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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Cannonball's Tales"

Small Town Sagas

SETH CAREY'S ESCAPE FROM THE MURDEROUS YOCUM GANG

By W. T. Block
Reprinted from "Escape From Murderous Yocum Gang Recalled," Beaumont Enterprise, December 25, 1977. The principal source of Seth Carey's life was his own memoirs, titled "A Tale of A Texas Veteran," published in Galveston Daily News of Sept. 21, 1879, which is reprinted verbatim in W. T. Block, "Emerald of The Neches: The Chronicles of Beaumont, Texas etc.," pp. 158-163 at Tyrrell Historical Library. From about 1845 until 1880, Seth Carey and his wife farmed, and raised livestock near the mouth of Cedar Bayou in Harris Co. In 1859 he was also running a 20 hp. circular sawmill there, that cut 5,400 cedar and cypress logs into 1,878,000 feet of lumber, worth $28,000. See 1860 Harris Co. Sched. V, Products of Industry - on microfilm.
Parts of this story will coincide with another named "Yocum's Inn: The Devil's Own Lodging House." However, Seth Carey's encounter with the Yocum murderers is so unique a tale of frontier violence that it deserves retelling as a separate story. The main source is Carey's own long memoirs in the Galveston Daily News of Sept. 21, 1879.

If old Seth Carey looked back on any portion of his life with something less than nostalgic feeling, it was during the year 1841 when he fell into the clutches of the notorious Thomas D. Yocum gang of Pine Island, Jefferson County, Texas.

Just another fly caught up in Yocum's web of murder and intrigue, Carey not only survived his slated assassination and dismemberment in Yocum's alligator slough, but he lived instead to finger the gang and account for its destruction. It was an episode, however, that he was always reluctant to discuss and one that "cost him in one way or another at least $5,000."

When Carey told his life story to a newspaperman in 1879, he was already in the 73rd year of his life, silver-haired and partially bald. Small of stature, he had already lived most of his life as a farmer and livestock herdsman near Cedar Bayou in Harris County. His looks and gentle demeanor would wholly camouflage the fact that he had once killed a man and had participated in some of the most violent moments in the history of early-day Texas.

Born in Vermont in 1806, Capt. Carey had migrated at an early age to Boston, and later to New Orleans, where for several months he was employed as a laborer on the waterfront. It was early October of 1835 that the first news from the Mexican province of Texas heralded the impending revolt against the Mexican oppressor and begged for volunteers and supplies sufficient to guarantee its success.

Everywhere in the saloons and coffee houses, there were speakers and solicitors for the Texas cause, and when Captain William G. Cooke approached Carey about joining the Texas-bound "New Orleans Grays," the young New Englander enlisted.

The "Grays" traveled first by steamboat to Natchitoches, La., overland from there to Pendleton Ferry on the Sabine River, and thence to Nacogdoches, Texas, where they were royally welcomed. At Nacogdoches, the citizens outfitted them with muskets, ammunition, and Bowie knives before the "Grays" departed en route to San Antonio. Upon nearing that Mexican stronghold, they then joined the main force of Col. Ben Milam's command, and on Dec. 7, 1835, helped storm the citadel known as the Alamo and wrest it from Mexican control. When Gen. Perfecto de Cos surrendered the city, and later he and his army were allowed to retreat toward the Rio Grande River, the Texans hailed the success of their revolution and considered it as already ended. Unknown to them at that moment, Mexican Generals Santa Ana and Urrea were advancing on the Rio Grande with a large army of the enemy.

The "Grays" were then transferred to Col. James Fannin's command at Goliad, and except for a quirk of fate, Carey's bones, because of the Goliad Massacre, might have been left to bleach on the prairie there as were those of most of his comrades in the "Grays." But before leaving New Orleans, he and a friend named Moser had shipped a trunk via schooner to Brazoria, Texas, and they were granted furloughs to go there and recover it.

While en route, Carey was stricken with the first attack of a recurring malady, probably malarial fever, that for the next three years was to leave him often upon the threshold of death, and Moser left him to recuperate at the log cabin of a Captain Hatch. In the meantime, the Alamo and Goliad fell to the Mexican armies, and after his initial recovery, Carey and Hatch rode on horseback to Harrisburg, seeking the main body of the Texas troops. After joining General Sam Houston's army, he suffered a relapse of fever, and was placed aboard the wagon of a refugee fleeing in the Runaway Scrape toward Louisiana.

At Beaumont, Carey was left in the custody of an old ferryman named Joel Lewis, who soon nursed him back to health. Later, when a small company was mustered at Beaumont for Indian service on the western frontier, he enlisted again, but upon reaching Lynchburg the malady struck him for the third and last time. For most of the next eighteen months he remained bedfast and a virtual invalid, at first in the care of Dr. Harvey Whiting, and later on Cedar Bayou at the residence of an old man named Benjamin Page, whom Carey had known before he left Boston.

By the time he recovered from his last and worst attack of malaria, he had been in the Page home for fourteen months and had become an adopted member of the family. Page had already exacted a promise from Carey that the latter would marry the old man's only child, a 13-year-old daughter, when she reached her sixteenth birthday. That union would bring to him the title of Page's league of 4,428 acres received from the Mexican government. But shortly after his recovery, Carey took complete possession of the place anyway, tending its cattle herds and supervising the cotton fields, because Page had grown too infirm and feeble to do so himself.

Carey received a 640-acre bounty grant from the Republic of Texas and a 1,200-acre land certificate from his county's Board of Land Commissioners, which he soon located on unclaimed public domain adjacent to Cedar Bayou. And in 1838, he acquired valuable business property near the waterfront in Galveston. By 1840, he had channeled about $4,000 of his own wealth into improvements on the Page place, knowing that the title to the league of land would soon be his.

By 1839, Carey's troubles with a neighbor named Whitney Brittain had already begun. The initial outburst resulted from a quarrel over a dog, but long before and without his knowledge, he had already become the victim of Britton's intense jealousy, hate, and violent temper.

Originally, Brittain had accompanied the Page family from Boston to Texas, built his cabin on neighboring property, and enjoyed the same position in the Page household that Carey would later assume. And as Carey's stature in Page's affections increased, Brittain's resentment and hate mounted in like proportion until he used every means short of murder to vent his spite. next page
W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales" - April 15, 2006 column
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