flashlight beams crisscrossed in the darkness as the young men and women made
their way through the thick post oaks.
Ernie May, who worked in the drug
store at Breckenridge’s Burch
Hotel, his wife and some of their friends were camping on Hubbard Creek off the
old Canyon Road southwest of town. They had been fishing, but when the sun went
down they built a campfire and had been sitting around it telling stories.
midnight, their conversation drifted to the old days when hostile Indians prowled
the wild country along the Clear Fork of the Brazos. That’s when one of their
number said he knew of some old graves not too far from their camp. Grabbing their
flashlights, the campers followed their friend into the night. Not far from a
landmark known as Rattlesnake Den, their guide’s light illuminated three
mounded graves topped with limestone slabs.
Carved on one of the rocks
they could see the word “Hazlewood” and the number “68.”
While their guide
had known where to find the graves, what happened next caught everyone by surprise.
About 30 yards
from the graves, Mrs. May walked up on an old rifle thrust barrel-first into the
ground. Shining their lights on the rusty weapon, they soon spotted a second old
gun not far from the first.
they later broke camp, May took the old rifles home with him. As word of the discovery
spread, he agreed to loan them for display in the lobby of the National Theater.
One of the weapons was a flintlock rifle, the other was described as “a Minnie
ball caliber” rifle with a shortened barrel. The stocks had just about rotted
off from both weapons.
discovery of the old guns soon made the weekly Stephens County Sun, which published
a page-one story on April 28, 1933.
“Old timers recall that Hazlewood
was a great Indian fighter of many years agone,” the newspaper said. “That he
was trapped and killed by the red men but not before some of their own lives had
been taken by this intrepid fighter.”
Hazlewood, having died game, had
won the respect of his attackers.
“The Indians, as a mark of recognition
to bravery, would leave an arrow sticking upright in the ground by an victim whose
valor and fighting spirit they respected,” the newspaper continued. “When Hazlewood’s
body was found, so goes the story, an arrow so upright bore evidence…to his courage.”
Admitting that he had “picked up only a thread of facts” the author of
the story said, “Mr. May would like to know and the Sun would like to publish”
the rest of the story.
Sun editor soon got more details from Elisha L. Christessen, then Stephens County’s
oldest resident. Christessen said one of the graves belonged to George Hazlewood,
killed by Indians on March 2, 1868. Two of his daughters, Mrs. Donna Cain and
Mrs. Belle Ferguson, still lived in San
Angelo, he said.
“He was a good shot, a brave spirit and when caught
out by a bunch of red skins he cut down on them and gave a mighty good account
of himself,” the old man said. “In fact, he killed three Indians and wounded very
badly both a negro and a Mexican who were along with the Indians.”
it hadn’t been for a strong south wind that blew sand into Hazlewood’s eyes, he
likely would have killed more of his attackers, Christessen said.
then the old man offered some interesting insight on Indian-fighting.
armed only with arrows and riding ponies almost always prevailed over any lone
rider they encountered. The reason, Christessen said, was that the people caught
out alone would quite understandably panic, spur their horse and ride the wind
out of it trying to escape.
On the other hand, he continued, Indians rode
smarter, never winding their mounts if they could help it. Consequently, they
usually could outlast a better mounted rider. Christessen said Indians also would
fan out in their pursuit so that if the person they were after tried to turn one
way or the other, he would ride into their line of fire.
would high tail it for cover. If they could manage to take a steep enough toll
to demoralize the Indians, they often would give to cut their losses.
Hazelwood had been armed with a Sharp’s rifle, a .50 caliber weapon that would
kill a buffalo. It only fired one round at a time, but one account says some 40
empty shells littered the ground around him when he was found. The Indians took
that rifle, his horse and other equipment, but they left him unscalped as a testimony
to his bully fight.
The Indians who killed Hazlewood rode up Hubbard Creek
to its headquarters and raided a settler’s house near the old Ledbetter salt walks
in present Shackleford County. Soldiers from nearby Fort Griffin took up the trail
and killed or captured the Indians.
several writers over the years have offered a version of the Hazlewood story,
no one seems to have explained the old guns Mrs. May found that spring night 65
years after the battle. Nor has anything turned up indicating what happened to
the vintage firearms beyond having been displayed for a time at a Breckenridge
© Mike Cox
18, 2010 column