Life and Times of Elizabeth Ann Bishop
Maggie Van Ostrand
of the Texas frontier women who taught the wilderness to quit howling
and behave itself was Elizabeth Ann Bishop. Any time you might be
thinking you're having troubles, no matter if they're small or very,
very big, compare them to the trials and tribulations of Elizabeth
Ann. What she endured is testament to the strength of frontier women.
Historians write and talk a lot about the brave men of the Old West,
their adventures, their fortitude, their foresight, and the things
they write and talk a lot about are true enough. After all, men had
cattle, horses, and each other to be boisterous buddies with.
And they're portrayed in movies by such studly men as John Wayne,
Sam Elliott and Clint Eastwood.
Little is written about the frontier women of the Old West whose duties
included raising families, growing food, and the steadfast support
of their men. They supplied doctoring (gunshot wounds, snake bites,
broken bones) and offered the stability of religion and serenity.
It doesn't sound that interesting when the women are lumped together
but taken individually, there are quite a few standouts. One was Elizabeth
Ann Bishop, born March 19, 1825 in Alabama.
She gave the phrase "cutting edge" new dimensions way back nearly
two hundred years ago when she married Alexander Joseph Carter, a
free black man. It takes guts to be "different" today; can you imagine
what it took back then?
The Carters had two children, Joe and Mildred, and lived with Alexander's
parents in Red River and Navarro counties before moving west to Fort
Belknap in Young County. Frontier women of that time were generally
middle-class easterners enjoying good health (otherwise they would've
died on the trail west), had awesome responsibilities (you try skinning
and frying a rabbit in the middle of a rainstorm) and were subject
to great loneliness (due to scarcity of other women to talk to). Even
then, it was probably not so easy to talk to a man who isn't listening.
One of the only social outlets for a woman then, and it would have
to have been a relatively large settlement, was the quilting
bee. Nothing dramatic or romantic, just women chatting with one another
as they quilted. Even when they were having "fun," they were working.
The Carters raised stock and farmed, with Elizabeth managing the ranch
owned by her father-in-law who also owned a cargo transportation business.
Elizabeth paid no attention to the fact that she was both illiterate
and epileptic as proven by the fact that she also ran a boarding house
(the Carter Trading House) as well.
It is at this point in Elizabeth Ann's life that mysterious things
commenced happening, and her future, once bright and predictable,
became a nightmare of hardship and heartbreak.
1857, person or persons unknown murdered both her husband and her
father-in-law. Her children inherited the boarding house and business
from their late grandpappy, she got nothing, unless you count despair
and calluses. She did, however, continue to operate the boarding house
and manage the ranch.
A rare bit of good fortune came Elizabeth's way in 1858 when the Butterfield
Overland Mail began stopping in Fort Belknap which was very good for
business. She became one of the most successful women on the frontier,
but her good fortune was short-lived.
The following year, she did the only thing an illiterate frontier
woman could do for protection, she married again. This time she hooked
up with an Army officer, Lt. Owen A. Sprague, but luck failed her
again and Lt. Sprague disappeared eight months later. Nobody knew
if he ran off or got shot or was kidnapped by hostile Indians. It
remains a mystery.
Undaunted, in 1862, Elizabeth Ann married Thomas FitzPatrick, a cowhand
who worked on the ranch. He, too, met his fatal finish, possibly at
the hand of a Union soldier. Another mystery.
If you think all this was pretty tragic, you ain't heard nothin' yet.
the latter days of 1864, the people were suffering from the effects
of a long and bitter war. Furthermore the year brought one of the
most devastating draughts ever witnessed in West
Texas. Indian pillaging and plundering had made life miserable
and the despondent citizens were already living in despair.
On October 13,
1864, as Confederate forces vanquished the Union army on Darbytown
Road in Virginia with 950 lives lost, Elizabeth was fighting a battle
for her own life in her Texas hometown.
ranch, as it was now called, about nine miles west of the present
town of Newcastle, was attacked in the Elm Creek Raid, one of the
largest raids ever made in West
Texas, reportedly by between 600 and a thousand wildly painted
savages who called out in English that they were friendly to whites.
"But the arrows still sticking in several of the dogs that had run
to them for their protection, gave the lie to all such assertions"
writes J.W. Wilbarger in his book "Indian Depredations in Texas."
was taken captive by Comanche Chief, Little Buffalo, after first refusing
to go with him. Her 21-year-old daughter, widow Mildred Durgan, fired
away with her shotgun as Indians broke down the door. She was thrown
to the ground "while one Indian split her skull and scalped her, another
Indian struck Mrs. Fitzpatrick with his spear to force her to look
upon her daughter's torture," writes David Paul Smith in "Frontier
Defense in the Civil War." Mrs. Durgan's infant son was also slaughtered,
and the Indians took Elizabeth's 13-year-old son, Joe Carter, and
two other granddaughters, Lottie (5) and Milly (2). Shortly after
the raid, the Indians saw that young Joe Carter was too ill to sit
up and travel, so "they tied the boy to a brush heap, set fire to
it, and forced his mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, to watch him
Title: Indian Raid on Elm Creek, C.S.A
Address: US 380, W of Newcastle
Year Marker Erected: 1964
Marker Location: From Newcastle, take US 380 West about 8 mi.
Photo by Susan Dial
Courtesy of TexasBeyondHistory.net.
| Elizabeth was
held in captivity by Kiowa Indian Chief Sun Boy in northwestern Kansas
on the Arkansas River. It is believed that her granddaughter Milly
was held in Comanche Chief Iron Mountain's camp and froze to death
there, while Lottie spent nine months as captive, and was tattooed
on her arms and forehead by Comanche who later released her.
In November 1865, General J.H. Leavenworth rescued Elizabeth and took
her to the Kaw Mission at Council Grove, Kansas, where she was put
to work caring for another recently released woman and her children.
For almost a year, Elizabeth nursed, cooked, and sewed for a growing
number of newly released women, and was paid $3.00 a week. She became
spokeswoman for the released captives, complaining that adequate and
safe transportation back to their homes was taking too long and more
should be done to free those still held captive.
Elizabeth continued to speak up for them until August 27, 1866, when
she and several others began their long trek home. She was reunited
with freed granddaughter Lottie in Parker County. It was time to start
looking for another husband.
In 1869, Elizabeth married Isaiah Clifton, a Parker County farmer
and widower, though some say they never actually married since no
marriage license was ever found. Let's give Elizabeth a break and
say they were, even though Clifton's children did not acknowledge
her as their father's wife. The Cliftons moved to Fort Griffin with
granddaughter Lottie and Clifton's youngest four children, to manage
what remained of the land left to Lottie after her mother's murder
during the Elm Creek Raid.
In 1880, Isaiah Clifton died of natural causes and was buried in the
oldest cemetery in Shakelford County. Elizabeth herself died just
two years later at the age of 57, still believing that her other granddaughter,
Millie, might be alive.
After years of backbreaking labor, unbearable personal losses, and
monumental suffering at the hands of savages, Elizabeth Ann Bishop
Carter Sprague FitzPatrick Clifton died, alone and penniless.
August 15, 2007 column
The devastating Elm Creek Raid has been immortalized in several movies
including John Ford's The Searchers starring John Wayne and Black
Fox starring Christopher Reeve.
NOTE 2: The spelling of Mildred Durgan's name shows up several
ways, Durkin, Durgen and Durgan
Texas Myths and Legends: Stories of the Frontier, John C. Ferguson
Handbook of Texas Online
Fort Belknap Frontier Saga: Indians, Negroes and Anglo-Americans on
the Texas Frontier (Burnet, Texas: Eakin Press, 1982) Barbara A. Neal