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Columbus, Texas

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Consider the Lily:
The Ungilded History of Colorado County, Texas

By Bill Stein

(Copyright, Nesbitt Memorial Library and Bill Stein)

Part 1 : 1821-1828

For most of time, the area that is now known as Colorado County, Texas was under water. When it emerged from the receding ocean at an imprecise moment some centuries ago, dinosaurs had long since disappeared from the earth. As far as we know, the history of human habitation of the area begins with the people that we still, though with declining frequency, refer to as Indians. Before the Indians, there were numerous other creatures in the area, none of which, in our wisdom, we regard as intelligent. We know these animals as glyptodons, sloths, capybara, wolves, bears, sabertooths, horses, deer, camels, tapirs, peccaries, antilocaprids, bisons, mastodons, and mammoths. Though some of these animals have relatives, and some descendants, living in Colorado County today, most have long since disappeared, leaving only their fossilized bones to alert us of their former habitation.

Many of these animals were no doubt hastened to extinction by the arrival of man in the form of the Indians. Ironically, the Indians, in turn, like the extinct animals, also disappeared from the area, and also left in the ground traces of their residency. In their case, these remnants were artifacts, mostly of stone, that they used in their daily lives. The vast majority of these artifacts that have so far turned up have been found along the Colorado River, Cummins Creek, and Skull Creek. The Indians who left them apparently were nomadic. No vestige of any structure built by Indians in what is now Colorado County has ever been discovered.

These Indians, if they were aware of them at all, probably did not foresee the impact the visits to the area by a few French and Spanish explorers, on missions then considered vital, would have on their lives. Had they known, perhaps they would have resisted them more vigorously. In any case, they could not have succeeded, for once the fact became known that there were large tracts of arable land that no one officially possessed, some representative of some government would certainly declare ownership; and once the land became accessible to subjects of that government, the Indians, who of course had no title, and who had insufficient military power to secure one, would shortly be chased away. Though they were certainly important to their friends and relatives, and to the larger histories of Texas and the United States, neither the early Indians nor the early explorers left more than the most modest imprint on any aspect of the present political entity known as Colorado County; and so, at the risk of seeming ethnically or chronologically biased, we conclude our remarks regarding them in these few paragraphs.

As to the later Indians, because of their interactions with the people who came to the area in the early 1820s, people who could trace their heritage to the United States, we must briefly further concern ourselves. In 1821, when the first Anglo settlers began arriving, they encountered what would soon become some of the last of the Indians to inhabit the area. These settlers were reacting to the attempt of Stephen Fuller Austin to fulfill a business contract with the Mexican national government which called for him to settle three hundred families in a defined area of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Texas. In return for little more than the trouble it took for them to arrive in Texas, to declare themselves Roman Catholics, and to select and reside upon a tract of land, the settlers were to be awarded vast acreage. Initially, married men were to receive a sitio, or one square league, of land, and single men one-fourth of a sitio. In modern terms, that amounted to something like 4428 acres for the former and 1107 acres for the latter. Rarely, if ever, had marriage paid off so handsomely.1

Securing title to the land, however, took some time. No one received any land in Colorado County prior to 1824, though Anglo settlers certainly arrived earlier. James Hampton Kuykendall stated that two of his uncles, Robert and Joseph Kuykendall, and Daniel Gilleland became the first settlers on the Colorado River when they took up temporary residence on the east side of the river near the crossing of the La Bahia Road around Christmas 1821.2

William Bluford Dewees recalled arriving at the La Bahia crossing in the fall of 1822 and encountering two men who apparently lived there, Aylett C. "Strap" Buckner and Peter Powell, in a cabin on the west side of the river. The men directed him downriver about twelve miles to a small settlement on the east side of the river, where he found the Kuykendalls, Gilleland, and Jesse Burnam building cabins of their own. Why it took the Kuykendalls and Gilleland some six to eight months after their arrival to build homes is lost to history. It is possible that they had built earlier homes, for such apparently were neither too difficult nor too time-consuming to construct. One settler remembered that her husband, with the assistance of one other man, had built their first home in the colony, a log cabin with a chimney and dirt floors, in a week. In any case, the cabins which Dewees saw the Kuykendalls, Gilleland, and Burnam building, which very likely were near the present Colorado/Fayette County line, may have been the first permanent structures in what became Colorado County. Those cabins formed, evidently, an early approximation of an urbanized center for the community of settlers on the Colorado; for little more than a year later, on August 16, 1823, they convened in the home of Robert Kuykendall to elect an alcalde. Fifteen men participated in the election. Fourteen voters, Robert and Joseph Kuykendall, Gilleland, Burnam, Dewees, Rawson Alley, Jacob Betts, Charles Garrett, Thomas Gray, Seth Ingram, Thomas Jamison, Micajah Reader, James J. Ross, and Thomas Williams, elected James Cummins to the position. Cummins was the election judge, so perhaps it is not surprising that he received every vote.3

Downriver, other settlers had already moved in. Though no Mexican apparently resided in the area, a minor and probably indistinct road, the Atascosito Road, passed through what would become Colorado County before the arrival of Austin's colonists. The Atascosito Road, naturally enough, led to Atascosito, an outpost in far eastern Texas near the mouth of the Trinity River. The road was apparently quite well utilized in the first decade of the nineteenth century, when Atascosito was viable.4

The road crossed the Colorado River at a point about six miles southeast of modern Columbus, just south of where the creek known as the Allen Branch hits the river, and within the league of land that would be granted to Rawson Alley. The site was commonly called the Atascosito Crossing, but was also known to Spaniards and Mexicans by another name: Montezuma.5

Rawson Alley and his brothers, Abraham, John C., and Thomas V., settled on the east side of the river near the Atascosito Crossing in 1821 and 1822. They would be joined there in 1824 by another brother, William.6

A census of the district dated March 4, 1823 listed 135 people in 49 households. Of the 46 people for whom occupations were listed, 32 were engaged in farming. Four of the farmers listed two occupations. Two were also merchants, one a schoolmaster, and one a millwright. Among those who did not farm there were two tanners, two carpenters, one stone mason, and one sawyer, two blacksmiths, one farrier, and one saddler, a silversmith, one tailor and one clothier, and a surveyor. Of the men, twenty-three were in their twenties, fourteen in their thirties, eight in their forties, and five in their fifties. Of the women, seven were in their twenties, five in their thirties, and four in their forties. There were 38 males, 31 females, and one person whose gender could not be determined who were less than twenty years old. The oldest person, Nicholas Clopper, was 55 years old. The oldest women, Mary Bright and Elizabeth Tumlinson, were 45.7

The earliest settlers certainly attempted to introduce the trappings of civilization to their wilderness as rapidly as possible. Perhaps as early as 1823, the settlers on the Colorado established a school and provided a building for it near the river at a site that was probably a few miles north of Beeson's Crossing, within what would later become the City of Columbus. The son of Thomas Williams, Thomas Johnson Williams, who by his recollection left the area in June 1823, attended the school for three months. The teacher was apparently Nicholas Dillard.8

Though education was thus accounted for, other essential services were lacking. Persons who required medical attention were unfortunate indeed. No doubt many settlers who could otherwise have been saved died for the lack of doctors in the colony. One such, apparently, was Thomas Williams. Earlier, Williams himself had stepped in to perform a bit of frontier surgery on a desperate patient named Parker. Parker's leg had been diseased for some months when Williams, Jesse Burnam, Robert Kuykendall, and Caleb R. Bostwick, finally assented to his repeated requests to amputate it. Burnam applied a tourniquet, and, using what Burnam later described as "a dull saw and a shoe knife," Williams and Bostwick cut the leg off. The fourth man, Kuykendall, had been assigned to sew up the mangled limb, but was too squeamish to do so, and Burnam took his place at that. Parker died eleven days after receiving the kind attentions of his fellow colonists. Nonetheless, he was, presumably, a happier man, for, as he reportedly had told Burnam when warned that the surgery might kill him, after the suffering his leg had caused him, he did not want to take it with him to his grave.9

Religion, too, was lacking in the colony. All the settlers were compelled to profess their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church; however, few if any seem to have actively practiced any religion. Certainly, Austin's settlers, unlike their earlier counterparts, never entertained any notion of making the Indians into Christians, preferring instead to introduce them rapidly and directly to the devil.

Law enforcement, like medicine, was left to amateurs. Apparently, from their earliest days in Texas, the colonists were bothered by thieves, many of whom were Indians, and many of whom were not. Initially, when thieves were apprehended, they were flogged. However, when the thievery continued, the settlers adopted more draconian methods of dealing with it.

The numerous incidents of theft from the colonists began almost as soon as they arrived. In early June 1822, the ships John Motley and Only Son, each carrying provisions and settlers, landed at the mouth of the Colorado River. The settlers on the John Motley, who had originally set out from New Orleans on another vessel, the Lively, and who had been marooned for a short time on Galveston Island when the Lively was wrecked, had had a harrowing journey, and many of them were ill. To escape the sea air and to find the settlements, they went inland. Many went to a site known as Jenning's Camp, perhaps twenty-five miles from the coast. Others went to or established a second camp, which became known as Wilson's Camp. Most or all of the passengers from the Only Son, including William Kincheloe, who had owned the vessel, established yet another camp.10

On July 23, the Only Son was back in New Orleans, planning another voyage to Texas. When it embarked, it carried provisions for the colonists and, apparently, a few immigrants, among them Nicholas Clopper, Jr., and Peter White. By September, the ship had landed at the Colorado. Clopper, White, and at least one other man were left at the coast to guard the provisions while the remaining passengers went inland. When the settlers returned to retrieve the goods, they found the guards missing and the provisions either stolen or destroyed, and concluded, quite logically, that Indians were the culprits.11

The colonists on the upper Colorado, alerted to the crime by a messenger from Wilson's Camp, reacted with despair to the loss of the provisions and the role they supposed Indians had played in it. Immediately, many talked of returning to their old homes. In November, the man who called himself the Baron de Bastrop arrived in the settlement, newly christened the Colorado District to distinguish it from the Brazos District, bearing detailed instructions for its salvation. Bastrop called for the settlers to set up a government, complete with a militia to counter the depredations, real enough but perhaps intensified by the colonists' imaginations, of the local Indians. Before he left, the settlers had conducted their first election, naming John Tumlinson alcalde, Robert Kuykendall captain of militia, and Moses Morrison lieutenant of militia.12

Soon after the election, Kuykendall, at the head of his militia, proceeded to the coast to investigate the murders. Before his investigation was concluded, two more murders drew Tumlinson's attention. At some point, probably well before he was elected alcalde, Tumlinson had asked Thomas Rogers to operate a ferry at the Atascosito Crossing. Rogers agreed to do so, and, by December 23, 1822, was living in a house at the site. That day he was visited by James Nelson. When Nelson arrived, five other men, all strangers to him, were also there. Nelson would later identify four of the men as Spaniards. The fifth man turned out to be a man named Hines who had lived on the Brazos for some time. Hines was en route to La Bahia and San Antonio to sell some buttons, and one gold and two silver watches. The following day, Nelson returned to visit Rogers, but found no one at home. A week later, on December 30, two other men came to the crossing. They found the dead bodies of two men floating in the river, and when they dragged them onto the bank, discovered that one of them was Rogers. The other would later be identified as Hines. Though he had three wounds, Rogers clearly had been killed by a blow to his forehead by a bladed instrument that left a deep wound. Hines, who had been stripped naked, had sustained more than a dozen wounds to the head and chest, several of which might have been fatal. Tumlinson and Stephen Ruddell Wilson rushed to the scene to investigate. After interviewing Nelson and others, Tumlinson decided that the four Spaniards had killed the two men to rob them of their clothes and other possessions. On January 7, he dispatched his report of the incident, together with affidavits by witnesses that contained descriptions of the suspects to his superiors. Before the end of the month, two deserters from the Mexican army had been arrested for the murders. On January 31, the governor of Texas, José Félix Trespalacios, sent Robert Brotherton to the settlement with a rifle taken from the suspects to have it identified by witnesses. Several of the colonists stated that the rifle had belonged to Rogers. On March 9, Tumlinson sent the rifle back to San Antonio with his militia lieutenant, Moses Morrison, and the principal witness against the arrested men, James Nelson.13

Understandably, many of the colonists were horrified by the murders. Tumlinson could not find anyone to replace Rogers at the ferry, because, he said, it was too remote from other settlers. That failure, no doubt, was the principal reason that the Atascosito Road was soon superseded by another trail through the wilderness, this one leading to Benjamin Beeson's home on the west side of the Colorado River, apparently near the southern boundary of his league. Beeson's first home in the colony had been on the east side of the river, within the survey that would later be granted to John Hadden. Upon securing title to his league of land on the west side of the river in 1824 however, he certainly moved there, for the law under which he was granted the land required him to settle on it or forfeit it. The site of his new home may also have been remote from most inhabitants; however, Beeson's household, which included a wife, six children, a hired hand, and seven slaves, was large enough to provide some security. The home became known to travelers during the period between 1825 and 1835 as Beeson's Crossing or, less popularly and apparently less accurately, Beeson's Ferry.14

Meanwhile, the investigation of the incidents on the coast, conducted by Kuykendall and his fourteen-man militia, yielded some surprising developments. No proof that Indians had indeed murdered the guards or stolen the provisions seems to have been sought or found. The settlers did soon discover, though, that three men who had come to Texas from Arkansas at the very least took advantage of the crime to amply provide for themselves. The colonists on the upper Colorado, alerted to the crime by a messenger from Wilson's Camp, raised a force of fourteen men and, with Robert Kuykendall at their head, proceeded to the site of the murders. At Wilson's Camp, they encountered Stephen Ruddell Wilson, some slaves who belonged to him, and two other white men, Supply C. Moss and William R. Park. The colonists noted that Wilson and his party were unusually well supplied, particularly for people who had come to the colony overland from Arkansas, and continued to the coast. Some fifteen miles south of Wilson's Camp, at the abandoned Jenning's Camp, they found a cabin surrounded by implements and provisions scattered by thieves. Of particular interest to Kuykendall and his men were two or more barrels of whiskey which had been left more or less intact by the thieves. They were not destined to be so pristine by morning. After a night of camaraderie and boasting, Kuykendall's men shakily proceeded on their way to the coast. There they found the plundered cargo of the Only Son, but could find no trace of the murdered men or the recent presence of Indians. They did find, however, a trail left by a horse-drawn conveyance of some sort going to and from the boat, followed it to a stand of trees in which some of the missing provisions were hidden, and immediately suspected that Wilson and his men had put them there. The militia returned home, stopping on their way to unsuccessfully interrogate Wilson, Moss, and Park. Back at the settlement, they decided to investigate the matter further, elected a sheriff, and dispatched him to arrest the three suspects. Park, in what certainly was the first instance of plea bargaining in the colony, agreed to testify against his two companions in return for leniency. He confessed that he, Wilson, and Moss had indeed stolen some of the provisions from the boat that had been left behind by the Indians. Wilson, evidently unable to be of direct assistance because of his advanced age, had supplied the horse, and Moss and Park had done the work. Wilson was taken into custody and, on March 8, 1823, was tried and convicted. The jury consisted of four men: Thomas Williams, Jesse Burnam, Zadock Woods, and William Selkirk, two of whom were chosen by Wilson himself. The day after the trial, Moses Morrison, Dewees, and James Nelson (who went along perhaps primarily because he was scheduled to testify against the men accused of the murder of Thomas Rogers) escorted Wilson to San Antonio, where, on April 8, he was expelled from the country, with the proviso that he could stop at a Mexican port if, in the future, he was taking a trip. The sheriff had been sent to arrest Moss, but upon his return, alone, stated that Moss had managed to escape. The sheriff, whose identity has not come down to us, had, on his expedition, acquired a handsome gold watch, which he stated Moss had given him to carry before he had effected his unfortunate escape.15

Judging by an affidavit which characterized him as "base" and a "dangerous man," and which was signed by fourteen of the colonists, three of whom had been jurors at his trial and four of whom had been witnesses for the defense, Wilson, after his crime, did not have many friends in the colony, The punishment he was accorded seems to have been regarded as light. When, shortly after Wilson was exiled, the Colorado settlers had occasion to punish another criminal, they did so themselves, in a manner which no doubt they regarded as more exemplary. In March 1823, a citizen of the United States with a French name that was given as John Baptiste Rashall by a local official, together with one or two other men, stole thirteen horses from Strap Buckner and a man identified only as Parker, proceeded to the Brazos and stole four more horses, then continued on their way. Gibson Kuykendall and a few of the settlers on the Brazos pursued the thieves nearly to Louisiana, apprehending them near the Trinity River. They brought them before the alcalde of the Brazos District, Josiah H. Bell, who pronounced them guilty, seized the stolen property and some property belonging to the men to indemnify the victims and compensate the men who captured them, and dispatched them to San Antonio for sentencing. On the way, Kuykendall's party met Morrison and one or two other men, one of whom was probably Dewees, returning to the Colorado. Probably they were returning from San Antonio, to which, after Wilson was exiled, they had made a second trip in a fruitless attempt to collect some wages for their role in bringing Wilson to justice. Morrison advised Kuykendall against taking the thieves to San Antonio because "the Mexican authorities would set the prisoners at liberty without punishment." Kuykendall turned around and took the prisoners to the nearby home of his uncle, Robert Kuykendall, where they were again examined and convicted, and sentenced to thirty-nine lashes. After the lashes were administered, Rashall was released, but at least one of the other men was returned to Bell, by whose order he received more lashes.16

The next time the settlers encountered horse thieves, just a few weeks later, they avoided courts altogether. On May 23, 1823, Julian Carrasco and a number of others who were driving horses to Mexico from Louisiana were camped on a creek near the settlement on the Colorado, when they were joined by five men who were thought to be from near the Louisiana border. In the middle of the night, the five newly-arrived men murdered most of the horse drivers and stole the horses. Carrasco, wounded in the affray, nonetheless escaped to tell the story. The Colorado settlers, invigorated by the opportunity to pursue not just horse thieves but murdering horse thieves, quickly roused the militia. With Robert Kuykendall at their head, they rode to the site of the attack and followed the trail left by the horses, which, under the direction of the thieves, had headed back to Louisiana. The militia crossed the Colorado River about midway between the La Bahia and Atascosito Crossings, and overtook the thieves at the Brazos River. Without further ado, they opened fire. The horses were recovered, and three of the thieves, identified as Julian Chirino, Vicente Castro, and Felix Mendosa, were killed. In further retribution, the three dead thieves were decapitated, and their heads were displayed on the tops of poles stuck in the ground beside a road. Thus did jurisprudence in the Colorado District cross the boundary between civility and barbarity. The other two fugitives prudently avoided having their names connected with the crime and thus eluded capture by both the contemporary authorities and subsequent historians.17

Some eight months after the murder of the guards at the mouth of the river, the Indian troubles reached into the settlement on the Colorado itself. On February 23, 1823, John Alley, H. W. Law, and John C. Clark, carrying provisions in a canoe, were returning from a trip to the coast when, near the mouth of Skull Creek, they were attacked by Indians. The Indians, shooting arrows from the bank, killed Alley and Law. Clark, though wounded, abandoned the canoe, swam to the other side of the river, and hid in a thicket. The next day, Robert Brotherton, in the area on some undisclosed business, encountered what was probably the same group of Indians. The Indians asked Brotherton if they could see his rifle. He turned it over to them, then quickly regretted his foolishness in doing so. He spurred his horse and bolted for the settlement, some fifteen miles upriver. On his dash, however, at least one arrow overtook him, wounding him in the back. He arrived at the settlement, apparently on the same day, and raised the alarm. The alcalde, Tumlinson, ordered his militia captain, Robert Kuykendall, to attack the Indians. Kuykendall gathered a party of perhaps twenty-five men and arrived at the mouth of the creek about midnight. The following morning, February 25, Kuykendall and his men, among them apparently Dewees and Burnam, crept to within a few yards of the Indian encampment. When the sun had risen sufficiently to allow them a clear view of their potential targets, they alerted the Indians to their presence simply by talking among themselves. The alarmed and curious Indians stepped out of their teepees into a fusillade. Some were instantly killed. The rest ran. The militia pursued and killed a few others. The Indians evidently failed to return fire. Clark, still hiding in the woods, heard the gunfire and alerted his fellow settlers, by then engaged in plundering the teepees, to his presence. Only then could he have informed them of the Indian attack of two days earlier, the attack which, curiously enough, Tumlinson would use as his major justification for dispatching the militia, and for the sneakiness and brutality of their attack.18

In light of the continuing competition for the supplies being landed at the mouth of the river between the settlers for whom the supplies were intended and the Indians, and after the incidents at the mouth of Skull Creek, the government took action. Since January, Tumlinson and Kuykendall had been arguing that a small fort or two with a permanent, paid troop ought to be established on the coast. After a modest dispute over what wages ought to be paid, on May 5, 1823, nine men were placed under the command of Moses Morrison and dispatched to the coast to build and garrison a fort. A month later, Morrison, in compliance, as he stated, with the custom of the United States Army, compiled a muster roll and a brief report of his activities, and sent them to Governor Trespalacios. He had scouted the area around the mouth of Trespalacios Creek and found no suitable location for a fort, nor enough nearby timber to build one. Now he planned to build it near the mouth of the Colorado River. His company had 162 rounds of ammunition. On July 5, he submitted a second report, sending it with two men to San Antonio to collect the wages his company was due, and to buy gunpowder. The fort had not yet been built. No vessels had arrived. The men had apparently encountered neither Indians nor anyone else worth shooting, but had expended 51 rounds of ammunition in hunting for their meals.19

On July 6, 1823, the very day after Morrison had compiled his second muster roll, the Indians, in an accident of history probably enacted by renegade individuals unaware of whom they had encountered, exacted their revenge for the attack on Skull Creek on the man who had ordered it, John Tumlinson. Tumlinson and Joseph Newman were traveling to San Antonio when they met a few Waco Indians and another man described as a Spaniard. Tumlinson apparently approached them without trepidation and extended his hand in greeting. The Indians, perhaps failing to understand his gesture, either shot him or pulled him from his horse and killed him. Newman avoided a similar calamity by spurring his horse and outrunning his pursuers.20

The murder of their highest elected official naturally angered the colonists on the Colorado. In reporting the incident to Trespalacios, on July 13, 1823, Kuykendall pointed out that no supplies were expected at the coast for a while and that, in any case, Morrison's company had not spotted any Indians in the area, and asked that they be ordered to abandon their coastal duty and return to the settlement to help deal with the expected trouble. Austin, who was a lieutenant-colonel in the militia, began planning an expedition against the Indians, but when the Waco chiefs promised to punish the murderers, things calmed down.21

Morrison, whether he was ordered to or not, apparently never had time to return with his detachment to the northern settlement, for the following month he ran into a number of Karankawa Indians near the coast and, on August 3, summoned Kuykendall to his aid. Though nothing further of this episode has been discovered, since the usual response to such entreaties was an enthusiastic and rapid march, it is likely that Kuykendall rushed to the coast. Whatever the case, the expedition was certainly concluded before August 23, when both Kuykendall and Dewees were back in the settlement on the upper Colorado to participate in the election of Cummins to take Tumlinson's place as alcalde. More than a month earlier, the settlers had replaced Morrison, whose new coastal duties took him away from the settlement, by electing two new lieutenants, Jesse Burnam and Rawson Alley.22

If he had not already arrived before they departed, Kuykendall and his men returned to their homes to find Austin himself, back from a trip to Mexico City and bursting with news and plans, in the settlement. Initially, Austin seems to have stayed at the home of Sylvanus Castleman, which was evidently well into what is now Fayette County. He was there on August 6 when he announced that he had verified that the settlers would soon receive titles to the land, but that, to help cover some of his personal expenses, they each must pay a fee when their title was delivered or at their earliest convenience. Later, he published a decree that named him the chief civil and military authority in the colony, and, on August 10, formally assumed his authority. He also announced that he intended to hire ten men at his own expense "to act as rangers" to help the existing militia defend the colony against Indians, requested that the ad interim governor assign a priest, Francisco Maynes, who spoke English and was known to many of his settlers, to the colony, and tried, but failed, to get the settlers, then widely dispersed along the river, to move closer together.23

On August 29, he was at Kuykendall's. There, he recorded his plan to locate a capital for his colony on the Colorado River. He expressed a preference for a site downriver from James Cummins' home, a site, then occupied by David Bright, that Austin described as "very well watered with the best of springs." Though he would eventually locate his capital, San Felipe, on the Brazos River, more than a decade later another town, Columbus, would be established on the site on the Colorado that he had considered.24

Upon his return following his extended absence, Austin found his fledgling colony in dire circumstances. He himself had been victimized by an Indian raid. Shortly after arriving, he had made a trip down the Colorado to the coast, leaving a number of horses at Sylvanus Castleman's home. When he returned, he learned that Indians had stolen both his horses and Castleman's. In addition to their troubles with Indians, food was in short supply. At least partly because of a lack of rain, the colonists had not yet produced a good crop and game was difficult to find. In late January or early February, they had endured a flood of the river, though, since their crops had not yet been planted, it had been little more than an annoyance. One settler remembered that had it not been for the generosity of a tribe of friendly Indians, the Tonkawas, the settlers would have been "almost entirely destitute of clothing." These hardships and Austin's absence had fanned the settlers' uncertainties about the future of the colony, and many had returned to the United States. It must have been a blow indeed, when, in September 1823, a band of the once-friendly Tonkawas stole some horses and corn from settlers living along the Brazos River. Austin dutifully pursued the thieves, and, on October 2, seized the stolen horses, watched as the Tonkawa chief administered lashes to the thieves, and ordered the Indians out of the colony. Shortly afterward, Austin expelled five of his own colonists from the settlement when he discovered that they were criminals fleeing authorities in the United States. Later that October, he reported these expulsions to the ad interim governor and requested that he be allowed to create a police force to help keep such undesirables out of the colony. The following January, two constables were appointed, one for the District of San Felipe de Austin and one, Thomas Alley, for the Colorado District.25

A month earlier, on December 5, 1823, because Kuykendall had moved to another part of the colony, Austin had appointed James J. Ross to take his place as the Colorado District's militia captain. Ross, seemingly a man of few convictions, had just arrived in the colony, and had not yet had time to acquire the low reputation with which he would later be burdened. One man, however, James Cummins, knew him well. In Clark County, Arkansas, where Ross had worked as a bear hunter, he had lived across the Caddo River from Cummins. At the time, Ross was living with a woman, Cynthia, who was commonly regarded as his wife, and their son, James, Jr. Nonetheless, he became enamored of Cummins' daughter Mariah, and, though she was not more than fifteen years old, she quickly became his mistress. Ross abandoned his wife in Mariah's favor, and eloped with her to Hempstead County, Arkansas, where they were married by a local magistrate in his store. Cummins, far from happy with the marriage, soon afterward moved to Texas, taking Mariah with him. Some months later, Ross followed, went to Cummins' house, and took Mariah to live with him on the river just north of what became the Fayette County line.26

However, Ross, like Kuykendall, was attentive to his duties as militia captain, and was destined to earn that once-respected but now disgraceful sobriquet, "Indian fighter." He was not, however, spoiling for a fight. In early 1824, a large number of Tawacana Indians came into the settled area and encountered William Rabb and his family just as they were leaving their home to hide in the woods. As John Ingram rode to spread the word that the Tawacanas had arrived, the Indians informed the Rabbs that they were at war with the Tonkawas and had no hostile intentions toward the settlers. Before any help could arrive, they proceeded downriver to the home of Thomas Williams. Meanwhile, word of the Indians' approach had already reached San Felipe. Austin dispatched one of the Colorado settlers who happened to be in town, Dewees, to spread the alarm. Dewees rushed to the settlement but found only a few men there. They hastily collected the women and children, and Dewees and three or four other men rode out to find the invaders. They arrived at Williams' house just before the Indians. Williams met the Indians at his gate and let three of them come inside his fence. The remaining Indians, however, tore down part of the fence and joined their compatriots inside. Williams successfully talked them into setting up their camp outside his fence, then dispatched first John Hadden, then Jesse Robinson, the latter of whom had responded to Ingram's summons, to bring the militia. Ross and about a dozen men arrived shortly thereafter. After a discussion with the Indians, the settlers slaughtered a cow and sat down to dinner with their once and future adversaries. Dewees, who was again with the militia, later remembered that the Indians sent out scouts and stayed in the settlement for four days awaiting their return, and that Ross and his men spent the first one or two days negotiating with the Indians, and secretly looking for a safe way to massacre them. They could devise no suitable plan of attack, however; and after the return of their scouts, the Indians left.27

Perhaps a month later, there was another violent incident involving settlers and Indians, the exact character of which is in doubt. One settler remembered that a group of colonists were patrolling the Colorado bottom near the coast, looking for Indians, when they came across a Karankawa man and woman at a camp. Though the Indians neither appeared belligerent nor tried to escape, the colonists moved in to capture them. As one colonist, identified as Robert Kuykendall, was about to grab the woman, she ran, and the man bolted after her. Daniel Rawls shot the man dead and Kuykendall pursued the woman, unsuccessfully. When Austin reported the incident to his superiors, however, he stated that the settlers were looking for the Indians because a large number of them had earlier assaulted two settlers who were hunting deer; that the Indian man in the camp was shot, and merely wounded, as he attempted to get a weapon; and that the camp was found to contain several of the items stolen from the settlers at the mouth of the Colorado the year before. Austin's report, obviously, depicts the settlers' actions in a much more favorable light. It must be considered, therefore, that either he or the people who reported the incident to him exaggerated the hostility of the Indians to avoid being reproached for what---if the settler's later-recorded memory of the incident was accurate---might certainly be perceived as something close to murder.28

Over the course of the next two months, Austin apparently negotiated and executed a treaty with a Tonkawa chief known to the colonists as Carita. The Tonkawas had raided the settlement, stealing some hogs and some corn; and, when confronted by the settlers, they refused to return the goods or make restitution. Austin intervened and worked out an agreement with Carita. Cummins read the treaty to a meeting of the colonists in the Colorado District at the home of Rawson Alley in late April or early May 1824, and on May 3, he informed Austin that the colonists were happy with it. He also asked that Austin split the Colorado District into two districts, with a boundary at the big lake they had already begun calling Eagle Lake. According to Cummins, there were about thirty men on the Colorado on the north side of the lake and about thirty men on the south side. By the time the letter was delivered to Austin, by Carita, he had already issued instructions for the settlers on each side of the lake to form separate detachments of militia; but he left both groups under the jurisdiction of the Colorado District. On May 15, 1824, the settlers on the upper Colorado convened in Cummins' home and elected Jesse Burnam militia captain and John Hadden lieutenant.29

The morale of the settlers must certainly have improved over the year beginning in August 1823. Not only did Austin return and begin organizing his colony, but hostilities between the settlers and the Indians diminished, the settlers brought in a very successful corn crop, and, in the summer of 1824, they finally began receiving titles to land. Austin had hired a number of surveyors to lay off sitios and other sized tracts, mostly along the rivers and creeks. He then assigned each tract a number, and, effectively, asked each colonist to pick a number. He required the settlers to pay a small fee, intended, he said, to cover his expenses in securing the contract from the Mexican government and in having the land surveyed, but which, naturally enough, was destined to generate some controversy in the colony. In all that summer, twenty-five titles were issued to land in what would become Colorado County. Twenty-four people, including John Tumlinson's widow, Elizabeth, received land. Naturally, since the settlers virtually got their pick, most of the land that then became private property was along the Colorado River and was of very high quality.30

Earlier that summer, the settlers on the lower Colorado had had another skirmish with the local Indians. One of Robert Kuykendall's sons saw a group of Indians slaughtering one of his father's cows near the family home. When news of the incident reached the relevant captain of militia, Amos Rawls, on June 13, 1824, he immediately gathered his men and went in search of the Indians. He found them camped on the west side of the Colorado "under the Bank." When the Indians spotted the militia they grabbed their bows and retreated into a canebrake. Rawls and his men crossed the river upstream from the site of the Indian camp, dismounted, and advanced. One Indian emerged from hiding and shot a man identified only as Jackson (meaning presumably Alexander Jackson) in the arm. The Indian was about to shoot again when Clark (presumably John C. Clark) shot and killed him. The other Indians prudently remained out of sight, and the militia did not pursue them. They did, however, take the opportunity to plunder the Indian camp in just retribution, as they no doubt viewed it, for the base thievery of the Indians. Rawls and his men made off with three horses, two cases of arrows, one bow, one saddle, and the beef that the Indians had gotten from Kuykendall's cow. After Rawls and his now-enriched men crossed the river and started for home, a single arrow landed in their midst and the Indians yelled at them in a language they did not understand. Rawls had one of his men yell back in Spanish, but the Indians did not answer. Rawls, in his report on the incident to Austin, identified the bow, the arrows, and the dead Indian as Karankawa, speculated that they would soon attack the settlement, and asked for immediate reinforcements. Apparently too, the Indians had accosted three men, two Hispanics and an American named White, and threatened to kill White. Austin dispatched Burnam's militia. At Jenning's Camp, Rawls' company rode up to join them. After reaching the coast, Burnam divided his unit into two groups of about twelve men each. One group spotted perhaps as many as ten Indians proceeding upriver with a large canoe, ambushed them, and killed all but one of them.31

Little more than two months later, on August 24, 1824, Austin was told by two people who had just returned from La Bahia that the Indians had convened near that place and seemed to be plotting a mass attack on the colony. The following day, Cummins wrote to inform Austin that about fifty Karankawas had been spotted advancing on the settlement on the lower Colorado. The alcalde feared that the Indians would divide into two units and attack both settlements on the Colorado simultaneously, and so gathered all the families in the upper settlement in one location. Providing for their defense, however, meant that he had no men left to send to the aid of the lower settlement, and he asked Austin to send men from the Brazos. On August 31, Austin met sixty-two men at Alexander Jackson's home. The following day, they split into two units and went in search of the Karankawas. They got all the way to La Bahia before they encountered any sign of them. There, a delegation from the town met Austin's little army, requested that they remain outside the town, and negotiated a settlement for them with the Karankawas, who were also apparently nearby. Austin ended his expedition on the strength of a promise by the Karankawas, made on September 24, 1824, that they would never again come into his colony.32

In between conflicts with the Indians, the settlers had been concerned with maintaining what many of them must have believed to be their only viable economic system. Though Mexico had been moving toward outlawing slavery for several years, it was still legal when Austin's colonists started arriving, and many of them brought slaves with them. On June 5, 1824, as the Mexican government again addressed the slavery question, Austin's settlers met and appointed Austin, Cummins, Jared E. Groce, and John P. Coles as a committee to draft two requests: the first asking that the colony be allowed to grow tobacco, and the second that the slaves who were already in the colony and those who would soon be in the colony not be set free. The petition stated that the slaves "were not brought here for the purpose of Trade or speculation neither are they Africans but are the family servants of the emigrants and raised by them as such from their infancy." Despite the petition, on July 24, 1824, the government passed an insanely vague law which seemingly meant to abolish slavery but which actually accomplished little.33

Despite the law, a second census of the Colorado District, taken in 1825, unabashedly reports that 27 of the people in the district were slaves. Six of the slaves were identified as black. Fourteen people were listed as hired hands, though judging by a remark made by Strap Buckner on the form, some or all of these fourteen people were also black slaves. There had been little population growth since the 1823 census. In 1825, including slaves, there were 201 people in 60 households. No slaves had been counted in the earlier census, meaning that in the intervening two or more years, the district had grown by no more than 39 free people and eleven families. Again, the majority of the settlers were farmers. About half of the farmers also said they were engaged in ranching. There were either two tanners or fifteen, depending on how literally one interprets the census taker's ditto marks. Only four of the 56 people who gave occupations did anything else: there was one carpenter, one surveyor, one gunsmith, and one blacksmith.34

Although the population contained around sixty eligible voters, on January 10, 1825, only thirteen men convened in the home of Rawson Alley and reelected Cummins as alcalde. Cummins again got every vote, though he had an opponent in Alley. Perhaps on the same day, perhaps as late as May, the voters also replaced Burnam as militia captain. Though no official record of the election has been found, James J. Ross apparently was reelected to the post he had abandoned a year earlier.35

That summer, the discontent of some of the colonists with Austin's land policies ignited a small furor. On June 7, 1825, Austin issued a warrant for Strap Buckner's arrest, charging him with sedition. The same day, he subpoenaed nine witnesses to testify, and he summoned the militia to be present at Buckner's hearing on June 11. Buckner's alleged crime stemmed from his apparent displeasure with the schedule of fees that were payable by the colonists when they took title to their land grants. Austin had posted the schedule the previous spring. Buckner, evidently assisted by Alexander Jackson, had distributed notices calling for a meeting of the colonists to discuss the fees. Austin, whose own expenses and probably some profit were to be accounted for by the fees, was infuriated by the notices. Calling Buckner and Jackson "perverse and sententious," and accusing them of being the bellwethers of a revolution, on June 6 he was determined to arrest them both. By the next day, however, he had reduced Jackson from co-conspirator to witness. Some witnesses filed affidavits; others, it is presumed, appeared to give their testimony in person. On June 10, Buckner himself, as much perplexed as outraged, wrote Austin to explain his actions. By June 13, Buckner had been exonerated. Austin noted that Buckner's actions "which were deemed exceptionable proceeded from misconception" and that "the whole affair . . . [should] be totally forgotten and consigned to oblivion."36

A few weeks later, the Indian troubles resumed. A group of Indians, identified as Tawacanas or Wacos, came to the settlement, professed their friendship and declared that they were on their way to talk to Austin at San Felipe. The next night they stole seventeen horses and mules, most of which belonged to the Alleys. Apparently the same Indians went to the home of Clement Clinton Dyer, downriver from the Alleys, while he was plowing his corn field, and asked his wife, Sarah, to feed them. She gave them food, then snatched up her baby and sneaked off to the field to alert her husband. The entire family hid until dark, then returned to the house to find it robbed of nearly everything valuable. That night, they set off for her father's house on the Brazos, and never returned to live on the Colorado. These incidents aroused the settlers so much that they called for a full scale war with the Tawacanas and the Wacos. Neither had they forgotten that John Tumlinson had been killed by the Wacos, and that no one had ever been punished for the crime. On August 20, Austin wrote his superiors for instructions. The following day, he was told to attack the Indians without delay. However, five days after that, he was instructed to wait until a band of Comanches, who had just arrived in a Waco village, left the area. Austin waited while his colonists gathered their crops. On September 28, he set down his questions concerning the incipient war---questions which, combined with the passage of time, apparently defused the situation to some degree. No expedition seems to have been mounted.37

However, the settlers were in no mood to pursue peaceful resolutions of their problems with the Indians. The following January, John Castleman returned to his home on the Colorado to find it robbed, he presumed by Wacos. He fired off a letter to Austin, informing him that he would kill the next Indian who "undertakes to Rob me again" even though he fully expected that doing so would start a war. To further complicate matters, Carita had died, and his Tonkawa followers refused to honor his memory by abiding by the terms of the treaty that he had negotiated with Austin. They again came into the settlement in March 1826. The same settlers who they had robbed some eighteen months earlier naturally met them with suspicion. When Gabriel Strawschneider found six of his hogs missing just two days after the Tonkawas had camped near his home, he presumed that they had stolen them. Andrew and Thomas J. Rabb found five bushels of corn and other articles missing, and again attributed the theft to the recently-arrived Indians. The aroused settlers demanded action, but the local militia officer refused. So the settlers marched off to the Tonkawa encampment about eight leagues downriver from the Atascosito Crossing on their own initiative, arriving on March 25, 1826. Almost as soon as they entered the village, they began shooting. Two of the Indians were killed and four were wounded. One of the settlers got lost in the woods and also was killed, presumably by the angered Indians. Austin was appalled by the incident. After investigation, he decided that the settlers had not sufficiently established that the Indians had committed any crimes against them, and that the attack was therefore completely unwarranted. He summoned the Indians to San Felipe, met with them for four days beginning on April 29, and negotiated a new understanding with which, he claimed, they were "fully satisfied."38

The long-feared conflict with the Wacos and Tawacanas had come little more than a week after the attack on the Tonkawa village. In late March, Austin had informed Ross that a party of Tawacanas was headed for the Colorado. Ross sent out scouts, who located, he said, sixteen Indians camped near the river in a creek bed about five leagues south of the La Bahia Crossing. Ross and thirty-one men marched on the camp and, at daybreak on April 4, 1826, attacked. Ross set up some of his men so that they could cover the creek bed with their fire, and sent the rest, under the command of Rawson Alley, to attack the Indians from the front. Alley's attack routed the Indians, and as they ran along and across the creek, Ross and his men laid down a deadly barrage. Eight of the Indians were killed and five wounded, apparently grievously. To justify the ambush, which Austin may well have viewed as unnecessarily harsh, Ross harked back to the horse thieves of the previous summer. He declared that he recognized the Indians as the culprits and that each of them had been carrying a rope and a bridle, certain accoutrements of frontier horse thieves.39

Austin apparently felt that the war with the Wacos and the Tawacanas, which he had steadfastly attempted to avoid, had begun. He sent three men to go to the Indians, ostensibly to trade with them but really to gather intelligence. They reported that the Indians did not seem to be preparing a full-scale attack, but that a few might come into the colony in an attempt to avenge Ross' attack. Austin recognized that his colonists would demand full retaliation for an incursion of any size. He worried about the ability of the colonists to defend themselves because they were so scattered along the river, and about their ability to sustain themselves if they were forced to abandon their fields to engage in a protracted military campaign. He decided to try to recruit the Cherokees as allies, then, massing all his military resources into one campaign, to attack five Indian villages simultaneously and chase the Wacos and the Tawacanas from the area.40

In the first two weeks of May, the adventure gathered momentum. Though the government ordered Austin to desist from any further aggression toward the Indians until the campaign could be better organized and promised to send 250 men to join it, he had already made his overture to the Cherokees. They responded on May 13, agreeing to attack the Tawacanas and their allies after the recent overflows of the streams and rivers around their villages had subsided and their crops had been tended to. They also informed Austin that the Tawacanas had called together all the tribes that were hostile to his colony and proposed a military alliance. He felt compelled by that news and by the detection of a recent Indian visit to the colony to proceed with the campaign.41

Austin himself had decided not go on the expedition, and assigned command to Strap Buckner. Buckner had four companies, consisting of about 180 men. One of the companies came from the Colorado settlement and one, presumably the same one, was commanded by Rawson Alley. His force set out for the villages on May 22, 1826. The expedition proved to be a dismal failure. Buckner's command wandered the frontier through a continuous hard rain. Many of the men got ill. They failed to encounter even a single Indian, either in the wilderness or in their villages. By the time Buckner and his men arrived at the sites of the villages, the Indians had all departed, leaving their corn to grow unattended. The militia returned to San Felipe on June 11, having sustained two casualties. One was known to be a Colorado settler, Rawson Alley's brother Thomas. When crossing the Brazos, his horse stumbled and pitched him into the river. He rose to his feet and staggered a step or two, then collapsed under the current. Though no one could say for sure, Alley's stalwart companions presumed that he had been injured to such a degree by the fall that even the mild waters of the Brazos could sweep him away. They found his body downstream. The other casualty, who seems nowhere to be identified by name, died from a fever.42

Though it seems clearly to have demonstrated that the Indians they believed to be hostile had left the area, the failure of the expedition did little to cheer the settlers on the Colorado. They fully expected the Indians to return to harvest their corn later in the summer, and to attack them, perhaps as a kind of vacation from their labors, when they did so. As part of his defense plans, Austin had conceived of a series of forts strategically placed within his colony. After Ross' attack on the Indians, he had ordered the settlers on the Colorado to build a small fort. They had selected a site near what would become the Colorado/Fayette County line, erected there a blockhouse surrounded by a palisade, and, as Buckner's militia marched, sequestered themselves inside. Fearful, presumably, of aggression by the Indians, the Colorado settlers remained huddled in their fort at least through the end of July. Evidently, their resolve to remain in the area declined almost daily. As Cummins, the alcalde, was bedridden with an illness, in late July, many of the colonists left the fort to meet with him in his home. On July 31, 1826, Cummins wrote to Austin, informing him that the situation in the colony was "very gloomy." Because of the seemingly constant trouble with the Indians, and because their crops had been an almost total failure, he feared that the colonists were about to abandon the fort and move downriver or to the Brazos. Cummins suggested that Austin create a company of rangers and post them in the area, and that he allow the settlers more time to pay for their land.43

In early August, a number of Indians were seen near the point where the Bexar Road crossed the Brazos River. The local militia company pursued them and took up a position near their village to keep watch on them. Austin, who still anticipated a mass attack on his colony by the Tawacanas and their allies, decided "to keep in the field a permanent guard on the frontier" by rotating his militia companies, and to call a meeting of twelve elected representatives of the people of his jurisdiction "for the purpose of deciding upon a system of defence, and contriving plans to raise a fund for the assistance of the most exposed families, and to keep a body of spies on the frontier." The meeting was held on August 21, 1826. The colonists recommended, among other things, that the militia be organized into twelve units, with one unit sent to patrol the frontier every month.44

Thereafter, the troubles with Indians seem to have been diminished. No further reports of large scale incursions by either the Indians or the militia have been found. On May 13, 1827, the Mexican government, on behalf of their several colonies in Texas, made a new treaty with the Karankawas, renewing and expanding the agreement that Austin had secured on September 24, 1824. The Karankawas, it seems, never annoyed the colonists again. Within twenty years, they would all but vanish from Texas.45

Continue with Part 2