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Texas | Columns | Somewhere in the West

Conflict on the Frio

The McLaurin Massacre

by Linda Kirkpatrick

April 20, 1881-The Day After

The little girl tightly held her mother’s hand. They quietly walked the short distance to the main dirt road that traversed the small community of Leakey, Texas. Many people were already gathered. They spoke in hushed tones this mid April day. There was a light mist falling, just enough to settle the dust on the road.

The little girl could feel her mother’s hand begin to tremble as the soft sound of the horse’s hooves could be heard in the distance. The horses were unaware of their part in this sad but memorable event as the pulled the wagon to the small settlement. As the wagon bringing the dead approached, the sound made by the hitched horses pulling against the hames and harnesses grew louder. The combination of sounds played a mournful funeral dirge. A dirge the little girl would never forget. She could sense that it was a sad and scary occasion as she peeked around her mother’s skirt to get her first glimpse of the wagon as it drew closer.

It was not a welcoming event for the people of the community. It was a tragedy that would live in the pages of history for the years to come. They lined the road on both sides. Women cried softly, while most of the men coughed and cleared their throats attempting to stifle their feelings. A few of the men allowed their tears to roll unchecked down their cheeks. The young children were mostly confused but sensed their parent’s protection getting stronger.

Everyone had taken for granted that the Indian Wars were over. There had been no reports of Indian raids of late and because of this many folks had let down their guard. But yesterday’s attack had brought everything back to reality. The Frio Canyon was still a place to live with caution. The creaking wagon proved it.

April 18, 1881 and the Time Before
The McLaurin Family

The story of the McLaurins stretches back to the moors of Scotland. Duncan McLaurin was one of the first to set foot on the soil of America. He arrived with his wife and eleven children around 1788. They were mainly farmers. Their lives were devastated after the Civil War so they salvaged what remained and like many others moved west. The move brought them to Texas. The many trails to Texas were lined with the graves of families and friends of these early settlers. Upon arriving in Texas the settlers realized that they had to make do with the barest of necessities. They also became acquainted with the Comanche and Apache. In many instances the acquaintance was not a friendly one. The settlers felt that the land was theirs for the taking and the Indians felt that the land was theirs to keep and defend. A bad mix for both.

The elder John McLaurin, Sr. and his family made their way to the Frio Canyon in 1872. They built a native limestone rock house with 24 inch thick walls on Flat Creek. The house is standing today.

John McLaurin, Jr. was not satisfied with the original location of the homestead south of Leakey so he made the decision to move his family north of the small settlement. The conflicts with the Comanche and Apache had been few and he felt that the move north would be a safe one. So he packed up his wife, Catherine (Kate) and their children: Mary Sytarys, Maude Lee, John Alonzo and William Franklin and settled on land about six miles north of Leakey. The place that he chose was a fertile piece of land that was nestled between two towering bluffs with the cool, serene West Fork of the Frio River flowing nearby. The location today is still beautiful, yet haunting.

Not only was this place the new home to the McLaurin family but fourteen year old Allen Lease made his home there as well. Allen was an orphan who was living in a large combined family. Times were hard for everyone especially Allen’s family and in order to make things easier at home Allen moved with the McLaurin’s to help with their new homestead. After all, fourteen year old boys were expected to do a man’s work in this day and time.

The land between the crude log cabin and the river was ideal for Kate’s garden. The cabin was probably just large enough for the family. So with a few free ranging chickens, hogs, milk cow, garden produce and the abundance of wild game the families needs were adequately met.

The Lease Family

Not only was this place the new home to the McLaurin family but fourteen year old Allen Lease made his home there as well. Allen was an orphan who was living in a large combined family. Times were hard for everyone especially Allen’s family and in order to make things easier at home Allen moved with the McLaurin’s to help with their new homestead. After all, fourteen year old boys were expected to do a man’s work in this day and time.

The ancestors of Allen Lease were not unaccustomed to hardship. Allen’s father, William Barney, migrated from Virginia to Texas at a time when these treks were long and dangerous. William Barney Lease was married, in Uvalde, Texas to Catherine McCarthy. Catherine had been widowed twice. She brought to the marriage four children. Catherine and William Barney Lease had three boys, Thomas Mack, Allen and William Henry. Catherine met with a tragic accident shortly after the birth of William Henry. She fell, hitting her head. Head injuries resulting from the fall would be the cause of her death a few days later.

William Barney, now the father and guardian of seven children, married Sarah Fulgham. Sarah was a widow which children of her own. It was a matter of convenience for both. Sarah’s first husband was hung as a northern sympathizer at the beginning of the Civil War. This was a hard time in a hard country for this desperate family.

William Barney Lease was employed by John Leakey in the shingle making business. Lease would haul the shingles south to Sabinal and Ft. Inge where he would deliver the load of shingles and return to Leakey with the payment in gold. It was on his trip home from one of these deliveries that he was ambushed, murdered and robbed of the gold.

Allen’s step mother was once again left destitute. She moved in with her son Tom Fulgham. Tom’s wife had recently died leaving him with five children. Between the two blended families there were eleven children.

So it is no wonder that Allen went to work for John McLaurin at his new ranch north on Leakey. Allen was fourteen or fifteen years old at the time and would be a great help to the McLaurin family and one less mouth to feed at the Fulgham home.

Perhaps what happened that day in April of 1881 was just a robbery gone bad. It is said that evidence showed that the Lipan Apache may have camped on the bluff above the McLaurin home for a couple of days. Perhaps they were waiting for an opportune time to just rob the house. Perhaps they just wanted to see inside the strange home of a white settler. Then again, perhaps they were seeking revenge and had decided to take advantage of an unprotected situation.

The small band of Lipan Apache probably watched John McLaurin as he rode away for the overnight trip to the Cherry Valley Settlement. They may have feared that John would soon be back because they then decided to stay another night on the high bluff.

On the night of April the 18th the Whip-Poor-Wills sang their lonely call to the sighing of the Cypress trees along the bank of the Frio. The Katy Dids added their evening songs as Kate put her children down for the night while high atop the bluff over looking the McLaurin homestead a small campfire flickered and the stars began to send frescos dancing across the bluff. Could this peaceful scene be a misleading charade of the danger soon to come?

McLaurin  massacre site , Leakey Texas
The McLaurin Massacre Site
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick

April 19, 1881-The Morning

It was a crisp, cool morning as Kate McLaurin prepared breakfast for the family. Allen Lease milked the cow and fed the hogs. The hogs were fed a little corn, just enough to keep them around. After these chores were finished, Kate and Allen hauled water from the river. It was wash day and the pots had to be filled and the water heated for the morning long chore.

Atop the high hill, the Lipan Apache watched each step that Kate and Allen took.

It was about mid day when the wash was complete and the clothes were scattered about on bushes and fences to dry. Kate gathered the children and went to the garden. The garden was located close to the river, making it convenient to carry water to irrigate the coveted vegetables. Baby Frank was laid on a quilt pallet for his afternoon nap.

The eyes from atop the hill saw this as the opportune time to descend the hill for a closer look at the cabin and it’s contents. Cautiously they made their way to the cabin all the while Kate, Allen and the children were working in the garden. No one knows the intentions of the Lipan Apache. Had it been revenge they could have killed the family at any time after John left the day before. Maybe they just wanted to get food and plunder from the cabin. No one will ever know or understand what would soon happen.

McLaurin Descendents at the massacre , Leakey Texas
The McLaurin Descendents at the massacre site
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick and the McLaurin Family

April 19, 1881-The Afternoon

The small group of Lipan Apache cautiously approached the cabin. It was clear to them that everyone was at the garden and the cabin was empty of danger as they entered the only door. It must have been an exciting experience for them because in a short time they forgot about the danger of being discovered and in the process of plundering the cabin the noise that they made was heard at the garden not too far away.

Baby Frank woke from his nap and as Kate was tending to him she heard an unfamiliar noise from the direction of the cabin. Immediately, she figured that the pesky hogs had ventured into the yard and cabin. She called to Allen to go take care of the situation. Allen trotted to the cabin only to find that the noise they heard was made by several Indians. In fear, he turned and yelled to Kate. As he started to run back to the garden he was shot in the head by one of the Indians. Allen lay dead on the ground in front of the cabin.

When Kate heard the shot, she screamed for Maude and Alonzo to run. Kate was picking up the baby when the well aimed shot from one of the Lipan met it’s mark. She was then shot again as she attempted to run. Maude and Alonzo escaped the confines of the garden fence and as Maude turned back she saw her wounded mother struggling to get over the fence with the baby. Maude, who was only six years old, ran back and took the baby from her mother. By this time, Kate had been shot five times but with the help of Maude she managed to get over the fence.

Kate collapsed on the other side of the fence. Maude and Alonzo were petrified and Baby Frank was sobbing as his dying, bleeding mother tried desperately to comfort him. Kate knew that this was a desperate situation and the only person that she had to rely on was six year old Maude. The oldest child, Mary was boarding at the community so that she could attend school. Kate called Maude to her and told her that she was going to have to go for help. Maude stood and brushed a wisp of her hair from her eyes as looked south towards help and safety. Then she looked at her mother, turned west and headed straight for the cabin. The Lipans were shocked to see this young girl coming straight towards them. It is possible they might have considered eliminating her life, or to take her as a captive or maybe they just respected her bravery. For whatever reason, they did not harm her. They stood in awe as Maude ran by them and took a pillow from a bed. Maude again ran by the Indians and back to the garden to her dying mother. She placed the pillow under her mother’s head in hopes that the pillow would help ease her mother’s pain.

Everyone still wonders about the compassion shown to the young McLaurin children. Some even say that a young Indian woman in the group may have been the determining factor in the lives of the children being spared. This is just another mystery that will never be solved.

Kate knew her life was fading but she was somewhat comforted by Maude’s act of courage. She again instructed Maude to run to the home of the Fisher’s for help. At this point, brave Maude bid her mother farewell and ran south. She located Mr. Fisher at his favorite fishing hole. Maude told him that her mom had been shot by Indians and that she needed help. Mrs. Fisher was also fishing a short distance away and the three proceeded to the Fisher cabin for a rifle. They knew that more help was needed so they traveled south towards the Leakey settlement about six miles away.

The first stop that they made was the homestead of Jim Hicks. They then picked up Henry Wall and Mrs. Goodman. The next stop was the home of Dave Thompson. It was here that they left the two women and Maude. The men kept moving south, gathering a posse.

Meanwhile back at the McLaurin cabin, the Indians felt at ease because the two main elements of danger lay dead or dying. They finished plundering the cabin, taking items that were easy to carry. Then they mounted their horses and headed for the safety of the mountains of Mexico.

John McLaurin had an uneasy feeling as he rode away from his family the day before. Some say that he had a premonition, one that was not good. He was heading home, riding hard in hopes of getting to his family before the sun set.

As John McLaurin left Leakey heading north he came upon John Leakey, who delivered the sad news. John Leakey assured him that Maude was safe at the Thompson home. The women at the Thompson comforted Maude. The story of the day’s tragic event was told to the women in the voice of a little six year old girl. They listened intently to this first hand account of this historical event.

As the sun was beginning to slowly set in the west, the men of Leakey rode hard to the McLaurin ranch. They arrived to find Kate dying on the banks of the Frio River. In spite of the five gunshot wounds, Kate clung to life out of concern for the safety of her children. John comforted her as best he could but after a few sips of water, Kate drew her final breath.

As darkness cloaked the tragic site, the men decided to wait until morning to take the bodies of Kate McLaurin and Allen Lease to Leakey for burial. The bodies were wrapped in quilts pieced by the hands of Kate McLaurin and laid in the bed of the wagon.

Catherine McLauren Headstone. Leakey Cemetery, Texas
Catherine McLauren Headstone
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick

Allen Lease Headstone, Leakey  Cemetery, Texas
Allen Lease Headstone
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick

April 20, The Day After

Early the next morning the wagon, with its cargo, made its way to Leakey where Kate McLaurin and Allen Lease would be the first bodies laid to rest in the Leakey Floral Cemetery. It was about mid-morning when the wagon reached the community. The street was lined with people, all with sad solemn faces. The silence was deafening except for the slow plod of the horses and the rhythmic sound of the hames and harnesses. No one seemed to move, except for a little girl who peeked around from behind her mother’s skirt to view history as it passed.

The McLaurin Descendents, Leakey Texas
The McLaurin Descendents
Photo courtesy Linda Kirkpatrick and the McLaurin Family

More information on events after the burial of Kate and Allen and the trek into Mexico to find the band of Lipan Apache can be found in the story, “Teresita.”

Printed Material

A.J. Sowell, “Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas”
Alan Stovall, “Breaks of the Balcones”
Alan Stovall, “Upper Nueces Headwater Country”
George Nelson, “The Lipan-Apache”
John Leakey, “The West that Was”
Henderson, Margaret McLaurin, “Tragedy at the McLaurin Ranch”

Oral Stories
Miss Sallye Godbold, The McLaurin Family, Lora B. Garrison, George Nelson

Order Chapbook Last Indian Raid McLaurin Ranch
The Chapbook:

The story of the Last Indian Raid in the Frio Canyon and possibly the entire state of Texas.

Price - $7.00 includes S&H

Send order to:
Linda Kirkpatrick
P.O. Box 128
Leakey, Texas 78873

© Linda Kirkpatrick
Somewhere in the West
June 3, 2007 Column

See Leakey, Texas

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