Col. W.J. Wilkinson’s Indian Experience

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.

Callahan County, Texas

    During 1864, W.J. Wilkinson, Press Beavers, a Mr. Key and Willis Holloway, operated ranches on the headwaters of the Pecan Bayou. One day while Mr. Wilkinson was riding along the banks of Burnt Branch, about five miles below his ranch, at a point about one-half miles from Caddo water. This Indian offered no resistance and threw his bow and arrows out on the bank. He also made signs of distress. To kill him under such circumstances would have been preposterous, but instead Col. Wilkinson promised to return in a short time with necessary provisions, for this wild man of the plains was perishing from hunger. This was late in the evening, and early next morning Mr. Wilkinson requested Mrs. Willis Holloway, wife of the man with whom he was ranching, to prepare certain delicacies of food. Finally Col. Wilkinson took them into his confidence, and related the story of the wounded Indian. They hastily prepared bandages, food and others provisions and Col. Wilkinson and Mr. Holloway hurried to the relief of the red man. Mr. Wilkinson said, "We have food and water, bound and splinted his broken thigh the best we could, and received in return every token of gratitude that the Indian sign language could convey. We visited our patient and administered to his wants several times after this, but one morning when we came to his hiding place in the thicket, he was gone."

    When this discovery was made Mr. Holloway recalled the fact that on the evening before, he had seen a large smoke signal rising from the summit of Caddo Peak. He also noticed a smaller smoke rise from a point in the valley below. But being at a great distance could not tell the exact locality from which the smoke originated, and besides these smoke signals by day,and fire signals at night, were so common, they attracted only passing notice.

    Mr. Wilkinson said, "We never saw or heard of our Indian any more." Col. Wilkinson further related, "Eight months after this occurrence, while horse hunting near this same place where I found the wounded savage, I saw a horse in the edge of the thicket on the banks of the branch. Not suspecting a decoy, I rode down to this thicket under the impression that probably my stock was there. As I approached the horse I had noticed it disappeared, and when I rode into the brush where I had last seen him, five Indians suddenly rode up within a few feet of me with drawn bows, and were in the act of shooting when one who seemed to be the leader called out something in their language, and instantly every bow was lowered. I found myself a prisoner in the hands of the Comanches. I was well armed. I carried two heavy Colt pistols and a good gun, but the attempt to use either of these, I knew meant certain death. They seized my horse's bridle and ordered e by signs to dismount. They then removed my saddle, placed it on the ground, and ordered me to stay by my saddle while they staked my horse in a glade nearby. This leader engaged in earnest conversation with the others before unsaddling my horse, and by his looks and gestures, I could plainly see that I was the subject of their remarks. My capture was affected in the afternoon and shortly afterwards I saw their signal smoke going up from Caddo Peak, one-half mile away, and I knew that others Indians were in the neighborhood.

    "My captors treated with unexpected difference and respect. They offered no indignity; they did not disarm me, nor did they appropriate any of my belongings. I thought that my time had come, however, and made up my mind to abide by the result. I would be good until I saw that they were going to finish me, and as I still had my arms, I would shoot some of them before they lifted my scalp. At intervals all during the evenings, the smoke went up from Caddo Peak, and after nightfall, the signal fires took the place of the smoke, and there were runners to and fro between those on the Peak and the squad that held me several hours and until after midnight. Shortly after dark I spread my saddle blanket, and lay down, but not to sleep. It was a novel situation. I was a prisoner in the hands of the most inveterate, and most merciless foe, who were always known to deal out instant death to captured men, but in my case they had shown humane treatment. They had allowed me to retain my arms, they had their homely rations of horse meat with me at supper, had brought me water, had smoked by scanty supply of tobacco (by my permission) and so far, they had treated me like a white man, but what would the morning dawn bring to pass? These and a thousand other reflections occupied my thoughts until along toward day when tired nature yielded and I fell asleep. I slept, I suppose, two hours or longer, and awoke startled and bewildered. I sprang up and it seemed a minute or more before I could realize my surroundings. I was entirely alone, the sun was just rising, and there was my horse quietly grazing where they had staked him the night before. Not a thing belonging to me had been taken."

    In a short time a large number of rangers guided by James Mulkey, came along following the Indians trail. From the rangers, Col. Wilkinson learned the Indians had raided in the lower country, and were passing out with several head of stolen horses. The rangers were in close pursuit but never overtook the savages.

    Concerning Col. Wilkinson's unique experience he further said:

    "My old friend and pioneer comrade, Capt. J.J. Callan offered a most reliable explanation of my treatment at the hands of the Indians and my miraculous escape. He said the wounded Indian was rescued by his comrades, to whom he related the kind of treatment he had received at the hands of two white men, whose appearance he minutely described, and also the locality, and when I was captured, the leader recognized from the description given, and spared me out of gratitude, and detained me overnight as a matter of policy, as they, my captors, were probably spies left behind to watch the rangers pursuit, and to signal their approach from the mountain peaks. To have released me at once, would have been unwise, as I would have spread the alarm."

    Col. W.J. Wilkinson was always a highly esteemed citizen and afterwards lived in Menard County, and we feel sure this story occurred just as he related, but his unusual experience presents an unusual story that reads like fiction.

    Ref.: 20, Hunter's Frontier Magazine, May 1916.

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

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