TEXAS * MONTHLY
Dedicated to the History and Development of the State.
Why I Came to Texas, and What I Saw........................................E. Kincaid
The Type-Setting Machine ............................................................E.F. Deitz
A Christmas Carol.................................................................Ed. M. DeAbna
Adventures of an Old Texas Ranger................................James W. Nichols
How They Like It
The Song of the Rive, Poem. .......................................................H.A. Moos
Henry A. Moos: Seguin, Texas
Post Office Box No. 42
ADVENTURES OF AN OLD TEXAS RANGER.
Written by Himself from Notes Taken down at the Time and Place of Occurance
By James W. Nichols
We become acquainted with the Day Family--Both families move to Texas—Settle near San Augustine--A fish story--My acquaintance with Judge John E. Quitman--Move further west--A visit to the Alamo--Obtain valuable historical information from Mrs. Dickinson, the negro Jim Bowie, and Pepea Hondonga--Find Crockett’s gun and "outfit"--How they were lost--"Marrying by bond"--Indian raids--Captain Clements’ company of minute men--Some "old settlers"--A false alarm--Going to mill in the old days--The adventures of Asa Sowell and myself—Fighting fire and wolves--A half-roasted team--Cut off by high water—A happy time returning home--A wicked steer.
In the latter part of the summer of 1836, Father sold out in Arkansas and decided to move to Texas. San Antonio was his destination. One evening, about a week before we were to start, some movers drove up, bought some forage from Father, and drove out and camped. After supper was over, Father went out to the camp to chat and to find out where they were moving to.
Two of my older brothers (John and Solomon) and myself went with him. We learned that their destination San Antonio, Texas. They were Johnson Day and family.
Father and Day made a covenant, in which they agreed to travel together, and wherever they stopped, to settle down near each other. This arrangement seemed to suit some members of both families, as there were several "grown up" children in each. Day had one grown son: Milford, and two grown daughters: Mary, or "Polly," and Mahala. Father had three grown sons: Solomon, Thomas and John, and one grown daughter: Martha. The other children (four or five to each family) varied in size and age, down to babies.
Two matches were made up, on our trip to Texas, the one between Milford Day and my oldest sister, Martha, and the other my brother John and Mary Day.
We arrived on the bank of the Sabine River, without anything of much interest happening, and crossed over into Texas on the 14th day of December, 1836. Then we moved to San Augustine, and decided to stop a while. Both families rented land from Old Man Richards.
The winter was so severe that all our oxen, excepting one yoke, died while they were being acclimated.
We were compelled to have oxen, as they would work on the range, and we could procure no forage for horses. So in the spring Brother John and I went down on the Autholine River (Angelina River) and bought four or five yokes of wild beeves from John Thorn, to break in and to use in making a crop.
While there, I caught the largest fish I ever saw. While Brother John and a negro man were working with the steers, I concluded to catch some fish. I had some large "cat hooks" with me--such as I had been fishing with in the Irish Bayou. I set them out one evening, and the next morning all my hooks were broken. Thorn’s son told me that the "store-bought" hooks could not hold the fish in that river. So I went to the shop and had me a hook made. I baited it with a rabbit and set it out, and the next morning, when I went to my hook, it had caught what I termed a large fish, and another, still larger, had swallowed it above its side fins, and was hung. I could not get them out of the water, so went back to the house and got Mr. Thorn and a negro man, both large, strong men to help me. We pulled them out of the water, tied a rope in their mouths, ran a pole through the rope, shouldered the pole, at least one foot and a half of the larger fish dragging on the ground.
The larger one weighed 107 pounds, and the smaller one 40 pounds; so I had caught 156 pounds of fish at one time and on one hook, Thorn said he had caught one larger than that since he had been living there.
Finally we got our oxen so we could handle them, and went home.
Shortly after, while Brother John and Milford Day were freighting from Natchitoches to San Augustine, Brother Solomon and I took a contract to deliver a large lot of hay to some parties in town. While delivering the hay I made the acquaintance of Judge John A. Quitman, afterwards General Quitman, of Mexican war fame. The Judge was in camp there, with about fifteen companions, on a prospecting tour. I was frequently in his camp, and became very intimate with him and the most of his companions, as they all bought hay from us nearly every trip we made.
We finished up our job, and not long after this Father and Day began preparations to emigrate farther west. We made the trip to Gonzales and stopped for awhile. Father and Day had never abandoned the notion of going to San Antonio before they finally located, and now concluded to go and look before moving. Father had heard and read so much about old San Antonio, that he wanted to see the place any way. There were several going out, and Brother Solomon and I went with them.
While there we visited the historic Alamo. In going through some of the rooms, we noticed blood upon the floors and walls, which could be so plainly seen that it seemed to be only a few days old.
As I was in search of statistics for my book, I spared no pains in gathering information; so I hunted up Mrs. Dickinson, obtaining her version of the affair, and then hunted up the negro, Jim Bowie, and got his story. He told me there was a Mexican woman in town, whose name was Pepea Hondega, who was in the fort until the funeral pile was consumed by fire. I went to see her, and received her story in Spanish, as she could not speak good English. She said there was another woman in the fort when it fell, but she left with the army, and was then in Mexico.
After obtaining all the information I could concerning the fall of the Alamo, I sauntered around town to see all that was to be seen. I entered the jacal of a Mexican and I saw, sitting in the corner, a gun broken off at the breech. I picked it up and examined it closely--it was Colonel David Crockett’s gun. I had seen it the year before when he and his party stopped for a few days at Father’s house in Arkansas. For Father and he had been school-mates and Crockett visited him to renew their old friendship. We boys noticed and admired his outfit at the time. The naked barrel of his gun weighed eighteen pounds, and has a plate of silver let into it just before the hind sight, with the name "Davy Crockett" engraved on it, and another plate let in near the breech, with Drew Lane, Maker," engraved on it.
The shot pouch was made of panther-skin, with the tail for a flap, and was suspended by a strap of the same material, all beaded with four rows of different colored beads. His cap was made of coon-skin with all the long hair pulled out leaving nothing but the fur and a piece made of leopard-cat skin to turn down over his ears, and a fox-tail on top which hung down behind. The cap was lined with red silk.
I told my companions what I had found and they all went with me the next morning to see them. There was a man with us who called his name Henderson. He said he lived within a mile of Colonel Crocket’s family in Tennessee. He and Father bought the entire "lay-out" and he started home with them, but it was said that the boat that he was going up on was destroyed by fire, and he with thirty-two others were drowned; and there was nothing saved; so the relics were lost with the boat--if the report was true.
After spending several days in and around the city, we returned to Gonzales.
Father and Day decided not to move to San Antonio.
Brother John and Milford were anxiously waiting for the old folks to settle somewhere in the country, as they and their betrothed were getting impatient for their wedding day to arrive.
There was no regular mode of marrying in Texas at that time, as the license law had not yet been established. But under the constitution of 1824 there still remained the Mexican mode of marrying "by bond." The parties bound themselves under a penalty to live together for a certain length of time, then they could renew their bond or go free, just as is the custom now in some parts of Mexico.
So the two couples married by bond and when the time ran out, they entered into another six month’s probation. By the time that probation ended the license law was established so each couple took out a license and lived together happily as long as the lamp of life burned on.
Milford’s wife died first, he is still alive. Brother John also is dead, while his wife is still living.
Soon after we returned from san Antonio, the Indians made a raid in our neighborhood, stole some horses, and made good their escape. Joe D. Clements raised a company of minute men to pursue the savages, and Brother John and I joined it.
Not long thereafter the Indians made another raid, and stole some horses. Captain Clements being sick at the time, eight or ten of us started in pursuit, with old "Uncle" Dan Davis in command, as he was an old settler, and had some experience with Indians. We followed their trail about fifteen miles, then lost it. In scattering to look for signs we lost Uncle Dan, our leader. We whooped, helloed and shot off our guns. We waited nearly two hours but heard nothing of him (nor did we find the Indian trail) and concluded to return.
It was after dark when we entered the town and we found all the citizens in great confusion and making fortifications. I will here mention the most of the men who had families there at the time:
Dan Wash, Zack Davis, Zeke and French Smith, Adam Zumwalt, Geo. W. Nichols (my father), John Sowell, Francis Berry, John Clark, Eli Mitchell, Joe D. Clements, Ed. Ballinger, Jim Gibson, Miles Dykles, Ben Duncan, Johnson Day, James Hodges, Sr., James Hodges, Jr., John G. King, Tom Lambert, Milford Day, John W. Nichols, Bill Matthews and Simeon Bateman.
The unmarried men were: John Archer, Arch. Gibson, Bird Smith, Anson Neill, Andrew Neill, Arch. Jones, Dave Hodges, C.C. DeWitt, Dave Dirst, Andrew, John and Asa Sowell, Bill Hodges, Solomon, Thomas and James W. Nichols (the writer), John Baker, Bill and Mike Coda, and others.
These men, besides several others, were now gathered together to defend the town.
It appeared that when old Uncle Dan Davis separated from us on the Indian trail, he became crazy, and started for home, arriving in town just before we did, his horse so run down that he ahd to walk and lead him the last few miles. He reported the woods full of Indians. He said that he had seen four or five hundred, but in several bunches, and all naked, and painted--some red and some black. Well, he had always been truthful and a strict church member so of course the people believed every word he said. They had all the women and children brought in and placed in Zumwalt’s house, which was strongly fortified. All the men remained outside, guns in hand.
After a while a strong guard was put out. John Archer and myself were put on the side where the attack was expected with orders not to hail, but to shoot on suspicion. We both felt sure the attack would commence on that side and we laid our plans accordingly.
Sure enough, the attack commenced about midnight --- but not by Indians.
Old Man Zumwalt had a big fine sow, a great favorite. The night was very dark and upon the old sow seeing horses tied around, she concluded they must have corn and she would divide with them and take a share. She was moving that way when Archer saw her body.
He said afterwards that he thought she was about three Indians, crawling on "all-fours" to get to the horses in order to stampede them. He squatted down so as to get all three in range, leveled his gun and fired. A body fell, but not three Indians. We got a light and found that he had killed the old sow. All this noise awoke old "Uncle Dan" from his slumbers and he came out raving mad, cursing and swearing, (no one had ever heard him utter an oath before) shot off his gun and cried out, "now you have done it!"
"Done what?" some one asked.
"Why, the Indians all got away," said he. "I had them all in the pen and now you have let them out."
"I did not see any Indians," said one.
"Look! Replied he, "don’t you see them on top of your house? Look! Some are going up feet-foremost! Look! There are a thousand naked devils, all painted!"
Then we began to see that he was insane, and for a year afterward he was a raving maniac.
We now knew that his first report was caused by his hallucinations and so broke up the fort.
Not long after this the Indians made another raid on the town stealing several horses. Mr. Zumwalt had a good horse in a log-stable. The Indians tried the door of the stable, but finding it locked, they shot arrows through the cracks between the logs until they had killed the horse. They had collected a small bunch of horses and started off, but finding Zeke Williams’ horse hobbled with a pair of iron hobbles, they could neither take nor cut them off so they killed the horse, cut his legs off at the knees and took legs, hobbles and all with them --- evidently to learn the combination so they would be able to take others off if they should ever find them on any horses in the future.
In those early days there was no mill in the country to grind corn, and so little of that article was raised that there was not much use for mills. The nearest mill to Gonzales was Grassmire’s Mill on the Colorado River, nearly seventy miles distant.
As it was understood that there was plenty of meal to sell at that mill there was soon enough money made up to buy a load of meal, but who would go after it?
Father agreed to furnish a wagon, one yoke of oxen and a driver if others would furnish money to buy his meal. Old Man Sowell agreed to furnish one yoke of oxen, an assistant driver (for company) and some money if others would furnish the rest. They soon made up enough money to buy the load.
It was decided that Asa Sowell and myself should go. Neither of us had ever been there before but after talking with some of the old settlers, and getting the direction which was all I required, (for my knowledge of the woods far exceeded that of any other person of my age) we hitched up and rolled out with no sign of a road or even a trail to travel the whole way.
Our oxen were fat and unruly and it was "awful" hot the first day. We arrived at Peach creek about 3 o’clock in the afternoon where we rested some two hours. Not knowing where we would get our first water, we watered our oxen and filled up our gourds. It was cool that evening when we started and we made good headway. After traveling about 8 miles we came to a brushy ridge. As the sun was setting we could not see how to pick our way through the brush, so we camped there.
The next morning, as only my oxen were in sight, I told Asa to take a look for his while I made some coffee. He soon came back and said he could not find them, so I told him I would go while he ate his breakfast. I thought I could soon strike their trail --- as the grass was high and thick --- and find them. I soon struck their trail and could follow it without difficulty. I walked fast and trotted on the trail for about two miles when I found their broken hobbles. I knew then they had gone a long way off. I stood, thinking for a minute, considering what I should do. I knew Asa was young and inexperienced, and therefore decided that I had better go back to the
wagon and get him so we would be together if anything should happen; for we never knew in those days when there was danger until it was upon us.
I returned to the camp and found Asa standing up in the wagon, nearly scared to death as he had heard a gun fired in the direction I had gone. He said he thought as I stayed so long the Indians had attacked and killed me and he was just thinking about hitching up the oxen that were left there and taking the back track, he was that uneasy.
We then tied up my oxen, took our gourds (then nearly empty) and our guns and struck out on the trail of the oxen which led nearly due north, while our course had been nearly due east. We followed the trail until about sundown when Asa said he would have to rest, and sat down. He then said he was awful hungry.
We had neglected to provide anything to eat, so while he was resting, I walked around to see if I could find a squirrel or a rabbit or some kind of bird to kill (for I was in the same fix, as neither of us had eaten anything since early in the morning) but could find nothing.
After traveling till dark we camped on the trail of the oxen. Next morning as soon as it was light enough to see the trail, we resumed our journey.
We traveled until two o’clock in the afternoon when we came to a large trail about two days old. I examined it and found that it had been made by a squad of Indians with a large drove of horses which they had stolen down on the Lavaca River. Here we lost the trail of our oxen but, after circling around for awhile, we found it again and found the skeleton of a buffalo the Indians had killed. The buzzards and wolves had picked the bone perfectly clean. A mile farther on we found the carcass of a buffalo that the Indians had wounded and which had strayed off and died.
It was now about 4 o’clock in the afternoon of the second day after leaving the wagon. We were out of water and terribly hungry. The dead buffalo was swelled so the buzzards and wolves could not get hold of it to eat it. It had been dead about three days during exceedingly hot weather and was therefore not very fresh, but "hunger knows no difference" and we decided to try some anyway. I cut off a piece. It did not smell very nice, you may believe, but we roasted it and ate until we were loaded down.
As all kinds of game will run for miles from an Indian trail, we now knew why game was so scarce. After eating, we followed the trail several miles farther when we both began to feel very thirsty. But we kept on until Asa gave out and I was almost in the same condition when we sat down and rested a while. We then resumed our journey with the gloomy prospect of having to pass another night without water staring us in the face. Nevertheless we trudged on and soon came to a deep, beaten trail. I told Asa that the trail led to water so we left the ox trail and followed the old buffalo trail a few miles, (fortunately for us) when we struck a deep, dry creek. The trail led up the bed of the creek and we followed it for a mile when we found water, and --- behold! There stood our oxen!
After drinking and resting, then resting and drinking, we filled our gourds, caught the oxen and started for the wagon. Then we were at least twenty-five miles away and the sun about half an hour high. We traveled about two miles, when Asa said he was sick and lay down. I tied the oxen to a tree and went back to him. He soon commenced vomiting, and kept that up at intervals until dark. By this time his gourd was empty and when he again asked for water, I gave him mine. He took a hearty drink and lay down again. While he was quiet I began to study the situation: My oxen at the wagon, tied up for two days and a night without water or grass and the prospect good for another day, if not more, and I then at least twenty-three miles from them with an awful sick companion--for I had reached over and felt his pulse and discovered that he had a burning fever.
He drank so much water that my gourd was soon also emptied, and then he lay down and slept soundly. I tried to sleep but could not, as I was so uneasy about him.
In about an hour Asa awoke and began begging for more water and when I told him there was not a drop in either gourd, he fell back and groaned: "O, Lordy!" His fever seemed to be increasing. He lay still for about an hour then roused up and said: "Water! water! water! Oh, for God’s sake, a little water!" It was a "ground hog case." I knew from the fix he was in he was bound to die before morning without water.
"Asa," said I, "if you will promise me that you won’t die before I get back I will go and get you some water, as dark as it is."
"Well, I will try," replied he.
I scanned the country around to see if I would know the place again in the dark but just then the thought struck me that if I built a fire I could see a long distance in that flat. But there was one great drawback to this. The grass was so tall and dry. I looked around and found a tolerable naked place, scraped off the grass as best I could with my butcher-knife and build a small fire. I then took both gourds and started. I had the buffalo trail to guide me. I made it to the creek pretty well but found it very dark under the banks. I groped my way to the water, filled both gourds, and started back.
When I got in sight of the fire, the light blinded me so I could hardly travel. I did not discover the cause of so much light until I arrived within about eighty yards of camp. A new difficulty had arisen. While I was away, the wind had sprung up, and had blown some sparks and small coals into the dry grass which was burning at a fearful rate.
And Asa--oh, where was he?
I ran as fast as I could and rushed in to try to save the oxen. But the wind had grown so strong and the fire had increased so, that though I tried to fire against it, it did no good. Soon the wind whirled and changed and the fire ran under the oxen. They reared and kicked and tried to break the rope but could not get away, and had to take the chances. The fire singed all the hair off their legs and bellies so that in a few days, the hide peeled off in patches.
"But to return to my mutton." After I found that the fire had out-run me and gotten away, I whooped and hellooed for Asa, but received no answer. Then I hunted for him, hellooing every few steps, but in vain.
I went back to try and find the place where we had first stopped, recollecting a large, bending live-oak tree the branches of which touched the ground on one side. I had noticed it before starting for the water and now searched for it, but after such a brilliant light the darkness seemed more intense than before. I groped my way back to it, constantly peering about in every direction and musing thus: "Well, while I was gone after water, Asa died and the wolves ate him up, or dragged him off, or else the fire burned over him, and blackened him so that I can not recognize him in the dark, dense smoke."
I walked around and around trying to find the place where I had left him, all the time peering into the darkness and smoke until I stumbled upon the gourds and, not far from there I discovered Asa, lying flat on his face.
"Just as I expected!" --- thought I, "dead. By grannie!"
But on going up to him I found that life was not extinct--that he was still breathing. He had been fighting the fire like "killing snakes at a dime a dozen," but coming to the same conclusion that I did--"that the fire had out-run him and gotten away"-- he had left off fighting it and had started back to see if I had come. He had gone that far when he became exhausted and fell down in a fainting fit.
I got a gourd of water, wet his face and head and poured some of the water in his mouth. I then wet my handkerchief, put it on his breast and poured water on it until I had emptied one gourd. But he was still unconscious. I must have worked with him an hour before he came to himself. He opened his eyes slowly and looked around a little wildly. I said: "Asa, here is some water, don’t you want a drink?"
He raised up and drank and asked: "Where are we?" Before I could speak he exclaimed: "O, Lordy!" and lay down again, and was soon snoring gloriously.
I lay down, but there was no sleep for me, and I fell into the following train of thoughts: "Well, this beats bob-tail, and bob-tail beats Bill’s bull, and it is said that Bill’s bull beat the devil. What an eventful trip we have had and it is not half over yet. I wish I was back home under my "mammy’s" bed, cracking peanuts."
I was lying there studying these things over when I heard a gang of wolves "let all holds go" howling, seemingly not over twenty yards distant. I jumped up and went for my gun, the first time I had thought of it since I had returned with the water and "O, cracky!" it, of course, was not there. I woke Asa and asked him about our guns. He said, "when the fire broke out I snatched up both guns, wrapped the shot-pouch straps around them and laid them up in a tree", pointing to the old stooping tree.
I had heard some fearful stories about wolves attacking people, and it made me feel "sorter spotted behind the ears."
I got the guns down, and was so glad that I exclaimed (handing Asa his gun): "Bully for your sore toe, if it never gets well!" Asa staggered to his feet and took his gun.
The wolves kept advancing and howling, until they were within fifteen steps of us. We both prepared ourselves to shoot at the same time, then if they still advanced on us we agreed to take to the old stooping tree which stood near by. The wolves still advanced.
(To be continued.)