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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
I had many long, earnest talks with those old Comanche chiefs, and I could not but admit the justice of their contention.
The country they considered theirs by the right of inheritance; the game had been placed there for their food. In the true poetry of the simple child of the forest old Muguara said:
"We have set up our lodges in these groves and swung our children from these boughs from time immemorial. When game beats away from us we pull down our lodges and move away, leaving no trace to frighten it, and in a little while it comes back. But the white man comes and cuts down the trees, building houses and fences, and the buffalos get frightened and leave and never come hack, and the Indians are left to starve, or, if we follow the game, we trespass on the hunting ground of other tribes and war ensues."
I suggested allotting them land and furnishing them with means to cultivate it like white men.
"No," said he emphatically, "the Indians were not made to work. If they build houses and try to live like white men they will all die. If the white men would draw a line defining their claims and keep on their side of it the red men would not molest them."
They had learned the import of surveying and never lost an opportunity of manifesting their hostility toward it. While I was in their camp they stole upon a party of surveyors on Brushy creek and ran off their horses. The Comanches disclaimed the theft, alleging that it was done by some other tribe.
And just here I will speak of another delusion of the Indians which I found it hard to dispel. They thought the white people were divided into tribes, those of one section constituting a tribe, and could not understand why hostility toward the whites in one section necessarily implied hostility toward all, nor why a treaty made with the people of the Colorado, for instance, should extend to the whole country.
Before the advent of the white man the Indians held full sway. They drove out the Spanish missionaries who attempted to take possession of the country as they had done in Mexico and California, and inspired the Mexicans with such a holy horror of them that they (the Indians) went into the Mexican towns and helped themselves to whatever they wanted, no one daring to oppose then. They tried that game on the Americans, and to their dismay found it would not work. Then, too, the northern Indians came among them, telling how they had been despoiled of their homes and hunting grounds by the pale face, and warning the Texas Indians that it would be the same in their case.
They were becoming uneasy and wanted some kind of an agreement by which their hunting grounds would be secured to them. I really felt mean and almost ashamed of belonging to the superior race when listening to the recital of the wrongs the redmen had suffered at the hands of my people. Nevertheless, when they made hostile incursions into the settlements I joined in the pursuit and hunted them as mercilessly as any one.
That the Comanches were brave, no one who had occasion to test their courage will deny. I never knew a warrior to submit to capture; they fought to the death. On two different occasions, noted elsewhere, I saw a wounded buck lie flat on his back and fight till dead. And in spite of all that has been told of their treacherous nature, I have good reason for asserting their claim to some noble traits of fidelity.
During my sojourn a band of Wacos one day came to the camp. They had been on a horse stealing expedition to the white settlements, some of the braves thereby being precipitated into the happy hunting ground, a sin which demanded blood atonement.
Upon learning of the presence of a white man in the Comanche camp they came in all the hideousness of war paint to demand him for a sacrifice. I could not understand the mongrel jargon in which they carried on their conference, but from the few words of Spanish I caught, I knew it concerned me, and judging from the vindictive looks they cast upon me, I surmised it boded no good to me, so calling one of the Spanish boys to me I made him interpret the conversation. The Comanches and Wacos were for the time being allies and I can assure you that I felt as if my chances for life hung on a slender thread, and I made up my mind then and there that if the Comanches yielded to the demand of the Wacos I would fight to the death; I would not be taken alive to be slowly tortured to death by the merciless fiends.
But old Muguara stood up for me like a man and brother. Drawing his naturally tall form up till he literally towered above the Waco chief, he replied in tones of thunder:
"No! This man is our friend, and you must walk over my dead body to reach him! Hurt but one hair of his head, and not one of you shall get away to tell the tale!"
His warriors gathered round him, bow and lance in hand, and it looked for a time as if there would be a pitched battle over the possession of my carcass - for such it would have been e'er it fell into the Waco's hands - but the Comanches were too strong and the baffled Wacos finally withdrew muttering vengeance against the paleface. I breathed free again, but I had no assurance that my wily foes would not attempt to accomplish by stealth that which they had failed to do by force.
Old Muguara, however, took every precaution to guard against such an outrage, giving me certain signs by which to distinguish friend from foe, warning me to keep close with the Indians when out hunting and when I visited the settlements, which I had occasion to do several times during my sojourn with him, he sent a strong body guard with me; the only times I was ever so honored.
Assuming that I would remain with them indefinitely, the Indians instructed me in various signs which I afterward treacherously turned to account. Old Muguara, the chief medicine man of the tribe, exhibited the contents of his medicine pouch, among other things a yellow substance resembling ochre, which he assured me was possessed of power to turn aside any missile which might be directed against a body on which it had been rubbed.
I wanted very much to try my hand at breaking the charm, but felt constrained to treat his assertion with respect. I failed to learn where the substance was procured, but it must have been rather scarce, as only the chiefs availed themselves of its protective agency, and they must either have exhausted the supply or neglected to anoint themselves with it before going into the council house at San Antonio some years later, as not one of them came out alive.
I had several times conducted parties of Comanches into Bastrop, which was then the outside town, where the citizens, anxious to conciliate them, made them many presents, both useful and ornamental. On one memorable occasion Mother Muguara - the old chief and his head wife always called me "son" - accompanied us. I escorted her into Palmer & Kinney's store and was assisting her in bartering her buffalo robes and buckskins for calico and tobacco, when in came a couple of young ladies of my acquaintance. Pleased to meet them, especially one of them, I deserted Mother Muguara and went over to the majority. The old woman eyed the "paleface squaws" critically, and said in Spanish:
"Wahqua, are both these your wives?"
Amused at the perfect sincerity of the question, I answered, laughingly, "No."
"Then," persisted she, "which one is?"
I assured her that neither of them sustained that relation to me.
"Och," shaking her finger in my face, "you lie."
At this I laughed so heartily that my friends were devoured with curiosity to know what was being said of them, surmising that the conversation related to themselves. Not being selfishly inclined I shared the joke with them. Fortunately Dame Muguara was not versed in the language of the female blush, otherwise I fear the glow that suffused the face of one of our fair auditors would have hopelessly compromised my character for veracity in her estimation. Had the astute dame interrogated me on the subject later I would have proudly vindicated myself from her imputation.
At length, after many long talks with the wise men of the tribe, I induced five of the chiefs to go with me down to Houston, then the seat of the government, Palmer accompanying us to get his pay for goods advanced to the Indians.
On our way down we crossed the Brazos river at the site of old San Felipe de Austin. I left my curse on the town when its ayuntamiento banished me, and it was therefore with grim satisfaction that I contemplated the heaps of ashes that marked the historic spot; a few isolated cabins only having escaped the torch applied by Mosely Baker to prevent its stores falling into the hands of the Mexicans in '36. It's illustrious founder, who might have instilled the phoenix spirit into the ashes, himself had returned to dust. Later I met the man who was the leader in the movement against me. Said he:
"I was the best friend you had; if I hadn't got you away from there some of those fellows would have killed you."
Perhaps he was right.
President Houston, having spent many years among the Cherokees, was fully alive to the situation, sympathizing with the native races, as I had also learned to do, for the wrongs that had been done them from the time Columbus, totally ignoring their inherent rights, took possession of the western hemisphere in the name of Spain, and knowing that he was powerless to prevent it, that in spite of treaties, the conflict must go on till the Indian was exterminated or forced into exile. When I explained the Indians' desire for a definite line of division between them and the whites, the president sadly shook his head. Said he:
"If I could build a wall from the Red river to the Rio Grande, so high that no Indian could scale it, the white people would go crazy trying to devise means to get beyond it." And I knew that he was correct.
We neglected no opportunity to impress our guests with the prowess of the pale face, showing them through our armory and ostentatiously exhibiting our cannon. There was a steamboat lying at the wharf in which the savages were greatly interested, it being the first one they had ever seen. We conducted them on board and were showing them over it when the whistle blew, and, thinking there was some trick being played on them, they scuttled for shore. I explained the significance of the whistle, thus reassuring them.
President Houston told me to tell them we had hundreds of steamboats and Americans could make them to run on land just as easily as on water, a statement which the Indians accepted with a large pinch of salt.
We finally fixed up a treaty, the provisions of which I do not remember, nor is it essential since they were never complied with by either party. One article of the treaty stipulated that a trading post should be established on Brushy at the site of the old Tumlinson block house, where the Indians could come and get supplies. They were fast becoming civilized in that respect, bartering buffalo robes and buckskins for blankets and clothing.
V. R. Palmer agreed to take charge of the post. The Indians also requested that a resident commissioner be appointed, and, as I had won their confidence, they wanted to have me return and take up my permanent abode with them. The president, too, was anxious to have me accept the office, but I had had enough of it; in fact, had formed far different plans for to future, in which another's interests were bound up so I declined to become a Comanche by adoption, recommending A. P. Stiles for the position.
Having collected all the gifts they could conveniently carry, the Indians set out on their return. At Bastrop I parted company with them. There were horses stolen before they got out of the settlements, and the theft was laid to their charge, whether justly or not I can't say.
Open hostilities ceased for a time, however, and gave the settlers a chance to quarrel among themselves. Dissensions arose, and, lulled by the fancied security, the more venturesome spirits pushed further out, exciting anew the distrust of the Indians. Then, when the time in which the trading post was to have been established passed, and they came in with their skins to trade and found no trading house, they came to call on me to know why the treaty had not been complied with. As there was no plausible excuse for the failure, they held me responsible, saying I had lied to them, which, of course, destroyed any influence I might have previously exercised over them, and the irrepressible conflict recommenced with redoubled vigor. Thus my honest endeavor to bring about an adjustment of difficulties was worse than thrown away, for my enemies asserted that because of the sympathy I had conceived for the Indians, I was disposed to screen them, but I had illustrious company, for there were like charges preferred against both General Houston and General Burleson, and in such company I am content to let my name go down to posterity. We were crucified between thieves, the usual fate of mediators. I have often thought that I might have been able to exert a pacific influence over the Comanches, had I done as they entreated me to do; but, aside from my aversion to their mode of life, I did not feel justified in ignoring the rights of her who had consented to share my lot in life. And perhaps had the trading post been established according to contract, I might have still had influence with them. They would probably leave seized on the first pretext, however, to rob the trader. Jack Palmer had had a little experience with the Comanches which may have caused him to hesitate about opening a trading post. He came out to the camp during my sojourn there, bringing with him, as presents to old Muguara, a fine military cloak and plumed cocked hat, expecting, of course, a present in return. But old Muguara didn't seem to value his gift so highly as Palmer thought he should, and only tendered one old mule in return. That didn't suit Jack, and, seeing a large fine mule in the caballado he asked to he allowed to take that. "O, yes," said old Muguara. Now it so happened that that particular mule was the property of Madame Muguara, and by her used to move her camp equipage. I accompanied Palmer on his return, we camping one night on the way. The next morning Jack's mule was gone and no trace of it could be found. We went back to the camp but it was not there. After a few days' absence I returned to the camp and there was the mule. "It got away and came back," old Muguara said.
So far as I know there were no overt acts committed on the Texans by the Comanches during my stay with them, but they were too restless to remain long in inactivity, so they got up an excursion, or incursion rather, over into Mexico to "get" horses, they said. They made elaborate preparations for the expedition, holding councils and war dances several nights before they set out. As they had not returned when I left the camp, I never knew what success they had, but if the Mexicans along the border had anything the Indians wanted they doubtless got it. They facetiously spoke of the Mexican ranchero as their "majadomas."
I still retain some vivid recollections of the kindness and friendship evinced toward me by the Comanches, especially the old chiefs, while I was with them. What their course toward me would have been had I met them "under shield," I never had an opportunity of testing; but, some way, I always thought that if I had fallen into their hands by accident they would have remembered Wahqua.
My second term of enlistment having expired, I did not immediately return to the fort, but opened a shop in Bastrop. Captain Andrews had retired from command during my absence and Captain Eastland succeeded him. Of all the men with whom I have been associated none stood higher in my regard than Michael Andrews. In company with two brothers, Richard and Reddin, he came to the colonies at an early date and bore his full share in all the worry and danger of the long struggle with Mexicans, Indians and poverty. Though on the shady side of life, when the Cordova-Flores combination made its advent upon the scene, he went promptly to the front and remained there till the conspiracy was frustrated. Though in no sense of the word a military man, he was a successful commander. His genial, unostentatious disposition won him the good will of his men, who would have gone through fire to serve him. Instead of ordering his men to go and come, it was "Well, boys, I think we had better do" so and so, and a cheerful "All right, Captain," was the response, acted on with a will. Or, if the matter in hand seemed doubtful, there was a conference, in which every man was allowed to join; thus he maintained control over his little army. He afterward went to LaGrange, where he engaged in the hotel business, and I believe died there, never having married. His brother Richard, who was killed at the battle of Concepcion mission, left a wife, but I think no children. Reddin Andrews left several children, some of whom are to the front yet. A little incident that occurred at the old Coleman fort after Captain Eastland took command will show the success of Captain Andrews' policy. Captain Eastland was disgusted with the want of military discipline among the men and the easy familiarity with which they treated their commander.
"If Captain Andrews can't control his men, I'll try and control mine," said he, but one morning the men all marched out on the parade, stacked arms and, turning to Captain Eastland, told him he might "go to hell and they would go home." The men had the best of the situation and the captain had no alternative but to capitulate, which he had the good sense to do gracefully and thoroughly, and thereafter had no trouble with his men. What Captain Eastland did for the country is so well known that my humble tribute can add nothing to the lustre of his name. Ever among the first to respond to the call "to arms," he fell, as brave men ever fall, with his face to the foe; one of the seventeen who drew fatal black beans at Salado.
My next public service, done in a private capacity, however, was the cutting of the first seals of office for Bastrop county.
The seals - three in number - were still doing duty in the offices of the county judge, clerk and sheriff the last I knew of them, but doubtless they have long since been cast aside. They should have been preserved, however, as interesting relics, both of the county and state, they being made of pieces broken from a six-inch shell, of which there were a number lying around town. There were two theories to account for their presence, either or both of which may have been correct. One, that Conrad Rohrer, a teamster in government employ, brought them from the Alamo as trophies of victory after its surrender to the Texans in 1835.The other - and I am inclined to think the correct version - that when Gaona's division of the Mexican army came on there in the spring of 1836 they expected to find the town fortified and came prepared to shell us out; but, finding it abandoned and being in haste to join Santa Anna, they left the shells and quite likely other heavy missiles, as the roads were very wet and boggy. Having no appliances for melting the metal, I laid the shell, which was about an inch thick, on the anvil and broke it with a sledge hammer, dressing the blocks down to their required size and shape with chisels.
As there are few now living who remember the first incumbents of the offices to which those seals were attached, I will add that they were Andrew Rabb, judge; Richard Vaughn, sheriff, and William Gorham, clerk. Some years later the district court was instituted with Judge R. Q. Mills on the bench. Having established a reputation for that kind of business, I cut several other seals and was offered a large fee to counterfeit the seal of the land office. That was not in my line, however. But the land sharks found ways and means to get on without the seal, as many an honest settler found to his cost and the disgrace of the country.
I have no knowledge of the town of Bastrop ever having been called Mina, as there was no settlement there prior to its occupation by the Anglo-Texans. It was simply the point at which the old military road leading from Bexar to Nacogdoches, crossed the Colorado and was known as the San Antonio crossing. The river and road formed the north and west boundaries of Austin's first colony. It was about 1829 that the first installment of colonists, headed by old Marty Wells and including old Billy Barton Leman and Jesse Barker, Josiah Wilbarger, Reuben Hornsby, and others went up there.
In an old book of records in the office of the county clerk of Bastrop county may be found the following entry:
Noah Smithwick presented the following account, to wit :
1838, Bastrop County: To Noah Smithwick, debtor, to making two seals, one for the County Court and one for the Probate Court, $100,00. Signed, L. C. Cunningham, Chief Justice of the Court. Ordered paid.
James Smith, A. S. J.,
Samuel Craft, A. S. J.,
Sampled R. Miller, Clerk,
Pro tem. C. C. C. B.
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