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Ghosts of Elm Creek

It is said that where violent deaths occur, the spirits of those whose lives were taken sometimes linger.

The Elm Creek Raid was born in a vision to Kiowa Chief Little Buffalo several weeks prior to the attack. The chief had seen a vision of great riches and slaughter from a raid into Texas, and after retelling his vision to numerous clans he had quickly convinced a large group of Kiowa and Comanche to join him and they began the trip south into Texas.

On October 13, 1864, this combined war band ranging in size somewhere between 600 to as many as 1100 warriors descended upon the frontier settlements situated just west of Newcastle and about 8 miles northwest of Fort Belknap. It was very good timing on the part of the war parties. Most of the male settlers were gone from the Elm Creek area, having been recruited to help with a round up and drive of cattle.

In the opening minutes of the battle the raiders came across Perry and Peter Harmonson who lived east of Elm Creek. As the Harmonsons were engaged by the attackers with rifles and bows, Peter and Perry retreated to an area of heavy brush in one of the many ravines in our area. Returning fire at the approaching Indians, several sources claim that an Indian chief, perhaps even Little Buffalo, the author of the attack, was shot dead.

Henry Wooten observed the attackers and fled towards Fort Belknap. Anyone familiar with North Texas and its plants knows how thick the briars grow in this area and are not surprised by the fact that when Wootens fled through the briars to escape, the briars were so thick that they shredded his clothing and he was naked by the time he made it to the fort.

To the west of the Harmonson Ranch, settler Joel Myers, a simple farmer with a few head of cattle, was surprised by attackers, killed and scalped as the raiders moves westward in two separate parties.

At the Carter Trading Post, the full ferocity of the attack was unleashed. Inside the main house, Elizabeth Carter and her family: Daughter Susanna, son Elijah, and three grandchildren. Also in the house were Mary Johnson, the wife of slave Britt Johnson, their oldest son Jim Johnson and a younger son Jube and daughter Cherry.

Susanna and one of her infant children were scalped and killed as well as Britt Johnson’s son Jim, with the others taken as captives for slavery or ransom. Elijah would die on the trail three days later.

At a fortified ranch known to the settlers as Bragg’s Fort, settlers waged a six-hour battle, with repeating waves of attacks from the Indians. Dr. Thomas Wilson, who had seen the approach of the attackers and had ridden westward ahead of the renegades warning settlers akin to a western version of Paul Revere. He and an African American boy were killed in this encounter. At times the fighting was almost hand to hand, with warrior braves trying pull down stockade pickets by hand, and settlers firing point blank into the mass of Indians. There is no count of the number of warriors who died in this attack.

A unit of 15 rangers from Colonel Bourland’s frontier Ranger regiment, under the command of a Lieutenant Carson, were surrounded and repulsed several waves of attackers as well. By the time they were able to escape, five rangers had been killed and at least twice that number of attackers. The rangers were able to save Mrs. Isaac McCoy and her niece Betty Morris. Franz Peveler, who had secured his family in another fortified ranch known as Murrah’s Fort watched the murder of Isaac McCoy and his son through a telescope.

By the time the battle was over, twelve settlers had been killed and an unknown number of Kiowa and Comanche Warriors had fallen violently to their deaths. As dusk settled over the prairie, the survivors watched as the victorious war parties withdrew with horse and cattle herds numbering in the thousands.

More than 158 years have passed since the twang of bow strings and the thunder of rifle fire have passed over this area of western Young County. If you watch the sun go down over this creek now, you will here the drone of crickets, the deep call of frogs and the wind pass through the mesquite, post oak and cottonwood.

For those who may be sensitive to things no longer wholly apart of the living … you might hear the cries of the doomed, the war cries of avenging warriors, the death screams of horses falling under their riders, or the crack of timber as it is pulled down and burned.
You might even see stealthy shapes moving among the shadows along the creek, spirit-like silhouettes of those who didn’t make it to the safety of the caves, or were shot from the saddle as they plundered. It was a place of violence, of revenge, of determination and death.

It may only be haunted by memories and not ghosts or spirits, but who knows for sure, and who might be brave enough to linger there and find out?

Brazos River Indian Reservations

Brazos River Indian Reservations

As reported by the Texas Historical Commission, on this the 26th day of April in 1854, the U.S. War Department ordered Randolph B. Marcy, in conjunction with Indian agent Robert S. Neighbors, to locate and survey land for Indian reservations in unsettled territory, preferably on timbered land of good soil adjacent to navigable water. Marcy was familiar with Texas, and this would be his fourth expedition on behalf of the government.

On the surveying trips General Marcy told the Indian chiefs that the government was going to supply them with land so that they might raise crops and live peacefully like the white man. This was a hard task to orient the Indians to, as most of the tribes were warrior cultures where hunting and war with other tribes established a man’s place within the tribe.

Eventually the diminishing tribes of the Anadarkoes, Caddoes, Wacoes, and Tonkawas agreed to the reservation plan, mainly as a refuge from the Comanches. The sites selected after consultation with the various Indian groups concerned were four leagues of land 17,712 on the Brazos River below Fort Belknap for the Anadarkoes, Caddoes, Wacoes, Indians, and another tract of the same size forty miles away on the Clear Fork of the Brazos for the use of the Comanches. A third tract of four leagues adjoined the one on the Brazos and was intended for the use of the Indians living west of the Pecos River, chiefly the Mescalero and Lipan Apaches. These western Indians, however, failed to come into the reservation, and this tract was added to the Brazos agency, making that reservation total eight leagues.

The reservation land was part of the vacant domain of Texas, which was given to the Federal Government, but Texas retained the right of jurisdiction over persons other than Indians for any offense committed by such person or property of anyone within the limit of the state. The federal government had jurisdiction over the Indians within the reservation and a further ten-mile boundary around the reservation to prevent the sale of alcohol to the tribes.

The Brazos River Indian Reservation Agency Building was located near Dry Creek, three miles west of the present sight of Graham. Two agents were appointed for the reservations, under the supervision of Major Robert Neighbors; Captains Shapley Ross and J.R. Baylor. After a year and a half, Baylor was replaced by Matthew Leeper. Baylor was indignant at being released and became a serious point of contention, stirring up racial trouble between the Indians and the settlers.

Almost all of the ranchers who settled into the area were familiar with the reservation Indians, who had proved to be successful farmers, raising cops to rival any farmers in the area. Between fifty and one hundred Indians were even listed in the Rangers service at that time, and though they were used for frontier protection, it raised the animosity of certain white settlers. The rancher’s cattle grazed all over the unfenced and unlimited country. The Indians and Agents made no protest, for grass was free and plentiful. To be fair, certain Indians also exploited their new neighbors, appearing at the door of a ranch stating “Me friend,– me no kill, –give me cow–. (From the book “A history of Young County Texas”, by Carrie Crouch).

But there was a class of white men, known as filibusters, who opposed any Indian presence in the area, and did not hesitate to kill an Indian off the reservation. One incident which caused the federal government to send more troops to Fort Belknap, and eventually led to the Indians being moved to Oklahoma was the murder of Choctaw om’s party in Palo Pinto County. Old Choctaw Tom was known to settlers in the area, even before the reservations. Choctaw Tom made friends with new people arriving to the area and often assisted them as nurses and servants.

In December 1858 Choctaw Tom, having received a permit from the Agent, took seventeen people into Palo Pinto County on a hunt. On the night of December 26, 1858 Tom’s party was attacked while asleep and eight were killed, found the next morning still under their blankets. Toms’ wife had been killed, his daughter shot in the hand, Tom was wounded.

This act put the Indians on the reservation in an uproar, and it took a great deal of diplomacy on the part of Colonel Ross to curb an Indian uprising. The government promised swift justice, but not one indictment was served, fueling tension even more.

On May 23, 1859, a large group of armed men were reported to be on the reservation and Captain Plummer of Fort Belknap was dispatched to ascertain their intentions. Upon locating the group, Plummer learned it was led by Captain Baylor, the ex-agent who stated that they were looking for certain Indians and that should US Troops interfere they would be fired on. Plummer returned to the Fort for reinforcements. During the interim, they discovered an elderly Indian that they promptly scalped, and learned that an elderly Indian Women was standing there when the evil deed occurred and they promptly killed her as well.

The outlaws under Baylor retreated to the Marlin Ranch and were still there when fifty braves from the reservation arrived bent on revenge. US Troops arrived on the scene soon after, but having no jurisdiction off the reservation, they sat and waited on the outcome. Chief John Polock Mark and Chief John Hatterbox, both elderly, challenged Baylor to single combat, but Baylor refused. A gun battle ensued, and Chief Hatterbox was killed almost immediately and two of Baylor’s party were killed before the Indians withdrew at sundown.

With the tension in the area set to explode, Major Neighbors put in for and executed an order for the removal of the Indians from the Brazos River Reservation. Both reservations reverted to the state when the Indians were removed to the Indian Territory in 1859.

Mesquite Tree

Mesquite Trees

It’s hard to imagine Young County was once described as “open Prairie”.

Settlers and Native Americans alike commented on the “oceans of grassland and vast prairies” of Texas where the buffalo could graze, and you easily become lost for lack of landmarks in 1841.

A portion of northeastern Young County was known as “Lost Prairie” because of its open spaces and lack of landmarks. So what made such a dramatic change to the Texas landscape?

The “beloved” Mesquite tree. (Texas ranchers and farmers, don’t shoot the messenger!) The Mesquite tree was not native to Texas originally. The tree is native to Mexico and other parts of Central and South America. It was slowly moving north, but man sped up the northern migration when cattle, which had eaten the bean pods, were then herded to Texas markets.

Most cattle were quarantined around the Texas shipping port of Galveston, but herds that slipped by quarantine and other herds that were pushed north eventually left the bean pods undigested in the perfect fertilizer – their dung! As the trees grew and prospered, they dropped more seed pods which were again eaten by animals, resulting in more migration north in a very short amount of time.

By 1854, J.R. Bartlett, states in his book “Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora and Chihuahua” that much of Texas rangeland was open grasslands with “some” scattered large mesquite.

Most of Texas at that time was open prairie with scattered Post Oak and Cedar trees, depending on where you were standing in Texas. By 1866, however, Captain Randolph Marcy, in his memoir: “Thirty years of army life on the border” described some areas of north central Texas as “covered with groves of mesquite trees”, and an area in the lower Texas panhandle as “one continuous mesquite flat, dotted here and there with small patches of open prairie”.

These observations indicated that mesquite had rapidly become a natural part of the Texas vegetation complex, prior to white settlement in those areas and, in some areas, occurred as dense stands.

The mesquite tree is an amazing work of nature. The tree’s wood is a good firewood choice as it burns very slowly. It was, and still is, used as a building material due to its durability.

Here are some interesting facts about the Mesquite Tree  discovered from the GardeNerdy website:

  • A major use of mesquite is that it is a nitrogen-fixing tree, which means that it restores nitrogen in the soil.
  • The improved fertility is the reason why some grasses grow very well under these trees.
  • Its lateral roots might spread out up to 50 feet in all directions, and compete with grasses for water, absorbing water from the subsoil layers.
  • The tree can easily switch from utilizing one water source to another. This means it will take water to survive from other nearby plants in drought conditions.
  • Mesquite taproots can extend as much as 200 feet below the surface and the surface roots may extend 50 feet or more past the outer edge of the crown.
  • About 5-20 seeds are enclosed in a pod, and the seeds can lie dormant for several years.
  • Nectar from mesquite trees is also known to yield a good-quality honey.
  • The wood is still used for making carvings, panels, furniture, and parquet floors. Its brown and gold color and swirling grain makes it the perfect type of wood for making furniture with a rustic appeal.
  • Its bark is used for roofing in some regions.

Various parts of the tree were used by the Native Americans. The tree bears thorns that are about 3 inches long, which were used by the Native Americans to make needles. The inner bark was used for making fabrics, while its wood was used for making bows and arrows for hunting. Native Americans used the bean pods of this tree for food. The pods were ground to make flour, which in turn was used for making several different dishes. The pods were also used for making a therapeutic tea. Mesquites were used by Native Americans for treating certain ailments. They were aware of the therapeutic nature of the tree’s root, bark, leaves, and gum. They used a herbal infusion made from the root or bark to treat diarrhea. They also mixed the gum in water to make a herbal infusion, which was used for treating eye infections. Mesquite gum was also used for treating sore throat and gastrointestinal problems.
They crushed mesquite leaves and mixed them with water. This was used as a remedy for headaches.” Ironically, cattlemen have “gotten” headaches from trying to remove Mesquites, which cattle brought here in the first place!

Finally, you can’t enjoy barbecue in Texas if it doesn’t have that distinct mesquite smoked flavor!
If you’re blessed to live in Young County, or other parts of Texas, imagine what the early settlers used to see when they looked across the land to the horizon.

Imagine the hopes, dreams, struggles, (and mesquite!) that built Young County and helped shape the State of Texas, and even affected the policies of a nation!

There are stories where mesquite figures prominently in our history. Want to know more? Come see us at the museum to find out!

The Buffalo Soldiers

Buffalo Soldiers

Soldiers of the 9th and 10th Cavalry were more commonly known as the “Buffalo Soldiers”.

In 1866, the Congress of the United States authorized the formation of four all black regiments of the United States Army, respectively, the 9th and 10th Cavalry, and the 24 and 25 Infantry regiments. These all-black regiments were assigned white officers.

The formation of the 9th Cavalry took place in New Orleans, Louisiana, in September of 1866. The soldiers spent the winter organizing and training until they were ordered to San Antonio, Texas, in April 1867. There they were joined by most of their officers and their commanding officer, Colonel Edward Hatch.

The 10th Cavalry formed up at Fort Leavenworth Kansas in 1867, and placed under the overall command of Colonel Benjamin Grierson. These soldiers immediately began to establish a sense of security for Settlers and travelers headed to California and the Midwest across the Central Plains. The soldiers of all of these regiments, hoped to increase the respect and equality of treatment that had begun for black Americans during the Civil War and under the Emancipation Proclamation.

There is no definitive story behind why these soldiers received the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers”. One account alleges the nickname came from the soldiers’ dark, curly hair resembled the fur of a buffalo. Another account states that during an encounter with the Cherokee, the soldiers fought so valiantly and fiercely that the Indians revered their stamina and fighting prowess as they did the buffalo.

On April 18, 1875, companies A through F, K and M of the 9th Cavalry and companies A, D through G, I, and L of the 10th Cavalry were reassigned to frontier posts along the Texas Forts Trail, and headquartered out of Fort Concho Texas. Their mission during their Texas posting was to protect mail and travel routes, to control Indian movement in and out of reservations, provide protection from outlaws, and to map the unmapped portions of the western and northern Texas.

the 9th Cavalry was responsible for the success of the Cavalry campaign known as the Red River War against the Kiowas, the Comanches, the Cheyenne and the Arapahoe. It was after this three-month long battle that the 10th Cavalry arrived in Texas to assist.

Troops H and I of the 10th Cavalry made up part of the forces that rescued wounded Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander Forsyth and his group of scouts who had been trapped on a sand bar and surrounded by Indians in the Arikaree River.

Not long after, the 10th Cavalry fought over two hundred Indians at Beaver Creek. These units received a field citation for gallantry from General Philip Sheridan. Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry accompanied General Sherman on his inspection tour of Indian depravations in Texas and they narrowly avoided attack by the same Kiowa and Comanche who were involved in the Warren Wagon Train Massacre.

By 1880, the 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments had reduced Indian resistance in Texas and the 9th Cavalry was ordered to Indian Territory of Oklahoma. The 10th Cavalry fought to keep the Apache until the 1890s when they were reassigned to Montana to round up the Cree.

About 20 percent of U.S. Cavalry troops that participated in the Indian Wars were buffalo soldiers, who participated in at least 177 conflicts. The Buffalo Soldiers were responsible for stabilizing much of the Texas Frontier, as well as areas of Kansas, and New Mexico.