Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Final Stand of Britt Johnson

Henry 16 Shot Rifle

It was a sight all too familiar on the West Texas frontier; the scalped and mutilated victims of an Indian attack.  Discovered by a passing wagon train, the three teamsters were strewn about the ground near their wagons.   Even their dog was slain in the attack.  One victim in particular raised eyebrows; it was the famed former slave, ranch foreman, and teamster Britt Johnson.  His dead horse had served as a makeshift barricade.  Beside him were an astounding 173 spent copper shells from his Henry rifle.  Since the Kiowas didn’t bury their dead nearby or leave behind their wounded, it’s not known how many casualties Johnson inflicted.  Judging by the cartridge shells, one would have to believe it was considerable.  Johnson and his companions were buried by the road.  In time, their grave markers disappeared and their burial sites were forgotten.  History, however, hasn't forgotten Britt Johnson.
Prior to his death, Johnson had conducted a well-publicized search for his family that had been kidnapped by Comanches.  On October 18, 1864, six hundred Kiowa and Comanche warriors attacked the Elm Creek settlement in Young County. Five were killed or wounded and seven were kidnapped, including Johnson’s wife, Mary, and his two daughters.  His son was among those killed.  Johnson’s master, Moses Johnson, gave Britt his freedom and half of his savings to assist him in his search.  Johnson visited reservations in the Indian Territory and army forts along the frontier.  Some accounts had him living among the Comanches during the spring of 1865.  Comanche Chief Asa Harvey or “Milky Way” ransomed the release of Johnson’s family during peace talks.  After the Civil War, Johnson opened his own freight business, hauling goods between Weatherford and Ft. Griffith.
On January 24, 1871, Johnson and two fellow teamsters were attacked by 25 Kiowas near Salt Creek in Young County.  The war party, under the leadership of “Owl Prophet” or Maman-ti (Man who Walks above the Ground) came from reservations in the Indian Territory, just north of the Red River.   Maman-ti was later imprisoned at Ft. Sill then shipped off in shackles to Ft. Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.  He died there on July 28, 1875.

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