The Battle Creek Massacre
(Battle between Indians and Surveyors in 1838 near Dawson)
Originally published in
the Dawson paper on, December 19, 1958
note: the main text from this article was pulled from "Indian Depredations
in Texas" by J. W. Wilbarger, Austin, Texas 1889.
copy of this article was provided by Nolan D. Forshaw
Around Dawson, the words Battle Creek
Massacre" bring to mind a familiar story, a story that no one ever seems to
grow tired of hearing. Even though it has been told over and over each telling
is listened to as if it had never been heard before.
There was a time when it was one of the
little-known battles of Texas history but with the passing years, and as
interest in the history of our state has grown, it has become known far and
The incident occurred near Dawson in
1838. With the creation of Robertson County in 1837, which comprised a part of
Brazos, Dallas, and the whole of Leon, Navarro, Limestone and Freestone
Counties, came a longing on the part of the new settlers in Texas to establish
their land grants and build homes.
Surveyors were in demand around Franklin
county set of Robertson. Payment for their services was in Texas money and even
that offer was not forthcoming for several years. But the risk of not getting
paid was not to be compared with that of being killed by Indians, who watched
jealously their bison land.
Regardless of the danger that lurked
around Techuacana and Richland Creek, Col. William F. Henderson (later of
Corsicana) had little difficulty in organizing a band of twenty four men and one
boy to go into the present county of Navarro and locate lands. Joseph P. Jones,
Euclid M. Cox, Thomas Barton, Samuel Allen Ingraham, J. Hard, Davis, Asa T.
Mitchell, William Tremier, J. Bullock, Spikes, N. Baker, A Houston, P. M. (or
Neil) Jones, Walter P. Lane, William Smith, Violet, David Clark, J. Neal, Burton
Jackson and several whose names are not known joined this party. They traveled
over trails until they arrived at what is now known as Battle Creek, where they
pitched camp near the big spring.
The following account is from the
memoirs of Walter P. Lane (General Lane) as related in a book loaned to the
Herald by the H. O. Berry family.
"A surveying party being formed at
Franklin, Robertson county, I went with William Love and others from San
Augustine to join it, all of us having lands to locate. We organized at Franklin
- twenty three of us - electing Neil as captain with William Henderson being our
We started in September, via Parker's
Fort, for Richland creek, where we intended to make our locations. The second
day we camped at Parker's Fort, which was then vacated, having been stormed
about two years before by a body of Comanches, who murdered all the inhabitants
or carried them off into captivity.
We passed Tehuacana hill on our way to
Richland creek, and crossed through dense thicket to the other side of the creek
and encamped about a mile on another stream where we were going to commence
We found there some three hundred
Kickapoo Indians, with their squaws and papooses, who had come down from their
reservation in Arkansas to lay in their supply of dried buffalo meat, for the
country then abounded with any amount of game and from the hills you could see a
thousand buffalo at a sight.
The Indians received us kindly, as a
great many of them spoke English. We camped by them three days, going out in the
morning surveying, and returning in the evening to camp in order to procure
water. The third morning at breakfast we observed a commotion in the camp of our
neighbors. Presently the chief came to us and reported that the Ionies (a wild
tribe) were coming to kill us. We thanked them for the information but said we
were not afraid of the Ionies and said if they attacked us we would "clean
them out." as they had nothing but bows and arrows anyway.
They begged us to leave, saying that if
the Ionies killed us it would be laid on them. We refused to leave but asked the
chief why as he took so much interest in our welfare, he could not help us to
whip the Ionies. He said he could not do that as his tribe had a treaty with
They begged us feelingly to go, but as
we would not, they planned a little surprise for us. They knew where we had make
a corner the evening before and knew that we would go back there to begin work.
So they put one hundred men in a ravine that we had to go by.
We started from our camp to resume our
work, several of the Indians going with us. One of them stuck to me like a leech
and succeeded in begging a piece of tobacco from me. Then shaking hands with me,
he crossed the ravine within fifty yards of where his friends were lying in
ambush for us.
We got opposite to them, not suspecting
any danger, when about forty of them arose from the ravine and fired into us,
killing some of our horses and wounding several of our men. Captain Neil
ordered us to charge, which we did routing them out of the ravine. They then
fell back on a small skirt of timber, fifty yards off, from which up sprang one
hundred and fifty Indians to confront us.
We retreated into the prairie with the
Indians mounting their horses and surrounding us. They went round in a circle
firing into us.
We got to the head of the ravine in the
prairie where we took shelter. The Indians put a force out of gun shot to watch
us while their main force went below about eighty yards where the ravine widened
and they had the advantage of brush wood. They opened fire on us and shot all of
our horses but two, which were behind a bush to make sure that none of us should
The Indians had no hostility toward us,
but knew as we were surveying the land that the white people would soon settle
there and break up their hunting grounds. The wanted to kill us for a double
purpose - so none would be left to tell on them and it would deter others from
coming into that section of country surveying.
We then commenced firing upon each other
up and down the ravine. We were sheltered by nooks, they by brush on their part.
Euclid Cook got behind the only tree on the bank, firing at them. He exposed
himself and was shot through the spine. He fell away from the tree and called
for some of us to come pull him down into the ravine. I dropped my gun, ran up
the bank and pulled him down. He was mortally wounded and died within two hours.
We fought all day without water, waiting
for night to make our escape. But when night did come also came the full moon
making it almost as bright as day.
Up to this time we had several killed
and some badly wounded. We waited till near twelve o'clock for the moon to cloud
over, but as it did not we determined to make a break for Richland creek bottom.
We put or four worst wounded men on the two remaining horses. As we arose upon
the bank the Indians raised a yell on the prairie and all rushed around us in a
half circle, pouring hot shot into us. We retreated in a walk, wheeling and
firing as we went keeping them at bay.
The four wounded men on horse back were
shot off so we put other badly wounded ones in their places. We got within two
hundred yards of the timber, facing around and firing, when Captain Neil was
shot through the hips. He called to me to help him on a horse behind a wounded
man which another man and I did.
We had not one ten steps further, when
Neil, the wounded man and horse and all were shot down together. I was shot
through the calf of the leg, splintering the bone, and severing the
"leaders" that connected with my toes. I fell forward as I made a step
but found that I could support myself on my heel.
I hobbled on with the balance to the
mouth of the ravine, which was covered with brush, into which four of us
entered, the other three taking the timber on the other side. We had gone about
fifty yards down the ravine where it was dark and in the shade when I called to
Henderson to stop and tie up my leg as I was bleeding to death. He did so -
cutting off the top of my boot and bandaging the wound.
We saw about fifty Indians come to the
mouth of the ravine but they could no see us as we were in the shade, so we went
on down the ravine. They followed and overtook our wounded comrade whom we had
to leave and killed him. We heard him cry out when they shot him, and knowing
that they would soon overtake us, we crawled upon the bank of the ravine, laid
down on our faces with our guns cocked ready to give one parting salute if they
They passed us so closely that I could
have put my hand on any of their heads. They went down the ravine a short
distance when a "??" shell was blown on the prairie as a signal for
the Indians to come back. After they had repassed us, we went down to Richland
creek where we found a little pond of muddy water into which I pitched head
foremost having been all day without any and suffering from loss of blood.
We here left Violet, our wounded
comrade; his thigh being broken so that he could crawl no further. He begged me
to stay with him, as I was badly wounded and he said could not reach the
settlement - some ninety miles distant. I told him I was bound to make the
connection. So we bound his thigh and left him near the water.
We traveled down the creek till
daylight, then "cooned" over the dry creek on a log , so as to leave
no track in the sand to a little island of brush where we lay all day long. In
the morning we could hear the Indians riding up and down, looking for us. They
knew our number, twenty-three, and seven of us had escaped. They wished to kill
all so that it could not be charged to their tribe.
We started at dusk for Tehuacana hill,
some twenty-file miles distant. When I rose to my feet after lying all day in
the thicket, the agony from the splinters of bone in my leg was so severe that I
fainted. When I recovered consciousness, and before I opened my eyes, I heard
Burton tell Henderson that they had best leave me as I could not get in and
would greatly encumber them. Henderson said we were friends and had slept
together on the same blanket and he would stick to me to the last. I rose to my
feet and cursed both loud and kept, telling him he was a white-livered plebeian
and in spite of his one hundred and fifty pounds I would lead him to the
settlements, which I did.
We traveled nearly all night, but next
day got out of our course by following buffalo trails that we thought would lead
us to water. The country was so dry that the earth cracked open.
On this the third day after the fight we
sighted Tahuacana hill. We got within six miles of it when Burton sat down and
refused to go any farther saying that he would die there. We abused and sneered
at him for having no grit and finally got him to the spring. We luckily struck
the water one hundred yards below the springs, where it covered a weedy marsh
and was warm.
Just as we got in sight of the water,
ten Indians rode up to us. I saw at once that they were Kickapoos. They asked us
what we were doing. I told them we had been out surveying, had a fight with
Ionies and got lost from our comrades, who had gone another way to the
settlement. They wanted to talk longer but I said Water! Water! The chief said,
There is water." So I made for it, pitched headforemost into the weeds and
water on my face and drank until I could hold no more.
Luckily for me the water was warm. If I
had struck the spring above, the water would have killed me. Henderson and
Burton were above me in the water. In a short time they called me. I heard them
but would not answer. I was in the water covered by weeds and felt so happy and
contented I would have neither moved nor spoken for any consideration. Henderson
and Burton got uneasy about me as I did not answer and came down the bank to
find me. An Indian saw me in the water and weeds and waded in and snake me out.
I asked the chief what he would take to
carry me to a settlement on a horse. He looked at me ( I was a forlorn object
from suffering hunger and want of water my eyes were sunk nearly to the back of
my head ) and said: "Maybe so you die to-night:" I told him no unless
he killed me. He replied: "No kill." He asked: "Want Eat?"
We said 'yes'. He said 'Maybe so camp in two miles, come go, squaws got
something to eat.
He helped me on a horse and we went to
camp. The women saw our condition and would only give us a little time. They
gave us each a wooden bowl of soup, composed of dried buffalo meat, corn and
pumpkins all boiled together. Green turtle soup with all its spicy condiments
dwindles into insipidity when compared with recollection of that savory broth.
When we handed back our bowls they said "bimeby". They waked us up
twice during the night and gave us more. They understood our condition, knew
that we were famished, and that to give us all we wanted at one time would kill
We slept till next morning, when we
wished to start, knowing that at any moment a runner might come into camp and
tell them it was their tribe that had attacked us, and as we were the only ones
who could incriminate them we must be killed. I traded a fine rifle of
Henderson's for a pony and saddle, but when I started to mount him a squaw
stopped me and said, "No, my pony". I appealed to the Indian who
looked at me ruefully and said, "Squaw's pony" - showing that
petticoat government was known even by the Kickapoos.
We started on foot, my leg paining me
severely. We had gone about three miles, when six Indians galloped up to us on
the prairie. I told my companions or time had come. We got behind two trees
determined to sell our lives dearly. They rode up, saying "Howdy. We want
to trade guns" - showing an old dilapidated rifle to trade for out good
one. We soon found out it was trade or fight; so we swapped, with the
understanding that they would take me to Parker's Fort, about twenty five miles
on a pony, which they agreed to.
One Indian went went with us, the
balance going back and taking the rifle. We got near the fort in the morning
when Burton proposed to Henderson to shoot the Indian - who was unarmed - and I
could ride to the settlements. Henderson indignantly refused, and I told Burton
that rather than betray confidence, I would walk in one leg.
Five minutes later I heard a gun fire to
the right. We asked the Indian what it meant. He replied "Cosette, Kickapoo
chief, camp there." So, if we had shot the Indian we would have brought
down a hundred on us to see what the shot meant.
He then told me, "May be so, you
get down. Yonder is Parker's Fort. Me go to Cosette's camp." I did so. We
struck the Navasota below the fort and wadded down the stream a mile, fearing
the Indians would follow us. We crossed in the night and went out some three
miles in the prairie and slept.
The Indians that morning had given us as
much dried buffalo meat as we could carry, so we had plenty to eat on our way.
We traveled all next day and part of the night, having got on the trail that let
to Franklin. We started the next morning before day. Going along the path, I in
the lead, we were hailed, ordered to halt and tell who we were. I looked up and
saw two men with their guns leveled on us, about forty yards off. I answered,
"We are friends, white men."
I didn't blame them much for the
question, for I was in my shirt and drawers, with handkerchief tied around my
head, having lost my hat in the fight, and they thought we were Indians.
They proved to be my old friends,
William Love and Jackson, who had left our party some six days before for the
settlements to get us another compass. They were horrified when we told them of
They put us on their horses and returned
with us to Franklin, a distance of some fifteen miles. The news spread over the
neighborhood like wildfire. By the next morning fifty men were raised and
piloted by Love, started for the scene of our disaster.
I had been placed in comfortable
quarters in Franklin ad kindly nursed and attended by sympathetic ladies.
Henderson and Burton bade me good-bye and went to their respective homes.
We told Love's party where we had left
Violet with his thigh broken, and asked them to try and find him. The party got
to Tehuacana Springs, and being very thirsty, threw down their guns to get a
drink. Violet, who ha seen them coming across the prairie, thought they were
Indians and secreted himself in the brush close by but when he heard them talk
and found they were white men, he gave a yell and hobbled out saying,
"Boys, I'm mighty glad you have come." He came near stampeding the
whole party, they thinking it was an Indian ambuscade.
Poor Violet, after we left him in
Richland creek bottom, he stayed there three days subsisting on green haws and
plums. Getting tired, he concluded to make for Tehuacana hills as he knew that
course. He splinted and bandaged his thigh as best he could, then struck out and
got there after a day and night's travel.
Being nearly famished, he looked around
for something to eat. In the spring, which was six feet across, he saw a big
bull frog swimming around. Failing to capture him, he concluded to shoot him. He
pulled down on him with a holster pistol loaded with twelve buckshot and the
proportioned amount of gunpowder. Having his back to the embankment down which
the water ran, the pistol knocked him over it, senseless, breaking the ligature
that bounded his thigh. He remained insensible, the thought -about two hours.
When he became conscious he bandaged his
leg, as well as he could and crawled up to the spring to look for the frog. He
found one hindquarter floating around, the balance having been blown to
flinders. Being very hungry, he made short work of that.
In a few hours after that, Love's party
came up and supplied him with all he wanted. They left him there until their
return, they going up to the battle ground to bury the dead and see if they
could find any more wounded.
When they got there, they found the
bones of all of our killed, the flesh having been stripped off by the wolves.
And they also found much to my satisfaction, eighty piles of green brush in the
lower part of the ravine, from where the Indians were firing at us during the
day, and under each pile of brush a copious quantity of blood which proved that
we had not been fooling away our time during the day.
The company returned to Franklin,
bringing Violet with them, who recovered from his wound.
As we who live in this area know, one
large grave was dug beneath a lone oak tree which stood on the battleground, and
here the bones were buried. The have remained there to this day.
A low iron fence surrounds the grave and
the inscription on the monument reads "Sacred to the memory of our beloved
dead, killed by the Indians, October A.D. 1838."