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 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.