The Battle Creek Massacre
Unsung Heroes
Navarro County, Texas


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Unsung Heroes
By Sue Nahkunst

Originally published in: SUNDAY Magazine, The Dallas Times Herald, March 10, 1968


It looked like horizon-to-horizon Indians that brisk autumn day October 8, 1838, in the southeastern part of Navarro County. Twenty-five surveyors were savagely attacked by 300 Indians who, with their families had come down from their Arkansas Reservation to lay in a supply of dried buffalo meat and hides for the long winter ahead.

This bloody conflict would go down in history as "The Surveyors and Indian Battle" or "The Battle Creek Fight."

Although eyewitnesses do not agree on the exact location of the battle site or the number of men involved, two of the seven survivors, William F. Henderson, surveyor deputized to map Navarro County, and Walter P Lane authored the first written account of the massacre in 1860. Their story appeared in a Corsicana newspaper, The Navarro Express News.

Assuming the memory of both men was good, it is only natural after a time lapse of 22 years that deviations in their stories would arise.

Educator and historian L. L. Wilkes (Navarro County Scroll 1964) relies heavily on information supplied by the survivors' descendants as to the site of the battle and actual burial spot.

"The battle took place smack in the middle of present day Dawson," Johnny Myers says in an article October 6, 1963, in a Waco newspaper.

While pinpointing the exact spot may be historically significant, this writer is more concerned with the surveyors themselves - the courageous unsung heroes of early Texas, enduring unbelievable hardships and paving the way for settlers to bring civilization to this vast wilderness.

Licking its wounds after defeating Mexico, and with a depleted treasury, the young Republic of Texas faced the dilemma of how to pay its soldiers. Land grants were given these men for payment, which made it necessary to locate and survey their new territory.

Communication in these times was inadequate. But an article appeared in the Houston newspaper, The Telegraph, on Saturday, October 6, 1838, with the warning, "Highly Important - Anticipated Indian Hostilities."

Knowing the settlers would soon follow the surveyors, the Indian considered this a serious threat to his way of life, thus sparking a deep resentment for the surveyors and setting the stage for open hostility.

The first two days after the land-locating party of 25 men set out from Ft. Franklin were comparatively uneventful, although they passed many clusters of restless Indians.

William Love and William Jackson were sent back to Ft. Franklin for a magnet to correct the needle in a faulty compass, thus missing the skirmish.

The day-long battle began on the third day out about 11 a.m. when 40 of the approximately 300 Indians and their families (mostly of the Kickapoo tribe) that had camped alongside the surveyors, ambushed the men while they worked.

Gathering their instruments, the surveyors retreated, finally making their stand in a shallow ravine. Determined to make escape impossible, the remaining Indian warriors move up to strategically higher ground, surrounding the trapped men, killing most of them and all but two of the horses.

Euclid M. Cox, using a cotton wood tree as a cover, killed about 10 Indian snipers before a bullet pierced his spine, mortally wounding him.

The surveyors bravely drove back the Indians each time they charged. Hoping for a dark night to make their escape, the men waited until nearly midnight, only to be confronted with a full moon. Desperate, the seven survivors, four of them were wounded, rose up in a last ditch effort to escape to Richland Creek. They made it.

One man, his thigh pierced by a bullet, was left with the promise the remaining men would send a party to fetch him.

Lost and traveling only at night, the men -more dead than alive - their emaciated bodies caked with blood, came upon six Kickapoo Indians. Offering their weapons in exchange for food, water and a guide to take them to Ft. Parker, the Indians fed them a spicy turtle soup and a combination of dried buffalo meat, pumpkins and corn all boiled together.

After safely arriving at Ft. Parker, they continued on toward Old Franklin, the county seat. En route, they met Love and Jackson, who were unaware of the massacre and were returning with the magnet.

Under Love's command, a burial party was formed.

In the meantime, the wounded man, splinting his shattered thigh as best he could and subsisting on wild berries and green plums, managed to crawl a distance of over 25 miles to Techuacana Springs, where the rescue party found him.

Arriving at the scene of the battle, they found wolves had stripped the flesh from the bodies of the surveyors.

Scooping a hole out of the dry, cracked earth, the surveyors' bones were buried in a common grave over which they placed large stones to mark the spot.

Five decades later, in 1881, a descendant of Cox, one of the surveyors who perished in the massacre, erected a monument at what they believe is the battle site.

In 1936 the grave was made a State Memorial Park. In 1954 land was purchased around the grave two miles west of Dawson and a gravel road connects it to Highway 31 some 200 yards away.

Perhaps the exact site of the massacre and common grave where the whitened bones of the heroic surveyors peacefully rest will never be known. But their courage in blazing the trail of early Texas history will never be forgotten.

 


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Copyright March, 2009
Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox