The Adventures of David White and African Britt Johnson

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.

Jack County, Texas
Palo Pinto County, Texas
Young County, Texas

    After the capture of Lon White during the summer of 1864, and African Britt Johnson's family, during the following fall, David White, and African Britt, began to focus all of their activities towards the recovery of members of their families, in the hands of Indians many miles away.

    African Britt Johnson was virtually a free African during the dark days of the Civil War. After the capture of his family, he began to make preparations to start to the Indian wilds, in quest of his wife and children.

    Those interviewed, differ concerning the details of Britt's experience. But according to reports of the best of authority, he buckled two six-shooters to his belt, packed his pony, strapped a new rifle to his saddle, and started for parts unknown.

    According to one line of authority, when African Britt reached the little Wichita, he spied about six horses in the distance. When these horses were reached, they were being guarded by a lone Indian. After Britt made overtures of peace, this Indian, who could speak Spanish, engaged in a conversation with Britt, and told him the savages would take him to his family if he would wait until five other Indians arrived. These Indians were out on a horse stealing expedition in the settlements. In due time the other Indians did arrive and they had thirteen horses, belonging to the Pevelers and several others, belonging to Allen Johnson, Geo. Bragg, Pinkey Powell and others. African Britt knew every horse the Indians had stolen but made no pretense that he recognized any of them.

    When the other Indians arrived they held a pow-wow, but finally decided to let Britt proceed to his family. When the Indians reached the Canadian, they held another pow-wow, danced around Britt and handled him roughly, but he was sufficiently wise to show no signs of hostility, and only laughed at their maneuvers. The Indians then escorted Britt to their village where he met the chief.

    According to another line of authority, African Britt discovered some Indian buffalo hunters, who were returning to their village, and as a Mexican captive was riding along in the rear, Britt cut him off and asked him if he knew an African woman named Mary. The Mexican said he did, and promised to tell her that Britt Johnson, her husband, was attempting to have her released. When the Mexican stated he was afraid she would not believe him, African Britt gave the captive a sample of Mary's dress, which had been bought from Ed Terrell, in Fort Worth, as partial proof Britt was really in search of her.

    This Mexican, also, related to African Britt, the best way for him to become engaged in conversation with the chief, would be to appear at the village early in the morning, and rush into camp before the Indians realized he was around.

    Nevertheless, weather the arrangement was made through the Mexican or Indians, African Britt finally succeeded in arranging for a 'talk' with the chief. The chief, at first refused to release Britt's family, who were in the hands of the Kiowas. But since Britt had lived many years upon the frontier, he wass well-versed in the ways and entreaties of the wild tribes; so he continued his negotiations, and finally the chief agreed to release his family for an exorbitant price, which the Indians evidently believed the African would be able to raise.

    Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatick, Lottie and Millie Durgan, were in the hands of the Comanches, and Britt succeeded in getting in touch with Mr. Fritzpatrick, who instructed him to buy her at any price.

    During February of 1865, when African Britt was again returning to the Indian territory to recover the captives of the Big Young Country Raid, he became associated with David White, who was on his way to the same territory to secure the release of his son, Alonza White.

    David White and African Britt, proceeded to the Smith-Paul Valley Agency. Here they waited for Gen. J.W. Throckmorton, who was on his way to an Indian council, to be held on the Canadian. When Gen. Throckmorton and his ambulance arrived, Dav. White and African Britt accompanied him and them, to the council, which was attended by about 500 Confederate soldiers, and 1000 Indians. David White and African Britt, remained at the council for about one week, and not only ascertained the whereabouts of those they were seeking, but also arranged to recover several other captives. Gen Throckmorton reached a satisfactory agreement with chief Essahaba, to escort Mr. White and Britt, to the Indian villages, where the captives were being detained. And upon the payment of the respective prices agreed upon, the Indians also agreed to escort the two to the Smith-Paul Valley agency, on the Washita. David White and Britt Johnson brought the children they had already recovered, back to the agency, where they were left until the citizens could secure $40.00 in silver, a Mexican blanket, and such other trinkets that were necessary to purchase the remaining captives. Dave White and Britt then went to Gainesville, and here Col. Bourland advanced the $20.00 necessary to purchase Mr. Rolland's little boy, who was captured in Jack County, during 1874. The necessary blankets could not be found in Gainesville. So Mr. White and African Britt returned to the agency on the Washita. Here they were informed that such blankets could be found in Bonham, and the Indian agent gave Mr. White a letter of introduction to Gen. McCulloch, who was stationed at Bonham, and who successfully found Mr. White, the necessary number of blankets. Dave White was accompanied to Bonham by Essahaba. They then returned to the Smith-Paul Valley Agency. In a few days Dave White, African Britt Johnson, and Chief Essahaba and his escort, started in a northwesterly direction to the other Indians captives. For days and days they traveled, and from Indian village to village, they journeyed. Finally the two reached the home of the Kiowas, where at least a part of the captives were being detained. Alonzo White, at the time, was out herding horses, and when brought in, he ran up and fell in his father's arms, and asked in broken English, "Did the Indians kill Mama and the children?" After the captives had been recovered, Chief Essahaba, and his escort, accompanied Dave White and African Britt back to the Smith-Paul Valley Agency.

    When the two reached Red River, it was on a rise. So Mr. White and Britt, made a raft of cotton-wood logs, and ferried the captives across the swollen stream. After they reached Decatur, African Britt, accompanied by his family, Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, and her granddaughter Lottie Durgan, turned west toward Belknap. David White accompanied by his son, the little Rolland Boy, an orphan boy being raised by Geo. Light, and possibly one or two others, went to Weatherford where they were hospitably received by the local citizens. The little Rolland boy, whose father was killed during 1863, and who was captured during the following year, had almost forgotten his own home, and become so attached to David White, that when he was sent to his mother, he cried and clung to Mr. White, as if he were a departing father.

    The unusual adventures of these two early frontiersmen cannot be over-estimated, and each of them are deserving of the highest praise for their fortitude, courage, and heroic achievements. Mr. White has long been highly esteemed for his daring achievements, and African Britt Johnson, in the community where he lived and elsewhere, at this late hour is highly praised by the remaining pioneer citizens.

    Note: Before writing this section, the author personally interviewed: Mrs. W.J. Langley a sister of Mrs. David White; L.V. Arnold, a son-in-law of Mr. White; J.B. Terrell, F.M. Peveler, Mann Johnson, Henry Williams, and several others who lived in Young, Palo Pinto, Jack and adjoining counties.

    Further Ref.: An account and rescue of Lon White, by J.C. Cox, who personally interviewed David White, before he wrote the story, which was published in the Dallas News several years ago, and re-published in the Frontier Times, November 1928.

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

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