Giles and three other men sat astride their horses atop a hill in
what is now Kendall
As the riders surveyed the countryside from the high ground, they
saw six Indians approaching. The warriors looked menacing.
was an architect from England, the other men were savvy frontiersman
who had come to Texas from Kentucky and Tennessee. As Giles' son
Ernest Palmer Giles later told the story, "The mountain men told
my father to load his gun and put it straight up in the air. Then
they put their horses pointing in every direction."
One of the men told Giles that being arrayed in that manner, with
one horseman facing each of the cardinal directions in a cross-shaped
formation, constituted Indian sign language for "If they [the Indians]
wanted to fight they [the Anglos] were ready, but they would not
The Indians spoke only Comanche and maybe some Spanish, but they
got the message. Instead of attacking, they rode around the men
three times in a tight circle. Then, with loud war whoops they galloped
off in the direction of Boerne.
Comanches respected bravery. Sometimes they settled for "counting
coup" rather than bloodshed. In the instance Giles's son related,
both the Indians and their would-be adversaries had displayed admirable
resolve. If they fought, it would be on another day.
Such encounters became a subset of frontier folklore.
his 1858 memoir, the Rev. Daniel Baker, who came to Texas in 1840
and again in 1848, related an incident he heard from a fellow man
of the cloth.
The preacher, whom he did not name, told Baker he had been riding
alone across open prairie "to an appointment" when he saw a single
"Feathered and painted, [he was] coming right down upon me, fast
as his horse could travel, lance in rest," the preacher told Baker.
While the Indian had a long spear topped with a sharp blade, the
preacher carried nothing but an umbrella. He had no rifle, no pistol,
or no knife with which to defend himself.
"So," the clergyman explained to Baker, "I committed my soul to
God, and rode steadily on, looking right in his face. He came full
speed down upon me, but just as his lance was at my breast, he turned
it aside and rode on, without drawing rein."
If that experience wouldn't make a Methodist out of you, what would?
The preacher continued: "I never looked behind, but blessed the
Lord, and rode on to my appointment."
Baker had no trouble relating to that story. After preaching in
San Antonio, he planned
to ride to Austin to reach
out to the sinners (and presumably some of the saved) there. But
before he could offer a sermon at the new capital, he had to ride
through Indian country.
"Every day whilst I was in San
Antonio," he wrote, "I heard of the Indians committing murder
and depredations all around."
So, firmly believing the good Lord helps those who help themselves,
the reverend borrowed a gun for the dangerous 75-mile journey.
"But finding it...an awkward weapon," he continued, "I returned
it; and it was well, for had trouble come, in all probability I
would have shot at the stars just as soon as the Indians."
Rather than take the stagecoach, Baker opted to ride with several
men "for mutual protection." But, "taking time...by the forelock,"
he decided to leave early, assuming the other riders would catch
up with him.
"Permitting my horse to walk on slowly," he wrote, "I passed by
the Alamo, and soon
found myself out of sight of the town, on the road solitary and
Baker expected the other men would catch up with him, but by the
time he had reached Salado
Creek, they still had not appeared. Still, though nervous, the
preacher kept riding. He made it to Austin
with his scalp intact, but rumor had spread that he had been killed
and he later got to enjoy several laudatory obituaries published
in other states where he had preached. One of his East Coast colleagues
of the cloth wrote Baker to express his pleasure that he was still
alive, though he did note that the happy news had spoiled a fine
In Austin, someone told
Baker of an incident "illustrative of the heroism of Texan females,
which occurred near this place not many years ago."
A hundred Indians, he wrote, had swept down on two men in a field
in the vicinity of Webber's Prairie (present Webberville in Travis
County) and killed them while "[putting] a third to flight."
Alerted to the raid by the shaken survivor, "a young woman, scarcely
16 years of age, undertook to protect her family."
She took off her dress and donned what Baker called "a captain's
uniform, with a cocked hat." Then, she "courageously walked out
of her house, and beckoned to the Indians to come on, at the same
time making signs to those within the house (only some women and
children, and an old man) to repress their ardor and keep still."
Seeing someone in a military uniform inviting them to fight, the
Indians reined their horses to ponder the situation.
As Baker explained it, "The Indians, supposing that the brave captain's
company were within, eager to charge, thought it best to withdraw
from so dangerous a post, and they accordingly fled! Certainly the
Texan Congress should have granted her a captain's commission and
pay for life."
© Mike Cox
- March 3, 2016 Column
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