Stage Stand Fight at Van Horn’s Well

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.

Culberson County, Texas

Ca. January 15, 1858; Van Horn, Texas: Stage company employees at the isolated stations dotting the overland trails had one of the most dangerous jobs in the West. During the winter of 1858, Light S. Townsend was station chief at Van Horn's Well, The twenty-three-year-old Townsend was normally a driver for George H. Giddings's company, but he had injured his arm a few weeks earlier and was given station duty until he recovered. Three other employees, all Mexicans, worked in the station with him. One of them, Jose Lopez, was an experienced Indian fighter. Another was an unnamed man from Chihuahua who was half Indian, and there was something about him that Townsend mistrusted.

That evening, Townsend secured the hayricks, which contained seventy-five tons of feed, then he shut the mules in their stalls and locked the big gate at the corral entrance. The eastern stage was overdue. Townsend suspected Indian trouble, but all he could do was keep his men alert and prepare the weapons. The men stacked rifles and ammunition near the loopholes of the two-hut station, then they played cards and waited for the stage. At midnight, the stage still missing, Townsend had his assistants douse the lanterns and prepare for bed. He had just gotten his boots off when, in the darkness, he noticed yellow light coming through the loopholes and heard a crackling noise. The hay was on fire. He shouted to Lopez to go out and drive the stock to safety. But when Lopez swung open the door, several arrows whistled past him. "Los Indiosl" yelled Lopez, slamming the door.

The four men each took a loophole and watched for one of the assailants to show himself in the darkness. Muzzle flashes lit up the night as balls slammed into the station like hail along with the flying arrows. Townsend tried to ignore the screams of the mules as flames spread from the hay to the roof of the stables. Smoke and the awful smell of burning animals filled the room.

The Indians, Mescalero Apaches, swarmed around the station. As a warrior tried to shoot through a rifle port, Townsend thrust the muzzle of his Sharps through the hole into the Indian's side and pulled the trigger. Then the station keepers heard warriors on the roof, trying to dig through the mud-and-wattle ceiling. Lopez stood beneath them with shotgun ready, A warrior poked through with a large stick, and when he put his eye to the hole, Lopez let him have a blast of buckshot, blowing him off the roof.
Stage Stand Fight at Van Horn's Well

    During January or February 1862, about fifty savages charged and stormed the Stage Stand at Van Horn's well. Wm. Hope and four Mexicans were present to defend the premises. The Stage Stand was a rock structure and the roof covered with dirt. The mules were kept in rock pens immediately behind the rock building, and the two front rooms connected by a large hall. The savages made a dash through this hallway for the mules, and two of their number killed. The warriors then broke loose the dirt roofs and fired the rafters. Hope and his four Mexican companions were forced to flee. But Hope told them not to fire until it became necessary, and to lie flat on the ground when closely crowded. When they pursued these tactics, the savages would circle and fall back, and in this manner retreated several miles before the Indians withdrew. Wm. Hope then sent the Mexicans to Fort Davis to notify the soldiers, while he himself circled around the Indians to meet the upper stage, which was coming from the west, and which he met before it struck the Indians.

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

August 1868; Van Horn, Texas: Former Texas Ranger "Bigfoot" Wallace and eight companions were driving the mail stage between El Paso and Fort Davis when they saw dust rising in the distance. They hurried to a defensive position at Van Horn's Well as the Indians (probably Apache) became visible. The Indians charged then withdrew a short distance. Wallace killed a few horses for breastworks and waited behind them. The night passed without incident, but in the morning the Indians, thirsty, tried to get to the well. They hid among their horses as they turned the animals loose to go to the water. The ruse failed, costing them several mounts as Wallace and his men blasted away. The Indians then rode in circles around the barricade, showering the defenders with arrows and bullets, wounding three of them. That afternoon, a great thunderstorm struck, blunting the Indians' ardor for attack. They soon departed.

Three of Wallace's men were wounded; the estimated they hit 11 Indians.

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