Old Paint

Following the French and Indian War (1754-63), the British colony of Virginia extended from the Atlantic seaboard to the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.  Few British subjects traveled beyond the Appalachian Mountains until the early 1770s.  The area of present-day Kentucky once formed the far-western region of the U.S. state of Virginia.  With the permission of the Virginia legislature, Kentucky County formed as a new state — the first state west of the Appalachian — admitted to the Union by Congress in 1792.

Most of us today remember reading about the exploits of frontiersman Daniel Boone — but we often overlook or fail to recall that he was also the first of thousands of westward migrating pioneers to follow the now-famous Wilderness Road.  In 1802, Missouri (sitting west of Kentucky, across the Mississippi River) was Spanish territory.  Americans who relocated to Missouri did so only with the permission of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and only on the condition that they become subjects of the Spanish Crown.  That changed in 1803 when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France, which essentially doubled the size of the United States with a few signatures and some cash.

Mathew Caldwell was born in Kentucky on 8 March 1798 and grew up there until he was 20-years of age.  In 1818, Caldwell accompanied his parents into Missouri, where Indian hostilities were frequent events. In Missouri, Mathew met and married his first wife, Martha.  In 1831, Mathew and Martha and (we believe) three young children migrated to Texas.

Upon arriving in Texas, Mathew settled his family in the DeWitt Colony, located south-southwest of the Austin Colony in East Texas.  In June 1831,  Mathew Caldwell received title to a parcel of land near the Zumwalt Settlement (southwest of present-day Hallettsville).  He acquired the Water Street residence of James Hinds in Gonzalez.  The Caldwell home was just down the street from the hat factory of George Kimball and Almeron Dickinson

In the 1830s, Mexico struggled with the complexities of establishing a new Republic, but there was no consensus about its form.  Thoughtful men wanted to form a federalist republic with semi-autonomous states or provinces, much like in the United States.  Other men imagined a strong centralized power.  The debate heated up as many Texians, citizens of Mexico, preferred federalism (less government, as outlined in the Constitution of 1824) to the authoritarianism of a centralist regime.[1]

When hostilities broke out between Texians and Mexico’s centralist authority, Mathew Caldwell was one of the leading men of the Texian community in Gonzalez and well acquainted with the other early Texians: Edward Burleson, Benjamin McCullough, John Henry Moore, and Jack Coffee Hays.  In late September 1835, Caldwell began actively recruiting Texians for a possible confrontation with Mexican troops, which is what happened on 2 October.  History remembers this fight as the Battle of Gonzalez.  As a participant in the Battle of Gonzalez, Mathew served as a scout and mediator in the matter of the now-famous cannon, which the Texians had borrowed from the Mexican army and refused to return. 

 Mathew’s call for volunteers took him from Gonzalez to Mina (around 100 miles one way).  From this effort, Mathew Caldwell became locally known as the “Paul Revere of Texas.”  Subsequently, from approximately 10 October to early December 1835, Caldwell accompanied the volunteer Texas army to San Antonio de Béxar, where they placed a siege over the Mexican garrison at the Alamo.  There is a hint that Mexican gunfire wounded Caldwell during the operation.

On 3 November 1835, Texian delegates established the provisional government of Texas.  Caldwell’s initial task was to administer and provision the volunteer army at the Alamo.  Events in Texas began to move quickly as Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna became more determined to put down the Texian rebellion, and the Texians became equally committed to achieving their independence.

On 1 February 1836, the citizens of Gonzalez elected Mathew Caldwell and John Fisher as their delegates to the Texas Independence Convention, held at Washington on the Brazos.  Both men signed the Texas Declaration of Independence.  Subsequently, Texas’ provisional government appointed Caldwell to a Committee of Three to “assess the strength of the enemy on the frontier and the condition of the Texian Army.”  Along with Byrd Lockhart and William Matthews, Caldwell formed a volunteer ranger company with twenty-three men.  Twelve Gonzalez men entered the Alamo as a relief force, reporting to Lieutenant Colonel William Travis on 2 March.  All of these men perished at the Alamo.

After the Texas Revolution in 1837, the citizens of Gonzalez County elected the 39-year old Caldwell as their sheriff.  Since Mexican troops had destroyed the town of Gonzalez, and because Comanche hostiles quickly reclaimed the area of Gonzalez, Caldwell and 29 rangers established a new village they named Walnut Branch in the northwest section of the County.  The fortification these men constructed provided some protection for the Texians filtering back into Gonzalez from the so-called “runaway scrape.”[2]

Caldwell remarried Hannah Morrison in Washington County on 17 May 1837.  As a respected Ranger and community leader, he helped keep the peace in town and the prairies.  In early 1838, hecklers tried to prevent Reverend Zachariah Morell and other ministers from preaching the gospel.  Caldwell boldly stood up to them and announced there would be no harassment of men of God.  No one dared use any violence on the preachers.

In October 1838, Comanche attacked the town and kidnapped two young women and some children.  While Caldwell’s rangers quickly mobilized and pursued these Indians, they could not catch up with them.  If this wasn’t enough, rumors began to circulate about a new Mexican army’s plan to assault San Antonio.  Indians on the one hand, Mexicans on the other.  Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar appointed Caldwell as a captain of Gonzalez Rangers to defend the immediate frontier.  Two months later, Lamar commissioned Caldwell to command a company in the First Regiment of Texas Infantry.  On 29 March 1839, Caldwell’s company, serving under General Edward Burleson, helped defeat the treasonous rebellion of Vincente Córdova of Nacogdoches.

In December 1838, several children of the Lockhart and Putman families were kidnapped by Comanche Indians while gathering pecans on the Guadalupe River south of Gonzales.  Mathew Caldwell, Ben and Henry McCullough, and other residents pursued these Indians but soon faced a bitter winter “norther” that left ice and snow on the ground.  Eventually, the winter weather defeated their efforts.  The Lockhart children would not fare well during their captivity.

The Third Congress of the Republic of Texas passed an act on 15 January 1839, which called for raising a fifty-six-man ranging company for Gonzales County.  Texas law required that the President appoint all ranger captains; the citizens of Gonzalez demanded that President Lamar appoint Caldwell to that post, which he did.

Captain Caldwell mustered his ranger company on 16 March 1839.  One of these men was Henry McCullough, already well-known as a courageous Indian fighter.  Curiously, one week later, President Lamar further appointed Caldwell to serve as a captain in the First Regiment of Texas Infantry.  Since the regiment had its lawful complement of officers, Colonel Lysander Wells informed Caldwell that there was no place for him.  Lamar’s confusing appointment prompted Judge James W. Robinson to correspond with the President urging that he rescind Caldwell’s appointment, stating, “I hope he [Caldwell] can yet be provided for, as I do think him the best Capt. of Spies in Texas, even superior in many respects to the old veteran Deaf Smith.”

“Old Paint” Caldwell would join the army in due time, but he proceeded to fulfill his obligation to command the Rangers first.  His Gonzales Rangers protected the area between San Antonio and Gonzales during the next three months.  They established their main camp about fourteen miles above Gonzales on the Guadalupe River near present Luling (present-day Caldwell County).  A large force of Austin-area Rangers and volunteers under Colonel Edward Burleson fought a battle with Vicente Cordova’s Mexican and Indian rebels on Mill Creek on 29 March 1839.

Captain Caldwell’s Rangers were on scouting missions and thus missed the main battle.  However, five of his men were attacked by Cordova’s fleeing force the following day on the Guadalupe River.  “Guns were fired and two of the Gonzales Rangers wounded,” wrote Captain Caldwell.  Two of his men, relieved of their horses, hurried back to Seguin on foot to spread the word of their skirmish.  “Old Paint” Caldwell and his Gonzales Rangers thus began a dogged pursuit of Cordova’s rebels, who were fleeing toward Mexico.  Caldwell crossed the Guadalupe River (where New Braunfels now stands) and pursued them north of San Antonio.  Colonel Henry Karnes and other volunteers joined Caldwell’s chase until signs showed that the rebels had out-distanced them.  Although unsuccessful in catching the treasonous Cordova, his men did help drive the danger from the country.

Caldwell’s 1839 Ranger company helped protect surveyors working between Gonzales and Austin.  His company disbanded on 16 June.  Caldwell then became involved with recruiting for the First Regiment of Infantry.  Records of the regiment reflect that on 29 August 1839, Mathew Caldwell served as one of the fifteen infantry captains.  By December 1839, Captain Caldwell commanded a small, mounted scouting party reporting to Colonel Burleson.

On Christmas Day, Caldwell’s scouts encountered a band of hostile Cherokees about 100 miles northwest of Austin.  Caldwell’s scouts killed six Indians during a brief fight, including two Cherokee chiefs.  The only Texian loss was John Lynch.  Caldwell’s scouts pursued the Indians for several more days without further battle, and the expedition returned to Austin in January 1840.

Nevertheless, Comanche, Kiowa, Cherokee, and Wichita Indians continued to plague the Texians by raiding settlements, killing colonists, kidnapping women and children, and stealing horses and cattle.  Under these circumstances, Texians were both surprised and suspicious of the motivations of a delegation of Comanche war chiefs who one day appeared in San Antonio seeking a truce with the whites.

On 10 January 1840, three Comanche emissaries surprised everyone in San Antonio by walking into the city and announcing that they wanted to arrange peace with the whites.  These emissaries met with Colonel Henry W. Karnes, who had served during the Texas War of Independence as Sam Houston’s spymaster.  Karnes was 28 years old.

The emissaries released one white boy to Karnes — a measure of good faith.  He was the Webster lad kidnapped in 1838.  The Indians informed Karnes that they would return in 23 days to negotiate peace with the Texians.  Karnes listened to what they had to say and agreed to meet again at the prescribed time, but he also admonished these men that no lasting peace would be possible until the Comanche returned their white captives.  Karnes estimated that the Comanche held 13-16 white prisoners.

Karnes promptly notified Secretary War, 37-year old Albert Sidney Johnson, of the impending negotiation.  Johnson ordered Karnes to detain the Indians once they arrived and retain them in custody until the Comanche returned all white people to their families.

On 19 March, the powerful Eastern Comanche Chief Muguara (also: Mukwooru) (translation, Spirit Talker) led 65 people into San Antonio, including 12 other chiefs, several women, children, and warriors.  The Indians were dressed in their finest clothing to present their best appearance.  Chief Muguara wanted most Texian recognition of the Comancheria as the Indian’s dominion.[3]

The Comanche brought along a captive female, 16-year old Matilda Lockhart, taken in 1838.[4]  Matilda had suffered the abuses of several Comanche men.  Mary Maverick, the wife of Sam Maverick, cared for Matilda once Muguara turned her over.  Maverick testified that the Indians burned off Matilda’s nose in addition to other disgusting abuses.  The girl was an absolute mess.

Chief Muguara was upset because the Texians did not offer him guns and ammunition for Miss Lockhart; he needed provisions to continue raiding.  Karnes wasn’t buying it, and he was none too happy about the condition of Matilda Lockhart.

Colonel Hugh McLeod questioned Matilda about what she knew of the thirteen kidnapped whites that Muguara promised to trade for provisions — as part of the peace negotiations.  Matilda informed the Texians that she knew of the existence of Mrs. Dolly Wester, her children, Booker and Patsy, Thomas Pierce, a child named Lyons, and the three remaining Putnam children.

When it was clear that Muguara was stalling, Karnes and McLeod suspected the Comanche of negotiating in bad faith.  Karnes had made it clear that the Comanche must release all abducted whites before the council meeting.  The Comanche, however, had a different view.  Comanche, who held those captives, had never agreed to anything of the sort — and especially not to meet with Texians.

When the Indian delegation failed to produce the expected number of captives, Texians escorted its members to the jailhouse, retaining them there until the meeting began at the Council House.  The Council House was a one-story stone building adjoining the jail at Main Plaza and Calabosa (Market) Street.[5]  Karnes was armed with the knowledge of Matilda Lockhart’s testimony that she had seen 15 other white captives at the Comanche’s main camp a few days earlier.  She reported that the Indians wanted to see how high a price they could get for their hostages.  The Indian plan was to bring in the remaining captives one or two at a time to maximize their value.

The Texians demanded to know where the other captives were.  Chief Muguara, the Comanche spokesman, informed the Texians that various bands held the other prisoners.  He informed Karnes that he was confident that the other captives would be released in time, in exchange for a significant amount of supplies, of course — including rifles, ammunition, and blankets.

Chief Muguara was undoubtedly fluent in Spanish but less so in English.  When he finished speaking his terms in Spanish, which was translated into English, he finally spoke in English, saying to the Texians, “Now how do you like that answer?”  Neither Karnes nor any other leading Texian liked it at all.  Texian militia, summoned to enter the Council House, stationed themselves at intervals along the walls.  When the Comanche could not or would not promise to return the remaining captives forthwith, Karnes announced that the Texians would hold these chiefs as hostages until the Comanche returned all remaining white prisoners.

The interpreter hesitated before relaying this message.  He warned Karnes that the Comanche would attempt to escape by fighting if he delivered this message.  Karnes ordered him to relay the message.  When the interpreter had given the notice, he quickly left the room.  As soon as the Comanche understood the Texian’s words, they arose and began attacking the militia and fighting their way out of the Council House.

At the time, Captain Caldwell was in San Antonio as a guest at the home of Samuel Maverick.  He was aware of the testimony of Matilda Lockhart and attended the negotiations in the Council House.  He walked over to the meeting unarmed, but he soon found himself in trouble when, soon after his arrival, the talks suddenly turned violent.

One of the Indian leaders attacked a Texian sentinel, and the fight quickly became general.  Caldwell wrestled a rifle away from one Indian, killed him with it, and then used the butt end of the gun to club another Comanche to death.

In the gunfire and dense smoke that permeated the packed Council House, “Old Paint” was shot through the right leg by rifle fire, possibly from another Texian.  The fighting spilled out into the streets of San Antonio.  The Texian soldiers pursued and killed all the Indian chiefs, sparing only a few women and children — best described as those not actively engaged in the fight.

Although painfully wounded, Caldwell moved outside the courthouse and continued to fight.  His “borrowed” rifle now shattered, he resorted to the only other weapon available — decorative rocks.  That night, Caldwell returned to the Maverick home with some assistance walking.  In her memoirs, Mary A. Maverick wrote, “Dr. Weideman came and cut off his boot and found the bullet had gone entirely through the leg and lodged in the boot, where it was discovered.”[6]  Caldwell’s wound, though not life-threatening, was very painful.  The resilient Captain recovered rapidly and, in a few days, walked about with only the aid of a stick.

Mathew Caldwell’s next Indian encounter came in August 1840 when the Comanche war chief Buffalo Hump led 1,000 Indians against the coastal towns of Victoria and Linnville, killing settlers, taking prisoners, looting, and destroying homes, and stealing hundreds of horses, cattle, and mules.  Known to history as the Great Raid of 1840, Buffalo Hump sought retribution for the Council House Fight.

To meet this emergency, various volunteer forces of Texian settlers took up pursuit of the Comanches as they retreated northward.  Among these forces was a mounted company under Captain Caldwell.  Other volunteer units gathered at Plum Creek near the Gonzales and Austin Roads.  Scout Henry McCullough brought word during the early morning hours of 12 August that a massive force of Comanches was approaching.  Captain Caldwell made a stirring speech to the combined Texian forces, insisting that they must attack before the Indians could reach the protection of the nearby hills.  “If we can’t whip ’em, we can try.”  Although favored by many to take command of the forces present, Caldwell instead relinquished overall leadership to the senior officer present, Major General Felix Huston, even though Huston had no previous experience as an Indian fighter.

During the Battle of Plum Creek, the Comanches lost more than eighty killed.  The Texans suffered only one man killed and seven wounded.  Several Comanche women and children were taken prisoner, and the Texians recovered a large number of stolen goods, mules, and horses.

Once the battle had begun to swing in favor of the Texans, Caldwell and Ben McCullough urged the inexperienced Huston to order an offensive charge.  Felix Huston would write in his report that Captain Caldwell commanded the left-wing of the Texian line and executed the charge “in gallant style.”

In 1841, Caldwell served as an infantry company commander during the ill-fated Santa Fe Expedition.  The entire operation was a fiasco from the start, but it only became worse with time.  Mexican forces captured Caldwell and his men, disarmed them, and force-marched them across the Sonora desert in chains to Mexico City — an ordeal lasting several months.  En route, one of Caldwell’s men died from exhaustion, and several others were shot when they refused to walk any further.  Caldwell arrived in Mexico City in April 1842.  When finally released later in the summer, Caldwell returned to San Antonio.

In September 1842, Caldwell assumed command of a force of 200 volunteers defending San Antonio against the invasion of Mexican General Adrian Woll.  Promoted to colonel, Caldwell found himself surrounded by a superior number of Mexican soldiers at Salado Creek on 17 September.  Caldwell wrote in his plea for reinforcements, “The enemy are around me on every side, but I fear them not.  I can whip them on any ground — Huzza!  Huzza for Texas!”  He signed as Mathew Caldwell, Colonel Commanding.

On 18 September, Caldwell sent Captain Jack Hays with a company of mounted rifles to entice Woll’s cavalry to pursue them into the Salado Creek, where Caldwell’s men were ready to ambush them.  One of Caldwell’s soldiers was a man named Nathan Boone Burkett.  In his recount of the fight, written in 1895, Burkett reported that, in preparing for this battle, Caldwell stepped in front of his men and gave them advice and encouragement, telling them that “if everyone makes a sure shot, we will whip the hell out of them before they know it.”

Although vastly outnumbered, the Caldwell’s 200 Texians put up a stiff fight and caused the Mexican cavalry to withdraw in haste with sixty men lying dead on the field.  It wasn’t long before General Woll’s defeated army retreated across the Rio Grande into Mexico.  Some Texas leaders criticized Caldwell for not pursuing and capturing all of Woll’s soldiers — but then, of course, they weren’t at Salado Creek, so their criticism held little credibility among the Texians who were.

In 1842, Mathew Caldwell was 44 years old.  People referred to him as “Old Paint” because his hair and whiskers were spotted with white patches, like the coloring on a horse.  Although young according to modern standards, Caldwell was an old man in 1842.  Suffering from the effects of his long march across Mexico and the illnesses imposed upon him from malnutrition, Mathew Caldwell retired to his home in Gonzalez.  He died at home on 28 December 1842 and was buried with full military honors.   A historical monument now marks his grave in the Gonzalez Cemetery.

Sources:

  1. Caldwell, C.  Texas Lawmen, 1835-1899: The Good and the Bad.  History Press, 2011.
  2. Groneman, B.  Alamo Defenders: A Genealogy, the People, and their Words.  Eakin Press, 1990.
  3. Hardin, S. L.  Texas Iliad — A Military History of the Texas Revolution.  University of Texas Press, 1994.
  4. Marks, P. M.  Turn Your Eyes Toward Texas: Pioneers Sam and Mary Maverick.  Texas A&M University Press, 1989.
  5. Maverick, M. A.  Memoirs of Mary A. Maverick.  Alamo Printing, 1921 (available online).

Endnotes:

[1] Several accounts of the Battle of Gonzalez and the Texas Revolution are available inside Old West Tales, including The Texas Highsmith Family, Jim Bowie: The Man Behind the Legend, El Sordo, The Dickinson’s of the Alamo, Sam Maverick, and John Coffee Hays. 

[2] Residents on the Gulf Coast and at San Antonio de Béxar began evacuating in January upon learning of the Mexican army’s troop movements into their area, an event that was ultimately replayed across Texas. During early skirmishes, some Texian soldiers surrendered, believing that they would become prisoners of war — but Santa Anna demanded their executions. The news of the Battle of the Alamo and the Goliad massacre instilled fear in the population and resulted in the mass exodus of the civilian population of Gonzales, where the opening battle of the Texian revolution had begun and where, only days before the fall of the Alamo, they had sent a militia to reinforce the defenders at the mission.

[3] Three Comanche chiefs did not attend: Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna — the fiercest war chiefs.

[4] I believe it is likely that Matilda was related to Byrd Lockhart, Sr., but I have not been able to confirm this.

[5] All Indian tribes had their own cultural traditions, but one that appears consistent across several Indian cultures involved protocols for holding council meetings.  Men might raise their voices and storm out of the meeting, but under no circumstance would Indians who attended council in peace resort to violence while in council.  To do so was a supreme affront to “civilized” behavior. 

[6] The tale of Dr. Weideman, as told by Mary Maverick, is bizarre.  A German in the employ of the Russian Tsar as a naturalist was sent to Texas to study and report on anything and everything, vegetable, and animal.  He seized upon the opportunity of several dead Comanche to collect their remains and reduced them further to skeletal remains for shipment back to Russia — one male, one female.  According to Maverick, this was only the tip of the iceberg.  After reducing these remains to skeletons, he emptied the water used to boil the bodies into the city drinking water reservoir, which caused no small amount of anger among the residents.  Maverick wrote that Weideman was arrested, fined, and released.  You can’t make this stuff up.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comanche, History, Mexican Border War, Mexican Revolution, Missouri, New Mexico, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Texas, Texas Rangers, Very Strange. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Old Paint

  1. I just finished reading this fine story about Mathew Caldwell. It is far more detailed than any history teacher taught while I was in school. What a hard life they lived back then and the sacrifices made are admirable. As always exquisitely written and an extremely informative read.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Andy says:

    Another great bio of an interesting early Texan, one called Old Paint. This is the kind of exciting tale I was mesmerized by as a young boy, reading late into the night. It was great been transported back in time to those wondrous periods, even if only briefly.

    Thanks, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Baysider says:

    A few takeaways. 1) One of the best ways to learn history is through biography. I had a teacher teach Russian history this way, and the geist of the country is far more alive to me than, say, France. 2) The loco doctor illustrates why one crazy is “color” and multiples of same are a big problem. I’m sure the Venice Boardwalk nearby (me) has quite a few who would be like that if they could – especially if they saw a Tik Tok video of someone else doing it and were strung out on meth. 3) The noble savage is a myth. Most men exhibit domineering or warlike spirits given the necessity or opportunity of the circumstances. 4) Be careful when large bodies of foreigners enter your land and proceed to set up shop more or less according to your rules. Even if they “promise” their allegiance to you.

    Well done! and interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

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