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EVOLUTION OF A STATE


CHAPTER XVIII



Webberville founded; Mormon Mills; Frontier hospitality; Trials and tribulations; Tonkawa scalp dance; Funeral.

It was, I think, in 1840, that the little village of Webberville was started by the opening of a store, of which Jo Manor and Frank Nash were the proprietors. After a time the "grocery" was added, and the place became notorious. Parkerson called the place "Hell's Half Acre," a name which seemed so appropriate that it came to be generally adopted, being shortened by decapitation to "Half Acre."

In 1839 a colony of Mormons, headed by Elder Lyman Wright, made their advent into Texas, pitching their tents for a brief time in Webber's prairie. They were a novelty in the religious world, and, curious to know something of their peculiar views, I permitted the elder to preach in my house. Preaching of any kind was so rare that the neighbors all gathered in and listened with respectful attention while the elder expounded the doctrine of the Latter Day Saints, being careful to leave out its more objectionable features. But amongst most people the idea obtained that they were a lawless band, and the subject of rising up and driving them from the country was strongly advocated. They were in sufficient numbers to stand off the Indians, and, it being their policy to isolate their communities which relegated them to the out-skirts of civilization, I was willing to utilize anything that formed a barrier against the savages. I therefore counseled suspension of hostilities till some overt act called for their expulsion.

The company included artisans of all trades. They took the contract for the first jail in Austin, and, establishing their village about six miles above Austin, at the falls of the Colorado, site of present dam, built the first mill in the country. Up to that time we were under the necessity of grinding our corn on steel mills run by hand - a tedious and wearying process, so that in the building of the mill the Mormons became public benefactors, and it was a great catastrophe to the country when a rise in the river swept their mill away. They gathered up the machinery, but, discouraged with the prospect, began to look about for a better location. Parson Dancer then bought the plant and set it up in the same place, building a fender on the crest of the falls of logs bolted to the solid rock, against which were piled stones and earth, presenting a formidable barrier to the river. But the falls being at the lower end of a narrow gorge, the compressed volume of water rose higher and higher, till it broke over the fender, and pouring a flood down directly on top of the mill, quickly demolished it. When the flood subsided Parson Dancer got out his machinery and prepared to set it up again. He went around among the citizens soliciting aid to rebuild the mill and also to raise his fender higher. Feeling the necessity of a mill, the people turned in and helped, raising the fender clear above the high water mark. But the Colorado was not a stream to be defied by man, so it gathered its strength and swept down against the imposing structure which was interposed between it and its prey, sweeping it from its foundation and burying the mill under the debris. With indomitable courage, Dancer proposed to dig out his mill and set it up again, arguing that, in watching the course of the flood, he saw where he had erred in his former plans, and felt sure he could make it secure next time, but the people were not so sanguine of the success of the scheme and refused to lend assistance.

The next mill was built at Georgetown by George Glasscock, who put up the first bolting works in that part of the country, and, I think, in the country at large. After people began to raise cotton and build gins there were corn crackers attached to the gins, which was a vast improvement on the old crank handmill. Captain Jake Harrell said that after a man had hauled water and ground his bread on a steel mill or beat it in a mortar for a year he was unfitted for any business requiring energy and perseverance. Said he: "I got so that I knew to a grain how much corn it would take for a meal and I couldn't turn another lick till driven to it by the necessity of bread for the next meal."

A hard road we old Texans had to travel; particularly the prairie folks, where the underground streams lay so far down under the blue clay that no one ever succeeded in digging through it, and boring for water had not been thought of. We had either to build on the lowlands along the rivers and take chances on overflows and ague or haul our water in barrels.

But those old mills and mortars were a kind of connecting link; a touchstone as it were, to test a man's willingness to earn his bread. When you rode up to a cabin and heard the old mill grinding away or the pounding of the mortar, if you were willing to earn the welcome that was sure to be extended to you, you recognized your opportunity. To your "hello," no matter how much of a stranger you were, the miller stopped his work long enough to reply, "Light, stranger; light and stake out your hoss." That being attended to, you then walked over to the mill or mortar and said to the operator: "Let me spell you awhile," an offer which was gratefully accepted. Then if you were ambitious to still further ingratiate yourself, you would be up betimes in the morning and bag a wild turkey or perhaps a deer to replenish the stock of provisions you were helping to diminish. Corn was generally plenty, and so long as you were willing to assist in converting it into bread you were welcome to remain. Thus every family had its retinue of retainers if it could boast of no other evidence of aristocracy, and, in fact, it was necessary to keep up the retinue to guard against the Indians. And, by the way, those same Indians were an important factor in the solution of the social problem. But for the ever present danger which kept the white people "rounded up," herded together as it were, love of dominion would, like with the patriarchs of old, have isolated the families, precluding the possibility of schools or any other social organization.

Though socially inclined and hospitable to the last degree, most of them were somewhat averse to having any bounds set to their hunting grounds, like old Billy Barton, who gave name to Barton's Spring, near Austin. The old man was one of the earliest settlers on the Colorado, making his first location on the river near the present town of LaGrange, in the richest agricultural district of the state. When other settlers began to take up claims in the vicinity of eight or ten miles of him he became restive and said "they were beginning to crowd" him, so he pulled out for the upper Colorado, settling at the spring where for several years he maintained his supremacy as "monarch of all he surveyed." He had several sons and the usual number of retainers. His nearest neighbor was at least ten miles distant and Bastrop the nearest trading point. The old man, at one time, sent his sons down to Bastrop with ox teams for supplies. The roads were wet and heavy, impeding the progress of the teams, delaying the boys beyond the usual time consumed in the trip, at which Uncle Billy became uneasy, and as it grew toward night and still the boys failed to arrive, he ascended a hill overlooking the road near his home to take a look for them. Instead of his sons he was startled to see several Indians at the foot of the hill. Uttering a yell, they made a dash for him. He fired one shot at them and then broke for home. Like all frontiersmen, he kept a number of savage dogs, and hearing the yells and shots, they ran to meet the old man, whose age had stiffened his limbs and shortened his wind. He hissed the dogs on his pursuers without slackening his speed, and, the Indians being unable to pass the barrier thus opposed to them, he succeeded in keeping out of their clutches till some of the men came to the rescue. In recounting the adventure Uncle Billy said:

"When I saw the Injuns I fired at them and then just cut loose and run and they after me, but I showed 'em that they couldn't run for shucks."

Our common danger was a strong tie to bind us together. No matter what our personal feelings were, when, in response to the sound of galloping hoofs, in the middle of the night, which we well knew heralded a tale of blood, we started from our beds and were at the door in anticipation of the "hello" which prefaced the harrowing story of a neighbor slain and his family either sharing his fate, or worse still, carried away into horrible captivity, we hastily saddled our horses, if the Indians had not been ahead of us, and left our wives and children, to avenge the atrocious deed. Gathering at the scene of the outrage, we stayed not to gaze on the murdered and mutilated forms or the pile of smoking ruins which marked the site of the late home of the dead and captive family, but taking up the trail followed on with what speed we might, only hoping to be allowed to overtake and inflict a deadly blow upon the foe, though we well knew it would call for retaliation from the savages, and we knew not where their fiendish work might next be directed. Again and again we pursued them without success; they neither staying to eat or sleep until safe beyond pursuit.

I think the last victims in Webber's prairie were Mrs. Coleman and her son in '39, but the war raged around Austin clear on up to the time that Uncle Sam took us under his protecting care and stretched a chain of forts across the frontier, when settlers gathered round them, and the Indians had prey nearer home. But they kept up their thieving excursions till there were few horses left. Every device to outwit them proved futile; if they could not get away with a horse they would kill or disable it. We built strong log stables with stout doors, which we fastened on the inside, going out at the top of the building. Still they would get the horses or kill them. John Hamilton and Milton Hicks each had a fine horse killed in the stable by being shot through the cracks with arrows.

My old brother-in-law, Bobby Mitchell, had lost several horses. At last he got hold of a pair of puzzle hopples. He took them home and put them on his horse and turned him out to graze. He went to bed feeling quite happy over the way he had got the better of the Indians.

Next morning he went out to look for "Old Paint," and found him lying dead minus his forefeet. Looking around he perceived the missing feet, still hoppled together, hanging on a limb. Wain Barton, a son of old Billy Barton, a waggish fellow with a strong sense of humor, dramatized the performance, and whenever he got the old man in a crowd he rehearsed it. Old Bobby swore he would rather have "Old Paint" lying there dead than that the Indians should have him.

Of course it was aggravating to have one's horse stolen right from under his nose, but the situation was often so ludicrous as to provoke a laugh. The Indians always chose a dark night, a rainy one preferred, for stealing. Their keen sense of sight and hearing, aided by the darkness, gave them a big advantage in their pursuits. I can't remember the names of all the parties who figured in these stories, but can vouch for the truth of the stories. There was one to the effect that when the first colonists went up to Bastrop, Martin Wells was the leader, he having had experience with Indians tactics during the Creek war. One evening some of the boys reported having seen Indians skulking around; they were not particularly hostile at that time, so old Marty at once surmised that they were bent on mischief. "Boys," said he, "they are after our horses, but we'll fool them this time; we'll go and stake out our horses, and then take our guns and watch them, and when the Indians come up to steal them we'll shoot the rascals." So they took out their horses and staked them and went back to get their supper before returning to take up the watch. But the Indians didn't waste any time, and when the guard stole softly back to lie in wait for them, they were gone, and the horses likewise. The situation was so ludicrous that some of the boys burst out laughing. The old man didn't appreciate the joke. Said he, "Boys, I tell you it's no laughing matter." The phrase became idiomatic.

Another time a party of men were camped out, and suspecting the presence of Indians, took various precautions to guard their horses. One fellow, who had an extra good animal, determined to hold his horse at all hazards; so tying his rope around the horse's neck, he sat himself down against a tree, with the rope in his hand. Everything was still, and the horse having fed off the grass within the scope of his cable, became still, the owner dropping into a gentle doze, from which he awakened by a cold hand suddenly coming in contact with his own. The owner of the hand, as much surprised, apparently, as himself, started back. Springing to his feet the owner of the horse let fall the rope, upon which the Indian seized it and got away with the horse. The night was so dark that the savage who had found the horse and was running his hand along the rope, to find where it was fastened, did not perceive the white man till their hands came in contact, but, though startled for the moment, he didn't lose his head. Another man, under similar circumstances, waked up to find a fragment of rope dangling from his hand, the Indian having cut it off after getting near enough to see the holder. Again, a couple of men put their horses in a stable, the door to which was fastened on the inside by a stout wooden pin, which one of the men drove in with a maul, the men themselves going into camp in the hay loft. Not a sound disturbed them during the night, but when morning dawned the stable door was open and the horses gone. The Indians, by some means, found how the door was fastened, and by steady perseverance succeeded in working the pin out. It perhaps took them an hour, but they had plenty of time.

My stock of horses had been depleted till I had none left except a blind mare and a colt, the latter a fine little fellow, of which I was very proud. That being the year of a brilliant comet, I called my colt Comet. The mare being stone blind I had no apprehension of their being stolen, so I let them run loose, they seldom being out of sight of the house. But there came a morning when the blaze of the Comet failed to catch my eye when I sallied forth in search of it. Looking about I found moccasin tracks and at once divined that the horses were stolen. When I found by the trail that there were only two Indians, I thought I could manage them, so I took my rifle and struck out on the trail, to which the colt's tracks gave me the clue. Crossing Coleman's creek I found where the mare had apparently stumbled in going up the bank and fallen. Coming to a clump of cedars a short distance beyond the creek and not daring to venture into it, I skirted around and picked up the trail on the further side, where the Indians, seemingly disgusted with the smallness of the haul, turned back toward the prairie. I kept right along the trail, and on gaining the top of the rise above "Half Acre," discovered the missing animals feeding. I looked to the priming of my gun, and then scanning the vicinity without perceiving any sign of Indians, went to the mare, near by which on a tree I found a piece of dried bear meat, of which I took possession. It was then quite late in the afternoon and I had left home without eating any breakfast, but I had recovered my horses and felt in a good humor with the world. I went to the village, where I recounted the adventure, exhibiting the bear meat as a witness thereto. The boys swore that when the Indians found that the horses were mine they brought them back and left the meat as a gift of atonement.

The sequel, however, which came a few days later, developed the fact that they only abandoned the mare and colt to get a bigger haul, which they made in Well's prairie, and coming on back again, picked up the mare and colt, which they failed to return. I was mad to recklessness. Taking my rifle on my shoulder and my saddle on my back, I walked four miles to Colonel Jones' to borrow a horse to pursue the marauders. With others who had suffered by the raid we followed on up to Hoover's bend on the Colorado, ten miles above Burnet, where upon breaking camp, they scattered in every direction; but here my Comanche lore came to direct the search. Going to the ashes where the camp fire had been, I found a twig stuck in the ground with a small branch pointing northward, it having been so placed to guide stragglers. Taking the course indicated, we soon had the satisfaction of seeing the trail increasing, and presently some one called out: "Here's the Comets track." Guided by the Comet, we kept on to the Leon river, where were encamped the Lipan and Tonkawas, friendly tribes. They were in a state of commotion over the loss of their horses, the Keechis, who were the marauders in this instance, having taken them as they passed. We followed them twenty days but never came up with them.

Of the many different tribes inhabiting Texas prior to its occupation by the Anglo-Saxon only the Karankawas and Tonkawas were known to be cannibals. The Kronks as the former were called, inhabiting the region along the gulf, becoming hemmed in by the whites and their numbers constantly diminishing, were obliged to maintain a semblance of docility; but their natural savagery asserted itself whenever an opportunity offered and a ghoulish feast made up for the enforced abstinence.

The Tonkawas, on the other hand, had uniformly manifested a friendly disposition toward the whites, assisting them in their warfare against the hostile tribes, gathering in the scalps and devouring the flesh of the enemy killed in battle, celebrating the victory with a feast and scalp dance, to which to scalp dance given by the Sioux at the Columbian exposition probably bore about the same resemblance that a sham battle does to a real one.

The only one I ever witnessed was in Webber's prairie, the occasion being the killing of a Comanche, one of a party that had been on a horse stealing trip down into Bastrop. They were hotly pursued, and, reasoning about horses as the Chinaman does about boots - that the biggest must naturally be the best - they mounted a warrior on Manlove's big horse, which was part of the booty, and left him behind as rear guard, while the balance hurried the stolen horses away. The Tonkawas joined in the pursuit and when the pursuers came in sight of the lone rear guardsman three of the most expert Tonks were mounted on the three fleetest horses and sent to dispatch him. This they soon accomplished, his steed being a slow one. After killing and scalping him they refused to continue the chase, saying they must return home to celebrate the event, which they accordingly did by a feast and scalp dance. Having fleeced off the flesh of the dead Comanche, they borrowed a big wash kettle from Puss Webber, into which they put the Comanche meat, together with a lot of corn and potatoes - the most revolting mess my eyes ever rested on. When the stew was sufficiently cooked and cooled to allow of its being ladled out with to hands the whole tribe gathered round, dipping it up with their hands and eating it as greedily as hogs. Having gorged themselves on this delectable feast they lay down and slept till night, when the entertainment was concluded with the scalp dance.

Gotten up in all the hideousness of war paint and best breech-clouts, the warriors gathered round in a ring, each one armed with some ear-torturing instrument, which they operated in unison with a drum made of dried deer skin stretched tightly over a hoop at the same time keeping up a monotonous "Ha, ah, ha!" raising and lowering their bodies in time that would have delighted a French dancing master, every muscle seeming to twitch in harmony. Meanwhile some old hag of a squaw would present to each in turn an arm or leg of the dead foe, which they would bite at viciously, catching it in their teeth and shaking it like savage dogs. And high over all waved from the point of a lance the scalp, dressed and painted, held aloft by a patriotic squaw. The orgies were kept up till the performers were forced to desist from sheer exhaustion.

At length one of the tribe died. After making darkness hideous for two nights with the most outrageous shrieks and yells that ever tortured civilized ears,{bmc FOOT14.BMP}Footnote_3 they buried the departed brave and immediately pulled up stakes and moved away. Just before the funeral took place, while the dead warrior lay in state wrapped in his best buffalo robe, a young squaw entered the wigwam with a pair of nice, new beaded moccasins, with which she was in the act of clothing the feet of the corpse, when an old squaw who stood near snatched them from her and with a dexterity which would have done credit to a professional juggler slipped them under her shawl, substituting an old pair and wrapping the feet up in the robe. When time for the funeral arrived the white men present were requested to retire, which they did for the space of half an hour, when they returned to find every vestige of the camp gone, nor could the most diligent search discover the place of interment; there was not a clod of new earth to designate the spot, not a blade of grass that had seemingly been disturbed, so careful were the Indians to obliterate every trace.

The friendly relations between the whites and Tonkawas was never seriously disturbed, the only cause of dissension being the pecan crop, from which the Indians derived quite a revenue, but with reckless prodigality they persisted in killing the goose that laid the golden egg, in chopping off the limbs of the trees to facilitate the gathering. This the owners of the land on which the trees grew objected to. The objection not being regarded, it was found necessary to sustain it with a shot gun in one or two instances, a proceeding that might have been productive of serious consequences had not the old chief, Placido, stood in the breach. It was old Placido's proudest boast that he had "never shed a white man's blood."

Another source of income after settlers became more numerous was game which, frightened away from its old feeding ground, was less easily obtained than formerly. Venison was the meat most frequently for sale. A lady who was in the habit of buying game once asked the vendor why he didn't bring in turkeys, they being quite numerous.

"Oh," said he, "turkey too hard to kill. Injun crawl along in the grass, deer; he say 'Maybe so, Injun; maybe so, stump,' and then he go on eat. Injun crawl a little closer and shoot him. Turkey look, 'Injun, by God,' and he duck his head and run." That was a fair illustration of the difference between the deer and turkey. I have seen an Indian, crawling upon deer, holding his head just far enough above the grass to watch the motions of the game, and whenever the deer threw up its head, instead of ducking his own, the Indian would remain perfectly still, while the quarry gazed suspiciously at him for a few minutes until apparently reassured, and then put down its head and went on feeding; but let a turkey catch sight of a suspicious object he didn't wait to investigate it; it was "Injun, by God," and he was off.

The Tonks took much interest in the social affairs of their white neighbors, attending every gathering that came to their knowledge, without waiting for an invitation. On one of the rare occasions that brought the people together for preaching, a lot of Indians assembled around the door, watching and listening as intently as if fully understanding all that was being said. At last a squaw, weary of holding a chubby baby boy in her arms, stood him up in the door where his highly original costume, consisting of a tiny bow of pink ribbon in lieu of the traditional fig leaf, attracted much attention.

A laughable little comedy enacted by a Tonkawa buck and his squaw at Half Acre affords a good example of the lofty forbearance of the Indian lord of creation toward the weaker vessel.

A lot of Indians were in and around the store when one of the squaws becoming irritated, presumably over the propensity of her lord for gambling off everything he could get his hands on, proceeded to give him a genuine tongue lashing, to judge by the volume and intensity of it. The buck only laughed at first, but becoming weary of the harangue, lit out at the door and started on a dead run. His long queue floating back was grasped by the squaw and away they went, followed by the applause of the spectators.

I don't know what eventually became of the Tonkawas. My impression is, however, that they went to Mexico to avoid the humiliation of being put on a reservation and made to work.



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