Indian Massacre On The Shin Oak Ridge in Williamson County, Texas

Another Indian Massacre On The Shin Oak Ridge

From an old newspaper "The Burnet Bulletin and The Bertram Enterprise" -- written by Pete Shady (date written is unknown)

We are wondering if you youngsters whose memory had its beginning in the late eighties or early nineties of the last century will get the surprise when you read this that we experienced while collecting data to reveal it. We have every reason to believe this is a true story of the Wilford Johnson massacre, which took place August 15th, 1863, on a farm known then as the Carl Miller place, now referred to as the Lee Barton place about halfway between Bertram and Oatmeal.

You will perhaps recall that the Webster massacre took place on Brushy Creek near Leander on August 27th, 1839. Our shocking surprise followed our realization that the two tragedies were almost a quarter of a century apart. All of my life, I was assuming that our grandparents and great grandparents came to this frontier and, without delay, drove the savages and destructive wild animals off before settling down to establish a peaceful co-existence on a frontier that ultimately spawned this culture we brag about. Never before had we realized that the first babies born on the ridge were twenty-five years old before it was safe for a man to ride out in the open country alone or unarmed.

It was still more foolishly dangerous to leave his family at home alone (an example of this is coming up). He who rode anything but a fast horse was foolish. Many lives were saved by a swift retreat. The year 1863 was when that horrible uncivilized war was at its peak. Carl Miller had already lost his life in the Confederate Army. His widow (my father's sister) had rented or sold her farm to a Mr. Whitehand and, with a baby boy and small girl, moved in with her parents on the old Bryson home; still well preserved on highway 29 a short two miles west of Liberty Hill.

The Wilford Johnsons lived about two miles east of the Whiteheads. It was the custom then for farmers to swap work with each other when the undertaking required a force to perform, such as thrashing of grain, butchering a large beef, or a number of hogs. It also required several people to make molasses, a necessity during the Civil War. The source of sugar had been cut off by the Yankees. Homemade sorghum would sweeten man's morsels.

So the Johnson family had spent the day with the Whiteheads making molasses.

They started home late and had gone about one and a half miles when the Comanche's attacked them just as darkness began. They made a dash for home, but because Mrs. Johnson had a small baby in her lap and the larger girl behind her and the boy was behind his father, all of which enabled the Indians to overtake and slaughter both parents and the little boy. 

The arrow that passed through the girl's wrist went into the back of her mother and caused the death instantly.

The girl escaped and spread the alarm. Neighbors went to the scene that night and recovered the bodies. The next morning a posse formed to take up the trail and, if possible, overtake and punish the savages, also hoping to recover the baby whom they were sure had been taken as a prize to exchange for ammunition. After going several hundred feet on the Indian trail, they heard the faint cry of the baby. It was found unharmed upon a pile of freshly cut cedar tops, perhaps left by post or log cutters. These cedar tops had broken the fall of the baby and had perhaps saved her life. it is assumed that the Indians feared reprisal, and the baby was crying, so they decided to dash it to the death against the stone-covered earth. The cedar tops saved her life.

We listened to a legend many times during our childhood, in which the mother was supposed to have tossed the baby on the cedar tops when she realized That she was fatally wounded, but the baby was quite a distance from the mother and was going in the opposite directions. Fortunately, the weather was very warm, and the exposure was minor.

My step-grandmother, who was Bettie Renick of the Hopewell community at the time of the tragedy, told the writer many years later that the two girls came back after they were both grown, looking for their parents' graves.

They were located in the Hopewell Cemetery. The people made up a purse to place a marker over the grave. Recently we visited that grave and read the inscription on the marker. We went on from there to visit that remarkable ninety-two years young, profoundly interesting, mentally keen Houston McFarlin. He was three years old when the massacre took place and does not make any claim to remembering it. He is very definite about being shown that pile of dry cedar tops that saved the baby's life by people who were present when it took place. This writer feels secure in quoting Houston McFarlin against the wild rumors he listened to during his childhood.


The little Miller girl orphaned by the Civil War became the bride of Billy Russell about the time his father, Jim Russell, married her mother. One of the products of the Billie Russells is that fabulously smart, ex-child schoolmarm, Texanna Russell, that everyone knows, respects, and a lot of us love.

Pete Shady.