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County History Before Orgnization of Jones County
The Western Enterprise
Vol. No. 50
Thursday, August 24, 1933
County History Before Organization Tells of Soldiers Versus Indians
by Hybernia Grace
transcribed from newspaper in the possession of Dorman Holub
The first white men to enter Jones County arrived more than 300 years before the county was organized. These Spanish soldier adventurers led by Francisco de Coronado passed over this fertile land leaving little or no imporession for they were gold seekers, not colonizers. They were unable to forsee the wealth which one day would be derived frm the rich lands through which they struggled.
For over 300 years the Indians were left free to wander over these plains before they again saw the white man enter their domain, and a still longer time before the white settlers encroached upon their hunting grounds.
The gold rush to California in 1849 brought the next white people across Jones County. The name California Creek remains to remind us of the second migration across the county in search of gold.
By the close of the year 1850 settlement in tExas extended to the north and west as far as the Trinity River. The greatest check to further migration in the state was the bands of roving Indians. The United States government then adopted the policy of establishing military posts between the Indians and the white settlements. Fort Phantom Hill became one of the links in a great chain extending from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico.
The first troops, Companies C and G, of the Fifth Infantry, arrived November 14, 1851, at the point known locally as Phantom Hill. Here Lieut. Col. Abercrombie, the commanding officer, established the Federal fort known officially as the Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos.
The site selected was on a hill located midway between the Elm and Clear Fork of the Brazos, and about a mile and a half above the point where they unite to form the main Clear Fork. This site afforded a view of the surrounding country for miles around. The general character of the surrounding country was prairie with stunted mesquite trees scattered over it. A few miles to the west was a thicket several miles in extent, which consisted of scrubby oaks and green briers so dense as to make it almost impenetrable. Elm, pecan, and hackberry trees grew along the stream. The fort itself was built in a grove of scrub oaks about five miles in extent. On the hill the soil was poor and thin, but near the river it was productive.
Soon after the arrival of the soldiers, work has begun on the fort. The buildings were put up by the labor of the troops, with a Mr. Leonhardt given the contract for the masonry work. The fort consisted of commanding offier's quarters built of stone, a hospital of logs, a magazine of stone, bakehouse, guard-house, store-house, a blacksmith shop, and about 40 houses for soldiers' quarters. The soldiers' quarters were built of split oak logs, stockade fashion. Each building had a large rock chimney, pine doors, glass windows, and sandstone floors. A few of these had a basement. All the buildings were covered with thatched roofs except the magazine, which was shingled. Timber was very scarce, and it was necessary to go from eight to 40 miles to get it. The stones used in the building were found only two miles away, and were not hard to quarry.
Life at this frontier post must have been a most trying one. Its occupants, no doubt, always felt the fear of a possible Indian attack. No record has been found of a battle between Federal troops and Indians at Phantom Hill, but we do know that Indians were frequent visitors at the fort.
On the west bank of the Clear Fork were the camping grounds of the Delaware and Caddo Indians. Wichitas were occasionally seen in the vicinity of the post. The Tonkawas, living near Fort Graham, were not feared and were often employed by western settlers to work their farms. The Southern Comanches were the Indians most often seen in the neighborhood of Phantom Hill. Comparatively few buffalo were to be found in this region, at this time, and as these nomad Indians raised no corn or melons, they were frequently in want of food. Several bands came into Fort Phantom Hill during the winter of 1851, and were furnished with provisions.
Mrs. Emma Johnson Elkins who lived at the fort gives us an account of a visit of the Comanches to the post. The soldiers had heard the reports of threats, which these Indians had made agaisnt further encroachment of the whites into their territory, and fearing an attack, made preparations to defend themselves. A trench eight feet wide was cut around the garrison, and the artillery was placed on a parapet in the center. EArly one morning all the soldiers were called to arms for some 250 Indians were seen approaching. They passed to the west with angry looks when they saw the soldiers ready to fire if they approached but in a short time began to return in small squads making friendly demonstrations. They entered the fort beggin for everything they could see, and stealing everything they could lay hands on when not watched. They were such a nuisance the soldiers drove them away from the fort.
It is believed now that Indians were responsible for the death of two of the soldiers stationed at Phantom Hill. These two men left one day for the purpose of hunting at a short distance from the post, but, when they failed to return in a few days, they were reported as deserters. Later charred ashes of a camp fire not far away, and then it was believed that the men had been killed by Indians.
There was never a very large force kept at Phantom Hill. A report made for 1852-1853 gives the number as 11 commissioned and 208 enlisted, making a total of 219 men on duty, with 45 absent. These belonged to the Fifth Infantry, and one feels that the War Department knew little of frontier conditions or they would never have sent foot soldiers into an Indian country to protect the advancing white settlers. On August 24, 1853, four companies of the Fifth Infantry were withdrawn leaving only one company until Septmeber 24, 1853, when it was joined by Company I of the Second Dragoons. This furnished the garrison until the fort was abandoned on April 6, 1854. The force was now only 106 men on duty with 33 absent., but while reduced in number, was a more effective organization than former ones because of the addition of the cavalry.
When soldiers are mentioned, one usually pictures an array of faultlessly uniformed men, trained so they move in unison. Such a picture one would not have seen had he visited an inspection of the soldiers at Fort Phantom Hill. These troops had only fatigue clothing, and, while clean, many had to wear their overalls and jackets unaltered to fit their person. Part of the soldiers were armed with percussion muskets, others with musketoons. Bvt. Lieut. Col. W.G. Freeman, who visited the fort on August 30, 1853, writes that "the battalion could not be reviewed or exercises owing to the large number (123) of raw recruits who had joined a fortnight before, and the few old soldiers in the rank. In some companies there were half a dozen instructed men under arms - three detachments (all old soldiers) being absent on escot and fatigue duty. Upwrad of 50 recruits appeared on parade without arms, there being none in the company store for issue."
The life of these frontier soldiers was indeed strenuous. Scouts were continuously kept out hunting for Indians, who were constantly reported killing men, women and children, and driving stock away. Escorts from the fort were sent out to most government trains; stage coaches carrying mail and its few passengers received their protection; and even the paymaster was escorted into the fort. During the period of "northers," which was from November to April, from eight to 12 teams were kept busy hauling firewood from a black-jacket thicket some five to eight miles distant. Two others were assigned the duty of keeping the post in water, which was hauled most of the time a distance of four miles. Most of the supplies for Phantom HIll were hauled from Austin. Twenty-four wagons, 12 horses, 93 mules, and 26 oxen were used for this.
In addition to all these arduous tasks the men must drill, for after all, their duty on the frontier was that of a solider.
Perhaps the greatest of the frontier hardships was isolation. It was 75 miles from Fort Phantom Hill to Fort Belknap, the nearerst military post. Preston, 160 miles distant, in 1852 was the fartherest one west on the Red River. It's population was about 100. The nearerst post office was Waco. A weekly mail service through Fort Belknap was established, but the many streams on this route frequently prevented it reaching Phantom Hill.
It is likely that the few women at the post felt their isolation more keenly than did the men. There is no record of how many women and children were at Phantom Hill during its occupancy as a federal post, but we know there were several families. A small grave to the west of the magazine bears testimony of the unhappiness that entered one home at the fort. "Here liest the remains of the two year old son of Lieut. W.W. Burns." A neatly dressed sandstone was placed so as to cover the grave. About 1879, a man, who was living near Phantom Hill, took this stone to make a grindstone, but for this act he was indicted by the grand jury at Albany. The stone was returned, but years later removed again so that a curious person could satisfy himself that no gold was buried under it. To the southwest of this grave are several others. Mrs. Elkins says that men by the names of Miller, Culver, and Charles Bennett rest in these graves.
The paymaster was almost the only connecting link between the fort and the outside world. Albert Sidney Johnson was this most welcome person. Once every two months he arrived and would usually spend four or five days at the fort. He brought these isolated folk bits of news and messages from their old homes and friends, and willingly attended to business which these people could not leave to transact themselves. "To buy a horse, a gun, a pair of boots, a ribbon, to have a watch mended, to pay taxes, to adjust some entangled business" - these and other favors were asked of him.
Health conditions at Phantom Hill were not the best. Assistant Surgeon Alexander B. Hasson reported in 1852 that in a period of seven months, 293 cases of illness had been treated at the fort. This would make, according to his figures, every man reported ill once in every five and one-half months. He reported two deaths, one from scrobutus and one from pulmonary apoplexy. Eighteen other cases of scrobutus were reported. During the first eight months of 1853, 363 cases of illness were treated by the fort physician. Intermittent fever was the most prevalent disease at the time. Scurvy was still common. This disease was due to the lack of a vegetable diet, and in an attempt to overcome this, pickles were added to the soldiers' rations. So eager were the soldiers for vegetables that in the spring they gathered wild onions and ate them with relish.
The soldiers tried to raise a garden. The soil on the high gorund immediately surrounding the fort was poor and thin, but the soil at the foot of the hill seemed rich enough for gardening. There was a drought during the two and one-half years Phantom Hill was a Federal post, and the soldiers were not able to raise the vegetables so much needed.
The most serious inconveniece felt by those at the fort was the lack of an adequate supply of drinking water. During the first winter the soldiers drank the water from the creek near-by, but when the weather became warm, the water became offensive after standing a short time. A spring was discovered, which furnished enough water for drinking and cooking, but as the dry weather continued this source failed. Then it became necessary to haul all water a distance of four miles. The reports made by officers at the fort continually made mention of this lack of an adequate water supply. It was finally this lack of water supply, together with the inability to secure fresh vegetables for the troops, that led to the abandonment of Fort Phantom Hill on April 6, 1854.
The early settlers in Jones County found Phantom Hill a charred ruin, and there has been much speculation as to why and by whom it was burned. There are some who believed and still tell it was the destructive work of the Federal soldiers during the Civil War. This is not true as will be seen in the light of evidence. On Septmeber 22, 1858, W.L. Ormsby passed through Phantom HIll, and he writes he found the fort practically a burned ruin. Mrs. Emma Johnson Elkins, who lived at the fort when orders were received to abandon it, says, "that the fort was burned the first night of its abandonment." In the light of this evidence one can see that Fort Phantom Hill was burned before the Civil War.
With the passing of the troops from Phantom Hill on April 6, 1854, silence reigned amid the crumbling ruins of the old fort. Perhaps curiosity led Indians in and out among these ruins. Likely some, seeking their fortuneds in California and Oregon, stopped here to prepare a meal or seek shelter for the night. Passengers en route between Fort Belknap and Fort Chadbourne, perhaps exchanged their stories as to the burning of the fort as they passed its ruins along the old military road.
In 1858 repair work was done on the old fort and again man attempted life on this barren hill. This time it was known as Station No. 54 on the Southern Overland Mail or Butterfield Stage Coach line which ran from St. Louis to San Francisco. Mr. Burlington, the station master and his wife lived here alone, ready at all hours of the day and night to prepare a meal for "Big Dick", the driver, and any passenger he might have with him. A change was made in both horses and drivers at Phantom HIll.
The first of these transcontinental stage coaches reached Phantom Hill on Wednesday evening, September 22, 1858. The only passenger was W.L. Ormsby, a special correspondent of the New York Herald, who was making the entire trip through to California in spite of the warnings given him by his New York friends. He was told his way would be beset with hostile Indians; that he would suffer hunger and thirst; and he would run the dangers of grizzly bears and poison rattlesnakes. He, however, made the trip without seeing any hostile Indians. He said he did not suffer from hunger and thirst; the grizzly bears did not bother him; and he reported that he killed all the rattlesnakes that he saw.
The moon was shining as the stage coach approached Phantom Hill, and as the old chimneys reflected the light of the full moon, he felt the place had been well named. The old magazine was used as the store house and perhaps the house used by Mr. Burlington and his wife was the officer's headquarters building, which still stands. Mr. Ormsby made mention of a well which he found at the post. Since no mention was made of the well while Phantom HIll was a Federal post, and since the early settlers in the county found it when they arrived, the conclusion is drawn that it was dug by the stage coach company. Mr. Ormsby writes: "We had expected to find a team of mules in readiness for us at Phantom Hill, but as there were not there we had to proceed with our already jaded animals until we could meet them on their way torward us. Our mules had brought us already 34 miles at a good pace, but we had to go 15 miles further - before we met another."
On November 20, 1858, another through passenger stopped at Phantom Hill. This gentleman was a special correspondent for the San Francisco Evening Bulletin. He reported the following: "We arrived at Phantom Hill at 11 o'clock on 20th NOvember here we took dinner."
In 1860 Capt. W.H. Gaston of Dallas, Texas, stopped at Phantom Hill on his way farther west in search of a runaway slave. He found the old stage station inhabited by two men, who took care of the mules for the stage line. His most viivid recollections of the place was the dense swarms of house-flies which made it almost impossible to eat.
Along this Southern Overland route homeseekers began to settle. Several counties, among them Jones, was created in 1858, which indicated the expectation of the Texas Legislature that settlement would push farther west.
The Civil War brought an end to the Southern Overland Mail service. By an act of Congress on March 2, 1861, the route was discontinued.
When Texas seceded from the Union all Federal soldiers were withdrawn from the frontier posts. This left the frontier with no protection, and all the entire region of West Texas fell under the control of the marauding Indians, who began again their raids of death and destruction.
It was to furnish this needed protection that the First Regiment Texas Mounted Rifles was organized. In February, 1860, Buck Barry, a member of this regiment on scout duty, visited Phantom HIll and learned that there had been an Indian disturbance in this vicinity.
Many of the abandoned Federal Posts were garrisoned by Texas Rangers in 1861, among them Fort Phantom Hill. Capt. H.H. Boggys was in command during several months of 1861. Again in 1863 and 1864 the rangers used Phantom Hill as headquarters with Capt. Whitesides in command. Capt. N.W. Gillentine, another well-knonw ranger captain was there in 1864.
On March 10, 1868, there occurred what seems to be the only fight between the whites and Indians in Jones County. "Chaffee's Guerillas" aided by Tonkawa Indians met a band of Comanches on Paint Creek. Seven Comanches were killed without a loss of life to the whites, though three enlisted men were wounded.
It was not until March 30, 1870, that Texas again became a member of the Union and thus became entitled to protection from Federal troops. From June 5, 1871, to July 18, 1871, Phantom Hill was occupied by United States soldiers, this time as a sub-post of Fort Griffin. Continued dangers from Indians led to its re-establishment again on January 5, 1872. there is a record of troops being at Phantom Hill as later as March 1872.
In addition to the soldiers who fought the Indians along the frontier there is another group who had a big share in making Western Texas safe for the white home seeker. These were the buffalo hunters.
There were enough buffalo in Jones County in 1875 to be considered a nuisance by the stock men. They cut deep trails, which a horse found too narrow to follow conveniently, and frequently the rider found it necessary to put his feet across his horse's neck when following one. Mr. Emmett Roberts, one of the first settlers of Jones County, says the buffalo were so numerous when he first came that they would sometimes keep him awake at night grunting and bawling. He writes, "I have seen the time when I could step out from our house or tent and shoot several early in the morning without moving from in front of the door."
Only a few of Jones County's early settlers found the buffalo so numerous as did the Roberts brothers. By the time the settlement of the county was in full swing, there were only the bleaching bones of the animals left. In the fall of 1875 John Mooar and his brother, J. Wright Mooar, organized an extensive buffalo hunt in West Texas. Fort Griffin was selected as their base of operation. A camp was established where Haskell now stands, and from this point they hunted in the surrounding country. Jones County was in their range of operation. These hunters passed through the country slaying the buffalo by the thousands, taking with them only the hides, leaving the carcasses to be devoured by the wolves. The first load of hides from this section was sold to Lohenstein Company, and was hauled by wagon from Fort Griffin to Denison, the nearest railroad point.
This ruthless destruction of the buffalo carries with it a touch of pathos, but undeniably the disapperance of the animal hastened the coming of civilization to Jones County. The Indian had depended upon the buffalo for food, clothing, shelter and fuel. Now with his chief source of these necessities of life gone, the Indian was willing more and more, to become a ward of the Federal Government.
The last organized Indian raid on the frontier of Texas took place on May 17, 1871, when a band of Kiowa and Comanches led by Satanta, Satank, Big Tree and Eagle Heart attacked a government contractor's wagon train near Fort Richardson. After this raid the United States government changed its Indian policy and soldiers were sent out to hunt the Indian down. Through this offensive policy Indian resisitance was broken by 1875. At last West Texas was safe for advancing settlers.
It was during a lull in Indian depredations in 1873 that the first settlers reached Jones County. These were John, Emmett and Creed Roberts, and C.J. and Mode Johnson. These men drove cattle to the grassy lands bordering the streams in the southeastern part of the county. The Roberts brothers pitched camp on the Clear Fork near the present site of Nugent, and the Johnsons settled on Chimney Creek, northeast of Nugent.
Some few Indians were still to be seen in this section, so the first settlers found it necessary to take every precaution to kee their camping place unknown. The life at the Roberts camp illustrates some of the hardships Jones County's first settlers endured. Their first camp was four miles north of the ruins of Fort Phantom Hill on the Clear Fork. They pitched their tent in the narrow valley between the high bank and the low bank of the river where it was protected by trees and bushes and counld not be seen from the surrounding country. They always left camp before daylight and always waited until after dark to return. This practice was decided upon so that the Indians would not see them and locate their camp. As soon as a path began to show, they moved camp. Each night the horses were put in rope corrals close to the camp. These men spent then days in herding their cattle which insisted on grazing to the east of the river, a habit they insisted on following u ntil other cattle were located to the west.
The wolf was the greatest enemy the cattle had. They killed a huge bull as readily as a calf. Often young cattle, when attacked by a mountain lion or panther, would escape, cut and scratched, but seldom did they escape from the wolves. Mr. Roberts says, "I have been awakened in the night to hear as many as two cows bawling in different directions - in the clutch of the loboes." Rattlesnakes were plentiful and often cattle were forced to jump and dodge to prevent being struck.
Black bears, mountain lions, and panthers were to be found, especially in the hills. Coyotes were numerous.
Both the jack rabbit and the cotton tail ran over the country by the thousands. One early settler has said that there were in 1881 a thousand cotton tail rabbits to one now.
The prairie dogs were also numerous when the first settlers arrived, and became a real nuisance to all who tried to garden or farm.
Wild horses in bunches of 40 or 50 grazed over the country between California and the Clear Fork until as late as 1880.
Wild turkey, deer, antelope were in abundance and were used for food by all early settlers.
By 1879 hundreds of cattle were being driven into Jones County from the ranches to the east. This same year saw several men arrive for the purpose of tilling the soil.
These first farmers who sought land in Jones County were discouraged in every possible way by the cattlemen who opposed their coming.
It has not been possible to make sure who broke the first soil in the county. One of the early tillers of the soil was Henry Foster who arrived on July 4, 1879, after an overland journey from Missouri. Within a few months he had selected a site which he homesteaded, and erected what was perhaps the second house in the county. This house was made of rock gathered from the surrounding country. Rock was placed on rock with a layer of mud between, and cracks filled with cement. The lumber for doors and window frames, and shingles for the roof were hauled from Fort Worth. At first a dirt floor was used, then a rock was laid, and finally a plank one was built. The tools used in building the house were a 12 pound sledge hammer and an axe. A flue was used to carry the smoke from the stove, which the family brought with them. The building was of two rooms, one above the other, and was built on the side of a hill so that a person could enter either room from the ground. In 1880 two ground floor rooms were added.
Mr. Foster came for the purpose of farming, and soon after arriving broke up a small plot of ground and planted millet. He made a good crop. The next year corn was planted in holes made by cutting the ground with an axe, and again a large crop was gathered. Wheat was also tried with success, but the task of harvesting was very laborious since the machinery was crude. the stalks of grain were cut by machine, but it was gathered in bundles by hand and tied with wisps of straw. In 1889 Mr. Foster planted his first cotton. A fence of mesquite pickets set on end in a trench kept the stock out of the field. In 1880, a wire fence was built and was perhaps the first in the county. The first plow used by the early farmers was one drawn by horses or oxen with the farmer walking behind holding the plow up. Oxen proved better, when breaking prairie lands, for the first time, since they were stronger than horses.
Mr. T.J. Scott arrived in October of 1879. He, too, expected to farm, and was visited soon after his arrival by two cattlemen who undertook to discourage him. He was told this was no farming country for it sometimes went 12 months without raining. Mr. Scott looked out over the luxuriant growth, and answered that he could wish for no better land to farm. He decided that Jones County was a veritable paradise if it could produce such vegetation without rain.
The cattlemen objected to the farmer because it meant the fencing in of the free range. In many parts of the west an active fight between the farmer and the cowmen ensued. The farmer strung wire to have it cut by the cattlemen. The conflict between the two groups in Jones County, was of little consequence. Not very much fencing had been done before 1889.
The law creating Jones County provided that when 75 bona fide, free, white male inhabitants over 21 years of age petitioned the presiding justice of an adjoining county, or the nearest organized county for an organization, it might be granted. In April of 1881 such a petition was circulated in Jones County, and on April 18, was presented to the Shackelford County Commissioners' Court. One hundred and eight-five names appeared on the petiion. This court divided Jones County into four commissioners' precincts, and ordered that an election be held for county officers and the location of a permanent county seat.
Jones County had been attacked to Shackelford county for judicial purposes since organization in 1874, and was, in 1879, made precinct 5 of that County. Court was to be held each month at Phantom Hill.
On June 13, 1881, the first officers of the county were elected, and on July 17, 1881, the first commissioners' court of Jones County met at Phantom Hill, the temporary county seat.
The members of this court were as follows:
County Judge: E.M. Johnson
County Clerk: W.H. Smith
Commissioners: T.J. Scott, C.J. Chapman, A. Calham, J.J. Elliott
Three elections were held before a permanent county seat was selected. One of the places seeking the county seat was Phantom Hill, which had grown into a thriving, bustling little town.
Jones City, sponsored by Mc D. Bowyer and Martin Duvall, owners of the land, had only three buildings in it when it sought to be selected the capital. They were Bowyer's general merchandise store, the Tipton Inn, and the Duvall residence.
Messrs. Woody and Cotton tried to locate the County seat at a point on the Brazos River, southeast of Jones City. According to their recommendations it was a beautiful location with a bountiful supply of water and wood near by. The surrounding country would be excellent farming land and sure to develop because Brazos City, the name given the place, was on the proposed route of the Texas and Pacific railroad.
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