Monday, December 28, 2015

The Deadly Diary of Ephraim S. Dodd

The Grave of Ephraim Shelby Dodd

“Slow and fiendish murder,” wrote Chaplain Robert F. Bunting.  “He met his fate like a hero: there was not a muscle moved, nor an indication of fear.”  What the chaplain was referring to was the hanging of a Texas cavalryman.  More unfortunate than the tragic execution itself, were the events leading up to it.

Ephraim Shelby Dodd was born in Kentucky and moved to Texas in 1857.  Like many young Texans, he dreamed of a better life, but got caught up in the secession fever sweeping the state.  His sense of duty led him to enlist in a Confederate cavalry regiment, the famed 8th Texas Cavalry or Terry’s Texas Rangers.  Dodd served with the Rangers in all of their campaigns from September, 1861 until December, 1863.  During his service, he kept a diary – one of the few firsthand accounts of Ranger daily life.  Unlike his rowdy comrades, Dodd didn’t indulge in drinking and cards.  Instead, he flirted with every single woman in Northern Georgia.  “I made the acquaintance of Miss Maggie Ezzell, Miss Mattie Sommers, Miss Fannie Summers and Miss Mollie Robert and enjoyed myself with them finely,” he wrote.  Details of the enjoyment were not provided.

Among their many duties, the Rangers most often served as scouts and pickets.  Sometimes the scouting took place behind enemy lines or in areas where pro-Union citizens resided.  In East Tennessee, many of the residents were subsistence farmers with little use for slaves and Confederate authority.  Many joined the Union Army or became guerrillas, more commonly referred to as Bushwhackers.  Supply columns were ambushed, telegraph lines cut and bridges burned to hamper the Confederate war effort.  Confederate authorities responded with arrests and executions of suspected Bushwhackers.  In one instance, several accused Bushwhackers were hanged and left dangling along a railroad track, a clear warning for any would be saboteur.  Feelings grew harder among Secessionists and Unionists as the war progressed.

A cavalryman was only as good as the horse he rode.  Finding a trusty steed in a war-ravaged region could take days, if not weeks.  Some had to become infantrymen or travel away from their units to purchase new mounts.  After losing his horse to a broken leg, Dodd sought a replacement in Sevier County near Knoxville, an area teeming with Union sentiment.  After Confederate General James Longstreet lifted his siege of Knoxville, his army corps left the area.  Union forces moved in and left Dodd trapped behind enemy lines.  He sought refuge among local residents, but few would take him in.  The few that did, however, had taken Union loyalty oaths.  They could be arrested for treason and have their property seized for aiding the enemy.  Therefore, Dodd couldn’t stick around for very long.  With the help of local citizens, Union Home Guard units closed in.  He was arrested and taken to Knoxville.

Christmas was spent in a frigid jail cell.  Dodd wrote, “Receiving one-quarter pound bread a day and about one pound beef, no wood hardly-freezing and starving by inches.” Too make matters worse, he was wearing a captured Union jacket and pants, tell tale signs that he might be a Bushwhacker. A common tactic, among Bushwhackers, was to don captured uniforms then infiltrate enemy lines.  In the process, pickets were killed and outposts were overrun.  As a result, Union General John G. Foster, Commander of the Ohio, ordered all captured Confederate soldiers shot if they were wearing Union uniforms.  Further damning evidence came from an unlikely source – his diary.  Amidst all the petty dalliances, Union picket locations were noted.  It was all the evidence a Union tribunal needed; Dodd was sentenced to be hanged for espionage.  Being a Mason, he sought the help of both fellow members and Union chaplains to secure his release.  In addition, he was wearing a wide brimmed Texas hat (adorned with a Ranger badge) and a Mexican serape, common attire among Texas troopers and proof that he wasn’t in disguise when captured.  All to no avail, Dodd was to be the unfortunate victim of a vicious internecine struggle in the remote hills of East Tennessee; a struggle where burned out farms, destitute refuges and tit-for-tat executions were commonplace.  He was clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The execution took place on January 8, 1864.  Dodd’s last words were “I die innocent of the charge against me.”  In a farcical twist, the rope broke after Dodd was dropped.  Upon regaining consciousness and a somewhat upright composure, he was hanged again.  His diary was appropriated by the lieutenant of a New Hampshire regiment.  Fifty years later, the diary was purchased for the Texas State Archives from a New York resident who came into its possession when the officer died. 

Chaplain Bunting’s account of the Dodd hanging was printed in the “Houston Telegraph.”  No doubt fueled by the account, Terry’s Texas Rangers would battle on with renewed fury.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Come and Take It !

"Come and Take It" flag

By 1835, Texas was a colony on the verge of revolt.  President- General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had overthrown Mexico’s constitutional government and replaced it with himself.   The rise of Santa Anna’s Centralist government marked the beginning of hardened attitudes toward the Texan colonists.  The lure of cheap land, no taxes and Mexico’s constitutional government lured droves of U.S. citizens to Texas – legally and illegally.  Slavery, which had been abolished in Mexico, was openly practiced in Texas; local authorities could do little to prevent it.  To make matters worse, hundreds of squatters settled on land without Mexico’s permission.  Once encouraged to settle in Texas to help ward off Indian raids, the colonists were becoming a bigger threat to Mexico than the Comanches.  Things were about to change.

Santa Anna ordered all illegal settlers expelled and that all Texans be disarmed.  To demonstrate he meant business, Santa Anna ruthlessly put down a Federalist revolt in the province of Zacatecas.  As a reward, he allowed his troops to rape and pillage Zacatecas for two straight days.  Alarmed, Stephen F. Austin rode down to Mexico City to seek independence for Texas as an alternative to Santa Anna’s tyranny.  Instead, he was arrested and spent two years in prison.  Upon release, Austin was convinced resistance was the only recourse for Texas.

In 1831, a small, six pound cannon was presented to Gonzales impresario, Green C. DeWitt, for the defense of his colony against Indians.  In September 1835, Mexico’s military commander of Texas, Colonel Domingo Ugartechea, ordered the colony to return the cannon.  To retrieve it, he dispatched one hundred troops, under Lieutenant Francisco Casteneda, to Gonzales.  The good citizens of Gonzales weren’t about to let that happen. 

Upon reaching the Guadalupe River on September 29, a group of Gonzales militiamen (eighteen in all) refused to allow Casteneda to cross.  Casteneda, under strict orders to not provoke a fight and risk defeat at hands of those upstart Texans, complied and set up camp on a nearby hill.  The Gonzales militia, meanwhile, sent out a call to all neighboring settlements for help.  Noted ranger, Captain Matthew (“Old Paint”) Caldwell, sent word to Casteneda that his troops would not be attacked during the night and he would be respectfully contacted the following morning.  Such assurances were a means of stalling the Mexicans while reinforcements were gathered.  By October 1, the Texans had one hundred forty men to confront Casteneda.  The Mexicans moved seven miles upriver to attempt a less defended crossing.  Discovering Casteneda’s maneuver, the Texans decided to make their own crossing and attack his camp.  They stealthily ferried themselves across, but a thick fog prevented a coordinated attack and a barking dog took away the element of surprise.  Under fire from the alerted Mexican camp, the Texans fell back toward the Guadalupe and the protection of a tree line along the river.  The following day, Casteneda, ordered a charge by forty of his cavalry.  Armed with superior Kentucky rifles, the Texans delivered a volley that halted the charge in its tracks and forced the Mexicans to return to their camp.  A stalemate ensued until the fog lifted.

Before the fighting resumed, an unlikely messenger rode up to the Texans bearing a message; Casteneda wanted a parley.  The messenger, Dr. Launcelot Smither, was a self-appointed envoy sent from San Antonio to prevent bloodshed and encourage the return of the cannon.  Because the Texans broke their word that they wouldn’t attack, Casteneda didn’t trust the Anglo doctor’s motives.  Because he came at the behest of the Mexican military commander, the Texans didn’t trust him either.  Nevertheless, Smither set up a meeting between Casteneda and the Texan commander, Colonel John Henry Moore, on neutral ground between the opposing lines.  Cateneda asked why he was attacked when promised he wouldn’t be.  Moore replied that Casteneda was acting illegally on behalf of Santa Anna and in defiance of Mexico’s constitutional government.  Casteneda said he was not looking for a fight but was only requesting the return of the cannon.  He also stated that he, like Moore, was a Federalist, a supporter of the constitutional government.  Moore put Casteneda on the spot by suggesting he should switch sides and fight with the Texans.  Taken aback, he responded that as a soldier he was duty bound to Mexico’s present government – be it Federalist or Centralist.  The negotiations went nowhere and both commanders returned to their respective camps.  The Mexicans noticed the Texans had a new flag to stoke their rebellious spirit: a white flag with a black cannon barrel on it and the defiant words “Come and Take It” printed below it.  The tiny cannon itself was on hand and mounted on an ox cart - more frightening for its noise than its destructive force.  Unimpressive as a weapon, it was more than impressive in symbolic value. 

Upon Moore’s return, the Texans fired the cannon toward the Mexican camp and followed it with a spirited charge.  No cannon balls were on hand, only scrap metal was available for ammo.  Before they could close in, Casteneda’s men left the field and returned to San Antonio.  Casteneda wrote in his report that “since the orders from your Lordship were for me to withdraw without compromising the honor of Mexican arms, I did so.” 

The Battle of Gonzales was more of a glorified shoving match than a battle.  Two Mexicans were killed while one Texan received a bloody nose after falling from his horse – the first Texan casualty of a growing revolt.  Like Lexington of the American Revolution, Gonzales, the “Lexington of Texas,” marked the first act of armed defiance against Santa Anna.  As events unfolded, Santa Anna himself would try to come and take it on a more massive scale - the Texas Revolution had begun !

The cannon itself may have been captured at the Alamo and later melted down; nobody knows exactly.  Often seen today on the bumpers and rear windows of motor vehicles, the “Come and Take It” slogan is a popular symbol of Texas’ independent spirit.  Every October, the City of Gonzales celebrates the battle with its “Come and Take It Days.”   A fine replica of the cannon is on view at the Gonzales Memorial Museum.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Plan of San Diego

Venustiano Carranza

In the early 1900’s, South Texas was a world apart from the rest of Texas.  Its southernmost city, Brownsville, was a remote corner of the state with closer ties to Mexico than to the United States.  Unlike the other Texas cities, it was not connected to the Texas Railroad System and had little contact with cities above the Nueces River.  Although they had Hispanic majorities, the counties below the Nueces, or “Nueces Strip,” were dominated by Anglo ranchers and powerful politicians referred to as “Bosses.”  In return for cheap labor and unswerving loyalty, the ranchers provided care to Mexicans whenever they needed it.  Large ranches, such as the King Ranch, were like feudal estates. 

In 1904, things began to change with the arrival of the railroad.  Mostly from the Midwest, hundreds of farmers arrived by train looking for opportunity and bearing a deep disdain of Mexicans and political bosses.  Mexicans were viewed as lazy, ignorant wage slaves – inferior in every way like the livestock they tended.  Local politics became volatile as bosses and farming communities vied for power, especially in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  Into this turbulent mix, a force for radical change was inserted from south of the border.

The Mexican Revolution brought about an opportunity to turn the tables on local politics.  In 1910, many South Texas Hispanics were influenced by the radical ideas “La Revolucion” planted.  One such idea was the “Plan of San Diego.”  The plan called for a massive uprising among Hispanics, Native Americans and all other disgruntled minorities.  Texas and the other Southwest states were to be overthrown by force and later annexed by Mexico or converted into separate republics.  Needless to say, such a plan did not sit well with white Texas politicians, businessmen and law enforcement officials.  The plan was first brought to light with the arrest of revolutionist Basilio Ramos in McAllen.  The plan was considered, by a judge, to be so fantastic in scope that he thought Ramos was a lunatic.

Inspired by the plan, a number of guerrilla raids broke out in the summer of 1915.  Collectively, these raids became known as the “Bandit War.”  During its six month course, ranches were attacked, businesses looted, railroad tracks sabotaged and innocent civilians shot out of hand.  The war began in earnest with a raid conducted by forty Mexican irregulars or “Sediciosos” led by a red haired, freckle faced revolutionist named Luis de la Rosa.  They killed two ranchers at Lyford and shot a boy while looting a store near Raymondville.

Texas Governor James E. Ferguson felt harsh measures were needed to quell the uprising.  He couldn’t have picked a more brutal person to initiate them – a Texas Ranger captain with a itchy trigger finger.   Forty-one year old Henry Lee Ransom was a former Houston police chief who was actually fired for being too violent.  He learned his craft while serving in the army during the Philippine Insurrection (1899-1903), a dark chapter in U.S. History where many Filipinos were imprisoned, tortured and executed.  Ransom’s approach to law enforcement was brutally simple: “Shoot first. Ask questions later!”  Two weeks after De la Rosa’s raid, Captain Ransom arrived in Harlingen to begin operations.  Governor Ferguson later recalled that he had given Ransom instructions “to go down there and clean up that nest, that thing had been going on long enough, and to clean it up if he had to kill every damned man connected with it.”  Ransom would follow the Governor’s instructions to the letter. 

De la Rosa’s guns had barely cooled before he struck again on August 6, 1915.  He and fourteen Sediciosos raided the town of Sebastian, thirty miles north of Brownsville.  They robbed a store and executed A.L. Austin, the vigilante president of the Sebastian Law and Order League.  Ransom responded by killing three Mexican ranchers while trying to head off de la Rosa’s band. 

Because of its stature and proximity, the King Ranch was an obvious target.  The Norias Division Headquarters of the King Ranch consisted of a large two story house for the ranch hands and a railroad section house for railroad employees who maintained the nearby tracks.  In addition to the headquarters personnel were eight soldiers from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.  Sixty of De la Rosas’s cohorts attacked the Norias headquarters on August 8.  In addition to the Sediciosos, twenty-five soldiers of the revolutionary general, Venustiano Carranza, joined de la Rosa.  Railroad Customs Inspector D. Portus Gay spotted the Sediciosos from the section house.  “Look at those big hats,” he said, “they are damned bandits!”  The Sediciosos charged the ranch house with a piercing yell, but were met with deadly fire from the soldiers’ Springfield rifles. They were forced to retreat, leaving behind four dead.  Two ranch hands and two soldiers were wounded.  One elderly Mexican woman was shot through the mouth after calling one of the Sediciosos a “cowardly bastard of a white burra” to his face.

Norias Ranch House

In retaliation, Ransom’s men began executing Mexicans by the score.  To make matters worse, the farming communities formed vigilante committees to circumvent local law enforcement and deal directly with suspected Sediciosos – often with a rope and a sturdy tree branch.  Anglo residents began leaving their farms in the Nueces Strip for safer sanctuaries up north while Mexicans fled south to Mexico.  Victims of Ransom’s “clean up” were found in tidy rows among the chaparral - bullet holes in the middle of their foreheads. Before the end of September 1915, two to three hundred Mexicans were executed.

On October 18, 1915, the most spectacular of the Sedicioso raids took place on a railroad track just north of Brownsville.  Sixty Sediciosos pulled out a rail, causing a small train of one baggage car and two passenger cars to derail.   An engineer was killed during the derailment while the fireman was badly scalded.  Two soldiers, a former Texas Ranger, and a prominent state doctor were shot.  The Sediciosos escaped back to Mexico.  Ransom responded by killing three Mexicans that lived nearby.

President Woodrow Wilson realized that Mexico was the key to ending the uprising.  Sedicioso cells operated openly across the border in Matamoros.  Officers of General Carranza supported them with arms and men.  Wilson, however, had a trump card to overturn Carranza’s support –foreign recognition of Carranza as President of Mexico.  Northern Mexico was home to three noted revolutionaries: Pancho Villa, Pascual Orozco and Venustiano Carranza.  All were vying for U.S. recognition of their claims to the Mexican presidency.  Wilson hated Carranza but the other Latin American countries supported him.  He extended recognition to Carranza who now had to remove the Sedicioso bases or face a possible U.S. invasion and loss of support.  Showing that it meant business, the U.S. Army increased its troop strength on the border to 31,400. Carranza brought an end to the Sedicioso raids.

Ransom’s operations in South Texas are a dark passage in the history of the Texas Rangers and remain a source of heated controversy today. Ransom himself met an abrupt end in 1918 while staying at a hotel in Sweetwater.  Upon hearing gunfire outside the door of his room, he walked out into the hallway and into the middle of a gunfight between two hotel guests. One of the guests accidentally shot him.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

A Plea for Sanity!

With all the recent upheaval over Confederate flags and monuments, I’ve provided an essay on the matter written by Cynthia Harriman, President of the Texas Civil War Museum.  I would encourage all Texans to read the following and think before they support the destruction of statutes and monuments.  It’s sad that a ghastly act, committed by a very disturbed, 21 year old boy, has led to such visceral reactions.  They will only lead to more hate and resentment in the future.

In the Defense of American History
By Cynthia Loveless Harriman

There seems to be an outcry to destroy all things Confederate.  The flag has different meanings as to what it stands for that stem from whom is carrying it, who is looking at it and where it is, and this is likely not to change.   There have been widespread reactions and over reactions to ban book jackets, paintings, historical reenactments and online games to name a few.  The most outrageous suggestion was offered by the Memphis mayor to dig up the graves of General Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife out of the city cemetery. Messing with graves is a special kind of hate that does not belong in civil society.   However, this memo is not about them or the flag.  It is about Confederate Monuments and was inspired after reading a column written by a Kerry Dougherty of Virginia.

 Both the North and the South are heavily dotted with huge chunks of granite as a memorial to those who died in a bloody civil war.  There is no outcry to destroy the ones of the Union, only those of the Confederates.   A young man living in Texas in 1861 would not hesitate to go to war.  His father would have fought in the Mexican War, his grandfather in the Texas Revolution, his great grandfather in the War of 1812 and his great, great grandfather in the American Revolution.  He would have dishonored the family name to not join the military and protect his homeland.  Some Confederate soldiers supported slavery, and some did not—just as some Union soldiers were abolitionists and most were not.  In Texas, 90,000 men would serve the CSA, and there were nowhere near 90,000 slave owners in the state.  All of the monuments represent a supreme sacrifice to a most pivotal time in our nation's young history. 

 People of the mid -19th century lived in a much smaller world than today.  Everyone and everything they loved was close by.  Their state was to them a sovereign place.  All many Southerners knew was someone from someplace else was coming to destroy their lives and homes.  Many locations saw the war take away everyone and everything they loved.  When all was lost, all that was left was one's honor.  The people were honorable, living in their time.  And this time is a confounding paradox.
 After the war, the state governments in the North and the Grand Army of the Republic quickly erected monuments.  In the South, monuments rose more slowly. These monuments were erected by women who did not want their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers to be forgotten.  They had died on the battlefield and were buried in mass unmarked graves.  The families did not get to bury their loved ones.  They did not get to say the final good-bye and had no grave on which to place a tombstone or flowers.  The monuments were erected by broken-hearted people who were grieving, and they wanted their loved ones to be remembered.  To remember the dead, and remember them well, was the hallmark of the Victorian society.   So the survivors sponsored fundraisers, many bake sales, raising pennies at a time.  The women, then believed to be the weaker sex, were wildly successful in their efforts.  It may have been one of the first, widespread women's movements which in itself validates the reason to keep them. 

It is easy for those who have not studied the war for themselves to say it was just about slavery.   However, students of the war know it is far more complicated than that. It was about the economy of slavery. True, had there not been slavery, there may not have been a war.  Had there been modern farm machinery there would not have been a need for slaves. But this was a primitive time.  The entire country, both North and South, participated wholly in the slave economy.  Had it not been for the cotton exports after the Revolutionary War, America could have well been a third world country. Cotton was the cash cow, and it was labor intensive. America was producing 3/4 of the world's cotton.  Cotton was the only commodity ever given a name by Wall Street—King Cotton.  Cotton was the single largest export and NYC was the financial capital of the vital product. Northern slave ships brought the slaves to our shores with great profits for Rhode Island investors.  Connecticut insurance companies insured the plantations. The countries greatest asset was the four million enslaved African Americans with a value then of 3.5 billion producing 4.5 million bales of cotton. There just simply were not enough people living in the country at this time to keep up with the demand for this time consuming product called cotton.  In the South, 25% of the population were slave owners—leaving 75% who were not.   However, 100% of the households were affected by the war.  This is the story we should be telling and not erasing. There is plenty of blame and shame to go around, but there is also much pride and grit too.  Together, through the good and despite the bad, people in the North and South, both slave and free, along with immigrants and Native Americans, created the best nation on earth.  There is room for all to be proud together that our ancestors did this for us. 

Monuments do not endorse or promote racism. Monuments do not attack or kill.  They stand silent and graceful.    They are a reminder for us to stop and reflect. They are beautiful public art, designed and crafted by artisans. If the monuments are torn down, then we lose much more than just a chunk of granite.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hell Post

General Thomas Churchill 
Few Civil War forts could match the miserable conditions at Arkansas Post.  Located on the Arkansas River, about 25 miles from its mouth on the Mississippi, the crude Confederate fortress was built at the site of an old French trading post.  Despite its strategic location in the rich Arkansas River Valley, nearby swamps were a welcome host for disease, mosquitoes, and insufferable humidity.  The fort hospital was crammed daily with the sick and dying.  “We are losing men every day,” wrote Texan Robert Hodges. “It looks as though we are all doomed to die in this detestable country.  We can hear the dead march nearly all the times of the day and sometimes at night.”  Lieutenant Flavius Perry wrote, “This country was never made I don’t think for white people to live in, nothing but frogs and crawfish can live here long.”
General Theophilus Holmes, the nearsighted, deaf commander of Confederate forces in Arkansas, ordered the construction of the fort in September, 1862.  Built mostly by impressed slaves, the fort featured three Dahlgren cannons removed from a Confederate gunboat.  The Dahlgren’s casemates were constructed of oak logs and railroad iron.  Outside the fort were 720 yards of trenches manned by an Arkansas battery, a motley collection of Arkansas conscripts, and two Texas brigades.  The Texans were a diverse collection of infantry and dismounted cavalry regiments commanded by Colonel James Deshler and Colonel Robert Garland.  Dismounted cavalry were actually cavalrymen ordered (due to infantry shortages) to send their mounts back home and become infantry - a huge dishonor among the Texans, who generally preferred service on horseback rather than as a lowly “mud slogger.” General Thomas Churchill, a former postmaster general from Little Rock, commanded the Arkansas Post garrison.  In honor of Thomas Hindman, Arkansas’ fiery Confederate general, the fort was christened Fort Hindman.
The garrison, however, gave it a second christening - “Fort Donelson No. 2,” a reference to the fallen bastion in Tennessee.   Most of them realized they couldn’t hold out against a determined, overwhelming assault.  There was no avenue of escape, no Confederate naval presence on the river, and no ready source of reinforcements.  General Holmes’s written order to “hold out until help arrived or until all are dead” inspired little, if any, confidence.  One Texan wrote: “Had the fort been built anywhere else, it could doubtless have been held successfully against a large force, but there was not a place on the Arkansas River less capable of successful defense against a large force than Arkansas Post, but we were stationed there with orders to hold the place against all hazards.”                                                                                                      
By 1863, Union generals began to view Arkansas Post as a growing threat to their plans to conquer the Mississippi.  Fort Hindman units attacked Union steamboats with artillery rounds.  One Union supply boat, the Blue Wing, was forced to surrender – a real boon for the supply strapped Confederates.  Illinois politician turned general, John McClernand, saw an opportunity for personal gain.  With a presidential authorization from Lincoln in hand, he appropriated the command of General William Tecumseh Sherman and named it the “Army of the Mississippi.”  This army, made up of two Union army corps would be used to assault Fort Hindman.  Sherman had recently led the same troops in a failed assault on Chickasaw Bayou near Vicksburg.  Eager for redemption, his men were hungry for a victory.  Accompanying McClernand were three ironclads and four river gunboats under Admiral David D. Porter.  He would assault the fort by land while Porter would bombard it from the river.  A force of 30,000 men - with gunboats - against a Confederate garrison of 5,000 (healthy and sick) would suggest a blue tidal wave was about to roll over a hapless, disease ridden fort.
General John McClernand
On the morning of January 9, 1863, Fort Hindman’s garrison awoke to a forest of smokestacks on the Arkansas River.  The trenches were manned while McClernand’s men splashed ashore below the fort, packed their gear, and made their way through the swamps to Arkansas Post’s defensive line.  Some of them tried to capture feral hogs for supper but met with little success.  While Union troops continued landing on the following day, Texans began pulling down their own winter cabins for logs to help fortify their trenches.  Their adversaries bedded down within earshot of their bugles and construction work.  
The following morning, January 11, Porter began pounding the fort at point blank range.  The fort’s big naval guns were silenced while Union infantry confidently rose and charged forward.   At 80 to 100 yards from the Confederate line, they were met with a hail of minie balls, artillery shells and shotgun pellets.   One Ohioan wrote, “The enemy seemed determined to hold the fort.  The men in the ditches fought like so many tigers, and it was like running against a stone wall to attempt to drive them out.”  Union General A.J. Smith’s brigade lost 60 men during their initial assault.  “We were ordered to retreat, and back we rushed pell mell for the woods, all in confusion,” wrote Thomas Marshall of the 83rd Ohio. “There we were rallied and cursed by General Smith, and again started forward.”  
Again they started forward and again they started forward; the Yankees’ sheer numbers were starting to have their effect.  After the fort’s Dahlgrens were disabled, naval fire began hitting the rebel trenches.  The effects were horrifying as men once whole were blown to pieces.  Robert Chalk of the Sixth Texas wrote: “One shell from the gunboats fell in our lines, just under my feet.  It killed and wounded 7 of our company.  Little Frank McLaughlin was lying just in front of me; he had a big leather belt on.  The shell cut him in two and his belt was left lying in the ditch.” It was only a matter of time before the Confederate line would be breached.  Most of the Texans preferred to continue the fight.  Members of the 24th Texas Regiment, Garland’s brigade, had other plans – they initiated the fort’s surrender. 
Without authorization from General Churchill, white surrender flags began flying in front of the 24th’s section of trenches.  Confusion reigned as Confederate officers were unsure if they should continue fighting or surrender.  Deshler’s men kept firing as jubilant Federals rushed out into the open thinking the Confederates had surrendered.  More white flags began to appear.  Union troops began to enter the Confederate works as the firing ceased.  Churchill had little choice but to surrender his entire command.  Mounted on his horse, he met with Sherman.  “Well Sherman,” he said. “I have made the very best fight in my power.”  Sherman replied, “And a very gallant fight you have made of it.”  Churchill rode his horse along the trenches to halt any stray shooting.  He argued heatedly with Garland over his unauthorized white flags.
The Confederate dead were buried in the trenches they fought in.  A.J. Withrow of the 25th Iowa wrote, “The sight which met my eyes made my heart sick.  In one spot, I counted ten rebels who had been killed by one shell.  Some were cut in two, others had both legs shot off and blood, brains, and fragments of bodies lay all around, added to this dead horses, broken wagons, tents, clothing and indeed everything that makes up the paraphernalia of a camp lay about in grand confusion.”  Field hospitals were unintentionally riddled with shell fragments, killing the Confederate wounded inside.  For  Union troops, prebuilt wooden coffins, stacked ominously on their transports, were used to bury their dead.  Confederate casualties were 709 dead, wounded or missing while Union casualties were higher at 1,060.  Sherman ordered the fort burned and leveled.  Confederate prisoners suffered extended misery after being herded onto river steamers and shipped north to Chicago’s notorious Camp Douglas.  Exposed to freezing temperatures, many Texans had no coats (they had left them behind before the battle).  Many fell ill onboard as their diseases were transmitted to fellow prisoners and captors alike.
Arkansas Post would become a footnote to the overall Vicksburg Campaign commanded by General Ulysses S. Grant.  Angered by McClernand’s attack on Arkansas Post, Grant brought an abrupt end to McClernand’s political maneuverings and added his command to his own.  A quarter of the Confederate forces in Arkansas were suddenly lost, causing a panic in the streets of Little Rock, Arkansas.  Colonel Garland, who many blamed for the fort’s early surrender, would never command another regiment.  Until the end of the war, he was passed over for promotion.  Garland later died of tuberculosis; a disease he picked up while in prison camp.  Colonel Deshler was killed by an artillery shell at Chickamauga. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Black Springs Mystery Fort

Black Springs Fort
Today, on the grounds of the Palo Pinto County Museum, sits a three story, centuries old mystery; a sandstone structure that local historians describe as being a fort or block house – perhaps a handy sanctuary against Comanche raids.  Like a communal storm shelter, families, cavalrymen, rangers and their faithful steeds could gather inside and hopefully weather out a raging war party.  Once located on the banks of Black Springs, near the Palo Pinto community of Oran, the fort poses a number of questions as to its origin and purpose.

Oran, like many North Texas communities, was subject to Comanche and Kiowa raids in the 1800’s.  Roving bands, under fierce war chiefs like Peta Nocona and Satanta, could strike suddenly with overwhelming numbers and no early warnings.  The only alternative, it would seem, would be to pull up stakes and head back east. For those resilient settlers who stayed, the U. S. Cavalry and local militia units helped defend their homes.  A chain of U.S. Army forts, extending from the Red River down to the Rio Grande, tried to wall off the horse bound Comanches, but they were too fast and elusive for stationary forts. You either had to take the fight to them or barricade yourself when they came to you.  There was no surrender, only a slow gory death if you did.

The three story fort at Black Springs offered protection for the few inhabitants and travelers in Oran, a small town where the famous cattleman, Oliver Loving, once resided.  Upper level windows and low level gun ports on all four sides were cleverly placed to cover all angles of attack.  A lofty basement was used for the horses, while the 2nd and 3rd floors were for their owners.  The fort was built of stone on a bed of sand, nearly impervious to fire and arrows.  After close analysis by Texas A&M archeologists, the sand was determined to be from Galveston.  The sandstone was not from the Palo Pinto County, but from another distant region of Texas.  Question is…who hauled all that sand and stone all the way up to Oran? Spaniards are believed to be the culprits.  Early colonials fitted and plastered together the sandstone rocks to construct the small fort. 
The present day landowner, F.O. Cooper, donated the fort to the Palo Pinto County Museum.  In 2007, piece by piece, the fort was dismantled and reconstructed in Palo Pinto. 


Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Owl and the General

 General William T. Sherman

After a bumpy coach ride, General William Tecumseh Sherman, the commanding general of the entire U.S. Army, arrived at Fort Richardson just outside the frontier town of Jacksboro.  Named after a Union general killed at the Battle of Antietam, Fort Richardson was part of a Texas chain of forts established to protect settlers from Native Americans.  From here, U.S. cavalrymen patrolled the vast North Texas prairie for marauding Commanches and Kiowas.  Shortly after his arrival, Sherman began reflecting on the Indian problem and his doubts about its severity.  A number of settlers were complaining about Indian raids, but there was scant evidence that such raids were a regular occurrence.   After all, most of the Comanches and Kiowas were confined to a remote reservation - Fort Sill - located in the southwest corner of the Indian Territory.  Disease and war had reduced their numbers, and the depletion of the buffalo herds kept them dependent on government support.  All of Sherman’s doubts suddenly evaporated with the abrupt appearance of Thomas Brazeal, a teamster with Henry Warren’s supply wagons. 
By the early 1870’s, rampant corruption plagued the U.S. Commission on Indian Affairs.  President Ulysses S. Grant decided the Church could better handle matters with the Native Americans.  Since godly Christians were thought to be incorruptible, military officers were replaced with church officials to manage the Indian reservations.  When confronted by opposing congressmen, Grant replied, “Gentlemen, you have defeated my plan of Indian management; but you will not succeed in your purpose, for I will divide these appointments up among the religious churches, with which you dare not contend.”
The Society of Friends or “Quakers,” a society dedicated to nonviolence, was placed in charge of the most violent Native Americans in the United States.  The Quakers’ goal was simple - convert the nomadic, warrior Comanches and Kiowas into peaceful, sedentary farmers.  They appointed a balding Iowa farmer, Lawrence Tatum, to head the Kiowa-Comanche reservation at Fort Sill.  Considering their ancient warrior customs, converting Comanches and Kiowas into farmers would seem laughable at best.  No fool to Indian ways, Tatum certainly had his doubts.  In describing his new charges, the newly christened “Bald Headed Agent” wrote, “Those in the southwestern part of the territory were still addicted to raiding in Texas, stealing horses and mules, and sometimes committing other depredations, and especially this was the case with the Kiowas and Comanches.  They were probably the worst Indians east of the Rocky Mountains.”  Peaceful, though tough when he had to be, Tatum had the good sense to embrace Fort Sill’s troops in managing the reservation.  Nevertheless, the Kiowas were not about to hitch up a plow horse anytime soon.
Unlike the pragmatic Comanches, the Kiowas were a deeply spiritual people and were quick to rely on the prophecies of a charismatic medicine man or owl prophet.  Such was the case with an obscure Kiowa prophet named Maman-ti or “Skywalker.”  The prophet’s divinations entailed lengthy confinement to a lodge followed by chanting, praying and the unmistakable sound of flapping owl wings.  Afterwards, Maman-ti emerged with a compelling prophecy about the success or failure of an upcoming Kiowa raid.  Shortly after, raiding parties were assembled under the owl prophet’s personal command.  The problem for Tatum and the reservation staff - no one knew him personally or knew what he was up to.
Spring was the season for raiding and Maman-ti was working overtime.  He foresaw the success of a Kiowa attack on the white man’s wagon trains.  To supply its many forts with sustenance, the U.S. Army had to rely on plodding, mule driven wagons - there were no railroads.  Wagon trains, on the desolate prairie, were tempting targets.  Captain Henry Warren, a government freight contractor from Weatherford, supplied the forts of West Texas, including Fort Richardson.  On May 18, 1871, one of his wagon trains, laden with corn, was making its way up the Butterfield Trail toward Fort Richardson.  Several miles further up was a cavalry escorted ambulance with two high ranking passengers inside: General William T. Sherman and General Randolph Marcy, the U.S. Army’s Inspector General.  Both officers were inspecting Texas forts and Fort Richardson was on their list. 
Maman-ti planned his own tour of Texas - a brutal raid that included one hundred fifty Kiowa warriors.  Among the warriors were three of the Kiowa’s fiercest war chiefs: Satanta, Satank and Big Tree.  Satanta’s larger-than-life notoriety spanned decades among Native Americans and white men alike.   The party set out for North Texas and crossed the Red River between present day Vernon and Electra.  To lighten their load, the Kiowas stopped at a place they called “Skunk Headquarters,” a wooded patch with an unusual overabundance of skunks.  Nonessential belongings were dropped off to be guarded by a few young warriors they left behind.  Extra bridles were carried along for any horses they stole and some rode double in hopes of getting a new mount.   
The Kiowas made their way to Salt Creek Prairie, an open field in Young County between Fort Belknap and Fort Richardson.  The area featured a sandstone hill with a tree-lined base overlooking the Butterfield Trail, an ideal spot for an ambush.  Unfortunately for Henry Warren’s teamsters, they would pass right by it.  During the evening before the Kiowas’ attack, Maman-ti went off alone to communicate with the spirits.  The flapping of owl wings was heard followed by the prophet’s return – he had a vision of two passing wagon parties. The first one was too small - not to be touched, but the second one would give them suitable plunder and scalps.  Sherman’s passing ambulance and cavalry escort would be that first party, thus costing the Kiowas a good chance of killing the highest ranking officer in the U.S. Army.  Warren’s wagon train was next. 
Dozens of whooping Kiowas galloped out of the woods toward the wagons.  Satanta, who learned how to play the bugle in his younger days, signaled the attack with a few crisp notes he borrowed from the U.S. Cavalry.  Like a Hollywood Western, the teamsters circled their wagons to hold off the attack.  Armed with repeating Spencer rifles, the teamsters were able to hold off the Kiowas but eventually fell to their superior numbers.  Seven teamsters were killed, while five, including Thomas Brazeal, managed to escape.  One teamster, Samuel Elliott, was tied to a wagon tongue and slow roasted over an open fire.  The rest were scalped and mutilated.  The Kiowas took forty mules back with them to the Indian Territory.
After Brazeal’s horrifying recollection, Sherman dispatched the 4th U.S. Cavalry to the massacre site. Under one the army’s most effective Indian fighters, Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, the troopers found Indian weapons scattered about the massacre site.  Their design left little doubt as to who was responsible. Sherman’s opinion about the Indian raids changed dramatically.  “I do think the people of Texas have a right to complain,” he wrote, “only their complaints are now against troops who are powerless, but should be against the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs that feeds and harbors these Indians when their hands are yet red with blood.”  He set off for Fort Sill and a showdown with the Kiowas. 
Sherman arrived at Fort Sill on May 23 and asked an exasperated Tatum about any Indians off the reservation at the time of the massacre.  “The Kiowas and Comanches were completely out of control,” he replied.  “They come and go as they please.”  Surprisingly, the Kiowas were more apt to boast about the raid rather than try to cover their tracks.  Satanta bragged openly that he had led the raid.  With Sherman looking on, Satanta, Satank and Big Tree were arrested and placed in chains.  Maman-ti completely avoided arrest.
The three Kiowa chiefs were placed in a wagon and taken back to Jacksboro for trial.  Along the way, the elderly, melancholy Satank, who carried his dead son’s bones with him in a bag, attempted to stab a guard with a concealed knife.  The old chief was shot dead and his body was dumped unceremoniously off to the side of the road.  Having little regard for their Kiowa prisoners, Satanta and Big Tree were staked to the ground at night while their guards made camp.  
Satanta and Big Tree were sentenced to hang by Jack County Judge Charles Soward.  In an overly agitated state, he ordered Satanta be “hanged until he is dead, dead, dead and God have mercy on his soul.”  Hanging was a form of execution that horrified Native Americans. They feared the tightened rope would block the spirit’s passage after death.  To prevent a Kiowa uprising over the hangings, the sentences were commuted to life imprisonment.  The Kiowa chiefs served two years on a prison chain gang at Huntsville.  In the interest of peace they were paroled in 1874 and returned to Fort Sill. 
Before the end of the decade, continuing Comanche raids led to a military campaign (the Red River War) to force the remaining southern plains Indians on to reservations. The peaceful touch of the Quakers gave way to the clenched fist of the U.S. Army.  Satanta was arrested again for parole violation but he could never adjust to prison life; he took a suicidal leap through a prison hospital window at Huntsville. He was buried in the prison cemetery until he was reburied decades later at Fort Sill.  Big Tree renounced his warrior ways and converted to Christianity.  He became a leading citizen of Anadarko, Oklahoma and a deacon in the Baptist Church.  Maman-ti was taken prisoner during the Red River War and shipped off to Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.  Fort Marion was an old British built fort used to imprison the more troublesome Native Americans.  Among it inmates was the celebrated Apache war chief, Geronimo.  It was there, the owl prophet died from the effects of dysentery.
The terrifying Kiowa warrior “Blue Duck,” in Larry McMurtry’s acclaimed book “Lonesome Dove” is based on Satanta.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tatooed Mound Builders

Caddo Village

Today most people think of Native Americans as nomadic buffalo hunters.  Uncivilized types that resided in tepees, attacked wagon trains, and smoked long wooden pipes.  The Caddo Nation shatters this stereotype with well established villages, decorative pottery and a remarkable system of agriculture.    

The Caddo Nation was actually a confederacy of tribes that inhabited portions of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas. The three main tribes were: the Kadohadacho (good luck with the pronunciation) who lived along the Red River near the Oklahoma and Arkansas border, the Hasinai in East Texas, and the Natchitoches in Northern Louisiana.  The bountiful forests in the region provided them with fertile soil, abundant game, and wood for roomy, durable huts. The huts were roomy conical affairs that were built by fellow tribe members – similar to an old fashioned barn raising.  Archeological and linguistic evidence suggests the Caddo were once a mighty single tribe that migrated from the Caribbean Islands.  Like the Aztecs and Mayans, they had sizeable communities which featured a prominent, earthen mound that was likely used for religious ceremonies.  Before the 1800’s, the Caddo fell into decline and broke apart into a number of smaller tribes with a common language.  From that language, the name "Texas" was derived.  It was from the Caddo word for allies, "teyshas."

Caddo House
The main characteristic, that set them apart from other Texas tribes, was their farming skills.  Using crude tools made of stone and wood, the Caddo grew corn, beans, squash, and tobacco.   Unlike the Plains Indians, meat was only a small part of their diet.  Both men and women shared in the tasks of maintaining their gardens.  Abundant crops were produced to feed the tribe and get them through the winter months.

 In appearance, they supported elaborate tattoos made by inserting charcoal into their skin.  Males shaved their heads with only a single, long strip running down the middle.  The women painted themselves a variety of colors from the waist up.  At birth, Caddo infants had their heads pressed against boards, giving them a distinct cone shaped head as they grew older.

Like other Native Americans, the Caddo saw warfare as a sport, but with a spirited, week-long preparation period that involved feasting, dancing and praying.  A special house was constructed for this preparation period – a period that grew more intense with each passing day.  Finally, in a blind rage, the warriors burned the house down before setting off on their attack (sort of like your basic fraternity party).  Their primary weapon was the bow and arrow.  The bow itself was made from fine bois d’arc wood.  Because of its durability, the Caddo bow became a much sought after item at the local trading post.

Because of their proximity to the mouth of the Mississippi River, it was only a matter of time before they came into contact with the two great European powers in the region – France and Spain.  The Spaniards tried to establish missions among the Caddo but with no success.  The French had better luck with trading posts. Before their trade with the Caddo could expand, the French sold their Louisiana holdings to the Spanish, bought them back, and then sold them again to the United States.   

After contact with French traders and Spanish missionaries, disease began to decimate the Caddo. To make matters worse, their long time enemies, the Osage, began to seize their territory and force them out.  By the time Anglo pioneers began moving west, their numbers were significantly reduced - they became a mere footnote in U.S. frontier history.  During the mid 1800’s, their remaining numbers were forced on to reservations in Oklahoma.  Today the Caddo Nation is federally recognized and headquartered in Binger, Oklahoma.