The Plainsman

In the manner of many old west personalities, Benjamin Crawford Dragoo was bundled up by his parents and carted off to Texas in 1838.  The Texas Revolution was won, Texas needed hardy folks to tame its wilderness, and the promise of cheap land acted as a magnet to adventuresome Americans.  John Ephraim Dragoo and his wife Mary Hughes Dragoo were two of these bold settlers.  They packed up their belongings in Washington, Illinois and headed off to Texas.  They had a brood of children before their departure, including Francis, Sarah, Edgar, William, Mary, Rachel, Temperance, Richard, Andrew, Hester, Theresa, Thomas, Drusilla, Lucinda, Joseph, Rhoda, John, Malinda, James, Melissa, Martha, and Ephraim.  My guess is that John Dragoo drove more than a single wagon.

Ben Dragoo 001

Young Ben Dragoo

At first, the family settled at Blossom Prairie, in Red River County, but within the next year they relocated to Titus County, four miles or so from Mount Pleasant.

As a young man, Ben served as a scout for Captain Lawrence Sullivan (known as Sul) Ross of the Texas Rangers and, as previously reported, participated in the Battle of Pease River.  There is no history like first-hand accounts.  From his own hand, he told us what it was like living in Texas in the olden days, and about his own experiences as a scout for the Texas Rangers.

“In 1855 [aged 20 years] I joined John R. Baylor’s [1] company of Texas Rangers.  While stationed at Cottonwood Creek, our scouts brought in word that they had discovered a large body of Indians passing up the country with a herd of horses.  About 40 of us under Captains Baylor, Dalrymple [2], and Ross were soon in the saddle and we were not long finding the Indians’ trail.  The Indians must have known that the rangers were in the country for they traveled for dear life.  We followed them day and night until we overtook them in some very brushy country and when we charged every red skin scoundrel took to the brush and got away. We captured about all the horses, some 60 head, which we took back to Belknap and delivered to their lawful owners.

“After my enlistment period expired, I returned to my home, which was six miles east of Waco village, as it was called in those days.  In a short time, Captain Sul Ross came to see me.  He was organizing a company to chastise the Comanches, who had been committing murders and depredations along the frontier, and he told me that he needed me and that I must join his company.  I told him that I was ready to start any day and that my younger brother, Jim Dragoo would also join his company.  The company went from Waco to a point where Fort Griffin was afterwards built.  Mr. F. M. Cassidy, who now lives at Llano, was in our company.  While in camp at the point mentioned, word was brought that the Indians had made a raid in Parker County and were on their way out.  They were driving out about 75 head of horses and had killed several people.  They had taken captive two girls and a boy.  The girls were about grown, and the boy was 8 or 9 years old.

“After being kept all night and being fiendishly outraged by these inhuman monsters, one of the girls was murdered; the other girl was subjected to the same brutality, only she was not killed.  As if the savages wanted the settlers to know of the atrocities they were capable of inflicting, they stripped every vestige of clothing from this girl and turned her loose.  She made her way back to the settlements, reaching a frontier cabin almost famished.  She concealed herself in bushes near the spring and saw a man pass near once or twice, but her modesty overcame her extreme suffering and forbade her calling to him. At length a woman came to the spring for water and the girl called to her.  This lady removed part of her underwear and clad in this, the girl was led to the house.  Of the boy, whom the Indians had captured, we never heard more.

“When the news of this raid reached our camp, most of us were out on duty. Seven others, under Lieutenant Callahan [3], the gallant ranger for whom Callahan County was named, and I had been out on a nine-days chase and for seven days of this period we had been without practically any food.  Orders soon came for us to take the trail and without taking time to change horses or to get a bite of grub, we lit out after those savages with a man by the name of Gray and I in the lead as trailers [scouts].  We soon struck the trail at the hay camp and pushed on until evening, when one of the boys killed a deer which we cut up into chunks and each man rode forward with one or more of these chunks tied on behind his saddle.  When night came, we continued the pursuit until a late hour, when we halted in order to give our horses a brief rest and a chance to graze.  We were not allowed to build a fire, as the Indians would see the light.  We had to eat our meat raw.

“After a few hours rest we hastened forward and kept up the chase for six days. The second evening out we halted on the banks of a creek where there were five or six large cottonwood trees. Here the Indians had camped, and the sign showed that there was a large body of Indians.  They had killed and barbecued a horse and the fires were yet smoldering.  The buffalo had eaten off the grass in that vicinity and we had to cut branches from the Cottonwood trees for our worn-out horses.  The place had evidently been a battleground, as we found a number of skulls and other human bones, which bore the appearance of having lain on the ground a long time.  Old fragments of leather from saddles were picked up and I found the bit of what had once been a part of a fine Mexican bridle.  The skulls were those of Indians or Mexicans, at least that was our conclusion.

“Six days and nights, I might say, we followed this trail.  The third day out we killed a buffalo and this we ate raw. On the sixth day, far up in the Pease River country, we saw a mot of small trees far ahead of us.  This mot was on a high elevation, and I saw a bunch of men ride into the mot, we halted until the command came up and we reported our observations to Callahan.”

Comanche 1860“With the utmost caution we continued our advance, bearing off to the left where Gray and I ascended an eminence from the summit of which we looked over into a valley and beheld a large body of Indians, well mounted and apparently lying in wait for us.  All at once the Indians began pouring over the ridge west of us.  There were at least 200 Indians.

“They gave some fiendish yells as they dashed toward us on freshly mounted horses, while only nine of us had horses that were not exhausted.  Our chase was now at an end and instead of us being the pursuers, we were pursued for six days.  In fact, it was the next thing to a running fight all the way back to Belknap. Lieutenant Callahan, one of the bravest of the brave, told us to keep close together and to never fire without orders.  The Indians would charge us more or less each day but would never come to close quarters. They would seek to ambush us and to block our way where the country was favorable but would always scatter or give back when we crowded them.  At night we had very little rest and no food and the last two days of our journey, our suffering from hunger and thirst became almost unbearable.  Our horses were weak, and our progress was very slow. The Indians knew all of this and if they had made a bold attack could have killed every one of us, but they were too cowardly.  In this condition we reached Fort Belknap, the place from whence we had started twelve days before, making in all twenty-one days in the saddle, and had, during this time, nothing to eat but raw venison and buffalo meat.”

The sorrowful tale of the Comanche kidnapping of Cynthia Ann Parker was previously told (in three installments).  I am always interested in events where there are two story-tellers.  Cynthia’s story has been offered by historians and official reports by Sul Ross (who eventually served as the governor of Texas).  To the extent to which Sul Ross may have embellished his account (for political purposes), we cannot know.  Nor can we decide which, among several modern historians, offers the most objective analysis of those events.  What we can do is turn to another participant: the man who served as chief scout under Captain Ross at the Battle of the Pease River.

Marvin J. Hunter tells us that Ben Dragoo had something to say about Pease River, as well.

“The Indians were more troublesome in the fall of ’59 than ever before; their raids were more numerous and covered a broader extent along the frontier.  Each of these invasions left its trail of blood along the border and the mutilated remains of its victims in its path.  In many instances it was reported that white men often led these raids and their cruelties were, if possible, exceeded by those of the savages.  It was claimed that these white men had been outlawed by their countrymen for crimes committed and had sought refuge among the Comanches, and having all the instincts of a savage and the shrewdness of the white man, they soon found favor and turned it to account by leading raids against the settlements, always careful not to expose themselves to danger, and driving off herds which commanded a good price in Kansas and New Mexico.

“Early in December the Comanches had raided Parker county again and had committed several murders. The authorities had every reason to believe that the murders had been the work of a band of Comanches whose headquarters were somewhere far up on the Pease River.  Ross’ company of rangers and Cureton’s company [militia] were started on the trail with the order [from Gov. Houston] to find the enemy’s village and break up the nest. The fighting strength of the Indians was estimated all the way from 500 to 1,000 warriors, and it behooved us to assemble a force amply sufficient to defeat them.  At Fort Belknap we were joined by a troop of U. S. dragoons, twenty in all and number one good fighters in close quarters.

“When we left Belknap, we took our time. The trail left by the Indians had grown cold; they had long since reached their headquarters and doubtless felt secure in their remote village.  To locate this village was our object; to preserve the strength and good condition of our horses was of the highest importance.  We knew we would tree our game, somewhere, and then, above all other times, we would need the strength and mettle of good horses.  Hence, we took our time while on the march.

“Peter Robertson, of Cureton’s company, Gray and myself were the advanced scouts and trailers.

“Unless on a hot trail ranger scouts seldom rode together. As in this case we rode far apart in the open country and still within signaling distance.  It being late in the season, it was bitter cold at times, and there were few buffalo on the plains. But deer were plentiful, and we couldn’t complain at the fare.

“On the 27th of December —I think that was the date, I am not quite sure, it has been so long ago— we found sign that indicated that we were not many days’ travel from the Indian village.  The sign was old, but to the eye of the frontiersmen, it was easily read and interpreted.  We reported this to Captain Ross and he ordered his men to keep closer together in readiness at any moment for a scrap. He instructed us to keep far in advance, three or four miles, and to save the wind of our horses.

“Late in the afternoon of the 28th we came in full view of the broad valley of the Pease river, and on a hill on which grew a mot of small trees, we discovered plenty of fresh signs.  In the loose sand there were innumerable tracks of Indians, women and children, who but a few hours before, had been gathering hackberries.  Nearby was the hide of a polecat, which had been killed and skinned, and the blood was scarcely cold, although it was miserably cold that evening.  Two of us remained at this mot as watchmen, or rather listeners, for by this time it was dark, while the other two hastened back to the command to report our find.

“When they found Ross, he had gone into camp but on hearing our report he ordered the men to saddle up and march in perfect silence, which they could easily do, as the country was of loose sandy soil and the horses’ feet produced little sound.  At the foot of the hill on which stood the mot where we had found the sign, the men were halted and ordered to dismount and move forward.  Not a saddle nor a pack was removed from the backs of those faithful animals that night, and after seeing that their guns were in trim, those who slept lay on the ground with bridle rein in hand.  As I said, it was bitter cold and as no packs were unslung, the boys would collect in groups of three, four and five and huddle together on the ground, forming the center of a circle, around which their horses stood. By this means they could preserve a small share of the animal warmth and get a little sleep.

“In the meantime, Gray, Pete Robertson and I were well to the front watching and listening. We proceeded about two miles when we came to a high hill and we felt assured, from the general contour of the country over which we had come, and the trend of the hills that this elevation was near the river and doubtless overlooked the long-sought Comanche village.  We could see no lights in the village, but this was no surprise.  We knew that at no time, winter or summer is a light ever seen in a Comanche village after nightfall.  Above the voice of the night winds that came hurtling down from the north, we heard, once or twice, what we took to be the neighing of a horse, but no other sounds indicating the near proximity of a human habitation was heard.

“It seemed a long night, but the early dawn revealed to us the Comanche village with its tepees and wigwams in full view and almost at our feet.  We moved back over the brow of the hill and signaled. Ross and his men moved up cautiously to the foot of the hill and halted.   Ross and Lieutenant Callahan ascended the hill with a field glass, then hastily descended and ordered the column forward. All rode in a slow trot until we turned the point of the hill next to the village and in full view and then the order to charge was given.

“The Indians had evidently discovered our presence before we turned the point of the hill.  They may have seen Ross and Callahan while they were on the hill; at any rate, they were in the utmost confusion when we charged into their wigwam village.  Some were trying to rally their braves, others were mounted, some on foot, women and children were screaming and above all this pandemonium rang the defiant war whoop, the yells of the rangers and the crack of the six-shooter.

“A portion of the Indian encampment was along the bank of the narrow, shallow river next to us when the charge began. The Indians in this quarter made a break for the opposite side. Just below I saw several mounted Indians make it across where the bed of the stream was dry and hard.  I rushed in among these, shooting right and left, and when I had reached some distance, say forty or fifty yards on the other side, I dashed alongside an Indian woman (as I supposed) mounted and carrying a babe in her arms.  I was just in the act of shooting her when, with one arm, she held up her baby and said “Americano!”  I then told her to dismount and go back but seeing she did not understand me, I motioned her to the rear and left her.  All this time there was all kinds of fighting going on around me.  Hand to hand and running fights, there was plenty to put a man on his metal.  A large Indian on foot seized my bridle reins near the bits, with one hand and was trying to lance me with the other.  At the same instant a mounted warrior was bearing down on me with poised lance.  It was all the work of an instant.  He was so close I believe I could have touched the point of the lance with the muzzle of my pistol.  I shot him and digging my spurs into the sides of my horse with great force, he sprang forward, jerking the Indian off his balance and as he reeled to one side, I made a good Indian of him.

“By this time the engagement had narrowed down to a running fight or rather a chase.  Every red skin that could procure a mount was flying in the face of that north wind with a ranger or a dragoon behind him trying to catch up, and this chase continued several miles.

“There have been many luminous stories told and written about Capt. Ross’ capture of Cynthia Ann Parker and his duel with her husband, the big Indian chief.  My purpose is to give facts in these matters and render honor to whom honor is due. I shall not dispute any man’s statement but will tell it as I saw it.

“Ross had a fight at close quarters with a chief, and it happened right in the village.  Ross had a Mexican body servant, a sprightly, good looking young Mexican and he was not afraid.  I think he had once been a captive among the Indians and could speak their lingo.  During the scrap with the chief, Ross was wounded and told the Mexican to shoot him.  The Mexican blazed away with an old Yagger[4]he carried and shot the Indian through the hips. This brought the chief to a sitting posture and while making the most horrid faces and defying his conquerors by grimace, and every other taunting gesture known to savages, one of our men, I have forgotten his name —ran up and knocked him on the head with his gun.  With a knife, and while the old savage was yet kicking, he made a quick incision around his head from ear to ear, and when he jerked off his scalp it popped like a rifle.  And as to that death song tale, if that chief sang a death song that day it was after we left him —dead.

“Some of the survivors of that battle have stated that Quanah Parker was not there at the time of the fight.  This is a mistake.  Quanah was then eleven years old and showed his pluck in that scrap.  He was present and shot away all his arrows and wounded two or three of our men.  When the fight was about over and the boy had nothing left in his quiver, Frank Cassidy, who now lives in Llano, rode up to where Quanah was crouching, patted his horse on the hip, and motioned the lad to mount up behind him, which the boy did without any hesitation, and from that day to this Quanah Parker has been the white man’s friend.

“After the battle when we had all collected around the captive Indian woman, I was watching her face and her movements.  I was satisfied that she was a white woman and there was something about her face that led me to believe that I had seen her somewhere in the past.  I studied and studied and finally I said to Ross: “Captain, I believe that woman is Cynthia Ann Parker.”  On hearing that name the woman seemed suddenly aroused.  That stoicism, peculiar to the Indian, and which she had acquired through long association, gave way, the scowl on her face was supplanted by a look of pleasing anticipation, and smiting herself on her breast she said in a strong clear voice: “Me Cynthia Ann!”

“In this fight we recaptured forty-eight U. S. mules and some forty or fifty horses.  And among others, we captured the gray mule the one that ran over me the night the Indians got away with Captain Buck Barry’s horses.

“Cynthia Ann told us, through an interpreter, that Buffalo Hump was six miles up the valley with a large force, but we went to his village and he and his entire outfit had hit the breeze.

Dragoo OLD

Old Ben Dragoo from WikiTrees and Kathi Stoughton-Trahan

“Cynthia Ann also told us of the captive boy, whose sister was so cruelly murdered, while another sister was deprived of all her clothing and turned loose.  She said the boy was stubborn, that he refused to eat, and would fight every Indian that crossed him, and for this, he was killed the day before we made the attack.

“On our return we left Cynthia Ann at Camp Cooper, where the ladies gave her clothing and the tenderest care.  Captain Ross took Quanah Parker to Waco.

“In conclusion, I want to say that no one particular individual is entitled to more honor in the capture of Cynthia Ann Parker than any other who was engaged in the battle of Pease River and my old comrades yet living, will bear me out in this assertion.”

Ben Dragoo passed away in the town of London, Kimble County, Texas on 17 February 1929.  He was 93-years of age.

Sources:

  1. Marvin Hunter, Frontier Times Magazine (1923)
  2. Marvin Hunter, Frontier Times Magazine (1928)

Notes:

[1] John Baylor was the nephew of R. E. B. Baylor, for whom Baylor University is named.  John served as a soldier, Texas Ranger, Indian fighter, officer in the Confederate States Army, the Confederate States governor of Arizona, farmer, sometime gunfighter, and Texas politician.

[2] William C. Dalrymple was a Texas Ranger and did command a company of rangers on the Texas frontier between 1859-1862.  There is no record that he participated with Sul Ross in the Pease River engagement. It is possible that Dragoo served with Dalrymple, but not during the Battle of Pease River.

[3] Mr. Dragoo appears to be somewhat confused at this point, referring to James Hughes Callahan (1812-1856), for whom Callahan County was named.  Callahan was already dead before the Ross Expedition chastised the Comanche in 1860.  He may have served with Callahan earlier, however.  Jim Callahan did serve as a lieutenant in the Somervell Expedition, and later led the Callahan Expedition into Mexico in 1855.  Callahan was killed in 1856 as a result of a feud with Woodson Blessingame.

[4] Model 1841 rifled musket produced by the Harpers Ferry Armory, which was owned and operated by Eli Whitney.  It was produced between 1841 to 1861.  It cost $16.00 new.  The weapon was variously referred to as the Mississippi Rifle, or Yagger.  The word Yagger referred to the rifle’s small size and similarity to German Jager rifles.

About Mustang

US Marine (Retired), historian, writer.
This entry was posted in History. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Plainsman

  1. kid says:

    Wow. Bunch of folks had some bark on them…

    Like

  2. Andy says:

    This read like an action novel. Couldn’t put it down. Great story, well-told.

    Like

    • Mustang says:

      Thanks, Andy … most of the story was told by Old Ben Dragoo. We don’t have men like this in our society today. Thank you for weighing in. Semper Fi.

      Like

  3. Like Andy said.
    “as he reeled to one side, I made a good Indian of him.”
    Not PC 🙂

    Like

  4. Pablo says:

    The inscription on the statue of Sully (as best I can remember):
    Lawrence Sullivan Ross, 1838 – 1868, Soldier, Statesman, Knightly Gentleman, Brigider General CSA, President Texas A&M.

    As a student at A&M we had to memorize the inscriptions of buildings and monuments.
    I flunked out, becoming the black sheep of the family.

    My Grandfather graduated from A&M in 1905.

    Pablo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mustang says:

      I’ve taken a few coursess at Texas A&M … summer sessions only. We visited Sul Ross State at Alpine in 2017. Fascinating campus, great western museum, and in Alpine we met some very interesting characters. Thanks for reading, Pablo.

      Like

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