political news in the Capital
City, neither of Austin’s
two daily newspapers covered Webb’s talk. Had reporters been there,
they would have heard him explain to those on hand that the fight
on Brushy Creek had been the culmination of a series of events that
began the month before.
Jan. 26, 1839, La
Grange plantation owner John H. Moore led 63 volunteers and
nearly a score Lipan Apache scouts on an expedition against a large
party of Comanches camped on the upper San
Gabriel River. A fight on February 15 proved indecisive, but
like most conflicts, spilled blood soon brought more spilled blood.
In retaliation, a Comanche war party with as many as 300 warriors
swept down the Colorado River into the settlements of Central
Texas, killing Elizabeth Coleman and two of her children on
February 24 in Bastrop
County. The raiders also struck the nearby cabin of Dr. James
W. Robertson. Luckily for the doctor and his family, they were not
at home, but the Indians captured seven of his slaves – a woman,
five children and an old man.
As word of the Indian incursion spread, fourteen Bastrop
County men under Capt. John J. Grumbles saddled up to pursue
the raiders. They soon overtook the war party but pulled back when
they realized they had bitten off more than they could chew. Following
the arrival of an additional 52 men, the volunteers resumed the
pursuit under the command of Jacob Burleson.
Twenty-five miles from the scene of the Coleman massacre, Burleson
and his volunteers overtook the Comanches on the prairie near Brushy
Creek. As the Indians tried to reach a line of timber that would
have afforded them a more easily defended position, Burleson ordered
his men to gallop between the Indians and the trees.
Fourteen-year-old Winslow Turner and veteran Indian-fighter Samuel
Highsmith did as they were told and dismounted to face the Indians.
But the other volunteers, realizing they were seriously outnumbered,
wheeled their horses to flee.
Knowing he could not face the Comanches with only one man and a
boy, Burleson shouted to the pair to get back on their horses and
retreat as well. Just as Burleson started to spur his horse into
a run for safety, he saw that the teenager was having trouble getting
back astride his nervous mount. Burleson jumped out of his saddle
to lend a hand and caught an Indian bullet in the back of his head.
Edward Burleson, a brigadier general in the militia, soon arrived
with reinforcements. Assuming overall command, the general rode
after the Indians who had killed his brother.
The Houston Telegraph offered this account of the fight that followed:
“General Burleson, at the head of about 70 men, recently encountered
a large body of Indians on the Brushy, and, after one or two skirmishes,
finding the enemy numerous, retreated to a ravine in order to engage
them with more advantage; but the Indians, fearing to attack him
in his new position, drew off and retreated into a neighboring thicket.
“Being unable to pursue them, he returned to Bastrop.
It is reported that he has lost three men in this engagement; the
loss of the Indians is not known; it, however, must have been considerable,
as most of the men under Burleson were excellent marksmen, and had
often been engaged in Indian warfare.”
The newspaper had it mostly right. When the Indians fell back into
the woods, Burleson and his men got what sleep they could overnight
and charged the thicket early on the morning of Feb. 25.
But they found the Indians had decamped.
They had left behind one of Dr. Robertson’s slaves, an old man who
told Burleson the Rangers had killed about 30 of the Indians. If
that number was correct, Burleson’s losses were minor in comparison
– only three men (Ed Blakey, John Walters and James Gilleland) killed
or mortally wounded. But he also had lost a brother.
J.W. Wilbarger devoted four-and-a-half pages to the fight in his
1889 classic book, “Indian Depredations of Texas.” Noah Smithwick,
who participated in Moore’s expedition but missed the Brushy Creek
fight, later termed the battle “disastrous,” the result of a “badly
In the end, the only accomplishment attributable to the fight on
Brushy Creek was that it further fueled the animosity between Comanche
and Texans. The war would continue for nearly another 40 years.
© Mike Cox
February 2005 column