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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Deadly Skunk

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

The word "skunked" means coming up empty handed, but it also covers plain old bad luck.

On the night of Feb. 13, 1859, a young Texan's luck ran out on him in a particularly tragic way.

Twenty-three-old John A. Davis was on his way with several others to cut timber in the Lost Pines of Bastrop County. When Davis and his fellow travelers had covered 10 or 12 miles, about as far as wagons could make it in a day's time, they stopped to camp for the night.

It being winter, they doubtless rustled up wood for a fire and cooked supper, perhaps some fresh venison roasted over the flames. Maybe they brewed a pot of coffee or pulled the cork from a jug and drank a little whiskey to at least make them think they were warm and comfortable. Perhaps, being young men, they drank a bit more than they should have.

Having a long day ahead of them, at some point they called it a night. It would be a short one.

Somewhere around midnight, an intruder wandered quietly into camp.

Davis just happened to wake up and the first thing he saw was a white-striped pole cat. Instead of jumping up and hoofing it in the opposite direction, he lashed out at it. His reaction may have been instinctive, but it was the wrong thing to do. The skunk swung around, lifted its tail and sprayed the no longer happy camper.

Scared and thoroughly covered with the animal's odoriferous musk, Davis again succumbed to his instincts and ran frantically through the camp.

The commotion startled the other men awake and gave one of them a badly mistaken impression. Thinking they were being attacked, instead of screaming "skunk!" he yelled "Indians!"

Seeing someone running around like a wild Comanche, Dick King grabbed his rifle and put a bullet in the shadowy form. The shot felled the hapless Davis, who soon died.

King manfully mounted up and rode back to Manchaca, where the Davis family lived, to report the tragedy to Jenkins Davis, the young man's father. The elder Davis saddled up and returned with King to the scene of the accidental shooting. The stench was as horrible in its way as what had transpired.

Given the circumstances, there would be little time for Davis, his wife and family to say their last farewells. John Davis had to be put in the ground as soon as possible.

Not wanting his son buried in Austin, the closest community with a cemetery, Davis laid his son to rest just north of Boggy Creek, near a school house. Davis later bought two acres at the site and deeded the tract to the Onion Creek Masonic Lodge for use as a cemetery.

First known as Boggy Creek Cemetery and later as the Masonic Cemetery, the graveyard is located on Circle S Road, two blocks south of William Cannon Drive and I-35 in Travis County. Twenty-two other Davis family members are buried there, including Jenkins Davis, who ended up surviving his son by 19 years.

Later that year, in north Texas, the Dallas Herald reported another campsite invasion. The outcome proved better than it was for John Davis, but traumatic nevertheless. Whoever wrote the article, not having been involved, treated it as a humorous happening. But for those who were there that night, it was no laughing matter.

"A few nights since," the reporter wrote, "as one of our county men was quietly sleeping on the green prairie, he was aroused from his refreshing slumbers, by feeling the fangs of some nocturnal monster fastened through...the cartilaginous portion of his nose...Before he could dislodge the invader...another wound was inflicted, when he seized the daring creature and held him firmly; his cries for help, in the meantime, having aroused the whole camp."

When someone lit a lantern, the victim, his face bloody, was clutching his attacker-a skunk. The man had managed to strangle the cat-sized mammal, but the fine-haired critter got in the last lick.

"The bite was severe," the newspaper continued, "but that was the least of the evils that were entailed upon the young man. The campers had no breakfast next morning."

And then, in the style of the day, the reporter concluded his prose with what he saw as a fitting quote from "Farewell," a poem by Thomas Moore:

"You may break-you may [shatter] the vase, if you will, But the scent of the Rose will cling around it still."

That sentiment would have brought no comfort to the family and friends of John A. Davis.

Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" February 13 , 2019

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