SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 1997-2002, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
AMBUSH AT BILLINGS' SPRING
(History and Anecdotes about the James and Louisa Kent Billings Family)
Told to Chester P. Wilkes by Mrs. John R. Billings and Oliver Byas
Compiled and written by Chester Wilkes
See also: Death of James Billins from Twenty-Seven Years on the Texas Frontier by Captain William Banta and J.W. Caldwell, Jr., 1893
Introduction. This story has many versions. I was not there. All I know is what I have been told. Many of these stories conflict with each other. Some of the differences are indicated in notes at the end. Where Mrs. Billings and Oliver Byas differ, I have generally followed Mrs. Billings. Oliver Byas was the first cousin, once removed, of John Billings, and he worked with him many months, but Mrs. Billings knew John better. It was in 1834 that Peter Billings died in DeKalb County, Tennessee. After that Tennessee seemed kind of small, not like home any more. So finally in 1840 some of the Billings children began to think about moving to Texas. The family consisted of at least five brothers and four sisters. No one seems to be sure of the names and ages of the children. Those I know of in the first group James, 21, apparently the oldest boy, followed by George, 20, Gipson, Jasper, 10, and William about 7. They first settled on the La Vaca River in what was then Gonzales County of the Republic of Texas.Sara Billings was said to be the oldest sister. She married John Mixon of Mixon Creek. After he died she married Hardy King, and when he died she married John G. Morriss. In 1840 Elsie May Billings married Thomas Bowen Zumwalt, the son of Captain Black Adam Zumwalt and Jane Strain Kent, the sister of Andrew Kent. Two of these older Billings children married children of Andrew Kent. Elizabeth Billings married David Boyd Kent, and James Billings married Louisa Naomi Kent. Bosman Kent married Rebecca Billings. Rebecca does not seem to be a sister of these older Billings children, but she is the sister of Mary J. Billings who married Benjamin Tankersly. This story is about James Billings and Louisa Kent and their family.
After James Billings married Louisa Kent on March 5, 1841, they settled on Louisa's portion of the Andrew Kent league of land. It is just north of Ezzell [in current Lavaca county]. For several years James Billings was active in Gonzales County affairs. He was a member of Black Adam Zumwalt's Minute Company and took part in several actions against the Indians and against the Mexican army when it invaded San Antonio. In 1846 he voted in the election to establish Lavaca County, and he was listed on the original Lavaca County tax roll of 1846. Three years after Andrew Kent was killed in the Alamo, his widow, Elizabeth Zumwalt Kent, married Joseph Kent on March 6, 1839. Now Joseph Kent was of no relation to Andrew Kent but he was an Englishmen who had moved to DeWitt's Colony in 1827. He had been a friend of Andrew Kent, and after he married Elizabeth Kent he undertook to care for Andrew Kents's children as his own. However, he never formally adopted them. He and Elizabeth had no children. The best thing he did for the family was to finally settle the estate of Andrew Kent after several others had muddled around and failed to finish the job. The Andrew Kent land was finally divided among the children in 1846, but Elizabeth Kent died before July 1844. When Joseph Kent died in 1849 he left no will, and there was no known kinsman, so his property was to go to the State of Texas. Members of the Texas Legislature of 1850 knew that he regarded Andrew Kent's children as his own, so a state law was passed making Andrew Kent's children his legal heirs. Thus James and Louisa Billings came to own two farms, one on the Andrew Kent league in Lavaca County and the second on the Joseph Kent land in DeWitt County. They chose to live in DeWitt County, and the 1850 Census found them there. They then had four children: William R. aged 9, Rebecca 7, Ammon 2, and John 1.
Soon after this James Billings went into the freight hauling business and worked with his brother-in-law, William Riley Byas, the husband of Louisa's sister Mary Ann. They each owned their own wagon and oxen. They would work together to haul large shipments or work independently on smaller shipments. Several wagons would travel together for protection against Indians and outlaws. The freight was lumber, glass, iron wash pots, tools, coffee, and the multitude of other things not produced in Texas. Delivery points were Austin, San Antonio, Fredericksburg, Kerrville, Blanco, and the area of central Texas. Lumber was marked by the merchant and by the freighter as a form of advertising. There are still houses in Fredericksburg containing lumber hauled by James Billings. As a result of these trips James Billings noted the people of the hill country did not have the malaria fever as much as people did in DeWitt and and Lavaca Counties. The mosquito were not as bad either. There were other attractions too; a new home, new land, good water, and a good market for hogs to the Germans in Fredericksburg. So on April 14, 1856 James Billings bought 400 acres of land of the Rutersville College Grant in Gillespie County on the North Grape Creek about 12 miles northeast of Fredericksburg. Their home was about one mile east of the Gold community. They built their house on top of an old Indian living area, and the ground around it was covered with broken flint. A fine spring was in the creek just south of the house. When they first moved up there Bosman Kent was living nearby. He sold his land to his brother, David Boyd Kent, whose wife was the sister of James Billings, and David was the brother of Louisa Billings.
Most of his neighbors raised only cattle and sheep, but James Billings specialized in raising hogs. He found that people were more willing to buy bacon and sausage than beef, and thus he was one of the few who had a cash crop. The hogs ran loose in the river bottom and fed on acorns and pecans as well as the corn and potatoes that he gave them. The hogs had ear marks, and some attempt was made to keep track of them, but they were still. as wild as long horn cows and as hard to catch. James Billings and J. W. Cadwell [J.W. Caldwell, Sr. described in Twenty-Seven Years on the Texas Frontier by Captain William Banta and J. W. Caldwell, Jr.--WLM] became partners in raising cattle. By 1860 life was becoming pleasant in Gillespie County. There was regular mail delivery at Cadwell Hill Post Office. The Llano Masonic Lodge was organized March 24, 1860 in the Comanche Creek school house just over the line in Llano County. Charles Haynes was worshipful master; H. F. Stockton, senior warden; W. C. Stuffy, Junior warden; James Billings, treasurer; J. W. Cadwell, secretary-treasurer; J. W. Talley, senior deacon; J. P. Smith, junior deacon; and W. Wimberly, tiler. They met once a month riding up to 30 miles. The meeting place was moved to Llano on October 19, 1861.
The 1860 Census in June listed immediate neighbors:
558 551 Kent, David 38 m herdsman, Elizabeth 36 f, Nanny 17 f, Jackson 12 m, George 9 m, Martha 4 f, Franziska 2 f.
559 552 Billings, James 38 m Farmer, Louise 36 f, William 18 m, Rebecca 13 f, Ammon 11 m, John 9 m, Mary 7 f, Josephine 5 f, Pracelle 3 f
560 553 Cadwell, John 34 m [P.M. & farmer (John Wesley)], Eliese 29 f, Elizabeth 11 f (Sarah) , Daniel 5 m, Malvine 6/12 m.
The election on secession was held on February 23, 1861. Gillespie county and most of the hill country opposed secession. Those voting against were: Gillespie 398 to 16, Blanco 170 to 86, Burnet 248 to 157. Those voting for were: Hays 166 to 115, Kerr 76 to 57, Comal 239 to 86. Thus the Civil War began and some friends became mortal enemies. The hill country was torn asunder. Most of the German settlers had come to Texas because of the troubles that led to the German Revolution of 1848, and they had a firm belief in maintaining the Union of the United States. The country was divided three ways; the Southerners, the Germans who supported the Union, and the bushwhackers who used the war as an excuse to rob and murder. The bushwhackers were those who left their home or employment in stealth to waylay and murder and rob. Also, some were called bushwhackers whose only crime was to hide in the woods to avoid being drafted to fight in a war in which they did not believe. In all of the area from the Colorado to the Nueces River there were but ninety Texas Rangers to attempt to stop these raids. Captain Banta had a command of seventy men on continual duty, and Captain Cadwell had twenty men, mostly in the form of a minute company. From the information we have today it appears that some of Captain Banta's men were bushwhackers in their spare time. On March 4, 1861 the seventy men under Captain Banta were disbanded as Texas Rangers and taken into the regular Confederate Army service. This left only the twenty men under Captain Cadwell. James Billings had been kicked in the head by a mule a few years before, and he was blind in one eye, and thus not acceptable for service in the Confederate Army. Captain Cadwell said he joined instead his minute company of part time Rangers, but no record has been found. In the spring of 1861 some of the Union Germans formed an organization determined to go to Mexico and then make their way north to fight in the Union army. In San Antonio was a man named Howard Duff [James Duff in other sources] who dearly loved to kill; he especially wanted to kill Germans. In spite of a poor record in the U.S. Army as a sergeant, he succeeded in becoming a colonel in the Confederate Army in charge of keeping peace in Texas. Through a spy he learned of the Union German plans and plotted how he could stop them. Word was put out that they were an outlaw band and had stolen 70 horses. This brought Captain Cadwell's company under his direction and he had Captain Banta and the remnants of his company. With a few volunteers Duff's forces numbered 68 in all (according to Captain Cadwell). The Union Germans dallied on the Nueces River to roast game they had killed, and Colonel Duff's command attacked them in the early morning. A terrible battle was fought. Sixteen rangers were killed as well as 52 Union Germans. Colonel Duff saw to the murder of all prisoners. An ambush was laid on the Rio Grande where some of those who escaped the first battle were killed. There is no evidence that James Billings was involved, but some of his friends were. He would be considered guilty by association.
This opened the Bushwhacker War in earnest. Colonel Duff hunted down and hung, without trial, nearly fifty men who he suspected of Union sympathy or bushwhacker membership. The relatives and friends of the slain Union Germans took personal vengeance on any person of Duff's band they could find alone. The bushwhackers continued to rob, burn and murder; calling themselves Union or Confederate depending on the sympathy of the victim. In many of these fights there were four versions of what happened: the Confederate version, the Union version, what little the victim knew, and the truth. Eventually Colonel Duff was replaced, and a semblance of order was restored with occasional trouble. The deep scars remained of the wounds suffered for more than 100 years. James Billings, as well as nearly every man in the country, had some personal enemies and had to be careful when he went out alone. No one was safe from Indians or evil men. Early in January 1863 James Billings had a singular dream. He dreamed that he was surprised by Comanche Indians who attack him from all sides at a spring on a little creek. He could not fight back; they killed and scalped him. He told his wife Louisa about his dream and then for several days he seemed to worry over this dream. All available weapons were needed for the war. Some people were totally without a gun to defend themselves; others had retained some old relic to shoot game. James Billings had only one gun, a revolver. A few days after his dream a neighbor, who had no gun, asked to borrow his revolver to take on a short trip. As the neighbors's need was greater than his own, he loaned his revolver. It so happened that three or four other people saw the loan of the revolver.
James Billings cut his sons' hair when they needed a haircut. His son John, aged 13, had evaded a haircut for some time, and his hair was down into his eyes. On Friday afternoon James got the scissors, cornered John and proceeded to become a barber. In spite of John's protests, his hair was cut to about one half inch in length and his neck was closely shaved. James believed in doing a good job. On Saturday morning they arose early and hurried through the morning chores. A strong, cold norther had blown up during the night, and James delayed leaving the house after breakfast as he knew he had a long cold ride. After a bit he asked Becky, his oldest daughter, to get the song book and sing with him. After two or three songs they sang "O, Sing to Me of Heaven". (J. W. Cadwell provided the words in his book, Twenty-seven Years on the Texas Frontier)
O, sing to me of Heaven, When I am called to die; Sing songs of holy ecstasy, To waft my soul on high. There'll be no sorrow there, There'll be no sorrow there; In Heaven above, where all is Love, There'll be no sorrow there. Then 'round my senseless clay, Assemble those I love; And sing of Heaven, delightful Heaven, My glorious home above. There'll be no sorrow there, There'll be no sorrow there; In heaven above, where all is Love; There'll be no sorrow there.
After they had finished the song he said that it was his favorite song, and when he was buried he wanted that song sung over his grave. After some more delay he and John left to look for the hogs. James was riding a racehorse named Laredo, his favorite. John was riding a mule as no other horse was available. James was unarmed as his revolver had not yet been returned. James looked back several times toward his home as they rode away to the west toward the creek bottom where the hogs were believed to be. Their hound dog ran ahead of them. He was good at trailing and driving hogs. It was good hog killing weather. The strong north wind cut like a knife, and it kept getting colder. There was no sun. John had complained last night about his haircut, but now he really complained about the cold wind on his bare neck. James had a heavy coat with a fur collar tied on his saddle, and after hearing the complaints for a while, he gave it to John to put on over his own coat.
After a couple of hours they were about five miles west of home riding down toward the head of South Willow Creek. Suddenly they heard yelling and saw a party of Indians between them and home. The Indians were riding hard toward them. James knew that John could not out run them on the mule, but that the racehorse Laredo could easily outrun them. He leaped off his horse and told John to get off the mule and ride off on the horse. John remembered saying, "No, Pa. I won't ride off and leave you." They argued for precious seconds, and then James mounted again. They rode off as fast as the mule would go. Sure enough it was only a few minutes until the Indians caught up with them. James cried, "Johnny, my son, they will kill us; I don't have a gun. Take the horse and escape while there is a chance for you." John replied, "No. No, Pa, I will not leave you; I will die by your side." By then it was too late. The Indians were within arrowshot. James was struck with several arrows and fell to the ground. John was shot by arrows four times. One arrow hit him in the back, one in the left chest, one went through his mouth from the right cheek to the left cheek breaking some teeth, and the fourth struck him a glazing blow on the side of his head. He lost consciousness and fell from the mule.
John regained consciousness almost instantly, but he was too weak and scared to move. He heard shoes squeaking and the scuff of moccasins. Not a word was said. The dog growled and leaped at someone. There was the twang of a bowstring, and the dog was quiet. He heard the jangle of metal and someone grunted from pulling. He knew they had scalped his father. He felt fingers tugging at his short hair, but it was less than half an inch long and. they could not get a hold on it. He was limp and pretended to be dead as hard as he could. The fingers went away and all was still. He could hear the Indians talking softly to each other, but he could not understand what was said. He heard footsteps again. Then something crashed down on the side of his head. His face was forced down into the soft ground between two rocks and he remembered nothing more. It was afternoon when John regained consciousness. A large rock lay against his head. He pushed it away and knew he would have been killed if his head had not been between the two rocks. He was covered with blood and mud and his throat was full of blood from the wound through his cheeks. A broken arrow shaft projected from his left breast. He tried to set up. His father was some distance away. James had not been dead, only unconscious, when he was scalped. After the Indians left, James had crawled about 100 yards to a nearby spring and put his hands into the water. He had his elbows pulled under him to keep his face out of the water. His head was a bloody mess. The dog was still alive and by his father. It had an arrow sticking out of its back, and its back seemed to be broken. The horse and mule were gone. In the soft earth by his head were the prints of a pair of new boots. There were also tracks of moccasins and one pair of shoes. It appeared that two white men had been with the Indians.
John called and called to his father, but there was no answer. He tried to crawl to his father, but the dog was crazed with pain and would not let him get near. He knew then that his father was dead, and he wept for several minutes. Finally he knew that it was up to himself to get to help. He opened the two coats that he wore and saw that the arrowhead could be seen in his chest. He pulled it out. It was a small point, and the wound was not deep. He felt of his back. The arrow was gone (probably recovered by an Indian), and while the coat was sticky, the wound seemed to have clotted and stopped bleeding. The heavy coat of his father worn over his own coat had stopped most of the force of the arrows and thus saved his life. The arrow through his cheeks seemed to have gone completely through and also was gone. Then he began to have other troubles. A small heard of longhorn cattle had smelled the blood and came up around him. They were snorting, pawing the ground and hooking their horns into the bushes. He was afraid they would stomp him and hook him to death. He had fever and was gagging on the blood he had swallowed. He had to have water. He could not stand, but he could crawl pretty well. So he crawled painfully through the snorting cattle to the flow from the spring down below where his father lay. He washed his face and drank; the cold water helped a lot. He rested and drank all he could. He could tell he was feeling better, and the wounds did not hurt as much.
John and his father were not due back home for hours. No one would look for them until in the morning. He knew that he could not last through the night without help; he would freeze to death. He thought he knew where he was, and it was only two or three miles to a house. He found he could get up and walk real slow, so he started along a cow trail leading away from the spring in what he thought was the right direction. The cattle did not follow him but stayed around his father. He staggered on and on holding his hands over the wound in his chest to keep it from bleeding. Finally he fell and could not get up again. He crawled for what seemed like days. He could still make out the cow trail. He knew it did not lead to his home, but it must lead somewhere. It was deep dusk when he saw what he thought was a wagon. As he got closer he thought he recognized it as the Cadwell house, and people were in the yard dressing a hog hanging in a tree. (Note: This is an area where the stories differ. One version says it was the Crabapple place; another says the house was empty.) With help in sight he struggled to his feet again and staggered toward the people. A girl saw him and gave a cry of alarm. He heard her shout, "Father, what is that coming? It looks like an Indian." A man ran into the house and returned with a pistol. Two men and a girl ran toward him. It looked like they were going to shoot him. He recognized the girl and called her name, "Sarah, Sarah." She cried, "Don't shoot, don't shoot. That is Johnny Billings." They ran up and carried him toward the house. His mouth was so swollen he could hardly talk. By signs and painful speech he told his story. John Cadwell understood and told his wife, Johnny is badly hurt, and Jimmy Billings, poor fellow, is killed. They dressed his wounds as best they could, and by then it was night. Wes Cadwell had a painful task which he felt could not wait until morning. The Indian raiding party was somewhere out in the darkness, but he had to go.. He saddled his best horse and set out eastward in the night. When he reached the Billings home Louisa Billings met him at the gate. Her husband and son were long overdue, and she heard only one horse when there should have been two. She recognized him and asked, "Mr. Cadwell, there is something the matter with you; what is it? Is Jimmy hurt?" He could not answer at first. Finally he said, "I have some bad news for you." She could guess what had happened. She asked, "Has Jimmy been killed?" "Yes. Jimmy is dead and Johnny is hurt. It was Indians."
She screamed and staggered to the house. She was overcome with grief, and it was a while before she could speak or hear. Finally, he could tell her what he knew and that she should come to his home. It took a while to get the children ready, and there were not enough horses for all to ride. Louisa Billings and the younger children rode, Wes Cadwell and the older children walked leading the horses of the little ones. The night was very dark and the two miles seemed endless. Finally they reached the Cadwell home and Louisa Billings saw her son . It was hopeless to try to find James Billings that night. The children were bedded down on pallets on the floor, and the grownups tried to get Louisa to get a little rest. Finally she fell asleep. Early the next morning the neighbors and the older Billings boys followed John's directions and found James Billings' body at the spring with the hands in the water and his head propped up by the elbows and arms. The dog was still alive and would not let them get near James Billings' body. He had guarded the body all night, and by his growling and barking had kept the varmints away from his master. Wes Cadwell saw that the dog could not live and was suffering. He asked someone to kill it as he could not; he knew the dog too well. Christian Althouse, one of the neighbors, took Cadwell's revolver, aimed at the dog's head and then turned his own head away and fired. The dog was killed instantly. Wes Cadwell placed James Billings' body across the saddle in front of him and carried him to the Cadwell home. On Monday morning they buried James Billings under an oak tree on the Billings land in what is now the Gold Community. They remembered his request to sing the hymn "O, Sing to me of Heaven" over the grave. They all started to sing, but only two or three could make it beyond the first verse and sing the second verse. Wes Cadwell prayed over the grave as best he could and said part of the Masonic service. He then asked God to watch over and bless Louisa Billings and her children. They filled the grave and erected a board with his name inscribed upon it and placed a large field stone at his head. He rests there today in an unmarked grave beside the county road, for the board has long since rotted away.
The death of her husband was a blow to Louisa Billings, but she was up to it. Her father, Andrew Kent, was one of the men from Gonzales who was killed in the Alamo. Her mother had loaded up seven children (the eighth was in the Texas Army) and fled from Santa Anna's Army. The Mexican Army raided their home south of Hallettsville, carried off all of the livestock and food and then burned the house. When they returned from the Runaway Scrape they had nothing left except three hogs, a few rusted tools and the land, but they rebuilt and started over. Louisa Billings' troubles were much less than she had seen in 1836 when she was fifteen, so she set about to hold her family together and to nurse her son John back to health. There was no doctor and the arrow wounds were infected. She used a remedy she had learned from Indians. She roasted fat prickly pear leaves in the fire, split them open and made a poultice with the meat inside. This drew out the poison in the wounds, and John recovered. His teeth were somewhat crooked, and he always had the scars of the arrows on his face, back and chest. John Billings had deeper scars inside from which he never recovered. He had a terrible hatred for Indians. Oliver Byas said of him, "Man, did he ever hate Indians!" John wanted revenge against Indians, but there is no record of him ever getting a chance for his revenge. John thought a lot about the squeaky shoe he had heard and the shoe tracks he had seen in the mud near his head. He was sure that the Indian attack was a bushwhacker ambush. He may have been right. It was known that his father would be unarmed and away from the house. The Indians had guns, but only arrows had been used; thus, there was no firing to attract attention. The raiding party was seen by no one else. He looked at people's shoes and the way they walked. He thought he had two prime suspects who lived west of Kerrville. But he never acted. He was not sure. He did not get to see who was with the Indians during the attack as he was too busy playing dead.
By 1870 Louisa Billings and her children had moved to where Mountain Home is now located. Her sister, Mary Ann Byas, also a widow with a large family, was living nearby on Byas Branch on the south side of Johnson Creek. Most of the Billings children married while they lived at Mountain Home. The spring where James Billings was killed is now called Billings Spring. It is on the west side of Highway 16 where the highway crosses South Willow Creek about seven miles from Fredericksburg. John Billings married twice and had nine children by each wife. He married Rebecca Benson on April 8, 1872 in Kerrville.
[According to descendant Duane Miller, Rebecca died in childbirth with the ninth child who died 3 months later. Mr. Miller adds relating what he heard from family stories "James Caldwell was always purported to be good friends with James Billings but I remember being told his claims of friendship were a cover for his involvement in the ambush. A book written by a Capt. William Banta and J.W. Caldwell in 1893 tells the ambush story but does not mention the boot prints or even suggest the bushwhackers were anything but Indians. Some suggest the book was an attempt to rewrite history and cast Banta & Caldwell in a more favorable light. But both Banta & Caldwell were suspected of using their Ranger status to raid, loot, and bushwhack settlers in the area for either profit or revenge." Individuals serving as Rangers engaged in lawless activities termed "bushwhacking" in those troubled times. Records indicate that Captains Banta and Caldwell appear to have generally attempted to enforce the current laws which were those of the Confederacy and provide for security against Indians. However, Capt. Banta's participation in the arrest and execution of an outlaw in Gillespie County caused his arrest. He was seriously wounded in a vigilante attack on the Fredericksburg jail.---WLM].
John [R. Billings, photo] died at the age of 68 on May 22, 1919 in Del Rio, Texas. His second wife, Mrs. Anna Gerdes Billings, was living at 101 Adana Street in Del Rio in 1961. Although 83, she was very active and living alone in a comfortable house. She was sitting on the porch studying her Sunday School lesson when I came to her door on a Saturday afternoon. Mrs. Anna Billings died July 14, 1965.
This article is based on an interview with Mr Oliver Byas on June 18, 1960, and on an interview with Mrs. John Billings on May 5, 1961. Mrs Billings told me that a man, who she remembered as Jim Cadwell, had come to talk to John Billings about 1892 to hear his story. He later published a little book containing the story and John Billings' autographed picture. She could not find the little book, and I have never found it. She did find a copy of the signed picture, and I made a copy. It appears that this was J. W. Cadwell, Jr. who was the son of the John Wesley Cadwell who lived next door to the Billings in 1860--Chester Wilkes
Death of James Billins
(as related in Twenty-Seven Years on the Texas Frontier by Captain William Banta and J.W. Caldwell, Jr., 1893)
The Caldwell family lived at Caldwell's Hill Post office, twelve miles northeast of Fredercksburg, during the war. In 1862 the Billins family, consisting of his wife and eight children, lived three and a half miles north of Caldwell's Hill. Billins was a member of Caldwell's comand, and his partner in the stock business. They were old friends and loved each other as brothers. They had cattle, horses and hogs all over the surrounding country, and when they were not in ranger service they gave their attention to stock. In January of 1862 Billins was ambushed by Comanche Indians and killed. A few days before his death he had a dream; his dream was that he was ambushed by Indians, who charged him from every side, killing and scalping him. In his dream he saw a little creek and a spring. He told his wife of the dream. He said little about it, but seemed to be worried over the dream. One Saturday Billins seemed to be bothered over something, and calling his eldest daughter, a young lady of seventeen, said: "Rebecca get the song book and we will sing some." They sang several songs, at last they sang his favorite, "Oh Sing to me of Heaven." After they had finished the song he said, "When I am buried, I want that song to be sung over my grave."
He was very affectionate to his family that morning, and did not seem to like to leave them. Finally he said: "I must go and look for my hogs." Taking his son John, a youth, of thirteen years, and his favorite dog, he rode slowly away frequently looking back at the house until he was out of sight. He rode on looking for hogs. He was riding west, from home, and; when about three miles northwest of Caldwell's Hill, near a spring on a creek, he rode into an ambush of Indians. They rose shooting and yelling; Billins turned to his son and said; "Johnny, my son, they will kill me; my gun won't shoot; escape while there is a chance for you." The heroic boy said, "No Pa, I will not leave you; I will die by your side." They were both shot from their horses and lay there bleeding. The Indians watched them while talking among themselves. One Indiana approached John, knocking him in the head with a club and stabbing him several times with a lance. He was senseless for some time. When he became conscious the Indians had not left; they were walking about and talking to each other. He lay perfectly still, pretending to be dead; he could hear the dog groan in his misery. When Billins was shot from his horse the dog stationed himself by his master's body and fought the Indians until they shot him full of arrows. John heard the Indians approaching him and lay perfectly still, not daring to breathe. One Indian stood over him lifting him up and down by his belt decided he was dead and rolling a rock up to his head, left him. He lay perfectly still until he knew they were gone. Crawling to his father and taking him by the hand called to him several times. The poor boy knelt over his father, calling and begging him to answer, while the faithful dog lay at his master's side whining pitifully and licking him. The boy's tears falling on his face, nor the pitiful appeal from the faithful dog could not bring back his spirit.
Realizing his father was dead, and suffering from thirst, he managed to get to the spring; then kneeling, drank all the water he wanted, after resting he started, as he thought, home, taking a cow trail. However, it lead to Caldwell's cattle pens. He staggered along the trail, holding his hands over his worst wounds to keep from bleeding to death. That evening Caldwell was killing hogs, and his daughter Sarah was out in the yard. She saw something approaching, and calling his attention to it said: "Father, what is that coming?` It looks like an Indian." Quitting his work, h looked a moment, and said, "It is not an Indian. It is some one badly hurt." He walked into the house, got his pistol and started to meet it. He had not gone far until he said: "Why, it is Johnny Billins." He hurried on, and picking him up started to the house. John was cut in the. mouth and it had swollen until he could scarcely talk. By signs and a few words he made Caldwell understand that his father was killed. As he brought him in he said:. "Johnny is badly hurt, and Jimmy, poor fellow, is killed." They dressed his wounds as best they could, finding nine on his person, some arrow and some lance wounds. By the time they got him dressed and comfortable it was night. Saddling his ranger horse, Jack, he started to Billins' house. He knew the country was full of` Indians that night, and that he might fall.a victim, as did Billins, but rode on to the house.
Mrs. Billins meeting him at the gate said "Mr. Caldwell, there is something the matter with you; what is it? Is Jimmy hurt?" After remaining silent for some time, he said'., "Yes, Mrs. Billins, I have bad news for you." "Has Jimmy been killed by the Indians?" she inquired. "He is dead," was the reply. The grief of the stricken woman was terrible; with screams of anguish she tottered to the house. After waiting some time for her to compose herself, he told them to get ready to go to his house, and they commenced their preparations. Caldwell often told the author that it was the most trying ordeal he ever experienced, having to tell that woman that she was a widow and her children orphans. Having made preparations for the journey, they started Mrs. Billins and the children riding, the older ones and Mr. Caldwell walking in front, leading the horse. It was a very dark night, three and one half miles to go, and the country infested by Indians. At last they reached his house. It was impossible to find Billins that night, but the next morning early the citizens vent in search of the body and found it where John had told them. The dog still lay by his master's side and growled fiercely at them as they came up, not knowing them. He had suffered from his wounds until he was crazy. Poor dog, even after being wounded until he was slowly dying, never ceased to guard his master. By his growling and barking he had kept the wolves away from the body that night. Caldwell, thinking the dog might live, attempted to pull the arrow out, but the dog fought him savagely. Seeing it was impossible for the dog to live, Caldwell said: "Boys, the dog will have to be shot and put out of its misery." One of the men named Allhouse said: "Caldwell, can't you kill him?" Caldwell replied, "I can't kill that faithful dog; it is like killing a human." Allhouse said: "Caldwell, God knows I hate to, but it must be done," and drawing his pistol he looked down the barrel a moment, turned his head and fired, killing him instantly. He could not look the dog in the eyes and shoot him. They were rangers and brave men, but tender-hearted as children.
They placed Billins on Caldwell's horse in front of him and carried him to Caldwell's house. Next morning about one quarter of a mile from the house, they buried him. It was a sad little crowd that gathered around the grave. Everything being ready, Caldwell said: "Boys help me sing his favorite song." They all tried, but broke down, sobbing like children. Only two voices sang the words
"O, sing to me of Heaven,
When I am called to die;
Sing songs of holy ecstasy,
To waft my soul on high.
There'll be no sorrow there,
There'll be no sorrow there,
In Heaven above, where all is love,
There'll be no sorrow there."
Sadly sang the two voices, and at last they sang between their sobs the last words
"Then 'round my senseless clay,
Assemble those I love;
And sing of Heaven, delightful Heaven,
My glorious home above.
There'll be no sorrow there,
There'll be no sorrow there,
In Heaven above, where all is love,
There'll be no sorrow there."
"Let us pray," said Caldwell; and they knelt around the grave of their dead comrade. He prayed for God to receive the soul of poor Billins in the land where there is no sorrow. He prayed for God to bless the widowed wife and fatherless children. With a broken voice and his eyes wet with tears, he concluded the prayer. They filled the grave, and placing a board at the head, with his name inscribed upon it, they slowly dispersed for their homes, leaving Billins in his last resting place until the resurrection morn. Buried alone in Western Texas, far from his boyhood's happy home, without monument or marble slab to mark his resting place lies the body of James Billins, a brave ranger, affectionate husband and father, and Christian gentleman.
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 1997-2002, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.