Three of a Kind

The story of Josie and Ann Bassett, and Etta Place


“A man can sleep around, no questions asked, but if a woman makes nineteen or twenty mistakes, she’s a tramp.”  — Joan Rivers


Years ago, Arthur and Fanny Baxter moved to Colorado.  Originally, they named their homestead Baxter Springs, but the years passed, and the Baxter’s and their heirs all died as we all must do.  Then, the folks living in the area renamed it Artesia because they placed a high value on its refreshing water supply.  That was back during the great Colorado oil boom of the 1940s.

Of course, there’s no telling what people will do if you leave them alone long enough.  In the mid-1960s, townsfolk renamed their little corner of the world Dinosaur, Colorado — on account of the town’s location to Dinosaur National Park, a few miles further east along Highway 40.  They’ve even named their streets after dinosaurs, which I think is quite interesting when you consider that no one alive has ever seen one.  Well, not a live one, anyway.

Today, 243 people live in what used to be Baxter Springs.  They mostly make their living from tourism in the national park — and by selling cannabis, of course.

Brown’s Hole

Just down the road a bit further is a place that used to be known as Brown’s Hole.  Now folks refer to it as Brown’s Nature Park.  Our knowledge of this area came to us through a Catholic Priest who traveled through the region in 1650.  In 1825, William H. Ashley led an expedition of fur trappers through the Green River valley — and Kit Carson traded there among the Ute and Shoshone Indians in 1827, the same year a French-Canadian trader showed up named Baptiste Chalifoux.  He began calling himself Baptiste Brown, and I suppose it became his hole after some number of years.

When white settlers began moving into Brown’s Hole, the people already living there included Comanche, Shoshone, Ute, Blackfoot, Sioux, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Navajo.  And, just so’s there’s no mistake, I should mention that the presence of these particular native groups was well-documented in 1803-1804 by the famed expedition of Lewis and Clark.

Of course, not all of these native groups were ideal neighbors, so in 1837, the US Army erected Fort Davy Crockett to serve as a trading post and a place of refuge for trappers, settlers, and travelers against the frequent depredations of the Blackfoot tribe.  With the discovery of gold in California a few years later, almost everyone (except the Indians) moved away to seek their fortunes.  Interest in the valley as a wintering ground for cattle re-emerged in the 1850s, and this favorable notice increased ten years later when outlaws discovered that Brown Hole was a great place to hide stolen cattle and horses. 

From our every account, white settlers weren’t perfect neighbors, either.  In the ten years between 1890 and 1900, for example, there were so many killings between Wyoming sheep farmers and Colorado cattle ranchers that government officials had to create additional counties so that criminal court judges could deal with all the murder and mayhem.  One of these counties, named after railroad tycoon David Moffat, became the home of the Bassett family, whose ranch was so large that it took up a section of three states.

The Bassett’s

Herb and Mary Eliza Chamberlin Bassett moved to Brown’s Hole around 1877 from Arkansas.  From what I understand, both Herb and Elizabeth (as Mary was called) were well-educated (for that time), and they claimed enough land to span the borders of Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.  It was a great place to raise (or hide) cattle.  They took with them their three-year-old daughter, whom they named Josephine — but who everyone called Josie.  A year later, Elizabeth gave birth to another daughter, whom they named Ann.

Herb Bassett

From what we know about Herb today, he was a good husband, father, and provider — although he may have leaned a bit toward the libertarian side of politics.  His property was situated in the middle of a regular route for moving misappropriated horses and cattle, and from every account, he made a good living by supplying beef, fresh horses, and other supplies to a wide assortment of cowboys.

We can’t say that all of those boys were outlaws — but several were wanted for questioning about one thing or another.  For instance, Herb’s frequent guests included Butch Cassidy, Kid Curry, Black Jack Ketchum, and another fellow called himself the Sundance Kid.  His real name was Harry Alonzo Longabaugh, from Pennsylvania.  He only called himself “Sundance” because that’s where he spent time in prison, over in Wyoming.

Both Josie and Ann grew up to become good-looking women, an assessment that some folks argue is always relative to how long you’ve been in the saddle.  Both women grew up “well educated,” and both girls had a wild streak.  It may be hard for us to imagine what those two youngsters were talking about at night by the time they reached their teenaged years, but apparently, some of it had to do with those handsome outlaws camped out over yonder.

Well, it did become a bit complicated.  At first, Ann became romantically involved with Butch Cassidy (which wasn’t his real name), and Josie favored Cassidy’s good friend, William Ellsworth Lay (who everyone called Elzy).  But then, Cassidy went to prison — apparently for incorrectly answering questions posed to him by lawmen — and remained incarcerated for 18 or so months.  While he was out of the picture, Ann took up with Ben Kilpatrick.  A girl has needs, you know.  Josie, meanwhile, made the leap from Elzy to Will Carver (who everyone called “News”).  Since Josie wasn’t exciting enough, Carver switched over to a new girl named Laura Bullion so that when the authorities finally released Cassidy, Josie was the sister who welcomed him back into the fold.

But wait — there’s more.  When Ann and Ben broke up, Cassidy re-entered … um, the picture, and Josie took a sabbatical.  Yet, despite this somewhat unusual (for the period) circle of interpersonal relationships, the Bassett girls and their outlaw lovers managed to avoid any animosities.  Both Josie and Ann remained close insiders to the so-called Wild Bunch gang.  Josie and Ann were two of only five women ever allowed into the hideout location called Robbers Roost, over in Utah.  The other females were Etta Place, Maude Davis, and Laura Bullion. 

The Give and Take

The comfort of the gentler sex during cold winter nights wasn’t the only benefit of the outlaw’s relationship with libertarian Herb Bassett.  He regularly supplied his outlaw friends with beef and other foods and with fresh horses when needed.  In exchange, the outlaws protected the Bassett’s from the designs of powerful cattlemen who clamored for Bassett’s land.

After Elizabeth died in 1892, Herb went back east to Illinois, leaving the Bassett ranch in the hands of his two capable daughters — both ladies were experienced ranchers, wranglers, and shootists.  Herb’s departure undoubtedly sent a signal to the local cattleman’s association that the time was ripe for acquiring the Bassett’s property.  However, Josie and Ann had no interest in selling, which prompted the cattlemen to hire cowboy roughnecks.  It was the job of these ruffians to convince the girls to sell, and they did this by threatening the ladies, stampeding their cattle, rustling, and more or less helping themselves to Bassett horses.  Of course, neither Josie nor Ann were lightweights, so they returned the favor by helping themselves to stock belonging to the cattleman’s association.

While it is true that the sisters were full partners at the ranch, and both took an active hand during this period of poor neighborliness, it was Ann who was most visible among local area cattlemen and the newspapers.  Ann’s rambunctious fight is how she became known as “Queen Ann.”

All of those outlaws could qualify as “a bit worrisome” to a rational cowpoke, but none of them instilled as much fear as the fellow known as Kid Curry.  Curry’s real name was Harvey Logan (1867-1904), and he was the wildest, most uncontrollable member of the so-called Wild Bunch gang.  Historians tell us that Logan killed more than twice as many men as Billy the Kid (who killed four), most of whom were lawmen.  Logan/Curry approached several of the hired cowboys known to harass Josie and Ann, and with a calm, measured tone of voice, accompanied by a deadly stare, warned them to leave the ladies alone.  Within a short time, everyone in the area of Brown Hole lost interest in buying the Bassett property.

Twentieth Century Ladies

Young Ann Bassett

In 1903, Ann Bassett married a rancher named Hyrum Bernard.  Shortly after their marriage, lawmen arrested Ann for cattle rustling.  Eventually, a jury acquitted Ann, and she was released from jail.  Even though Hyrum and Ann divorced six years later, Hyrum stayed on to help Josie and Ann with the ranch.

By 1904, most of the Wild Bunch gang closest to the Bassett girls were either dead, in prison, or finding ways to irritate the Bolivian Army.  In 1906, one-time-love-interest Elzy Lay visited Josie and Ann after his release from jail, but he continued his trip to California, where he remained for the rest of his life as an honest businessman. 

Butch Cassidy (whose real name was Robert Leroy Parker), and his pal Harry Longabaugh, were both reported shot to death by the Bolivian constabulary in 1908, but Josie Bassett said it wasn’t so.  She claimed Parker visited with her in Utah in 1930 when she was 53 years old.

Josie Bassett remained on her father’s property for most of her life as its principal manager.  She was a noted outdoorswoman who camped out, fished, and hunted as her primary activities.  In all, Josie married five times.  She divorced four of those fellows, and folks around Brown Hole claimed that she poisoned her last husband, but then we all know how people like to gossip.  Josie had two sons with one of her husbands, a fellow named McKnight.  She named the boys Crawford and Herbert.

In 1913, Josie moved to a new homestead near Vernal, Utah.  She and Crawford built a new cabin there in 1924.  No one had much money during the Great Depression, and Josie was no exception.  She made her own toiletries, sewed her own clothes, and provided for herself by tending a garden and hunting for game.  She even shared her food with neighbors.  She also gained a reputation for making her own whiskey between 1924-1933 but gave it up when she learned that prohibition agents were looking for her still.  Although, some folks claimed that she never gave it up — only did a better job hiding it.

Ann and Frank Willis married in 1928 and established a ranch for themselves in Utah.  They made it into a productive operation and remained together for the balance of their lives.

Josie, meanwhile, got into a heated argument with another rancher named Jim Robinson.  In 1936, Jim accused her of rustling his cattle and butchering them for meat.  Six other ranchers made similar claims, so the sheriff investigated and found the branded hides of stolen cattle on her property.  Deputies arrested Josie and took her to jail.  She claimed she didn’t do it — that someone planted the hides on her property.  The county prosecutor took her to trial twice, with both trials ending up in hung juries.  After that, the prosecutor dropped all charges.

Etta Place

Miss Etta Place is an enigma.  No one knows when or where she was born, no one knows when or where she died, and no one is quite sure that such a person ever existed.  We remember Etta Place’s character in the Robert Redford-Paul Newman film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Katherine Ross played that role.  Hollywood mafia tells us that the film was the seventh greatest western film of all time.  Well, maybe.

Longabaugh and Etta Place

Etta Place became a companion of Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy) and Harry A. Longabaugh (Sundance Kid).  Whether all three engaged in deeply personal relationships is unknown, but she did maintain a close relationship with Longabaugh.  As the companion of two wanted men, Pinkerton’s Detective Agency took a keen interest in Etta Place.  Pinkerton agents described her as good-looking, between 27 and 30 years of age, around 5 ½ feet tall, and weighing between 110 and 115 pounds.  She had brown hair, brown eyes, and a medium build.  Pinkerton believed she came from Texas, born around 1878.  Of course, all of the preceding information is mostly conjecture.

Etta Place was an alias, but, interestingly, her assumed last name, “Place,” was also Longabaugh’s mother’s maiden name.  In the one place where this woman is known to have signed her name, she signed as Mrs. Ethel Place.  Her name may have become “Etta” after she accompanied the two outlaws to South America, where people had difficulty pronouncing Ethel.  But this is only more conjecture.

In 1901, Etta Place accompanied Longabaugh to New York City where, at Tiffany’s, they purchased a lapel watch and stickpin and then posed for the portrait, above right.  On 20 February, the trio sailed from New York on the British ship Herminius, destined for Buenos Aires.  After purchasing a ranch in southwest Argentina (reportedly, 15,000 acres), Longabaugh and Place visited New York from March-July 1903 and again from July 1904 through March 1905.  After learning that Pinkerton agents were tracking them down, Parker, Longabaugh, and Place sold the ranch and skedaddled.

On presentment of a Pinkerton demand for their apprehension, Argentine Governor Julio Lezana issued an arrest warrant, but an Argentine-Welsh lawman (who had become friends with Parker (and somewhat enamored with Etta)) warned them that their arrest was imminent, and the three outlaws escaped to Chile.  Running low on cash, they returned to Argentina after a few months and robbed their first Argentine bank in a backwater town called Villa Mercedes, some 400 miles west of the capital.

Place, who was angry about the loss of their ranch and tired of running from the law, insisted that Longabaugh escort her back to San Francisco.  He did that in the summer of 1906, and everything we think we know about Etta Place ends in the city by the sea.

There are far too many conflicting theories, statements, and opinions about Etta Place.  We don’t know her real name, where she came from, or what happened to her.  Speculation abounds.  She was a school teacher who abandoned her husband and children, she was a prostitute, she was really Ethel Bishop, or maybe she and Ann Basset were one in the same person, or she was a brothel owner named Eunice Gray, or, perhaps, someone named Madeline Wilson.

There were reports of a “woman matching her description” living in Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay.  One Pinkerton report suggested that someone shot to death a woman closely resembling Etta Place in an Argentinian domestic dispute.  Or, maybe she committed suicide in 1924 — or died of natural causes in 1966.

The Ladies’ End

Josie Bassett Morris

On 8 May 1956, Ann Bassett Willis passed away at her Utah ranch.  Frank Willis loved her deeply, and even though she instructed her husband to spread her ashes over their Utah ranch, he couldn’t let her go.  After Frank passed away in 1963, friends and family discovered Ann’s cremated remains in an urn in the back of Frank’s car.

Ninety-year-old Josie died on 1 May 1964.  The previous December, Josie suffered a broken hip when a horse knocked her down, and she never recovered from her injury.  Josephine Bassett Morris was the last remaining “associate” of the Wild Bunch outlaw gang and the last direct source of information about the gang members.

Etta Place … well, who knows?


  1. MacKell, J.  Redlight Woman of the Rocky Mountains.  University of New Mexico Press, 2009.
  2. Pointer, L.  In Search of Butch Cassidy.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
  3. Redford, R.  The Outlaw Trail: A Journey Through Time.  Grossett & Dunlap, 1976.
  4. Reeve, W. P. Just Who Was the Outlaw Queen Etta Place? Utah History to Go, 6/2011

Posted in American Frontier, Gunfights and such, History, Northwest Territory, Outlaws, Pioneers, Range War, The Horsemen (and women), The Ladies, Western Women | 6 Comments

“I done took it up.”

A look at straight-shooting Texas Ranger Captain Bill McDonald



In order for stories to become popular, whether based on fact or smothered in myth, they have to reflect the society that takes stock in them.  Texas society has always had a love affair with their Rangers.  Texas Ranger stories often contain both fact and myth, or if one prefers, somewhat embellished facts for the sake of making stories enjoyable.  Did all Texas Rangers perform the role of shining knights in defense of their fellow citizens?  Of course not.  Some rangers were rascals; some walked on both sides of the law.  But some performed daring exploits that are worthy of a good tale well-told.  One of those worthy men was William J. McDonald, whom everyone knew as Captain Bill.


Prizefights in Texas

In 1896, prizefighting was illegal in Texas (as it was in most other states).  But there was money to be made in prizefighting, which attracted promoters and gamblers to the sport — men such as famed gamblers and gunfighters Luke Short and Bat Masterson.

In February of that year, fight promoter Don Stuart planned to hold the Fitzsimmons-Maher bout in El Paso, Texas.  He billed it as the World Heavyweight Championship.  But the Governor of Texas was having none of it.  He dispatched the so-called four great Texas Ranger Captains (John Harris Rogers, John Reynolds Hughes, James Abijah Brooks, and William Jesse McDonald) to El Paso to ensure there would be no fight in Texas.[1]

The governor also sent the Texas Adjutant General Woodford Haywood Mabry to emphasize he wasn’t kidding.  In El Paso, Mabry directed the Texas Rangers captains to observe the unloading of prizefighting equipment from the train and “make a general nuisance” of themselves.  There was to be no question about the illegality of the proposed fight.  So, everywhere Stuart, Fitzsimmons, and Maher went — a Texas Ranger followed.

Irritated by this attention, Stuart put the word out that famed gunman, and sporting enthusiast Bat Masterson would soon arrive with a hundred fighting men to see that the contest came off on schedule.  Masterson was present, but he made no attempt to have a showdown with the Texas Rangers — and his 100 fighting men remained invisible to everyone the entire time. 

When it became evident that the fight would not be held in Texas, and to appease potential gamblers, Maher feigned an infection of the eye … a delaying tactic until Stuart could arrange an alternate site.  One of those alternate sites was Pirate Island[2], a no-man’s land between Texas and Mexico.  General Mabry was quick in making it clear that there would also be no fighting on Pirate Island.  Stuart then shifted his attention to Mexico, but the governor of Chihuahua also blocked that idea.

Finally, all of those involved in the fight’s promotion loaded their baggage and set out eastward toward Langtry, Texas, situated just east of Coahuila.  Ultimately, Langtry/Coahuila was where the fight ended up taking place.  Texas Rangers remained on the Texas side of the river but kept a careful eye on the event.

Bat Masterson, while somewhat chagrined, maintained a proper decorum throughout the event, which is generally a custom among well-armed men.

There was one minor incident, however.  At Sanderson, Texas, a scheduled whistle-stop, fight enthusiasts de-trained for lunch.  At the restaurant, a lone Chinese waiter had difficulty serving the sudden influx of many customers.  Bat Masterson became impatient and began abusing the Chinese waiter.  Masterson’s grumpiness caused Texas Rangers no problem; everyone gets crabby now and then.

At one point, however, Masterson picked up a heavy castor to hit the Chinese man, which caused Captain Bill McDonald to step in.  Masterson, who was probably more exasperated with the Texas Rangers than with the Chinaman, challenged McDonald.  Turning to McDonald, Masterson told him, “Maybe you’d like to take it up …”

It might be fair to say that many men in 1896 would feel a bit intimidated by the well-known gunman, but confronting shooters was not one of Captain Bill’s phobias.  Captain McDonald simply turned toward Masterson and said, in a quiet tone, “I done took it up.”  Mr. Masterson obviously intimidated himself, sat back down to finish his lunch.

Who was Bill McDonald?

Captain William J. McDonald, Texas Ranger

McDonald (1852-1918) was born in Meridian, Mississippi but migrated to Texas with his family after the Civil War.  His father was killed at the Battle of Corinth in 1862.  In Texas, the McDonald family settled in Henderson.  In 1868, 16-year-old Bill McDonald quarreled with blue-belly reconstruction officials, who charged him with treason to the United States.  A jury of his peers found Bill “not guilty.”

The post-Civil War period through the beginning of the 20th century was a tough time for everyone in Texas — well, really, for everyone in the United States.  A wide range of social changes took place within a compressed period.  Massive numbers of people packed up their belongings and headed west.  Indian hostilities increased proportionately to the influx of white settlers, railroads began expanding westward, machinery transformed the grasslands into meccas of agriculture, and the cattle industry took off like gangbusters.  It was also a time when Civil War veterans discovered that it was much easier to rob someone at gunpoint than it was to find work.

Violence in the Trans-Mississippi West varied in number and kind — and space.  Most western settlers were happy to build their small communities, perform back-breaking work, and attend small community churches on Sundays.  Most people didn’t go around killing others for fun or sport.  Most people didn’t rob banks and trains.  The job of town marshals and county sheriffs (and their deputies) was, more often than not, dull, and uneventful.  Most of their attentions involved minor offenses, rounding up drunks, stopping fistfights, and arresting people for petty theft and disorderly conduct.  Despite the increase in violence (in some places), most people thought they lived in law-abiding communities; they embraced the idea of the social contract.

But we seem to know more about frontier violence because people find it more fascinating than reading about the frontier calm.  No one in Hollywood ever made a film about a normal old west community where nothing happened.  In that sense, today’s media programs us to think mostly about the unhappy, sordid, violent periods of America’s story.  We know, for example, more about Jesse James and Butch Cassidy than we do about Joe Johnson, the blacksmith.[3]

For the most part, Bill McDonald was one of those “normal folks” who were happy to run a store and attend church on Sunday.  He worked at several jobs after graduating from Soule Commercial College in 1872 — from school teacher to store owner.  His interest in law enforcement may have been piqued by a local justice of the peace named James S. Hogg, who also happened to introduce Bill to Miss Rhoda Isabel Carter, whom Bill married in 1876.  Mr. Hogg later became a governor of Texas, and Bill McDonald later became a Texas Ranger.

While Bill was still finding his way in the adult world, post-Civil War Texas Rangers formed under a mounted “Frontier Battalion,” which consisted of six companies of 75-men each under the control of the State Adjutant General and governor.  The duty of the Texas Rangers included all the duties and powers of a state police officer.  For example, the Texas Rangers executed all criminal processes assigned to him and made arrests under lawfully issued warrants.  But in 1874, Bill was still a few years away from becoming one of those fellows.

In 1883, Bill and Rhoda McDonald moved from Mineola to Wichita County and then to Hardiman County.  In Wichita County, Bill served as a deputy sheriff.  In Hardiman County, he served as a deputy sheriff, Special Ranger, and the Deputy United States Marshal for the northern district of Texas and the southern district of Kansas.  In his later assignments, Bill McDonald was prolific in ridding the country of criminals, such as cattle rustlers, horse thieves, and outlaw shooters.  When he had driven these bad hombres into the Cherokee Strip, he went looking for them there.  They could run, but they could not hide from Bill McDonald.

In 1891, Governor Lawrence Sullivan (“Sul”) Ross appointed Bill McDonald a Captain of Texas Rangers and placed him in command of Company B, Frontier Battalion.  Captain Bill retained this position until 1907.  His tenure as a Ranger occurred in the second era (1874-1935) when there was much confusion about Texas Ranger jurisdiction and focus.[4]  Private Carl Ryan, in Sanderson, wrote to Captain Bill for clarification of his responsibilities.  Ryan reported that in response to a request by the local sheriff, he had closed saloons on Sunday, as the law required.  However, Ryan did not like this job because “… some are kicking about it, and some want them closed.”  Ryan thought this sort of duty was the responsibility of local law enforcement.  Captain Bill agreed and instructed Private Ryan, “Let the local authorities attend to such matters; our duties are to look after criminals and larger game.”  McDonald’s advice was somewhat reminiscent of the biblical admonition: “Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar …”

McDonald was a wise man and utterly fearless in executing his duties, but not every Ranger could make that claim.  Ranger leadership was always personality-dependent.  Some exhibited poor judgment; others demonstrated exceptional judgment.  Some men were exceedingly brave, others — not so much.  But the one thing all Texas Ranger captains shared in common was the fact that when in the field, the law said whatever the captain said it said.  They made up their own rules based on their immediate situations — they exercised command, which the State of Texas paid them to do.  They also obeyed their orders and never questioned them — orders which flowed directly from the Governor or Adjutant General.[5]

Bill’s Motto

Part of McDonald’s flamboyance was in the way he presented himself.  No doubt confident in his own abilities, his men often wondered if their Captain had a death wish.  Private Carl Ryan allegedly once told him, “Cap, you’re going to get all of us killed the way you cuss out strikers and mobs.”  McDonald answered, “Don’t worry, Ryan.  Just remember my motto.”

“No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin’.”

There is no doubt that McDonald believed this and followed his own advice.  His skill in subduing trouble-makers was legendary, and while he was once wounded, he never killed anyone in the line of duty.  What mattered, according to one observer, was his presence in potentially dangerous situations.  He insisted, “If you wilt or falter, he will kill you.  But, if you go straight at him and never give him time to recover or to think, he will weaken ninety-nine times in a hundred.”

Whether bravado or something else, Captain Bill was always relentless in the pursuit of lawbreakers, and it was such that it became the hallmark of his reputation.  He avoided gun battles and large possés whenever possible but knew enough when to bring in additional guns.  In retrospect, McDonald’s success was likely a combination of his determination and his common sense.  In any case, whether pursuing someone on the lam or conducting investigations, McDonald was always patient, analytical, and approachable to those who wanted to talk to him about what they knew.  Once he took someone into custody, he always protected them from those who wanted to “even the score.”

Texas Feuds

No matter how good a Texas Ranger was, there was only so much they could do in response to feuds in Texas.  Each captain used different methods of dealing with blood matches, but ultimately, if people refused to drop their hatred, there was little a Texas Ranger could do in preventing violence.  In most cases, family disputes, personal grudges, political clashes, and mob-style ho-downs would simply have to run their natural course — which often took decades.

Vigilantes in San Saba County

Captain McDonald’s company responded to numerous issues throughout the state, including (as already mentioned) the Fitzsimmons-Maher bout, which was altogether a minor affair.  But in 1897, certain citizens of San Saba County petitioned the Governor to send Rangers to investigate numerous murders and assassinations (reported as 43 violent deaths within a single decade).  These citizens were justified in their concerns because San Saba County and the vast adjacent country, located in the center of the State, fell under the control of a de facto murder society.

At an earlier time, when law officers were few and far between in Texas, local citizens looked to their own interests through so-called vigilance committees.  Some folks would call these committees mobs, and from every account, the San Saba Vigilance Committee evolved into that very thing.  Rather than protecting county residents, the vigilantes menaced them.

Some of these vigilantes carried grudges against their neighbors or coveted their property.  Over time, the vigilantes became a political organization that included constables, sheriffs, deputies, judges, county commissioners, bankers, and religious leaders.  In all, the membership of the San Saba Vigilance Committee (allegedly) numbered three hundred men.  When they met to discuss “business,” it was usually at a secret place called the Buzzard’s Water Hole.  After posting sentries for security purposes, they always opened their meetings with a prayer.

Tasked by the Governor to “look into the matter,” Captain Bill dispatched three Rangers to investigate.  One of these men was Sergeant William John L. Sullivan, who served with the Texas Rangers for twelve years.  It didn’t take very long to substantiate the claim that a ruthless mob controlled the entire county, and it didn’t take long for the mob to realize they were under the scrutiny of Texas Rangers.

Sullivan and the county sheriff nearly slapped leather when Sullivan re-arrested a man the sheriff had only just released “on bail.”  Texas had paid the county a bounty to arrest the man in the first place.  But Sergeant Sullivan was asking too many questions.  The buzzard mob temporarily solved this problem when the district judge manufactured a warrant for the arrest of a fictitious person and sent Sullivan out to find him.

After Sullivan notified Captain Bill of the district judge’s order, McDonald went to San Saba himself.  Upon arrival, he found his other two rangers, Dud Parker, and Edgar Neil, patrolling the town with guns drawn and several citizens lined up across the street equally well-armed. 

Within an hour or so after Captain Bill’s arrival, after consuming some quantity of rotgut, townspeople aligned with the buzzards began shooting up the town as an apparent attempt to intimidate the Texas Rangers.  One might think Texans would know better.  Captain McDonald promptly marched into the saloon, disarmed the rowdies, arrested them, and ordered them all to report to him the next morning for “further examination.”

The next morning, every hooligan reported to McDonald (as ordered).  Captain Bill released these men from custody, of course, but he did accomplish his mission: (a) he demonstrated that the Texas Rangers were not in the least way intimidated by gangsters, and (b) he sent an important signal to the other 6,000 citizens of San Saba that their terror was coming to an end.

On the same morning, McDonald sent a message to Sgt. Sullivan ordering him to disregard the judge’s warrant and return to San Saba.  It was then that the San Saba County Sheriff informed McDonald, “There’s no room in this town for both of us [he and Sullivan].”  Captain McDonald replied, “Then, move.”

McDonald realized that his investigation would be a slow process; he knew that it would involve county officials and frightened citizens.  He summoned several more of his rangers and set them up in camp along the San Saba River to assist his investigation.  As soon as the buzzards realized that McDonald was conducting a thorough inquiry, they canceled their monthly meetings.

One of Bill McDonald’s earliest findings was that the murder of a man named Asa Brown, a farmer (and later, his son Jim) was likely carried out by Bill Ogle, aided by Jim Brown’s wife’s father and brother, Jeff McCarthy, and Jim McCarthy, respectively.

Meanwhile, the buzzards decided that the best thing they could do was kill Bill McDonald.  As they were gentlemen, they sent McDonald anonymous warnings.  Captain Bill wasn’t impressed and continued his investigation.  High on his list of priorities was the arrest of Bill Ogle, who, up until then, had kept a low profile in San Saba.  Local informants warned McDonald that Ogle was the most dangerous of the lot.

On one hot afternoon, Captain McDonald noticed a dour-looking man having a conversation with a town constable.  Throughout the discussion, both men kept looking in his direction and nodding to one another.  McDonald asked as a passer-by, “Who’s that fellow talking to your sorry constable?”  The man told him, “That’s Bill Ogle.”

McDonald started walking toward Ogle, causing both men to part company.  McDonald waylaid the constable and gave him a friendly warning: any lawman who associates with murders would be the first to hang, and McDonald would see to it personally.  He then followed Ogle down the street.

Ogle found a few of his cohorts hanging out inside a hardware store and joined them.  He may have thought his friends gave him the advantage of strength in numbers.  It didn’t work out that way.  McDonald walked up to the group of men, pointed to Ogle, and said, “Come outside.  I want to talk to you.”  No one in the group moved when McDonald grabbed Ogle by the arm and led him outside into the street.

McDonald informed Ogle that he had proof that he was the murderer of Jim Brown, and he intended to arrest him later that day.  He suggested that if Ogle tried to resist arrest, that would be okay, too.  In fact, Bill added, the entire gang could resist arrest if they wanted to.  McDonald said he was prepared for any such contingency.  As Ogle walked off, Captain Bill assigned a Ranger to keep an eye on him. 

Meanwhile, McDonald went to see the buzzard district judge to “ask for his advice” in making a mass arrest.  Actually, Captain Bill wanted the judge to know that the “jig was up.”  He told the judge that he had the goods on the entire buzzard mob and intended to apprehend and shoot anyone who resisted arrest.  The judge advised McDonald that it probably wouldn’t be a good idea, legally, to shoot everyone in town.  Nevertheless, it was not long before buzzards began moving out of San Saba County.

Other Duties of Note

In April 1905, the State Adjutant General assigned Bill McDonald as a bodyguard for visiting President Theodore Roosevelt (Roosevelt later entertained McDonald at the White House).

In July 1906, the Army transferred black soldiers of the 25th Infantry Regiment to Fort Brown, Texas.  The residents of Brownsville openly discriminated against the blacks, forcing them to comply with the so-called color-line mandates of the period.  On 12-13 August, a reported assault of a white woman by a black soldier prompted the fort’s commander, Major Charles Penrose, to impose a curfew on his troops.  Penrose wasn’t assuming his soldiers committed the assault; he was only trying to keep them out of harm’s way in a much-agitated town.  The next night, someone fired random shots into the town center, killing a white bartender and wounding a Brownsville police officer.  Brownsville residents blamed the shots on the black soldiers.

The Adjutant General of Texas sent Bill McDonald to investigate the incident.  His inquiry focused on twelve soldiers, all of whom denied any involvement in the shootings.  There were no witnesses, no hard evidence, and no worthwhile facts to convince a grand jury to issue indictments.  Still, the town folks were angry, and they wanted something done about “those negroes.”

On the recommendation of the War Department, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered the dishonorable discharge of 167 black soldiers based on their “silent contempt.”  Despite the absence of justice for the soldiers, the people of Brownsville lived happily ever after.  President Richard Nixon overturned Roosevelt’s order in 1972.

In 1907, Governor Thomas Campbell appointed McDonald to serve as a state revenue agent.  His efforts to enforce the Full Rendition Act were highly criticized in Texas, but he did increase the state tax valuation by almost $2 billion within two years.[6]  McDonald retired from state service in 1909.

After the Rangers

In 1912, at President Woodrow Wilson’s request, McDonald again served as a presidential bodyguard.  Afterward, President Wilson appointed McDonald to serve as United States Marshal for the Northern District of Texas.

Bill McDonald passed away from pneumonia in Wichita Falls, Texas, on 15 January 1918.  He was buried in Quanah, Texas.  From every account, his life was “well-lived.”  Texans remember Captain Bill McDonald today as one of the Four Great Captains of the Texas Rangers.  Yes, he was a flamboyant cuss, but also courageous, honest, and dedicated to his service as a premier law officer.  And, he offers us a romantic look at Old West Texas during a time when Texans needed a hard, steady hand. 


  1. Baugh, V. E.  A Pair of Texas Rangers: Bill McDonald and John Hughes.  Potomac Corral, 1970.
  2. Hunter, J. M.  Frontier Times Magazine.  1950.
  3. Mason, T. M.  Riding for Texas: The True Adventure of Captain Bill McDonald of the Texas Rangers.  Reynal & Hitchcock, 1936.
  4. Paine, A. B.  Captain Bill McDonald, Texas Ranger: A Story of Frontier Reform.  Little & Ives, 1909.
  5. Webb, W. P.  The Story of the Texas Rangers.  Encino Publishing, 1971.
  6. Webb, W. P.  Walter Prescott Webb Papers.  University of Texas, 1970.
  7. Weiss, H. J. Jr.  Yours to Command: The Life and Legend of Texas Ranger Captain Bill McDonald. University of North Texas Press, 2009.


[1] They are known as the Texas Ranger’s four great captains because they were all stalwart public servants and dedicated to law and order in Texas.  Captain Hughes was the deadliest shot, Brooks, and Rogers the wisest, and McDonald both effective and flamboyant. 

[2]  Pirate Island is a 15,000-acre ait near present-day Fabens, Texas.  It was formed when the Rio Grande shifted its course.  According to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the International Boundary Commission, the island is part of Texas, but its proximity to Mexico made it difficult to police owing to the fact that criminals could easily cross the dry river bed and escape into Mexico.  In 1893, Pirate Island became the site of the Battle of Tres Jacales.

[3] In one study of violence in Arizona, Colorado, and Nebraska, historians found that 977 murders occurred in the 40 years between 1880 and 1920; this would be roughly equivalent to a single year in modern-day Chicago, Illinois. 

[4] There are three generally-accepted Texas Ranger developmental periods: 1823-1874, 1874-1935, 1935-Present.

[5] In 1899, a Texas Ranger could arrest anyone (with or without a warrant), retain them in custody, and use whatever means available to them in service to law and order, including the use of deadly force.  They could, for example, shoot to kill as a means of preventing arson, burglary, maiming, murder, rape, robbery, and theft after dark. They not only could do those things but did — and included the details of their activities in after-action reports.

[6] The purpose of the Full Rendition Act was to provide equality and uniformity in taxation and to secure the “just rendition” of all taxable property at its full value.”

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Civil War, Corruption, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Justice, Politicians, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals | 8 Comments

The Puritan-Pequot War


At no time in the early history of European migration to North America did any man or woman have “an easy time” of it.  Many did not long survive in the new world.  If hostilities did not kill them,  they starved.  Lack of adequate nutrition made new arrivals susceptible to illnesses and diseases.  If illness or disease did not kill them, they froze to death.  Whether subsequent waves of colonists understood what they were getting into at the time they signed up for transportation to the new world is unknown to us.  We only know that their story was more often than not tragically brief.

No matter where they came from, Spain, France, or the British Isles, the immigrant’s stories were remarkably similar.[1]  They arrived in North America incrementally — by the dozens and the hundreds — and for some of them, their tragedies began even before they arrived.  The Atlantic passage offered no luxurious accommodations.

In raising modern children, parents endeavor to provide a solid foundation for their offspring, such as core values, behavioral expectations, the certain skills development.  Not every parent today is successful in accomplishing this, of course — for a myriad of reasons — but at least most parents have it in their minds to lay a better framework for their children than their parents laid down for  them.

The early Americans were undoubtedly similarly motivated, but their effort took on a more practical approach.  Children of settlers had to learn survival skills early in their lives.  They had to know, for example, how to hunt for food, how to dress slain animals, what to do with the animal’s entrails, how to preserve the meat for as long as possible, and how to cook it.  There was no play time for Teddy, no dolls for Sally.

Why they came

For most of history, people died within 25-miles from the place where they were born, so the decision taken by Englishmen to leave their homes, communities, their extended families, and all that they knew about life to embark upon a life-changing adventure in the New World was a momentous one.  As previously mentioned, the extent to which these migrants understood what they were getting themselves into is unknown, but they had to have compelling reasons for their motivations to risk their lives in such an undertaking.

The early migrations to Roanoke and Jamestown were commercial enterprises.  The Roanoke Colony, chartered by Queen Elizabeth I of England was an utter failure.  Jamestown, chartered under King James I of England was more successful.  Subsequent colonies were essentially commercial enterprises but motivated for settlement by civil unrest in England under James I and later, under Charles I of England.

Elizabeth I of England died without heir on 24 March 1603.  James VI of Scotland was next in the line of succession and was coronated as King James I of England on 25 July 1603.[2]  Religious unrest followed James to England.  By then, James knew how to navigate the minefield of opposing religious groups.  In England, as head of the Church of England, he initially adopted a position of tolerance in matters of religious preference.  This lasted until Guy Fawkes, a zealot Catholic, attempted to kill James by placing a large cache of explosives under the House of Lords in 1605.  After the plot was discovered, James I became less tolerant of religious zealots (no matter what their affiliation).  James I required that all subjects of England and Scotland attend protestant church services under the auspices of the Church of England (known today as the Anglican Church).

Catholics weren’t happy about this law, but they had little choice in the matter — if they knew what was good for them.  But not all protestants were happy about it either because many Anglican rites and ceremonies closely resembled those of the Catholic faith.  These protestants wanted to “purify” the Church of England from all of its bad (Catholic) habits.  They were called Puritans.

Understanding Puritanism

Puritanism was a movement within the Protestant Reformation that emerged in the 16th Century.  Its goal was to transform English society into a “godly society” by reforming (or purifying) the Church of England of all remaining Roman Catholic teaching and practices.  For the most part, Queen Elizabeth I of England tolerated the Puritan movement because most Englishmen, at the time, were Calvinists and most English Bishops were sympathetic to Puritan objectives.[3]  The major point of contention between Puritans and church authorities involved liturgical rites, such as making the sign of the cross during baptisms and exchanging rings during marriage ceremonies.

During the reign of King James (1603-1625), some Puritans decided to separate from the Anglican Church because they were no longer willing to wait for James to initiate additional church reforms.  More to the point, the separatists refused to attend church services that they found offensive.  The risk associated with this refusal was death by execution, which is what happened to Henry Barrow and John Greenwood.  Thus, to escape persecution, some Puritans migrated to the Netherlands where they could worship as they saw fit.

When James died, his son Charles ascended to the throne.  While a high-born Anglican, Charles married a Roman Catholic, which prompted England’s protestants to suspect him of being a secret Catholic.  This would become a problem for Charles, of course, but more than that, Charles was a firm believer in the divine right of kings.  He did not much appreciate having to share his power with Parliament.  His many disagreements with Parliament (composed entirely of protestants) reinforced the suspicion that he was really a Catholic.  For whatever reason, Charles began to undermine Calvinist teachings, and as part of this process, he became less tolerant of Puritan views.  He imposed strict limitations on Puritan sermons and even went so far as to suspend some Puritan ministers from preaching the gospel.

Religious persecution, therefore, became the number one reason for Englishmen to migrate away from England.


There was a difference between Puritans and Pilgrims, but not much.  Both groups advocated changes to the Church of England, but where the Puritans wanted to reform the Church (changes from within), Pilgrims wanted complete separation from the Church of England.  These separatists were the people who migrated to the Netherlands.  What changed their minds about living in the Netherlands was that their children were losing their English identity.  They wanted to separate from the Church of England, but they wanted to remain Englishmen.  The separatists concluded that the best way to do that was to migrate to English colonies in North America, where they could worship in their own way.

Separatists settled in New England in 1620 as part of the Plymouth Colony.  We remember them most for creating the Mayflower Compact, a social contract based on Puritan political theory.[5]  Most Puritans emigrating to North America settled in New England, but the so-called “great migration” was short-lived and not as large as many believe.  It began in earnest in 1629 and ended in 1642 (the start of the English Civil War).  The reason for this was that King Charles I shut down all emigration to the colonies.  Nevertheless, between 1629-1642, approximately 21,000 Puritans migrated to North America.

America’s Harsh Realities

Despite the efforts parents made in preparing their offspring for an unforgiving existence, there was never any guarantee of success.  And — make no mistake — failure meant only one thing: an early death.  The American-born offspring of early settlers suffered, too, in similar ways, albeit at different places.  America’s early settlers may have had different reasons for taking on the challenges of colonization, but they shared the same general outcome: a somewhat short lifetime of suffering.

There may be no greater example of suffering and Puritan intolerance than the Pequot War of 1636-38, aspects of which were repeated many times over more than 10 generations.  Of the Pequot War, Professor Bernard Bailyn (1922-2020) tells us that the period of early Puritan settlement could qualify as the age of slaughter.[6]  It was a time when disease-ridden, barely civilized colonists held on to their adopted homeland by their fingernails.

The Pequot[7]

The Pequot and Mohegan at one time were allied tribes that before the arrival of Europeans split into competing groups.  The Pequot people migrated to the upper Hudson River Valley toward central and eastern Connecticut sometime around the year 1500, but as it always seems, the evidence for this is debated among native Indian historians and archeologists/anthropologists.

The region of present-day Connecticut was in considerable turmoil in the 1630s.  It was primarily an Indian kerfuffle but did involve English colonists because of their trade relationships with warring tribes.  At the core, the Pequot determined to extend their territories northward and eastward into the traditional lands of the Wampanoag and Narragansett (respectively), westward into the territory of Algonquian and Mohegan, and south into the Lenape people on present-day Long Island.  By displacing these other tribes, the Pequot would gain greater access to European fur traders.

Allied with the Pequot were (in their own language) Nehântick Indians, who populated Connecticut and Rhode Island.  The Nehântick tribe divided themselves into eastern and western groups, primarily the result of Pequot dominance in the area of the Connecticut River.  Western Nehântick became allied with and subordinate to the Pequot, while the eastern group closely allied themselves with the Narragansett people in Rhode Island.

While this was going on, European (notably Dutch and English) settlers competed for increased trade with the natives into the northern interior.  By 1636, Indian hostilities forced the Dutch to bolster their western fortifications and the English established a fortified trading post at Saybrook (present-day Middlesex County, Connecticut).  The English (Puritan) established additional colonies at Windsor (1632), Wethersfield (1633), Hartford (1635), and Springfield (1636).

When open warfare erupted, the Pequot and Western Nehântick tribes opposed the perceived interests of the Narragansett, Mohegan, Eastern Nehântick, Massachusetts Bay Colonists, Plymouth Colonists, Connecticut Colonists, and Saybrook Colonists.

The War

In 1634, Nehântick Indians murdered John Stone and seven other trappers.[8]  Apparently, Dutch traders seized Chief Tatobem and held him for ransom, demanding an extraordinary amount of wampum for his safe return.[9]  Despite receiving the demand, the Dutch killed Tatobem anyway and sent his body back to the Pequot, which caused them considerable irritation.

Among the English settlers, Stone’s murder was no great loss.  Earlier, the Massachusetts Bay Colony banned Stone because of “malfeasance, drunkenness, adultery, and piracy.”  In the minds of these “Christians,” he got what he deserved — but colonial officials felt obliged to protest the killing (on account of the fact that Stone was, after all, white) and, moreover, English officials knew that the Nehântick knew that Stone was English.  The Pequot did send wampum to atone for Stone’s killing, but officials demanded that the tribal chief turn the Indians responsible for his death over to the colonists for trial and punishment.  This the Pequot chief would not do.

In 1635, a hurricane destroyed the colonist’s crops, increasing pressure on the colonists for food for the next several years.  The possibility of starvation was real, precipitating even greater tensions between the Pequot and English colonists.

In 1636, Narragansett-allied Indians attacked the trading vessel of John Oldham during his voyage to Block Island (Rhode Island).[10]  Killed in the assault was Oldham and several crewmen and worse, the Indians looted his ship.  This was an intentional attack designed to discourage settlers from trading with their Pequot rivals.  Again, Oldham was somewhat out of favor with colonists on account of his drunken, trouble-making behavior.  He had been exiled from the Plymouth Colony shortly before the incident at Block Island.  Colonial officials from Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island, and Connecticut all deduced that the Narragansett Indians were the real culprits because of their alliance with the Nehântick.  Whoever these Indians were, they escaped and found sanctuary with the Pequot.

News of Oldham’s death became the focus of sermons in Massachusetts Bay.  In August, Governor Sir Henry Vane (the Younger) (1613-1662) send John Endecott to exact revenge on the Block Island Indians.[11]  Endecott mustered 90 men, sailed to Block Island, and ended up attacking two abandoned Nehântick villages.  Only one Indian was killed in the foray, but two of Endecott’s men received minor wounds.  After discovering and stealing the Block Island Indian’s food stores, Endecott set fire to their villages and proceeded to the Saybrook Colony.

No one at Saybrook was happy about Endecott’s raid because they did not think that Oldham’s demise was much of a loss or any of their affair.  Still, two colonists agreed to accompany Endecott as guides, and the party proceeded along the coast to a Pequot village.  Having made his demand to the Pequot chief for the murderers of John Oldham, Endecott waited patiently for the tribal council’s decision.  Meanwhile, Pequot villagers scattered to the four winds.  Incensed, Endecott burned the village and destroyed the tribe’s crops and food stores.  Endecott returned to Massachusetts Bay leaving Connecticut colonists to deal with an agitated Pequot population.

Soon after, the Pequot began enlisting the aid of their allies.  The Western Nehântick joined the Pequot, but the Eastern group wanted nothing to do with retribution warfare.  Mohegan and Narragansett joined the side of the colonists, mostly because their friend Roger Williams urged them to do so.

Pequot Indians effectively besieged Fort Saybrook for most of the autumn and winter period.  The Indians killed anyone foolish enough to venture outside the fort.  With the arrival of spring, the Pequot increased their murderous raids on Connecticut villages and towns.  Wangunk Indians (central Connecticut) attacked Wethersfield, killing six men and three women, kidnapped two young girls, and made off with a number of cattle and horses.[12]

The leaders of Connecticut river towns met in May, raised a militia, and placed John Mason in command of it.  Mason promptly set off with 90 male colonists and 70 Mohegan Indians under the war chief Uncas.  Mason’s mission was to vigorously attack the Pequot at their fort.  En route, at Saybrook, John Underhill joined Mason with another twenty men.  Mason set sail from Saybrook to Narragansett Bay intending to fool Pequot spies into thinking the colonists were not preparing to attack them.  At Narragansett, Mason enlisted the aid of an additional two hundred Narragansett Indians.  From there, Mason marched his men twenty miles overland toward Fort Mistick (present-day Mystic), a Pequot village.

The Battle of Mistick River began in the pre-dawn hours of 26 May 1637 when Mason’s force surrounded one of two main Pequot fortified villages.  Considering the size of Mason’s force, only twenty managed to breach the palisade, and they were quickly overwhelmed.  To facilitate their escape, the beleaguered men started a fire, which did create the chaos needed to make their getaway, but it also trapped most of the Pequot in what became a violent firestorm.  Of the few Pequot who managed to get out of the burning fort, Mason’s men cut them down.  There were only fourteen survivors out of a 500-person village.

John Mason, who may not have been sane, declared his victory the work of God.  His Indian allies, however, had another view: it was a cold-blooded slaughter.  Disgusted with Mason, the Narragansett’s attempted to break off and return home but were prevented from doing so by Pequots from the Weinshauks village.  Underhill’s men rushed to their aid, after which the Narragansett rejoined Mason’s formation for their own safety.

According to Professor Bailyn, the war was the worst example of butchery imaginable, perpetrated by the colonists.  Its savagery, he suggests, may have been the result of Puritan zealotry.  Bailyn suggested that the Puritans looked upon the Indians as heathens and as pawns of the anti-Christ.  His research led him to conclude that the barbarity displayed by the Puritans was entirely consistent with their uncompromising attacks on the church and state as they fled from England.  It was, he said, the same vicious insult and vile denunciations they inflicted upon one another, as well.  If there was a pawn to the work of Satan, it was likely Puritan zealotry.

Dr. Bailyn stated, “The savagery of the theological struggle, the bitterness of the main contenders and the deep stain it left on the region’s collective memory were driven by elemental fears peculiar to what was experienced as a barbarous environment — fears of what could happen to civilized people in an unimaginable wilderness … in which God’s children (as the Puritans thought of themselves) were fated to struggle with pitiless agents of Satan, pagan Antichrists swarming in the world around them. The two kinds of struggle, physical and metaphysical, were one: threats from within (the soul) merged with threats from without to form a heated atmosphere of apocalyptic danger.”

To many Americans today, our colonial period is a blur in time.  The reason for this is that the colonial period is only presented in summary form, dishonestly presented, and because few college-bound students have much interest in history beyond “gender studies.”  Life in the colonies was a horrid experience.  There was nothing romantic about it. Still, if given the opportunity to learn the truth of the colonial experience, most young adults are able to deal with its reality.

The colonial period was a time of the founding, of course, but it was also a time of floundering, terror, desperation, human degradation, and widespread torture.  Whether native Indians learned flaying from European colonists isn’t known, but we do know that Puritans were capable of doing it and then disemboweling their victims while they were still alive.  And we know that Puritan barbarism lasted long enough to find its way into our history books — if anyone would read them.

In the freezing winter of 1692, two pre-teenaged girls began shuddering, shaking, shrieking, and barking like dogs.  According to their examining physician, the girls were suffering the effects of an evil hand.  Keen to discover the source of this evil, Mary Sibley encouraged the two girls to bake a witch cake.  The cake, soaked in urine, was then fed to a dog so that everyone may learn the identity of the evil-doer.  The girl’s father was not happy to learn of this bizarre concoction, but a few days later, the two girls identified three marginalized women of the community.  The news of this spread throughout New England, and suddenly, more young girls began to display a similar behavior: convulsions, visions of hairy beasts, being “touched” by invisible spirits.

In May 1692, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony established a special (Oyer and Terminer) court to hear evidence and determine the facts associated with these bizarre behaviors.  The people who gathered in the court listened to testimony about flying witches, supernatural beings, satanic beasts, and black Sundays.  Suspected witches confessed to hair-raising sins and named their neighbors and family members who were “in league” with Satan.  It wasn’t long before the contagion spread to neighboring communities.  The court of inquest lasted for over a year.  In that time, 19 witches had been hanged, five more died in jail, one man was pressed to death with stones for refusing to enter a plea.  Some say that others were purged by drowning.


According to some apologists, the massacre at Fort Mystic and the loss of even more warriors during their withdrawal broke the spirit of the Pequot.  Ultimately, they abandoned their villages and moved westward to seek refuge with the Mohawk.  The sachem Sassacus led approximately 400 warriors along the seacoast.  When they crossed the Connecticut River, the Pequots randomly encountered three men from Fort Saybrook and promptly killed them — suggesting that the Pequots’ spirit wasn’t entirely broken.

In mid-June, Mason mustered 200 men (including 40 Mohegan warriors) and set off after the offending Pequots.  The Mason expedition caught up with and surrounded their enemies in a swamp near present-day Fairfield.  Mason allowed several hundred Pequot to surrender, mostly women and children.  Sassacus slipped away in the early morning hours with eighty to 100 warriors and continued west.  Traveling into Mohawk land, Sassacus appealed to the Mohawk for refuge.  Instead, they murdered him and sent his head and hands to Hartford (presumably seeking favor with the English).

In September, Mohegans and Narragansetts met with the General Court of Connecticut and agreed to the disposition of the two-hundred Pequot survivors that surrendered to the Mohegans.  Other less fortunate tribal members faced a different result.  After capture, some Pequot were enslaved and shipped to the West Indies; others became household slaves of the English settlers in Connecticut and Massachusetts Bay.  At that time, the English declared the Pequot extinct; afterward, the Puritans allowed no Indian to refer to themselves as Pequot.

The Pequot War was the first time the Algonquian people experienced European-style warfare.  There were no other wars with native Americans for 38 years until King Philip’s War in 1675.  But there was one enduring effect of the Pequot War — American Indians learned how to take body parts from their slain enemies and sell them to colonists as trophies of war.


  1. Aronson, M. Witch-Hunt: Mysteries of the Salem Witch Trials. Atheneum, 2003.
  2. Bailyn, B.  The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675. Knopf, 2012.
  3. Davis, K. C.  “America’s True History of Religious Tolerance.”  Smithsonian, 16 September 2016.
  4. Demos, J.  Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England.  Oxford University Press, 1982.


[1] The French began their assault on North America in 1534; Spain established a colony at St. Augustine in 1565, the British at St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Roanoke between 1583-1586. 

[2] James’ mother was Mary Queen of Scots.  She was a staunch Catholic.  After Mary was executed by order of Elizabeth I, her son James was made King of Scotland as James VI.  As he was only 3-years old at the time, Scotland was governed by a series of regents until James reached the age of majority in 1581.  Throughout this period, Scotland suffered the effects of civil war between Catholic supporters of Mary, and protestant supporters of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton (James VI’s last and longest-serving regent).  Consequently, James VI was raised as a protestant.  

[3] Emphasizing the sovereignty of God and the authority of the Bible.

[4] There were no pilgrims with a capital P in 1600; “Pilgrim” within the meaning of “separatist” didn’t exist until two hundred years later.   

[5] The story of the compact is a bit complicated as it involves delays and last-minute changes to arranged shipping.  The original destination of the Mayflower was the Colony in Virginia.  However, storms forced these Pilgrims to Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  With provisions running short, their only recourse was to disembark.  Some passengers among them who were not religious separatists decided that they would live on their own hook with no allegiance to any other.  To prevent this from happening, Pilgrims decided to establish their own government while remaining loyal to the English Crown.  Thus, the compact was an agreement among them to govern by majority rule — a social contract whereby all signers agreed to abide by the community’s rules for law and order.  

[6] Bernard Bailyn may have been one of America’s greatest historians.  He was a professor of history at Harvard University from 1953 until his death, a specialist in British-colonial and Revolutionary War history.  He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for History in 1968 and 1987, and in 2010, received the National Humanities Medal.

[7] English speakers have, from the beginning of their American experience, made difficult our understanding of native American people because it is the victor who writes history. Mohicans (also, Mahican) were not of the same tribe as Mohegans.  They were completely different people with some similarities in their language (about as similar as English and German) and customs, which was due to their affiliation with the Algonquin language group of native Americans.  Mohicans and Mohegans were no more alike than Mohegans and Abenaki.  The Mohegan people called themselves MAHIINGAN (Wolf); the Mahican called themselves MUHECONNEOK (People of the Hudson River). 

[8] The Pequot later explained that their allies murdered Stone and his boys in retribution for the killing of a Pequot chief (sachem) named Tatobem by Dutch trappers.  The Pequot did not realize that Stone was English (rather than Dutch), and besides, all white people looked the same.  Subsequent evidence suggested that the Nehântick Indians knew full well that Stone was English, offering some credibility to the argument that Europeans weren’t the only liars in North America.

[9] The word “wampum” was used to describe the exchange of goods between native Americans and the European colonists.  Example: animal hides, food, other supplies, knowledge, and assistance in exchange for highly prized beads.   

[10] Named for Adriaen Block, a Dutch seaman/merchant whose voyages to North America followed those of Henry Hudson.  Block’s discoveries led to the eventual colonization of Connecticut and Rhode Island.  

[11] Vane was a close ally of Oliver Cromwell during the English Civil War, serving one term as governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  He fell out of favor with the Puritans because he supported separatist Roger William’s colony in Rhode Island and supported religious tolerance.  He also supported the establishment of Harvard College.  John Endecott (d. 1664), on the other hand, was a short-tempered zealot who seldom made rational decisions.  Endecott served five separate terms as Massachusetts Bay Colony governor.   

[12] Wangunk Indians were known by several names, including Wongunk, Wongum, Mattabeett, Pyquag, and Sequins.  Members of the Eastern Algonquian language group, they associated with Podunk, Suckiag, and Mohegan groups.  Their lands became the focal point of the developing European fur trade because of their access to rivers and inland forests.  The Wangunk fell victim to Pequot expansion from around 1600.  Those today who regard themselves as descendants of Wangunk culture are not recognized by the Federal government — which, of course, means that they don’t exist.  

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Colonies, Colonial America, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Pioneers | 7 Comments

God made man — but Texas made Texans


Viceroyalty of New Spain (partial)

In 1820, Tejas (Texas) was a province of New Spain.  In that year, the population of Hispanics living in Texas was around 1,700 — mainly concentrated in San Antonio, but with a spattering of people also living in Nacogdoches and Goliad.  In two hundred years, the population of Texas has grown to more than 29-million.  It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that the story of Texas is one of human migration.

Spain’s Problem

Within the Spanish Empire, a viceroy was an official who governed in the name of and as the representative of the King of Spain.  The word, literally translated from Latin, means “In the place of the King.”  The Viceroyalty of New Spain involved a massive territory that included present-day Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, parts of Louisiana, Central America, the northern part of South America, and the Pacific Ocean archipelagos of the Philippines Islands, and Guam.  It was more land than Spain could populate or control through military conquest or colonial settlements.

Spanish officials were well aware of their problems, but they simply did not have the resources to address them.  Given the isolation of San Antonio and surrounding areas, few Spaniards were interested in settling in Texas, particularly given the frequency of Indian hostilities and Spain’s inability to protect them.

In most other areas of its New World expeditions, Spain was quite successful in conquering native populations and subordinating them to the will of the Spanish Crown — but this was not the case in Texas.  Fifty-thousand Comanche Indians living within the vast region of the Comancheria represented the most lethal and fearless mounted force in the entire area of North America’s Southwest.

Traditionally, Spain prohibited foreign settlement within its overseas territories — but the frequency of Comanche raids against Spanish settlements prompted officials to consider the proposal of their subject, Missouri resident Moses Austin.  Señor Austin suggested, given the inability of Spain to establish colonies in Texas with Spaniards, that Viceroyalty officials allow him to develop Anglo-American colonies there.  With the caveat that Moses guarantee the excellent reputation and industriousness of all American colonists and provided that they become good citizens of Mexico and convert to Catholicism, Spanish officials granted Austin’s request.  American settlers in Texas might, after all, provide a solution to New Spain’s problem.  They could, for example, transform the harsh land into productive farms.  And, if anyone had to contend with Indian hostilities, better Anglos than Spaniards.

Following Mexico’s war of independence from Spain, Mexican officials continued Spain’s colonization plan, granting contracts to American impresarios who would settle and supervise “qualified” immigrants.  Anglo migrations took place between 1821-1835.[1]

The Immigrants

Anglo settlers had several reasons for migrating to Texas.

  • At the top of this list was the availability of cheap land.  In 1821, the cost of undeveloped land in the United States was $1.25 per acre, with a minimum purchase of 80 acres ($100.00) payable at the time of purchase.  The present value of $100.00 in 1821 is $2,276.00.  But in Texas, each head of a family could claim a headright of 4,600 acres of grazing land and one labor (177 acres) of irrigable farmland at the cost of 4¢ per acre, payable over six years (total purchase price, $191.08).  Texas, therefore, was far more attractive to late-wave migrants to the United States.  First, the new arrivals didn’t have the cash for land purchases, and second, earlier arrivals claimed most of the desirable land east of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • The economic depression following the War of 1812 propelled thousands of migrants westward, making their way from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri into Texas.  Some scholars claim that the most significant period of immigration in Texas occurred between 1840-41 (others claim that didn’t happen until after the American Civil War).
  • Many Texas immigrants believed (or hoped) that the United States would purchase East Texas from Mexico one day.  If that happened, they reasoned, annexation would stimulate further migration, which in turn would provide them with buyers for their cheaply purchased lands.
  • The United States and Mexico had no reciprocal agreement governing outlaws.  Some immigrants moved to Texas to avoid debtors’ prisons and arrest warrants from other states.

Slavery was illegal in Mexico, but that didn’t stop southern slave-owners from taking bonded people to Texas.  Part of the problem was that corrupt Mexican politicians closed their eyes to slavery because they were eager to enrich themselves from the cotton trade.  Slavery was the only way Texas planters could sustain labor-intensive cotton production.

It wasn’t only Americans who were interested in migrating to Texas.  The largest non-American ethnic group in Texas were Germans, whose migrations began in 1830.  By 1850, many Germans had relocated to Texas, which some scholars now claim exceeded five percent of the overall population[2].

The economy badly needed people; to get them, Texas officials used every possible inducement to increase immigration.  The effort had nothing to do with expansion, race, or land; it was because Texas was currency deprived.  Texas existed from one year to the next based on a credit economy that hedged the future value of land, of which there was plenty.  Credit economies must expand to survive.  By encouraging immigration, the state, merchants, and landowners profited.  A concerted effort to draw people into Texas began in the 1830s.   Similar efforts continue to this very day.

The Hard Life

People who migrated to Texas in the 1820s and 1830s understood the risks.  The Empresarios were interested in colonizing Texas, but they didn’t need people who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stand up to the challenges.  The immigrants already knew about back-breaking work, and they knew about the danger of hostile Indians.  They realized that starvation was possible.  In this respect, they undertook their journey with their eyes wide open — but they may not have known about the painful and deadly diseases.

The success of these Texans offers a sharp contrast between the Anglo-Texan and the Tejano-Mexican who preceded him. Not every immigrant survived, but those who did survive developed unique attitudes about life.  They were willful, stubborn, opinionated, and generally full of themselves.  They may not have always been right about issues, but they weren’t quitters, and if they believed in something strongly enough, they’d fight for it.

Porfirio Diaz

As a case in point, José de la Cruz Porfirio Díaz Mori (known to most as Porfirio Diaz) (1830-1915) was a Mexican general who served seven terms as President of Mexico.  He was a veteran of the so-called War of Reform (1858-60) and the Second French Intervention (1861-67).  After Benito Juarez’s[3] election to the presidency in 1868, Diaz resigned from his military office and retired to his home in Oaxaca.  Between 1871-76, Diaz found himself at odds with Juarez and his successor, Lerdo de Tejada.  When Diaz’s second rebellion failed in 1876, he fled to Brownsville, Texas.

While living in Texas, General Diaz made many Anglo friends — landowners, merchants, and political bosses who were suitably impressed with his intelligence and insight into Mexico’s problems.  The extraordinary thing about Diaz was that he enjoyed the support of both Tejanos and Anglos alike.  When Diaz crossed back into Mexico, President Tejada immediately relinquished his presidency and sought a safer place to live.  It was probably a wise decision; Señor Diaz was not known for his forbearance in matters of politics.

Given his long tenure as President of Mexico, Diaz remains a controversial figure in Mexican history.  From the Texan point of view, however, he was precisely what Mexico needed when they needed it.  Some today may even wish another man as capable as Diaz would step to the plate. 

Whatever the Diaz regime meant to Mexicans over three decades, his presidency was a blessing for Texans from the outset.  As with former president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Diaz knew that he could not abolish the power of the aristocracy through liberal policies.  Like Santa Anna, Diaz turned away from his liberalist tendencies to develop practical alliances.  Unlike President Santa Anna, however, Diaz knew that the balance of power in North America had shifted toward the United States. He realized that his success in Mexico would depend on maintaining good relations with the Norte Americanos.  He once observed, “Mexico is too far from God and too close to the United States.”

Upon returning to Mexico, Diaz focused his efforts to consolidate his power.  As with every caudillo, he relatively soon, in this process, began to remove those who might later oppose his regime and even enlisted the United States government to help him accomplish it.  Joint Mexican American military operations were organized against hostile Indians, bandits, and rebels (there being little difference between the latter two)[4].

Diaz ruled in Mexico until 1911.  Texans viewed this period as a “golden age” in Mexico.  According to his Anglo backers, he ruled with great wisdom, foresight, and patriotism.  Under Diaz, life in South Texas improved — owing to his unmerciful crackdown on murderous bandits.  Moreover, Diaz believed that there was only one way to rule people when eighty percent were ignorant peasants: with an iron hand.  This worked for Diaz, and it seems to have worked out well for many of his successors, as well.

Herein lies our contrast between Texans and Mexicans: no true Texan will allow anyone to rule him without their consent.  In Mexico, the choice of the people has always been one between order and chaos.  In Texas, the only options are freedom or death.  A Texan will never tolerate tyranny if he understands it exists — a consistent and predominant character trait since 1835.  No two men epitomize this attitude more than Leander (Lee) McNelly or John B. Jones of the Texas Rangers.  Their efforts to remove hostiles, bandits, and murderous thugs from Texas soil became part of the story of Texas and the Texans themselves.

McNelly and Jones were widely known in Texas in their own time.  McNelly was widely loved and respected by hard-working farmers and ranchers, Jones less so.  Jones was an East Texas aristocrat, and he acted and dressed the part.  McNelly was a bit on the scruffy side, which is what happens when you spend months on the back of a horse in South Texas.  Jones was described as “small, handsome, and elegant.”  Most Texans couldn’t identify with this kind of Ranger but make no mistake: Jones was not someone to underestimate. 

By the mid-1870s, Texas endured thirty years of border wars, civil war, reconstruction, Indian depredations, dangerous outlaws, and the emergence of the biggest crooks of all: the cattle barons.  For three decades, the Texas Frontier stood as a clearly defined line, north to south.  Then in 1875, after the Indian Wars, the Texas frontier acquired an immense new dimension in breadth and depth.  Cattle interests, once confined to east and south Texas, seemed to burst outward toward West Texas —and there was nothing about this phenomenon that improved social cohesion in Texas.

Texas Rangers went from fighting hostile Indians and border-area Mexican bandits to policing an enormous frontier area.  Policing was a far more difficult job because, after 1875[5], the “enemy” was not so easily defined[6].

As with every former confederate state, the Civil War brought substantial changes to Texas.  Gone were the cotton plantations with Negro slaves, but ignoring the harshness of Reconstruction, almost everyone continued to live as they had in 1860.  Thousands of small farms in east and central Texas continued raising cotton and corn.  Most farmers had a few cows or sheep, some hogs, and domestic fowl.  The smarter folk had gardens to feed themselves; they used corn to provide their livestock and cotton cash.  Because money was scarce, Texans resorted to bartering bacon for denim or smoked hams for flour.  The game was still plentiful in Texas in 1870, of course, so most families served themselves venison, duck, turkey, wild hogs, and squirrels.  Farmers still used oxen to plow their fields, seeds were planted by hand, and furniture for the homestead was handmade.  Texas was rural.  How rural?  It was so rural that the largest county in Texas in 1870 had no economically significant towns.

The harsh reality of Texas in the 1870s was that it was not a healthful place to live, particularly along the Gulf coast and especially among the simple people.  Cholera, typhus, and yellow fever were widespread, with frequent epidemics of cholera.  Typhus was brought to Texas by European immigrants; German settlements, such as at New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, were ravaged by the disease.  Influenza killed thousands.  Common treatments included laudanum, boiled peyote water, brandy, cayenne pepper, and mustard.  Some people wore copper amulets to ward off disease, none of which were very effective —except, perhaps, brandy taken in large doses.  However, educated Texans were able to associate cholera with filth and took preventative steps to protect themselves.  Yellow fever and malaria were the worst, however.  At Fort Brown (present-day Brownsville), some two thousand soldiers died from yellow fever (then called yellow jack); the worst epidemic occurred in 1882.

Moreover, Texas land was an exasperating challenge to everyone, but especially along the western frontier.  True, Texas land was beautiful to look at, but it is also challenging to produce a living on this land.  In the 1870s, two factors made this so:

            First, in the post-war period, farmers could not find the labor they needed to plant and harvest crops.  To solve this problem, having learned nothing from their experience with slavery, some Texas officials argued for the importation of Chinese.  A few Chinese were brought to Texas to work as farm laborers, but most of these people were too clever to take up that thankless burden.  When Chinese importation didn’t work, state officials began a campaign to bring in ruined whites from the post-Reconstruction south.  They envisioned that these people would become tenant laborers on the idle cotton fields or homesteaders in the western lands[7].  One popular myth that aided the campaign was that everyone who moved to Texas became a wealthy landowner.  Most of the people who showed up in Texas were from Tennessee and Georgia.

            Second, the climate and weather patterns in Texas made land production extremely difficult.  People who migrated to Texas thinking of it as the land of milk and honey were sorely disappointed.  No matter how good the farmers and ranchers were, they could not make it rain or stop raining, and they could not control the devastating storms that ravaged the Texas plain.  Moreover, they didn’t understand the ecology of the Great Plains.  There was a joke in Texas: a teenager commented to a stranger that he’d seen snow once; his younger brother piped up with, “Yeah, and it rained once, too.”

Uninformed migrants could plow the land, but they couldn’t sufficiently irrigate it to maintain crop growth over the long term.  Environmental conditions were so bad in some locations that entire families starved to death.  Many of these late immigrants had placed their entire stake and hopes for the future on what state publicists told them; it turned out to be a very sharp —very severe learning curve.

Ten thousand people bound for Texas passed through Memphis, Tennessee, in 1870-71.  By 1872, 100,000 newly arrived white immigrants lived in Texas.  Economic conditions in the United States pushed double that number into Texas in the year after that.  The arrival of whites lowered the percentage of freed blacks living in Texas; it pushed these people further down the economic ladder.  Blacks were forced back to the back-breaking conditions of field labor, but this time as desperately poor tenant farmers/sharecroppers.  They were joined there by poor whites, who also became sharecroppers.  For many, if not most of these immigrants, Texas became a devastating disappointment.

Famers weren’t alone in this depressing environment; there was yet another tragedy[8].  The explosion of the cattle industry divided cattlemen into two categories: the cattle kings and everyone else who owned cattle.  The wealthy landowners/cattlemen, often backed by foreign investors, drove the small cattleman off the land and out of business.  And then, of course, there was the invention of barbed wire[9].  It was probably barbed wire that changed Texas more than any other historical event.  Cattlemen used it to close off the “free-range,” but farmers used it too to protect their crops from roaming mavericks.  Barbed wire changed the role of the Texas cowboy forever; it took him off the backs of their horses and (as one old hand once observed) into a life of wading in cow shit.  With closed ranges and railroad systems in place, there was no longer a need for prolonged cattle drives or men to move them along the dusty trail.      

Ultimately, although many thousands of people migrated to Texas, many of whom were defeated by its harsh climate, weather patterns, numerous floods, alternately prolonged droughts, pestilence, disease, bandits, outlaws, and murdering hostile Indians.  The most potent enemy of all may have been the Texas economy, which just as effectively destroyed struggling families.  The people who remained in Texas, who weathered it all, became — and remain Texans.  Their willfulness, sturdiness, and steadfast refusal to quit are what we most admire and prefer to remember about these people —these Lone Star Texans, who were among the toughest of our ancestors.


  1. Webb, W. P.  The Great Plains.  Boston: Ginn Publishing, 1931.
  2. Fehrenbach, T. R.  Lone Star: The History of Texas and Texans.  Kindle Online.
  3. Clifton, R. T.  Barbs, Prongs, Points, Prickers, and Stickers.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
  4. McCallum, H. D., and Frances T. McCallum.  The Wire That Fenced the West.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.


[1] Texas settlement wasn’t the first time Spain opened up its territory to Anglos.  In 1790, white settlers were invited to settle Upper Louisiana (Missouri) for much the same reasons.

[2] In 1990, there were 2.9 million Germans living in Texas, of either those claiming direct or indirect ancestry, or about 18% of the total population.  There were also immigrants from Sweden, Czechoslovakia, and Italy.  

[3] Modern-day Mexicans regard Benito Juarez as a hero of the Republic of Mexico—a progressive reformer dedicated to democratic ideals on behalf of the Mexican people.  Advocating for liberal reform is one thing; seeing it through to fruition is quite another.  At the time of Juarez’s untimely death (a heart attack), the nation lacked democratic and institutional stability.  Vice President Tejada was no improvement.  Principally non-Mexican historians regard Juarez as a failure because he did not deliver on his promise to “save” Mexico from itself.  His unfulfilled promises left the Mexican people hopeless and dispirited.  Juarez left the peons behind in 1872—their situation remains much unchanged even today.

[4] In one instance, Diaz arrested and ordered shot the notorious bandit (and rebel) Juan Nepomuceño Cortinas.  Cortinas did declare his loyalty to Diaz, but Diaz knew that Cortinas was untrustworthy.  Cortinas would have been executed were it not for the intervention of former Texas Ranger Major John “Rip” Ford.  Thus, rather than sending Cortinas to the afterlife, Diaz instead had Cortinas placed under house arrest, where he remained until his death in 1892.

[5] Reconstruction ended in 1877.

[6] Scholars identify three aspects of the old Texas Rangers that made them unique: their esprit de corps, their ruthlessness, and how deeply they were admired by the people of Texas.  There is a popular signpost in Texas that speaks to more than roadside cleanliness: Don’t Mess with Texas.  If one has it in their minds to “mess with a Texan,” then the best advice would be to bring along a lunch.  It’ll be a long confrontation.  This prevalent attitude in Texas may be a reason why so many people have uprooted and moved there.

[7] Texas officials needed whites to populate former Indian lands.  Several Texas counties were organized before there were any whites to live in them.

[8] State officials and railroad barons conspired to conceal the truth about West Texas and state newspapers rarely commented on true weather/climate patterns.  Rather than reporting on the scarcity of rain in a particular region of Texas, journalists simply stated that the area was “less humid” this year.  The draughts often lasted seven to ten years, interspersed by a few years of plentiful rain.  The word “arid” was never used.

[9] See also: Ira Aten and The Texas Fence-Cutting Wars.  Fencing materials were in short supply in West Texas and it was expensive to bring in wood posts, and backbreaking work to dislodge stone.  Hedging wouldn’t grow in the arid west and best of all, Barbed Wire was cheap and durable.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Antebellum Period, Civil War, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Mexican Border War, Mexican Revolution, Missouri, New Spain, Outlaws, Pioneers, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers | 1 Comment

Christmas Back When

In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And everyone went to their own town to register.

So, Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem, the town of David, because he belonged to the line of David.  He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her first born, a son.  She wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.”

–Luke 2:1-12

Our understanding of tradition in Judea in the year 3 B.C., the time of the reign of Caesar Augustus, is that shepherds put their flocks of sheep out to pasture in the early spring (March-April) and returned them to their pens in the late fall (November-December).  If the shepherds were in the fields when an angel of the Lord visited them, it would have been between March and December.  It would not be a precise date if one were looking for the actual date of Christ’s birth.  But there was a star — a very bright star, and more than a few people living back then took note of it.

Modern scientists tell us it’s probably true.  Having studied this phenomenon, some modern scientists believe that the story of the Christmas Star actually happened and is explained by the phenomenon called planetary conjunction.  Such events occur when two planets seem to pass close to each other in the night sky.  Relying on modern technology, interested scientists were able to “rewind” the movement of the planets to where they were (or should have been) in the year 3 B.C.  Scientists believe there were several conjunctions and that, back then, astrologers would have noticed them, recorded them, and tried to make some sense of them.

In the year 7 B.C., Jupiter, and Saturn had three conjunctions.  The planets, of course, occupy different orbits in the solar system and proceed around the sun at different speeds.  With rudimentary telescopes, they occasionally appear to pass one another in the night sky.  Their perceived nearness also gives the impression that they’ve stopped moving.

Four years passed.  In the summer of 3 B.C. Jupiter and Venus met in a conjunctive event that would have looked much like the Christmas Star.  On the morning of 12 August, 3 B.C. Jupiter and Venus would have occupied a position in space merely 1/10th of a degree apart in the dawn sky.  Visually, scientists tell us that it would have appeared to be one-fifth the diameter of the full moon in Bethlehem.  We don’t know how long (days or months) such a vision would have lasted.

In any case, in the absence of written records, we can deduce that the event likely took place between June and September.  But why do we celebrate Christ’s birth in December?  The key here is how we choose to describe the occasion.  We do not think that 25 December is the birthdate of Jesus of Nazareth; it is, instead, the date we celebrate His birth according to the Gregorian Calendar.  To understand why Church officials decided on December, we have to look to the ancient Greco-Roman period because the celebration didn’t begin until the second century A.D.

The Roman Christian historian/scholar Sextus Julius Africanus decided that Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary on 25 March.  If Jesus were born precisely nine months later, then His birthdate would have been 25 December.  No one today thinks that Sextus put much effort into his estimate, but it does provide one possible explanation.  I do admit that I’m puzzled about how Sextus knew the date of Jesus’ conception.

In the third century Roman Empire, which had yet to adopt Christianity, Romans still celebrated their “re-birth” of the Unconquered Sun on 25 December.  This celebration marked the winter solstice and a popular Roman festival called Saturnalia (during which time Romans feasted and exchanged gifts).  It was also the birthday of the Indo-European deity Mithra, the god of light and loyalty.  This was a widespread belief among Roman soldiers.

The Roman Catholic Church formally began celebrating Christmas on 25 December 336 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Constantine.  By then, Emperor Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  In those days, Church leaders frequently selected celebratory dates to coincide with traditional (pagan) festivities — because people were used to those observances.  Church leaders in Rome and Constantinople disagreed over the date, but they hardly agreed on anything.  Still, the Christmas celebration did not become a significant Church event until the 9th century.

Not every Christian group celebrated Christmas.  In the mid-1600s, English Puritans tried to suppress both religious and secular observances of Christmas.  John Knox condemned all Church festivals, most likely because he stood in opposition to the Roman Church and also because in some celebrations, people engaged in what the Puritans called “pagan dancing.”

It wasn’t until the 1800s that Christmas celebrations began to look similar to our modern versions of them.  There were feasts, of course.  Mince pies took some time to mature, so homemakers began their preparations earlier.  People decorated their homes in red and green, symbolic of the life of Jesus and red for the bloodshed at his crucifixion.  People began exchanging Christmas greetings (cards) in the 1840s, and we Americans copied the Christmas Tree idea from Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert, who installed a tree at Windsor Castle in 1841.  This was a long-held German tradition.

Christmas Eve was a Church night.  Afterward, children would return home and hang stockings so that Father Christmas would leave them treats — if they’d been good.  The celebration occurred more often among people in the rural south than in the industrial north, probably due to the Yankee’s Puritan roots; the northerners preferred Thanksgiving to Christmas.  The first three US states to declare Christmas an official holiday were Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas.

Following the Civil War, Christmas became more popular because of children’s books about Christmas trees and gifts from St. Nicholas (who became Santa Claus).  Women’s magazines and Sunday School classes encouraged the celebration, as well.  Arguably, no one did more to perpetuate Christmas than authors Washington Irving, Charles Dickens, and cartoonist Thomas Nast.

We inherited Santa from the Dutch, whose word for St. Nicholas was Sinterklaas.  In 1809, Washington Irving published in A History of New York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty (attributing it to Diedrich Knickerbocker).  Diedrich was one of Washington’s early hoaxes, a man he claimed was a “missing” Dutch historian.  In his book, he introduced his readers to Sinterklaas, who owned a wagon that could fly over the tops of trees as he brought yearly presents to good children.

Sinterklaas transitioned to Santa Claus in William Gilley’s 1821 poem, changing Santa’s wagon to a sled, pulled by a single reindeer.  In 1823, Clement Clarke Moore gave us A Visit from St. Nicholas.  We know the poem today as “The Night Before Christmas.”  Moore added seven additional reindeer to Santa’s retinue and gave them each a unique name.  One of those was Rudolph.  Of the gift-giving, Moore moved it from 5 December (St. Nicholas Day) to 25 December.

Charles Dickens, of course, told us the story of Ebenezer Scrooge in 1843; it transitioned to America in the following year.  But if we wanted to know what Santa Claus looked like, we would have had to wait until 1863, when Thomas Nast drew Santa’s image for a Christmas season edition of Harper’s Weekly.  Santa was pictured in his sleigh arriving at a Union Army camp distributing gifts to soldiers.  Nast’s work was so popular that he continued his drawings for several decades.  From Nast, we learned that Santa Claus lived at the North Pole where he kept his workshop, manned by elves.

So, then, who was St. Nicholas?  He was Nicholas of Bari (also St. Nicholas of Myra), who we believe lived from 270-343 A.D., an early Christian bishop of Greek descent from the port city of Myra (Asia Minor) (modern-day Turkey).  The Church attributes many miracles to St. Nicholas, and for that reason, he is sometimes known as the “Wonderworker.”  He is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, prostitutes, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, and unmarried people.  He is said to have started “secret gift-giving.”  We’ve adopted him as the model for our Santa Claus.  [Below image attributed to Mark Spears].

In the mid-1800s, Santa Claus was a kindly man who gifted valuable things to children, veterans, first responders — such as a new pair of socks.  Modern Santa brings out the worst of us, beginning with the spoiled-rotten child who sulks because they didn’t get the $1,200 iPhone or a pair of Michael Jordon shoes by Gucci that cost well over $3,000.00.

Well — maybe what we’ve turned into, as a people, has less to do with Santa Clause and more to do with social evolution.  We’ve made the transition from people who were grateful for a pair of socks to extraordinarily self-centered, materialistic, shallow creatures.  We care far less about others than we do ourselves.  Our appreciation of gifts received seems to depend more on their retail price than the heartfelt love of the gift giver.  Since around 1945, the end of World War II, this shallowness has only worsened in America.  Today, the Christmas season begins in July and August, when merchants start putting up their displays of Chinese-made goods.  We’ve spiraled into what we are.  Where will we be when, in the future, no “gift” is good enough for the spoiled child?

There may be some hope for us, though … but, if there is, it will probably come from a bright star in the sky that may lead us to the humble beginnings of the Son of God, whom we know as Jesus of Nazareth, who gave us the greatest gift of all: we get to choose for ourselves the kind of people we become.

Merry Christmas, Everyone

Posted in Christmas, History, Society | 2 Comments

The New Northwest Territory


There was a time when the territorial extent of British America began at the Atlantic seacoast and ended at the eastern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  This boundary was an intentional restriction imposed upon the colonists by the British government, who wanted to segregate native populations from British colonials and avoid conflicts with the French.  But after the Seven Year’s War (1754-1763), France withdrew from North America and relinquished its claims to the British Empire.  In 1763, British lands extended from the eastern seaboard to the Mississippi River and from Upper Canada to East Florida and West Florida.[1]

After the American Revolutionary War, Great Britain ceded all lands up to the Mississippi River and below lower Canada.  Suddenly, the newly-born United States of America held title to land that demanded the careful attention of Congress.  Through the Federal Ordinances of 1785 and 1787, Congress created the Northwest Territory and established a legal process by which these new territories were to progress in orderly stages — from wilderness to statehood.

Members of Congress and other officials understood that if citizens of the United States did not populate these lands, and if the U. S. did not exercise its sovereignty over these lands, then the U. S. could not claim to possess them.  For this reason, the fledgling country encouraged westward migration through various strategies, including exploratory expeditions, land sales, homestead provisions, and the formation of federal territories.

A Flawed Process

Nothing complicated is ever easy, and the process of land organization and distribution was deeply flawed.  Before settlement, government surveyors were supposed to mark off the land into townships.  The problem was that thousands of settlers were chomping at their bits to enter these virgin lands, and Congress was taking too long.  Additionally, there were these other people in the way who thought the land belonged to them.  As but one example, the settlement at Marietta, Ohio, took three years from the Ordinance of 1785.  The native populations who already lived there resisted white encroachment with every ounce of their fiber.  

In the 1780s, the government addressed these challenges in two ways: first, by sending pathetically small (and grossly inadequate) military forces into the old northwest, and secondly, but negotiating treaties with native Americans.  But government officials did not seem to understand that a pact with one area tribe, even a predominant one, did not settle the land issue with other tribes.  For instance, in the second treaty of Fort Stanwix (1786), Iroquois Indians were happy to cede their claim to Ohio lands because they didn’t own them.  Indians that did own those lands, the Ohio tribes, had not been consulted about any possible treaty with the whites.

Native Americans respected strength — and could not abide weakness.  After Anthony St. Clair’s overwhelming defeat in 1791, they wondered, what would be the point of negotiating with people who were incapable of winning battles?

Unsated Hunger

Americans, generally, were a land-hungry people.  They were also very poor.  Most settlers had no cash for the purchase of land — even cheap land.  Those who had money, the speculators, purchased land from the government in large lots, often on credit, and then resold it to settlers in much smaller lots — also on credit.  It was usury, of course, generating numerous complaints to members of Congress.  The settlers wanted to eliminate the middlemen and deal directly with the government to purchase smaller lots, where there was a greater chance of making it productive.

It sounds like a good deal to us now, but in 1800, few Americans could afford $640.00 to buy a wilderness property — even with four years to pay.  Many settlers who took up land at the minimum allotment could not pay for them four years later, and in 1815, half of the land sold by the government remained unpaid. The result of this unhappiness was the Land Act of 1800, which halved the minimum purchase to 320 acres at $2.00 per acre.

In 1803, the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory, previously part of New France below Canada.  With the stroke of a pen and a few dollars, the size of the United States more than doubled.  Deciding how to parcel such a large area, administer it, and populate it was a significant undertaking.  The greatest handicap of the people making these momentous decisions was the fact that they were all politicians.

Congress decided to manage these acquisitions in three phases: unorganized territories, organized territories, and states admitted to the Union.  Unorganized territories fell under federal sovereignty but were not organized into self-governing units; organized territories were federal lands with developing political units (e.g., federally appointed governors, territorial legislatures, and federal magistrates), and then finally, the sovereign states.  Despite its many mistakes, Congress managed to achieve these goals within the space of a hundred years.

The Land Act of 1820 abolished credit purchases but made it possible for anyone with $100.00 to purchase an 80-acre tract.  Among those who earned, on average, $0.35 to $0.50 a day, $100.00 was more than they could afford — so a large number of these land-poor settlers simply squatted on wilderness land and refused to budge until they decided it was time to move further west.  Egging on these westward-minded squatters were the stories told by frontier hunters and trappers — all of whom were known, liars.  They told tales of vast, untamed lands where a man could live off game and fish from pristine lakes, never mentioning with any detail the hostiles who owned those untamed lands.


Much credit for exploring these new lands goes to the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Rogers Clark between 1804-1806.  There is no doubt that their expedition was a significant accomplishment.  Still, few realize that another explorer achieved the first east-to-west crossing of North America above New Spain twelve years before Lewis and Clark.  A Scotsman named Alasdair MacCoinnich, better known by his anglicized name Alexander Mackenzie (1764-1820).[2]

Among Mackenzie’s early accomplishments was exploring a river (later named in his honor) (1789) that he believed may have been the mythical Northwest Passage.  He later described it as the river of disappointment because rather than taking him to the Pacific Ocean, he ended up at the Arctic Ocean.

Wisely, Mackenzie returned to Great Britain to study navigation in 1791.  With his newfound knowledge, he returned to Canada in 1792, determined to find a route to the Pacific Ocean.  His party included nine other men departing Fort Chipewyan on 10 October.  On 1 November, they arrived at the Peace River, constructed a winter fortification.  The party continued its journey in early May 1793.  After crossing the Great Divide, friendly natives warned Mackenzie that tribes of hostile Indians occupied the southern end of a nearby (Fraser) canyon.  He took this warning seriously and crossed over the Coast Mountain to the sea, arriving in July 1793.

Concurrently, in 1792, George Vancouver explored Puget Sound and claimed it for Great Britain, naming it in honor of one of his officers, Lieutenant Peter Puget.[3]  Vancouver and Mackenzie missed each other at Bella Coola by only a few days.  There is nothing to suggest that Vancouver and Mackenzie coordinated their efforts.  Nevertheless, their exploration of Oregon Country established British control over the region of the pacific northwest.

 Lewis & Clark explored the area in 1806, and David Thompson, working for the North West Company (NWC), began his explorations in 1807.[4]  None of these areas were virgin territories; each had been briefly explored and claimed by Spain, France, and Russia — but Lewis & Clark marked the first official United States expedition.  Their effort established the first (albeit temporary) settlement of Euro-Americans at the mouth of the Columbia River, which they named Fort Clatsop.

A year later, British-Canadian David Thompson penetrated the Oregon Country from the North, near the headwaters of the Columbia, and then navigated the river to the Pacific Ocean.  Along the way, Thompson claimed for Great Britain all lands near the Columbia and Snake rivers, which set into motion a new territorial competition between American and Canadian fur traders.

In 1810, the only states west of the Appalachian Mountains were Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, with a combined population of about one million.  In twenty more years, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Alabama joined the Union.  One million people lived in Ohio alone: altogether, a population of around four million.  Michigan and Wisconsin joined the Union in 1837 and 1848, respectively.

National Expansion

Rapid economic expansion came from industrialization, an increase in sheep ranching, and plantation operations that relied on slave labor.  Small farmers, who couldn’t compete with the industrialists, had few options beyond moving west.  In time, with improved roads and river transportation, moving west was easier to do.  Tens of thousands of Americans surged west, and, beginning in 1825, the federal government assisted in doing so by adopting Indian removal policies.

Meanwhile, in 1810, John J. Astor, head of the Pacific Fur Company (PFC), established a trading post, naming it Fort Astoria.[5][6]  The settlement, completed in 1811, fell to the British during the War of 1812 (who renamed it, Fort George).  After the war, American and British claims in the northwestern regions were somewhat vague and overlapping.  A treaty with Russia, for example, gave the United States a reason to claim all lands south of the 54th parallel.  To resolve this issue, the British and US government negotiated the Anglo-American Treaty of 1818.  The United States and Great Britain agreed to joint-occupancy of the Oregon Country from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean along the 49th parallel.

In 1821, Canada’s NWC merged with the Hudson Bay Company (HBC), with the company’s management falling under John McLoughlin.  At parliament’s insistence, the HBC implemented the laws of Upper Canada throughout the Oregon Country.  Among McLoughlin’s many tasks, he was to ensure that the laws of Upper Canada were applied to all British subjects and any Americans who settled in the Oregon Country.[7]

McLoughlin moved HBC’s regional office to Fort Vancouver, which became the center of a thriving mixed colony of Scottish-Canadians, Scots, English, French-Canadians, Algonquin, and Iroquois Indians — and their families.  McLoughlin applied British laws equitably, kept the peace with natives, and maintained friendly relations with American merchants and later colonists.

John Astor, meanwhile, continued to compete for Oregon Country furs through American Fur Company (AFC) operations in the Rockies.  In the 1820s, very few Americans traded in the lands beyond the Rocky Mountains, part of the British plan for the new Northwest.  To discourage American hunters and trappers from entering the Northwest Oregon Country, HBC trappers intentionally over-hunted the area’s rivers and forests.  Additionally, Canadian hunters/trappers intermarried with native Americans and adopted Indian ways; the result was a unique social cohesion that helped keep American trappers out of the Oregon Country — at least for a while.

Waves of Settlers

In the 1830s, missionaries from the eastern states began making their way to the Pacific North West — to educate the heathen and save their souls.  In 1836, John Mason Peck described the three classes of westward-moving immigrants, who rolled along with one after another like waves in the ocean.   The first of these was the pioneer, the hunter-trapper mountain man who, while constructing a crude cabin, left the land in its natural state and then moved on whenever the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney vexed his eyes or their voices disturbed his sleep.

The second wave were men who pulled down the rustic cabin, cleared away trees and underbrush, cleared the land for roads, bridged the streams, and built houses with glass windows.  Though frugal, it was a civilized existence, and, likely, this fellow remained there for the balance of his years.  He may have done, but his offspring looked to the west.  They would become the third wave.

The third wave consisted of men with investment capital and an eye for the possibilities of a new civilization.  This settler made his home of brick or stone.  Third-wave men opened stores, livery stables, and banks.  They built the wagons and coaches that would carry cargo and passengers from one town to the next.  They established newspapers and represented others in the courts and legislatures.  They became the industrialists, entrepreneurs, and small businessmen who fed the engine of the American economy.

Onward they went — forcing the development of western territories.  In 1819, the Arkansaw (after 1829, Arkansas) Territory formed from the southern portion of the Missouri Territory.  In 1824, half of the Arkansas Territory west of Missouri’s western border returned to an unorganized territory.  

In 1834, Congress combined the Michigan Territory with the unorganized land that extended west to the Missouri River.  Congress also created the Wisconsin Territory from the western region of the Michigan Territory.  Congressional bumbling created serious and potentially hostile disputes between newly organized states and those who remained within the territories.  These, of course, were amicably settled in time.[8]  In 1838, Iowa Territory organized from the Wisconsin Territory west of the Mississippi River.

The westward migration didn’t only involve Americans, who began arriving in Oregon Country in the 1840s.  With massive increases in American settlers came demands placed on HBC that the company simply could not satisfy.  Moreover, the influx of Americans was such that they began to outnumber the Canadians.  The effect of this was that it started a “resettlement” war HBC.

The Canadians who eventually responded to the plea for adventurous resettlement were small in number and preferred to settle near Fort Vancouver.  In any case, HBC’s call for increased settlement came too late because Americans were flowing into the Oregon Country by the hundreds.  For instance, during the “Great Migration of 1843,” more than 1,000 Americans settled in Oregon.  Three years later, Great Britain relinquished its claims to the Oregon Country south of the 49th parallel.

In 1848, the US organized the (southern) portion of the Oregon Country into an organized territory.  Still, because territorial officials were always few and funds were limited, settlers viewed the process as exasperatingly slow and inefficient.  Whatever the settler’s complaints, they fell on deaf ears.  For example, the lack of adequate roadways and postal services impeded commercial development.  Additionally, there were only a few military units to protect the settlers from Indian hostilities, and the absence of law enforcement officers made Oregon a haven for outlaws.

Squabbles and such

In 1851 and 1852, settlers submitted two separate petitions to Congress.  Since the Oregon Territory was too large for efficient governance, they wanted to split the Oregon Territory into two separate territories — one situated north of the Columbia River and the other to its south.  Congressional approval to form a separate Washington territory came in 1853.  Oregon became a state in 1859; Washington was granted statehood in 1889.  According to one American settler, who lived in the Oregon Country between 1843-48, “Oregonians were all honest because there was nothing to steal.  They were all sober because there was no liquor to drink.  There were no misers because there was nothing to hoard.  They were all industrious because it was either work or starve.”

As Oregon and Washington were formed from the Oregon Country west of the Great Divide, the Idaho Territory became a successor from other territories — most of which existed east of the Continental Divide, loosely part of the Dakota Territory ended south to north at the agreed-to border with Canada.  The Idaho Territory included the present-day states of Idaho, Montana, and nearly all of Wyoming.

In 1854, new state/territorial controversies forced Congress to re-consider the issue of slavery.  Kansas/Nebraska were both large territories petitioning for statehood.  The argument was complicated by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which admitted Missouri as a slave state in exchange for a prohibition of slavery above the 36th parallel (excepting Missouri).  To solve this problem, Congress repealed the Missouri Compromise and decided that the citizens of Kansas and Nebraska could determine the fate of their states.

The Civil War

America’s westward expansion had a profound effect on politics and society.  After the War of 1812, nationalist-minded people believed that God intended them to spread democracy and Protestantism across the continent.  This idea of manifest destiny spurred a million people to sell their homes in the East and set out for the Northwest Territory.  These sentiments, vastly popular, encouraged policymakers to pursue additional lands, including war with Mexico to acquire Texas, California, and everything else between them.

Ultimately, these trends split North from South.  The Market Revolution, wage labor, improved transportation, social reforms, and a growing Northern middle class clashed with a deep-seated (nearly feudal) Southern aristocracy.  Each debate on slavery and westward migration drove America’s regions further apart until, finally, in the 1850s, the American North and South had become two wildly different places — culturally, socially, and economically.  

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, what few US troops existed in the Northwest transferred to the eastern United States.  To replace these first responders in Oregon and the Washington Territory, California recruited volunteer cavalry and infantry units for service in the new Northwest.  Within Oregon, pro-Union settlers raised the 1st Oregon Cavalry in 1862, which served in the war until 1865.[9]  Meanwhile, white settlers continued their clash with native Americans, which in the Northwest evolved into the Snake War (1864-1868).  A strong Northwest economy didn’t begin to develop until twenty years after the Civil War.


  1. Clark, J.  Land Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada.  Queen’s University Press, 2001.
  2. DeVoto, B.  The Journals of Lewis and Clark.  Houghton-Mifflin, 1953. 
  3. Gough, B. M.  First Across the Continent: Sir Alexander Mackenzie.  Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1997.
  4. Mackie, R. S.  Trading Beyond the Mountains: The British for Trade on the Pacific 1793-1843.  Vancouver University, 1997.
  5. Wallace, W. S.  Documents Relating to the North West Company.  New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.


[1] I have been fortunate to travel through all these areas.  Massive is an understatement.  If I had traveled it on foot, the size of it all would seem two to three times greater. 

[2] Mackenzie was the third of the four children of Kenneth Mackenzie (a tacksman, or leaseholder) and MacIver in Stornoway, Scotland.  Kenneth began his military service as an ensign during the Jacobite War in 1745, later serving (with his brother) as a lieutenant in the King’s Royal Regiment of New York.  Accompanied in America by his family, Kenneth sent his wife and children to Montreal in 1778 for their own safety during the American Revolutionary War.  Alexander achieved an apprenticeship with Finlay & Gregory (a fur trading company) in 1779 (later named the Northwest Company).

[3] Captain George Vancouver, Royal Navy (1757-1798) explored and charted North America’s northwest Pacific coast, including Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and present-day British Columbia while commanding HMS Discovery and HMS Chatham.

[4] The North West Company was a fur trading business headquartered in Montreal (1779-1821).  It competed with increasing success against the Hudson Bay Company in present-day Western Canada and Northwestern Ontario.  With great wealth at stake, tensions between the two companies increased to the point where several armed incidents prompted the British government to force the two companies to merge.

[5] The PFC operated between 1810-1813.

[6] Astor was a German-American businessman, merchant, land speculator, and investor who made his fortune by monopolizing the fur trade and smuggling opium into China.  He was the first American multi-millionaire.

[7] When one looks at the map of Upper Canada, it doesn’t appear to be “upper” at all.  Taken in context with its creation, however, it was a sensible reference in 1791.  The Province of Upper Canada was created to govern the central third of lands in British North America, formerly part of the Province of Quebec.  The term “upper” appears to reflect its geographical position relative to the Great Lakes, and contrasts with the term “lower” Canada, Quebec, to the East.  Upper Canada was the primary destination of British Colonial refugees from the United States after the American Revolution.  The Laws of Upper Canada included a bi-cameral legislature and separate civil and criminal laws rather than a mixture of British Common Law with French codes.

[8] Not entirely “amicably,” because in 1839, Missouri claimed an area north of its border with the Iowa Territory, and this initiated a long dispute, a bloodless argument known to history as the Honey War.  The Honey War of 1839 involved a 9.5-mile strip of land that ran the entire length of the border that was caused by unclear wording in the Missouri Constitution, misunderstanding over a survey of the Louisiana Purchase, and a misreading of treaties with native Americans..

[9]   In the regiment’s first battle, in Loudon County, Virginia, its commanding officer (Colonel Edward Dickinson Baker) was killed in action.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, British Colonies, Civil War, Colonial America, History, Indian War, Mexican American War, New France, Northwest Territory, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Society | Leave a comment

The Northwest Indian War

Some Background

In 1757, long before the Revolutionary War with Great Britain, Benjamin Franklin was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly as a colonial agent to protest the political influence in Pennsylvania of the Penn family, the proprietors of the colony.  There may be a lesson in this for those of us who wonder about the political dynasties in America today.  In any case, after remaining in England for five years, Mr. Franklin had little to show for his efforts — except that he arrived in Great Britain as a loyal Englishman and departed as an American patriot.  At no time during his stay in England was Mr. Franklin treated with dignity or respect by British politicians.

Franklin was returned to England in 1764, ostensibly to continue the Pennsylvania Colony’s struggle against the Penn family, but while in London, newly-minted patriot Franklin vocally opposed the Stamp Act of 1765, which caused British politicians to double-down on the insults offered to Mr. Franklin.  However, this time, Franklin’s testimony before the House of Commons resulted in a repeal of the Act.

Before the outset of the rebellion, despite the anger many colonists felt toward the Parliament after establishing the Coercive Acts, some members of the First Continental Congress were willing to confirm their loyalty to the King — but with this caveat: in return for the American’s loyalty, Congress asked King George III to address and resolve specific grievances of the British colonies.  John Dickinson’s petition laid out a succinct “sense of the Congress.”  Of course, monarchs did not negotiate with their subjects, and King George III was no exception.  When the king failed to respond to the Congresses petition, on 6 July 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution entitled, “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms.”

Two years later, British peace commissioners traveled to the American colonies to negotiate terms with Congress.  The Carlisle Peace Commission offered the Americans self-rule and representation in the British Parliament.  But by then, it was too late for reconciliation.  The Continental Congress knew that the revolution was bankrupting Great Britain, and they were fully aware that the Carlisle commission was not authorized to discuss the matter of independence —so the American Revolution continued and was finally “won” in 1783.

Historians place great emphasis on the surrender of British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1783, and of course, there was a formal accord in the same year.  However, ongoing events might suggest that war between Great Britain and the Americans continued for some time — at least to 1814.  Any suggestion that the British had their noses out of joint because of their inability to defeat the ragtag Continental Army may be unkind, accurate, or both. If we think that the British politicians treatment of Franklin was shoddy, their post-war perfidy from behind the Canadian curtain was ten-times worse.

Despite the formal cessation of hostilities between Great Britain and the American colonists, British officials continued their long-standing agitation among native populations living within the (then) Northwest Territory.[1]   Of course, the surge of white settlers across the Appalachian Mountains aided British activists in 1783-84.  Of concern to the British was their suspicion that it was only a matter of time before the Americans set their sights on British Canada.  It was not an unfounded misgiving.

For centuries, conflict in the Northwest Territory had been a fact of life — tribal conflicts complicated by shifting alliances among two or more tribal groups.  In 1783, there was nothing “united” about the Indian tribes in the expansive Northwest Territory.  The British reasoned that the best way to protect Canada from encroachment by the Americans was to convince Indian populations that they were entitled to possess this land, as set-asides, protected from white settlements.  To do that, however, the British had to first unite several tribes against the United States — and the timing couldn’t have been better.  The Americans had won their war of independence, but in 1783, they had no clear idea about what to do with their hard-won victory.

As for the Indians, they were well-aware of white expansion and encroachment, and they knew that the whites were at least partially responsible for tribal conflicts.  Beginning in 1783-84, British agents began working to unite the several tribes, speaking to them of the danger of continued white expansion.[2]  Actually, British efforts were little more than a continuation of their strategies against the French between 1754-63 (French and Indian Wars).  What the Indians needed to do, British agents argued, was to form a confederation of all tribes so that they could speak with one powerful voice, unite their tribes into a military league to fight the Americans, to regain control over the Northwest Territory, and protect it for their progeny.  And, of course, the British were more than happy to help the Indians with weapons, ammunition, and sound strategic advice.

Native American cooperation in resisting European encroachments was not a new concept.  Shifting alliances among Indian tribes and with French, British, Spanish, or American interests was simply a fact of life in North America.  In 1783, native tribes began working with British agents to formalize united resistance to white intrusion.  The Confederation came together in the autumn of 1785 at Fort Detroit.[3]  The Confederation is known to history as the Huron Confederacy, but only because Huron leaders initially served as the spokesmen for the movement.[4]  In the agreement, participating Indian nations decided that all member tribes would deal with the Americans with one voice; member tribes were prohibited from entering negotiations with the Americans.[5]  Any tribe doing so would become an enemy of the Confederation.  The Confederacy determined that the Ohio River would serve as the eastern boundary of Indian land; everyone agreed to prohibit all white settlements beyond it.

The Northwest Territory Indian Wars began in 1785; it wasn’t the first Euro-Indian war, nor would it be the last. 

What made the timing of this effort perfect was that following the Revolutionary War, the United States (more or less) disbanded its army.  America’s only military force was its irregular state militia.  The single exception was a standing regiment (1st US Infantry) employed to protect the Western Frontier and one battery of field artillery to guard the arsenal at West Point.  With time, continuing conflicts with the Indians convinced Congress that the United States needed a well-trained standing army.[6]  In its infant stage, America’s army consisted of poorly led, marginally trained troops and a ragtag volunteer militia.  Between 1790-91, the United States suffered among the worst military defeats in its entire history.

An evolving confederacy

Of course, there was nothing new about tribal cooperation, but Indian collaboration only occurred when the Indians themselves reasoned that alliance served their interests.  Despite the Huron Confederacy, bands of Shawnee, Delaware, and Huron did open negotiations with the US officials and agreed to allow white settlement in an area north of the Ohio River as part of the Treaty of Fort Finney.[7]  Signed on 31 January 1786, the accord ceded parts of the Ohio Country to the United States.  The treaty sparked the eruption of violence not only between Indians and settlers but among the Indians themselves.  The Shawnee that signed the accord were angrily repudiated by the Shawnee who rejected it.  A Huron envoy warned members of congress that Wabash, Twatwa (Delaware), and Miami nations fully intended to disrupt US surveyors, and Congress resolved that there would be reprisals for any disruption.  British agents couldn’t have been happier.

In July 1787, Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, a formal organization of the territory claimed by the United States.  The Ordinance prohibited the taking of Indian lands without their consent.  Congress directed the newly appointed territorial governor (Major General Arthur St. Clair (also, Sinclair)) to reassert the United States’ peaceful intentions with native nations.[8]  General St. Clair didn’t arrive in the Northwest Territory until July 1788, but he wasted no time in his attempt to open negotiations by inviting Indian chieftains to a parlay at Fort Harmar.[9]  The meeting broke down almost immediately.

Behind the Scenes

Working against the United States’ interests, British agents in the Northwest Territory provided weapons and ammunition to the Indians and encouraged and helped them plan attacks against American settlements.  Colonel Alexander McKee (1735-1799) was one of these agents.  He was attached to the British Indian Department during the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution, and the Northwest Indian Wars.

Alexander McKee was the second son of Thomas McKee, a Scots-Irish immigrant to Canada, fur trader, Indian Agent, and Indian language interpreter for General Forbes at Fort Pitt.  Alexander’s mother, Mary, was a white captive from a North Carolina settler’s family.  The Shawnee adopted Mary and assimilated her into the tribe.  After Mary died, Thomas remarried a woman named Margaret Tecum-sa-path Opessa, a daughter of Pride Opessa, the chief who signed a treaty with William Penn in 1701.  Margaret was the older sister of Alexander McKee’s first wife, Sewatha Sarah Straighttail, and Meth-eo-tashe Mary Opessa.  Mary Opessa was the mother of the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh.  It was Margaret who taught Alexander the language and customs of the Shawnee people.  This familial relationship enabled Alexander to develop and maintain a lifelong relationship with the Ohio Indian tribes.

Because of McKee’s relationship with the Shawnee, British Indian Agent George Croghan recruited him for service in the British Indian Department within the Pennsylvania Colony.  In 1764, Alexander settled in present-day McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.[10]  George Washington visited Alexander at his home in 1770.  The white settlers moving westward were not good neighbors; their poor treatment of Alexander and his mixed-race family caused Alexander to leave the Americans and join the British at Fort Detroit.  Alexander dedicated himself to promoting an alliance between native populations and the British during the next twenty-five years — especially with the Shawnee.  Significantly, Alexander had tremendous credibility with the Northwest tribes, but it should be no surprise that Congress branded Alexander as a traitor.

British Lieutenant Governor (of Upper Canada), Lieutenant General Sir John Graves Simcoe, began his military career in 1770 in the 35th Regiment of Foot.  He accompanied his regiment to the American colonies and saw action during the siege of Boston, in New York and New Jersey, and during the Philadelphia Campaign.  During the Battle of Brandywine, Simcoe commanded the 40th Regiment, where he was wounded.  Some historians point to the fact that at Brandywine, Simcoe ordered his men not to fire upon three fleeing rebels, one of whom was General George Washington.  In 1777, Simcoe recommended the formation of a regiment of free Negroes, but he was instead appointed to command the Queen’s Rangers.  In this assignment, Simcoe planned and executed a successful surprise attack at the Battle of Crooked Billet.  

Parliament’s Constitutional Act of 1791 divided Canada into Upper Canada (Ontario) and Lower Canada (Quebec) provinces.  Lower Canada was the French-speaking eastern portion of Canada that retained Napoleon Law and safeguarded the Roman Catholic Church.  In September 1791, Lieutenant General Simcoe received an appointment as Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada.  As governor, one of his priorities was the Northwest Indian War between the United States and the Western Confederacy of Indians west of the Appalachian Mountains.

The conflict, which began in 1785, was still going strong when Simcoe arrived in 1792.  He relished the American failures in the Northwest Territory because his goal was to create an Indian barrier state between the United States and Canada.  Initially relying on Joseph Brant as his principal advisor in Indian affairs, Simcoe rejected Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris because since the Americans had violated the treaty, it was therefore null and void.[11]  In 1793, Simcoe received instructions from London to seek good terms with the Americans to avoid giving them a reason to support France —improved relations with the United States being preferable to creating a new American front in the French Revolutionary Wars.[12]  In February 1794, Lord Dorchester, Governor-General of Canada, publicly stated his concern that war with the United States was imminent.  Dorchester’s pronouncement encouraged the Indian Confederation and increased the flow of British weapons and ammunition/gun powder to the Indian nations.  Simcoe urged London to declare war against the United States as a strategy for creating an Indian State in the Northwest Territory.  When London rebuked Lord Dorchester for making undiplomatic public statements, Simcoe relaxed his hawkish stance toward the Americans.


Confederacy war parties began raiding and murdering white settlers in April 1786, a behavior one might expect from savages.  But what we find in history is that American militias, in implementing a quid-pro-quo raiding strategy, behaved no better than the Indians.  After a militia attacked an Indian village of the Pian-ke-shaw near the Embarras River, four-hundred warriors responded by threatening the settlement at Vincennes.

In the autumn, George Rogers Clark and Benjamin Logan led a two-pronged force of Kentucky militia in punitive raids against Indian villages.  Their design was to force the Indians to withdraw north of the Ohio River.  One questions the wisdom of waiting until the autumn to begin his campaign because, by the time Clark set out from Kentucky, the weather was already turning cold, the terrain was rugged, and resupply impossible.  In time, his men lost interest in the campaign, rebelled, and returned to their homes.  With only a handful of men remaining, Clark arrived in Vincennes as a discredited military leader.

As previously noted, the Shawnee nation was not of one mind about white settlements in the Northwest Territory. That is until General Logan made his thrust along the Mad River with Kentucky mounted rifles and infantry.  Logan foolishly made no distinction between hostile and friendly Shawnee.  In the process of destroying Indian villages and obliterating their winter food stores, Captain Hugh McGary murdered in cold blood an elderly Shawnee chief named Moluntha.[13]  Moluntha was the one man who was vital in helping persuade other Shawnee leaders to accept white settlements into the Northwest Territory.  Afterward, the Shawnee were more willing to listen to what British agents had to say.  Worse, Logan’s actions generated a series of Indian raids into Kentucky, where more than 2,000 settlers lost their lives.  Disgusted by the constant warfare, U. S. Secretary of War Henry Knox blamed this bloodshed directly on Congress and the Northwest Ordinance.

Josiah Harmar

George Washington assumed the office of President of the United States in 1789.  The following year, Washington ordered Brigadier General Josiah Harmar to initiate an offensive into the Shawnee and Miami country.  Harmar’s ultimate design was to strike Kekionga (president-day Fort Wayne, Indiana), a prominent Indian center with importance to the British trade economy.  Harmar’s force numbered around 1,500 militia and army regulars.  Between 19-21 October, Harmar lost three successive engagements near Kekionga.  Leading a mixed force of 400 men, Colonel John Hardin allowed himself lured into an ambush that caused the loss of 129 men (also known as Hardin’s Defeat).  The following day, another scouting party under Ensign Phillip Hartshorn was ambushed and destroyed.  Harmar made no effort to assist Hartshorn or to recover any of the party’s remains.  On 21 October, Hardin established a position near Kekionga and awaited reinforcements from Harmar.  The Miami war leader Michi-kini-kwa (known as Little Turtle) overwhelmed Hardin, forcing his retreat.  General Harmar never dispatched reinforcements.

There were two immediate consequences of Harmar’s defeat: a loss of self-confidence and esprit de corps among the American militia and the magnification of the leadership ability of Indian war chiefs, particularly Little Turtle of the Miami and Blue Jacket of the Shawnee.

Having demonstrated their battle efficiency, the Indians enlarged their anti-white campaign.[14]  In January 1791, Indian forces attacked the settlement near present-day Stockport, Ohio.  Earlier, in 1790, 36 members of the Ohio Land Company traveled upriver to Marietta and settled on untitled lands.[15]  Local Indians didn’t want them there, and everyone knew that.  A prevalent frontier rumor suggested that the settlement was about to be attacked.  The rumors and warnings were ignored.  On 2 January 1791, Lenape and Wyandot warriors struck the settlement, killing 12-14 settlers, men, women, and children.  A few days later, the Indians laid siege to Dunlap’s Station.

Arthur St. Clair

At the time Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance, Arthur St. Clair was president of Congress.  In 1791, St. Clair served as Governor of the Northwest Territory.  Following Harmar’s defeat, President Washington commissioned St. Clair as Major General and ordered him to undertake a more aggressive military effort before the end of summer, including the construction of a series of forts along the Maumee River.  In his haste (and with no experience as a military commander), St. Clair put together an expeditionary force that lacked adequate provisions and skilled craftsmen.

As St. Clair marched northward, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson (See also: James Wilkinson: Image of Respectability) conducted diversionary raids along the Wabash River.[16]  In one of these, Wilkinson captured 34 Miami prisoners, one of whom was the daughter of the war chief Little Turtle.  Up until this point, several of the Confederation leaders had considered submitting peace terms to U. S. officials.  After Wilkinson’s raids, there could be no question of peace.

Even though he lacked adequate provisions and that many of his men were at the end of their enlistments, St. Clair departed Fort Washington in October 1791 with 1,500 militia and two-hundred camp followers.[17]  Owing to St. Clair’s delay in departure, the Indian Confederation had more than enough time to prepare for war.  General St. Clair seemed to be in no hurry.  He twice stopped along the route of march to construct forts.  Men whose enlistments expired turned around and returned home, and St. Clair’s force dwindled to about 1,100.

At daybreak on 4 November, while St. Clair was bivouacked with weak, inattentive perimeter defense,  two-thousand Indian warriors, led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, overran the camp.  It was a one-sided, extremely bloody engagement.  St. Clair lost 70% of his men and officers.  Out of 920 soldiers, 640 were killed, and another 265 received severe wounds.  Indians killed nearly all St. Clair’s camp followers.  It was the worst-ever defeat by the United States in any of its engagements with Indians.  A furious President Washington revoked St. Clair’s military commission and appointed Major General Anthony Wayne as a senior military officer in the Northwest Territory.

Curiously, the Indians did not capitalize on their victory.  They instead returned to their homes to prepare for winter.  Kekionga was largely abandoned, the inhabitants resettling near the Auglaize River, which, if not a wise move, was undoubtedly prudent.  The Indian victory caused General Simcoe to reconsider his earlier demands to renegotiate the Treaty of Paris; he instead sought to curry favor with the Washington administration.  President Washington petitioned Congress for a declaration of war against the Indian Confederation.  Washington further urged Congress to raise an army capable of conducting successful operations against the Northwest Indian alliance.

In 1792 Congress authorized The Legion of the United States as the first standing army after the Revolutionary War.  The legion was formed with four sub-legions under the command of Major General Anthony Wayne.  Brigadier General James Wilkinson served as Wayne’s deputy commander.  Even though Congress authorized a brigadier general to command each of the four sub-legions, lieutenant colonels filled these billets.  Each sub-legion contained two battalions of infantry (one mounted), one company (battery) of artillery, and a medical unit.  Commanding the sub-legions in their numerical sequence were Lieutenant Colonel Jean François Hamtramck, Lieutenant Colonel David Strong, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Gaither, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Butler.  The Militia Acts of 1792 (there were two) authorized the President of the United States to activate state militia or call them into federal service.  The second act authorized conscription of every “free able-bodied white male citizen between 18 and 45.

Following St. Clair’s defeat, President Washington asked Joseph Brant to help negotiate peace negotiations.  When Washington learned that Brant was working for the British, he dispatched two peace emissaries: Major Alexander Truman and, following him, Colonel John Hardin.  Both men were killed en route to establishing contact with the Indian Confederation.[18]

A grand council of Indians met in September 1792 to consider whether to continue the war or sue for peace from a position of strength.  Alexander McKee represented the interests of Great Britain.  The council agreed that the Ohio River must remain the boundary of the United States, that all forts constructed in the Ohio Country must be destroyed, and that they would meet with U. S. representatives in 1793 near the Sandusky River.  Henry Knox agreed to the meeting and suspension of military offensive operations.  Indian raids continued, however.

After Little Turtle raided Fort St. Clair, Wilkinson demonstrated his abominable nature by writing a letter to Secretary Knox criticizing his superior, Major General Wayne, who, in compliance with Knox’s instructions, ordered his forces to engage in “defensive measures only.”

The Sandusky River Council was like a modern-day childcare facility during cracker hour.  Indian representatives began bickering almost immediately; some even demanded that the United States honor the Stanwix Agreement between the British and Indians in 1768.[19]  The council ended with no progress toward peace and scant agreement within the Indian Confederacy.  This led some to conclude that all one had to do to break up an Indian alliance was to call for a meeting.

General Wayne immediately advanced his troops northward into Indian territory.  The Legion wintered at newly constructed Fort Greene, but Wayne dispatched 300 men to build another fortification at the site of St. Clair’s earlier defeat.  Wayne named it Fort Recovery.  Wayne also wanted to recover the artillery pieces left there when St. Clair withdrew.  Wayne once more signaled his willingness to negotiate peace with the Northwest Indians.  Responding to Wayne’s initiative, George Mason White Eyes arrived to negotiate with General Wayne, but Wayne insisted that all members of the Confederacy must participate in the peace process.[20]  Because the other Indian chiefs believed that Great Britain and the United States would soon be at war, none felt the need for negotiations.

Lord Dorchester’s remarks caused a stir in the United States, of course. Still, Dorchester doubled down by warning the United States that taking possession of any part of the Northwest Territory would be a direct violation of His Majesty’s rights.  General Simcoe directed the construction of Fort Miami and garrisoned it with a company of soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot, a battery of eight cannons, and ordered the commander there to be vigilant for an attack by the United States.  No doubt General Simcoe would have liked nothing more.  Major General Wayne did fume about it, but his force was inadequate to the task of assaulting a fortified position.

In June 1794, British officers arrived at the gates of Fort Recovery with an Indian force of 1,200 warriors led by Blue Jacket, Egu-sha-wa, and Bear Chief of the Ottawa tribe.  Well-provisioned, the British announced their intent to collect recovered cannons, shot, and gun powder.  The British-Indian group did manage to capture one cannon, and they successfully corralled or scattered several hundred pack animals, but they failed to capture Fort Recovery, which was adequately defended by American artillery, dragoons, and Chickasaw scouts under the direct command of General Wayne.[21]  The American’s defense cost the Indians 23 killed, 29 wounded, and the loss of three captured British soldiers.  Little Turtle petitioned the British for the use of the captured cannon, but their request was denied.

General Wayne planned to leave Fort Recovery, but he made another attempt to negotiate with the Indian Confederacy before doing so.  Little Turtle was wary of Wayne, but he began to distrust the British and argued for peace negotiations.  Blue Jacket mocked Little Turtle as a traitor and argued successfully that Wayne could be defeated as easily as Harmar and St. Clair. Little Turtle, insulted, resigned from his confederate leadership position.

On 16 August, an Indian messenger brought word to Wayne to delay his departure while the Indians conferred with one another.  Wayne, suspecting that the request was a delaying tactic, departed Fort Recovery the next day.  Meanwhile, the British worried that their concocted Indian confederacy was falling apart.  As a show of force (and perhaps solidarity with the Indians), the British sent reinforcements to Fort Miami.

General Wayne pushed northward with plans to construct three additional forts, naming Fort Adams, Fort Defiance, and Fort Deposit.  By 20 August, Wayne’s Legion of 3,000 men arrived near present-day Toledo, Ohio.  The Indian Confederation (Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Miami’s, Roundheads, Mingo’s, Mohawks, and a company of British Canadian militia (dressed as Indians under Lieutenant Colonel William Caldwell) laid an ambush near a place called Fallen Timbers, an area of devastation created by an earlier tornado.  Blue Jacket concealed 1,500 warriors within the destroyed forest.

When the Indians rushed into the attack, Wayne quickly rallied and directed his men in several assaults, including a bayonet charge into the thick of the Indian center.  British-Canadian Rangers made a rapid withdrawal into Fort Miami.  The battle lasted about one hour.  Wayne’s force sustained 33 killed and 100 wounded, with Indian casualties possibly twice that number.  Subsequently, Wayne bivouacked his force within sight of Fort Miami.  When the officer commanding demanded to know why the Americans were camped there, Wayne replied, “The answer has been given by the sound of your muskets and the retreat of your confederacy.”  The next day, General Wayne mounted his horse and carefully inspected Fort Miami’s exterior while the British looked on from within.  Major Campbell, commanding Fort Miami, decided it would be prudent not to molest General Wayne — principally because he had no orders to fire on the Americans except in defense.

While “Mad Anthony” Wayne made a show of his inspection, The Legion destroyed Indian villages and food stores adjacent to Fort Deposit, destroyed Alexander McKees’ trading post, and with some arrogance, withdrew from the battlefield at a slow pace.  The Indian Confederacy, which the British had so painstakingly assembled, began to crumble.  Bickering among Indian leaders continued, few warriors exhibited much interest in continuing the fight, and the British were utterly discredited.  None of this meant that Indian hostilities were at an end, however, but there was never again such a large-scale contest between Indians and American army forces.

General Wayne led his Legion back to Kekionga and began construction on another fort.  Before the winter was out, Wayne had four more forts.  But as to this particular fort, General Wayne’s requirements were exacting: a fort able to withstand 24-pound shot, Indian uprisings, and a full assault by British regulars.  He had his fort within a month and appointed LtCol Jean François Hamtramck as its first commander.  He named the edifice Fort Wayne, commissioned on 22 October 1794 — which is the date modern Fort Wayne, Indiana was founded.

(Next week: The New Northwest Territory)


  1. Allen, W. B.  A History of Kentucky: Embracing Gleanings, Reminiscences, Antiquities, Natural Curiosities, Statistics, and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers, Soldiers, Jurists, Lawyers, Statesmen, Divines, Mechanics, Merchants, and Other Leading Men, of all Occupations, and Pursuits. Bradley & Gilbert, 1872.
  2. Gaff, A. D.  Bayonets in the Wilderness: Anthony Wayne’s Legion in the Old Northwest.  Norman: University of Oklahoma, 2004.
  3. Hildreth, S. P.  Pioneer History: Being an account of the first examinations of the Ohio Valley and the early settlement of the Northwest Territory from original manuscripts (1848) (not sighted).  Ohio State Historical Society, 1906.
  4. Knopf, R. C.  Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1960.
  5. Kochan, J.  United States Army 1783-1811: Men at Arms.  Osprey Publishing, 2001.
  6. Labaree, L. W.  The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Vol. 12).  Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1968.
  7. Nelson, P. D.  Anthony Wayne: Soldier of the Early Republic.  Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985.
  8. Paulett, R.  An Empire of Small Places: Mapping the Southeastern Anglo-Indian Trade, 1732-1795.  Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2012.
  9. White, R.  The Middle Ground Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815.  Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  10. Wulff, F.  Alexander McKee: The Great White Elk, British Indian Agent on the Colonial Frontier.  Denver: Outskirts Press, 2013.


[1] Article 2 of the Treaty of Paris (1783) which officially ended the American Revolutionary War, delineated the Great Lakes as a border between British Canadian territory and the United States.  Numerous Indian tribes inhabited the Northwest Territory, known among the Americans as the Ohio Country, and Illinois Country.  Regardless of the Treaty of Paris, the British retained its forts in this area and continued policies that supported Indians against the United States.

[2] ware of Great Britain’s mischief in the Northwest Territories in 1783, the retiring George Washington advised Congress in the strongest of terms that it should be the task of the American army to enforce US sovereignty over these territories.

[3] Originally named Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit, Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac established it in 1701.  The fort was taken over by the British during the French and Indian Wars and held by them until the American Revolution.  The British then constructed Fort Lemoult, further north, in 1779, later named Fort Shelby.

[4] The Huron people (also Wyandot) are an Iroquoian-speaking people who emerged as a tribe along the north shore of Lake Ontario.  Today, 3,000 Huron remain in Canada and 5,600 live in the United States.

[5] What made this confederation significant is that culturally, native Americans were (and are) fiercely individualistic, even to the extent of tribal members having the right to ignore any decision by their chief and go their own way.

[6] The First Regiment was called The Legion of the United States,  established between June and November 1792 at Fort Lafayette, Pennsylvania, and placed under the command of Major General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.  Wayne earned his sobriquet owing to his fiery personality and military daring.

[7] Fort Finney was constructed in 1785 at the mouth of the Miami River near present-day Cincinnati, Ohio by Major Walter Finney.  The fort was needed to secure the territory on behalf of the United States and to serve as a suitable location for negotiating settlements with the Shawnee.  Major General George Rogers Clark, Major General Richard Butler, and Samuel Parsons received commissions to negotiate a settlement with the Shawnee, but in time, Clark would do more harm than good.  George Rogers Clark was the older brother of William Rogers Clark who had made a substantial contribution to the Revolutionary War in the western colonies.  Fort Finney, Ohio is today part of the coal yard at the Miami Fort Power Plant.

[8] The Northwest Territory included present-day Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  St. Clair named the Cincinnati settlement after the Society of Cincinnati.  It is where St. Clair later established his home.

[9] Fort Harmar was named after LtCol Josiah Harmar, Commanding Officer of the First American Regiment and the U. S. Army’s senior officer from 1784-1791.  Harmar was reputed to be a politically connected man with a fondness for drink.  He served as Brevet Brigadier General while in command of the US Army in the Northwest Territory.  

[10] Allegheny County, along the South bank of the Ohio River.  The Hopewell mounds are nearby.  Militia colonel George Washington considered McKees Rocks as an ideal location for Fort Pitt, which was ultimately constructed on the site of the former Fort Duquesne, today part of Pittsburg’s Point State Park.

[11] Also, Thayendanegea (1743-1807), Joseph Brant was a Mohawk military and political leader who closely associated with Great Britain during the American Revolution, Brant rose to prominence through his education, ability, and his connection to British officials.  Brant’s sister Molly was consort to Sir William Johnson, the superintendent of Indian Affairs in New York.  During the American Revolution, Brant led Mohawks and British loyalists against the American rebels.

[12] The French Revolution changed the government of France from a monarchy into a republic, morphed into a bloody civil war, and pitted France against Great Britain and several other European monarchies with implications to its North American territories.  Two periods of conflict involved the War of the First Coalition (1792-97) and the War of the Second Coalition (1798-1801).

[13] Hugh McGary (1744-1806) was a contemporary of Daniel Boone who migrated to the American colonies from Ireland as an indentured servant.  He was a quarrelsome man who, more than his inhumanity and unpleasantness, nurtured an intense hatred for all Shawnee.  In killing Moluntha, McGary guaranteed the deaths of many more white settlers.

[14] During the American Revolution, militia Lieutenant Colonel David Williamson from Pennsylvania led 160 men to the missionary village of Gnadenhutten and murdered 96 unarmed Lenape (Delaware) Christians on 8 March 1782.  Indians of the Northwest Territory never forgot this incident.  It may be interesting to note that the Delaware migrated to Ohio from the mid-Atlantic coastal plain to escape colonial encroachment and pressure from the Iroquois tribes, who frequently attacked them.

[15] The Ohio Land Company was an association of New England Revolutionary War veterans who, having purchased land in the Ohio Country from the US government, sought to re-sell the land for profit.

[16] After Wilkinson’s resignation from the Continental Army, he received an appointment from the State of Pennsylvania as a brigadier general of state militia (1782).  It was in this capacity that he led a force of Kentucky volunteers against the Indians in 1791.  In October 1791, Wilkinson was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the Army of the United States and ordered to assume command of the infantry regiment.

[17] Camp followers are civilians who follow field armies.  They are either wives and children who follow their soldiers, or service providers who see to the needs of the encamped soldiers, which included sutlery, cooking, medical nursing, laundry, whiskey, and personal services.  Normally, camp followers accompany the baggage train, “in the rear with the gear.”

[18] It is likely that these murders were intentional and part of the British-Canadian game.

[19] Perhaps the Indians who made this demand were demonstrating a refined sense of humor.  The Fort Stanwix Treaty was an agreement by the British to halt all westward migrations of British settlers.  This treaty wasn’t worth the paper it was written on, and the Indians knew this better than anyone.  It was from the Stanwix Treaty that the Indians learned that agreements with white people were utterly worthless.

[20] George Mason White Eyes was the son of Delaware chief George White Eyes.  George Mason was a college educated man with degree from the College of New Jersey (later, Princeton), back in the days when Princeton offered a quality education.

[21] Indians referred to Wayne as “The black snake who never sleeps.”  Whether this derisive term ever met with the approval of the entire Confederacy is unknown.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, British Colonies, Colonial America, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Northwest Territory, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Westward Expansion | 1 Comment

Colonial Expansion

… And the Old Northwest Territory


It is entirely possible that no one in the United States today knows who Jeffrey Amherst was.  I’ll solve that problem right now: he was the man who, as commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, brought an end to New France in North America.  His younger years groomed him to become a significant character in history, his engrained values shaped his attitude — his point of reference, or if you prefer, his worldview.

His father, a prominent attorney in Kent, siphoned him off at an early age to serve the Duke of Dorset as a page.  At 18 years, he became an ensign in the Grenadier Guards of the British Army.  He served in the War of the Austrian Succession, as an aide-de-camp to General John Ligonier.  He participated in the Battle of Dettingen (1743) and the Battle of Fontenoy (1745).  He was only 28 years old when promoted to lieutenant colonel.  He fought in the Battle of Rocoux (1746), served as an aide to the Duke of Cumberland, and participated in the Battle of Lauffeld (1747).  Amherst assumed command of the 15th Regiment of Foot in June 1756 and led the regiment in battle in the following year.

As previously stated, the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was part of a larger, global war.  The British Crown ordered Amherst to the American colonies as commander-in-chief of the British Army in North America.  He fought French troops on Lake Champlain, where he captured Fort Ticonderoga, Niagara, and Quebec (1759).  Montreal fell to the British in 1760 — the result of which ended French rule in North America.  In recognition of his achievement, the Crown appointed him as Governor-General of British North America and promoted him to the rank of major general.

Following his victory over the French, and their withdrawal from North America, Amherst became responsible for directing British policy toward American Indians.  This responsibility involved military matters and regulation of the fur trade.  His challenge was to demonstrate to the Indians that they then lived under British Rule; his handicap was in believing that British military forces were superior to any “army” the Indians might organize.  Of the total of Amherst’s force of 8,000 uniformed men, barely 500 garrisoned the forts in the Great Lakes region of Canada — the area where Indian discontent was strongest.

General Amherst and his officers had little patience with the Indians.  In Amherst’s view, they were slovenly heathens deserving no respect.  The Indians, being a prideful people, deeply resented this treatment, but the main bone of contention was that, following the Cherokee Uprising of 1761, Amherst decided to withhold gifts offered to tribal leaders.  This may not seem like much to us today, and certainly not something that should start a war, but among the Indians, it was an important matter.

Offering gifts to tribal leaders was a key element in the relationship between the French and their Indian allies because the gifts became a symbol of goodwill and respect.  Presented to the tribal chiefs, who would in turn distribute them among his people, the gifts traditionally included firearms, gun powder, knives, tobacco, and clothing.  In the giving of gifts, the French demonstrated their acknowledgment of the chief as a powerful leader and by distributing the gifts, the chief became the tribe’s patron.  General Amherst regarded the gifts as an unnecessary expense and a form of bribery.  The Indians, he felt, as British subjects, shouldn’t require gifts to secure their loyalty to the Crown.

Beyond the gifts, Amherst restricted the amount of gunpowder and ammunition that traders could sell to the Indians.  Given the Cherokee problem, Amherst’s decision was prudent, but to the Indians, firearms, shot, and gunpowder helped them to feed their families.  British Indian Agent Sir William Johnson warned Amherst about this, but he would not be persuaded to reverse his policy.

The other issue of contention among the Indians was the movement of white settlers into Indian lands.  The Shawnee and Delaware Indians living in the Ohio River Valley had migrated there because they were pushed out of their traditional lands by British colonists.  The Indians wanted this encroachment to stop.  Added to the insult of curtailing gifts and encroachments, the Indians experienced a “religious awakening” in 1761, inspired by food shortages and an increase in diseases.

Some Indian religious leaders effectively melded Christian teachings with Indian traditions and began calling upon their people to shun the whites, refuse to trade with them, reject their alcohol and tobacco, refuse to wear the white man’s clothing.  One such leader, Neolin, told the Indians, “If you suffer the English among you, you are dead men.  Sickness, smallpox, and their poison (alcohol) will destroy you entirely.”[1]

Native Alliances

Between 1761-1766, American Indians formed a lose confederacy of numerous tribes that acted independently against the British forces, and which were led by several tribal leaders.  While referred to as Pontiac’s War, modern historians point to the fact that Pontiac, while involved, was not the Indian’s overall commander — suggesting that the conflict was actually something other than “Pontiac’s War.”

The Pontiac War began at Fort Detroit and spread quickly throughout the region.  Eight British forts fell to Indian attacks.  Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt, although besieged, remained viable, but British settlements from New York to Virginia and from Pennsylvania to Illinois became targets of Indian hostilities and the Indians were taking no prisoners.  In present-day Franklin County, Pennsylvania, hostiles murdered and scalped a school teacher and all ten of his students.  Such depredations prompted the colonists to offer bounties on Indian scalps.

An interesting aside

While the French and Indian War was in full swing, in 1757, the Pennsylvania Assembly dispatched Benjamin Franklin to England as their colonial agent.  His mission was to protest the political influence in Pennsylvania of the Penn family, the proprietors of the Pennsylvania colony.[2]  Franklin returned to the colony in 1762.  For five years, London politicians treated Mr. Franklin dismissively, frequently lecturing him as if he was a country bumpkin.  When he returned to America, he had nothing to show for his efforts — except this one thing: when he arrived in England, he was a fiercely loyal British subject; when he returned to the American colonies, he was a staunch American patriot.

The Pennsylvania Assembly sent Franklin back to England in 1764 to continue the colony’s struggle against the Penn family.  While in London, newly-minted patriot Franklin vocally opposed the Stamp Act of 1765.  Franklin’s efforts caused British politicians to double-down on their personal insults and insufferable arrogance.  He still wasn’t able to break the Penn family’s hold over the Pennsylvania Colony, but his testimony before the House of Commons did result in their repeal of the Stamp Act.  In a few years, the country bumpkin who provided so much levity among his London betters would help direct the American people in a different direction.

The King Steps In

General Amherst’s superiors, holding him responsible for the Indian uprising, ordered him back to England, replacing him with Major General Thomas Gage.  Subsequently, on 7 October 1763, King George III issued his Royal Proclamation which prohibited any colonial expansion beyond the Appalachian Mountains.

The edict was significant for several reasons:

  • It was the first British measure to apply to all thirteen colonies.
  • It forbade private citizens and colonial governments from buying land or making any agreements with Indians.  The only people authorized to travel west or deal directly with Indians were licensed traders.
  • Its intent was to protect colonists from Indian attacks and shield the natives from white hostilities.
  • It established Quebec, West Florida, and East Florida as British colonies and extended Georgia’s southern border.
  • It granted land to soldiers who had fought in the Seven Year’s War.
  • It became (and remains today) the foundation of American Indian law., and
  • It set into motion popular opposition to the authority of the British Crown in the American colonies.  In the minds of colonists, many of whom ignored the edict, the King would be hard pressed to enforce his law.

The Rocky Road

Victory in the Seven Year’s War may have made the British masters of North America, but their triumph was economically painful — and it would become even more so.  Someone would have to pay the costs of the North American portion of that war, and in the view of Parliament, that responsibility should fall upon those who benefitted most from the generosity of the King.

However, this rather substantial change in British colonial policy pushed the colonists into realizing that they were less British than American.  In the old world, they were subjects of the King; in America, they were subjects of no man — and from this, they discovered a new way of thinking about nature, society, citizenship, and government.  In England, the country had been long established and set in its ways — America was theirs to shape.

All of this, however, was the result of Britain’s neglect.  For most of the 17th century, the British government had no official policies regarding the American colonies.  The vast number of companies, merchants, and corporations governed themselves with little interference by, or the interest of, the British Parliament.

When a change of government in London repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, there was widespread jubilation in the colonies. But London wanted to ensure that the colonists knew who was running the show.  The Parliament emphatically declared that it had the absolute power to make binding on any of its colonies whatever laws and changes it saw fit — even though the colonists had no representation in Parliament.  In the colonies, jubilation turned to loud moans and grumbling.  Parliament had declared its right to deny traditional Anglo-Saxon liberties.  To the Americans, this simply wouldn’t do.

But to emphasize their power, in 1767, Parliament imposed heavy import duties on a wide range of produces (including tea) arriving at American ports.  Their aim was simple enough: raise money to pay for the costs of administering the colonies.  What Parliament actually accomplished was alienating 1.5 million American colonists.  In two years, the American colonists had gone from alienated to openly hostile. 

In 1770, Lord North’s new government removed all recently imposed taxes, except the one on tea.  Though this was welcomed in the colonists, Lord North noted that the colonists frequently boycotted goods from England whenever it suited them and generally refused to cooperate with any of London’s “great ideas.”  To change these attitudes, North’s government began importing large amounts of surplus tea held by the East India Company into America, but with a much lower tax rate than that imposed upon Britain. In one stroke, North demonstrated how one part of the British Empire was able to look after another part of the Empire.

Tea had never been cheaper in North America, and one would think the American colonists would be pleased.  Some were, but this was a time when Bostonians were making themselves wealthy smuggling tea and other goods.  It was the Boston smugglers who organized the now-famous Tea Party in December 1773.  In the larger view, it was a trivial incident, but Lord North had grown tired of American insolence.  He promptly imposed measures intended to coerce the Americans into behaving as good Englishmen.  The Americans called these measures the Intolerable Acts.

First, British officials closed Boston harbor until the people of Boston paid for the destroyed tea.  Second, Parliament revoked the Charter of the Massachusetts Colony.[3]  Third, the Administration of Justice Act permitted the trial of royal officials outside the thirteen colonies.  Fourth, the Quartering Act required all colonial legislatures to furnish regular British soldiers with accommodations.

  In 1774, Lord North was trying to control the uncontrollable; Americans were already far past the point of accepting any form of British authority over them.  In many ways, the American Revolution began long before the “shot heard around the world.”

In England, the people were bitterly divided between those who sided with the Parliament, and those who sided with the Americans.  Merchants, sea captains, and traders worried about their livelihoods if war were to break out between England and the colonies.  The King and Parliament were stuck on the idea of teaching the Americans a lesson, and the Americans were stuck on the idea that the King and Parliament had no legitimate power over them.


The colonies had expanded, of that there is no doubt — but far further than the British wished.  As for the King’s Proclamation, the Americans simply ignored it and moved west, which brings us back to those pesky Indians.

(Next week: The Northwest Indian War)


  1. Abernethy, T. P.  Western Lands and the American Revolution.  Russell & Russell, 1959.
  2. Holton, W.  The Ohio Indians and the Coming of the American Revolution in Virginia.  Southern History Journal, 1994.
  3. Middleton, R.  Pontiac’s War: Its Causes, Course, and Consequences.  Routledge, 2007.
  4. Sosin, J. M.  Whitehall and the Wildernesses: the Middle West in British colonial policy: 1760-1775.  University of Nebraska Press, 1961.


[1] Although it is likely that the French stirred up the Indians as they withdrew from North America, there is no concrete evidence of it — but even if it wasn’t true, given the timing of it, the Pontiac War was a remarkable coincidence.  

[2] There may be a lesson in this for those who wonder about modern America’s political dynasties. 

[3] The legislature was dissolved, and the colonial governor was replaced by a British military governor.  

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, British Colonies, Colonial America, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, New France, Northwest Territory, Revolution | 2 Comments

Trading, Raiding, and Outlawry


Cultural evolution is an interdisciplinary study because it involves human history, biology and genetics, human behavior, demography, language, archeology, anthropology, and specific sociological effects.  How did the Shoshone Indians become Comanche, how did the Comanche progress from wandering nomads to an influential warrior culture, and some of the less obvious effects of conflict with other human groups? 

Indian Migration and Adaptation

Stone Age groups were hunters and gatherers.  Their migratory patterns reflect an ongoing search for sources of food — and when those food sources themselves have migratory habits, then the result is human groups following animal groups wherever they may go.  There are several bi-products of this, including intentional limitations of group sizes and conflict with competing human groups.  Group size limitations determined the number of people who could be protected, fed, and cared for.  Generally, stone age people maintained a population group of between 40 to 80 people.  This fact helps to explain the formation of native American bands within larger tribal groupings.

The Shoshone Indians (translated by some as the high-grass people) originated from an area of the present-day United States known as the Great Basin, which provides contiguous watersheds.  The Great Basin spans nearly all of Nevada, parts of Oregon and Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Wyoming, and Baja, California, Mexico.  Migrating bands of Shoshone spread north and eastward into Idaho and Wyoming, across the Rocky Mountains, and into the Great Plains.  Today, there remain four Shoshone Indian groups: Eastern Shoshone (Wyoming), Northern Shoshone (southern Idaho), Western Shoshone (Nevada and northern Utah), and the Gosiute (Western Utah and Eastern Nevada).

Shoshone migrations brought them into conflict with Indian groups already present, such as the Blackfoot, Crow, Lakota, Cheyenne, and Arapaho — conflicts that pushed the group even further south into present-day Mexico, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  This massive territorial expansion resulted from one event: the introduction of the horse, which gave these Indians greater mobility and the ability to range far distances in search of sources of food.  Thus, we have the Shoshone Indian who became transformed into the Comanche, the most sophisticated and feared mounted warrior culture the world has ever known.  The Comanche so valued their horses that a man’s standing within the tribe was determined by the number of horses he owned.  There was never a better horse thief in all the world than a Comanche.  The horse enabled Comanche Indians to establish and defend their vast territory, called the Comancheria, and reign supreme in that environment for nearly two hundred years.[1]

To suggest that the Comanche were fierce defenders of their acquired territory would be a gross understatement.  They may have tolerated other Indian groups and Spanish settlements, but only to the extent that the Comanche found them helpful — such as trading partners — and only so long as the outsiders did not offend Comanche sensitivities or suggest, even in the slightest way, that they were challenging Comanche supremacy.  Even then, there was never any guarantee that a young Comanche warrior, who was trying to create a name for himself, wouldn’t raid a settlement and kill everyone living there even if his father was friendly toward that settlement.

Comanche behavior was a confusing patchwork.  Some Comanche bands were more interested in trade than raiding, while others preferred the latter over the former.  One never knew what to expect.  Of course, trade was important to all Indian groups, and the Comanche was no exception — bartering was cultural, but with the Comanche, there could always be an unhappy consequence of arguing price too long or too loudly.  In that case, the Comanche would simply take what he wanted and a few scalps to sweeten the experience.

The Comanche were interested in acquiring corn, horses, mules, and cattle.  If they couldn’t trade for these items, they simply took them.  It all depended on what mood they were in at the time.  A raiding party would seize those items, along with women and children (whom they used as slaves).  They killed the men outright.

In the mid-1770s, the Spanish decided that they had had enough of Comanche raiding and murdering.  Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish military officer, led a punitive expedition against the Comanche.  He assembled a force of around 500 Spaniards and 200 Indian auxiliaries and marched against the Comanche leader, whom everyone called Green Horn.  Bautista surprised the Green Horn band in camp, killed Green Horn, and killed his male warriors.  This one-act prompted the Comanche to desist raiding Spanish settlements for several decades.

The Comanchero

Another consequence of Bautista’s expedition was the development of trade caravans in the 1780s.  The Comanchero were traders — people of mixed Hispanic and Indian descent.  They moved wagons of goods from settlement to settlement across the Great Plains, trading with whomever they could.  Because of their robust trade with the Comanche, they became known as Comanchero’s.

Comanchero trade flourished at different locations along the high southern plains of present-day New Mexico and the Texas panhandle.  Beginning in the mid-19th Century, in addition to other commodities, Comanchero traders provided the Comanche with firearms, ammunition, and whiskey.  The transfer of firearms was significant enough to cause the US Army to begin an interdiction campaign against the Comancheros in the 1870s.  In one season alone, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie attacked and defeated five separate Comanchero’s camps in the Palo Duro Canyon region area, which destroyed their wagons, food supplies, and other goods and slaughtered more than 1,400 horses.  Mackenzie’s strategy defeated the last free-roaming band of Comanche and effectively ended the Comanchero period. 

La Salle

René-Robert Cavalier (1643-1687), also known as Sieur de La Salle, was a French explorer and fur trader in North America whose exploits included investigating the Great Lakes, Mississippi River the Gulf of Mexico.[2]  He explored and claimed the Mississippi River in the name of France.  In 1685, La Salle returned to North America with a large expedition to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico.

The expedition began with four ships and around 300 colonists.  He lost all four of his ships to pirates and poor navigation.  Stranded along Matagorda Bay, which La Salle named Bay St. Louis (near present-day Victoria, Texas), the settlers were subjected to hostile raids by local Indians.[3]  Having established his settlement, La Salle led several overland explorations attempting to locate the mouth of the Mississippi River.  During his last attempt, La Salle’s men rebelled, and he was killed by Jean L’Archevêque, who was sixteen years old.  For several years, L’Archevêque and his cohorts lived among the Indians.

The Legacy of L’Archevêque

Eventually, Jean L’Archevêque gave himself up to Spanish authorities, who escorted him to Mexico City, where L’Archevêque gave a full accounting of the La Salle expedition (leaving out his part in La Salle’s murder).  In 1693, Spanish authorities placed L’Archevêque in the Spanish army and sent him as part of a troop searching for survivors of the City of the Holy Faith (Santa Fe), who had been set upon by the Pueblo Indians.  We heard no more about Jean L’Archevêque until the mid-1800s when a curious American named Adolph Bandelier began an inquiry about the native men of New Mexico.  Bandelier discovered old Spanish records in a local church that dated back to the Pueblo revolt of 1690 and came upon the odd-sounding name Jean L’Archevêque …

We know from written records that Jean L’Archevêque married a widow named Antonia Gutierrez, traded with the Indians, and died while opposing members of a French expedition in present-day Colorado.  Jean left behind two sons: Miguel, through his marriage to Antonia, and Augustin with an unnamed companion.  From these efforts, Bandelier published a book titled The Gilded Man in 1893.  Again, the name L’Archevêque seems to fade away.

In 1875, famed Texas Ranger and cattleman Charles Goodnight and other Texas and New Mexico cattlemen struggled with depleted cattle ranges and economic depression.  Goodnight shifted 1,600 head of longhorn cattle from his ranch near Pueblo, Colorado, to the unsettled Canadian River country, just above the Texas/New Mexico border area, and there he intended to remain.  Great bands of sheep, tended to by New Mexican pastores, drifted down from the Las Vegas country to winter, where they could find protection from marauding Indians.

In the spring, Goodnight moved his cattle along a tributary of the Canadian River, and the sheepherders followed along.  In early fall, intending to drive his herd once more, Goodnight moved his herd again, approached the pastores, and told them that he would leave them this land if they would agree to remain away from the headwaters of the Atascosa River and the Palo Duro Canyon — where he planned to stay.  They agreed.

Two miles further downstream was a campsite of a man named Colas Martinez, a former Comanchero.  Colas knew the plains like the back of his hand.  Living with Martinez was his brother-in-law, Sostenes L’Archevêque — an outlaw who was so despicable that he was run out of several New Mexico settlements.  Since the day that a white man had murdered his father, Sostenes had sworn an oath.  “As soon as I grow up, I will kill every American I meet.”  Or words to that effect.  According to local pastores, Sostenes had killed 23 white men — which had been the number of white men he’d met so far in his life.

Charles Goodnight arranged for Colas to help him pilot his cattle into the Palo Duro Canyon.  In November 1876, Goodnight rode into the canyon, sited his home, located his cattle, and set his cowhands into camp.  Then, with Martinez, Goodnight rode over the divide toward the Canadian along Rios Amarillos.  Along the way, they met two brothers named Casner, who traveled in an ox-drawn wagon with several horses, a few cattle, and with the help of a Navajo lad, herded 1,600 sheep.

As Goodnight and Martinez continued their journey, Goodnight expressed some concern for the safety of his cowhands — particularly in light of their proximity to Sostenes L’Archevêque. Martinez suggested that Goodnight should not worry about L’Archevêque because Martinez intended to kill his brother-in-law and end his murderous spree.

That winter, traveling with a Mexican youth, L’Archevêque visited the Casner’s and murdered them and their Navajo herder.  The Mexican boy, Ysabel Gurules, fled L’Archevêque’s company and reported the murders to Martinez, who was encamped with a few of his old friends.  Martinez assured Gurules that he would take care of the matter and sent him on his way.  When Sostenes reached the Martinez camp, true to his word, with the help of his companions, fell upon Sostenes and stabbed him to death.[4]

In 1938, Judge Clarence Wharton of Houston read the account of Sostenes L’Archevêque and began a new investigation.  He wanted to know if Sostenes L’Archevêque was a descendant of Jean L’Archevêque, the murderer of La Salle.  He determined that Sostenes was the sixth-generation grandson of Jean.  He also tracked down a few of the “old-timers” from the Comanchero period, all of whom were at the time in the ’90s, who told them they remembered Sostenes.  They described him as “braver, meaner, and a better shot than Billy the Kid.”

Judge Wharton also discovered that Sostenes L’Archevêque had left an only child, by then an elderly woman.  She told Wharton, with some pride, that her father “… did quite a bit of outlawing in New Mexico, but more in Texas.  Everyone feared him because he was not afraid of anything, and the Texans had him killed because they were jealous of him.”

The question remained with Wharton, however: which of Jean L’Archevêque’s sons was Sostenes related to?  Without written records, no one can say — and it probably doesn’t matter.  What is interesting is how those who knew Sostenes were proud of his fearlessness, his proficiency with a pistol, and his deep-seated anger that caused the egregious death of (at least) twenty-five men — and among whom believed that those men had it coming because they were, after all, white men …


There is an adage that blood will tell.  Moralists may argue that Sostenes L’Archevêque received his just rewards — and this could be true.  On the other hand, this story, convoluted as it seems, might convey a useful thought or two about modern society.  Perhaps we continue to focus too much on skin color and not enough on personal character.


  1. Anderson, H. A.  Sostenes L’Archevêque;  Handbook of Texas, online.
  2. Events, H. J.  Charles Goodnight.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948. 
  3. Evettes, H. J.  L’Archevêque the Outlaw.  Hardin-Simmons University, 1958.
  4. McCarty, J. L.  Maverick Town: The Story of Old Tascosa.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1946, 1968.
  5. Wharton, C. R.  L’Archevêque.  Houston: Anson-Jones Press, 1941.


[1] The Comancheria included a large portion of present-day Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

[2] Roughly translated, Sieur de La Salle means “Lord of the Manor.”  It is a title, much like the English designation “Sir.”  The title “Sir” is bestowed upon those whom the British government wants to recognize for service to the crown.  In contrast, Sieur de La Salle is a title purchased, rather than earned.  René-Robert Cavalier purchased his title in 1667.  In this case, while a title rather a name, the title is so frequently used in conjunction with Cavalier that many people simply refer to him as Robert La Salle.

[3] The settlement was finally destroyed when Karankawa Indians overran the fort, killed all remaining adults, and took five children as captives.  A Spanish expedition, intending to dislodge La Salle, eventually recovered these children.

[4] We only know this story because it was told by Charles Goodnight’s biographer in Charles Goodnight, Cowman and Plainsman in 1936.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comancheros, History, Indian Territory, Outlaws, Pioneers, Texas | Leave a comment

The Frontier Regiment


There was some interest in the United States for migrating to Texas in the mid-1830s — but not much, mostly because the fate of Texas and the people who lived there was uncertain.  But in 1850, with the issue of statehood out of the way and the war with Mexico decided, Texas became the land of opportunity and Americans and Europeans pushed into the Texas Plain by the thousands.

Most Texas immigrants arrived from the American south, but a large number of people also came from Germany.  Slave owners tended to migrate toward east Texas; Central Texas drew the attention of non-slave owning subsistence farmers; the dreamers and cattlemen looked to west Texas — or at least as far west in Texas one could go without losing their scalp.  To protect these settlers and vital commerce routes (or at least that was the intention), the U. S. Army constructed a series for forts between San Antonio and El Paso.  Among these were Fort Belknap, Fort Phantom Hill, and Fort Chadbourne, constructed in 1851 and 1852.

Texas Indians

The United States government began to address the “Indian Problem” in 1830, when President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law.  The law authorized the President to “negotiate” with southern Indian tribes for their removal to federal territory west of the Mississippi River, in exchange for white settlement of their ancestral lands.[1]

Federal troops moved into the Texas frontier in 1848 and began the construction of a series of forts from Fort Worth to Eagle Pass.  Between 1849-51, thousands more whites flooded into Indian territories — some who were making their way to the California gold fields, others who demanded settlements and the Army’s protection in West Texas.  Texas offered land grants to railroad companies and encouraged buffalo hunters to intensify their slaughter of the Plains Indian’s principle source of food. The combination of these activities increased Indian hostilities, both in the number of incidents and in their intensity.  Federal peace negotiators moved rapidly to conclude a treaty with Comanche, Caddo, Lipan Apache, Quapaw, Tawakoni, and Waco Indians.

Meanwhile, Texas officials struggled to find solutions to the Indian problem.  One possible solution, some thought, would be to colonize Indians somewhere in Texas.  In 1852, the Texas legislature set aside land for two reservations.  A third legislative proposal involved setting aside five square leagues of land (each square league amounts to 4,428 acres) in an area west of the Pecos River.  Action on this proposal never materialized.  Finally, in February 1854, the Texas legislature set aside twelve leagues (about 70,000 acres) which was surveyed by Major Robert S. Neighbors and Captain Randolph B. Marcy.  One tract, the Brazos Reserve, was located along the Brazos River twelve miles below Fort Belknap.  This set-aside was ear-marked for Anadarkos, Caddos, Ionies, Kichais, Tawakonis, Konkawas, Wacos, and other semi-agricultural tribes — in all, around 1,100 people.  The other tract, known as the Clear Fork Reserve, was intended for Peneteka and Comanche.  Major Neighbors, the leading Indian Agent, began the somewhat daunting task of persuading these tribes to enter the reservations.

By the end of 1854, the US Army began moving Texas Indians onto reservations.  The (generally) peaceful Indians (Caddo, Anadarko, Waco, Tawakoni, Tonkawa, and Wichitas) became the responsibility of Fort Belknap;[2][3][4], the Comanche, who made their living through violence and mayhem[5], were taken to an area outside Camp Cooper in Throckmorton County.[6]  With the Army’s guarantee of safety, settlers pushed into West Texas to about the 99th meridian.

A Western Paradise

Game in west-central Texas was plentiful.  There were deer, bison, antelope, turkeys, squirrels, ducks, geese, and prairie chickens — accompanied by an abundance of wild fruits and berries — which altogether offered a healthy and varied diet.  In the spring, Texas land produced beautiful wildflowers, lush grass, and a large assortment of birds.  In many ways, Texas was a veritable paradise; who wouldn’t want to live in such a place?  Who could criticize the Indians for wanting to keep such a place for themselves — land that had been theirs for several hundred years?  West Texas wasn’t suitable for farming, however, and the people who tried to transform the plain into farmland suffered the effects of working against nature.

Texas was, in many ways, a paradise — but it wasn’t a theme park.  The people who settled in Texas had to learn rather quickly to adapt to its natural environment, which included severe weather.  Violent thunderstorms, tornadoes, and torrential rain frequented the small settlements.  Winters were as harshly cold as the summers were freakishly hot — with dry spells where water evaporated, and the spring and fall brought treacherous flooding.  And the Texans had to contend with natural prey: bears, mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, aggressive water moccasins very large rattlesnakes.

Of course, an increase in western settlements increased the demand for supplies.  Moving supplies and goods across Texas posed many problems.  There were essentially only two routes for freight: the first by water to Little Rock, Arkansas, westward by wagon through Preston, and by cargo wagon across to West Texas.  A second route began at the port of Corpus Christi, overland to San Antonio, and from there across South Texas to settlements and military forts.  Texas farmers grew wheat and corn for personal consumption or sold it to the military.  What they couldn’t raise for themselves they bartered for with neighbors.  Finished goods, such as flour, often required hundreds of miles of travel to the nearest grist mill — a dangerous trip for all kinds of reasons.

The first Butterfield Overland stagecoach made its way across the Texas frontier in the fall of 1858 and while the people were glad to have it, the service was short-lived.  With civil war approaching, the federal government decided to withdraw its Army from Texas.  Young men, with their heads full of notions about adventure and glory, left home to join the fight, but with their young men leaving, and the Army’s abandonment of forts, it was left to the settlers to defend themselves.  Either that or move back east.

Moving Indians on to the reservations — even those in Oklahoma — did not substantially reduce the violence or frequency of Indian raids in Texas.  It was an easy matter for Indians to leave their reservations, form war parties, inflict murder and mayhem, and then return to their reservations as if nothing had happened.  When some west Texas settlers could no longer abide Indian depravities, their loss of livestock, homes destroyed by fire, and destroyed crops, they moved back to East Texas or abandoned Texas altogether.

In Self-defense

Texans who remained on the frontier organized to defend themselves.  They formed informal militias and “forted up” their homesteads.  Forting up didn’t always work, though — as evidenced by one of the bloodiest raids in Texas history, on 13 October 1864.  At Elm Creek (in Young County), a thousand hostiles moved from one homestead to the next, killing men, women, children, looting, burning, and driving off horses and cattle.  The Elm Creek Raid did nothing to improve relations between Indians and settlers, but it did much to increase the resolve of stubborn Texans.  Before the end of the Civil War, there were around 100 forted settlements.[7]  As these were never intended as permanent structures, few remain today as reminders of an earlier, more dangerous time to live in Texas.

In 1860, thirty percent of Texas’ 604,000 residents were slaves.  At a statewide convention to consider the ordinance of secession, 76% voted to withdraw from the United States.  The convention then proceeded to replace Sam Houston as governor and on 1 February 1861, declared Texas’ secession from the Union.[8]  Texas was admitted into the Confederate States of America on 2 March 1861.  General David E. Twiggs, U. S. Army, commanding all federal military forces in Texas, promptly surrendered his command of around 4,000 men, including Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee, who commanded Fort Brown (present-day Brownsville, Texas).  Twiggs immediately resigned from the U. S. Army and accepted a commission in the Confederate States Army (See also: David Emanuel Twiggs).

On 21 December 1861, the Ninth Texas Legislature authorized the establishment of the Texas Frontier Regiment.  The mission of this regiment was to relieve the Confederate First Regiment of Mounted Rifles (being withdrawn for service in the Civil War), man the western forts, and establish a protective arm around the settlements of west Texas.[9]  Withering Indian raids were slaughtering Texans and making off with vast herds of cattle and horses.  The Indians didn’t understand the emerging Civil War, but they did recognize a martial advantage when they saw one.

Texas Governor Francis R. Lubbock appointed Colonel James M. Norris (an attorney) to command the Frontier regiment, which was raised on 29 January 1862.[10]  Norris’ executive officer was Lieutenant Colonel Alfred T. Obenchain, with Major James E. McCord appointed as regimental adjutant.  These three officers surveyed existing fortifications in March and April — their goal was to establish 18 defensive locations.  The forts they selected extended 500 miles from the Red River in North Texas to the Rio Grande in South Texas.  In a separate action, Lubbock appointed nine officers to raise 9 companies of rangers to man these frontier defenses.

Owing to a paucity of funds and attendant manpower shortages, the Texas legislature excluded El Paso and Presidio counties from Texas’ protective arm, allowing Colonel Norris to better manage available manpower resources.  Governor Lubbock authorized a tenth company to serve as a reserve force, but the legislature never funded it.

Nine companies (with a ceiling of 125 men each) were formed and mustered in March and April 1862.  Each company commander exercised command authority over two camps.  Each company organized scouting parties to conduct area reconnaissance missions between two camps.  These patrols involved one officer and five rangers.  One of these patrols would depart camp every other day to the next southern camp.  Upon arrival, they would remain overnight and return to the northern camp the following day.  This scheme provided an armed patrol every day along the entire defensive line from the Red River to the Rio Grande.

Although well-organized, the patrols were only moderately successful because conditions within these ranger camps were deplorable.  In April, Norris advised the Adjutant General in Austin that his rangers were poorly mounted, inadequately armed, sickly, had no access to doctors or medications, and had no forage for their animals.  Norris also complained that he was short of ammunition and that the gunpowder was tainted.  These conditions produced low morale and disciplinary challenges.  Tactically, the daily scouting patrols were passive/defensive — one officer and five rangers was completely inadequate to confront war parties numbering from 30 to 50 braves.  Finally, the distance between camps was too great to allow for effective scouting.

Colonel Norris attempted to correct some of these problems in June 1862 by increasing the size of perimeter patrols to one officer and eight privates, adding a second “beyond the perimeter” patrol of one officer and thirteen privates, and requiring the rangers to spend no less than twenty days in the field.  Still, the size of West Texas patrol areas produced marginally effective results when compared to the cost of maintaining them and the increase of field duty did nothing to improve morale.

Texas was out of funds.  As a means of shifting the cost of the regiment to the Confederate States of America, Governor Lubbock attempted to place the Frontier Regiment on the Confederacy’s payroll.  The legislature refused to allow it.  If the regiment served at all, it would serve only Texas.  In any case, Confederate President Jefferson Davis had no interest in funding the regiment or accepting it into Confederate service.

Lacking funds, Governor Lubbock disbanded the regiment in January 1863.  Most of the ranger’s enlistments were getting ready to expire anyway — and besides, Lubbock had come up with another plan.  He wanted a new frontier regiment that consisted of ten companies of no more than 97 privates (plus officers) and an enlistment term of three years.  The Adjutant-General, Colonel Jeremiah Dashiell, determined that the new regiment should be named The Mounted Regiment of Texas State Troops.[11]  Dashiell believed that the new name would convince Confederate authorities that it was a new regiment, formed in compliance with the Confederate Army structure.  Dashiell was certain this would persuade the CSA to pay for the upkeep of the regiment.  It didn’t.

Major James E. McCord was promoted to colonel and appointed to command the new regiment.  Assuming command on 2 February 1863, McCord established his headquarters at Camp Colorado, co-located with Captain J. J. Callan’s ranger company.[12]  McCord was bold and aggressive in his duty.  He didn’t confine himself to scouting — he ordered “search and destroy” missions of up to 40 men.  Their task was to cut into Indian territory and put the Indians on the defensive.  Austin legislators balked at this, however, and when notified by the Adjutant-General to cease and desist, McCord promptly resigned.

Generally, state lawmakers aren’t that smart, but in this case, the Texas Legislature was wise enough to refuse McCord’s resignation.  Supported by his captains, McCord embarked upon even more aggressive tactics.  On 28 July 1863, McCord reported in writing to the Adjutant General that Capt. James Joseph Callan and forty men had been in the field for 122 days. These expanded missions proved more successful in engaging Indians.  McCord’s scheme of maneuver was effective, but far from perfect; individual Indian raiders still slipped through the regiment’s defensive line.  It didn’t happen often, but when it did, it created panic within isolated settlements and jangled political nerves in Austin.  In early September 1863, Governor Lubbock forbade any scouting mission beyond the regiment’s defensive line.  Lubbock instructed McCord to focus his attention within the defensive perimeter until war parties  were either destroyed or driven outside the line.

Hostile Indians weren’t McCord’s only problem, however.  Small, violent bands of Union terrorists, known in Missouri as Kansas Jayhawkers (also Red Legs), were creating havoc in west Texas — burning homes, murdering residents, and looting frontier settlements.[13]

By January 1864, a high rate of battle casualties in the Confederate Army prompted senior commanders to urge increased recruitment.  They couldn’t win battles without the troops required to fight them — a reality that prompted another look at the Texas Mounted Rifles for Confederate service.  This discussion, however, created unease within the rangers themselves and among the people they served.  Captain Rowland (assigned to the Red River Station) wrote to McCord predicting that the transfer, if it occurred, would cause widespread panic among the settlers.[14]  Nevertheless, on 1 March 1864, the Mounted Regiment, State Troops, was transferred to the Confederate Army.

Neither the Frontier Regiment nor the Texas Mounted Rifles of State Troops was entirely efficient or successful in their missions — how could they have been?  The West Texas prairie was vast landscape with widely dispersed settlements.  No one could anticipate with certainty where hostiles would appear next — or from which direction.  The only real accomplishment of either organization was that it offered some reassurance to isolated settlers during an anxious time.  This sense of well-being disappeared, however, when settlers noted that they were completed surrounded by Indian war parties.

As predicted, the regiment’s transfer to the Confederacy generated enormous insecurity and vulnerability along the entire Texas frontier.  Texas Indian wars from 1861 to 1865 had always been the Confederacy’s step-child.  Confederate officials in Richmond completely ignored the fact that Texans were fighting a two-front war.  Despite the outrage of West Texans, ranger companies withdrew within weeks.

In April 1864, McCord received orders to assemble what remained of the regiment for service in Grimes County (East Texas), where Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation produced tensions between slaver owners and a much higher population of slaves.  In West Texas, settlers became contemptuous of the Confederacy and State legislature in equal measure — but this condition would only become worse.

Earlier, in late December 1863, anticipating the loss of the Texas Mounted Rifles, the tenth Texas legislature reorganized the frontier with a new law declaring that all persons eligible for military service, who resided within the frontier counties, would be required to serve in ranging companies.  The companies would involve from 25 to 60 men each.[15]  Texas intended to appoint an officer serving in the rank of major of cavalry to command each of the three frontier districts.

These frontier district commanders required that a quarter of their men serve on active service at all times, on a rotational basis.  In January 1864, Governor Murrah appointed William Quayle (1st Frontier District, Decatur),[16] George Erath (2nd Frontier District, Gatesville),[17] and James Hunter (3rd Frontier District, Fredericksburg).[18]  By 1 March, four-thousand men served in the new Frontier Regiment — whether they wanted to or not.

Quayle’s ill health prompted the appointment of James Webb Throckmorton to replace him in December 1864.[19]  John Henry Brown replaced Hunter in January 1865.[20]  Owing to Brown’s service under Colonel John S. “Rip” Ford, responsibility for coordinating affairs in the 2nd and 3rd frontier districts fell to John D. McAdoo, Brigadier General of State Troops.  Yet, despite these changes of key personnel, these frontier troops did an exceptional job protecting settlements from Indians and Union radicals.  They also enforced Confederate conscription and rounded up deserters.  On average, the rangers spent ten days in the saddle.

At Ellison Springs

The Ellison Springs Fight was typical of small unit actions on the Texas frontier during the Civil War.  Captain Singleton (Sing) Gilbert commanded a frontier company within Major Erath’s 2nd Frontier District at Nash Springs, approximately 3-miles north of present-day Gorman, Texas.  On 9 August 1864, Gilbert dispatched a squad of eight men under Corporal James L. Head to conduct a ten-day scouting patrol.  That morning, Corporal Head came upon fresh Indian sign moving southward, which he estimated involved between 30-50 Indians of unknown intent.  The squad followed the trail for twenty miles before overtaking the war party at a ranch several miles west of Gorman, near Ellison Springs.  Being outnumbered, Head withdrew to Captain Gilbert’s Ranch, a few miles away.  The 30-year-old Captain Gilbert mustered additional guns from among his ranch hands, bringing the strength of the frontier force to around 16 men.  Once assembled, Gilbert foolishly led his men into a frontal assault against the Indians — several whom were on foot carrying blankets and bridles for horses they intended to steal.

Gilbert’s outnumbered assault force was quickly decimated.  Within moments, Gilbert and two others lay dead, three men received serious wounds, and the Texans withdrew.  The Indians also withdrew.  Corporal Head nevertheless continued to track the Indians, eventually recovering 18 horses (out of fifty stolen near Stephenville several days earlier).

Several days later, Sergeant A. D. Miller with an eight-man squad operating east of Stephens County discovered twenty Indians moving northwest.  Miller, assuming that the Indians were part of the Ellison Springs fight, followed their trail for fifteen miles, overtook them, and vigorously chastised them.  The battle, which lasted an hour, caused no loss of life among Miller’s squad.  At the end of the patrol, Sergeant Miller reported two Indians killed, three others wounded, and the recovery of seventy-three horses, seven saddles, and an assortment of bridles and blankets.  Where the additional forty-one horses came from is anyone’s guess.

At Dove Creek

The Kickapoo Indians (presently numbering an estimated 5,000 people) are an Algonquian-speaking tribe with an indigenous tie to northern Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas.  According to some linguists, the word Kickapoo means “standing here and there.”  In the early days of European migration, the Kickapoo confederated with the fierce Eastern Miami, the Southern Piankeshaw, and northern Wea, with settlements as far west as present-day Indiana.

On 8 January 1865 near Dove Creek in present-day San Angelo, Confederate States Army and Texas State militia (numbering around 325 men) observed an estimated 600 Kickapoo Indians migrating toward Mexico from Kansas.  Mistaking these Indians for Comanche and Kiowa, the Confederate soldiers launched a massive assault against them.  The battle quickly developed into a desperate struggle.

Within the first five minutes, Kickapoo warriors killed three militia officers and sixteen men; several of the poorly trained militia deserted the battlefield and escaped further injury.  Confederate troops, vastly better trained, were nevertheless severely beaten by the Indians in a fight that lasted for nearly 24 hours.  After the Confederate force broke off contact, the Kickapoo continued their travel into Mexico.  In total, the Indians killed 30 men, the Confederates killing twelve Indians.

The long-term consequences of the Battle of Dove Creek was that it embittered the Kickapoo toward Texans and over the two subsequent decades, Kickapoo warriors launched hostile raids against Texas settlers, farms, and ranches from their stronghold inside Mexico.

On 10 March 1865, Brigadier General McAdoo issued orders to the commanders of the 2nd and 3rd military districts to prepare for a major military campaign.  In April, district rangers would scour the land between Fort McKavett (on the San Saba River) and the Concho River for deserters.  The troops proceeded through Kerrville, west along Johnson’s Fork of the Guadalupe River, and north toward the Llano River Valley.  The column arrived at Fort McKavett on 21 April.  After two day’s rest, they proceeded to Kickapoo Creek.

En route, one of the scouting parties discovered a group of around 25 “renegade” federal troops camping on a nearby brushy hill.  Lieutenant Henry Smith quickly organized his men for an assault and the renegades (if that’s what they were) fled in all directions, most toward the Concho River.

Major Brown, believing that the renegades would take refuge at Fort McKavett, led his men north to conceal their movement from renegade observers, and then doubled back toward the fort.  After a three-day force march, Brown’s Texans arrived at Fort McKavett and captured five men standing post, but beyond that, the alleged renegade unit was never found.  Of the captured men, the Texans released three.  Brown retained custody of the remaining two men on account of the fact that they were known horse thieves.  Everyone knows what Texans do with horse thieves.

Major Brown’s march was the last military presence at Fort McKavett during the Civil War.  On 26 May 1965, General E. Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate Department of the Trans-Mississippi.  Texans remaining on active service simply mounted their horses and returned to their homes.


  1. Elliott, C.  Leathercoat: The Life History of a Texas Patriot.  San Antonio: Texas History, 1938.
  2. Goodnight, C., and others.  Pioneer Days in the Southwest, 1850-1879.  Guthrie: Oklahoma State Capitol Press, 1909.
  3. Honig, L. E.  John Henry Brown, Texian Journalist, 1820-1895.  El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1973.
  4. Langston, C. L.  History of Eastland County.  Dallas: Aldridge Press, 1904.
  5. Moore, S. L.  Savage Frontier: Rangers, Riflemen, and Indian Wars in Texas, Volume IV (1842-1845).  Denton: University of North Texas Press, 2010.
  6. Smith, D. P.  Frontier Defense in Texas, 1861-1865.  Denton: North Texas State University Press, 1987.


[1] “Indian Removal” was how Benjamin Franklin envisioned white/Indian relations.  In 1775, Franklin called for a perpetual alliance with native Americans.  Thomas Jefferson defended native culture and marveled at how the Indians would not submit themselves to outside authority, principally, he argued, because of their sense of right and wrong.  In 1790, President George Washington insisted that seizure of Indian land was evil; he worked to establish closer relations between the United States and the Indian nations.  Even the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 called for the protection of Indian property, rights, and liberty.

[2] The word Caddo identified one of around 25 distinct but closely affiliated Indian groups inhabiting an area from the Red River (Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma) through the mid-19th century.  Caddo is a French abbreviation of Kadohadacho.

[3] Anadarko Indians (encompassing Anadaca, Anduico, Nadaco, and Nandacao bands) was a southwestern or Hasinai division of the Caddo, resided between Nacogdoches and present-day Rusk County.  They eventually moved (or were pushed) northward and lived along the Sabine River.  In the 1840’s migrated further west to the Brazos River, northwest of Waco.

[4] Waco Indians (also Huaco or Hueco) were of the Wichita people, a division of the Tawakoni Tribe, long unaffiliated.  It was common in stone-aged civilizations for groups to break off from the primary group when populations grew to a certain number, they in turn forming bands of their own and adopting names for themselves that were significant to their unique beliefs.

[5] The word “Comanche” has two meanings.  The first, from the Comanche themselves, means “The People.”  Among other (neighboring) tribes, the word Kimantsi means “enemy,” or in the Ute Indian meaning, “Anyone who wants to fight me all the time.”

[6] Located in far north-central Texas.

[7] One of these was Fort Davis in Stephens County (not to be confused with the military Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County); it was 300’x325’, had buildings constructed of stone, and could accommodate 125 settlers seeking protection.  It was later expanded to include a blacksmith shop, a smokehouse, and a small school room.  Survival at Fort Davis meant that the men would have to travel 100 miles (one way) for flour; on ox-drawn carts, this would take up to six weeks and the women, remaining at the fort, with a few men, would have to fend for themselves.

[8] Houston refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy.

[9] The First Texas Rifles was the first regiment in Texas mustered into Confederate service, Henry Eustace McCulloch, Colonel, Commanding.  Thomas Frost served as regimental executive officer, and Edward Burleson, Jr., served as adjutant major.  Burleson previously served as a Texas Ranger under Ben McCullough, Henry’s older brother, in the Mexican American War.

[10] Governor Lubbock could have made a worse choice to lead the regiment, but it would have been difficult.  Norris lacked experience in Indian fighting and his lack of leadership ability resulted in serious discipline problems with junior officers and enlisted troops.

[11] It was a difficult time for recruitment in Texas.  There were only so many able-bodied men and three separate military service organizations: Confederate States Army, Texas Confederate Army, and Texas State Troops (such as the Mounted Regiment).  At one point, Colonel John S. Ford suggested that the Mounted Regiment might look to furloughed or discharged Confederate veterans, boys too young for standard military service, and men past their prime to guard the Texas frontier.  But, it seemed, there was no solution for the monetary crisis.  Simply stated, Texas was out of cash.

[12] Mills County, Texas.  After the Civil War, an English migrant named H. H. Sackett purchased Camp Colorado, dismantled the headquarters building and constructed in its place his private residence and a general store.

[13] The term Jayhawker is a label these men chose for themselves and widely adopted by others to describe Civil War era Union terrorists.  We must be careful of using labels, however, because similar terms are often applied to other circumstances.  For example, Texas, too, had a group of men called Jayhawkers.  In Texas, they were never involved in guerrilla fighting with Confederate forces or supporters; they  were simply Texans who refused to support Texas with military  service during the war.

[14] Montague County, two miles south of the Red River on Salt Creek.  As a community, Red River Station never recovered from a tornado in 1880.

[15] Fifty-nine counties divided into three military districts.

[16] Quayle (1825-1901) migrated to America with his parents from the Isle of Man.  After service as a sea captain, he moved to Texas for reasons of his health, serving as a district clerk, district judge, and chief justice of Tarrant County.  Although he opposed secession, he organized the first company of cavalry from Tarrant County to serve in the Confederacy.  He commanded the 9th Texas Cavalry until poor health required his resignation.  As a member of the Texas Senate, he helped to organize the new Frontier Regiment in late 1863.

[17] Erath (1813-1891) migrated to America from Austria in 1832, moving to Robertson’s colony in Texas in 1833.  He served as a Texas Ranger under Edward Burleson during the Texas Revolution and subsequently served as a surveyor, member of the legislature supporting Annexation to the United States, Erath supported the maintenance of a Texas Ranger force.  He served briefly as a company commander of the 15th Texas Infantry, but resigned due to ill health, recalled by the legislature to command the new Frontier Regiment’s 2nd District.

[18] As a commander, Hunter was as bad as James Norris.

[19] Throckmorton (1825-1894) was a physician, lawyer, Texas Ranger, politician, and Governor of Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War.

[20] Brown (1820-1895) was a newspaper man, a historian, soldier, and legislator serving under Colonel John (Rip) Ford in the last engagement of the Civil War.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Civil War, History, Indian War, Pioneers, Texas, Texas Rangers | 1 Comment