Injun Fighting In Early Williamson County History from the "Tales of Early Days in Texas"
by Capt. F. S. Wade (this is in the local vernacular of the time) Compiled by Cortis Lawrence April 1942
(Click here for more on Adam Lawrence)
At the request of a number of my friends, including the publishers of the Courier, I have concluded to write a series of tales of early days in Texas as I recall them from personal experience, and as related to me by the older settlers.
I came to the state sixty years ago (approximately in the 1850s) before I had any beard, as a school teacher. My home was at Uncle Add Lawrence's, who lies buried in Lawrence Chapel cemetery fifteen miles northeast of Elgin. He was one of Austin's first colonists and reached Texas in the year 1821, nearly one hundred years ago. He had no education but was the most perfectly developed physically of any man I ever saw and very religious, yet he thought it no more harm to kill a Mexican or an "Injun" than a wolf or rattlesnake. Later on, your children can better understand this seeming paradox. During the years that I was a member of his family, he related the tales I am about to tell.
These reminiscences are written principally for the children, some of whom are the grand-children and great-grand-children of the men and women about whom I am going to write.
Children are hero worshippers. These people who made Texas, in my opinion, were never surpassed in any age for exalted heroism and knightly deeds of daring. This my first tale will be given in Uncle Add’s own language, as I remember it. He called it, "The Starvation Time".
"In 1824 and 1825 I was living on my headright league in what is now Washington County just east of where Chapel Hill is now located. Both years were almost without rain. The Colorado stood in holes often a mile apart; the Brazos was not shoe mouth deep. The grass had all dried up and blown away and about all the game had left the country. Our only food was wild meat and fish. Our horses had been nearly all stolen by the Kaurenkerways and what was left were mighty poor. We were trying to keep our few cattle alive by cutting cottonwood trees and pulling down moss; occasionally we could kill a deer or a mustang, but our principal dependence was fish. Now fish without salt, for we had no salt for years, and no grease to cook fish with, you know was tough diet.
"I noticed that every day about three o'clock crows came to roost in the cedar brake and they kept coming until nine o'clock at night. I felt sure that they went to the mast (acorns) and where there was mast there would be lots of fat game. One day I was settin' on a stump trying to figure out what was to be done to keep life in the settlement, for it was nearly Christmas when a little girl came up to me and put her hands on my knees and said, ‘Mr. Lawrence, I'm hungry’. Her words cut me like a knife and I couldn't keep back the hot tears. I went to my cabin, got my rifle gun, and shot a big black crow. Such a "caw-caw-caw" you never heard. Sure enough, the crow's craw was full of mast. I called the settlement together and told them there was plenty of fat game where that crow drew his rations and I was going after it.
" 'As many of you as wants to go with me, meet me here in the morning with the best ponies you have left'.
"Sure enough nearly the hull settlement was ready in the morning, but I said enough men must stay to keep the Kumanchus from burning us out and murdering our women and children. So half stayed as guards and the rest let out northeast, the way the crows came and went. Just after we crossed the Savasot one of the men killed a fat buffalo cow and oh what a feast we had. This was the first time some of us had enough to eat in four months. We sent the horses back with three loads of meat to the settlement. Then we pushed on the northeast, the crows were guiding us, for three days when we landed in a sure enough paradise. It was a flat post oak country near where the city of Crockett now is. The ground was covered with mast and the woods full of all kinds of game. Bear, buffalo, deer, elk in hundreds. Some of the bears were so fat that they shook when they walked, and some, that like us had just got in, were lean as a sausage.
“It didn't take no vision like came to Peter to tell us to arise, slay, and eat.
"Now I will tell you how we saved the meat as we had no salt. We cut it in long strips and hung it on lariats (rawhide ropes) or poles to dry. As soon as we had enough dried, we sewed up the bear hides and put about one hundred pounds of meat in a hide, tied two together, and put them on a horse sending ten horse loads back to the settlement by four boys and one man. The rest of us kept on killing and eating and preparing more meat. In about eight days both parties who had gone to the settlement came back leading every horse that could travel. A few days after, the whole party started homeward, every horse loaded with all he could carry. We all reached the settlement safely. Such rejoicing you never heard for everybody had enough fat bear meat. We had saved the brains of our game. These we used in dressing our bear and deer hides so that we could make moccasins, caps, jackets, and britches for the men and boys and petticoats for the women and girls.
"What a happy Christmas we had. Before our meat was all gone a splendid rain fell putting the river and creek banks full; the grass was hand high in a couple of weeks, our horses and cattle got fat, and slathers of the game came back. Starvation time was over."
When I knew Uncle Add Lawrence he was an old man, but it seems to me that he was the most perfect rider of a horse I ever met. He almost idolized his horse. While the workhorses made the crop on the grass, his saddle horse was well fed three times a day by his own hands; no collar ever went on his neck, and no one on the place, not even his eldest son, dared ride him.
In his early manhood, he spent fifteen years riding races and mustang hunting. At one time he gave a league of land for a horse to run mustangs on. He worked out a new method of catching mustangs known as walking them down, that I will have to describe before you can understand the following tale.
This plan was based upon the fact that mustangs, and all other wild animals as to that, have their regular range, watering at the same place and being at a given point on their range at about the same hour every day. First, select the herd of mustangs you want, then station the hunters at the proper places; then let No. 1 start the mustangs and follow them at nearly full speed for say four hours, when they reach a point where No. 2 relieves No. 1, and so on for about a day and a night when the herd is run down and can be driven in a pen previously prepared. I will give this tale in as near Uncle Add's language as I can recall it.
"In the year 1828 the Kaurenkerways had stole about all our horses. People was a comin' to the settlements nearly every day from the States and all needed horses. So I organized a hunt consisting of eight men all splendidly mounted and my nigger Jim for cook. We had a pack mule to carry about forty lariats and hackimares (halters), some axes, etc. We got our grub every day with our guns. We was agoin' to the Gabriel country, now Williamson, Milam and Burleson counties, this being among the best mustang range in the province of Texas.
"Jist as we made our first camp I seed a man on a long legged mule follering our trail. When he came up he axes which of us was Mr. Adam Lawrence.
'That's me young man; git down, young man', says I.
"He shuck hands and said his name was Jim Jones and that he got to the settlement a few hours after we left.
"Sez he, 'I told the folks there I was from Gadson, Tennessee, and that I was as green as a gourd; they told me about your hunt, and that if you would let me go with you I'd git the green rubbed off'. He smiled a smile that would turn vinegar into honey.
"I sed 'Onpossible; young man. We are gwine to an Injun country where we may have to run for our lives. If that happened the Injuns would sure kotch you on thet mule and skulp (scalp) you'.
“Sez he, ‘Mr. Lawrence, you don't know this mule like I do. When it gits scairt it can run like chained lightening. Now if you will only let me go I will be mighty useful about the camp'.
“Some of the boys spoke up and said 'Add, let him go', so I said 'Alright, but at your own risk'.
“Well, Jim was as good as his word about camp, and then he could sing all the coon songs ever heard of, and beat a cirket rider a preachin'.
'Well, we finally struck camp on a little clear runnin' creek whar there was lots of tall elms near the Gabriel. (Uncle Add showed me this camp which was on Mustang about two miles below the present city of Taylor.) We begun our pen which was made out of elm poles built eight feet high, enclosing about half an acre, a gap on one side with brush wings widening out from the gap. There were several herds of mustangs on the prairie, one led by a big, sorrel flax mane and tail stallion. When he run it looked like he was waving two white flags. It looked like there was more'n a hundred head of them. So I picked this herd and took one man with me every day so as to find out their range. When the pen was built or nearly done I started out to pick out pints for the men that was to walk down the mustangs.
“Jist after we started Jim overtook us on his mule and said, 'Add, let me go along’.
“I had seed no Injun signs nowhere, so I sed 'Alright'.
“We were riding near the Gabriel. No mortal ever seed a purtier country. It was in May and the grass was as green as a wheat field. The south wind made it wave like the sea. There was patches of buffalo clover that was as blue as the sky, then spots of red and white posies that filled the air with sweet smells. Herds of mustangs off to the east, buffalo, antelope, deer everywhere. Jim was singing to himself a coon song that went like this: 'Bend low, sweet lam, bend low', when we jumped a surprise. As we got to the top of a little hill we discovered about forty Comanche Injuns in war paint and feathers not more'n six hundred yards comin' a meetin' us. "When they seed there wasn't but three of us they raised a warhoop and charged.
“Now I wasn't skeered for myself fur I could outride any Injun that God ever let live, ef he knows anything about 'em which I misdoubt, but I was skeered for Jim on that mule. We struck for camp at full speed. Fur three or four miles Jim kept up all right, then his mule began to throw up his tail, I hollered to him to git off that mule and git up behind me.
"He said, 'No Add, your horse couldn't carry us both. I think when the Injuns git a little closer this 'ere mule will git new life; but here Add, take my watch and send it to my mother. Tell her there was no one to blame but me'.
“Two or three minutes after I heard an awful screechin' and yellin'. My heart came in my mouth for I thought they were sculping Jim, but they weren't for just then I heard a pat, pat right behind me and I whirled back with my rifle gun cocked, for I tho't it was an Injun; but I saw it was Jim, and you ought to have seed that mule, as it passed by me almost like I was standing still. Its nose was sticking straight out and smoke was a-comin' out of it like steam out of a kettle. Its ears were laid back on its neck like they were pinned back. Its tail was a stickin' out behind him and it looked like he was jumpin' forty feet at a time. I noticed three arrers a stickin’ up in that mule's rump. As Jim passed me he hollered back and sed, ‘Farewell, Add'. What was them Injuns yellin' about? Why they were watchin' that mule fly. They turned back north.
''When I got to camp the boys were behind trees with their guns ready, but I told them that them Injuns wouldn't foller us in the timber for they knew when we shot we got meat. Jim had his saddle off trying to pull them arrers out of his mule. I roped its forefeet and threw it and cut them out. I was a little careless when I let it up for it made a bulge and away it went lookin' back to where it had been introduced to the Injuns. We never, seed hide or hair of it.
"We spied around a day or two 'till we were sure that the Injuns was gone then we made our drive. We walked down them mustangs in twenty-four hours, got them all in the pen and they were sure a fine lot. We found ten head of broke horses and mules that had got away from settlements and a big brown horse with a Spanish brand that I afterward heard got away from a Mexican general. If it had been a white man's horse I would have sent him word but I never mentioned it to that Mexican General though I knew him well. We roped out about sixty, turning the rest loose. It took about two or three days gentling our stock, then we tailed them six in a string and returned to the settlement, Jim riding the general's horse. He had no trouble selling out at from $30.00 to $60.00.
“One day a man offered me five twenty-dollar gold pieces for the big brown horse. I looked around at Jim. His lips were a fluttering so I said, 'That's all the horse is worth but this 'ere Jim lost his mule in the hunt and I have been thinkin' of giving it to him; now I have made up my mind. Jim, 'ere is your horse'. He shook me by the hand, the tears came into his eyes, but he smiled that smile again and said, 'Add, you are white all the way through'."
Early days in Texas were very different from conditions now. People lived in small log cabins having puncheon floors. When you rode up and the husband did not ask the wife if you could stay all night, the wife asked the husband, but either would heartily respond, "Get down and hobble your horse". The fare was cornbread, coffee, and beef, but the welcome was genuine.
If the weather was warm you slept under the trees with the other boys; but if it was cold when bedtime came the trundle bed was pulled out, pallets made down, and you would be shown where to sleep. Then you would walk out to see about your horse, the tallow candle would be blown out and you could step into bed. At break of day, you would see about your horse while the womenfolk got up and prepared breakfast. If you offered to pay you would be called "green from the states".
Then, as now, I liked the company of women and children better than that of men. Their talk was not about the millennium foreshadowed by woman suffrage, or cuneiform engravings on the burnt clay tablets lately dug up in the ruins of Nineveh that were deposited in the reign of Sargon the Great, nor about the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the pyramids of Egypt during the reign of Ramesses the second, nor about the incomprehensibility of the unknowable. Their talk was about the bravery of their husbands and sons or their own hardships and privations.
To me, the most fascinating of these reminiscences was the "Runaway Scrape" that was told me by probably a hundred different women. Do you know children, that within two hundred yards of where our South School House stands, was the home of Grandmother Burleson, who was in the runaway? She was the grandmother of our townsman, H. B. Smith. I think some of the Standifer women and children were also in the runaway.
As a sample of their tales, I will relate this one told me by Aunt Sallie Lawrence, as we lovingly called her, who was the wife of Uncle Add Lawrence, the hero of these tales.
“In April 1826 we were living on a ranch west of the Brazos. We had two children and two slaves, Jim and Sella. Mr. Lawrence was with Houston's army at Gonzales. One day a man rode up and said that the Alamo had fallen and that Fannin and his army had been murdered at Goliad, that the Mexicans were advancing, burning and murdering as they came; that he had been sent to warn the people to get across the Trinity if possible.
“I had Jim hitch the oxen to the cart. This was made entirely of wood with wheels sawed out of a log. I turned out the calves and hogs, carried our only bee gum in the cabin, put a few clothes and some provisions and an ax on the cart with my children, never expecting but that the cabin would be burned by the Mexicans.
“When we started, the cart creaked so that I feared the Mexicans would hear it. I had it stopped, ran back, and got some lye soap to stop the screaming. When we got to the river, it was bank full and the ferry boat was gone but we soon made a raft of dry logs. Jim made the oxen swim to the east bank, then we got on the raft, wagon tied behind, and poled across the river. When we got out on the prairie we met a boy who said that about twenty families were up at Col. Gross's place and that we had better go there, which we did. Col. Gross sent us a beef every day. We spent the time standing guard, and strengthening our fort, expecting the Mexicans every minute, but determined to fight to the last.
“All the men, excepting a few very old men, were in the army. On the 21st, though we had no news from the army, we were sure that our fate was to be decided that day. About four o'clock we heard the faint sound of cannon to the eastward.”
At this point of the story Miss Bettie, one of Aunt Sallie's daughters, (who was my sweetheart) interrupted by saying, "Mammy, Gross' retreat is seventy-five miles from San Jacinto. The heaviest cannonade cannot be heard over forty miles; our people only had two small cannons presented by the ladies of Cincinnati which could not have been heard over fifteen miles. You only imagined you heard cannons". Her mother replied with some heat, "I heard cannon with my own ears, as well as half the campers", and continued her story.
“When night came we all knew that our fate was decided, but how was the question. There was no sleep that night or the next day, for terror was in every sound.
"In the evening, worn out with anxiety, I laid down on a pallet to get some rest. Suddenly, I sprang up screaming, 'I see my Add. He's coming', I ran east screaming all the way, 'I see my Add'. Some of the people tried to stop me, but I outran them, and all the time I could see my husband ahead of me. It looked like he was in smoke but I could see that he was coming to meet me.
"I ran out of the timber and a mile on the prairie until I came to a rocky ridge. Then the smoke seemed to clear away and about a mile further on I saw a horseman on a big brown horse riding toward me. I could see then, with those natural eyes, that it was my Add, no plainer though than I had been seeing him the last half hour by the eyes of faith or whatever you may call it. I waved my sunbonnet until I attracted his attention, then he waved his hat three times around his head. I knew that signal meant victory.
“As I ran to meet him he got off his horse and I noticed that both horse and my Add stumbled as they walked. When I got near enough that I could hear him he waved his hat again and shouted 'Sallie, we whipped 'em'. A moment after, his strong arms were around me, and as he kissed me he said, 'Glory to God, Texas is safe'. His hat was still in his hand. There was a halo of glory around his head like the picture of our Saviour in the Testament".
Miss Bettie again intervened, "Why, Mammy, people don't have halos, only our Saviour. It was the setting sun shining on Pappy's redhead".
Her mother answered, "Wasn't your Pappy as much my Saviour as Christ, and hasn't one Saviour as much right to a halo as another?" Then she half arose, pointing her finger at her daughter, with a whimsical smile on her face and exultation in her voice, "Young lady, you will never marry such a man as your Pappy was then. No, and I will never see his like again because there is no more".
“I noticed blood on his clothes. 'Oh, my husband, you are wounded'.’ “ 'Naw’, he said, 'that's Mexican blood'.
“By the time we got to the timber, it was dark. There we met some of the people hunting me, believing that I had gone crazy when we told them the glorious news they began to shout. Before we got to the fort everyone who could walk met us. Everyone said, 'Mr. Lawrence, tell us all about the fight'. Said he, 'I have had nothing to eat since this battle'.
“When we got to the fort after he had several hunks of broiled beef; he said, 'It wasn't much fight. We did the fightin' and the Mexicans did the runnin'. At about four o'clock we charged. Some of the Mexicans were cooking dinner, some were asleep and some were watering their horses. We shot 'em down as long as our bullets lasted our guns, or cut their hearts out with our butcher knives. Every little while some of our boys would yell out, 'Remember the Alamo, remember Goliad', then we would kill more of them. We killed about a thousand, about all there was of them. Did we take any prisoners? Some of the boys took a few, but not a prisoner for me'.
“Then an old white-headed man said, 'Let us pray'. And such a prayer of thanksgiving for our deliverance never before was made. Before the prayer was ended Add was fast asleep.
“About nine o'clock the next morning three more men came in from the battle, and the tale had to be told over again. That evening we started home. When we got to the river the ferry boat had been brought back. We got home safe and it was just as we left it. Two of my hens had hatched fine broods of chickens. The old white sow had a litter of nine pigs and the bees had made and sealed a comb of honey outside of the hive as large as a dinner plate. That we had for supper".
Almost everybody in the United States has heard Sam Dixon's "Birth of a Nation". I am going to tell you about the "Death of a Nation". Austin's first colony located on the lower Brazos in 1822 at old San Phillipi de Austin.
Their nearest neighbors were two Indian tribes, the Tonquas on the headwaters of the Navidad River, and the Karauquas on the seacoast near the mouth of the Brazos. They were familiarly called the Tonks and Kraunks.
The first named tribe were friends of the white settlers, while the other tribe was their relentless enemies. In a recent war between the two tribes, the Tonks had been almost annihilated.
The Kraunks lived almost entirely on fish, oysters, frogs, etc., and were said to be of great size and strength. They had neither horses, cattle nor even dogs, but they were inveterate thieves, stealing the horses and cattle of the settlers, using them for food to mix with their fish, often murdering whole families of unprotected colonists. Tradition says they were cannibals. If that were true they were the only cannibals that I ever heard of on the North American continent. The Aztecs and Toltecs of Mexico sacrificed human beings to their gods but they did not eat their flesh. Around the Caribbean sea and in some parts of the West Indian Islands there was, where Columbus discovered America, a great nation called Caribs which were all cannibals. The Caribbean Sea was named after them. A Carib said to a Spaniard, "'White men fools, kill Carib, buzzards eat him; Carib kill a white man; eat him, get all the good out him". The eating of their captives intensified the hatred of the colonists for the Karanquas.
At last, the overt act that we hear so much talk of these days came: One Sunday morning a settler and his wife made a visit to some friends further down the river, sending their two children to stay with their grandparents who lived near. On their return that night the father went to his father's to bring his children home. His parents had just returned from the trip having started early before the arrival of the children. It was now night and none had seen the children. Then the assembly call of the horn sounded. The settlers were soon hunting for the lost children. A man rode up and said that a Karaunkerway Indian had been killed that morning in a nearby settlement while trying to steal a horse and that he had a bundle of children's' bloody clothes. Shortly afterward the doleful howl of a dog was heard nearby. Following the sound, the searchers soon found the naked bodies of the children in the long grass three hundred yards from their grandfather's house. The buzzards had stripped the flesh from their bones and pecked out their eyes. Their fair hair was tangled in the long grass. A wail of rage and anguish arose from the searchers.
Then Add Lawrence raised his hand high above his head and said, "Before the Eternal God I swear never to sleep again until I have had vengeance on the Karaunkaways. Who is going with me?"
All answered, "Add, we are with you to the last". "Then", said he, "Send swift messengers to the Tonks to meet us at Cedar Point tomorrow at two o'clock".
Two hours afterward over a hundred grim, armed men rode away in the darkness southward. At the appointed rendezvous forty Tonk braves reinforced the white men. On nearing the Karanqua village a dense fog came up out of the salt marshes. The attack was made without warning. In fifteen minutes a nation was dead.
A few made their escape in skiffs in the wild rice or tules that grew in the swamp. The attackers found other skiffs and followed trails made by the fugitives. Uncle Add and a Tonk Indian were following one of these trails when a huge squaw sprang out of a thick mass of vines and tried to overthrow the canoe. Uncle Add, with one stroke of his butcher knife, severed her hand at the wrist and it fell in the boat. She dodged back in the wild rice. They followed her bloody trail until it reached deep water where they supposed she drowned. But he said he thought he was mistaken as some months afterward he was at the Tonkaway camp where he saw a huge squaw with but one hand. He pointed to the stub when she looked up at him and ran away "screeching", as Uncle Add put it.
I think I afterward saw the same squaw. When Green's Brigade was mustered in the Confederate army at San Antonio in 1861 the Tonk Indians were camped on the Cibilo, a couple of miles below our camp. They were on their way to Mexico. On a visit to their camp, I saw a large old squaw who had lost her right hand at the wrist. On my return from New Mexico, I told Uncle Add and he was sure it was the same squaw.
Before I close this number, I must tell you, children, a funny tale, a comedy after the awful tragedy that I have related.
Every day when we visited the Tonk camp a Tonk girl twelve or fourteen years old would hang around us, naked and unashamed, and plait our horses' manes. A party of us boys chipped in two bits apiece and left word with one of the Tonks, who could talk a little pigeon English, that we were going to buy our little squaw a dress. I was made chairman of the bunch, so I went to San Antonio and bought eight yards of flaming red calico, she put it under her arm and ran to her tent, kissing the bundle and throwing back kisses to us boys. We left word we would come back in three days to see how she looked dressed.
At the appointed time a squad of us rode down to the camp and called for her to come out. After waiting say fifteen minutes as I suppose young men have since done, she came out dressed, but how you could not guess in a year, so I will tell you. She had torn the whole eight yards into strips and festooned the most of it in her long black hair, a wide strip around her waist, and one about each finger and toe. We yelled with laughter. She at first laughed, then began to cry, and ran away to her tent. We never saw her again.