Indians Attack the Russell Ranch

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.

Wise County, Texas

    Mrs. Polly Russell and her four children, Dean Russell, about twenty-two years of age, and Martha Russell, about eighteen, Harvey Russell, aged about sixteen, and James Russell, about eleven years of age, during 1868, lived on Martin's Prairie, about three miles southwest of the present town of Chico. During the summer of 1868, John O. Allen, and approximately eleven others who were returning from a buffalo hunt, camped near the Russell Ranch for the night. John O. Allen was detailed to go to the house to see if he could secure some milk, and while there met Mrs. Russell, and about three of her children. Mrs. Russell and her daughter, Martha, (Lucy), invited young John Allen to return to the house and visit them after supper.

    To young Allen, the discovery of this beautiful frontier girl after spending several days on the buffalo ranges, was but the finding of a wild flower in the desert. He said:

    "Lucy, (Martha) was a perfect brunette, and the finest specimen of womanhood that I had ever beheld, and Cupid at once got out his arrows and sent one into the most vital parts of my life. Just think of an eighteen year old boy looking at the first woman he ever loved. Her name was Lucy (Martha)."

    After John Allen was ready to leave, this wild flower of the frontier stood in the doorway in front of him and made the request that John Allen persuade her brother, who was away, to move back into the settlements where they would be out of the range of the Indians. John Allen consented to comply with Martha's request, and stated that he would return the next morning, before the buffalo hunters moved on toward the settlements, and speak to Dean Russell. He did, in fact, return next morning, but since Dean Russell had not returned. Allen could not fulfill his obligation. But he said:

    "Before I left, I told Miss Lucy (Martha) that as she had made a request of me, that I had one to make of her. She came a little closer and asked me what it was. I told her that the Comanches had not captured me, but that she had, and as I said this, I saw two big tears coming from those black eyes and jumped down and brushed them away, but not with my handkerchief you may be sure. I then asked her if she was going to grant my request, and she said she would. I took her face in my hands and sealed our troth with a kiss. I then told her that I must return to camp, or the boys would come after me."

    But a few weeks later, when Dean Russell was away, working at a sawmill on Sandy Creek, several miles east of the Russell Ranch, a band of blood-thirsty Indians, who were on a raid, and who perhaps belonged to an Oklahoma Indian reservation, concealed themselves for a considerable length of time in a cane patch, near the Russell residence. After eating no little amount of the cane, they then stormed the frontier cabin, and no one was left to relate the savagery of the Comanches' onslaught. When Dean Russell returned in the evening from his day's work at the sawmill, he found the baby brother Jimmie lying dead in the yard, the mother across the threshold of the door, but Harvey and his sister Martha apparently had disappeared. Dean Russell hurried for assistance, and when local citizens hastily and faithfully responded to his call, the body of Harvey Russell was found under the bed, and a number of empty cartridge shells disclosed that he had made a brave fight with the Winchester that belonged to the Russell home. As usual, feather beds and pillows were ripped open, and the savages carried away each and every article that seemed to suit their fancy. In turn their trail was followed by local citizens.

    After leaving the Russell Ranch, the savages gave Dick Couch a lively chase. About three miles from the Russell home, the citizens came across one of the most gruesome sights that ever tested the fortitude of the early frontiersmen. They found the badly mutilated body of Miss Martha (Lucy) Russell, and no one knows the extent of her horrible experience.

    Since John O. Allen had only received one or two letters from Martha (Lucy) Russell, the next June, when he and his associates made another buffalo hunt, as soon as possible, he began to make inquiries about the Russell family, and was told by the citizens of Jack County that all the family, excepting Dean Russell, were dead. The buffalo hunters proceeded further out toward the ranges, and before their journey was complete, they, no doubt, encountered some of the same savages, that had massacred the members of the Russell family. In the fight that followed, at least three Indians were killed, and one citizen wounded. After the fight was over, John O. Allen found an Indian shield that contained the beaded scalp of some innocent frontier girl, and in color, size, and general appearance, strongly resembled that of the girl he "loved at first sight." John O. Allen said:

    "The minute I found this scalp on the shield, it flashed through my mind that it was Lucy (Martha) Russell's scalp. The time that it had been killed, the color of the hair, the length of the hair, and the trail on which it was captured, all corroborated and convinced me at once, that was my Lucy Russell's scalp, but I kept this all to myself."

Note: Author personally interviewed John O. Allen himself, J.D. White, and others who were familiar with this horrible massacre.

Further Ref: Pioneer History of Wise County, by Cliff D. Cates, and Frontier Times, the splendid frontier magazine edited by J. Marvin Hunter.

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

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