HEROES OF TEXAS
S. F. Sparks~His Recollections
Extract from QUARTERLY--TEXAS STATE HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION
From a brochure distributed by THE UNION NATIONAL BANK Houston, Texas (1933)
Recollections of S. F. Sparks
My great grandfather was a native of Ireland. He came to the United States very early, was in the Revolutionary War between the United States and Great Britain, and was killed at Minnes Fort, Georgia; the date I do not remember. My grandfather was a native of Georgia, married there, and moved to Mississippi in 1809. As far back as I remember he served as a deacon in the Baptist Church, being a member of the First Baptist Church that was constituted in Texas. He died at the age of eighty-seven years.
My father was then about nineteen or twenty years of age. He married in 1810. He served in the war of 1812, and was in hearing of the battle of New Orleans, but did not arrive in time to participate in the fight. He was sheriff of Yazoo County for several years, represented the County until it was divided, and Holmes County made. He then represented the new County, until we moved to Texas in 1834. I was then sixteen or seventeen years old. We first rented land in San Augustine County, but in the fall of 1834 we moved and settled five miles north of the town of Nacogdoches, on a league of land that my father had bought. In the fall of 1835 I started to school, some twenty miles north of us, in what was then known as the Williams Settlement. The school was taught by T. D. Brooks. The school-house was fourteen by fourteen feet, built of pine logs with no floor. I think eight of us attended school there. I did not stay more than a month before General Cox invaded Texas with an army of 1000 or 1500 men, and there being a call for volunteers to meet them, I left school and joined the army. My captain was H. T. Edwards of Nacogdoches County.
We arrived at General Ed. Burleson's camp about one o'clock one morning, and went to what they called the brush fence, where all who wanted to fight could get arms. We drove the squad of Mexicans that came to meet us across the river, and went into camp. The next day, Col. Ben Milam and Frank Johnson walked out, and made a mark on the ground, and said, "Who will follow old Ben Milam into San Antonio? Those who will, cross to my side." My captain and his company were the first to cross the line, and history tells the result.
It would be hard to give the heroic deeds of all of our men, for they were all heroes, but one deserves special mention. When we had taken the north row of houses and were firing on the outside of the doors and windows, Sylvester ran across the Plaza, right through the Mexicans, and spiked their cannon, then turned and ran back; just as he jumped in a door, he turned to look, and as he did so, he had one of his eyes shot out.
After the surrender of Cos to Burleson and Johnson, I returned with my captain to Nacogdoches, and the same teacher was teaching a little school in my father's field, so I started to school again; but in less than two months my teacher and I volunteered to go and meet General Santa Anna with his host. By this time a man by the name of Henderson, his brother, and a cousin named Jones had come from Tennessee. They came to my father, and said that if I would raise a company, they would join it, and go with us to the army. I told them if they would go, we would elect the elder Henderson captain, his cousin lieutenant, and his brother second lieutenant. They agreed to this, and I raised the company; we elected them, and made my school-teacher orderly sergeant. In March we left for Washington on the Brazos, where about three hours after our arrival a courier came with the intelligence that the Alamo had fallen, and every man had been killed. I was standing in the door of the hall, where our statesmen were in council, when the dispatch was read. The news spread like fire in high grass. In less than two hours news was circulated that Ugartechea was within ten miles of Washington with 2000 cavalry, and intended to cross the river at that point.
Then what is known as the "Run away Scrape" commenced. Men, women and children began to cross the river in the ferry-boat. My captain came to me and said, "What shall we do? We can't keep a thousand cavalry from crossing." I said I did not believe the report. I told him there were one hundred bales of cotton on the west bank, and for him to press the ferry-boat, and we would go over, and bring the cotton over to the east bank, and make breast-works of it, so that if the Mexicans came we could by that means prevent their crossing the river. He agreed to it, and we soon had a fine breast-work.
It was a complete panic. One man, living a few miles from Washington, together with his wife and three or four little children started. They had ten or twelve head of cattle, and a pony; they were driving the cattle, and his wife was riding the pony, with the youngest child on behind her. Before they got to Washington some people passed them, and told them to go as fast as they could, for the Mexicans were close behind. This was more than the heroic man could stand. He told his wife that it would be better for one of them to escape, than for all to be killed; then he took her and the child off the horse, left them in the road, and crossed the river. But his wife and children drove the cows, and in an hour or so they crossed the river, too, and found him sitting by a tree. She went to him and said, "Now you get behind this breast-work of cotton bales and fight." But he said it was not worth while, for they would kill everybody that stayed and fought them. She said, "Well, I will. If I can get a gun, I'll be durned if I don't go behind that breast-work and fight with those men." We had an old musket with us, and my messmate, Howard Bailey, said "Madam, here is a gun." She took the gun and remained over half the night behind the breast-works.
The next morning my captain said to me that the country was gone, and that he, his brother and his cousin were going home, and said, "Your father told me to advise you just as I would my brother, and I advise you now to go home; this is the advice I gave my brother." I thanked him, and told him to tell my father, he need not look for me; that if the country had to go I would go with it; that I would fight Santa Anna at every creek, river, and thicket to the Sabine River. They left us then with the orderly sergeant. The same day, I, with four others of our company, T. D. Brooks, Sam McGlothin, Howard Bailey and Henry Chapman, were ordered by the president to Harrisburg to press horses and guns for the army. We served two weeks in that capacity and had some very exciting times. The whole country was fleeing from Santa Anna's army.
The first horses we pressed were at Lynchburg. We went there late in the evening, and just after dark Lynch told McGlothin that two young men had ridden into town on two good horses, and that the men ought to be in the army. McGlothin told me to take one of the horses, and Bailey the other. As soon as he thought we had time to get the horses, he said, "Young men, your horses are pressed for service, and I am now ready to give you a receipt for them." One of them swore that he would press the man who had his horse. It was moonlight, and I saw him coming towards me with a glistening bowie knife. I had an "Arkansas tooth-pick" with me, and when he got close enough to strike, he said, "Turn that horse loose." I told him I would not do it. He made a lick at the bridle reins, but I managed to make him miss. He said, "Turn him loose, or I'll cut your head off." He was on one side of the horse, and I was on the other. He raised his knife, and at that moment I stooped under the horse's neck. I had my knife gauged in my hand, and I punched it in him about an inch. I told him if he moved I would run it through him. He said, "You have cut me." I said, "You stand back now, or I'll cut you worse." He cried and said, "If I thought my brother would get the horse, I would not mind it." That ended the strife. When we reported these two horses, and I gave the circumstances of the pressing I asked, "If I am pressing horses, and am forced to kill a man to save my life, will I find protection, and where?" The cabinet answered, "You will find protection here."
Our orders from the cabinet were to press every horse and gun that was not necessary for the protection of the people who were fleeing before Santa Anna's army; to press every horse that we found on the prairie that was suitable for the army, to receipt for him if we could find the owner, and in any case to send him to the army.
Our next trouble was when we pressed the president's horse. The cabinet was then at Harrisburg. Mrs. Burnet was at Lynchburg, and the president's horse was on the prairie. We were on our way to Harrisburg to make a report of our horses, when we learned that we had the president's horse. Mrs. Burnet had sent a negro to notify the president, so they made me spokesman for the occasion. We reported all the horses, before we said anything about the president's, then I said, "We found one horse on the prairie, but could not find the owner, and therefore could not give a receipt for him." At this juncture General Rusk got up and said that we had done our duty, but could not find the owner, and therefore could not give a receipt for him." At this juncture General Rusk got up and said that we had done our duty, but that we had the president's horse, and asked us to release him, as that was the only means Mrs. Burnet had of fleeing from the invading Mexicans. I told him that I had no power to release, my power was to press horses. He said the president would release our horses under the circumstances, and we ought to release his. I told him that we would first hold a private consultation, so we withdrew for a few minutes, and when we returned we told him we would release his horse if he would send out and get a bottle of whiskey. The negro had been standing by the president all this time, and the president sent him out to get the whiskey; of course he very soon brought it.
During the two weeks that we served in this capacity we sent three hundred horses, and four or five hundred guns to the army. Nearly every horse that we pressed was taken at the muzzle of a gun.
About the middle of the second week we were sent to the Brazos River, to what was known as Stafford's Crossing, to see if we could learn of Santa Anna's position. The next day, while we were at dinner, we saw a man come out of the timber about a mile above us. Bailey and I got on our horses, and made a charge on him. We thought he was a Mexican, but when he saw us, he stopped, looked at us, and then came towards us, so we rode on to meet him. It was one of Fannin's men, who had made his escape from the Mexicans at Goliad. He was nearly starved, having had nothing to eat for six days, with the exception of a terrapin, which he had roasted. The next day we took him to Harrisburg, and from there he was sent to Galveston, and from there to his home. I think he was a Georgian, but I have forgotten his name.
Bailey and I were ordered out on the road leading from Harrisburg to the Brazos River, and here we pressed our last horses. We met a man and his family, who were fleeing before Santa Anna's army. They had good teams, and the old gentleman and some of the family were riding horseback; the old man had a rifle thrown across his lap. The two ponies that the driving seemed very gentle. The teams stopped, and Bailey engaged the old man in conversation, while I got down off my horse, and tied a rope around the necks of the two ponies. I was doing up my rope and ready to mount my horse, when Bailey said, "Old gentleman, your horses are pressed, and I am now ready to receipt for them." He threw his hands on his gun, and said, "Young man, I don't want to hurt you, but if you lead those horses off, I'll kill you." Just at that moment Bailey jabbed his pistol against him and said, "If you move your hand to raise that gun, you are a dead man." By this time I was in my saddle, riding off. I rode about a hundred yards, stopped and turned my horses' heads toward them, then I drew my gun, and told the old man not to move, if he did I would kill him. I told Bailey to come on, and I held my gun on the old man until Bailey got to me, then the old man and his family moved on, and Bailey and I rode on together. When we reported these two horses, and the circumstances of pressing, the cabinet gave us a bill of sale on them during our stay in the army.
I think it was the next day that Captain Wiley came from Galveston with two pieces of cannon, called the "twin sisters." We asked the authorities to let us go with Captain Wiley, and join Houston's army. They agreed to let us go, and the next day we took up the line of march, arriving at Houston's army the following afternoon. They were then at what was known as Groce's Retreat. It was about two o'clock in the afternoon when we arrived, and nearly all the army had crossed to the east side of the river.
We looked around for the Nacogdoches company, and after finding them, we joined them. While we were telling our adventures, a man came up, who seemed very much excited; he carried an old flint-lock rifle, and inquired if there was a blacksmith in the army. He said he just got into camp, and his gun would not stand cocked. A mischievous looking fellow said, "Yes sir, you see that tent down yonder; the blacksmith is there." It was General Houston's tent, the only one in camp. The man went, and there sat General Houston. The man said to him, "I want you to fix my gun; the lock is out of order, it won't stand cocked." "Very well," said Houston, "set her down here, and call in one hour and she will be ready." Houston knew at once that some one had sent this fellow to him just to have a little fun. So as soon as the man left, he took the lock off, cleaned it and put it back. The news spread all over the army, and after a while a man told the owner of the gun that he had taken his gun to General Houston, and that he heard that Houston intended having him shot for insulting him. The poor fellow was nearly out of his wits, and said, "What shall I do? They told me he was a blacksmith, and I did not know that he was General Houston." Finally some one told him the best plan was to go to Houston and ask forgiveness. So he went, and with hat off, he tremblingly told his story. General Houston said, "My friend, they told you right, I am a very good blacksmith," and taking up the gun, he snapped it two or three times, and said, "She is in good order now, and I hope you are going to do some good fighting."
That night the guard received orders to arrest any one who should attempt to go in or out of the lines. After all the officers had retired for the night, General Houston attempted to pass. He was hailed by one of the guard, "Who comes there?" "I am General Houston, let me pass on." "I don't know you to be General Houston, and don't you move or I'll shoot." General Houston said, "Call the sergeant of the guard." The guard called him and his number, and then said, "Mark time now, or I'll kill you." And the General marked time. When the sergeant came, he did not know the General, and carried him to the guard fire. After he had been there a while, he sent and had General Rusk waked up, and he came and released General Houston.
The next day we took up the line of march for Harrisburg. The road was new and boggy, and the prairies covered with water. We had but few wagons, and our teams were insufficient to travel very fast, so we soon began to bog down. General Houston would dismount from his horse, and go into the mud and water, and say, "Come on men, let's roll her out." If the men did not respond as he thought they ought to, he would be the first to take hold of the wheels.
Houston then detailed ten men, and gave them to G. B. Crann, and gave ten others to me, and said to Crann, "Here are your wagons," and to me, "Here are yours." Dividing the number equally between us, then he said, "When you see either of your wagons begin to go down in the mud, order your men to take hold and roll them out, and if they refuse to do it, report them to me." There were no more bogged wagons that night. We got through the mud, and into a road that had been traveled so that the teams were enabled to manage the wagons without the aid of the men.
The next day I was detailed with five or six other men to gather some beeves, and drive them ahead of the army, to a man by the name of Burnett, who was to have them butchered by the time the army arrived there. It was strictly against orders to kill a hog or chickens or anything except beef. We arrived at Burnett's at about two or three o'clock in the afternoon. We found that the family had all left the place, and that there was a yard full of chickens, plenty of corn meal, and bacon in the smoke-house, besides pots and ovens. I said to the men that were with me, "If you will butcher the beeves, I will get us a good dinner; we'll have some chicken, bacon and cornbread." They said it was against the orders and Houston would punish us for it. I told them that I would take all the blame, and clear them. They soon agreed to this, for none of us had tasted any bread for some time. We had nothing but beef, and that cooked only one way--roasted by the fire.(we had no vessels to cook in)--and without any salt, too.
I went to work and killed twelve grown chickens, dressed them, and put them in a large wash pot; I also put in some sliced bacon. I then made an oven and a large skillet of cornbread. I took six of the chickens, and put them in a dinner pot, with at least half a gallon of rich gravy, and set it away, together with the oven of bread. By this time the beeves had been butchered and hung up, and I called the men to come to dinner. The yard was covered with feathers, and the men said to me, "Ain't you afraid Houston will punish you if you don't take those feathers away?" I said, "No." Well, we all did justice to that dinner.
It was getting late in the evening. I got up on the rail fence, and pretty soon I saw the army coming. Houston, Rusk, Burleson, Sherman and some of the other officers came up and dismounted. I opened the gate, and said, "Gentlemen officers, I wish to see you in the house." I led the way, and they all followed me in. I saw Houston knit his brows when he saw the feathers in the yard. When they were all in, I closed the door, and addressed General Houston in the following way, "General, I have disobeyed orders; when we arrived here, I found everything deserted and we were hungry, for we have had nothing to eat, except beef; so I killed some chickens and baked some bread, and we had a good dinner." He looked at me as if he were looking through me, and said, "Sparks, I will have to punish you. You knew it was against orders; I will have to punish you." I said, "General, I saved you some," and I took the lids off the vessels that contained the chicken and the bread, and told them to help themselves. Rusk drew his knife first, and all the others followed suit, except Houston, who had not taken his eyes off me all this time. Finally he said, "Sparks, I hate to punish you." I said, "General, I will submit to whatever you put upon me." Rusk said, "General, if you don't come on we'll eat all the dinner. We have not had such a dinner since we left home. Sparks is a good cook."
Then the General drew his knife, and attacked the dinner. After he had eaten a short time, General Rusk said, "General Houston, it is a maxim in law that 'he who partakes of stolen property, knowing it to be such, is guilty with the thief.'" General Houston replied, "No one wants any of your law phrases." After the meal General Houston said, "Sparks, I'll not punish you for this offense, but if you are guilty of it the second time I will double the punishment."
The next morning we took up the line of march for Harrisburg, arriving there about four o'clock in the afternoon, tired and hungry, so we all scattered to look for something to eat. Deaf Smith, our trusty spy, came up on his horse at about half speed, and reported a large body of Mexicans just around a point of timber, and that they were marching on us. Then, we heard Houston's voice, "To arms! To arms! The enemy is upon us!" And our men were in line in less time that it takes to tell it.
Harrisburg was fired the day before, and was still burning. Houston had arranged this false alarm to see if he could depend on the volunteers; he had all the time been afraid of them in a close place. But when he saw Sherman's regiment of volunteers in line of battle, as quick as Burleson's regiment of regulars, he said to General Rusk that he would take Santa Anna's trail the next day, and give him battle as soon as he could overtake him.
That night we heard that Santa Anna was three miles below us, camped in a lane. Houston called for three hundred volunteers to swim Buffalo Bayou, and go down to attack Santa Anna. I was one of the volunteers, and we began to try to swim our horses, but whenever we got to where the light shone on the water (all along the opposite bank the buildings were still burning) our horses would turn back, and we could not force them across. At midnight the order was countermanded.
In the morning we began to prepare to cross the river. Houston asked for three hundred men to volunteer to remain and guard the baggage; after so long a time he succeeded in getting that number to remain.
The only means we had of crossing the river was in a little boat, something on the order of a ferry-boat. It was so small that only twelve could cross at a time. By the time we were ready to march it was dark. We took Santa Anna's trail, and marched all night until about an hour before daylight, when we were ordered to rest on our arms.
At daylight we resumed the march, and got to our camp on Buffalo Bayou. General Houston ordered General Sherman to take the cavalry and find Santa Anna's whereabouts. As he was going down San Jacinto Bay, Sherman came on him and decoyed him. When he saw that we were there he fired his cannon on us (he had no idea that Houston's army was there) until we returned the fire with the "twin sisters." We turned and camped within three-fourths of a mile below the battleground.
The next day the two armies skirmished all the afternoon, and up into the day after, when we attacked them about ten o'clock in the morning.
General Cos reinforced Santa Anna with six hundred troops. We sent Deaf Smith to cut and burn Vince's Bridge. When he reported the bridge destroyed, Houston made preparations to attack Santa Anna. Burleson's regiment attacked Santa Anna's breast-works with the "twin sisters," while Colonel Sherman and Colonel Bennett attacked Almonte (who was in the timber, and in a ravine made by the water). Both our regiments were volunteers, and knew nothing whatever about drilling. My captain's company was the front of the regiment, and we marched in double file. We were ordered not to fire until we could see the whites of the enemies's eyes. When we got within three hundred yards of the ditch we were ordered to charge, and we charged in double file. There was only one man in front of me who fired before I did, and so I got the credit of firing the second gun on our side. We had outtraveled the first regiment, and had driven Almonte about two hundred yards before the first regiment got near Santa Anna's breast-works. We charged with such fury that the Mexicans fled in a very short time.
The rout was general and a great slaughter of Mexicans took place within four hundred yards of their breast-works. Where our two regiments got together, and the Mexicans rallied, about ten acres of ground was literally covered with their dead bodies.
It was here that a Mexican cavalry horse jumped into a boggy slough, and had gone under, all except his head and the horn of the saddle. We found that we could jump from one bank to the saddle, and from the saddle to the other bank; about fifty of us crossed on that horse. I was the second to go over, and when I jumped from the saddle to the bank, I struck my knee against the bayonet of the dead rider, which had lodged in the bulrushes growing along the edge of the water. It gave me a painful wound, and I was compelled to stop for a few minutes. Just as soon as the deadness left my leg I sent on, and had gone about two hundred paces when a Mexican woman jumped out of the bulrushes in front of me. One of the regiment shouted, "I will kill you." "No," I said, "she is a woman, and is not armed." He said he did not care, he would kill her anyway. By this time she had come close to us. I told him he should not kill her, but he said he would, and made a pick at her with his bayonet, which I knocked off with my gun. He said, "You can't knock off a bullet," and cocked his gun. I threw my gun on him and told him that if he killed her I would kill him. He asked me if I was in earnest, and I replied that I was. Then three other women, who were hiding in the rushes, came running to us, crying and begging that I would protect them, too.
Just at this moment Captain Seguin, who had a company of Mexicans in our army, came up, and I said, "Captain, I'll turn these women over to you; take care of them, and the man," and I went on in the fight. It was a running fight. It was three miles from where the fight began to where Almonte surrendered with about six hundred men.
My knee gave me trouble, and I was laid up for two days; the third day it was stiff and sore, but Bailey assisted me to walk over to where the prisoners were, which was not very far from where we were camped. While I was walking along the south side of the line of prisoners, a woman on the north side of the enclosure came running through the prisoners; she was talking excitedly in her own language. The guard ordered her to stop, but she paid no attention to him. A man was standing near who understood her language, and he said to me, "She is talking to you." I told him to tell her to stop or the guard would shoot her, and to ask her what she wanted. She told the man that I had saved her life, and the lives of three other women, while one of our men was going to kill her, and she wanted to get near me to tell me that she would know me when, or wherever she saw me, and that if I was ever made a prisoner by her people, and she could get to me that she would release me or die. By this time the other three women came to where she was, and they all said the same thing; then they all threw kisses, and made the sign of the cross on their breasts. I thanked them, and told them that I would never be their people's prisoner.
While I was standing there leaning on Bailey, there was a stir among the prisoners. They were jumping to their feet, and clapping their hands, and saying, "Santa Anna." I looked and saw two of our men on horseback and a Mexican in front pointing with his finger, and saying "Houston."
He was carried to where Houston lay under a tree, suffering from his wound. I told Bailey that that was Santa Anna, and to carry me to where Houston was. He did so. When we got there, Zavala was there, and Santa Anna was introduced to Houston. About the first question he asked was, whether General Houston rode in front of his men on a dapple gray horse, with drawn sword. Houston answered that he rode such a horse, and was in front with the other officers. Santa Anna asked if it was customary for commanders of the American army to ride in such exposed positions. Houston said, "The American generals say 'come on,' not 'g on.'" He said the general was no more than the private, and that they were all generals. Santa Anna said he believed him, and that if he had five thousand such men with his he could take the City of Mexico. He said that he had fought many battles, and had read of many, but never saw nor read of rifles charging soldiers in a ditch with muskets and bayonets, as the rifle volunteers charged his best troops under Almonte and routed them. Almonte was a prisoner at the time, and he said he believed that they were fool enough to crawl into the mouth of a cannon, and be shot out, if they thought by so doing they would kill three Mexicans.
Some time after the battle we were all taken with chills and fever, and General Rusk discharged me and a man by the name of Clemmons, who was a volunteer from Georgia. We started home on our ponies. It had been raining for about forty days, all the streams were swollen, and we had to swim every stream that had no boat on it. I had a chill every day. I would have to lie down until the chill went off, and the fever rose, then I would get on my horse and ride until I had the next chill.
The first day's travel brought us to Mr. Burnett's house. The family had now returned to their home, and we asked to stay all night. They said we might, and we staked our horses, and talked of the battle.
The next morning we got our horses, and lingered awhile. Mr. Burnett went out to the cow lot, and I went in where Mrs. Burnett was and asked her what we owed her; she said that we did not owe her anything.
We traveled all the next day, and camped that night; the next day we saw some smoke rising just in front of us. There was no settlement for some distance about there, and we noticed the smoke, for we were likely to find Indians most anywhere, either hostile or friendly. We soon discovered that the smoke was a little to the left of the trail that we were traveling, so I said to Clemmans that I thought we were near Indians, and we had better examine our guns, and see if they were all right, for if they were hostile Indians we would have to fight them, that flight would be useless, and that we had better go right to the camp. So after seeing that our guns were all right, we rode side by side towards the camp. We had got to within about two hundred yards of them, when a lad seemingly about sixteen years of age got up and looked at us, then a tall Indian man got up and looked at us, and he, too, sat down, then a squaw did the same. I then said to Clemmans that they were friendly, and we were in no danger. We rode up to the camp, and the Indian man got up and spoke to us in broken English, "Howdy do, my friend," he said, "You are from Houston's camp?" We told him that we were. Then said, "Get down, me tell you." We got off our horses and let them graze, and the Indian said, "I am a Tonkaway; I live on the Trinity; I took my wife and children and went to the Brazos to hunt, and the Mexicans took me and my wife and one boy and tied us, but did not tie him (pointing to a smaller boy). They kept me there, and by and by a Mexican came and said that Santa Anna and all of the Mexicans were killed except him." He said that Houston had two thousand Americans and twenty-five hundred Indians. That they were all drunk, and came up out of the ground, and out of the clouds right into the camp, shooting, yelling, and killing all but him. Then the Indian said, "The Mexicans commenced putting all the big guns in the river, and left me, my wife and little boy tied down. I told my other little boy to cut me loose, and then I cut my wife loose and my boy, and we ran across the river, and started home. I stopped here to hunt, and soon I shall go home." They gave us something to eat and tied some dried venison to our saddles, and we then bade them good-bye.
After this nothing of interest happened until we got to where my father lived, five miles north of Nacogdoches. We found no one at home, for my father had taken my mother and the children to Sabine County, and had rented land there and planted crops. There were a few families that had come back to their homes from what was known as the "Run away Scrape."
It is impossible to tell of the courage and fortitude of the our women at that time. The streams were all overflowed, and the bottom lands were from a foot to waist deep in water. The younger and stouter women would take the feeble ones on their backs and shoulders and wade through the water to dry land, set them down, and them go back for another load, and continued until all were over. There is no one who can do justice to the women at that time. God bless the women of Texas!
I stayed with my uncle two nights and a day, then I went to get my mother and father, and moved them back home. About the first of July we commenced to plant corn, and made enough to do us the next year. On the 6th of October I married Miss Emily B. Whitaker. Her father died while I was in the army.
Soon after this the Indians became very troublesome. During the moonlit nights they would make raids, and in one night they would steal all the horses in a whole settlement. We would leave our wives and go in pursuit of them, taking with us our guns, bayonets, stake ropes and a pone of corn bread, and dried beef if we had it. The Cherokee and Shawnee Indians lived about thirty miles north of the settlement. They pretended to be at peace with the whites, but they were probably interested in the stealing; for as soon as they were being pursued they would divide in small numbers, so as to make it difficult to follow the trails.
I bought a piece of land on the outside of the settlement, and my wife, mother-in-law and I moved out there. We had three or four negroes with us. We never knew at what moment we would be attacked, and I slept with my gun at the head of my bed, where I could lay my hands on it. I hired a young man by the name of B. F. Sells to live with me, as much to help protect my family as to work for me. We would take our guns with us to the field to plough, and we would leave one gun at one end of the rows and one at the other; then we ploughed so that he would be at one end and I at the other, so they could not cut us off from both guns at the same time.
They shot my nearest neighbor while he was ploughing in this field. They fired and shot him through the left arm just as he drove to the fence, and turned his horse back into the row, and another ball cut the side of his neck. The same party killed one of my beeves, and barbecued it within six hundred yards of my house. The night before they shot my neighbor, we got together and built a kind of fort, so in case the made a general move on the settlement we could take our wives to the fort, and protect them better there than at our homes. We were none too soon in getting ready. We had been notified that the Cherokee Indians and the Mexicans living in that section would attempt to murder men, women and children, and then leave for Mexico. All the settlers had come to the fort, and we had a heavy guard day and night.
We learned that some Mexicans were herding some stolen horses at a point ten miles above us. So an uncle of mine, and a cousin, and two or three other men went to see if there was any truth in the report. The Mexican settlement, commanded by Cordova, and known as the Cordova settlement, was only a mile and a half above my father's. The men went through this settlement and found the horses; a Mexican was herding them. They arrested the Mexican, and started home with him and the horses, but they had gone more that two miles when about thirty shots were fired at them. One of their men, Frank Hamilton, was killed; the other three or four men retreated, and brought the news to the fort. A party was sent from the fort to bring Hamilton's dead body home. They saw no Mexicans at the settlement, except a few women. We notified General Rusk and Colonel Douglas at Nacogdoches of the affair, and the next morning there was not a man, woman or child to be found. General Rusk soon had two or three men on their trail. They went right into the Cherokee Nation. Bowl, their chief, was ready for them, so just as soon as Rusk could overtake them the battle known as the Cherokee battle took place. Bowl was killed in this fight by Colonel Robert Smith, who knew him well. The Mexicans and Indians retreated, and General Rusk sent word to the people west of there, but the McCullochs intercepted them with their commands, and gave them a terrible thrashing, and those who were left made their escape in small bodies.
Soon after this, my father went to look after some land certificates, in what is now Navarro County, while resting one day at noon, on Pin Oak Creek, he was ambushed and killed by the Indians.
Previous to this, a Baptist preacher, whose name was J. T. Bryant, had come to Texas, and was teaching a little school where the old Union Church now stands. Occasionally he preached at private houses.
This Union Church was the first Baptist church constituted in the State. By this time we had courts organized as an independent nation. Court was in session at the time, and my wife's oldest brother was on the jury. He came home one Tuesday night very much depressed, and had nothing to say. His wife said to him, "Mr. Whitaker, what is the matter with you?" He said, "Nothing." Then she said to him, "Has anybody been killed today?" He answered that there had been no fuss in town.
By this time supper was ready, and we all sat down to eat. Whitaker was still so silent that his wife again asked him if anything was the matter, and he assured her that there was not. We finished the meal and all left the table except him. The negro woman came and cleared the things away and still he remained with his head resting on the table. His wife and children retired for the night, and soon he called her and said, "Saletha, get up and light a candle, and sing a hymn, and let me pray in my family before I die." He had never made a profession of faith in Christ. His wife got up and sang the hymn, and he knelt in prayer.
The next morning he went back to court, and his wife came to my house and told his mother what had happened. I was in the field ploughing, and they sent for me to take my horse out of the plough and come to the house. I thought, "Well, have the Indians made another raid on us?" I went home, and they told me to go to the schoolhouse and tell Mr. Bryant to dismiss school early, and to send word to the people to come to her house to preaching. She wanted them to come without fail to preach at her house that night. So I went, and called Mr. Bryant out, and delivered the message. He asked if anything special had happened that they had sent for him. I told him that I did not know of anything, for they had told me nothing of what had happened, and I did not care to be questioned so closely by the preacher, although I was really glad of it, for I was under conviction for sin myself, but I did not want anybody to know it.
My mother-in-law was a member of the church, but my wife and I were not, nor had we ever said anything about religion to each other. I made up my mind that I would get close to where the preacher was that night, and see if there was any hope for me. Well, the preacher came, and all that got word were there, and when Whitaker got in sight of his house, and saw so many people there, he was afraid the Indians had killed his family. The preacher had not got more than half through his sermon, when my wife walked up and asked for prayers. I knelt by her. He said he had preached long enough, and if there were any others in the house that desired prayer to come forward. There were some six or eight who came.
Preaching was announced for the next Sabbath, and all who could come were there. A glorious revival was carried on for two or three months, resulting in the immersion of twenty people. We all went into the water at the same time, and Brother Bryan baptized us in twenty-two minutes. There were men there thirty years old who had never seen any one baptized. Some came twenty-five miles to witness it.
From that time churches began to be organized, and revivals were held. We would take our wives and children on Spanish ponies to preaching six or eight miles from our home. We did not know but that we should be attacked by Indians on the way, or at the house where the services were held, so we always took our guns with us. We would stack our guns in one corner of the house, and put a guard on the outside, to prevent a rush on the house before we were aware of it. We went to church in our shirtsleeves, and wore our moccasins when the weather was warm, and no one ever fainted or became insulted in those days. They did not have an instrument to grind the music out, but everybody sang. As soon as two or three got to the meeting place they commenced to sing. There was not so much formality then as now, but there was a great deal more spirit. I sometimes think that if an old-timer were to go to one of our churches now and commence singing one of those old-time hymns that our mothers and grandmothers used to sing that there would be some fainting from fear that there was a crazy man in the house.
We used to pay our preacher then, too, but we did it by dividing our meat and bread with him, and the sisters would spin and weave him a nice suit of jeans to wear to his appointments. The men would take their deer skins to town and barter them for a hat and shoes for the preacher to wear, while we wore our homespun pants and shirts and moccasins to church. Our women would spin and weave their own dresses.
The habits and customs of the people at that time were few and simple. The hospitality of the people could scarcely be equaled. At every house there was always a pot of coffee, and no matter what hour of the day you happened to call you would be handed a cup. You could travel all over the country, and it would cost you nothing. You could stay a month with a family, and it would cost you no board.
Well, let us come back to the revivals. They had union camp grounds, and held union prayer-meetings, in which Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians would all take part. The terms by which these meetings were held were that no opportunity would be given for membership until after the meeting.
And now in conclusion, let me say that I helped to build churches and schoolhouses ever since the year 1838. I did what I could for the cause of Christianity until the year 1854, when I moved to McLennan county, and for the rest of my Christian life I refer you to B. H. Carroll, R. C. Burleson and R. E. Buckner and yourself.
Submitted by Contributing Editor, Robert Durham.