the governor and the state’s highest ranking U.S. Army officer took time off from
their official duties to go turkey hunting together in the late winter of 1890,
the outing did not escape the attention of the state’s leading newspaper. But
the correspondent who filed the report on the South
Texas hunt missed the real story.
Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross,
then beginning his last year in office, had invited Gen. David Sloan Stanley,
commander of the Army’s Department of Texas, on a turkey-hunting and fishing expedition.
The two men and their assorted friends and staff rendezvoused in Pearsall
on March 4 before departing for three days in “the jungles of the Frio” as the
newspaper put it.
“The first afternoon they killed quail enough for supper
along the route and caught a fine mess of fish,” the newspaper reported on March
9 in a dispatch headlined “Sport in West Texas.” That night, the dispatch from
South Texas continued, “…the governor
killed two turkeys.”
With the exception of one hunter, who only got one
gobbler, everyone else in the party, including the 61-year-old Gen. Stanley, also
bagged two birds. Serving as guides were Hidalgo County Sheriff James L. Doughtery
and someone identified only as “Captain Hudson.”
Taking birds at night
means the hunters were probably shooting turkeys off their roost, which would
be illegal today on several counts. Back then, however, what they did was legal
if not particularly sporting.
During the day they fished in the Frio River
and at night, harvested more turkeys, the report noted.
“But the most
interesting feature of the expedition was the campfire yarns of the old hunters,”
the newspaper’s correspondent wrote.
Indeed, several of those participating
in the outing were seasoned hunters – of game and men.
The governor, then
51, had ridden as a Texas Ranger from 1858 to 1860. Leading a contingent of friendly
Indians as Rangers and U.S. troops tangled with Comanches in the Battle of Wichita
in 1858, Ross took an arrow in his shoulder and a large-caliber bullet tore into
his chest. He barely survived the wounds, at one pointing pleading with his fellow
Texans to kill him to put him out of his misery.
Two years later, having
recovered, Ross led the Ranger command that recaptured Cynthia
Ann Parker (kidnapped in what is now Limestone County in 1836) during the
Battle of Pease River.
When the Civil War broke out, Ross joined the Rebel
cause and ended up fighting in 135 engagements, including the Nov. 30, 1864 Battle
of Franklin in Tennessee.
here is where that Victorian era journalist failed to see the irony: One of the
Union officers participating in that bloody battle was Stanley. In other words,
the two men who in 1890 enjoyed the fellowship of a turkey hunt only 26 years
before had been on different sides in the same fight. While their respective units
did not directly crash, both played a role in the engagement.
in fact, later received a Congressional medal of honor for leading the charge
in a successful Union counterattack that ended up saving the day for the Yankees
at Franklin. In the process, a bullet wounded him in the neck and his horse got
shot out from under him.
Evidently, the passage of time and a mutual love
of hunting and fishing had mitigated any lingering partisan feelings between the
two former combatants. While it’s easy enough to smirk that the gentleman of the
press who wrote about the hunt didn’t capitalize on the angle of former foes taking
up arms together in the name of recreation, the tragedy is that he didn’t go into
more detail on their campfire exchanges.
“The Indian fights…recounted
by the governor and General Stanley were very interesting,” the reporter tantalized
without offering any details.
Everyone apparently had a fine time until
a late-winter norther blew in on the second night of the hunt. The blast of cold
air caught them unexpected while “camped on the bleak prairie six miles from anywhere
without fuel, bait, or shelter.”
Judging from a mention earlier in the
piece that Stanley’s camp cook had been caught drinking their “bait,” that word
must have been polite newspaper code for whiskey.
“The governor of Texas
and the military chief of this department stood around a little fire of trash
and rat’s nests shivering until compelled to roll up in blankets,” the News went
on. “Sleep was impossible, and when others of the party had replenished the fire
at great labor, morning came in all [the] more welcome.”
hunters packed their wagons and rode back to Pearsall.
From there, Ross and Stanley took the International and Great Northern Railroad
north to San Antonio, where the
general had his quarters at Fort Sam Houston. After Stanley and his retinue got
off the train, Ross and his party continued on to the Capital
A short time later, Ross left Austin
for Washington to politic against Oklahoma’s claim to 1.5 million acres of Texas
in the building Greer County dispute and Stanley soon departed Texas
for his last post before retiring from the military in 1892.
who wrote about the Ross-Stanley hunt ended his piece with the observation that
the man who had guided the dignitaries had vowed he would never again “chaperon
a party of prospectors [hunters] on the Frio before March has fairly set in.”
Too bad he didn’t make a similar pledge about shooting turkeys on their roost.
© Mike Cox