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Houston County

Columns | "In The Pines With Dana Goolsby"

The Edens-Madden Massacre
of Houston County

By Dana Goolsby
Dana Goolsby
Various Indian tribes, such as the Caddo, Kickapoo, and Cherokee, lived on the river bottoms among the pine thickets in East Texas before the Texas Revolution. The Mexican government had no interest in colonizing East Texas; therefore, was able to maintain good relations with the Indians. But with the revolution came immense change, for more than just Texans and Mexicans. As floods of settlers arrived in the piney woods the Indians were forced off their lands. President of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston, attempted to maintain relations with the Indians and even entered into a number of treaties which would guarantee them rights to their land, but in the end the Texas legislature would not ratify the treaties, and local authorities and settlers refused to acknowledge the agreement.

After being defeated in 1836, Mexico appealed and campaigned to East Texas Indians and encouraged them to rise up against the Anglo-Americans in an attempt to regain the Texas territory. The Mexican government recruited Indians and Blacks to help them disarm Texas. In 1838, Houston was replaced as president by Mirabeau B. Lamar. Lamar had campaigned on the promise of suppressing the Indians and driving them out of Texas and received much support from East Texas. Failure to guarantee the Indians their land made the lush green piney woods of East Texas turn red with the blood of early settlers.

Those who stayed behind to hold down the home front in Houston County saw their share of bloody battles. Almost two centuries ago, a gruesome massacre occurred in the northeastern portion of the county, near San Pedro Creek and the Augusta community, which was established in 1821. The massacre has lived on as local legend of a tragedy that claimed the lives of many helpless people. The blood curdling screams of women and children echoed through the piney woods on that night, October 18, 1838, accompanied by the war whoops of Indians, in what is known as the Edens-Madden Massacre.
Augusta Texas Road Sign
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
Augusta, Texas
Houston County
San Pedro Creek in  Houston County Texas
San Pedro Creek
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
It was a frosty fall night in the San Pedro Creek area, approximately 10 miles east of Grapeland. Wives and children of soldiers who had been deployed to Ft. Houston days earlier were gathered in the home of John Edens, along with other neighboring families including the Maddens, Moores, and Murchisons. The group had learned of an approaching band of Indians, and considering the widespread attacks on Anglos in recent months, had all gathered at the Edens home. The Edens home is said to have been “two separate dwellings,” while other accounts specify that it was a classic dogtrot style house. The dogtrot style house was a classic East Texas farm house that allowed the cool breeze to air condition the home. At any rate, both dwellings were used in times of danger. In such times, men would occupy one building and the women and children would stay in the other.

The Edens homestead was fairly surrounded by multiple Indian tribes. Indian tribes living in the area around the time of the attack included the Cherokees, Anadarkos, Caddos, Ionis, and Coushattas. While blame has been laid on different tribes for the massacre at Edens’, the tribe most likely responsible is believed to be the Kickapoos. According to a statement made in the county court of Nacogdoches in October 1838, a hostage that had been held during the rebellion by the Mexicans and Indians, stated that the Kickapoos had taken credit for the attack at Edens’, in Houston County.

After awhile the anticipation passed and the group began to feel more at ease. The settlers had kept a sharp eye out for Indians throughout the day, and there was nothing to indicate the Indians intended to attack them or were any longer in the vicinity. The group had begun to relax and move about with less suspicion, and as bedtime neared, the men and women both retired to their separate dwellings for the evening, albeit just a breezeway away.
San Pedro Creek sign, Houston County, Texas
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
The settlers had underestimated the treachery of the vengeful Indians. Kickapoo Indian spies had been positioned near and around the house most of the day. They had been watching the group’s every move and fully understood how they were positioned and furthermore separated. The Indians waited patiently until the moment was opportune to launch their full scale attack. When the Indians saw that the men had retired for the evening they made their move and advanced on the group’s moment of weakness. Such was the moment of doom for most of the group. The Indians rushed into the house, taking the group by complete surprise and cutting them off from the few men who were in their quarters across the way. The Indians commenced to unleashing a hideous butchery on the women and children, which became the dark legend of the Edens-Madden Massacre. The Indians wasted no time swinging away with their tomahawks, while other Indians barricaded the doors and stood watch in case any reinforcements were to arrive.

Different accounts passed down from survivors described over the past 172 years vary. Some accounts describe how the men fought the Indians with desperation, as only men would fight in their final hours. One account from a neighbor whose household had fled into the creek bottoms to take cover in the timber after hearing the war whoops said the men fought like wild animals at bay; like savages themselves. Other accounts passed down over the years suggested the men fled the scene believing all of the women and children were dead.

With no protection and outnumbered, the group could only do their best then die. The Indians had every advantage in the struggle, and overpowered the women and children with ferocity. One historian’s account suggests that the women and children were unable to escape due to a “powerful and hideous demon,” who blocked the doorway with his massive body. The Indian in the doorway was said to have been so large that he could grasps the lintels of the doorway with his hands. The massive Indian is also said to have yelled with laughter as he watched his accomplices hack away at the women and children. Tomahawks and scalping knives were slung unyielding throughout the room, as the helpless captives were butchered and scalped. Cries for help resounded through the hollers of the piney woods, and pierced the night air with terror, but no one came to their aid that night.
San Pedro Creek sign, Houston County, Texas
San Pedro Creek
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
The Edens-Madden Massacre has proven not only to be a tragedy, but a true horror story that has stood the test of time. Tales of the attack depict a chaotic and horrific scene. The Indians ripped into the feather beds setting free thousands of feathers, only adding to the confusion and chaos in the room. Stories of how “wild” Indians slashed into the defenseless women and children mercilessly have become legend.

The Indians set fire to everything during the attack by spreading coals from the fireplace over everything in the room. Children were thrown into the flames alive and set on fire, others had their heads beaten in against the log walls of the house. One witness’s account recalled a woman who had been tomahawked severely and fell dead into the fireplace after the blow. She was said to have been bleeding so profusely that her blood extinguished the flames in the fire place, leaving the Indians to do their work in a dimly lit room.

Mrs. Edens attempted to escape, and succeeded as far as the front gate before meeting her fate. John Edens was said to have rushed up on the scene, firing one shot with an old pistol before retreating into the woods. Assuming all of the women and children were dead he and the other men fled for safety.

James Madden managed to escape from the house and led several of the Indians on a lengthy foot pursuit. Madden raced through the pine trees and over fences until he reached a creek. With the Indians hot on his heels, Madden took a deep breath and plunged into the cold creek waters. The Indians did not see him dive into the water and continued downstream along the creek banks in search of him.
Augusta Cemetery, Texas  - J.S. Edens Tombstone
J.S. Edens Tombstone in Augusta Cemetery
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
Augusta Cemetery, Texas  - Balis Madden Tombstone
Balis Madden Tombstone
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
Augusta Cemetery
Mrs. Madden was cruelly hacked to pieces. She suffered a severed collarbone from being chopped with a tomahawk, and a second gash through her ribs, near her spine. The third and final blow opened a gash in the back of her head, causing her to fall to the floor. The Indians assumed she was dead and moved on to killing other women and children. As the Indians finished off the remaining women and children, Mrs. Madden made her move.

Legend has it that Mrs. Madden pulled her broken and bleeding body out of the house, passing through the legs of the large Indian guarding the front door. In all of the excitement the Indians had failed to notice her slow moving body dragging across the floor. Mrs. Madden crawled slowly away from the doomed house and toward the fence, where she was then rescued by a slave named Patsy. Mrs. Madden’s will to survive was obviously a trait she passed on to her son Balis as well. Balis had saved his own life by following his mother and running off to seek safety among the slaves. Balis later told his own son that he bedded down with the hogs that night. Mrs. Madden recovered from her wounds, and often talked about how she had never slept better in all her life, likely due to extreme blood loss. She lived to be 77 years old.

It is impossible to know how many were killed that October night. According to the historical marker, all four men escaped, as well as two small children and two wounded women. Some accounts suggest multiple children were carried off by the Indians. Before fleeing the bloody scene, the Indians plundered the home of all its valuables, and set the house a blaze. They stole all of the guns that the group had intended to use against them, along with all but one horse that was tied up near the home.
Augusta Texas historical markers
Historical markers in Augusta
Photo by Dana Goolsby, February 2011
Today four historical markers stand in the bend of the curb in the Augusta Community, at the site of the massacre. The bodies that were recovered from the vicious attack are buried in the Augusta Cemetery, among many other pioneers of Houston County. The cemetery is located down a red dirt road, CR 1680, just 3/10 of a mile from FM 227 where the historical markers stand. The oldest documented grave in the cemetery dates back to 1854. Numerous infants and young children are resting in the cemetery, along with multiple pioneers. One young pioneer buried at the site is that of a young girl who died while traveling with a wagon train. Victims of the 1918 influenza epidemic and Civil War veterans are also buried in Augusta. Other graves were never marked or have been lost over time, but will never be forgotten. While many of those resting in the Augusta are older than Texas itself, there are still Houston County residents being laid to rest among the first pioneers of Houston County.

© Dana Goolsby
"In The Pines With Dana Goolsby" March 8, 2011 Column

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