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EVOLUTION OF A STATE


CHAPTER XVI



The San Saba Indian fight; A bad horse trade; Battle of Brushy Creek; "Flacco Colonel."

In the winter of 1839 a party of Lipan Indians out on a hunt discovered an encampment of Comanches up on the San Gabriel, about fifty miles from the city of Austin. The Comanches and Lipans were inveterate enemies, so the Lipans, too weak to attack the camp alone, hastened into the settlements and gave the alarm, offering to assist in dislodging the Comanches. There were no troops in the vicinity, and knowing that if the Comanches were allowed to remain they would soon be making predatory incursions into the settlements, we at once decided to make up a party to go against them. Colonel John H. Moore being the leading spirit in the plan, was given command. Captain Eastland raised a company of thirty men at LaGrange. Bastrop raised a company of about the same number, electing me its captain. To this number was added the full fighting force of the Lipans, under command of Chief Castro, assisted by his son, Juan Castro, young Flacco and Juan Seis. When we reached the point at which the Lipans reported the camp, the Comanches had moved, leaving a trail leading up stream. We followed on up to the head of the San Gabriel, where we were overtaken by a storm of snow and sleet which was so severe that we were obliged to seek shelter. We made for a grove of postoaks on the divide between the San Gabriel and Colorado, in the shelter of which we struck camp. The storm continued with increasing cold. Some of the horses froze to death, and the Indians, loath to see so much good meat go to waste, ate the flesh. Three days and nights we remained there. In the meantime a gun which had been set up against a tree, fell down, and, being discharged by the fall, shot one of Captain Eastland's men through the body. Some of the men, discouraged by these unpropitious circumstances, wanted to turn back, but it was finally decided to move camp over to the Colorado, whither the game had been driven by the storm, and there kill wild cattle, of which there were large bands, and construct a boat of the hides in which to send the wounded man down to the settlements. The storm abated on the fourth day, but the snow had obliterated the Comanches' trail, so I took a Lipan and went on in the direction they had been heading. We kept on up the Colorado on the east side till near the mouth of the San Saba, when on ascending a rise overlooking the valley, we saw smoke rising some miles up the San Saba. The Indian said he knew it was from camp fires because it ascended in columns; if it were prairie fires it would spread out in clouds. He said it was no use to go any farther, as he knew exactly where the camp was located. It was then late in the day, but not caring to tarry, we turned back, riding on far into the night.

While riding along about dark we heard a wolf howl behind us. My guide stopped short and assumed a listening attitude. In a few moments another answered, way to the right. Still the Indian listened so intently that his form seemed perfectly rigid. Then another set up a howl on our left. "Umph, lobo," said the Lipan, in a tone of relief. I can't say that I admired the music of the wolf at any time, but it certainly never had a more unmusical sound than on that occasion, and when I saw that even an Indian's ears were uncertain whether it were wolf or Comanche, I felt the cold chills creeping over me. Some distance ahead we entered a cedar brake, just in the edge of which we came upon a turkey roost. We had nothing to eat, so with the approval of my guide, I shot a turkey. Securing our prize, we hurried on, putting many miles behind us before we ventured to draw rein. Several times I suggested stopping, but the Indian said "No; there was no suitable place." Late in the night we came to a dry ravine, and the Indian said we might stop. Selecting a spot where there were no trees to reflect the light, he started a fire and prepared to roast the turkey. "You go to sleep," said he, and I was glad to obey the order, feeling perfectly safe in his care. At daybreak he roused me up to breakfast, having roasted the turkey while he kept guard. I doubt if he slept at all. A few hours' ride brought us into camp. Our men had constructed a rawhide boat and started our wounded man down the Colorado in charge of two comrades. The poor young fellow, whose name I do not now remember, died on the way down and was buried in the sand. We saddled up and started for the Comanche camp, going up within a few miles of the place, when we halted and lay on our arms, while Malcolm Hornsby, Jo Martin and two Lipans went forward after dark to locate the exact position of the camp. On their return they reported a much larger camp than the Lipans previously reported. Disconcerted by the unexpected intelligence, Colonel Moore rather demurred to attacking, but we had come out to hunt a fight and were willing to take the responsibility. One big, rough fellow said he did not "care if there were a thousand of them, if there were horses enough to justify the fight." When within a mile of the camp we dismounted and tied our horses. We then crept upon the sleeping Indians, who were not dreaming of an attack. As soon as daylight gave us the exact situation of the camp we made a rush for it. pouring a volley right into the lodges. Taken completely by surprise the savages bounded from their lodges and scattered like partridges. Our men rushed right in among the lodges. The women and children screaming, dogs barking, men yelling and shooting, in a moment transformed the peaceful scene on which the day had but just dawned into a pandemonium. At this juncture, for some unexplainable reason, Colonel Moore ordered a retreat, which threw our men into confusion. Quick to grasp and take advantage of the situation the Indians rallied and drove us back to cover of a ravine, our only casualty being an arrow cut on the nose sustained by Captain Eastland.

The Indians then formed in line and advanced to the attack. One brave, under cover of his shield, preceded his comrades, and flourishing his bow, delivered a challenge. Jim Manor was standing beside me with his gun cocked; he took deliberate aim at the prancing heathen, and at the crack of his gun the Indian fell back, unable to rise.

"By ----, I killed an Indian, didn't I?" said Jim, as if needing verification of his deed. The enemy then made a charge to rescue their companion, but our fusillade drove them back. That Indian then lay there flat on his back and shot arrows upward so that they fell point foremost among our men, till young Flacco ran out in the midst of a perfect rain of arrows and dispatched him with his lance. Flacco captured his shield, but the Comanches made such a furious charge that he retreated without getting the scalp. We drove the enemy back and Juan Seis, another Lipan, loth to leave without a scalp, offered to run out and scalp the dead brave if we would keep the Comanches from charging him, but as we could not fire on the enemy without endangering him, we wouldn't allow him to risk it. After several ineffectual attempts to dislodge us, the Comanches withdrew, and with four wounded men we retreated to a cedar brake about a mile away. The Indians came out and made some demonstrations of attack, but didn't venture within range of our rifles. They sent out a Lipan squaw, who had long been among them, with a white flag. Old Juan Seis went out to meet her. She said we had killed some of their bravest men, and asked how many of our men were killed. The wily old chief assured her that we hadn't received a scratch. Old Castro was so disgusted when Colonel Moore ordered a retreat that he withdrew his command and left. His son Juan had been detailed to run off the Comanches' horses, but only succeeded in getting a portion of them, with which they left at once, as had been previously arranged. While they were getting away with the Comanches' horses, the Comanches slipped around and got ours, so we were left afoot more than one hundred miles from home, with two disabled men to carry. Felix Taylor was shot in the knee, and Joe Martin, one of our best men, was shot in the back, paralyzing his lower limbs. He implored me to shoot him dead, which of course I would not think of. "Then," said he, "give me your pistol and I will shoot myself." I told him no, to bear up bravely and we would take him home to his family. In the shelter of a cedar brake we constructed two hand litters upon which we carried Martin and Taylor ten miles back to the river, where, fortunately, we had left our pack horses. Taylor was able to ride and we rigged a horse litter in which we carried Joe Martin home. He stood the torture of that terrible journey with heroic fortitude, never uttering a complaint. We had two doctors with us, but they were unable to find the bullet, it having lodged in his spinal column. The poor fellow lived several weeks after reaching home. So ended our disastrous expedition. I never felt sorrier for a man than I did for Colonel Lockhart, whose young daughter had been taken captive by the Comanches and who we had every reason to suppose was in the camp. When, some time afterward, she was rescued, she said she screamed as loud as she could to try to make us hear her, but there was such an uproar we failed to distinguish her cries. She said the Indians were completely routed when that ill-timed retreat was ordered. Old Castro told Colonel Moore at the time that such a thing as ordering a retreat when the enemy was routed and flying had never before been heard of. I've been something of a horse trader in my time, but that was the worst "swap" I ever made. I lost a fine horse, for those days, and when we came to divide up those we got from the Comanches, there were not enough to go around and I got none. It was generally supposed that the Lipans got away with the lion's share of the spoils.

Congress passed an act to indemnify us for the loss of our horses, the indemnity to be paid in commonwealth's paper, worth twenty-five cents on the dollar; so, for a $100 horse I got $400 which I didn't allow to depreciate on my hands.

The Comanches, thirsting for revenge, at once made a raid on the settlements, killing Mrs. Coleman and her son Albert and taking little five-year-old Tommy prisoner. Another badly managed pursuit resulted in the disastrous battle of Brushy, in which Rev. James Gilleland, John Walters, Jacob Burleson and Edward Blakey, four of the best men on the frontier, were killed.

Primitive as the Indians' weapons were, they gave them an advantage over the old single-barreled, muzzle-loading rifle in the matter of rapid shooting, an advantage which told heavily in a charge. An Indian could discharge a dozen arrows while a man was loading a gun, and if they could manage to draw our fire all at once they had us at their mercy unless we had a safe retreat.

At the head of the Lipan tribe was old Chief Flacco, whose son, young Flacco, was the idol of the tribe. Brave and unswerving in his fidelity to the whites, his many services had likewise won him the friendship of all who knew him. In recognition of his service the Texas government presented him with a full colonel's uniform, including sword and plumed cocked hat and bestowed on him the title of "colonel." One of the department clerks taught him to write his name, which he persisted in doing according to the Spanish method, placing the adjective after the noun - Flacco Colonel.

When late in the summer of 1842 Somervell organized his expedition against Mexico, Young Flacco was employed to accompany the army in the capacity of scout. Taking a deaf mute Lipan, whose sense of sight was peculiarly acute, young Flacco led the van, bearing an honorable part in all the engagements along the Rio Grande, for which he and his companion were allotted a liberal share of the spoils taken, consisting mostly of guns, ammunition, horses and blankets, the things that an Indian most prizes. When the company divided at Laredo, a portion returning home, the Indians accompanied the returning party. The mute was taken sick on the Medina river and he and Flacco stopped while the white men went on. The next morning two of the white men, Tom Thernon and another, were missing and were seen in Seguin a few days later with Flacco's horses. Upon investigation the Indians were found murdered. The whites were greatly alarmed over the consequences of the dastardly outrage, knowing that, if the Lipans learned of it they would take indiscriminate revenge on the settlers. I had a gunshop in Webber's Prairie, where the friendly Indians were wont to congregate, and as they spoke very little English, using the Spanish language in their intercourse with the whites, I, having acquired a fair knowledge of the latter tongue, was often appealed to in matters of importance. Old Flacco and his wife were often at my house, bringing presents of game and little beaded moccasins for my little boy. So, when the old chief learned that the expedition had got in, and his son did not return, he became uneasy and came to me to make inquiries. I dared not tell him the truth. He then requested me to write to President Houston and General Burleson about it. In due course of time the answer came stating that young Flacco and his companion had been murdered by Mexican bandits. There was also a letter from Senor Antonio Navarro, who was a trusted friend of the Lipans, corroborating the sad tale. General Houston tendered his sympathy to the old chief and his tribe.

Armed with these documents I proceeded to the Lipan camp about thirty miles distant. It was a delicate mission, for I knew that old Flacco idolized his son, who was indeed a noble young chief. I interpreted such portions of the letters as I deemed expedient, being very careful to leave no room for doubt as to the Mexican robber story. Having on several occasions been witness to the stoical fortitude with which an Indian accepts the inevitable, I was not prepared for the touching manifestation of human feeling that followed the reading of those letters. I had not supposed an Indian warrior would under any circumstances be guilty of such womanish weakness as to weep. I had heard the loud lamentations with which they were wont to bewail their dead, but here was a sorrow too strong to be repressed, too genuine for noisy demonstration. Tears rained down the old man's face while sobs fairly shook his frame. I felt how useless words were in such a crisis. I could only express my sympathy by the tears that welled up to my own eyes. When the first violence of the shock had spent itself, the stricken father, in broken voice, thanked me and those who had so kindly expressed their sympathy in writing. Then said he: "It has always been our custom to destroy everything belonging to the dead, but my son was the white man's friend and I want to do with his things as white men do."

"Then," said I, "keep them yourself."

"O no, no," he replied, "I don't want them where I can see them. It makes me sorry. I want to forget."

"Well, give them to his friends, then."

He then brought out the rawhide box in which young Flacco kept his uniform, only donning it on occasions of ceremony. I insisted that he should at least retain that. I never knew what disposition he made of it. A few days after he sent in four head of horses which had belonged to his son. There was a saddle horse for myself, a mare and colt for General Burleson, and a young mustang which young Flacco had caught and trained for General Houston, who wanted it to send to a friend in Tennessee. Several days later old Flacco and his wife came to see us. They had starved themselves till they were like mummies. The old man looked so broken, I tried to dissuade him from further fasting. My wife, touched by the sorrow which "makes the whole world kin," prepared dinner for them and induced them to partake of it, after which they seemed to feel better, and soon left. It was the last time I ever saw them, as the tribe shortly after left the country going out toward the Rio Grande, and I believe are now extinct. There was but a small remnant of the band at that time, about sixty warriors, but, had they known how young Flacco died, they would have declared war to the death against the whites, and, as often has been the case, the crime of one miserable wretch would have caused the death of hundreds of innocent people.



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