The Llano County Historical Society is currently involved in an on-going project to create a clearer understanding of the major events that made our county what it is today. The story that unfolds has been chronologically arranged as much as possible, although some topics by necessity have overlapped, such as farming and ranching, churches, schools, etc. One era has long been of major interest to museum visitors because of its unique place in the overall history of the State of Texas, not just Llano County. During the INDIAN ERA between the late 1850’s to the early 1870’s, Llano County had as many Indian experiences as anywhere in Texas, resulting in some of the worst atrocities and the taking of captives. The museum’s exhibit on this important era will be located in the east side room on the upper level.
The TUMULTUOUS YEARS in Llano County’s history began by 1859 and lasted throughout the 1870’s and early 1880’s. Because the time period was so frenzied with major events, the era has been divided into the INDIAN ERA, CIVIL WAR, and OUTLAW ERA. A special section will also honor our TEXAS RANGERS. The INDIAN ERA will be chronologically revealed, although some encounters were never assigned a specific date. The first known Indian incident took place several years before Llano County was created. In the early 1840’s, Texas Ranger Captain John C. (Jack) Hays was attacked by Indians after he became separated from his unit near Enchanted Rock. With the aid of his newly acquired Colt Patterson revolver, he was able to hold off the Indians until his unit could come to his rescue. As many as twenty warriors died, with five or six lying near where Hays fought. A few Rangers were injured, but none fatally.
Records show Llano County men took part in various Indian confrontations as part of special ranger groups or posses when Llano County was first created. During November, 1858, ten rangers were sent to escort John Henry Leonard Behrns, a Salt Works resident, who was hauling three wagon loads of supplies to Capt. John William’s Texas Ranger camp at Bowsers Bend on the Colorado River. As many as four Indians were killed or wounded, and a number of stolen horses were recovered. A more harrowing experience involving Llano County men who served with Ranger Captain John Williams also took place in 1858. The family of Mose Jackson, whose home was twelve miles west of Goldthwaite, was attacked by Indians, en route by hack to a pecan-gathering social excursion with others in the area. Mr. Jackson was killed instantly, and his seventeen year old daughter was severely wounded before being further assaulted, abused, and scalped. The youngest boy was shot in the eye with an arrow while still in the hack; his throat was then cut after he fell over the end gate. Mrs. Jackson was about to be killed with an axe taken from the hack, but a squaw with the party prevented the warrior from doing so. After the Indians divided into two groups, the mother was left behind and ended up with her throat also cut. Twelve year old Tobe and nine year old Rebecca were taken captive. When the Rangers under Capt. Williams embarked on the Indian’s trail two days later, Llano County’s Lt. Gideon Cowan and Gabe Choat were posse members. Cowan’s tracking skills, especially his ability to follow the stars at night, proved invaluable in the search. The Rangers pursued the Indians as far as current Nolan County before they successfully rescued the children on November 9, 1858.
No doubt there were other Indian incidents prior to 1859, but in May of that year, the county’s FIRST RECORDED DEATH at the hands of the Indians took place near Honey Creek. Rev. Jonas Dancer, a Methodist circuit minister, left his home near Blue Hole to meet others to work on a road, which, by the location of the murder scene, was probably intended to go into Llano. A close neighbor named Gallagher was attacked and injured the same day, but he survived.
A few months later in July, 1859, Robert Adams, an ex-soldier formerly stationed at old Fort Croghan in Burnet, was attacked about eighteen miles from the town of Burnet while hunting a hog. His body was badly mutilated and shot with arrows. The same party of Indians then crossed the Colorado River into Llano County near the Salt Works in northwestern Llano County. When the Cowan family saw the Indians, they quickly formed a posse and followed the Indians about four miles before a skirmish took place. One brave was killed, and Gid Cowan was badly injured under his left arm, but he soon recovered. The next day various families in the area reported livestock coming home with arrows in their sides.
In 1861, Tow Valley’s first store owner, Alvis D. Hamlin, had started toward the town of Burnet, unarmed because he had just sold his store and gun. When he accidentally ran into about twenty Indians, who were driving around 100 head of stolen horses, he jumped off his horse and hid in a nearby thicket. He reached down and picked up a charred stick shaped like a pistol. When he Indians charged, he drew the stick, which the Indians assumed was a gun. They circled, but decided to ride away. Mr. Hamlin continued the bluff by placing his hand on his hip as if he would fire any minute from the gun he pretended was under his coat.
In October, 1862, Ranger Captain John Williams, Ed King, and three brothers, Ned, David,and John Truman, started from Bluffton on the Colorado River with a drove of beeves to take to Williams’ ranch near Cherokee. As they approached Babyhead Gap, Williams left the men to check out a nearby spring. Eight to ten Indians suddenly charged the others, but King, who was riding a mule, was unable to escape. Williams appears to have heard the commotion and rushed back to see what was happening. King’s dead body was found at the attack site, and the body of Williams was found a short distance away. He had been riddled with arrows, scalped, and his head crushed with stones. Captain Williams was unarmed at the time.
Parson Isaac Hoover was conducting a Methodist camp meeting at the Salt Works in 1863. After Indians were spotted, he dismissed the congregation. Most everyone had come to the meeting in ox-wagons because so many of the settler’s horses had been taken by Indians on prior raids. As soon as ten available horses were located, Hoover commanded a posse that included Gideon P. Cowan, Jr., Caleb A. Davis, John Henry Leonard Behrns, and about six other men. After eleven miles, they overtook the Indians, and a running fight began. No clear-cut winner resulted, but Behrns was wounded, and Mr. Cowan accidentally shot his own horse in the head.
A Mexican sheep herder for D. Rode in Llano County nine miles southeast of Cherry Spring was killed in 1865. No other details are known. Also without further details was the death of William Kinderly, whose grave at Board Branch Cemetery at Lone Grove states he was killed by Indians, no dates given, and supported only by oral history. Accounts of Indian depredations and attacks, void of specific dates, have been passed down by the families of Isaiah Clark, Charles C. Roberts, Samuel W. Tate, the Rileys, Miles Barler, L.V. Arnold, A.K. Erwin and others.
During 1868, Texas Ranger Captain Alexander Roberts and his son, along with several other men, including John Crownover and A. Hardin, were scouting the hills of Llano County when they discovered two separate spots where the Indians had killed a good number of horses for horse meat. They overtook the Indians, and a battle ensued. When the Indians observed only Mr. Roberts and his son had Spencer carbines and the others were armed with old-fashioned cap and ball firearms, they directed their arrows only at the Roberts men. Ammunition was low, forcing them to refrain from firing as long as possible. When the Indian chief advanced within a few feet of them, William Roberts successfully shot and killed him. About the same time, several other Comanches fell at the hands of the other men, so the remaining Indians retreated from the scene. About twenty-five horses were retrieved, along with some saddles
In July, 1869, Hiram and Washington Wolf/e, the seventeen and fourteen year old sons of George W. Wolf/e for whom Wolf Creek Crossing is named, were out hog-hunting. Although the boys hid under a river bank, the Indians killed Hiram and captured Washington. The Indians traveled west, coming close enough to fire shots at a man as he stepped out of his house in the town of Llano. A posse, which later formed in Mason County, was able to rescue Wash, who had already been painted by the Indians and fed jerked meat and prickly pears.
Two men who lived in the Legion Valley area of Llano County, Riley Walker and D. E. Moore, had started to Fredericksburg with a load of bacon in February, 1870, when they were ambushed by Indians. Mr. Moore escaped, but he was wounded in the left arm. When Mr. Walker was found, it was evident he had received a mortal wound, gone about ten yards, and built a fortification in a “mott of live oak timber,” but he had died before assistance reached him. Then, in 1871, William S. Kidd and Harve Putnam, residents in the House Mountain-later Prairie Mountain section of Llano County, survived an attack by Indians near Loyal Valley.
Because so much has already been written about Llano County’s THREE MOST NOTABLE Indian encounters, a detailed account of them will not be given in this article. These included the Legion Valley Massacre in February, 1868, the Whitlock Massacre in December 1870, and the Battle at Packsaddle in August, 1873. Although the Battle at Packsaddle was the last MAJOR Indian encounter in Llano County, it was not the last one. In 1874, a Mexican drover for Wylie Everett was killed about ¾ miles from the town of Llano on Flag Creek. From that date forward, however, there were no more recorded instances of Indian hostilities/depredations in Llano County. The INDIAN ERA had come to a close.
SOURCES: THE WEST TEXAS FRONTIER (Joseph Carroll McConnell); LLANO COUNTY FAMILY ALBUM, pp. 253-254; INDIAN DEPREDATIONS IN TEXAS (J.W. Wilbarger); BURNET CO. HISTORY, Vol. I (Darrell Debo); forttours.com; Texas State Archives (letter sent to the State)