Robert E. Lee in Texas
Camels and Comanches
Officers' Quarters, Quartermaster's Department, san Antonio
Courtesy National Archives
Nimitz Hotel, Fredericksburg, Texas
Courtesy Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce
BACK at San Antonio time ran swiftly, and Lee had little opportunity to relax. Official duties of directing the military activity of the department swamped him and limited the time available for writing home. Yet he did write a number of long-overdue letters.
These were troubled days, but San Antonio seemed hardly aware of events and little concerned, even with the heated slavery controversy then threatening to disrupt the Union. The listlessness of the Spanish Americans irked Lee. Indolently, they drove their clumsy, wooden-wheeled carretas, laden with vegetables, to the town markets or sold their produce on the streets; and whatever money their wares brought, they promptly spent without thought of the morrow. Some squatted idly by open jacal doorways, smoking cigaretos or watching the teeming life flow by; and still others strummed on guitars or engaged in frivolous pursuits, as though they had an eternity to live. Lee intensely disliked filth, and their hovels displayed it in variety, even though moderate improvements would have made them livable. And he cared little for their pastimes of horse racing, cockfighting, and dancing the bolero at the fandango or baile [ball]. In truth, he had no patience with idleness. To him, honest toil and industry were the symbols of progress.
His approval of these virtues he expressed in a letter to his son, Fitzhugh, shortly after his return to San Amtonio. “I am glad to hear that your mechanics are all paid off,” he began, “and that you have managed your funds so well as to have enough for your purposes. As you have commenced, I hope you will continue, never to exceed your means. It will save you much anxiety and mortification, and enable you to maintain your independence of character and feeling. It is easier to make our wishes conform to our means than to make our means conform to our wishes. In fact, we want but little. Our happiness depends upon our independence, the success of our operations, prosperity of our plans, health, contentment, and the esteem of our friends. All of which, my dear son, I hope you may enjoy.”
From his experiences at Camp Cooper, Lee had every reason to conclude that Texas had an arid climate. At San Antonio little rain had fallen during the spring, and June brought drought and heat, with the mercury climbing above the 100-degree mark. San Antonio was insufferably hot. As though this were not enough of a handicap, Lee was boarding and “suffered all the annoyances” that a person of his “unfortunate temperament must undergo in such a country, and such a population.” He expected no permanent stay in San Antonio because the ailing and venerable Brigadier General David F. Twigs was due to relieve him of the command of the department.
Lee's only escape from the heat was to bathe in the cool San Antonio River, and, occasionally, to ride out into the country during the late hours of evening. He could not understand how the Spanish Americans lived in low-roofed hovels and went about their daily chores unaffected by the heat. Much of their activity seemed unnecessary to him. On June 25 he wrote Mrs. Lee that “Yesterday was St. John's Day” and “the principal or at least visible, means of adoration or worship seemed to consist in riding horses.” It seemed to him that every Mexican who could procure “a quadruped” was cavorting through the streets, with the thermometer over a hundred degrees in the shade, a scorching sun, and dust several inches thick on the streets. He wondered at “the suffering of the horses, if not the pleasure of the riders,” that “everything of the horse tribe had to be brought into requisition to accommodate the bipeds, unbroken colts and worn out hacks were saddled for the occasion. The plunging and kicking of the former procured excitement for, and the distress of the latter, merriment to the crowd. I did not know before that St. John set so high a value upon equitation.”
Lee watched with interest the War Department's experiments with camels as beasts of burden at Camp Verde. He occasionally rode out to inquire how the tests were progressing. The officers in charge required the camels to travel with heavy loads for long distances through rough country and in all kinds of weather—blistering heat, snow, and rain. Up to the time of Lee's residence in San Antonio as department commander, they had met these tests well.
The most severe ordeal of this period had been to match them as carriers against mules in the Big Bend country. Army officials showed great interest and eagerly kept up with reports of camel exhibitions. On May 23, 1859, Lieutenant William H. Echols had left San Antonio with twenty-four camels and as many mules, all heavily laden, bound for Camp Hudson, the first stopping place on his journey. Every precaution had been taken to make the reconnaissance a success—an infantry company to guard against Indian attack, kegs filled with water and carried on camels' backs, and sundry other supplies. The female camels had carried burdens of 300 pounds and the male camels of 500 pounds. From Camp Hudson, Echols moved through desolate, barren country to Fort Davis, down into deep canyons, over rough mountains, across arid plateaus, and through dense chaparral and mesquite jungles. Occasionally the mules made better progress than the camels and were more sure-footed over slippery ground in rainy weather or in crossing streams. On the other hand, the camels were not distressed to go two or three days without water and could stand the heat and strain of dry weather better.
Lee wanted more positive proofs of the feasibility of using camels. Certainly the camels had proved their usefulness as beasts of burden, but in many respects mules had met equally well the demands of the recent reconnaissance. Secretary Floyd felt the same need for additional trials and ordered Lee to continue the experiment. On May 31, 1860, therefore, Lee ordered Echols to make a second trip to the Rio Grande. On this reconnaissance he was to make a wide, looping sweep between Camp Hudson and Fort Davis, reaching as far south as the Rio Grande, through a much more arid and broken country; and when he arrived at the Rio Grande, he was to locate a site for a military post near the Comanche Trail. He was furnished with twenty camels and fifteen pack mules and all the necessary supplies. As on the previous expedition, the camels carried barrels of water and sundry other materials. Lee wrote his daughter, Agnes, that he thought it a pity that they could “not partake of what they carry for others.” But this, of course, was a part of the test.
Once more infantry was to prove its worth under a terrible ordeal. Second Lieutenant J. H. Holman, with thirty-one privates from the First Infantry, accompanied Echols as an escort. Well-equipped men, heavily burdened camels trudging along in six detachments, and a train of mules left San Antonio, headed west, to undergo the most severe trials for both man and beast yet undertaken.
From Camp Hudson, on June 24, Echols and his party struck out toward the southwest, across a region of no roads and only Indian and wild-game trails. At the Pecos, he left his former route to his right, traveling in a southwesterly direction across a dry wilderness broken by mountains, dry arroyos, canyons, buttes, and plains. Echols's most persistent and annoying worry was that he was entering a region of little or no water, and it was desperately hot. The sun beat down mercilessly on the toiling men and beasts. Under the conditions they required water at frequent intervals, if they were not to suffer. But Echols knew that it was not to be had, for the drought had dried up even the few water holes usually found in this country.
For four days, 120 miles, the expedition stumbled on through this desolate region. Up precipitous mountain-sides, down into deep canyons, through brush, over boulder-strewn terrain, and across eroded mesas, Echols rationed the water carefully to the men and the mules. For two days the camels seemed not to thirst. Then they, too, showed the strain, in that at night they would not graze or sleep. By July 2 the crisis was reached. There was only enough water left to give each man a drink, without any for the mules or camels. Echols told his men of their desperate plight. They could not expect to reach Fort Stockton or the Rio Grande, and certainly the Pecos was too far away. They must find water, even though a stagnant pool, nearer their line of march. After they had drunk their last water, they would disperse to search for a pool, and if it were not found, they would make their way out of the country as best they could. Echols's journal for this day portrays their suffering in dramatic terms.
“Marched westwardly most of the day,” it ran, “and after a long march of 29.4 miles over a rough country, camped dry without any prospects of finding water, in about the poorest prospect of making progress I have ever been situated. We were all very uneasy, not to say a little frightened, for our welfare. The mules must go without water to-night, are broken down now, and some are expected to be abandoned on the march to-morrow. We have only water sufficient for the men thirty hours, the Pecos, Rio Grande, and Fort Stockton, are too distant to reach, which we expected to attain, we may be unable to reach from the impassibility of the region. Our march today has been rough, and too rough tomorrow, I fear, for many lives that are now with us to stem. The animals go to the barrels and draw the bungs with their teeth and gnaw at the bung holes. The second time in my life I have seen a quart of water priceless, almost. We have sent a man to search for water, to be paid liberally if he succeeds; if not, all the mules we expect to lose.”
Under a blazing sun, presently entirely without water, the men and beasts trudged on wearily, with little hope of relief. Again, on the night of July 3, they made a dry camp, but no one could rest or sleep. Burning thirst consumed all. Mules had fallen by the wayside during the day, and even the camels showed dire distress, but no one could think of stopping, for to linger was death.
At the next dawn they were on the move. They were now at the end of their resources. Then Echols spied in the distance an oddly shaped mountain, Camel's Hump! They were saved if only they could reach it, for at its foot were springs of cold water that fed San Francisco Creek! But it was many weary miles away. When he gave this news to the suffering men, it spurred them on to superhuman effort. Now all eyes were fixed on this beacon of hope as though it might become a mirage, soon to fade away.
“No one can imagine the feeling of a thirsty man till he sees one,” Echols wrote. “I would not describe it by vain attempt, as vain almost as that would be which I might use in describing the region of country just passed over which made them so; a region in its original chaotic state, as if the progress of civilization was too rapid for the arrangement of chaos; a picture of barrenness and desolation, when the scathing fire of destruction has swept with its rabid flame mountains, canons, ravines, precipices, castus, soap-weed, intense reflection from the lime-stone cliffs, and almost every barrier that one can conceive of to make an impossibility to progress.”
As the plodding men and animals came within two or three miles of San Francisco Creek, all order vanished, and they ran madly toward water. The thirsty, suffering beasts had smelled it. Wildly they plunged into its sparkling depths, the men laughing and shouting, drinking their fill and pouring the precious liquid over their heads and bodies. Never before had life been so sweet! This was the Fourth of July, and they celebrated it boisterously. All else was forgotten in their delirium of joy.
The remainder of the journey was without incident, although the country was just as rough and desolate. Nature had seemingly cut jagged gashes across barren lime-stone mountains, leaving precipices hundreds of feet deep, buttes and peaks of fantastic shapes, and deep arroyos and canyons blocked here and there by huge boulders. But at least there was water, and the soldiers seemed not to mind the rugged country. From San Francisco Creek they made their way to Fort Davis, where both men and beasts could find food and rest. On July 12 they were on the march again, southward toward the Rio Grande, their route being along an uncertain road from Fort Davis to Presidio del Norte. From the latter place they traveled over a rugged mountain country to Lates Lengua, and down its valley to the Rio Grande, where Echols sought to find a site for a military post, as he had been instructed. Finding no suitable place, he moved on down the river for twenty miles below the Comanche Trail crossing, where at last he found one. A post here could he supplied by building a wagon road along the San Carlos Trail and coming into the Comanche Trail near Camel's Hump Mountain, although such a road would have a serious obstacle—a precipitous mountainside, rocky and several hundred feet high.
Echols presently completed his reconnaissance without further mishap, redistributing his men, beasts, and equipment at Camps Hudson and Verde. His expedition had been a brilliant success and had proven the superiority of camels as beasts of burden. Lee had not expected that the men would encounter such a gruelling experience, but he was impressed and pleased with their success in spite of it. He wrote to Adjutant General Cooper “of camels, whose endurance, docility, and sagacity will not fail to attract the attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”
During the weeks of Echols's reconnaissance, Lee's interest had been divided. Although he was very much interested in the camel experiment, his thoughts had turned uneasily toward the Indian country. Every day brought fresh news of Indian forays. Governor Houston continued to insist that the border was in desolation, listing 51 persons killed, as many more taken prisoner, 1,800 horses stolen, and much property destroyed. He had again urged Lee to accept the use of state troops in the emergency, but his offer was again politely declined.
In the almost three years since Lee had ridden away from Camp Cooper for the last time, many Indian raids had occurred, centering about this post. It will be recalled that Lee had referred to Camp Cooper as a “desert of dullness”; but within a few months after his departure, the “desert” was no longer dull.
In August, 1858, a notoriously “bad Indian” (Penateka Comanche), Santa Anna, with a Naconi warrior, had stopped at the Comanche reserve on his way to steal horses from the near-by settlers. Katumse had ordered him to leave, but he had refused. Then Agent Leeper had called upon Lieutenant Cornelius Van Camp to use his Camp Cooper troopers to expel the visiting Indians. Van Camp had hastened up with his nineteen enlisted men, all he had at the post. Learning this, seventy of Katumse's warriors and their women and children, thinking that the soldiers intended to massacre them all, also came—all armed with rifles and bows and arrows—and angrily threatened to attack the soldiers unless they withdrew immediately. Van Camp ignored the threats and gave orders for his men to enter the house in which the outlaw Indians were hiding.
The excited Indians then prepared to carry out their threats. Katumse pleaded with them not to attack the soldiers, saying that they were there to drive away the “bad men” and not to harm the reservation Indians. But his “talk” was in vain. One of his subchiefs, Tosh-e-weh, who acted for the rebels, warned Katumse and his white friends that “he, every man, woman and child would die rather than see these men killed.”
This only angered Katumse the more. “Too much talk, no good,” he growled as he sprang forward to enter the house after the visiting Indians. But he was violently seized and restrained by about thirty squaws, who in tears begged him not to cause trouble.
Still thoroughly aroused, Katumse next called upon all his loyal tribesmen to line up beside him, Leeper, and Van Camp. Only his brother, a nephew, an old Indian named “Hawk,” and two others joined him. At this juncture, the sergeant in charge of the troopers informed Van Camp that he had discovered that he had only one round of ammunition and that there was no more back at the post. Van Camp was thunderstruck. One round of ammunition and all about the imperiled soldiers were howling, angry Indians! With no other alternative, he ordered his men to return to the post. Undoubtedly he would have pressed his attempted arrest of the two Indians, even in the face of overwhelming odds, had he not been faced with this drastic handicap.
That evening Tosh-e-weh and a body of select warriors called on Leeper, determined to kill him. But his firm yet kind reception caused them to change their minds. They told him that their previous hostile threat had been dictated by a rumor that the soldiers had been given orders to massacre all the Indians. He assured them that this was not true, that he and Van Camp were still their friends. And he permitted Tosh-e-weh to escort the visiting Indians away from the reservation to guarantee that they would not be harmed.
This incident greatly emboldened the wild Comanches to use the reservation on their way to and from the Texas frontier settlements to steal horses. More than once the angry settlers had followed their trails to the reservation and had found their stolen horses there. Each time, however, Katumse had assured the white men that neither he nor his people were responsible for these thefts and had returned the stolen animals. As the raids increased, so did the demands of the settlers that the federal government abandon the reservation experiment and move the Indians back across the Red River. John R. Baylor, who was the Comanche agent while Lee was at Camp Cooper and who had been dismissed from the Indian Service because of a quarrel with Supervising Agent Neighbors, led this settler movement.
In May, 1859, Major Thomas reported that Baylor had brought 250 armed men to the reservation to attack the Indians but that Camp Cooper troops had driven them away. The settlers had skirmished with the Comanches and then had withdrawn to Martin's Ranch. The angry Indians followed them and engaged them in a running fight, in which six whites and three warriors were killed. This affair fired the whole border with a spirit of revenge, and soon armed frontiersmen camped about the reservation and kept Thomas's garrison on the alert.
Greatly concerned, Governor Houston now sent commissioners to investigate; and when the angry settlers refused to give testimony, the commissioners, hearing only the Agency version, finally endorsed the reservation policy. The settlers straightway held meetings in their border towns and communities to protest to the Governor and the President. And at last, in August, 1859, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs ordered the abandonment of the reservation. Thus, defeated and despondent, Neighbors rounded up his reservation charges, and Thomas furnished him an escort to march them safely across the Red River. Neighbors was killed at Fort Belknap a short time later by a “border tough.”
These disturbing events had occurred while General Twiggs was in command of the department and before Lee had returned from his prolonged leave in Virginia. Twiggs had admitted that the federal policy toward the wild Indians was defensive and had written General Scott for authority to send his cavalry far within the Indian country to seek out and destroy the raiders' villages. Only then, he thought, might the Indians “let Texas alone.”
Already Texas Rangers and Brazos Agency Indians under Ford and Agent Ross had set a pattern for him. They had struck a large Kotsoteka village on Little Robe Creek, north of the Canadian, in Indian Territory, and had killed seventy-six warriors and had taken eighteen prisoners, mostly women and children. This was the most crushing defeat the Indians had ever suffered at the hands of their white foes, and had forced the survivors to ask for peace and the right to settle down on a reservation.
Secretary Floyd had approved Twiggs's proposal for offensive warfare, for which the Second Cavalry was to become the spearhead. Since Major Thomas was the ranking officer of this regiment during Lee's absence in Virginia, he naturally expected to lead any expedition sent against the Indians. He felt considerably crestfallen when Twiggs favored Van Dorn and objected strenuously, charging that Twiggs had ignored his rights, and appealed directly to Secretary Floyd. He asked that a court of inquiry be named to look into the matter. This nettled the garrulous Twiggs, who reproved Thomas for his “uncourteousness” in going over his head. Thomas fired back just as heatedly, twitting him for his bad grammar and stating boldly that Lee would have recognized his rights had he been in Texas. Fortunately, no harm resulted from this quarrel, and Van Dorn was permitted to proceed on his way.
He moved northward with a strong cavalry force, assisted by Ross and his Brazos Agency Indian trailers. From Camp Cooper, in the fall of 1859, he crossed into Indian Territory and established Camp Radziminski, on Otter Creek. And while he was yet improving his position, his trailers brought in a report that a large band of Comanches was camping near the Wichita village, about ninety miles to the east, near present-day Rush Springs.
Van Dorn sounded “Boots and Saddles,” and the troopers were away within an hour.
Thirty-six hours later they attacked and destroyed the village of 120 lodges and killed fifty-eight Comanches, suffering a loss among themselves of Lieutenant Van Camp, one sergeant, and three enlisted men.
This Comanche defeat was heralded among western army men as a brilliant victory. But it proved to be a costly blunder and caused serious repercussions in Washington, for Interior Department officials charged that the border army had frustrated their peace plans. This band of Comanches was on its way to Fort Arbuckle to attend a peace council at the invitation of Commandant Powell. Obviously, the Indians would later view any peace proposal of their white foes with suspicion. News of the Comanche disaster spread like a prairie fire, inducing most of the wild tribes to seek the safety of the deep canyons of the High Plains and some to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico.
During the next year, on April 13, after Lee had assumed command of the department, Van Dorn followed up this success by moving again from Radziminski to strike Buffalo Hump's village on a small creek south of old Fort Atkinson, in Kansas. Almost the entire band was wiped out, and its chief barely escaped with his life.
But Twiggs's offensive operations had not brought peace to the Texas border. Instead, the raids of the Comanches and the Kiowas were only intensified. These Indians had leagued with the Arapahoes and the Cheyennes, farther north, to wage implacable warfare on the white man wherever he might be found—in Texas, in Kansas, in Colorado, or in New Mexico. They saw their enemies pressing in on every side. The Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory were advancing from the east; the whites in Kansas, Colorado, and New Mexico, from the north and west; and other whites, the Texans, from the south. If they were to preserve their hunting grounds and maintain their nomadic customs, they must wage ceaseless war. The treatment of Katumse's Comanches at Camp Cooper had convinced them that they had no other course to pursue.
This, then, was the Indian problem Lee had inherited from his predecessor. But he attacked it immediately. His answer to Governor Houston's appeal for border protection was to inaugurate the most active scouting service the border had yet seen. Generally, his patrols met no Indians and returned to their posts empty-handed; but some engaged in skirmishes and were successful. Lee's subordinates were inspired by his earnest determination, for he would not ask them to do anything for which he had not already set the pattern. Consequently, by October 30, 1860, they had reported nine successes against raiding Indians, and in his Special Order No. 16, of this date, Lee reported these encouraging results.
Two of these affairs proved the mettle of both the pursuers and the pursued. The first was when Lee's nephew, Second Lieutenant Fitzhugh Lee, left Camp Colorado on the afternoon of January 15, 1860, in pursuit of a small band of Indian raiders seen driving a herd of stolen horses up Pecan Bayou, in Brown County. Young Lee pressed his pursuit and soon overtook two of the marauders, who were impeded in their flight because of having to drive their stolen horses before them. Lee's men killed one of the Indians; but the other, mounted on a fast horse, managed to outdistance them. Lieutenant Lee, also being well mounted, gave chase.
“The chase led over hills and ravines covered with dense cedar for six or seven miles,” the department commander's citation ran, “when the Indian, hard-pressed, attempted to escape on foot. Lieutenant Lee dismounted, and after a search of several hours, came suddenly upon him and killed him in a personal combat. All the animals, twenty-four were captured.” This recital is devoid of the color and intense drama that must have been present. In fact, many years later Captain George F. Price of the Fifth Cavalry added interesting details. He said that young Fitzhugh Lee found the Indian hiding in a thicket behind a ledge of rock and rushed upon him. The next moment they were locked in deadly, hand-to-hand combat. One of young Lee's men, Bugler Hayes, rushed up to shoot the Indian but could not for fear of hitting his superior. Finally, Lee threw his foe by a “back-heel” fall and killed him.
Colonel Lee's old friend, Major Thomas, headed the second expedition. On July 23, with a small unit of the Second Cavalry, including his musicians and three scouts, he left Camp Cooper to reconnoiter the headwaters of the Colorado and the Concho, traveling over the Butterfield Trail via Phantom Hill and through Mountain Pass to the Colorado River. Here Lieutenant Lee, with a company of the Second Cavalry from Camp Colorado, joined him, and the march was resumed. As they were moving up the Middle Concho, they were joined by Captain Richard W. Johnson and still a third company of the Second Cavalry from Fort Mason, bringing Thomas's combined force to more than one hundred men. They scouted thoroughly the region now embraced in Sterling, Glasscock, Irion, Tom Green, and Reagan and parts of Mitchell and Howard counties, but without success. Not a human being was seen, except the station agents of the stage line, who told the soldiers that they had heard of no Indians near their posts that summer.
Learning this, Thomas ordered Johnson and Lee to return their troopers to their home posts, and he turned back over the stage road for Camp Cooper. He had reached a point beyond Mountain Pass when Doss, a Delaware scout, came in with a report that he had cut an Indian trail twenty-five miles farther west. Thomas quickly ordered pursuit, taking about twenty mounted men and pack mules with him and sending his wagon train on to Camp Cooper.
The hard-riding troopers covered more than forty miles before they stopped to rest, and at daybreak the next morning they were off again. Ultimately they reached a point on the Salt Fork of the Brazos about sixty miles from where they had struck the trail.
There, from the top of a small butte, Doss looked into the distance. “There they are!” he shouted, pointing to a small Indian encampment about one mile ahead.
There indeed were eleven Comanches, with a herd of horses grazing near by. The Indians sighted their pursuers and leaped on their ponies to leave. Thomas could not charge them, for a deep ravine intervened, and while his men in single file were crossing it by following a buffalo trail, the Indians were rapidly making their escape.
The Comanches were slowed down by their horse herd, however, and the troopers overtook them rapidly. The Indians had gained “some distance,” Lee's report ran, “but after a chase of four miles, were pressed so closely that they abandoned their animals and took to flight. One warrior, more resolute than the rest kept his position in the rear of the party, when, suddenly dismounting, he faced his pursuers, determined to sacrifice himself for his comrades' safety. The troops pressed upon him too eagerly, and several of his arrows took effect, before he fell, pierced by twenty balls.”
When Thomas saw that the Indian was wounded, although the Indian had wounded him, he directed Doss to ask him in his own language if he would surrender, and that if he would, his life would be spared. To this query, the proud old Comanche replied: “Surrender? Never! Never! Come on!”
Major Thomas was wounded in the chin and the chest. Private William Murphy, of Company D, was disabled by a kick from his horse. Lee wrote of the affair later that, seeing this, “the dying Indian rushed upon him [Murphy] with his lance, but had only strength to inflict a slight wound. Chief Bugler Hausser also received a lance wound in his chest. The rest of the Indians, mounted on fresh and fleet horses, escaped; the cavalry horses having been completely exhausted by the long and rapid pursuit. Twenty-eight horses were captured.”
Troops from Camp Cooper, Lees former “Texas home,” were to share in yet another Indian fight during this year. In December, shortly before Lee was relieved of the department command, a large raiding party of Naconi Comanches, under their great chief, Peta Nacona, had descended on the northwestern Texas frontier to secure horses and plunder for trade with the New Mexican Comancheros encamped on the headwaters of the Canadian. Quickly L. S. Ross, afterwards to become a Texas governor, started in pursuit with 136 men, including Sergeant Spangler and 13 troopers of the Second Cavalry. They found the trail of the marauders above Camp Cooper and followed it up to the broken country of the Pease River, north of present-day Crowell, above the confluence of the Pease and Mule Creek, and attacked the unsuspecting Indians before they could make defense preparations. The Naconies leaped on their horses and fled wildly, with the yelling white men in hot pursuit.
Ross singled out Petit Nacona, overtook him, and killed him in a spirited duel. Lieutenant Thomas Kelliher pursued another Indian, and after a race of two miles he drew near enough to fire. As he raised his rifle with this intention, the supposed warrior stopped and faced him, holding forth a child. It proved to be a white woman, who revealed her identity by shouting to him, “Americano! Americano!” She willingly returned with Kelliher to camp.
The woman only shook her head when later Ross sought to ply her with questions concerning her identity. She could not understand English. Ross believed that she was Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been captured by the Indians almost twenty-five years before, whose anxious kinsmen had made more than one vain attempt to ransom her from the Indians. So he sent a runner to Birdville, near present-day Fort Worth, to inform the venerable Isaac Parker, Cynthia Ann's uncle, that he was returning to Camp Cooper with a captive woman who might be his niece.
When Ross and his force returned to Camp Cooper, Mrs. Evans, the wife of Commandant N. G. Evans, cared for the captured woman and child, although it was necessary to place a guard about the house in which the captives were held to prevent the woman from escaping.
Upon the arrival of Isaac Parker, the captive woman was brought before him. The old man sought to talk with her through an interpreter but could gain no satisfaction. Finally, in bitter disappointment, he turned toward Captain Ross and expressed his doubts that this was Cynthia Ann. Immediately the startled woman began patting her breast, saying “Cynthia Ann! Cynthia Ann!” A ray of recollection dormant for twenty-five years had sprung up in her mind. Parker stated later that “Her very countenance changed and a pleasant smile took the place of a sullen gloom.”
Cynthia Ann returned with her uncle to his home in Tarrant County. For a time she could not adapt herself to white men's ways, so long had she lived among the Indians, but finally she became accustomed to them. Her child, Topasannah, or “Prairie Flower,” died in 1864; and a few years after the Civil War the mother followed her to the grave.
Ross's expedition brought down the curtain on Comanche campaigns under the direction of Lee as department commander.
At San Antonio hot August dragged out its weary length. Then at last came moisture-laden Gulf breezes, bringing rain and lower temperatures. Lee's spirits revived. In the past changes of this sort had brought more than one quip from him. On August 22 he wrote his daughter, Annie, telling her of the rain and inviting her to visit him in San Antonio. If she would come, he would buy her a fine horse and even accompany her about town in a wagon, whenever that was necessary. But, he warned teasingly, “Our flies and mosquitoes are re-animated,” although they could be endured better than the heat in which for the last several weeks San Antonio's “Shadracks, Mesheks and Abednigos” had sweltered.
Lee's remaining weeks there were spent pleasantly. He took great interest in sponsoring the building of St. Mark's Episcopal Church and in its services. Frequently he dined with friends, bouncing their small children on his knee or entertaining them with stories and light-hearted banter. But there were times when the conversation would turn to slavery, disunion, and abolition fanaticism; and with troubled mien he would express his anxiety, fear, and pessimism.
At last, on December 13, Twiggs arrived, and Lee was relieved of the command of the Department of Texas. He could now leave his desk and ride away to rejoin his regiment at Fort Mason to share in the rough-and-tumble life of the border. There, at least for a short time, he could turn his eyes from the ominous storm of secession rapidly approaching and seek release for his restless spirit on the frontier. Six days later he paid all his debts, took leave of his friends, and rode out toward the northwest.
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