of the most storied events in the historic past of Lockhart,
Texas occurred two miles south of town along the wooded banks of Plum Creek,
when a small group of volunteers defeated more than 600 Comanche and Kiowa warriors
who had participated in the Great Comanche Raid of 1840. The volunteers, militia,
and Texas Rangers who fought the battle answered the call from Gonzales,
Antonio, Austin, Bastrop,
and La Grange, and from scattered
homesteads all across central
early August of 1840, under the silvery light of a brilliant full moon, referred
to by early Texas settlers for good reason as a Comanche moon, a war party of
more than 600 Comanche and Kiowa warriors swept out of the Comancheria and rode
for the heart of the Republic of Texas. The massive raid was launched in retaliation
for what the Comanches perceived to be the unprovoked killing of twelve Penateka
war chiefs and many innocent women and children at the Council House peace talks
in San Antonio.
the citizens of San Antonio had
lived in fear of retribution after the incident at the Council
House, expecting the Comanches to immediately retaliate for their losses.
However, after a few quiet months had passed the Texans began to grow complacent,
sure that the savages had learned a hard lesson. This assumption could not have
been further from the truth. The dreaded horse warriors were a fierce people who
would never allow such an insult to freely pass. They had simply withdrawn deeper
into the northern reaches of the Comancheria to gather their widely scattered
bands in council and plot a course of revenge.
Hump, one of the few surviving Penateka war chiefs, led the massive war party
on a trail that passed well to the east of San
Antonio into an
area of the Republic that was relatively uninhabited. This cunning strategy allowed
the Comanches to achieve the element of surprise before spreading out and cutting
a wide swath of destruction across the fertile lands that stretched to the southeast
along the Guadalupe River. Killing and burning as they rode, the Comanches didn’t
halt their movement southeast until they reached the old settlement of Victoria
late in the afternoon of August 6.
Instead of bypassing Victoria
in the usual mode of roving Comanche war parties, Buffalo Hump convinced his warriors
to surround the town. He then did something few other war chiefs had done before
or since when he led an attack that overran the settlement. Most of the citizens
saved themselves by banding together and forting up in the south part of town,
but fifteen people, including seven slaves lost their scalps as the Comanches
galloped through the streets howling their war cries and launching arrows at anything
the smoke of the fight had cleared Victoria,
the Comanches were again on the move to the southeast, by now driving a herd of
nearly two thousand stolen horses and mules ahead of them. This vast herd of “Comanche
Gold” would eventually lead to their undoing. Proceeding down the Guadalupe
River bottomlands unhindered, the savage hoard burned and killed as the opportunity
Once word of the raid began to slowly spread across the valley,
scattered militia companies and volunteers turned out, but they were few and far
between, and at first their only contribution consisted of burying the dead. In
the meantime, all along the Guadalupe,
houses burned and unwary settlers died.
the morning of August 8, as the war party neared Lavaca Bay on the Gulf
Coast, Buffalo Hump formed the warriors into a huge half-moon arc. The target
of their hostilities was the quiet little seaport town of Linnville
which served as the port of entry for San
Antonio. A few of the town’s citizens spotted the Comanches from a distance,
but they mistook the warriors for Mexican traders until the savages began their
By then, there was little for the bewildered inhabitants
to do except row for their lives in small boats or flee for the safety of larger
craft anchored in the bay. Some found refuge on the steamer Mustang lying just
offshore, but others were cut down and immediately scalped before they reached
the water. Those who did manage to escape were forced to sit and watch as their
homes and businesses were looted and burned before their eyes.
spent the entire day pillaging and burning Linnville.
Warehouses packed with goods destined for shipment to San
Antonio were a special delight for the frenzied looters. Warriors dressed
themselves up in top hats and fancy frockcoats. Some even paraded with parasols,
wearing women’s dresses and petticoats, their ponies’ tails braided with entire
bolts of colorful cloth streaming out behind them as they galloped back and forth
through town. Other warriors occupied themselves slaughtering the town’s livestock.
citizen was so distraught and angry over the ransacking and destruction of Linnville
that he waded ashore waving an old muzzle-loading shotgun above his head, bravely
challenging the galloping warriors to meet him in combat. The bewildered Comanches,
thinking the man must be crazy for facing them as he did and therefore untouchable,
simply rode around him, acting as if he didn’t exist. When the man finally gave
up and waded back out to his boat he discovered the shotgun had never been loaded.
satisfied that Comanche blood spilled by the Texans during the Council
House fight had been fully avenged, Buffalo Hump called for a return to the
Comancheria. However, as heavily burdened as the Comanches now were with dozens
of fully loaded pack mules, many prisoners, and well over two thousand stolen
horses and mules, the trail home would prove to be treacherous. To make matters
even worse, at that moment riders were galloping all over central
Texas spreading news of the raid and seeking volunteers to confront the marauders.
A militia company under the command of Captain Tumlinson began using hit and run
tactics to press the savages hard from the rear.
|Further west, veteran
frontier leaders like Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell and Ben McCulloch
were busy gathering the scattered volunteers at the cabin of Isham
Good, one of only two settlers who were brave enough to settle in the remote
area of central Texas.
Good’s cabin stood a mile east of Plum Creek, near the road that led from Gonzales
to the new capital of Austin. |
Buffalo Hump had led the war party west from Linnville
and circled south of San Antonio
on the return ride, the Comanches may well have escaped the trap being laid for
them by the Texans. Instead, the war chief continued to lead his warriors to the
northwest on the same trail the war party used to enter the Republic. The Comanches
were heading straight into the arms of impending disaster.
Late in the
afternoon of August 11, Jack Hays rode up to Isham
Good’s cabin at the head of a company of Texas Rangers from San
Antonio. The presence of the hardened veterans lifted the volunteers’ spirits
and helped bolster their confidence. However, Hays’s arrival was soon followed
by General Felix Huston who rode in from Austin.
Huston insisted that since he was a General in the regular Texas Army, he and
not Caldwell, who had been selected by an earlier election of the men, should
take command. Loud and angry protests immediately erupted from the volunteers.
Unlike General Huston, who was virtually unknown and had little experience
in dealing with Indians, “Paint” Caldwell was a familiar figure to most men on
the frontier, and a veteran of countless engagements with the Comanches. The Texans
both knew and trusted him. However, in spite of the objections expressed by the
volunteers, Caldwell felt Houston was entitled to take command, and the men reluctantly
accepted his decision.
first light the following morning of August 12, the volunteers saddled up and
rode west. After fording Plum Creek at Good’s crossing, the Texans
sent out scouts and followed the course of the creek south. The sky in the east
was beginning to pale with the coming of dawn when the scouts returned and reported
the Comanches had already forded the creek and were heading northwest on a collision
course. At Caldwell’s suggestion, General Huston dismounted the Texans and ordered
them to take cover in the trees and heavy brush that grew along the creek. The
war party, never suspecting danger lurked so near, soon made an appearance, driving
the huge herd of stolen horses before them. |
The west bank of Plum creek looking east|
Photo by Jeffery
Robenalt, December 2010
the Comanches drew abreast of the Texas positions along the creek, Caldwell urged
Huston to attack the war party by surprise. The General was about to follow his
suggestion when a courier arrived from Bastrop
with word that Colonel Burleson was on his way with nearly a hundred more men.
Huston decided to wait for Burleson. The men grumbled their displeasure, but they
grudgingly accepted the General’s decision. By the time Burleson and his men rode
in nearly two hours later, only the rear guard of the huge war party remained.
Looking northwest towards Kelly Springs - the site of the main battle|
by Jeffery Robenalt,
suggested the Comanches could be delayed with an attack on their rear guard, and
after pausing to gather his thoughts, General Huston agreed. When the volunteers
emerged from the trees along Plum Creek and struck the surprised war party,
a running skirmish developed that covered the next few miles, with the Comanches
fighting a series of delaying actions until they reached Kelly Springs,
a mile west of present day Lockhart
and not far from the entrance to Lockhart
State Park. |
After urging the younger warriors to hurry on west with
the loot and the stolen herd, the remainder of the Comanches emerged from the
trees surrounding the springs and formed a battle line facing the Texans. The
Comanches presented quite a spectacle dressed as many of them were in the fancy
clothing stolen from the Linnville
warehouses, and the fierce horse warriors began to gallop back and forth between
the lines, putting on a display of horsemanship that would have rivaled any show
in the world.
General Huston appeared to be content to sit his saddle
and watch the show, but the experienced Indian fighters like Caldwell quickly
realized loot, not combat, was the uppermost thing in the minds of Buffalo Hump
and his warriors. The Comanches were attempting to delay the fight until the younger
warriors had time to drive the huge herd of stolen horses and mules further to
the northwest out of the reach of the Texans. Caldwell insisted it was time to
press the attack home, but General Huston once again hesitated.
midst of the confusion, a Comanche war chief wearing a magnificent feathered headdress
solved the dilemma by trotting his painted pony out of the ranks and boldly challenging
the Texas leaders to individual combat. Suddenly a shot rang out from an unknown
marksman, and the impact of a heavy rifle ball flipped the war chief off the back
of his pony as if he had been swatted across the chest with an ax handle. A low
groan of dismay arose from the Comanches at this sign of bad medicine.
“Now, General, is your time to charge them!” Caldwell shouted.
waiting for an order from General Huston, the Texans, screaming and shooting,
spurred their mounts forward. The herd stampeded and the Comanche battle line
dissolved as the warriors attempted to regain control of the stolen animals. With
the warriors dispersed to the winds, the Texans began to pick them off one at
a time. The struggle was close and cruel, and a running fight ensued that stretched
to the headwaters of the San Marcos River.
Looking west out of the trees along the west bank of Plum Creek where the Rangers
and volunteers concealed themselves before striking the Comanche rear guard -
Photo by Jeffery Robenalt,
Unfortunately for the Comanches, the untimely death of the war chief had ripped
the fighting heart out of the warriors and the day quickly became a massacre rather
than a battle. Before the fighting was over more than eighty Comanche dead lay
strewn along the fifteen mile battlefield. Only one Texan was killed in the fighting,
however the white prisoners weren’t as lucky. Many of them were put to death before
they could be rescued.
The heavy losses suffered by the Penateka Comanches
severely crippled their fighting ability. Never again would they attack in such
force or raid so deep into Texas territory. Instead
the horse warriors resumed their old hit and run guerrilla tactics that would
continue to prove a formidable obstacle to westward expansion for many years to
President Lamar was now convinced that the Comanches must be taught
a lesson for their effrontery, and he ordered Texas Ranger Colonel John Moore
to prepare an expedition for a retaliatory attack on a Comanche winter village
far up the Colorado. The Texas Rangers would now carry the fight deep into the
heart of the Comancheria. The Great Raid and the Battle of Plum Creek remain a
colorful part of the history of Lockhart.
of Texas Past"'
January 9, 2011 Column
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by Jeffery Robenalt