occasion, however, Col. Charles Goodnight, John Dawson, and Congressman Hatton Semners, became intensely engaged in a conversation. This conversation was printed in the Farm & Ranch, October 14, 1911, and ably presented by Hon. Hatton Semners. Excerpts of this story are given as follows:

      "Col. Charles Goodnight said to Mrs. Dawson, "John tell Semners about the fight when you got the arrow wound in your hand there, pointing to the scar. 'All right, Charlie' said Mr. Dawson. And thus began the story. 'John R. Baylor George, W. Baylor, Elias Hale, Tom Stocton, M. Wright, and myself followed their trail and overtook them about one hundred and twenty-five miles away, killing one of them and the others escaping.
      'After the fight we started home and the next morning met another band of seven Indians.

      "After running them to Paint Creek above old Camp Cooper, we overtook them and in the fight, which followed, killed six of them. Continued our journey toward home on the evening of the same day about an hour before sundown, we met a band of six Indians driving some stolen horses; we saw them face to face. The place is known as Baylor's Creek. When the Indians saw us they set up a yell. We yelled back and the fight begun. Four of the Indians were shot down, but only one of them was badly wounded in the back and could not get up.

      "One Indian and a boy about seventeen years old started to escape on a horse. When they had gone some distance, the boy looked back and saw the wounded Indian on the ground struggling to rise. He jumped down from behind the wounded Indian on the horse and came back to the one on the ground. He tried to lift him up, but he could not stand; when the boy saw he could do nothing for the wounded Indian, he gave a most distressing cry and started toward us and shooting as he came. It was clear that he had determined to avenge the death of his comrade by killing some of us, or die in the attempt.

      "He was coming straight to me. I shot him with a rifle. Tom Stocton and Elias Hale were shooting at him with six-shooters. The boy had on a loose shirt and the pistol bullets went through, but they could not stop him. The men who were shooting at him with their pistols were kneeling down. The Indian was coming straight for me. He got so close to me that Stocton and Hale got back and I started to mount my horse and met me face to face about ten steps away. We both started to shoot at almost the same time. I with my pistol, and he with his bow. He was a little quicker than I was, and his arrow went into my right hand, and as I was aiming at him, he shot into the stock of my pistol disabling it and making me helpless. Just as he was getting another arrow with which he would, no doubt, have killed me, Geo. Baylor shot him with a shotgun and he fell from his one rifle hole and nine pistol wounds, besides the one made by the shotgun. There were no wounds in his arms or legs. The shirt was as bloody as if it had been dipped in blood."

    Others may have had a nobler purpose, used better judgment, or been inspired by a higher patriotism. But no example of any man's courage in all the annals of man's history, excels that of this lone Indian boy with his bow and arrow engaged in a mortal combat with six white men armed with guns.

    The dead body of the wounded Indian who escaped on his horse, was afterwards found and his shield became the property of Mr. Dawson. In a receptacle of the shield was found the scalp of a woman, with long golden hair. This scalp may have belonged to Mrs. Lucinda Wood, who was massacred by the Indians only four months before.

    Most of this fighting occurred in the present Haskell County; and, no doubt, some of these various scattered bands were returning from the settlement where they had been making one of their forays.

    In addition to a large number of captuNative American implements and stolen horses, John R. Baylor and his five associates brought back nine Indian scalps, as evidence of their successful fighting. Shortly after they returned, another scout left old Camp Cooper and went into Haskell County. The bodies of four additional Indians, which had been murdered by Col. Baylor and his men, were found. So these six lone Texans during this expedition killed no less than thirteen warriors, recovered a large number of Indian implements. The scalp of Josephus Browning and some frontier lady's scalp, and also recovered a large number of horses, which had been stolen in Palo Pinto County and elsewhere.

    Celebrations and barbecues were held at Crystal Falls, Palo Pinto, Weatherford, and elsewhere, and in several instances, the frontier citizens danced around these Indian scalps.

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

J.W. Wilbarger provides an account of the Paint Creek Fight in his book, Indian Depredations in Texas, which appears in the pages below:

Paint Creek Fight by WIlbarger

Paint Creek story by Wilbarger

Paint Creek story by Wilbarger

Paint Creek story by Wilbarger

The picture and text below is from the book, A Cry Unheard, by Doyle Marshall.

    Picture of John R. Baylor
    John Robert Baylor (above) and his brother, Walker, gathered a posse and swore to revenge the murders. They killed twelve Indians marking the first success the local men had against the Indians.

On about June 11, 1860, while John R. Baylor, his twenty-five year-old brother, George, his fourteen year-old son, Jack, and other cowmen of the vicinity were rounding up the Baylor cattle, a messenger brought the sad news that Indians had killed and scalped Josephus Browning and had shot Frank Browning so full of arrows that it appeared he could not live.

...Miraculously, Frank later recovered from his wounds and lived many years to tell about the tragic experience.

...Looking down at the cold body of Josephus, George Wythe Baylor emotionally recalled his friendship with the young victim and vowed that the murderers would pay for their crime. Upon leaving the Browning home, John Baylor grasped the hand of "Uncle Billy" and assured him that, if possible, the death of his noble son would be avenged by the taking of Indian scalps.

At the Browning home a party was formed to pursue the guilty band. As usual, the elder Baylor was selected to lead the vindictive ranchers.

...While searching for the trail leaving the campside, the men were assured of being on the correct trail when George Baylor found on the ground the band's coveted trophy, Josephus' scalp, which likely had been dropped during the night by a careless Indian in his haste to break camp.

As the trailing party penetrated farther into the Indian county, the Indian signs became fresher along the trail. On the fourth day of pursuit, the party found a pile of meat in a ravine. Being informed on Comanche customs and behavior, Baylor was sure that the Indians would return for their meat, although it appeared to be spoiled. Deciding to wait for the return of the pursued, the ranchers unbridled the tired horses and let them graze. No doubt the men pondered with apprehension, the fact that until then settlers had experienced limited success in dealing with the Indians who raided the settlements. Being several days' distance inside the Indian country was probably also a discomforting reality to the ranchers.

When the horses showed alarm by raising their heads and looking southward, the ranchers knew that the Indians were returning for their cache. Soon the approaching two Indians became aware of the presence of their enemies and, being outnumbered, began a race for their lives. The frontiersmen quickly bridled their horses and were soon in hot pursuit. Comanche Indians were nothing new to John Baylor's splendid sorrel war-horse, Belton. The bright, swift steed had been stolen by the Comanches in Bell County, ridden until exhausted, then lanced through the lungs, and left for dead. Now the time had come for Belton to get even.

Baylor and Belton left the slower of the two Indians for the other men to deal with and started after the one on the faster horse. Since Baylor passed on the right of the slower Indian, he knew that unless the Indian was left-handed it would be difficult for him to use his bow and arrow to any advantage. However, George could see the slower Indian reining to the right in order to get himself in a position to fire on John. When George fired a shot, the attention of the Indian in the rear was diverted from John. Seeing that George's horse was faster than his, the Indian resorted to an old Indian trick. He sprang from his horse to the ground and faced George, hoping to shoot him in the back as he passed. This would enable the Indian to leap onto George's faster horse and escape. Although George turned his mare into the Indian, with the intent of riding him down, the Indian dodged to the left, and the mare swerved to the right. The Indian fired an arrow at George, striking his belt. Immediately another arrow grazed George's back. Leaping from his mare to the ground, George leveled his gun at the Indian and pulled the trigger. To his horror the gun failed to fire. After a second unsuccessful attempt, George found that the cap had been knocked from his gun. Aware of George's misfortune, the Indian quickly reached for another arrow as George reached in his vest pocket for another cap. By that time the other ranchers reached the scene, when the Indian, seeing that he was outnumbered, fled in the direction of a nearby thicket. Before he reached the thicket, George replaced the cap on his gun and fired. The determined red man fell to the ground, rolled over onto his back, and doggedly kept the air full of arrows, aimed at first one and then another of the ranchers until he was riddled with bullets from the white men's guns.

Because John Baylor was having trouble overtaking the Indian he was pursuing, he dismounted, braced himself, and took careful aim at the Indian, who, by gestures, was showing contempt for Baylor. When Baylor fired, the Indian fell forward, clasping his horse's neck. In another fight on the same day the ranchers killed two more Indians. From the signs of the many horse tracks, dead campfires, and slaughtered animal carcasses in the area, the white intruders deducted that there was a large body of Indians nearby and that the six of them stood little chance with so many Native tribespeople on their home ground. Therefore, the little band of Indian hunters started for home with their Indian scalps and captured horses. On the trail, when the party reached Paint Creek in Haskell County, they encountered another band of Indians who by the battle's end had contributed several scalps to the ranchers' collection, including one from a female tribesperson. It was difficult in battle to determine the sex of the Indian fighters, since the women in small bands sometimes fought along with the warriors and looked much like the men. George Baylor recalled that finding the victim to be a female made little difference to the whites, since Indian women were considered to be more cruel to white women and children captives than the warriors were. Gathering their trophies of war, Baylor and his followers proceeded to the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, in the vicinity of where Abilene now stands, where they camped. While dinner was cooking, John Robert began scratching himself frantically. Earlier, during the fight he had placed the Indians' lousy scalps in the bosom of his gray flannel shirt, and now the vermin were abandoning the scalps for "greener pastures." George jokingly explained that, in behalf of their former hosts, the Indian lice were trying to get even with John. After taking a swim and fumigating his clothing over a brush fire, John regained his comfort and composure and soon resumed the role of dignified leader of men.

After dinner, the party continued toward their homes, pleased with the success of their Indian hunt. They soon spotted about thirty-five horses led by six Comanches, who were laughing and talking until they spied the ranchers. The Indians then halted and assessed the situation. Since John Robert had learned the Comanche language while serving as agent to the Southern Comanches, he heard the chief suggest to his warrior that since there were only six whites they should go down and whip them and take their horses. In the battled that followed more Comanche scalps were taken, including that of the chief, whose shield was decorated with the plaited auburn-haired scalp of a white woman, trimmed around the edge with varicolored beads. The chief's large silver hair ornament was taken by the Baylor brothers and later fashioned by a San Antonio silversmith into belt buckles for each of them. These buckles became treasured family heirlooms.

Baylor and the ranchers had killed twelve Indians and wounded one who died later after the battered band arrived in the Indian Territory. Fifty-five horses had been recovered, in addition to the scalp of Josephus Browning, which was taken to the Browning ranch for burial with the body. John Baylor presented the scalp to "Uncle Billy" and told him that, although his rancher neighbors could not bring his son back, Josephus' death had been avenged with the taking of nine Indian scalps. After the Brownings' tearful acceptance of the scalp, the tired, but satisfied men left for their homes.

Story 1

28 June 1860; Throckmorton, Texas: After Comanche Indians killed settler Josephus Browning and wounded his brother Frank near Hubbard Creek, other settlers in the area wanted revenge. Visiting at the time was a rancher and future Civil War officer John R. Baylor with four other men. Upon hearing of the incident, the five visitors joined several local men at the Browning ranch to form a posse, which Baylor led.

The party tracked the Comanches for five days, finally overtaking them on Paint Creek at the Clear Fork of the Brazos River. The posse killed 13 of the Indians, destroyed their camp, and returned to town with 9 Comanche scalps, numerous trophies, and a white woman's scalp they had found in the camp.

Story 2

6 March 1868; Haskell, Texas: On the morning of 5 March, Capt. Adna R. Chaffee, 6th Cavalry, with detachments of Companies F and I, left Fort Griffin to scout for Indians. The next morning they crossed the Clear Fork of the Brazos River about 12 miles below old Fort Phantom Hill and soon found an Indian trail. They followed it northwest through cold, stormy weather. About 10 a.m., on the banks of Paint Creek in the southeast corner of present-day Haskell County, Texas, he came upon a Comanche camp.

Chaffee charged right in, scattering the Indians and killing five Comanches, plus one Mexican and one mulatto, whom he reported were the leaders of the band. The soldiers took five ponies and destroyed a large number of shields, weapons, and camp equipment. Three privates were wounded in the offensive.

Story 3

May 1869, Stamford Texas: Capt. George W. Smith took a detachment of mounted 35 th Infantry and a company of Tonkawa scouts to search for some Comanches who had been raiding in Texas and discovered about 25 of them camping at the headwaters of Paint Creek in present-day southwest Haskell County. With no loss to his party, Smith routed the Indians, killing 14 and wounding 3. Smith gave the 14 captured horses to the Tonkawa scouts.

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