Frank Jones — Texas Ranger

No man in the wrong can stand up to a man in the right who just keeps on a-coming.

—The Texas Ranger Creed


The Texas Rangers began with ten men, appointed by Stephen F. Austin in 1823.  He enlisted these men as a punitive expedition against a band of Indians who threatened the Austin Colony.  In 1835, the organization was formally created with the enlistment of fifty-three men assigned to three companies.  Each company had a captain and two lieutenants.  The three captains answered to a major, whose responsibilities included recruitment, enforcing regulations, and imposing discipline.  Texas Ranger privates received a salary of $1.25 a day, but they were responsible for supplying and maintaining their own mounts, equipment, firearms, and rations.

There was no formal Texas Ranger uniform in those early days.  The men wore clothing suitable to themselves for life in the field.  Adopting the clothing style of Mexican vaqueros, a Texas Ranger likely wore a sombrero, loose-fitting trousers, worn boots, a heavy-duty shirt, a vest, and a bandana around his neck.  Some of the boys — well, maybe most of them — were scruffy.  They were unshaven, long-haired, and a bit smelly.

Also, there were no saints in the Texas Rangers.  Killing men who needed killing transformed impressionable boys into calloused men.  In all likelihood, they drank too much, chawed tobacco, and cussed like uncouth sailors.  They probably cheated at cards, paid women for intimate services, and occasionally broke the law.  On the positive side, they were hellacious fighters and reliable, and their courage and determination saving the lives of settlers was beyond reproach.

Texas Rangers have always been heroes to Texans, of course — but they also belong to America because Americans value such attributes regularly displayed by the Rangers: hardy manhood, stoicism, pluck, valor, and resolve.  When the going gets tough … the tough get going.

Meet Mr. Jones

Most of what we know of Frank Jones we learned from his father-in-law, Colonel George Wythe Baylor — and various snippets picked up from the Texas Historical Society and archive of the Texas Rangers.

Frank Jones was born in Austin, Texas, in 1856.  He was the son of Judge William Eastman Jones, formerly of the great state of Georgia, and his wife, Elizabeth Rector Jones of Tennessee.  Whatever Frank’s sterling attributes, he no doubt inherited them from his father.  Judge Jones and his wife raised five sons — three of whom served as Texas Rangers.

Frank enlisted in the Texas Rangers with Company A in 1873.  He was 17 years old.  A year later, he transferred to Company F and served under Lieutenant Pat Dolan.  Nine months later, he joined Company D, serving under Captain D. W. Roberts.  Roberts appointed Jones as company corporal.

After assuming command of the company, Captain Lamartine. P. Sieker promoted Jones to sergeant, later recommending him for promotion to second lieutenant and first lieutenant.[1]  When Sieker departed the company to serve in Austin, First Lieutenant Jones assumed command of the company.  Within a year, the Rangers commissioned Jones as a Captain, and he retained command of Company D. 

Throughout his service, Captain Frank Jones was recognized as one of the Texas Ranger’s foremost lawmen.  He was cool under pressure, fearless, and determined to see his duty through to completion.  He was well thought of by his superiors, contemporaries, and subordinates.  He treated his men with respect — part of that being the expectation that they would always do their duty.  In the Ranger’s entire history, few were as brave, as efficient, or as untiring as he in the performance of his duty.

Frank married Miss Grace O’Grady, the daughter of Irish immigrants John and Kate O’Grady.  Frank and Grace settled down in Kenner County and raised two daughters (Grace, named after her mother, b.1887, and Frances, b.1889).  Grace died in 1889, possibly in childbirth.  Her daughter Frances followed her in death in 1890.  In 1892, Frank remarried Miss Helen Baylor, the daughter of CSA Colonel George W. Baylor, a former major of Texas Rangers.  Frank and Helen had a son whom they named Frank Baylor Jones, who was born in 1893 — the year Frank Jones lost his life. 

What Happened

Outside El Paso, within the Rio Grande water system, lay a large island consisting of around 15,000 acres nearest the present-day town of Fabens.  The island formed due to a shift in the river’s course.  By the Treaty of Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War, half of this island belongs to the United States, and the other half belongs to Mexico.  Its location presented some difficulty in policing criminal activity, which was precisely why outlaw elements from both countries utilized it.  Whether Mexican or American, it was a simple matter to flee across the dry riverbed into one country or the other, which made Mexico a sanctuary for murderers, thugs, rapists, arsonists, and thieves.

Pirate Island was the location of a gallery forest.[2]  One band of outlaws living on Pirate Island called themselves the Bosque Gang.  The gang’s leader was a fellow named Jesus Maria Olguin, who, along with his three sons, developed a particularly nasty reputation for their conduct toward Texans after Texas Rangers killed one of his relatives during the San Elizario Salt War.[3] 

By 1893, the Bosque Gang was doing whatever it wanted and to whoever got in its way.  The main focus of their attention was stealing American cattle and horses and moving them across the border into Mexico.[4]  Influential ranchers and county lawmen in south Texas began to demand help from the state capital, prompting the governor to send Texas Rangers to El Paso under the command of Captain Frank Jones.  After assessing the situation, and owing to the size of the Bosque Gang, Jones telegraphed the governor, requesting additional men.  Texas was always a miserly state, and owing to the cost of additional lawmen, the governor refused Captain Jones’ request and ordered him to move against Olguin with the men at his disposal.  Captain Jones had six men in his detachment beside himself.  According to Texas Ranger Sergeant John R. Hughes, “ … the Bosque Gang grew stronger and stronger — they laughed at the Gringos threatening to arrest them.[5]

In June 1893, El Paso County officials issued a warrant for the arrest of Jesus Maria and his son Severino for stealing horses and cattle, additionally charging them with assault with the intent of committing murder.  To serve these warrants, Captain Jones formed a detachment consisting of himself, El Paso Deputies Robert Edwards and Ed Bryant, and four other Texas Rangers: Corporal Carl Kirchner, Privates T. F. Tucker, J. W. “Wood” Saunders, and Edwin Dunlap Aten (Texas Ranger Ira Aten’s younger brother).  A young Mexican rancher named Lujan accompanied Jones to help search for some of his stolen livestock.

On the morning of 30 June, Jones and his detachment departed from El Paso and headed southwest along the Rio Grande toward Pirate Island.  The Rangers had searched several houses in the area and were returning to El Paso when they spotted two Mexican men on horseback coming down the road toward them.  As soon as the Mexicans became aware of the posse, they turned their horses around and began galloping back toward the small village of Tres Jacales.

The Jones posse gave chase.  Upon arriving at the outskirts of the village, Corporal Kirchner called out, demanding their surrender.  The Mexicans answered with a volley of fire that came from within a small canal along the road and from several positions in the surrounding brush.  On the first volley, a bullet ripped into Captain Jones’ thigh, knocking him off his horse.  Another bullet struck the magazine in Kirchner’s Winchester.  The Texans immediately dismounted and returned fire, forcing the Mexicans to seek better protection inside the village.  According to the later testimony of the Rangers, there were at least five Mexican attackers; some were gang members, and others were residents of the town.

Mexicans and Texas Rangers exchanged shots for the better part of an hour.  During this time, Private Tucker made several attempts to rescue Captain Jones, but Jones told him to save himself.  Just then, another Mexican bullet struck Jones in the chest, killing him.  Señor Lujan made his way to Kirchner’s position and informed him that the Rangers had unknowingly crossed into Mexican territory.  Lujan opined that it would be better to leave before locals reported their presence to the local Mexican army commander.

Kirchner, however, was unwilling to leave his dead captain and continued the fight for another hour.  It was then that Kirchner realized that the Mexicans were working to flank the Americans; if that happened, it was likely that they would all be killed.  Kirchner ordered a fighting withdrawal back across the Rio Grande to the town of Clint.  From Clint, Kirchner sent a message outlining his situation to El Paso Sheriff Frank B. Simmons.

In this fight, Captain Jones was the only American casualty.  Jesus Maria and Severino were both wounded in the fight.  Initially, Mexican authorities refused to return Captain Jones’ body to American authorities, but after some delay, Jones’ remains were handed over to El Paso law officers.  Then, in a rare cooperative move, Mexican Army officials joined with Sheriff Simmons in capturing a few of the outlaws at Pirate Island.

At first, Mexican authorities held the Olguins in the jail at Ciudad Juarez, but in a move designed to spite American lawmen, Mexican President Porfirio Diaz ordered the Olguins released.  There was very likely much celebration at Tres Jacales.

In the aftermath of the gunfight at Tres Jacales, some folks living in south Texas observed that Texas Ranger Sergeant John R. Hughes was ‘spitting mad about how President Diaz protected the Olguins.

There was never any evidence that John Hughes or any other ranger embarked on a vengeance campaign into Mexico — but over the next several weeks, every one of the Olguins died under mysterious circumstances.  The generally held belief was that the despicable bandits perished due to an acute case of rangeritis.  Note: The photograph at right was taken in 1894 of the members of Company D, Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion, Captain John R. Hughes, Commanding.  Kirchner and Hughes are seated on the far right.


  1. Alexander, R.  Winchester Warriors: Texas Rangers of Company D.  1874 – 1901.  University of North Texas Press, 2009.
  2. Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, 2017.


[1] Sieker was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1848.  He attended primary school in North Carolina and later attended the Washington Military Academy.  At the age of 15, he joined the Confederate Army in 1863, serving as an artillerist in Longstreet’s Corps.  Following the war, he migrated to Texas and joined the Texas Rangers.  He served as a private, corporal, sergeant, and lieutenant before being commissioned a captain.  In 1885, Sieker was appointed to serve as Quartermaster General of the State of Texas.

[2] A forest forms a corridor along a river or wetland area and projects into landscapes that are otherwise only sparse trees, such as savannahs, grasslands, or deserts.

[3] In Spanish, Jesus is pronounced ‘hay-soos’.

[4] This sort of behavior wasn’t a one-way street.  American cowboys routinely made off with Mexican cattle and horses, as well. 

[5] Spanish and Portuguese speakers use the word Gringo to denote a stranger or foreigner.  In Mexico, the term generally applies to Americans as a form of derision or mockery.  Click on the link for a summary of the life and times of John R. Hughes.

Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Justice, Mexican Border War, Outlaws, Texas Rangers, Vengeance | 4 Comments

The Stones River Fight — Part 2

A Gathering Storm

As General Bragg struggled to manage his army at Murfreesboro, Major General Rosecrans prepared his plan.  Despite his curt response to Halleck’s orders to move against Bragg, Rosecrans got the message.  It was in his mind that he would move against Bragg as soon as his men received their much-needed supplies.  Operational planning began just before Christmas in 1862.  His army was well supplied, and his intelligence sources informed him that Bragg had been forced to send reinforcement troops to Vicksburg.  Rosecrans was also aware that Bragg was losing the cavalry of John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest.[1]  His every indication was that Bragg was settling into winter camp at Murfreesboro.  It was true.  In anticipation of the arrival of Rosecrans’ army, General Bragg ordered his rebels to establish defensive positions along the Stones River.

General Rosecrans called his war room together on Christmas Day.  He and General George Thomas briefed subordinate commanders on the plan of attack.  The Army of the Cumberland would advance toward Murfreesboro in three columns totaling around 44,000 men.  Rosecrans intended to leave less than half of his men in Nashville to protect the railhead and primary source of resupply.  General Thomas Crittenden would proceed straight down the Nashville Turnpike; General Alexander McCook and General George Thomas would advance on Crittenden’s right.  General Rosecrans mistakenly believed that Bragg’s force was scattered around the town.  He also took too few men.

As the briefing concluded, Rosecrans served his officers a little Christmas cheer.  Eventually, the brandy produced a lighter mood among the staff.  Suddenly, General Rosecrans pounded his fist on the table and loudly announced, “We move tomorrow, gentlemen!  We shall skirmish, probably as soon as we pass the outposts.  Press them hard!  Drive them out of their nests!  Make them fight or run!  Fight them!  Fight them!  Fight I say!”

Meanwhile, General Bragg’s camp enjoyed the holidays in grand style.  Oblivious to any possible threat, Bragg’s officers attended Christmas balls and parties.  The liquor flowed, and the officers danced the nights away while their men huddled for warmth in dark camps, feeling the emptiness of loneliness for families so far away.

If the enlisted men were miserable, the officers were not — and their non-stop merriment was noted by a Civil War memoirist named Sam Watkins, one of General Bragg’s infantry privates.  Watkins later wrote that during Christmas 1862, “John Barleycorn was our general-in-chief … [and] our generals, our colonels, and our captains had kissed John a little too often.”

On the morning of December 26, as the Army of the Cumberland moved south, an incident occurred that added to the continuing discord among Bragg’s commanders and the men of his army as well.  Historians claim that the ablest field general serving under Bragg (1862) was Brigadier General John Breckinridge, a former Vice President of the United States.  He was a popular and gifted commander.  As a native of Kentucky, Breckinridge was an essential part of Bragg’s fall campaign, and it was both the hope of Bragg and Breckinridge that thousands of Kentucky men would flock to the rebel side.  When that didn’t happen, Bragg became very bitter toward Breckinridge.  Bragg moaned in a letter to his wife that he had no use for Breckinridge or anyone else from Kentucky.  

Bragg also made no secret of his contempt for Breckinridge among the officers in his headquarters.  Because Kentucky rested in the hands of the Union, Breckinridge and his Kentucky brigade became known as the “Orphan Brigade.”  Bragg went out of his way to demonstrate his contempt toward Breckinridge.  On December 20, Bragg convened a court-martial to hear the case regarding charges of desertion against Private Asa Lewis of the 6th Kentucky Infantry Regiment (CSA), who left his post without permission to care for his family — there being some confusion about the term of his enlistment.  Breckinridge and his officers pleaded with Bragg to show the boy mercy, given that his father had died, and Lewis was now the family’s only means of support.  But Braxton Bragg was implacable and was determined to make an example of him.  A firing squad put Private Lewis to death on the day after Christmas.

General Joe Wheeler’s cavalry brought news of Rosecrans’ approach on the afternoon of 28 December.  Bragg moved to prepare to meet the Union threat, but Rosecrans’ three columns confused him, and he was uncertain where to expect the Union attack.  Bragg dispersed his army across all the approaches to Murfreesboro from Nashville, but his positions were set on rugged terrain and not particularly advantageous to either side.

The land was marked by limestone outcroppings, deep crevices, and large boulders, surrounded by dense, thick stands of red cedar.  The lay of the ground made unit cohesion difficult, with lush foliage limiting visibility in numerous places.  Additionally, with high wind, dense rain, and freezing temperatures, the weather was simply awful.

As the Union army approached Murfreesboro, Bragg’s cavalry slashed at the Union columns at every opportunity.  Rosecrans finally took up positions opposite Bragg on 29 December, deploying Crittenden’s men on the left flank, anchored on the river, and extending across the Nashville Turnpike.  General George Thomas moved in on Crittenden’s right, extending the Union line to the south, while General McCook took the far right, with his line arcing toward the southwest.

Bragg placed General Hardee opposite McCook, with Polk in the center facing Thomas.  However, the Confederate right was another matter.  Here, Bragg chose to put Breckinridge across the river, which separated his right-wing from the rest of the army.  It was not a sound placement by any means, and while his commanders urged a Bragg to reposition those troops, Bragg stubbornly refused their arguments.  This meant that both Rosecrans and Bragg envisioned an assault on the other’s right flank — and both intended to launch their attack on New Year’s Eve morning, December 31.

The night of December 30 was cold, wet, and miserable for the fighting men on both sides.  Sometime before evening tattoo, one of the Union’s regimental bands struck up “Yankee Doodle” and “Hail Columbia.”[2]  As the music drifted across the field, the Confederate soldiers listened quietly, and when the Union band had stopped playing, one of the Confederate bands answered with Dixie.

This friendly music exchange continued until a Union band started to play the bittersweet sounds of “Home, Sweet Home.”  Within minutes, a Southern band joined in, and the bands played together in a unique expression of mutual longing for home and family.  Within a short time, the two arms’ entire music played together.  One soldier from Tennessee remembered that “after our bands had ceased playing, we could hear the sweet refrain as it died away in the cold frosty air.”

New Year’s Eve Day dawned cold and gray.  The fog and dense drizzle obscured the battlefield.  Crittenden’s men positioned themselves on the Union left to move across Stone’s River to assault Bragg’s right.  Rosecrans was nearby to observe the fight.  Only the sound of men preparing breakfast could be heard to the south along General Thomas’ line.  On the far right, two of General McCook’s divisions were preparing for a fight.  General Phil Sheridan led one of those divisions.[3]

During the night, one of Sheridan’s brigade commanders, General Joshua Sill, brought him word that his pickets had spotted considerable Confederate activity to his front.  To him, it appeared as if they were moving toward the far right of the Union line.  Sheridan and Sill rode to wake and brief General McCook.  McCook quickly dismissed them and any possible threat and went back to sleep.

General Sheridan remained disturbed (not to mention highly irritated).  Upon returning to his headquarters, he ordered his staff to quietly rouse the men, give them a quick breakfast, and get them into the battle line.  Sheridan walked the line personally to ensure every regiment was in place and ready for what he suspected might be a Confederate attack.

As the black night turned gloomy gray, McCook received additional reports of enemy movement.  He finally issued orders to the other divisions to stand.  McCook’s orders no sooner left this command tent when the rebels attacked through their typical rebel yell.  Behind that yell came 11,000 troops under William Hardee.  They smashed into the Union right, shooting men down as they ate breakfast with their weapons out of reach.  Hand-to-hand fighting broke out, but McCook’s men began to flee in panic toward the rear.

Eventually, these men reformed some three miles behind the lines.  Some of the Union regiments stood to fight, but because of the Union panic, these hardy men were surrounded without any flank support.  They, too, eventually left the battlefield.  Within a half-hour, two of McCook’s brigades ceased to exist.

Nearby, General Sheridan and General Sill fought the rebels to a standstill … but with the loss of two brigades, they were eventually forced backward.  At about this same time, General Polk began his attack on the Union center.  Polk’s assault was a half-hearted affair, and General Thomas was able to turn them back, inflicting a large number of casualties.

From Rosecrans’ position on the field, he could hear the steady thumping of artillery to his right and a steady cascade of small arms fire.  The initial reports weren’t good, but Rosecrans seemed unconcerned.  It wasn’t until McCook requested immediate replacements that Rosecrans realized the magnitude of the disaster on the Union right.  He ordered Crittenden to stop his advance and release reinforcements to bolster Sheridan and Sill.

General Hardee continued to press Sheridan and Sill.  It wasn’t long before dead horses and men, abandoned rifles, and burning wagons littered the battlefield northwest of Murfreesboro.  The soldier’s spilled blood, ghastly to look at and sickly to the smell, lay in large puddles on the ground because the limestone did not permit the liquid to soak into the soil.

Sheridan was a man possessed on the battlefield, moving from position to position to direct his brigades.  This was soon a necessity.  Before 10:00 a.m., Sheridan had lost all three of his brigade commanders.  The Union line had been pushed back into a V formation, with the left facing east and the right facing west.  Sheridan’s division manned the apex of this reformed line, and, given that they formed a salient, the Confederate attacks now came from both sides.  Working tirelessly, he organized a withdrawal while maintaining a tight hold on Union units on either side.  While this V-shaped line was vulnerable to Braggs line, it also allowed Rosecrans to quickly shift his forces wherever they were needed, which he did with great energy and skill.

On horseback, Rosecrans darted back and forth on the battlefield, demanding reports, delivering orders, encouraging his men — showing the flag to calm everyone down.  Typical of this day, Rosecrans rode to Colonel William Redwood Price, one of the brigade commanders.  Price’s brigade was set I along the river.  Rosecrans shouted at Price, “Will you hold this ford?”

Price replied honestly, “I will try, sir!”

Rosecrans shouted even louder, “Will you hold this ford?”  Price replied, “I will die right here, sir!”

But still not satisfied, Rosecrans shouted once more, his voice filled with emotion, “Will you hold this ford?”  

The young colonel responded, “Yes, sir!”

By noon, Union apex had shifted to an area known as the Round Forest, a small limestone hill punctuated by dense cedar groves.  The Union right flank aligned along the Nashville Pike.  Rosecrans continued to strengthen his line, sending units where they were needed without respect for the name of their unit.  All the while, Union forces were killing rebels left and right.  Hardee’s assault petered out because there was no one left to fight.  Bragg ordered Polk to renew his attack upon the Round Forest.  At that location, Polk’s men were met by a devastating punch issued by Colonel William Hazen’s brigade.

Polk continued to hammer away at Hazen, but Rosecrans kept pouring reinforcements into what the men began to call Hell’s Half-Acre.  By 1:00 p.m., Polk’s men were exhausted.  They could not load another bullet.  Bragg called for Breckinridge to send him four fresh brigades from across the river.

General Rosecrans and General Thomas continued to reinforce the Round Forest by bringing in every available piece of artillery.  By 4:00 p.m., the first two of Breckinridge’s brigades began moving across the river.  As the brigades came online, their commanders awaited the arrival of the remaining two brigades and General Polk’s orders.  Bragg was beside himself, urging Polk to launch another attack with what he had available.

The men of Breckinridge’s brigades marched smartly across a field now littered with hundreds of dead men from the earlier fight.  Newly arrived Union artillery quickly opened fire, blasting huge gaps in the advancing line, but the Kentuckians maintained their advance.  General Hazen ordered his infantry to fire when the Confederate line reached a range of only 50 yards.  The result was devastating.  Breckinridge’s men fell by the dozens, and the entire attacking line staggered to a halt, then broke to the rear amid a hail of rifle and artillery fire.  One Kentucky regiment lost 47 percent of its men within ten minutes — many other units suffered more than 30 percent casualties.

One might think that such horrendous casualties might have convinced Bragg of the futility of another attack, but he refused to change his mind.  When General Breckinridge’s other two brigades arrived, he ordered Polk to sacrifice them as well.  To more than a few of Bragg’s junior officers, the general was utterly insane.

By that time, Union artillery in the Round Forest numbered more than 50 guns, and as the rebels renewed their assault, Union gun crews fired as fast as they could reload.  The second Confederate attack met the same fate as its predecessor.  All that was proven was that the Kentucky men knew how to die.

At one point, General Rosecrans and his staff closed on the action in the forward edge of the battle area.  With him was Colonel Julius Garesché (his aide and his closest friend from his cadet days at West Point).  As the fighting raged in front of them, a solid shot from a Confederate cannon roared past within inches of the commanding general’s head.  As it flew by him, it hit Garesché in the face.  He was immediately decapitated, and his headless body stayed in the saddle for 20 paces before pitching off the horse to the ground.  Rosecrans rode on, his uniform covered with Garesché’s blood (completely unaware of what happened behind him).  Later, when he was told about his friend’s death, he quietly said, “Brave men die in battle.  Let us push on.”[4]  

The sound of battle faded with sunset.  The prominent sound on the battlefield was the moaning and crying of the dying, and the frigid night was filled with the yellow blur of lanterns floating on the open field as medics from both sides attended to the wounded and dying.

That night, General Rosecrans held a commanders’ meeting to discuss the plan for the next day.  The general asked his men if they should retreat.  Thomas answered for everyone, saying, “This army does not retreat.”

Bragg was flush with victory in the enemy camp, certain that Rosecrans would limp back to Nashville.  He sent an urgent telegram to President Davis touting his triumph.  “God has granted us a happy New Year.”  So convinced was Bragg of his victory that he went to bed that night without making a single adjustment to his battle line.  As far as he was concerned, the Battle of Stone’s River had been settled.

With the dawn of the New Year, Bragg was astounded by the sight of lines of blue-uniformed infantry.  When his generals came seeking their orders, Bragg appeared paralyzed and in shock.  His only tactical order that day was to order Breckinridge to re-occupy his original position across the river.  That night, Bragg walked in the fields looking for signs that Rosecrans was withdrawing.  He found none.

On the morning of 2 January 1863, Bragg ordered an artillery bombardment to see if Rosecrans would respond.  Rosecrans lobbed twice as much artillery back at Bragg.  After throwing a tantrum, Bragg decided to relocate his artillery to the point of high ground east of the river in front of General Breckinridge.  Doing so would allow Bragg to pour devastating fire into the Union’s left flank — which might drive Rosecrans out of his positions.   To facilitate this, Bragg ordered a reconnaissance of the area.  When his scouts returned, they told him that the high ground he wanted for his artillery was already in possession of a Union division.

Bragg decided to order Breckinridge to take the Union-held ridge and summoned the general to his headquarters.  When Breckinridge learned of his assignment, he reacted with deep anger.  His men could not possibly take such a strong position.  Displaying his deep dislike for Breckinridge, Bragg opined that since his Kentucky soldiers had suffered the least thus far and now it was their turn to prove their worthiness.  The by-now seething Breckinridge protested again.  Bragg angrily ordered him to carry out his orders.

When Breckinridge returned to his men and informed them of their mission, General Roger Hanson, commanding the Orphan Brigade, exploded in anger and informed Breckinridge that he had every intention of going to Braggs headquarters and “shooting that son of a bitch.”  Breckinridge prevailed upon Hanson to prepare his men for an attack.

At 3:00 p.m., as Breckinridge massed his men for the assault, Rosecrans observed the activity and sent reinforcements across the river.  Equally important, he also moved additional artillery onto the west bank of the river, where they could cover the Union defenders.  By the time Breckinridge began to move forward, Rosecrans had assembled 58 guns on the high ground facing east.  Breckinridge’s line of march would take him over 600 yards of open ground into the mauling teeth of a Union infantry division.

The Union defensive fires were overwhelming, but Breckinridge’s line never faltered.  They marched into the Union line, pushing the blue-bellies backward out of their positions.  Breckinridge had achieved the impossible, but instead of halting and consolidating a defensive position, they foolishly continued their assault.  It was a fatal mistake.

As soon as the retreating Union troops were out of the line of fire, the Union’s 58 artillery pieces west of the river opened fire on Breckinridge’s still advancing line.  The guns fired about one-hundred rounds a minute, and the Kentucky boys fell by the dozens, and within minutes, the entire flow of the battle had changed.  It was devastating to Breckinridge; General Hanson lay mortally wounded.

That night, amid another cold, driving rain, Bragg called a meeting of his subordinate commanders and principal staff.  After a discussion of raised voices, neither Bragg nor his subordinates could offer a plan of action — except to say that General Bragg no longer commanded a combat-effective army.  At 10:00 a.m., on 3 January 1863, Bragg ordered a withdrawal, ending the Battle of Stone’s River was over.


Lincoln and the War Department hailed the fight as a significant victory for the Union; President Davis and General Bragg suffered defeat and embarrassment.  Bragg remained in command of the Army of Tennessee both because Davis could not stand the loss of face he would suffer if forced to dismiss Bragg and because there was simply no one to replace him.  Even so, Bragg and his subordinates continued to hate one another until Bragg was relieved of his command following the Union breakout at Chattanooga in November 1863.

Stones River was General Rosecrans’s career high point.  Lincoln ultimately fired him after the Battle of Chickamauga.  Success has many fathers — while failure is a bastard.


  1. Connelly, T. L.  Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee 1862 – 1865.  Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
  2. Cozzens, P.  No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River.  University of Illinois Press, 1990.
  3. Daniel, L. J.  Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army.  University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  4. Davis, W. C.  Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol.  The University Press of Kentucky, 2010.
  5. Hess, E. J.  Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River.  University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
  6. Lamers, W. M.  The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A.  Louisiana State University, 1961.
  7. Woodworth, S. E.  Jefferson Davis, and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West.  University Press of Kansas, 1990.


[1] Confederate cavalry was organized in different ways within various rebel theaters.  In the Army of Tennessee, the cavalry was organized as one corps under a lieutenant general.  The corps may consist of two to four cavalry divisions.  Each division included from three to four brigades.  Each brigade supported two to three regiments.  Each regiment had three to four battalions.    

[2] Evening tattoo is an evening call played by both the British and American armies.  Originally, the performance  was played on the snare drum and was known as “tap too.”  The name later applied to more elaborate military band performances, which are known as “military  tattoos.”

[3] Alexander McCook served as a temporary major general; his permanent rank in the Union army was captain.  He was no more qualified to serve as a general officer than Custer was to lead a mess wagon.

[4] No matter Rosecrans’ words he was deeply affected by his friend’s death.  After the battle, he carefully cut the buttons from his uniform and placed them in an envelope marked, “Buttons I wore the day Garesché was killed.”  He carried that envelope with him for the rest of his life. 

Posted in Civil War, Confederate States, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Tennessee, The Union | 6 Comments

The Stones River Fight — Part 1


In 1811, the Tennessee General Assembly determined that the location for a new county seat for Rutherford County should be called Cannonsburgh in honor of Newton Cannon, a local politician.  A month later, however, those same politicians renamed the location Murfreesboro to honor the memory of Colonel Hardy Murfree, a Revolutionary War hero.  For eight years, Murfreesboro served as the Tennessee State Capital.

Between 29 December 1862 — 3 January 1863, Union and Confederate armies met at Murfreesboro to determine whether Tennessee would belong to the north or the south.  Although hardly anyone today remembers it, a great battle was decided there — at a tremendous cost in human lives.  The casualty rates at Murfreesboro were higher than any other major battle of the Civil War.

The men who fought that battle did so in the worst weather imaginable.  It was bitter cold, with stiff wind, rain, and driving sleet.  Of 80,000 men engaged in combat, 23,000 died or suffered a debilitating injury.  The historian will find admirable gallantry, despicable brutality, exceptional leadership, and gross incompetence at that place.

Some Civil War Background

All of the senior officers of the Confederate and Union armies attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and everyone served for some time in the uniform of the U.S. Army.  Many (not all) served together during the Mexican-American War.  This means that every senior officer, whether serving in the Union or the Confederacy, was educated by the same men, using the same textbook, and employing the same tactics under actual combat conditions.

Up to a point in the Civil War, the Confederacy was happy enough to defend Dixie, and in that sense, some would argue that the Confederacy held the moral high ground.  In the South, the Civil War was often referred to as The War of Yankee Aggression.  In the early days of the war, the Confederacy won nearly every battle because, as General James Longstreet would urge, the men would fight harder if they thought they were defending their homes/states.

President Lincoln wasn’t pleased with the performance of the Union Army, but there was a problem: Mr. Lincoln was out of his depth in military matters, and most of the Union’s senior officers were either back-stabbing politicians or bloody incompetent.  Lincoln ordered the Union Army into the field to solve the question of a divided land and nullification and to underscore the seriousness of the Emancipation Proclamation.  He signed the draft of this document in late September 1862; he planned to announce emancipation on 1 January 1863.  To do that, he needed a Union Army that could win battles.

Union Army

Early in the war, President Lincoln ordered three principal military commanders to the eastern theater of operations.  Lincoln ordered General Ambrose Burnside to confront the premier enemy commander, Robert E. Lee.[1]  By mid-December 1862, the rebels defeated Burnside at Fredericksburg, Virginia, and his generals were on the brink of open rebellion against him.  In the western theater, Union forces had won victories at Fort Henry, Shiloh, Corinth, and Perryville.  Vicksburg was turning out to be more difficult than anyone imagined — but Lincoln needed a substantial win, and he needed it before the first of the year.  Lincoln had hopes in his newly commissioned field army — the Army of the Cumberland, previously known as the Army of the Ohio.

Before the Battle of Perryville, the Army of the Cumberland had done a lot of walking but not much fighting.  After pursuing the Confederate Army of the Mississippi (newly renamed the Army of Tennessee) and defeating rebels at Perryville, Kentucky, the Army of the Cumberland was poised to take all of Kentucky and most of western Tennessee.  Most of central and eastern Tennessee remained solidly in Confederate hands —  and in the view of Lincoln, Tennessee was ripe for Union conquest.

Lincoln’s principal general in the west was Major General Don Carlos Buell — who fell out of Lincoln’s favor because of his lack of aggressiveness.  Like Burnside, General Buell was also the subject of unflattering criticism by his subordinates.  Buell was not in favor of secession, but he was also not enthusiastic about fighting a war in the southern states.  His wife was a slave owner.  When he planned an engagement, he struggled to ensure that any battles did only minimal damage to the local economy.  When Lincoln had had enough of this, he ordered Buell fired and replaced with someone else.

On 24 October 1862, Major General Henry Halleck, Commanding General of the U.S. Army, ordered Major General William Rosecrans to take command of Buell’s army and force Confederate General Braxton Bragg out of Kentucky and Tennessee to seize and occupy the rail hub at Chattanooga (linking Virginia with the deep south) — and complete these tasks as a matter of urgency.  To emphasize Lincoln’s and Halleck’s sense of urgency, Halleck ended his directive by writing, “Neither the country nor the government will much longer put up with the inactivity of some of our armies and generals.”

William Rosecrans (1819 – 1898) was an experienced 43-year-old military officer with service between 1842 – 1854 and returned to active service in 1861.  He served during the Mexican-American War but did not participate in it.  While somewhat unknown to the War Department, he had the reputation as an intelligent planner and aggressive fighter, but a man who much preferred maneuver warfare to self-defeating slug-fests. In battle, he was easily excitable, highly emotional, and prone to direct action. He was a hard drinker, quick to anger but even faster to forgive.

Yet, despite General Halleck’s fair warning, Rosecrans did not immediately leave Nashville to assault the rebel army of Braxton Bragg.  The Army of the Cumberland was disorganized, needed additional training, supplies, and logistics wagons, and had the least capable cavalry in the Union Army.  Rosecrans did not intend to march on Bragg until he was satisfied that his Army could win.

General Halleck, however, was under pressure from Lincoln to get a victory.  Halleck threatened Rosecrans with relief if he “didn’t get to it.”  Still, Rosecrans would not be bullied.  He answered Halleck, saying, “Everything I have done was necessary and absolutely so.  If the Government which ordered me here confides in my judgment, it may rely on my continuing to do what I have been trying to do.  As to threats of my removal and the like, I must be permitted to say that I am insensible.”  The problem, of course, was that no one in Washington understood the condition of the Army of the Ohio through the summer and at the end of Perryville.[2]

The Confederacy

Rosecrans had troubles, but Confederate General Braxton Bragg had even more difficulties.  After the battle at Perryville, Kentucky (8 October 1862), Bragg’s Army of the Mississippi withdrew to Harrodsburg, Kentucky, where Major General E. K. Smith reinforced him with 10,000 troops.  Perryville was not that far away, but Major General Don Carlos Buell had no interest in pursuing Bragg or any other Confederate Army.

Braxton Bragg was also frustrated: his army was low on supplies, and he had no way of resupplying his men.  Logistical shortages prompted Bragg to withdraw from Kentucky and move his 38,000 men some 400 miles to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, through Knoxville and Chattanooga.  On 20 November, the combined armies of Bragg and Smith became known as the Army of Tennessee.

Bragg exercised command over two Army corps.  One under Major General William J. Hardee (which included the infantry divisions of major generals John C. Breckinridge, Patrick R. Cleburne, and John P. McCowan), and Major General Leonidas Polk (with infantry divisions under major generals Benjamin F. Cheatham and Jones M. Withers and a cavalry brigade under Brigadier General Joseph Wheeler).

Bragg’s field officers were (mostly) competent men.  In contrast, Bragg was perhaps the least likable officer in the entire Confederate Army.  He was ill-tempered, stubborn, intractable, overly sensitive to criticism, and more than a little paranoid — which, in his case, was justified because he was despised by nearly everyone, including the subordinates who challenged his every decision.  Some scholars have suggested that Bragg’s headquarters was more like a snake pit than a field HQ.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis had known Braxton Bragg since the Mexican-American War; they had a long-standing mutual admiration and (to some) disgustingly similar personalities.  Davis viewed the public outcry over Bragg’s withdrawal from Perryville as a personal attack.  He believed that Bragg was being too harshly criticized in the Southern press and Confederate Congress because of his association with Davis.  Therefore, as he often tended to do, the Confederate president saw this as another example of his real and perceived enemies trying to gain political leverage.  In public, Davis was Bragg’s staunch defender.

Leading the charge against Bragg was General Leonidas Polk, a former Episcopal bishop from Louisiana (and also a close friend of President Davis). Privately, Davis had deep concerns about Bragg, and the primary source of these came from Bragg’s subordinates. General William Hardee, E. Kirby Smith, and Henry Heth supported Polk’s criticism of Bragg.  They believed Bragg had lost his mind and said so in writing.  Another of his officers defended Bragg, claiming he was perfectly sane — just grossly incompetent.

Late in October, Davis ordered Bragg to Richmond to discuss complaints against him and his performance as an army commander.  Bragg was surprised and angry with the insubordination, but he took a conciliatory tone with the president.  He admitted that he lost Kentucky but had inflicted many casualties on the Yanks and had managed to keep his army intact.  Bragg argued that his army was the only fighting force remaining in the west and the only Confederate Army capable of resisting the Union’s advances.

To save himself, General Bragg offered his president a new plan.  Not just to resist the Union Army but to take the fight to Rosecrans.  Bragg had earlier ordered Major General Breckinridge to move his division to Murfreesboro and establish a defensive work.  Bragg did this, he said, as a means of drawing Rosecrans to where Bragg could defeat him.  Afterward, Bragg said, he would drive his army to Nashville, seize the capital and threaten Grant’s rear in Western Tennessee.

This is the kind of talk President Davis liked to hear, so without giving the specifics much attention, Davis approved the plan and sent Bragg back to Tennessee.  Meanwhile, as Bragg returned to Tennessee, Davis promoted Polk and Hardee to Lieutenant General.  Thus bribed to put up with Bragg’s eccentricities, Polk and Hardee promised to help Bragg in his campaign against Rosecrans.

By 28 October, General Breckinridge was fully deployed to Murfreesboro.  Bragg faced numerous challenges in executing his planned offensive as the weeks passed.  First, there had been no solution to his logistical problems.  Winter was on the way, and forage was inadequate.  Then, in early December, President Davis ordered Bragg to reassign 7,500 of his men to Vicksburg, reducing the size of his army to around 40,000 men.  Rosecrans’ Army of the Cumberland had twice that many.

(Continued next week)


  1. Connelly, T. L.  Autumn of Glory: The Army of Tennessee 1862 – 1865.  Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
  2. Cozzens, P.  No Better Place to Die: The Battle of Stones River.  University of Illinois Press, 1990.
  3. Daniel, L. J.  Soldiering in the Army of Tennessee: A Portrait of Life in a Confederate Army.  University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  4. Davis, W. C.  Breckinridge: Statesman, Soldier, Symbol.  The University Press of Kentucky, 2010.
  5. Hess, E. J.  Banners to the Breeze: The Kentucky Campaign, Corinth, and Stones River.  University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
  6. Lamers, W. M.  The Edge of Glory: A Biography of General William S. Rosecrans, U.S.A.  Louisiana State University, 1961.
  7. Woodworth, S. E.  Jefferson Davis, and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West.  University Press of Kansas, 1990.


[1] At the beginning of the Civil War, LtCol Lee served in Texas.  He did not support the secession of states but was conflicted about raising a weapon against his home state of Virginia.  General Winfield Scott recommended Lee for promotion to Major General and command of the U.S. Army.  When on 24 May, Lincoln advisor Francis P. Blair offered Lee command of the City of Washington as a major general, Lee replied, “Sir, I cannot draw my sword against my state.”

[2] How little has changed since 1863. 

Posted in American Military, Civil War, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Kentucky, Tennessee | 1 Comment

Civil War Christmas

Shown right, Christmas Eve is an illustration by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly, January 3, 1863.


There is no worse time to be a soldier than the dead of winter.  Young men, older than their years, so far from home and freezing cold, the men of the Union and Confederate armies often struggled to perform their duties, or even just survive, in the harsh weather.  Thousands of men died from exposure or disease throughout the war — to say nothing of the horses or mules that could make life just that much more difficult for the survivors.  Disgusted with the conditions on the front, many suffering young men turned their thoughts to home, and failing to return to their families by deserting, tried to replicate what they could with their comrades to keep back the melancholy and drudgery of winter.

The following story was written by Reverend John Paxton, a veteran of the 140th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.  The story was published in Harper’s Weekly in 1886 — an account of Christmas Day just after the Union defeat at Fredericksburg.  Paxton was performing sentry duty when he and several other Union troops came upon a group of Confederate soldiers standing across the Rappahannock River, and instead of fighting, the two sides showed each other signs of Christmas cheer.

This would not be the last so-called “Christmas Truce” between the North and the South, and such truces would not be contained to the 19th century.  Paxton is not telling us about a single event, isolated as it may have been.  Similar things happened in other wars.  Paxton does remind us that war is such a terrible thing that we must avoid it whenever possible; the enemy is human, too, and that Christmas is for everyone who believes.

~Heavily borrowed from the National Battlefield Trust

Christmas on the Rappahannock

By Rev. John R. Paxton, D.D.

                “Gentlemen, the chair of the Professor of Mathematics is vacant in this college; permit me to introduce to you, Captain Fraser.” Rah! rah! rah! and away we went and enlisted – to go to Richmond.  It took us three years to get there.  No wonder; there were so many Longstreets to make our way through; so many Hills to climb; so many Stonewalls to batter down; so many Picketts to clear out of the way.  It was as hard as a road to travel as the steep and stony one to heaven.

                No preaching, sir!  Can’t you forget the shop?  Don’t you know that you have squeezed yourself into that faded jacket, and are squirming, with a flushed face and short breaths, behind that sword belt, which had caused a rebellion in media res?

                I started for Richmond in July 1862, a lad eighteen years old, a junior in college, and chafing to be at it – to double-quick it after John Brown’s soul, which, since it did not require a knapsack or three days’ rations or a canteen or a halt during the night for sleep, was always marching on.  On the night before Christmas 1862, I was a dejected young patriot, wishing I hadn’t done it, shivering in the open weather a mile back of the Rappahannock, on the reserve picket and exposed to a wet snowstorm.  There was not a stick of wood within five miles of us; all cut-down, down, even the roots of trees, and burned up.  We lay down on our rubber blankets, pulled our woolen blankets over us, spooned it as close as we could to get to steal warmth from our comrades, and tried not to cry.

                Next morning the snow lay heavy and deep, and the men, when I wakened and looked about me, reminded me of a church graveyard in winter. “Fall in for picket duty.  There, come, Moore, McMeaus, Paxton, Perrine, Pollock, fall in.”  We fell in, of course, No breakfast; chilled to the marrow; snow a foot deep.  We tightened our belts on our empty stomachs, seized our rifles, and marched to the river to take our six hours on duty.

                It was Christmas Day, 1862. “And so this is war,” my old me said to himself while he paced in the snow his two hours on the river’s brink.  “And I am out here to shoot that lean, lank, coughing, cadaverous-looking butternut fellow over the river.  So this is war; this is being a soldier; this is the genuine article; this is H. Greely’s ‘On to Richmond.’  Well, I wish he were here in my place, running to keep warm, pounding his arms and breast to make the chilled blood circulate.  So this is war, tramping up and down this river my fifty yards with wet feet, empty stomach, swollen nose.”

                Alas, when lying under the trees on the college campus last June, war meant to me martial music, gorgeous brigadiers in blue and gold, tall young men in line, shining in brass.  War meant to me tumultuous memories of Bunker Hill, Caesar’s Tenth Legion, the Charge of the Six Hundred – anything but this.  Pshaw, I wish I were home.  Let me see.  Home?  God’s country.  A tear?  Yes, it is a tear.  What are they doing at home?  This is Christmas Day.  Home?  Well, stockings on the wall, candy, turkey, fun, merry Christmas, and the face of the girl I left behind.  Another tear?  Yes, I couldn’t help it.  I was only eighteen, and there was such a contrast between Christmas 1862, on the Rappahannock, and other Christmases.  Yes, there was a girl, too – such sweet eyes, such long lashes, such a low tender voice.

                “Come, move quicker.  Who goes there?”  Shift the rifle from one aching shoulder to the other.

                “Hello, Johnny, what are you up to?”  The river was narrow but deep and swift.  It was a wet cold, not a freezing cold.  There was no ice, too swift for that.

                “Yank, with no overcoat, shoes full of holes, nothing to eat but parched corn and tobacco, and with this derned Yankee snow a foot deep, there’s nothin’ left, nothin’ but to get up a cough by way of protestin’ against this infernal ill-treatment of the body.  We uns, Yank, all have a cough over here, and there’s no sayin’ which will run us to hole first, the cough or your bullets.”

                The snow still fell, the keen wind, raw and fierce, cut to the bone.  It was God’s worst weather, in God’s forlornest, bleakest spot of ground, that Christmas Day of ’62 on the Rappahannock, a half-mile below the town of Fredericksburg.  But come, pick up your prostrate pluck, you shivering private.  Surely there is enough dampness around without your adding to it your tears.

                “Let’s laugh, boys.”

                “Hello, Johnny.”

                “Hello, yourself, Yank.”

                “Merry Christmas, Johnny.”

                “Same to you, Yank.”

                “Say, Johnny, got anything to trade?”

                “Parched corn and tabacco, – the size of our Christmas, Yank.”

                “All right; you shall have some of our coffee and sugar and pork.  Boys, find the boats.”

                Such boats! I see the children sailing them on small lakes in our Central Park.  Some Yankee, desperately hungry for tobacco, invented them for trading with the Johnnies.  They were hid away under the banks of the river for successive relays of pickets.

                We got out the boats.  An old handkerchief answered for a sail.  We loaded them with coffee, sugar, pork, and set the sail, and watched them slowly creep to the other shore.  And the Johnnies?  To see them crowd the bank and push and scramble to be the first to seize the boats, going into the water and stretching out their long arms.  Then, when they pulled the boats ashore and stood in a group over the cargo, and to hear their exclamations, “Hurrah for hog.”  “Say, that’s not roasted rye but genuine coffee.  Smell it, you’uns.”  “And sugar, too!”

                Then they divided the consignment.  They laughed and shouted, “Reckon you’uns been good to we’uns this Christmas Day, Yanks.”  Then they put parched corn, tobacco, and ripe persimmons into the boats and sent them back to us.  And we chewed the parched corn, smoked real Virginia leaf, and ate persimmons, which, if they weren’t very filling, at least contracted our stomachs to the size of our Christmas dinner.  And so the day passed.  We shouted, “Merry Christmas, Johnny.”  They shouted, “Same to you, Yank.”  And we forgot the biting wind, the chilling cold; we forgot those men over there were our enemies, whom it might be our duty to shoot before evening.

                We had bridged the river, spanned the bloody chasm.  We were brothers, not goes, waving salutations of goodwill in the name of the Babe of Bethlehem on Christmas Day in ’62.  At the very front of the opposing armies, the Christ Child struck a truce of us, broke down the wall of partition, became our peace.  We exchanged gifts.  We shouted greetings back and forth.  We kept Christmas, and our hearts were lighter of it, and our shivering bodies were not quite so cold.                

~Christmas Number, Harper’s Weekly, 1886.

Posted in American Military, Civil War, History, Pennsylvania, Uncategorized, Virginia | 4 Comments

Master Spy


Major John R. Boker, Jr., U.S. Army (deceased), graduated from Yale University.  In May 1941, Boker accepted a commission to serve as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Infantry.  After attending the Infantry Officer School, the Army detailed him to remain as an instructor, where he served until October 1943.  Boker then attended the U.S. Military Intelligence Training Center (MITC) at Camp Ritchie, Maryland, for the Interrogation Course.  He remained an instructor in the German Section until June 1944, when he received orders to report to the British Army Strategic Interrogation Office outside London.

During the closing days of World War II in the Eastern Theater of Operations (E.T.O.), Captain Boker formed and then commanded an independent counterintelligence detachment known as the 6824th Detailed Interrogation Center, Military Intelligence Services (also 6824 DICMIS) to handle the interrogation and debriefing of German Air Force intelligence personnel who had surrendered to the U.S. Third Army.  As the Allies closed in on the Nazis, high-ranking German officers and civilians fell into the hands of American units.  Two issues became apparent to Captain Boker: the Allied effort would soon dissolve itself, and there was a rising threat to U.S. security by the Soviet Union.  Today, we credit John Boker for being the first allied officer to realize this.  He was also the first officer to recognize the value of recruiting captured German intelligence assets to work for U.S. intelligence agencies during the emerging Cold War.[1]

Chief among the former German officers recruited by Captain (soon promoted to Major) Boker was General-Lieutenant Reinhard Gehlen.[2]  Gehlen was a central figure in German intelligence.  By establishing a personal rapport with the General, Major Boker recognized Gehlen’s potential value to the American intelligence effort.  As it turned out, the highly intelligent German P.O.W. had in his possession an almost unbelievable stockpile of intelligence files on Soviet civilian and military intelligence assets and a well-formed nucleus of an anti-Soviet intelligence network — in place — that he was prepared to offer the United States in exchange for the safety of himself, his men, their families, and their intelligence resources inside the Soviet Union.

In this case, Major Boker worked outside regular military and intelligence channels (with the knowledge and approval of his immediate superior) to gather important German intelligence personnel from P.O.W. camps throughout Germany.  The information these prisoners provided included Soviet military manuals, the complete Order of Battle of the Red Army, digests on Russian industrial and economic strength, and information about an existing espionage network in Eastern Europe.

The Gehlen organization’s files saved the American Intelligence Community years of work, replicating their efforts by providing a ready-made base of intelligence from which to work in the early years of the Cold War.  Although Major Boker left the Army in 1946, he remained a member of the Army Reserve until 1953.  Major Boker’s story is recounted in the memoirs of Reinhard Gehlen, The Service (1972).  John R. Boker, Jr., passed away on 12 April 2003.

Much of the following information comes directly from the Report of Initial Contacts with General Gehlen’s Organization by John R. Boker, Jr., dated 1 May 1953.[3]

General Lieutenant Reinhard Gehlen c.1945

General-Lieutenant Gehlen

Reinhard Gehlen (1902 – 1979) was born into a Catholic family in Erfurt, Germany.  His father was a former army officer who worked for the Ferdinand-Hirt-Verlag publishing house, specializing in publishing textbooks for schools.  In 1920, after Reinhard gained his abiturium (secondary certificate), he joined the Reichswehr, which was the remnants of the Imperial German Army following World War I.

There is not much information available about Gehlen between 1920 – 1935, possibly explained by these facts.  After World War I, the Allied nations forced Germany to disarm and reduce their military.  More than this, however, the Allied powers imposed severe reparations payments on the German government totaling $33 billion ($568 billion today), which did not allow any spending for an armed force.  Consequently, promotions within the Army were very likely relatively slow.  It is entirely possible that Reinhard Gehlen served as an ensign and lieutenant for 15 years before becoming eligible for promotion to Captain.  In any case, by 1935, Adolf Hitler had advanced to national prominence and was no doubt planning on re-establishing the German military forces.

After Gehlen completed training at the German Staff College in 1935, the high command promoted him to Captain and assigned him to the German General Staff.  He served there until 1936 when he was reassigned as a staff intelligence officer with a German infantry division.  He continued to serve in that capacity when the German Army invaded Poland in 1939.  Subsequently, Gehlen advanced to major in the German Staff Corps.

A short time later, Gehlen became a liaison officer on the staff of Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, German Army Supreme Commander, where he earned a good reputation for intelligence and thoroughness in his staff assignments.  In late 1940, the high command transferred Gehlen to the staff of General Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff.  Gehlen’s promotion to lieutenant colonel became effective in July 1941, after which he received orders to serve on the eastern front.  Upon arrival, his commander assigned him as a senior intelligence officer, Foreign Armies East (F.H.O.).

In the spring of 1942, Gehlen assumed command of F.H.O.  Realizing that the organization could not provide quality intelligence data to his field commander, he reorganized F.H.O. to include Russian linguists, geographers, anthropologists, lawyers, and junior officers who understood that the Russians were not Slavic monkeys, as many Germans at the time viewed the Russians.

In the summer of 1944, Colonel Henning von Tresckow, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, and General Adolf Heusinger visited Gehlen, asking him to join their plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.  Without entering the group officially, Gehlen remained in the background while authorizing the plotters to formulate their plans while he provided them with cover.  Fortunately for Gehlen, when the bomb plot failed, Gestapo agents overlooked the possibility of Gehlen’s involvement.

As chief of intelligence (F.H.O.), Gehlen was responsible for producing quality intelligence concerning the Soviet Army, frequently dismissed by Berlin as an example of defeatism.  Even though Hitler promoted Gehlen to General-Lieutenant in early 1945, he fired Gehlen in April.  This was Gehlen’s impetus for saving himself, his men, and his spy network inside the Soviet Union.  F.H.O.’s military and political intelligence collection were massive — more than enough to assure his survival in the post-World War II world of the Cold War.  This information was copied to microfilm, stored in watertight containers, and buried at various locations in the Austrian Alps.  Try to imagine fifty waterproof cases filled with microfilm material. 

General Gehlen surrendered to the Counter-Intelligence Corps (C.I.C.) in Bavaria and turned over to Captain Boker at Camp King.  Realizing Gehlen’s potential, Captain Boker removed Gehlen’s name and the names of all his men from P.O.W. lists.  Seven other former senior F.H.O. officers joined Gehlen.  Boker managed to locate and transfer Gehlen’s documents to Camp King without the knowledge of the Camp Commander.  Armed with this treasure, Boker received the support of Brigadier General Edwin Sibert, the intelligence officer of the 12th Army Group who, with the assistance of General Walter Bedell Smith, William Donovan, and Allen Dulles, evacuated Gehlen and his most-senior assistances to the American Zone in Berlin.

U.S. authorities released Gehlen in July 1946 and returned him to occupied Germany.  Operations against the Soviet Union began in December.  Gehlen and his men were known as simply the Gehlen Organization, or “The Org.” The service was composed of former intelligence officers of the Wehrmacht, the S.S., and S.D. headquartered near Frankfort and later near Munich.  None of those individuals was required to appear before a post-war tribunal.  Their “cover” was a fictitious agency known as the South German Industrial Development Organization.  Gehlen Org grew from 350 ex-intelligence officers to more than 4,000 anti-communist secret agents.

The Gehlen Organization

While working for the U.S. government, Gehlen was subordinate to U.S. Army G-2 (Intelligence).  It was an arrangement he deeply resented because the Army’s intelligence network and the people involved in it were, in Gehlen’s opinion, among the least competent in the entire world.  At the end of 1947, Gehlen arranged to transfer his organization to the Central Intelligence Agency.  The importance of this network within the C.I.A. cannot be over-emphasized.  Between 1945 – 1991, Gehlen’s agents were the only U.S. spy assets in the entire Eastern Bloc.

Between 1947 and 1955, Gehlen’s agents interviewed every German P.O.W. who returned from captivity in the Soviet Union and established close contact with anti-Communist Eastern European organizations and communities.  They observed rail systems operations, airfields, and ports inside the Soviet Union.  Gehlen’s secret agents penetrated every one of the Soviet Republics, including Ukraine.

Unfortunately, the security and efficacy of the Gehlen Org were compromised by East German security, who not only penetrated Gehlen but pumped much information back to the Soviet K.G.B.  Eventually, the moles were identified, arrested, convicted, and thrown into jail — but the damage was catastrophic because the K.G.B. had also infiltrated the American C.I.A. and Britain’s S.I.S. (MI-6).  Gehlen’s failures were resented by the British, more than likely because he was a former German officer and because the British press made its government’s officials miserable by publishing the entire story of the Gehlen Organization.

German Federal Intelligence Service (B.N.D.)

Eleven years after the end of World War II, the C.I.A. transferred the Gehlen Organization to the Federal Republic of Germany.  In this way, the Gehlen Organization became the nucleus of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (B.N.D.), with Gehlen serving as its head.  In 1968, scandals forced Gehlen out of office.  Gehlen’s refusal to correct reports with questionable content strained the organization’s credibility and reliability.  The B.N.D. had become corrupt.  At one time, Gehlen had sixteen family members on the organization’s payroll.  The fact that the BND could score some success despite interference from the East German Stasi, internal malpractice, bureaucratic inefficiencies, and political infighting was due entirely to certain staff members who took it upon themselves to step up to remedy the problem.

Lieutenant General Reinhard Gehlen died from prostate cancer on 8 June 1979.  According to a C.I.A. analysis of the Gehlen affair, “Gehlen’s descriptions of most of his so-called successes in the political intelligence field are, in my opinion, either wishful thinking or self-delusion.  Gehlen was neither a good clandestine operator nor a particularly good administrator.  And therein lay his failures.  The Gehlen Organization/BND always had a good record of collecting military and economic intelligence on East Germany and the Soviet forces there.  But this information, for the most part, came from observation and not from clandestine penetration.” ~Unknown

The criticism seems somewhat disingenuous, given that the United States had NO eyes on the ground in 1945 and had no idea whatsoever about Soviet intelligence operations.  General Gehlen and his organization fixed that problem.  We can certainly quibble about the correctness of using a former enemy to advantage the United States over the Soviet Union, but this is not the least of the U.S. government’s sins in the post-war period.

According to the C.I.A., whose unmitigated disasters would fill up the New York City phone book, General Gehlen did not meet their expectations.  Success has a thousand fathers; failure is a bastard.


  1. Boker, J. R. Jr., Report of Initial Contacts with General Gehlen’s Organization.  1 May 1952.
  2. Cookridge, E. H.  Gehlen: Spy of the Century.  Hodder & Stoughton, 1972.
  3. Hastings, M.  The Secret War: Spies, Codes, and guerrillas 1939-1945.  William Collins, 2015.
  4. Reece, M.E.  General Reinhard Gehlen: The CIA Connection.  George Mason University, 1990.
  5. The C.I.A. and Nazi War Criminals: National Security Archive Posts Secret C.I.A. History, information released under Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act.  Tamara Feinstein, Editor.

[1] General George Patton found himself in hot water with his superiors for making a public statement regarding the value to using captured German soldiers to put Germany back together again following World War II.  It wasn’t the idea that upset his superiors, it was the fact that Patton had unknowingly stumbled over the feet of Boker’s program. 

[2] General-lieutenant in the German Army was roughly equivalent to Brigadier General in the U.S. Army.  Once Germany promised to behave itself and was re-admitted to the family of nations, its military structure incorporated the generally recognized rank structure of NATO, and, in time, Gehlen was promoted to Lieutenant General in the new German Army.

[3] If keeping the Gehlen Organization secret from the prying eyes of the Soviet Union wasn’t difficult enough, Boker found himself in the center of a major internal war within the U.S. Army (ETO) and Army headquarters in Washington.  Truman, having been given poor advice by several senior Army officers (and his own peculiar biases), directed the “immediate” disestablishment of the Office of Strategic Services following Germany’s surrender on 7 May 1945.  It was not only a war for power and influence within the Army, but it was also an Army fight with the Navy over the issue of re-forming a national intelligence agency.  Complicating the problem, even more, was a full press effort by the K.G.B. to gain access to as many secrets (and German scientists) as possible before the Americans could counter their efforts.

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America’s Old Northwest

The history almost no one knows

Initially, the territories claimed by Great Britain in North America included all of present-day New England, extending southward along the Atlantic seacoast to the northern boundary of Spanish Florida and then westward to the eastern foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  Beyond the Appalachian Mountains lie the vast territory of New France, shown right. Officially, the British government prohibited travel beyond the Appalachian foothills — a policy that more than a few frontiersmen ignored.  But if the British believed their acknowledgment of French sovereignty west of the Appalachian Mountains would assure a peaceful coexistence with the French or their Indian allies, they were badly mistaken.  The British wanted a good trade relationship with Native Americans — and, of course, the French (having arrived first) stood in the way.

Beginning in 1601, however, and lasting for the next 150 years, British and French colonial militias fought with one another in a series of inter-colonial and international conflicts, beginning with the so-called Beaver Wars and ending with the Seven Years’ War in 1763. After the French & Indian War, France ceded its North American holdings and British territories, then extended to the Mississippi River.[1]  However, many French settlers remained in the northwest, and several Indian tribes, dissatisfied with British policies, initiated a series of conflicts against British settlements.

Still, the British were eager to avoid additional conflicts with the French or Indian populations and issued a Royal Proclamation (1763) and forged the Treaty of Fort Stanwix to resolve the boundary disputes between Virginia, Pennsylvania, and the Indian inhabitants of the western lands.[2]  The discontent this proclamation caused among British colonial settlers was one of the sources of Lord Dunmore’s War[3] and the American Revolutionary War.

When the British allocated Indian land as payment for services to war veterans, tensions in the Ohio Valley increased — particularly among the land speculators. British authorities lacked the military manpower to forcibly remove Anglo squatters from Indian land. Later, British officials withdrew the military from the western territories to address problems with seaboard colonists, leaving Ohio Valley settlers unprotected.

In 1774, the British government determined that it could not honor land grants previously offered to colonial veterans (men who had invested heavily in land speculation). Many of these men lost their investments. In that same year, Parliament’s Quebec Act transferred land from southern Ontario, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, and parts of Minnesota to the Province of Quebec — meaning that people living in these areas suddenly found themselves residing in a completely new British colony. Frustrated settlers formed militias and began attacking nearby Indian villages — people who had until then befriended the Europeans.

The rebellion we remember today as the American Revolution quickly escalated to involve Indian populations. Both British and American military forces attempted to recruit Indian allies. This behavior resulted in what may have seemed like a never-ending series of attacks, counter-attacks, and revenge killings all along the western frontier. In one example, the Miami tribe, divided in their allegiances during the Revolution, subsequently aligned themselves against the Americans and elevated a somewhat obscure Indian named Little Turtle to prominence among all the anti-American tribes.

After the American Revolutionary War in 1783, Great Britain ceded to the United States all of its lands as far west as the Mississippi River and northward to an area just below Upper Canada.[4]  The problem for the Americans in their victory over Great Britain was that in ceding western British territory, the British never consulted with the Indians who lived in the Northwest Territory. For the infant United States, its Indian problems were only just beginning.

Despite the Treaty of Paris, which settled American independence, strained relations continued between British Canada and the United States. The Americans faced several early challenges, including ongoing hostilities with natives, an unsettled government structure, and a large war debt. The Second Continental Congress drew up the Articles of Confederation on 15 November 1777, which granted no substantial powers to Congress to govern the whole. There was no executive authority, no judicial body, no ability to finance itself, nor any means of enforcing Congressional resolutions.

Long before the colonial rebellion, North America was a land of competing interests and diverse cultures. Neither the British nor any subsequent American official realized that Indian men/warriors were never obligated to follow the direction of their tribal chieftains. The chiefs may have signed treaties with the whites, but that in no way bound the individual brave to observe such treaties — which made the subsequent Indian wars inevitable. In this environment, then, despite the inherent weakness of the Articles of Confederation, the US Congress did its best to resolve conflicts among the states over the question of the newly acquired western territories without realizing that it was sowing the seeds of many more years of Indian hostilities.

In the years following the Treaty of Paris, with no power to raise revenue by direct taxation, Congress resolved to survey and partition the western lands and sell the land as its only means of income. The Land Ordinance of 1785[5] established the framework for western territorial expansion, a survey system, and protocols whereby Americans could purchase farmland. This Ordinance laid the foundation for America’s public land system and created protocols for the admission of ten new states from the land west of Appalachia, north of the Ohio River, and east of the Mississippi River.

Two years later, the Northwest Ordinance created the Northwest Territory, the United States’ first organized incorporated territory, from lands west of Appalachia between British North America and the Great Lakes in the north and the Ohio River to the south. The western boundary of this territory was the upper Mississippi River and its eastern Pennsylvania. The First U. S. Congress renewed the Ordinance of 1787 in 1789.[6]

Few people today realize the significance of the Northwest Ordinance. It not only set forth the process for admitting new states but also established the sovereignty of the United States over all territories on behalf of the American public. It was an authority later confirmed by the United States Supreme Court (in Strader v. Graham, 51 US 82 (1851) — a power that did not carry over to states once admitted into the Union.

Another significant aspect of the Ordinance, which remains unacknowledged by many people today, was that it prohibited slavery within the Northwest Territory. The Ohio River became the United States’ geographical separation between slave and free states — an extension of the Mason-Dixon Line stretching from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.[7]

Even from the earliest times, Americans have not been known for their patience. The system of creating territories and states was a good one — but still flawed. Before allowing any western settlement, government surveyors were supposed to mark off the land into townships, but Congress had no way to enforce its rules. Thousands of settlers were anxious to enter virgin land north of the Ohio River. Most of these people believed that Congress was taking too long. Consequently, these few thousand people rushed into the western lands, seemingly oblivious that tens of thousands of Indians already occupied these lands, which they fully intended to defend.

Not every senior British officer in Canada accepted the Treaty of Paris of 1783; several military governors believed another effort to restore British sovereignty over the Americans was worth doing. Consequently, the Northwest Indian War pitted territorial militia and the Legion of the United States[8] (and its Indian allies) against the Northwestern Confederacy (of Indians), who enjoyed the support of British Canadian military forces. The resulting Northwest Indian War lasted from 1785 to 1795. [9]

In the 1790s, the US government addressed these challenges in two ways: first, by sending military forces into the Northwest Territory, and second, by negotiating treaties with native Americans. In the Second Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1786), Iroquois Indians ceded their claims to the Ohio lands without consulting with other Indian tribes living in that region — who also happened to be enemies of the Iroquois. Those other Ohio Valley Indians did not agree to cede anything and resolved to push the whites out of their homeland. The resolve of these “other” Indians stiffened after the defeat of General St. Clair in 1791.[10]

Americans were (and remain) a land-hungry people. The problem for every westward-moving American was that most settlers had no cash to purchase cheap land. Those who had cash (the land 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, and the settlers complained to their representatives in Congress. They wanted to eliminate the intermediaries and deal directly with the government to purchase smaller lots, with a greater chance for families to make the land productive.

Few Americans could afford $640.00 to buy a wilderness property — even with a four-year note. Many settlers who took up land at the minimum allotment could not pay the note within four years. In 1815, half of the land purchased by settlers remained unpaid. This unhappiness resulted in the Harrison Land Act of 1800, which halved the minimum purchase to 320 acres but maintained the price of $2.00 per acre. The Land Act of 1820 abolished credit purchases but made it possible for anyone with $100.00 to purchase an 80-acre tract ($1.25 per acre).

Among those who earned, on average, $0.35 to $0.50 a day, $100.00 was a lot of money, so for many, the purchase of land was out of the question. Not able to purchase land, thousands of settlers did the next best thing — they squatted on the land and then refused to vacate it unless or until they believed it was to their advantage to move on further west — continuously further west, where the cycle repeated. The stories told by frontiersmen encouraged the westward-moving settlers. Soil-rich fields, bountiful forests, and pristine lakes were just on the other side of the next hill. It was paradise; all these people had to do to get it was risk their lives. Many settlers did just that.

On 4 July 1800, Congress organized the Indiana Territory from the western portion of the Northwest Territories — an area corresponding to present-day Illinois, Indiana, northeastern Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the western half of the Michigan peninsula. What then remained was most of Ohio and the rest of present-day Michigan.

In 1803, Congress admitted the southeastern portion of the Northwest Territories as Ohio, transferring the rest of the territory to the Indiana Territory. In April 1803, the Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States.

In 1810, the only states west of the Appalachian Mountains were Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio, with a combined population of about one million. By 1830, Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Alabama joined those states — the population of Ohio alone was one million people, close to 4 million people. To these were added Michigan and Wisconsin in 1837 and 1848.

Rapid economic expansion in the East came from industrialization, diversification of livestock, and southern plantation operations, which relied on slave labor. Small farmers couldn’t compete in this kind of economy, so they looked westward and, with time and much-improved roads and river transportation, moving west was both necessary and more accessible. Tens of thousands of Americans were doing just that. In 1825, the federal government began developing a system to help make western settlement possible — they called it their Indian Removal Project.

In 1836, John Mason Peck described three types of westward-moving migrants as being similar to the waves in the ocean — rolling inward toward the shore, one after another. The first wave of immigrants was the pioneer, the hunter, trapper, and mountain man who blazed the westward trail. He constructed crude cabins for shelter but left the land in its natural state. When the smoke from his neighbor’s chimney vexed his eyes, or the sound of human conversation disturbed him, he moved on.

According to Peck, the second wave were men who pulled down the old rustic cabins, cleared the trees and the underbrush, leveled the land for roads, bridged the streams, and built houses with rifle ports. Though his lifestyle remained frugal, the second-wave settler was the beginning of a civilized existence. The second-wave immigrant likely remained on his land for the balance of his years — the number of which averaged forty-seven. His offspring moved on.

The third wave consisted of men with money and an eye for investment possibilities and modernization. Third-wave homes were made from finished wood, brick, or stone and had glass windows. These men opened stores, livery stables, hotels, restaurants, and banks. They built sturdy cargo wagons and coaches to carry cargo and passengers from one town to the next. They were tanners and blacksmiths — they established newspapers and argued with others in the courts and legislatures. They became the industrialists, entrepreneurs, and small businessmen who fueled the engine of the American economy.

Onward they went — forcing the development of western territories, beginning with the Northwest Territory in 1787. But no matter what Peck tells us, westward migration was never an orderly progression.

The formation of western territories and the American Civil War are two of the most important events in US history in the nineteenth century — and yet, they are often presented as two separate events. It is understandable because, on the surface, there appears to be little connection between the creation of western territories and the battles fought (mostly) along the border with or in the southern states.  Still, the highly charged political debates and unmitigated violence within the western territories led the nation to war and provided a glimpse of what the violence of civil war might look like.[11]  No one was paying attention.

Notably also was the sneaky formation of a new state, West Virginia, from within one of the states in rebellion — and this newly created state became instrumental in the subsequent passage of the Civil War Amendments to the US Constitution. 


  1.  Chitwood, O.  A History of Colonial America. Harcourt Press, 1961.
  2. Clark, J.  Land Power, and Economics on the Frontier of Upper Canada. Queen’s University Press, 2001.
  3. DeVoto, B. The Journals of Lewis and Clark. Houghton-Mifflin, 1953.
  4. Forstall, R. L.  Population of the United States and Counties of the United States: 1790-1990. United States Census, PDF Online.
  5. Purvis, T. L.  Revolutionary America 1763-1800. New York: Facts on File, 1995.


[1] There is an important distinction between British territory in 1763 and British-Colonial territory.  The British government intentionally restricted western settlement (beyond Appalachia) in deference to the territorial claims made by American Indian populations — although it may not have been a decision taken to preserve native culture as much as it was to preserve and maintain a robust fur trade.

[2] The Royal Proclamation of 1763 forbade all settlements west of a line drawn along the Appalachian Mountains which delineated an Indian reserve.  The proclamation created discontent between British and colonial land speculators and potential settlers.

[3] In 1774, the Governor of Virginia was John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, who asked the Virginia House to declare a state of war with the western Indian nations.  This conflict resulted from escalating violence between Shawnee and Mingo Indians and British settlers who, in accordance with earlier treaties, had begun exploring and moving into the area of present-day West Virginia and Southwest Pennsylvania and Kentucky.  Despite a treaty to end this violence, many Indians believed that since they did not sign such an instrument, they were not bound by it.  

[4] The term Upper Canada refers to that portion of Canada settled (at first) by the French as part of New France, (and later) as that portion of North America acquired by Great Britain following the French and Indian War (ending in 1763) above the Great Lakes.  The British ceded their Florida land to Spain.

[5] Proposed and drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1784.

[6] Without this framework, lands acquired through the Louisiana Purchase would have been a far greater challenge to the federal legislature.

[7] A demarcation line separating four US states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (part of Virginia until 1863).  The line was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in an effort to settle a border dispute between Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware colonies.  Informally, the Mason-Dixon Line became the boundary between Northern free states and Southern slave states.

[8] The Legion of the United States was a reorganization and extension of the Continental Army (1792-1796) under Major General Anthony Wayne. 

[9] Historians also remember the war as The Ohio War and Little Turtle’s War.

[10] Arthur St. Clair was President of Congress when the Northwest Ordinance was passed.  In 1791, he served as Governor of the Northwest Territory.  George Washington, who wanted a resolution to Indians in rebellion, demanded a more vigorous effort from St. Clair.  Apparently, Washington did not realize the difficulty of pacifying such a vast area that was inhabited by very agitated people.  If we judge St. Clair’s campaign incompetent, the rampage of (then) LtCol James Wilkerson was even worse.

[11] The Missouri Compromise (1820) and the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) played a prominent role in the march toward secession; Bloody Kansas gave the American people a glimpse of Chickamauga, Antietam, Shiloh, and Fredericksburg.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, Antebellum Period, British Canada, British Colonies, British Mandate, Civil War, Colonial America, History, Indenture & Slavery, Indian Territory, Indian War, Mountain Men, New France, Northwest Territory, Pioneers | Leave a comment

The Greatest Raid


Between 1700 – 1875, Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Caddo, Bidai, Karankawa, Eastern Pueblo, and Apache Indians dominated a massive swath of land in the area of present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The Indians called it Comancheria — it was the unchallenged domain of the fiercest society of warriors that ever existed on the backs of horses.  They called themselves Numunuu — everyone else called them Comanche … a word meaning “enemy.”  The Comanche was everyone’s enemy.  How violent were these people?  The reputation of the Comanche warrior was terrifying enough to keep Spaniards from settling in Coahuila y Tejas for nearly 300 years.

In 1836, a Comanche and Kiowa war party numbering around 300 braves attacked the Parker settlement (known as Fort Parker) near present-day Mexia, Texas.  At the time of the assault, John Parker and most of the settlement’s able-bodied men worked in adjoining fields.  Unfamiliar with the Comanche, these men went to work without firearms.  The war party slaughtered the men and kidnapped several women and children, including Cynthia Ann Parker and Rachel Plummer.  While in captivity, Rachel gave birth to a half-cast child.  When the child was six months old, an Indian brave took the child from its mother and murdered it by dragging it behind a horse.  Cynthia became the wife of the Comanche war chief Peta Nocona and mother of Comanche war chief Quanah Parker.[1]

In 1838, Comanches kidnapped 14-year-old Matilda Lockhart and four children of Mitchell Putnam from a field surrounding the settlement.  Two expeditions attempted to locate Mattie and the Putnam children, but both ended in frustration.  During the year of her captivity, Matilda continually suffered physical and mental abuse.  Indian men raped her, and Indian women tormented her and burned her body, including burning off a portion of her nose, and the bottoms of her feet.[2]

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 previously served as Sam Houston’s spymaster.  Karnes was 28 years old.[3]

As a demonstration of good faith, the emissaries released one of their white hostages to Karnes, a young teenage boy.  He was one of the Putnam children.  The Indians informed Karnes that they would return in 23 days to negotiate peace with the Texians.  Karnes listened to what these emissaries had to say and agreed to meet again at the prescribed time — and sternly informed these Indians that no lasting peace would be possible until the Comanche returned all of their white captives.  Karnes believed that the Comanche held between 13 – 16 other white prisoners.

After his meeting with the Indians, Colonel Karnes notified the Texas Secretary of War, 37-year-old Albert Sidney Johnson, of the impending negotiation.  Johnson ordered Karnes to proceed as follows: once the Indians returned, detain them until the Comanche returned all white hostages to their families.

On 19 March 1840, Comanche chieftain Muguara (Muk-wah-rah) led 65 Indians (including 33 other chiefs) and their families into San Antonio.  The Indians expected to bargain with the Texians for an exchange of their hostages for goods (blankets, muskets, gunpowder, food) and for Texian recognition of the Comancheria as the sovereign land of the Comanche.[4]

Under the terms of the January agreement, Muguara returned to the Texians in San Antonio the 15-year-old hostage named Matilda (Mattie) Lockhart.  Mattie was turned over to the care of Mary Ann Adams-Maverick, the wife of Samuel A. Maverick, who resided in San Antonio near the council house.  Mrs. Maverick recorded in her journal that Mattie was in a terrible physical condition and mental state.  Maverick bathed Mattie and dressed her in the clothing worn by Texian females at the time.  Maverick recorded that Mattie had been badly tortured and was utterly degraded as a human being.  She could not hold up her head.  Her head, arms, and face were full of bruises and sores.  Her nose was burned off to the bone with the fleshy end of her nose gone entirely and a great scab formed on the end of the bone.  Both of Mattie’s nostrils were wide open and denuded of flesh.

Maverick recorded Mattie’s story — a piteous story of how dreadfully the Comanche had beaten her, how they would awaken her by sticking a chuck of fire into her flesh.  Her body contained many scars to validate the charges.  During her captivity, Mattie had learned to understand some of the Comanche languages.  She informed Texian authorities that the Indians still held 13 other captives and that they planned to bring them in one by one and bargain for each in exchange for ammunition, blankets, and other supplies.[5]  By the time Colonel Karnes and armed rangers met with the Indians at the Council House, no one was in the mood to show the Comanche any courtesy whatsoever.

The day following the Council House Fight, Texians released one of the Comanche female prisoners to carry a verbal message back to her band.  The Texians demanded that the Comanche release their 13 remaining hostages in exchange for the safe return of the Indian women and children in their custody.  A prisoner exchange was not what the Comanche had in mind, however.  They opted for revenge, instead.  The Comanche skinned alive all remaining white hostages and then roasted them to death over a fire.  Mattie’s sister was one of them.[6]

The Indian depredations were only the beginning.  According to long-held Indian traditions, “council” meetings were nearly sacrosanct.  Council was an opportunity for adversaries to meet in peace to discuss terms for ending hostilities.  No one violated council protocols without significant repercussions.  To avenge what the Comanche viewed as a bitter betrayal by the Texans, Buffalo Hump raised a massive war party of many Comanche bands.

Buffalo Hump was the Penateka Tribe’s First War Chief.  He had no intention to moan about the Texian’s betrayal.  With the participation of other Comanche bands, Buffalo Hump began planning what became the largest Indian war party in U.S. history — well over 1,000 Indians.  At the beginning of the summer, a war party consisting of between 400 – 500 warriors raided white settlements between Bastrop and San Antonio.  In mid-July, Comanche from the Nokoni, Kotsoteka, Yamparika,  and Kwahadi bands joined the marauders.  The raid, known in history as The Great Raid of 1840, began in West Texas and made its way to the Gulf of Mexico — to Victoria and Linnville.

On 6 August, even though Texas Rangers were shadowing the war party, a large group of Indians split off and headed for Victoria before the Rangers could warn the settlement of approaching danger.  The Indian onslaught commenced without warning; Indians rode through the town’s streets killing indiscriminately.  Terrified citizens hid inside buildings.  When armed citizens began shooting back, the Indians concentrated more on looting the town and stealing horses.  After the assault on Victoria, the Comanche camped for the night along Spring Creek.

The next day, the war party continued toward Lavaca Bay, camping that night along Placido Creek, 12 miles from Linnville.[7]  Early in the morning of 8 August, the Indians surrounded the small port settlement (then the second largest port in the Texas Republic).  Knowing that the plains Indians had no experience on the sea, terrified citizens prudently boarded boats and rowed offshore beyond the range of arrows and musket fire.  When the Indians finished looting businesses and private homes, they set fire to the entire settlement.  The settlement that was once located only 1.3 miles from present-day Port Lavaca ceased to exist on 8 August 1840.

One witness to the Linnville raid was the store owner named James Robinson, who noted in his diary, “Those the Indians made free with, and went dashing about the blazing village, amid their screeching squaws and `little Injuns,’ like demons in a drunken saturnalia, with Robinson’s hats on their heads and Robinson’s umbrellas bobbing about on every side like tipsy young balloons.”  The Indians retreated from the smoldering remains of Linnville in the late afternoon.

The word spread throughout East Texas and eventually, Texians began to flock toward the Texas Ranger companies.  Enough was enough.  Volunteers mustered from Gonzalez under Mathew Caldwell,[8] and from Bastrop under Ed Burleson.[9]  Ranger companies from east and central Texas combined to intercept the Indians.

They all came together at Plum Creek, near the town of Lockhart on 12 August 1840.  The Comanche, normally a fast and deadly light cavalry, were overburdened by their human captives and hundreds of pounds of plunder.  Contending with dozens of mules loaded with loot, many prisoners, and driving between 2,000 and 3,000 stolen horses, the Comanche had turned back toward the Comancheria.  Sated in their lust for blood and white man’s goods, particularly the horses, Comanche warriors rode for the high plateau.  They were in no position to resist a Texian assault.

Not far behind them, dusty riders pounded through the coastal prairie — every able-bodied man turned out, from Lavaca, Gonzalez, Victoria, and Cuero —  and a hundred widely dispersed independent farms all across East Texas.  Their captains were such men as Jack John J. Tumlinson, Ben McCulloch, Mathew Caldwell, and Edward Burleson.

One company of rangers pressed the Indians hard from the rear of their formation, firing into them at times, but they lacked the personnel strength, and firepower to close with or engage the Indians in sustained combat.  But the Indians ignored them for as long as possible.  While this was going on, other Texans rode toward the Colorado River settlements seeking additional volunteers.  The plan was for all volunteer defenders to gather at Plum Creek, two miles outside Lockhart, Texas.

On 12 August, Edward Burleson and a hundred men under Henry Jones, William A. Wallace, William P. Hardeman, Adam Zumwalt, and Clark Owen rode into Plum Creek.  They were the Bastrop militia.  Tonkawa scouts under Chief Placido kept the Texas Rangers informed of the Comanche’s positions.  They were moving slowly toward the Big Prairie and would cross over it near Plum Creek.[10]

As the Indian column began to pass by Plum Creek, the old Indian fighters, Caldwell, Burleson, and McCulloch, wanted to press their attack, but the less experienced General Felix Huston hesitated.  One hundred dismounted Texians concealed themselves in the dense brush along the creek and waited for their commander’s orders.  Finally, as the Indian cavalcade moved into the plain, General Huston, Colonel Burleson, and Captain Caldwell rode out from the bush, bringing with them two long lines of Texian horsed rangers.

One of the Bastrop men was John H. Jenkins.  He later described the feints and challenges displayed by the Indian warriors as a prelude to blood-chilling combat: “They arrayed in all the splendor of savage warriors and finely mounted, bounded over the space between the hostile lines, exhibiting feats of horsemanship and daring none but a Comanche could perform.”

Mr. Jenkins described it as a marvelous spectacle — so many mounted horsemen preening before a fight.  He was no doubt impressed, but the seasoned Texians were not.  They watched the Comanche with angry, determined, skeptical eyes.  Both Burleson and Caldwell knew what the Indians were doing: trying to delay the fight until they had moved their stolen herds ahead of them.  Even more important than the horses, however, was the stolen loot.  The horses, while highly prized by the Comanche, became a barrier to rapid egress; the horses forced the Indians to stay on the trail back to the Comancheria.

Finally, a Comanche war chief in magnificent attire rode out to challenge the Texians.  He shouted at them, dared, and taunted them.  Within a few moments, a Texian sharpshooter sent him into the promised land.  Caldwell urged — charge them, General!

When Huston gave his order, Texian cavalry spurred their horses into the Comanche flank, stampeded the massive herd, and dispersed the Comanche into disarray.  Horses and mules bunched up in a boggy stretch, trapping Indian horsemen and making the field a confusing mess.  Caldwell led his men around the left flank and began methodically killing every Indian in his path.

The fight started and went on, as a running battle, for nearly twenty miles.  The combat was close and cruel — more massacre than a battle.  The Comanche killed one Texan.  The Texans killed eighty Comanche.  Texian captives of the Indians were not as fortunate.  Several females were tied to trees and used as a sport for Comanche braves — their bodies were later found pierced with several arrows.  One prisoner, the wife of the slain customs inspector was shot as well, but her whalebone corset saved her life.

After the battle, Texians recovered great quantities of silver, bolts of cloth, jugs of whiskey, cuts of tobacco, and many horses.  The Battle of Plum Creek punished the Penateka severely and afterward, no Comanche ever attacked a Texas settlement within the coastal plain.  The raid, while understandable from the Indian’s point of view, made it less likely that any Texian would greet them in friendship — and the Texians remained deeply angry for many years.  As an illustration of these dark feelings, President Lamar dispatched Colonel John Moore and 110 men into the Comanche territory.  Within a month, Moore’s rangers located a Comanche village and set upon them.  When the shooting was done, thirty minutes later, 125 Indians lay dead.


  1. Bial, R.  Lifeways: The Comanche.  Benchmarks books, 2000.
  2. Brice, D. E.  The Great Comanche Raid: Boldest Indian Attack on the Texas Republic.  McGowan Books, 1987.
  3. Cox, M.  Texas Ranger Tales: Stories that need telling.  Republic of Texas Press, 1997.
  4. Fehrenbach, T. R.  The Comanches: The Destruction of a People. Knopf Books, 1974.
  5. Fehrenbach, T. R.  Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  Open Road Books, 2000,
  6. Frazier, I.  Great Plains.  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1989.
  7.   Wallace, E., and E. A. Hoebel.  The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.


[1] Cynthia Parker was re-captured in 1860.  She passed away in 1871. 

[2] Mattie Lockhart (1825 – 1841) was the daughter of Andrew Lockhart who immigrated to Texas with her family from Illinois.  They settled in the DeWitt Colony on the Guadalupe River.  While in captivity, Mattie suffered so much abuse that she was utterly destroyed as a human being.  She died within a year of her return to San Antonio.

[3] Karnes’s youth was an issue; he was a 28-year-old colonel who was fuller of beans than brains.  He did not know enough about the Comanche to enter into a successful negotiation.  He did not know, for example, that the Comanche bands were independent entities that owed no allegiance to any other Comanche band.  Karnes’ demand that Muguara return white hostages that he did not control was ludicrous.  

[4] Importantly, a couple of high-ranking Comanche chiefs refused to attend the meeting: Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna.  They would not attend the council because they did not trust the white man.

[5] Mattie Lockhart did not survive her ordeal.  She died in 1841, very likely the result of her no longer having the will to live her life as a Comanche-damaged freak. 

[6] I do not know what the Texians did with their remaining Comanche hostages after the Council House Fight.

[7] Named for John J. Linn (1798 – 1885), a merchant, statesman, soldier, and historian.  In 1822, he set up his own goods store in New Orleans and became interested in Texas during a business trip to Mexico.  In 1829, he migrated to Victoria where he maintained his residence and business outlet.  In 1831, he established a small settlement along Lavaca Bay, naming it New Port, where he constructed a wharf and warehouse.  New Port later changed its name to Linnville in John’s honor.  Linn was fluent in Spanish and became an important liaison between Mexican and Irish colonists.   

[8] Caldwell (1798 – 1842) was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a soldier in the Texian Army.  Known also as “Old Paint,” President Lamar appointed Caldwell a Texas Ranger Captain —

[9] Edward Burleson (1798 – 1851) was an experienced combat officer, a veteran of the War of 1812, and of Missouri and Texas militias.  He served as major general of Texas volunteers in 1835, and colonel of Texas regulars of the First Volunteer Infantry.  During the Battle of Plum Creek, then-Senator Burleson helped to coordinate the Texian response force.

[10] A branch of the San Marcos River.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, Comanche, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Texas | 1 Comment

The Case of Tom Horn


Old West history books are filled with stories about large cattle ranches, the cattlemen that ran them, the long and dangerous trail drives that took months to complete, and the conflicts between cattle barons and small farmers and ranchers.  The reason for so many stories is that frontier ranching was an industry like no other in U.S. history.  As with most stories, there were main characters, a supporting cast, heroes, anti-heroes, victims, and people caught in the middle of what became, in several areas, a series of murderous confrontations.  Some of these lasted for decades.

We generally do not know about heroes until someone tells their story.  In the post-Civil War period, some storytellers were dime novelists who churned out one story after another about old west characters.  The stories were highly embellished, of course — or, as some might say, an absurd demonstration of poetic license.  But there is little doubt that the reading public had an appetite for such stories.  In 1875, a dime was more or less equivalent to $2.50 today.  That doesn’t seem like much to pay for an exciting (albeit fictionalized) old west tale, but in 1875, back-breaking work only paid around $0.75 per day; ten cents was a lot of money.[1]

The hero of the cattle industry story (as decided by dime novelists) was the American cowboy.  Of course, the cowboy was the obvious choice because he was the fellow who spent his days in the saddle, doing back-breaking work, suffering the effects of stifling heat and frigid cold, who confronted swollen creeks and rivers, and who faced down hostile Indians and cattle rustlers.

There were several choices for the anti-hero role (depending upon what part of the country a novelist was writing about).  It might be the cowboy’s employer (the cattle rancher) or corrupt lawmen, judges, politicians, or townie businessmen — the people who could be bought for a few pieces of silver.  The victims of the drama were small-time ranchers and sodbusters — people who were always in the way of cattle barons.

Cattle barons had their champions — the so-called range detectives who were shootists and assassins.   And the victims of the drama had their defenders, as well: they were vigilantes, cattle rustlers, and horse thieves who thought of themselves as redistributors of wealth.   The stories occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Conflict over land was a common occurrence in the old west, but it was particularly prevalent in the late 19th century when wealthy cattle barons seized public land for selfish purposes and attempted to deny migrating families access to the land for farms and small ranches.  A loose association of cattlemen controlled this land for many years.   They didn’t own it, had no legitimate claim to it, and never paid taxes on it — but they did defend it in bloody confrontations.

Enter Tom Horn

One of the cowboys who played a notable role in this story was Thomas Horn, Jr.  Tom was born on 21 November 1860 in Scotland County, Missouri — the fifth of 13 children —  162 years ago today.   Tom’s abusive father guaranteed him a miserable childhood.  In 1876, Tom left home and traveled to the American Southwest, where the U.S. Army hired him as a scout.

In his life, Horn was an army scout, stockman, soldier, range detective, Pinkerton detective, and a shootist — believed to have murdered seventeen men on behalf of his employers — various cattlemen.  Tom’s life came crashing down when he was accused of the murder of Willie Nickell, a fourteen-year-old boy.

The Soldier

Tom signed on as a scout when he accepted employment with the U.S. Cavalry.  His immediate supervisor was the battle-tested Albert Sieber, a German-born Army scout, and guide who became Chief of Scouts under George Stoneman.  When Horn wasn’t scouting, he was a packer and an interpreter of Indian languages.  Tom had a sophisticated and much-appreciated work ethic, and within a short time, he earned the respect and appreciation of his troop.  Not long after joining the Army Scouts, Horn demonstrated his courage while under hostile fire.

On this first occasion, Horn’s troop was in the process of crossing Cibecue Creek when hostile Apache ambushed the soldiers from the high ground.  Enemy fire killed the officer commanding, Captain Edmund Hentig, which left his men penned down under overwhelming rifle fire.  In desperation, Chief Scout Sieber ordered Horn and fellow scout Mickey Free to break away, relocate, and fire on the Apache from a different position.   Horn and Free managed to break up the Indian assault without further casualties among the men.

Tom also worked for Sieber during the Battle of Big Dry Wash.  Horn became a hero when he and Lieutenant George H. Morgan slipped through the Apache line and provided devastating fire against the Indians, killing several hostile warriors.

From every account, we know that Tom Horn was a dependable scout and fearless in executing his duties.  He often conducted reconnaissance missions alone and was instrumental in tracking down Geronimo’s primary stronghold.  Horn became Chief Scout at Fort Bowie in 1885 — assigned to work for Captain Emmet Crawford.  During one operation (which took Crawford’s troop into Mexico in search of Geronimo), Mexican militia mistakenly attacked the Army camp killing Crawford and wounding Horn.  In September 1886, Horn was present at Geronimo’s final surrender to First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood.

Tom Horn left Army service after an incident that resulted in the death of a Mexican army lieutenant.  Horn and the lieutenant, both drinking to excess, got into an argument over a prostitute.   The lieutenant challenged Horn to a duel, which Horn accepted, and as it happened, Tom Horn was faster on the draw.

Going Dark

After leaving the army, Horn used his savings to build up his own cattle ranch in Arizona.   e had around 100 head of cattle and 26 horses and filed a claim for the Deer Creek Mining District.   t was a short-lived investment because cattle thieves relieved him of his herd, helped themselves to his horses, and stormed his homestead in the middle of the night, running him into the fields for safety.   The financial loss drove him into bankruptcy and became the reason for his hatred for thieves.   Afterward, he became a range detective, allowing him to shoot thieves wherever he found them.

Horn initially spent his time prospecting, working on a ranch, entering rodeos, and finally accepting employment as a shootist.  A shootist was a hired gun paid to watch over his employer’s cattle and arrest and detain anyone suspected of rustling cattle.   The terms “arrest and detain” would appear self-evident — but more often than not, the detainee was shot while trying to escape.

Tom Horn never regretted shooting a thief, and his reputation as a no-nonsense shootist gave him a tremendous presence on the range.  People obsessed with felonious thinking gave Tom Horn a wide birth — and he used this reputation to his advantage.  One rancher on the North Laramie River, a man named Fergie Mitchell, said of Horn, “I saw Horn ride by.  He didn’t stop but just went straight up the creek so everyone could see him.   Well, he wanted to be seen; his reputation was so great that his presence had the desired effect.  Within a week, three settlers in the neighborhood sold their stock and moved out.   And that was the end of cattle rustling on the North Laramie.”

The Pleasant Valley War was a dustup that lasted for ten years in the area of Pleasant Valley, Arizona.  The trouble began as early as 1858 but became more serious when one family introduced sheep into a traditional cattle ranching region.  The cattlemen countered by hiring gunslingers to sort things out.  Tom was one of those shootists.   No one today can say which side of the fight he was on — both sides suffered several killings, and no one was ever arrested or charged with any of those killings.   By “several,” I mean between 35-70 killings.  Some scholars insist that the Pleasant Valley War had the highest number of fatalities of any other range war in U.S. history — while other fights claim to be the bloodiest.  I’m not sure I understand that.

Tom Horn worked for a ranch owner named Robert Bowen.  While working for Bowen, Horn became a prime suspect in the disappearance of Mart Blevins (1887).  Horn always claimed he was a mediator in the conflict — always trying to prevent injury.  He even served as a deputy sheriff under Bucky O’Neill, Glenn Reynolds, and Perry Owen — all famous Arizona lawmen.  Horn was present when Reynolds hanged three “suspected” rustlers in August 1888.

Horn’s service as a deputy sheriff brought him to the attention of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  Pinkerton hired him as a tracker in cases investigated in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado and Wyoming.  Horn was one of those people who always remained calm under pressure.  If anything ever flummoxed him, he kept it to himself.  Reputation-wise, Horn always found his prey, and no varmint wanted to find out that Tom Horn was on his trail.

During the Johnson County War, Tom Horn worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and for Pinkerton, who assigned him to work undercover in the county using the alias Tom Hale.  Scholars claim that Tom Horn is the likely shooter of Nate Champion on 9 April 1892 and the “prime suspect” of the killings of small-time ranchers John Tisdale and Orley “Ranger” Jones.

Eventually, Pinkerton forced Horn to resign from his position in 1894.  According to famed lawman Charlie Siringo, Pinkerton was convinced that Horn was guilty of murder.  It was a matter of good business; Pinkerton could not allow Horn to go to prison while employed at the agency.  In any case, according to Siringo, Pinkerton felt that there was something “wicked” about Horn.[2]

In 1895, Tom Horn was accused (and exonerated) of the murders of William Lewis and Fred Powell, which took place within six weeks of each other near Iron Mountain, Wyoming.  In 1896, a rancher named Campbell (known to have a large stash of cash) disappeared after being last seen with Tom Horn.  Later that year, Horn applied for a position with the Marshal’s Office in Tucson, Arizona — there was a matter of getting rid of the rustler gang of William Christian.  An unknown assailant killed William in 1897 and his associate, Robert Christian, disappeared in the same year.  It was probably a coincidence, but one shouldn’t have hired Tom Horn for help in getting rid of outlaws if they didn’t intend to get rid of outlaws.

Although Tom’s official title was Range Detective, he was, in effect, a hired assassin.  By the mid-1890s, the cattle business was changing in Wyoming and Colorado.  The problem was a massive influx of homesteaders and small ranchers.  Established cattlemen referred to these people as “nesters” or “grangers” and hired people like Horn to “get rid of them.”  Nine trappers were mysteriously murdered in Big Dry Creek; unknown persons lynched Luther Mitchell, and someone set fire to Ami Ketchum’s cabin, and he was burned alive inside his home.  After these incidents, the Colorado Range War began in earnest — lasting well into the 20th century.

Over in Brown’s Park

Tom Horn began working as a range detective for the Swan Land and Cattle Company in northwest Colorado.  His first assignment was to investigate the Brown’s Park Cattle Association’s leader, a cowboy named Matt Rash.  Horn began his investigation as Tom Hicks, and Mr. Rash was the target of Horn’s inquiries.  As one of Rash’s stockmen, Horn pieced together evidence that Rash was a rustler.  Horn placed a letter on Rash’s door warning him to leave the county within sixty days.

Matt Rash was two things: stubborn and stupid, as evidenced by his defiance to remain on his ranch.   When Horn’s employers gave him the “go ahead,” Tom Horn assassinated Matt Rash.  Now, is this information a known fact?   No.  Scholars claim that Horn was smart enough to remove all evidence of his involvement.  Ann Bassett, a neighbor, fingered “Hicks” as the murderer — but then, Ms. Bassett was also a known cattle rustler.

Tales of rustling, murder, and chaos on the range are legion today, so it is nearly impossible to separate fact from folklore.  It is probably safe to conclude that there is at least some truth in every old west fairy tale.  But the fact remains that while many old west characters rejected violence as a means of conflict resolution, others were highly independent small-time ranchers who subscribed to traditional notions of family loyalty, Old Testament justice, and immediate retribution of grievances.  Rustling, especially of stock belonging to outsiders, was generally accepted because they had no business settling down on land belonging to someone else, even if it didn’t.  Hardly anyone ate their own beef, yet nearly everyone rejected cold-blooded murder.

At about the time of Matt Rash’s mysterious demise, Tom Horn began to suspect another cowboy of cattle rustling — a fellow named Isom Dart.  Dart was of African descent and previously known to the world as Ned Huddleston — an employee of Tip Gault.  Gault was the so-called sagebrush king of Bitter Creek who led a gang of stock thieves in Utah.

Gault’s scheme involved cattle stealing and a con game.  Gault’s Hispanic lieutenant, a man named Terresa, kept a close watch on the immigrant trails for likely victims (waggoneers moving large numbers of cattle across the country).  During the night, Terresa and his cohorts would run the best animals off, and when the owners of these missing cattle went looking for them, Gault befriended the pioneers and offered to help them search for the missing animals.  The stolen animals were never found, of course.  And because time was of the essence — travelers had to get over those western mountains before the snow season.  Gault would offer to purchase the missing cattle, usually for pennies on the dollar, saying he would try to find the animals later.  In this way, Gault obtained legal title to the missing stock, which he later sold to miners or travelers.

Gault’s luck finally ran out when he crossed the trail with a hardnosed cattleman named Hawley.  Cattleman Hawley and his boys tracked down the missing cattle and found them in Gault’s possession.  It didn’t take long for gunfire to erupt — probably seconds because Hawley wasn’t interested in explanations.  Gault and Terresa were among the first to fall.  Gault gang-member Ned Huddleston jumped into an open pit and played dead until he could slip away in the night to become Isom Dart.  As Dart, Isom managed three indictments for rustling in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.  Horn started a rumor that Isom Dart was the likely murderer of Matt Rash.  The talk forced Dart to “disappear,” which he did by taking refuge in Rash’s cabin, where he intended to remain until the rumors died.  However, Horn tracked Dart to the place and learned that he was hiding with two other well-armed cowboys.

Horn set up a hillside ambush position hidden in a clump of trees.  When Dart and his friends came out of the cabin, Horn shot and killed Dart.  The next day, county lawmen discovered two .30-30 casings at the base of a tree where the assassin likely laid in wait.  The effect of Rash and Dart’s murders put fear into other area rustlers, and they began to scatter.  One story is that Horn pinned Rash’s sliced-off ear to a tree — as a warning to homesteaders and grangers.  There is no evidence that this actually happened.

The Short War

A short time later, Tom Horn also disappeared — he re-joined the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War and became Chief Packer (involving the transportation of supplies) within the Army’s Fifth Corps.  Horn and his men were not infantry or cavalry troop, but they were targets of Spanish infantry and exposed to great personal danger — not only from Spanish bullets but also from Yellow Fever.  Horn became bedridden toward the end of the conflict, but whether his problem was related to Yellow Fever, we don’t know.  Consequently, Horn was returned to the United States and discharged from further military service.

Back in Wyoming

Early in the morning of 2 June 1899, near Wilcox, Wyoming, a Union-Pacific train was flagged down before crossing a wooden bridge.  Armed men forced the train crew to separate the locomotive from the train carriages and move it across the bridge.  Once this was accomplished, the robbers destroyed the bridge with dynamite and helped themselves to the contents of the safe and other valuables on the train.  Union-Pacific reported the loss at around $36,000.

Following the train robbery, Tom Horn obtained information from Bill Speck suggesting that the murderer of Sheriff Josiah Hazen was either George Curry or Harvey Logan of the Wild Bunch Gang, both members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.  Horn passed this information along to his former Pinkerton colleague Charlie Siringo, who was working on the investigation for Pinkerton. 

Willie Nickell

On 15 July 1901, while working (again) near Iron Mountain, Wyoming, Tom Horn visited cattle ranchers Jim and Dora Miller.[3]  Miller and his neighbor Kels Nickell had not been on the best terms.  Whether true or not, Miller claimed that Nickell frequently grazed his sheep on Miller’s cattle land.[4]

While visiting the Millers, Horn was introduced to Miss Glendolene Kimmell, a young teacher at the Iron Mountain School.  Since both the Miller and Nickell families had numerous school-aged children (and whose children were the only students at the school), both families financially supported Miss Kimmell and the Iron Mountain School.  Miss Kimmell boarded with the Miller family.[5]

Young and impressionable, Kimmell was taken with Tom Horn, who regaled her with his adventurous stories.  Later in the day, Horn and several male members of the Miller family went fishing.  While fishing, Victor Miller and Tom Horn engaged in some target practice; both men used .30-30 Winchester rifles.

Three days later, Willie Nickell — the 14-year-old son of Kels and Mary Nickell, was found dead near their homestead property gateway.  A coroner’s inquest opened an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Willie’s death.  Meanwhile, more violent acts occurred during the inquiry — these were added to the inquest.

On 4 August, someone shot and wounded Kels Nickell, and some 60 to 80 of his sheep were found shot or clubbed to death.  Two of the Nickell children reported seeing two men leaving on horses, one a bay and one gray — which matched the description of two of Jim Miller’s horses.  On 6 August, Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Warlaumont and Texas-born U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe LeFors arrested Jim Miller and his sons Victor and Gus on suspicion of shooting Kels Nickell.[6]  Having posted a bond, the court ordered the release of the three men on 7 August. 

In January 1902, while pretending to talk to Horn about employment, LeFors began to ask him questions about the murder of Willie Nickell.  Horn, hung-over from the previous night, gave LeFors what the lawman believed was a confession of the shooting.  What gave LeFors that impression was Horn’s boast that “… it was the best shot I ever made and the dirtiest trick I ever done.”[7]

County Sheriff E. J. Smalley arrested Horn the following day.  The prosecutor assigned to the case was Mr. Walter Stoll — who announced that the case would be tried as a capital offense.  The trial was handed to Judge Richard H. Scott, who was running for re-election.

For his part, Tom Horn enjoyed the support of his long-time employer, Mr. John C. Coble. Coble’s money allowed him to create a defense team that involved former Judge John W. Lacey, T. F. Burke, Roderick N. Matson, Edward T. Clark, and T. Blake Kennedy.  Interestingly, in 1902, the men who benefitted most from Tom Horn’s range detective activities saw him as a threat to their long-term interests.  None of these men wanted to see Horn acquitted.  He knew too much.

Horn’s trial began on 10 October in Cheyenne.  The courtroom was packed with onlookers attracted by the notoriety of Horn.  The Rocky Mountain News noted the carnival atmosphere and great interest from the public for a conviction.  Even if Horn had not confessed, the people of Wyoming were convinced that he was capable of such an odious crime.  And, of course, Stoll introduced Horn’s confession almost immediately.  It didn’t matter that all other evidence was circumstantial.  Victor Miller testified that he and Horn had purchased .30-30 ammunition on the same day from the same merchant.  Otto Plaga testified that at the time of the shooting, Horn was twenty miles away.

The sticking point was Horn’s confession.  If that’s what it was.  Kimmell, who never testified during the trial, did testify during the Coroner’s Inquest — suggesting that both families were responsible for the feud.  She left Laramie County in 1901 and was not heard from again until after Horn’s conviction.

Thirteen days after the trial started, it went to the jury.  They considered the evidence and announced a verdict on 24 October: Guilty.  A few days later, a separate hearing sentenced Horn to death by hanging. Horn’s legal team immediately filed an appeal, and Tom Horn began writing his autobiography.  Horn had little to say in his writing about the trial or his part in the murder of Willie Nickell.

The Wyoming Supreme Court denied Horn a new trial, but convinced of Horn’s innocence, Miss Kimmell sent an affidavit to Governor Fenimore Chatterton insisting that it was Victor Miller who killed Willie Nickell.  Chatterton acknowledged receiving the affidavit, but he refused to act on it.  And in any case, the document “disappeared.” No one with more than $10,000 in their bank account wanted to see Horn released from jail or his sentence. Horn’s execution date was 20 November 1903 (the day before his 43rd birthday).

After Horn’s execution, John Coble paid for his coffin and a headstone.  Suddenly, people came out of the woodwork, claiming that there was simply “no way” Tom Horn would have killed that boy.  First, he made his statement while drunk, making it inadmissible even in Wyoming.  Even the Apache warrior Geronimo discounted Horn’s guilt.

During a mock trial in 1993, a Cheyenne jury acquitted Horn.  Well, it came ninety years too late — but that’s what happens to a defendant when everyone fears him. The debate continues.


  1. Ball, L. D.  Tom Horn in Life and Legend.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
  2. Carlson, C.  Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon – Dark History of the Murderous Cattle Detective.  Glendo Press, 2001.
  3. Gatewood, C. B.  LT. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir.  University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
  4. Horn, T. and John C. Coble.  Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter.  Smith-Brooks Publishing, 1904.
  5. Krakel, D.  The Saga of Tom Horn: The Story of a Cattleman’s War.  Powder River Publishing, 1954.
  6. Nickell, P. G.  The Family Tom Horn Destroyed.  Real West, December 1986.


[1] In 1870, the annual base salary for a lawman was $200.00.  He made his money (up to $4,000.00 a year) by collecting a percentage of the fees assessed for such things as subpoenas, warrants, making arrests, serving court papers, issuing licenses and permits, and collecting taxes. 

[2] Charles Angelo Siringo (1855 – 1928) was a Texas-born stockman, lawman, detective, and bounty hunter who worked with Tom Horn in the Denver office of Pinkerton.  Charlie admired Horn but was always wary of the fact that Tom Horn had a worrisome dark soul.  Siringo is best known for infiltrating the outlaw gang known as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.  Charlie said of Cassidy, “He was the shrewdest and most daring outlaw of the present age.”

[3] This Jim Miller was no relation to the famed assassin of the same name.

[4] Whether true or not, it was not unusual for cattlemen to make accusations against sheep ranchers.  This same issue was what started the Pleasant Valley War.

[5] Miss Kimmell was aware of the feud between the Miller and Nickell families — and that some of this animosity played out among the Miller-Nickell children.

[6] Joe LeFors also played a role in the Wilcox Train Robbery investigation.

[7] To my knowledge, LeFors never had Horn make a written statement or sign any confession so that in the courtroom, it amounted to oral testimony by a lawman without the corroboration of Horn’s signature attesting to what LeFors said that he said.  There is also a question about the admissibility of a statement taken while under the influence of alcohol.  Noted lawman/investigator Charlie Siringo opined that LeFors was at best incompetent, and at worst, criminally so.  LeFors may have been as competent as James Comey in 2019.   

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, American Southwest, Apache Indians, Arizona Territory, Cheyenne, Colorado, Corruption, Gunfights and such, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Montana, Nevada, Northwest Territory, Oklahoma, Outlaws, Pioneers, Politicians, Range War, Texas, Utah, Wyoming | 4 Comments

Looking Back at Cordell Hull

I first heard the name Cordell Hull in the World War II film Tora, Tora, Tora.  Hull, of course, was the Secretary of State during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In the film, Cordell Hull was played by actor George Macready, Jr.  The two men even looked similar.

Secretary Hull

Hull is an interesting character.  No other Secretary of State served as long as he did — nearly twelve years in office.  Politically, he was known as a killer.  He would destroy anyone who got in his way and not give it a second thought.

Born in 1871, Cordell Hull was part of a family with a long history of Tennessee politics.  For most of Tennessee’s history, feuding was commonplace.  During one of these feuds, during the American Civil War, someone shot Cordell’s father, William Paschal Hull, in the face.  William survived the assassination attempt.  After the war, William Hull tracked down the assailant and killed him.  This is the man most responsible for how Cordell Hull (and his four brothers were raised).

Hull, like his brothers, was born in a log cabin in Olympus, Tennessee.  It was a common occurrence in 1871.  Nearly everyone lived in a log cabin.  Hull’s mother was a descendant of Isaac Riley, who was granted two hundred acres of land in Pickett County in recognition for his Revolutionary War service, and also ancestor Samuel Wood, an Englishman from Leicestershire who fought on the side of the American cause.

Cordell attended college for a year (1889-1890), afterward serving as the chairman of the Democratic Party in Clay County, Tennessee, and then passed the Tennessee State Bar after graduating from the Cumberland School of Law.  Hull was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1893, serving until 1897.  During the Spanish-American War, he served as a captain in the Tennessee volunteer infantry.  From 1903 – 1907, Hull served as a local judge until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for a total of twenty-two years.  During that time, he became an influential member of the Ways and Means Committee and claimed responsibility for the federal income tax law (1913) and the Inheritance Tax (1916).

After Hull’s defeat in the election of 1920, he served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and was one of several presidential candidates in 1928.  Hull and Albert Gore, Sr., the father of former Vice President Al Gore, Jr., formed a close political relationship in the 1930s.  Historians give Hull credit for the election of Al Gore, Sr., to the U.S. Congress in 1938.

Cordell Hull was elected to the Senate in 1930 but resigned in 1933 to accept Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination as U.S. Secretary of State.  Hull’s primary focus as Secretary of State was to increase foreign trade and lower tariffs.   President Roosevelt personally handled the matter of the United States’ role in World War II by passing Hull and dealing directly with Hull’s under-secretary, B. Sumner Welles.  Threatened by Welles’ relationship with the president, Hull effectively destroyed Welles’ career by threatening to expose him as a homosexual.[1]

During Hull’s tenure as Secretary of State, there were several minor “flaps” that dragged him and his office into the public eye, including a shouting match between New York Mayor La Guardia and the government of Adolf Hitler, which quickly turned anti-Semitic, and another terse exchange of messages when the German government referred to American women as prostitutes.

Hull also engaged in a famous dialog with Eduardo Hay, Mexico’s foreign minister, over the issue of Mexico’s nationalization of farms in Mexico, through which certain Americans lost their land in Mexico without compensation.  What evolved was the so-called “Hull Formula,” which even today remains controversial (particularly within Latin American countries).  Most such countries subscribe to the Calvo Doctrine.[2]

Historians give much credit to Franklin Roosevelt for his so-called Good Neighbor Policy, but the adoption of improved relations with Latin American countries actually began in the Hoover administration.  Under Roosevelt, Cordell Hull took Hoover’s work, expanded on it, and FDR took credit for it.  In any case, contemporary scholars credit the Good Neighbor Policy as having prevented Nazi subterfuge in Latin America during World War II (excepting Argentina, of course).  Additionally, Secretary Hull and President Roosevelt strived to maintain relations with the Vichy government, which Hull credited with allowing French forces under General Henri Giraud to join allied forces in the North African and subsequent campaigns in Germany and Italy.

Roosevelt also preferred that Cordell Hull handle formal statements with foreign governments, notably with the Imperial Japanese government, before and after Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.  Notably, Hull received news of the attack outside his office.  When Hull returned to his office, he found the Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu waiting to see him.  They had a fourteen-part message that officially notified the U.S. government of a breakdown in negotiations.  But the U.S. military had broken the Japanese codes, and Hull already knew the message’s content.  Hull famously exploded, saying … In all my fifty years of public service, I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.

But Cordell Hull was controversial in his own right.  He made no effort to hide his contempt for Charles De Gaulle, and he assumed an antisemitic position toward European Jews in late 1939.  Hull strenuously advised Roosevelt to prevent the S.S. St. Louis from reaching port in the United States, thereby preventing just under a thousand Jewish passengers from requesting political asylum in the United States.  As a result, some academics argue, Nazis ultimately murdered 254 of the Jewish passengers Hull sent back to Europe.

Hull’s position, stated most emphatically to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, was that the passengers could not legally be issued tourist visas because they had no home addresses in their country of origin.  Moreover, Hull insisted that the U.S. had no role in resolving this Jewish problem.  Whether Hull realized it (or not), Morgenthau spoke for his long-time friend, Franklin Roosevelt.

Later, in the fall of 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attempted to bypass Hull’s refusal vis-à-vis Jewish refugees aboard a Portuguese ship, S.S. Quanza, to obtain U.S. visas.  Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts permitted around 100 (of 327 passengers) to enter the United States.

In another incident, when American Jews attempted to raise money to prevent the murder of Romanian Jews, the State Department stepped in to block all such efforts.  According to Ruth Gruber, “In wartime, to send money out of the United States, two government agencies had to sign a simple release: the Treasury Department under Henry Morgenthau, and the State Department under Secretary Cordell Hull.  Morgenthau signed immediately.  The State Department delayed, delayed, and delayed, as more Jews died in the Transnistria camps.”[3]

In 1940, Jewish representatives in the U.S.A. lodged an official complaint against the discriminatory policies of the Hull State Department.  The result of these protests was fatal because Secretary Hull gave orders to every American Consulate (worldwide) forbidding the issuance of visas to any Jews.  When Jewish members of congress petitioned President Roosevelt directly, asking him to permit the admission of 20,000 European Jewish children into the United States, Roosevelt refused to respond.

In 1945, Cordell Hull was the architect and underlying force behind the creation of the United Nations Organization.  For these efforts, he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  In 2004, former Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold published Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos.  Gold was highly critical of the UN’s moral relativism in the face of occasional support of genocide and terrorism.  He contends that the UN has become diluted to the point where only 75 of its 184 member states were “free democracies.”

Gold emphasizes that the UN today, as a whole, is more amenable to the requirements of fascist dictatorships.  As an illustration of this hijacking, critics of the UN point to the fact that the UN General Assembly held a moment of silence in honor of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il following his death in 2011 — but failed to offer similar recognition for Vaclav Havel, an important anti-fascist dissident in the Czech Republic.

Today, there is much doubt that Cordell Hull warrants any recognition for the monster he helped create in 1945 and an equal number of questions about whether he deserves any accolades as one of the pilots of America’s ship of state.

Due to his failing health, Cordell Hull resigned from his post on 30 November 1944.   Upon Hull’s departure from the State Department, Roosevelt said he was “the one person in all the world who has done his most to make this great peace plan (the United Nations) an effective fact.”  Right.  I’m sure the millions of people murdered in their beds throughout the fourth world nations of Africa fail to see the value of Hull’s efforts.

Cordell Hull died on 23 July 1955 at his home in Washington, D.C.  He was 83 years old.


  1. Hull, C.  The Papers of Cordell Hull.  Two volumes.  Hodder & Stoughton, 1948.
  2. Dalleck, R.  Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932 – 1945.  Oxford University Press, 1979.
  3. Pratt, J. W.  Cordell Hull, 1933 – 44.  U.S. Congress, 1964.
  4. Gellman, I. F.  Secret Affairs: FDR, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles.  Enigma Books, 2002.


[1] Welles had a long and distinguished career as a diplomat beginning in 1914 under the administration of Woodrow Wilson.  Welles specialized in Latin American affairs and served in several diplomatic posts until pushed out of service by Calvin Coolidge, who believed that Welles’ homosexuality would not best serve the interests of the United States.  Franklin Roosevelt gave Welles another chance.  After attending a funeral in Huntsville, Alabama, and returning to Washington, D.C., Welles solicited sex from two Negro porters.  Information of this incident reached Hull, who made sure that the information was presented to certain members of the U.S. Senate and the Director, FBI — J. Edgar Hoover … himself a closet homosexual.  Although Hoover maintain file cabinets of information on Welles (and others), he never released any of that information to the American public.

[2] The Calvo Doctrine is a foreign policy principle that holds that jurisdiction in international investment disputes lies with the country in which the investment is located.  The Calvo Doctrine stood in contrast to historical rules governing foreign investment which held that foreign investors could appeal expropriation decisions by a foreign government in their home country.  The Calvo Doctrine proposed to prohibit diplomatic protection or armed intervention before local resources were exhausted. 

[3] Ruth Gruber, Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel.  Open Road Media, 2010. 

Posted in Depression Era, History, Holocaust, Jews, Latin America, Politicians, Tennessee, World War II | 2 Comments

The Council House Fight


Between 1700-1875, the Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Caddo, Bidai, Karankawa, Eastern Pueblo, and Apache Indians dominated a massive swath of land in the area of present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  It was called the Comancheria.  It was also the unchallenged domain of the fiercest society of warriors that ever existed on the backs of horses.  They called themselves Numunuu; everyone else called them Comanche (enemy).  How violent were these people?  Their reputation was enough to terrify Spaniards from wanting to settle in Coahuila y Tejas for nearly 300 years.

Following the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Spanish authorities in New Spain realized that the Spanish Crown could not legitimately claim lands they did not control through human settlements.  Land that the Spanish did not populate was land “for the taking” by the French or British.  France’s agreement to sell Louisiana to the Americans in 1803 did not reduce tensions within the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

In 1819, the United States and Spain signed the Adams-Onis Treaty, which ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for the U.S. recognition of Spanish boundaries.  The treaty also allowed the Spanish Crown to focus on the independence movements throughout Latin America.

Late in 1820, a failed American businessman named Moses Austin seized upon an idea of a free trade arrangement with the government of New Spain.  He traveled to San Antonio to begin negotiations in an enterprise that might improve his economic situation.  Austin’s primary intention was to create a trading venture on the coast of Texas to allow the United States to trade with New Spain.  He submitted a formal petition to Governor Antonio Maria Martinez, seeking permission to bring 300 families to a port in Texas.  Austin assured the governor these settlers would be former subjects of Spain (from Missouri) and would be willing to defend Tejas against foreign enemies.

Much transpired in Texas between 1820 and 1840: Mexico achieved its independence from New Spain and then embarked on the complicated process of sorting out political differences to establish a new Republic.  But that wasn’t the only thing going on in Mexico and Texas.

In 1833, Josiah Walbarger rode with five others near the present site of Austin, Texas, when they came under heavy attack by Comanche Indians.  Walbarger’s companions were murdered, and their bodies mutilated; Josiah was scalped while still alive and left for dead.  According to Josiah’s brother, this incident was the first incident between Texians and Comanches; it was the beginning of the bloodiest era of the American Southwest.

In 1836, a Comanche and Kiowa war party numbering around 300 braves attacked the Parker community (near present-day Mexia, Texas).  John Parker and most of the men, lacking sufficient knowledge of the Comanche, worked in the adjoining field unprotected.  The Indians slaughtered the men, kidnapped Cynthia Ann Parker, and Rachel Plummer (and five others), and destroyed the fortification.  While in captivity, Rachel gave birth to a half-cast child.  When the child was six months old, an Indian brave took the child from its mother and murdered it by dragging it behind a horse.

Also, in 1836, those loyal Spanish settlers, known as Texians, declared their Independence from Mexico — which began a permanent disconnect between Texas and the people of Mexico.

In 1838, Comanches kidnapped Matilda Lockhart and four Putnam children from a field surrounding the settlement.  During the year of her captivity, Matilda continually suffered physical (burning her body and the bottom of her feet with hot irons) and sexual abuse.  When she finally returned to her family a year later, Matilda was a physical and mental wreck.  She died within two years of her release.

In that same year, a ten-man survey party began their work near New Braunfels.  One of the men, an experienced frontiersman, disgusted that the party had become too careless of their safety, left the group.  He later found the entire survey group murdered.  One man named Beatty had managed to carve his name into the base of a tree before he died.



Neolithic people banded together in support groups, but all such groups were sized to facilitate the group’s survival.  In most cases, the size of these human groups was between 40-60 people.  Above that number, people were encouraged to leave the band to form a new group.  There was no one leader of tribes and bands; it was a shared responsibility between elders, shamans, hunters, and war leaders.  But the Comanche (as with most Indian groups) were independent-minded people.  No chief could force anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do.  The only consequence of refusing to abide by an elder’s wishes was an exile from the tribe or band.

Although bound together in various cultural and political ways, Comanche bands were not responsible for any formalized unified authority.  Texians didn’t understand this about the Comanche.  In their minds, a chief was a supreme leader, a chief spoke for all Comanche.  Nothing was further from the truth.  There were at least 12 divisions of the Comanche, with as many as 50 independent roaming bands.  In the absence of a centralized authority, no Comanche chief could guarantee the safe return of a white hostage held by another band.

For ten or so years, the Comanche fought against their enemy, the Apache.  They raided Mexican haciendas and Texian settlements.  They suffered the effects of warriors lost in battle and from debilitating European disease.  It was enough to want to start talks with the white eyes.

Seeking Peace

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 Putnam lad.  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.

The Fight

On 19 March, the powerful Eastern Comanche Chief Muguara (also: Mukwooru) (translation, Spirit Talker) led 65 people into San Antonio, including 12 other chiefs, their women and 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.[1]

The Comanche brought along a captive female, 16-year old Matilda Lockhart, taken in 1838.  Matilda had been sold to several Indian 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.

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 believed that the Comanche negotiated 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 and retained 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.[2]  Karnes, 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 assured 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 fluent in English.  When he was 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.  Texian militia opened fire at point-blank range, killing both Indians and whites.  Upon hearing the commotion inside the Council House, Comanche women and children waiting outdoors began shooting arrows indiscriminately at white people.  At least one Texian spectator was killed.

When a small number of warriors managed to escape from the Council House, all of the Comanche began to flee.  Texian militia in pursuit opened fire, also haphazardly, also killing and wounding both Comanche and Texians.  Armed civilians joined the battle.  Every Comanche Indian joined the fight, including women and children.  Gunsmoke created a haze on the streets and near buildings.  Everyone was getting shot.

Inside the Council House, all of the Indians drew their concealed weapons.  Militia Lieutenant Dunnington drew his pistol to fire but was shot by an arrow from the principal squaw, who dressed similar to a warrior.  Her pull was so strong the arrow passed through his body.  Dunnington stumbled backward but managed to get a shot off before dying.  His bullet passed through her forehead and her brains splattered against the walls.  He then fell over and expired twenty minutes later.  Dunnington’s last words were, “I killed him, but I believe he has killed me too.”  Dunnington never knew a woman had killed him.

Colonel McLeod’s report, prepared on 20 March 1840, claimed that of the 65 members of the Comanche delegation, 35 died violently (30 adult males, three women, and two children), and 29 were taken captive (27 women and children and two elderly men).  One renegade escaped, and five unaccounted for, presumed to have escaped.  Seven Texians died, including a judge, a sheriff, and Dunnington, and ten more received severe wounds, including Old Paint Caldwell.


The day after the fight, a single Comanche woman was released to return to her camp and report that the Comanche prisoners would be released if the Comanche released the 15 Americans and several Mexicans who were known to be captives.  The Texians gave the Comanche 12 days to return the captives.

On 26 March, Mrs. John Webster walked into San Antonio with her three-year-old.  She had been a Comanche captive for 19 months and had just escaped, leaving her 12-year-old son with the Indians.  Two days later, a band of Indians arrived on the outskirts of San Antonio.  Leaving the bulk of his warriors outside the city, Chief Howling Wolf and one other man rode into San Antonio and yelled insults at the white citizens, who told him to go and find soldiers if he wanted a fight.  Howling Wolf thereafter left town and did not return.

To suggest that the Comanche were incensed by the Council House fight would be a gross understatement.  Of the sixteen or so hostages the Texians seemed determined to recover, the Comanche tortured to death 13, including Matilda Lockhart’s six-year-old sister, who they roasted to death.  The Comanche spared only three whites — and only because they adopted them into the tribe.  These murders were the Comanche’s answer to the Texian ultimatum.

On 3 April, another Comanche band appeared in San Antonio.  They brought Booker Webster, a five-year-old girl, and a Mexican boy.  From Booker Webster, the Texians learned of the murder of 13 white hostages.  These were the three adopted whites whom the Comanche spared.

The Comanche were both shocked and incensed by the perfidy of the Texians at the Council House.  Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna organized what became known as the Great Raid of 1840.  Nearly a thousand Comanche descended upon the Texian settlements, destroying the colonies, taking horses and cattle, everything the Indians could carry, killing 25-30 white settlers, and taking additional white hostages.  One of those was Mrs. Crosby, a granddaughter of Daniel Boone.  Her captors later murdered Crosby.

Buffalo Hump’s assault on East Texas culminated in the Battle of Plum Creek.


In 1890, author J. W. Walbarger published an account of more than 250 Indian attacks between 1821-1875.  Responding to criticism of eastern writers who censored Texans for their treatment of the Indians, Walbarger wrote, “Such writers probably never saw a wild Indian in their lives — never had their fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters butchered by them in cold blood; never had their little sons and daughters carried away by them into captivity, to be brought up as savages, and taught to believe that robbery was meritorious, and cold-blooded murder a praiseworthy act, and certainly they never themselves had their own limbs beaten, bruised, burnt, and tortured with fiendish ingenuity by ‘ye gentle salvages,’ nor their scalps ruthlessly torn from their bleeding heads, for if the latter experience had been theirs, and they had survived the pleasant operations (as some have done in Texas) we are inclined to think the exposure of their naked skulls to the influences of wind and weather might have so softened them as to permit the entrance of a little common sense.”


  1. Anderson, G. C.  The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
  2. Brice, D. E.  The Great Comanche Raid: Boldest Indian Attack of the Texas Republic.  Eaken Press, 1987.
  3. Noyes, S.  Los Comanches: The Horse People, 1751-1845.  University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
  4. Wilbarger, J. W.  Indian Depredations in Texas: Reliable Accounts of Battles, Wars, Adventures, Forays, Murders, Massacres, etc., etc., Together with Biographical Sketches of many of the most noted Indian fighters and frontiersmen of Texas.  Available online as a PDF, 1890.


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

[2] 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. 

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comanche, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Indian War, Mexican Revolution, Politicians, Texas, Texas Rangers | 6 Comments