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Texas | Columns | Lone Star Diary

Texas Rangers
and the Battle of Plum Creek

by Murray Montgomery
Murray Montgomery
A few years ago, I obtained a copy of the new book, They Rode for the Lone Star by Thomas W. Knowles. This saga of the Texas Rangers was the first of a two-part volume with the second book due to be published at a later date.
The first volume takes the Rangers through what Knowles describes as a "unique cultural evolution." The book addresses the story of the Texas Rangers from the colonial era in Texas (under Mexican rule) to the time of the Civil War.

Knowles' book has been endorsed by the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. It is being promoted as the definitive testament to the brave men of the Texas Rangers. I am inclined to agree. It is apparent that the author has done considerable research about the citizen-soldier and lawman of frontier Texas.
Mr. Knowles does a good job telling the story about a battle with the Comanche Indians on Plum Creek. This event happened near Lockhart, Texas, and men from what would later become Lavaca and Gonzales Counties were involved in the fight.

The Plum Creek confrontation was the climax of events that began in early August of 1840. It seems that a large band of Comanches, estimated at 600 to 1000, slipped down from the plains towards the South Texas coast with the intentions of raiding the town of Victoria. That place was one of the major settlements - it was also an important trade and shipping center.

The Texas defenders kept the Indians from reaching the downtown section and the attackers had to be content with looting the outskirts and making off with a huge herd of horses. The raiders moved on to the port village of Linnville where most of the inhabitants managed to escape to the bay in boats. From here they watched, in horror, as the Comanches butchered a few unfortunate stragglers.

After looting Linnville of goods from the warehouses, the Indians torched the settlement and began their trek back to the plains with a number of captives - most of them women and children.

While the Indians were creating havoc on the coast, word of the attack was racing through the settlements. The Comanches had left an easy trail across the prairie and volunteer forces from around the area were gathering for an attack of their own.

Ben McCulloch gathered up 24 volunteers from Gonzales and joined up with Capt. John J. Tumlinson's force of 100 militiamen. Other groups lead by Adam Zumwalt and Clark Owen were also involved in the action.

The Texans first encounter with the raiders occurred on August 9, 1840, at the Casa Blanca River crossing. Here after a heated battle, one Texan was killed. Despite the objections of McCulloch, Tumlinson decided to withdraw and wait for reinforcements to arrive.

Col. Edward Burleson's militia force finally arrived with a group of Tonkawa scouts led by Chief Placido. The scouts traveled on foot for thirty miles running along side the militia's horses. It was Burleson's plan to attack the Comanches at Plum Creek.

When they arrived at the creek, they found 117 men from Gonzales waiting for the Comanches. These men were led by Capt. Matthew Caldwell and Capt. James Bird. Later, more soldiers arrived from Port Lavaca and Jack Hays brought in a company from Bxar. About 200 strong, this was reported as the largest group of militia gathered in one place since the Texas Revolution. Gen. Felix Houston arrived and took over sole command of the unit.

The trap was set. As the Comanches continued their ride north, they soon found themselves confronting a long line of vengeful Texans - the battle began on August 12, 1840.

According to some witnesses, a brave warrior who seemed to have his own magic way of avoiding the Texan's bullets led the Comanches. Adorned with loot from the raid he charged towards the militia until his tall silk hat and silk umbrella was completely shot away. The grim frontiersmen were impressed with the bravery of the Indians and were astonished at the way they seemed to dodge their bullets.

The Comanche leader was finally killed and the others retreated in the face of a ferocious Texan charge into the main formation of the Indians. After the smoke had cleared, 87 of the Comanche raiders lay dead. The Texans lost only one man with seven being wounded.

The Comanche attack on the South Texas coast has long been known as the last great raid by the Indians. The Texan's had hoped that their victory at Plum Creek would teach the Comanches a lesson and would put a stop to the raids on the Texas settlements.

This was only wishful thinking however, as the Indians would continue with smaller lightning-fast raids along the frontier from Gonzales to the northern settlements. The war with the tenacious Comanche would continue on for several decades.


Murray Montgomery
Lone Star Diary
February 19, 2006 Column

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