(Transcribed by Leora White, 2008)
REDBONES IN THE NEUTRAL STRIP OR NO MAN’S LAND
BETWEEN THE CALCASIEU AND SABINE RIVERS
IN LOUISIANA AND TEXAS, RESPECTFULLY, AND
THE WESTPORT FIGHT BETWEEN WHITES AND REDBONES
FOR POSSESSION OF THIS STRIP ON
CHRISTMAS EVE, 1882
WEBSTER TALMA CRAWFORD
Courtesy DR. J. A. CRAWFORD
Lake Charles, LA.
ONCE ON THE RIO SABINAS
It has been nearly fifteen years since I was asked to write the story of the “Redbones” - those strange people of the Rio Sabinas country who it seemed had been left out of both the Ark and the Geography. The task delegated to me proved a most difficult one, yet full of interest, for there is perhaps no other homogeneous element of humanity whose history is more devious or more fascinating than that of these Redbones of the Sabine River country.
I had nothing to go on, for no one seemed to know more about these people than the mere fact of their existence, and the dead certainty of their dislike of intrusion. Barring a few disastrous exceptions, the other inhabitants of the Texas-Louisiana frontier, had left the Redbones severely alone.
Some of my earliest recollections were of accounts concerning the fierce nature of the Redbones. I had no real fear of these people, yet when I went to live amongst them years ago, in the course of my duties, as a matter of caution I carried two heavy revolvers, well concealed in my luggage.
I found lodging in the home of an old “Ten Miler” - a sobriquet for certain natives of the region, and was assigned the best room in the house. I had arrived at his place somewhat late in the afternoon, after a long ride through the swamps, so after eating a late, heavy supper, I repaired to my room and soon retired, after first placing my pistols under the pillow. Upon awakening late the next morning, I was thrown into a frenzy of excitement to discover that the six-shooters had been removed from under my pillow while I slept. I found them on a table near my bed. This being a polite reminder that I would find neither need for firearms or opportunity to use them, while sojourning in the Cherry Winche country.
In brief, I found the Redbones to be a brave, proud and independent clan into whose province they have permitted no invaders. They maintain the proposition that socially, all Redbones are equal; they recognize no nobility in the clan. In their own ranks there is frequent warfare, yet they quickly band together to fight a common enemy. They are clannish, guerilla Warriors. Their promptitude to avenge any insult has been proverbial. Industrious and home loving, they have steadfastly refused to be amalgamated with the outside world. And yet, they are not village-loving people. The Redbones have built no villages. The population dwells in lonely scattered habitations and the individuals do not fear solitude. Their name, “Redbones,” serves as a convenient label for a people who combine in themselves the blood of the wasted tribes, the early colonists or forest rovers, the run-away slaves and the stray seamen of Mediterranean stock from coasting vessels in the West Indian or Brazilian trade.
From the very beginning of my study of the Redbones, it seemed almost a foregone conclusion that these bold people were of Mediterranean stock, for it had been said that Hannibal was a “Redbone.” One may more correctly conclude that the Redbones are of the stock of Hannibal. Hence, in the veins of these people there may be found the blood of ancient Carthage; of Crossus perhaps and of Sidon and Tyre. Part Semitic, part Hamitic, Berbers, Mauretanian Arabs, Nubians, Phoenicians and true Carthaginians are perhaps all represented among their ancestors. And having very little of either Aryan or Ethiopian stock in their ancestry, we may call those People most properly, “Moors.”
The Redbones established settlements in various parts of western Louisiana, then the Eastern frontier of New Spain - in the middle eighteenth century and they became amalgamated to some extent with the then scattering and dwindling aboriginal Indians. Yet the Redbone did not lose his close racial resemblance to the Moor which striking characteristic can be observed to this day.
Along what we may call the Sabine Frontier have been preserved three settlements of these hardy and truly fierce people who have come to be known as Redbones. One of these settlements is on the west side of Sabine River in the dense swamps of eastern Newton County, Texas. Another lies directly across the Sabine, on Bear Head Creek, in the western part of Beauregard and Calcasieu Parishes, Louisiana; and the third is in the “Cherry Winche Country” of western Louisiana, a vaguely defined area of some one hundred fifty square miles, comprising a portion of southwestern Rapides Parish, the southeastern corner of Vernon and the northern part of Allen.
The largest and most notorious settlement of these strange Carthaginian people is the last referred to, the one between Ten Mile and Cherry Winche Creeks and long ago the inhabitants of this area came to be known as “Ten Milers.” For some obscure reason they also were termed “Redbones,” but this designation became in after years a dangerous word to use as was likewise the slightest insinuation that these people were mixed with the negro. If the old “Ten Miler” did not know where he came from or what races he was a mixture of, he was nevertheless certain to make life hazardous enough for anyone who endeavored to trace his lineage back to Cush.
A young Redbone if asked what nationality his ancestors were will likely reply, “Portuguese,” and he may add that he has Italian blood also. Or, if more friendly, he perhaps may show you a pendant from an old rosary which he will tell you has been handed down for several generations and which, one of his great grandfathers brought over from “Carty Gene.” Since the boy has just told you that he is Portuguese, you assume that Cartagena to which he refers is the old fortified seaport of Spain founded, history tells us, about the year 242 B.C. The young Redbone is not aware that the “Carty Gene” he mentions was more likely the “Republic of Carthagena,” the Columbian seaport from which Lafitte, the Baratarian Buccaneer had litters of marque. The Redbone boy is sincere; he does not know that his great grandfather may have been a pirate. Until as late as 1821, pirate vessels not infrequently hid in the Sabine and Calcasieu Rivers. Treasure seekers long have known of this. Contraband Bayou, an affluent of the Calcasieu, was once a pirate’s lair. And a few years ago there was still to be seen the timbers of an old pirate ship which had been wrecked near the mouth of a bayou that disembogues into the Sabine near the Redbone settlement on Bear Head.
If we ask an old Redbone who his people were, he will occasionally give an amusing reply, spoken seriously however, and it may be somewhat resignedly. An old “Ten Miler,” Ephraim Dyal, was once asked his nationality by some incautious person. “Well,” he replied, "I recons thars a little bit of everything in me.” His answer is not very far from the truth.
Sometimes a sophisticated Redbone will hint at his descent from the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. This he sincerely believes, for several reasons, one of which is the large number of Hebrew Christian names among these people, such as Moses, Noah, Israel, David and others.
It being practically certain that there was Moorish blood in their ancestry, some early investigator seized the theory that the Redbones are the descendants of a prehistoric migration from the African Coast. Some of the early Spanish priests who came to North America believed that the Native American Indian was identified with the Ten Lost Tribes. This belief was also held by such noted colonial figures as John Eliot, Mathew, Mather, Roger Williams, Penn and others. The English adventurer James Adair, who spent forty years as a trader among the southern Indians, made elaborate statements to prove this theory. The Lord Kingsborough proved conclusively, (to his own satisfaction), that the American Indians were Jews. Finally, it has been contended that the people of Yucatan were Ethiopian Christians, there being some corroboration to stories that some of the earliest Spanish explorers found black Moors living in America.
In some Redbones, a strong resemblance to the Numidian is noted. The hair of the Redbone - and the hair is perhaps the best test of any peoples’ origins - is straight, wavy or strongly frizzled, rarely or never wooly. Yet it appears that a few Redbones carry the blood of some negroid people; possibly perhaps most likely, Numian. And in appearance, the Nubian type of Redbone remains essentially negro, being characterized by a very dark complexion, varying for a mahogany brown and deep bronze, to an almost black shade; with tumid lips, large black animated eyes; doli-chocephalic head; hair often strongly frizzled, with scant beard on the chin. The nose however is larger than in the negro and the zygomatic arches are less prominent. Characteristics of the Nubian too, is the strong muscular physique the energetic warlike nature.
In both racial and physical characteristics, the Redbone appears to be a kin to that mystery people of the Pyrenees, the Basques. Considering that the Basques took a full part in the colonization of America, having been first to establish cod fishing on the Newfoundland coast, the theory of the Redbones’ descent from castaway seamen of a stranded vessel on the Gulf coast, becomes a not-unreasonable hypothesis. But nothing further can be produced to give any weight to this theory. It remains simply one of the many theories that have been concocted to explain the origin of these Redbones of the Sabine Frontier. Some apply only to the South Carolina “Redbones.”
The Redbones of the Sabine Frontier are a homogeneous element of people, unrelated to the Delaware “Moors,” the “Croatans” of North Carolina, the so called “Melungeons” of Eastern Tennessee, or any other clan of mystery people possessing an uncertain, or romantic genealogy, or both. While it may be true that some of these interesting clans are but the scattered remnants of an aboriginal tribe, or the descendents of North-African people who visited America before historic times, but such explanations are again, pure theories. All the mystery peoples of America appear to bear the stamp of Mediterranean stock. On this account there is some physical resemblance between “Turnbull’s Negros” as the Ninocans of Florida have been unjustly called, and the Sabine River Redbones, but it is only that which is common to the dark whites of the Mediterranean sea coasts.
It has been a very difficult task to penetrate the thick haze of obscurity surrounding the Redbones, to lift even a little the heavy cloak of mystery in which he is so completely developed.
That part of the Redbone’s story which history can lend, is a long and complicated one; its unraveling from the great mass of historical documents in which it is contained, has led through the archives of Church and State, in Spain, Mexico, New Orleans, Saint Augustino, Natchitoches, Nacogdoches , San Antonio and other places. The account of the Redbone is found to be a chapter of mystery in that interesting, but almost wholly unwritten history of the Texas-Louisiana frontier. The annals of no other part of America have been more neglected by the historians than those of this borderland between the French and Spanish colonies of the Gulf Coastal Plain. No history is more replete with romance and glamour. It is lush with human interest but lies wrapped in the dust of musty archives.
The whole area was one of rapidly shifting scenes, of vague, ambiguous agreements; of colossal uncertainties. The Redbone was the product of this era. He is yet so much a part of the environment that created him that he can not be understood apart from it. He scarcely can be contemplated outside of his singular historical setting. And since the Redbone must be studied from the historical perspective, it will be proper briefly to review the history of his “Habitat,” the Texas-Louisiana Frontier.
The earliest claim to the territory which became Eastern Texas and Western Louisiana was Spain’s declared on account of the discovery of Columbus, the Conquest of Mexico, and the explorations of Coronasa, Pineda, De Soto and the Narvaez expedition.
The French came later. It was not until summer of 1673 that the Jesuit Missionary Marquette reached a point on the Mississippi as far south as the mouth of the Arkansas. Here, “Thinking he was on the borders of Spanish Territory,” Marquette turned back. We have in this notable incident the beginning of the long recital of vague conceptions of proprietorships, misunderstandings of claims and cautious, hesitant actions which prevailed throughout the Mississippi coastal region for nearly two centuries.
Early in 1685, the gallant La Salle’s expedition landed on the coast of Texas, having missed the mouth of the Mississippi, at which place La Salle had declared possession of the region three years before.
During the winter of 1685-86, following the establishment of the emergency Fort St. Louis on the Carcitas River near the shores of Lavaca Bay, La Salle wandered over much of what is now eastern and central Texas. On this account, the statement has been made by some historians that France claimed the whole of the region of what is now Texas. An examination of history, however, reveals that this was not the case. On April 9, 1682, La Salle’s party set up a column at the mouth of the Mississippi and under arms, chanted the Te Deum, the Exaudiat and the Domine Salvun Fac Regem. After a salute of firearms and cries of “Vive le Roi,” La Salle made his great proclamation in which he claimed for Louis XIV the territory drained by the Colbert, or Mississippi River, with all is tributaries and the territory between the Mississippi River and the “River of Palms.” La Salle named the whole country “Louisiana.”
Now, France's title to territory in the Mississippi Valley was based upon this voyage and proclamation by La Salle. It has been claimed by some geographers that the “River of Palms” named in La Salle’s proclamation, is the present Rio Grande, but in the historical data descriptive of Florida, we find the record of a grant in 1526 to Pamphillo de Narvez from Charles the Fifth, “Of all the lands from Cape Florida to the River Palms, in the Gulf of Mexico.” On ancient maps, Palm River is shown as a small affluent of Palm Sound, an inlet now known as Sarasota Bay, on the west coast of the Florida peninsula. It is unquestionable that La Salle knew of this grant and that he had chosen to mention its western boundary for the certain limit of his claim for France.
Settlements were made along this coast by French colonists in 1699 but between years after La Salle’s proclamation: and there can be no shadow of doubt that these settlements were made for the purpose of occupying and exploiting the vast domain added to France under the name of “Louisiana.” The Territory about Matagorda Bay, at one time claimed by France, by reason of La Salle’s later discoveries, was never considered a part of the original Louisiana.
Reviewing the early history of Eastern Texas, we find that it was determined in no small part by the distribution and interrelation of its native tribes.
In Northern Texas lived two confederacies of the great Caddoan linguistic stock, the Hasinai and the Caddo proper. The Hasinai lived on the Angelina and the upper Neches Rivers and comprised some ten or more tribes, of which the best known were the Hainai, Nacogdache, Nasoni and Nadaco. They were a settled people who had been living in the same region certainly ever since the time of La Salle, and probably long before.
The Indians dwelt in scattered villages, practiced agriculture to a considerable extent and hunted the bison on the western prairies. The Caddo, whose culture was similar, lived northeast of the Hasinai, along the Red River between Natchitoches and the region of Texarkana. Of this group, the best known were the Adaes, Natchitoches, Yatasi, Petit Caddo, Cadodacho, Nassonite and Natsoos. In the midst of these confederacies, particularly of the Hasinai, the Spanish settlements of Northeastern Texas were planted.
South of the Hasinai, on the lower Trinity, Neches and Sabine Rivers, were the Bidai, Orcoquiz, Deadose and Attacapa, members of the Attacapan family. They had little agriculture and lived mainly by hunting and fishing. The word “Attacapa” [Attakapa or Atakapa] is derived from the Choctaw words “Hatakapa” or “Man Eaters,” since the Attacapa were formerly anthropophagous.
On La Salle’s voyage to the Gulf Coast in 1684, one of his vessels, the “St. Francois,” had been captured by the Spaniards near San Domingo, on the blanc order of Philip the Second. The Spaniards learned from the French sailors that La Salle was on his way to plant a colony on the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. Six or more expeditions, four by sea, and the others overland from Mexico, went out to destroy the French Settlement, but failed to find La Salle’s Fort. It was not until 1689, nearly three years after the murder of the indomitable explorer and the massacre of some of his remaining colonists by Indians, the Captain Alonzo De Leon and his men found the ruins of Fort St. Louis. And in 1690, De Leon rescued some survivors of the French Colony, held captive among the Coco Indians.
Upon Captain De Leon’s return to Mexico, the Viceroy inquired closely into the status of affairs and from the reports of De Leon. Father Massante, the Viceroy decided to found a mission in the country of the Tejas Indians. In 1690, the mission of San Francisco de Tejas was established, somewhere in what is now perhaps, Houston Country. Three years later the mission was abandoned on account of a drought and the unfriendliness of the Indians, but about 1716, in consequence of the cooperation between Governor Cadillac of Louisiana, Antoine Croqat, the proprietor and the Spanish Priests, this mission was reestablished and a chain of five others were founded near modern Nacogdoches.
The most easterly of these missions was San Miguel de los Adaes, established near the site of the recent Robeling, Louisiana, but fifteen miles west of the Red River. This arrangement, effected through the suave diplomat, Louis Juchereau de Saint Denis, whereby Spain was allowed to extend her mission within a few leagues of the Red River, proves conclusively that France at that time held no claim to the territory beyond the western line of the Mississippi watershed. The divider which separates the drainage area of the Mississippi from the streams to the west was evidently considered the line, and the territory directly drained into the Gulf of Mexico by these streams, was conceded to be Spanish, in accord with La Salle’s proclamation.
In 1719, three years after the establishment of the Mission of Los Adaes and before the Presidio was planted, the priest and soldiers, fearing an attack from the French, fled to the mission of San Antonio de Valero. The fear of a French attack was wholly unfounded it seems, since Saint Denis welcomed the Spanish establishment. So the mission was reopened four or five years later and the Presidio of “Nuestra Senora del Pilar de los Adaes” was established half a league farther to the east, facing the French settlement of Natchitoches. Which had been founded by Saint Denis about 1712.
This far flung military post of Los Adaes was the first capitol of the Province of Texas. Together with the mission it formed the uttermost guard to the New World territory claimed by Spain. Since the center and defense of Spain’s western settlements was the presidio and mission of San Antonio, founded in 1718, it is somewhat strange that its site among the wild lofty hills of western Natchitoches Parish was considered to be on the border of French territory.
The question of the dividing line between French and Spanish Territory soon became paramount. Though after the war of the Spanish Succession, France-Spanish relations generally tended toward an increasingly close friendship, this nevertheless did not prevent Spain from regarding the Louisiana border with a high degree of jealousy.
The French post of Natchitoches had been built on an island in the Red River, where a trading house had been erected, three or four years before. Here the vagrant river has two channels and the west bank of the western arm of the stream, French settlers had houses, orchards and corrals; their ranches extending westward to the Arroyo Hondle [Hondo?] and La Gran Montana, natural features about midway between Natchitoches and Los Adaes. Because of the overflow of the river and perhaps because of the diminution of Spanish garrison in 1730, in 1735 Saint Denis, the French commander, moved his post to the west side of the river.
Ensign Jose Gonzaled [Gonzales?], commander of Los Adaes, and Father Vallejo, president of the eastern missions, reported the matter to Governor Sandoval, who was then living at Bexar on account of the Apache depredations. A spirited correspondence occurred between Saint Denis and the Spanish authorities, which the French diplomat easily got the better of. Sandoval was arrested for having permitted the removal of Natchitoches to the western bank of the Red River and for having moved his residence to San Antonio. Witnesses were examined both at Los Adaes and in Mexico and it was concluded that La Gran Montana and the Arroyo Hondo had always been the accepted boundary between Natchitoches and Los Adaes.
In spite of the various forms of border friction, the relations of the two lone outposts, Los Adaes and Natchitoches were on the whole friendly, as might well be expected.
In 1731, the Natches [Natchez?] Indians attacked Natchitoches and Saint Denis appealed to the Spanish Governor Bustillo, for help. In response, the Spanish Governor sent eleven soldiers and a contingent of Indian allies. For twenty-two days they took part in the defense of besieged Natchitoches, one Spanish soldier being killed. Out of gratitude for this aid, Saint Denis sent Bustillo a present of some captive Indian women which however, the Spanish Governor declined with thanks.
Whether as a necessity or a diversion, miscegenation had existed on every frontier, Bustillo declined the proffered gift of Natches women. He scarcely could afford to do otherwise; he was a Governor. Squaws were for French traders. But the Spanish Lieutenant, Fermin de Ybiriou, was somewhat more diplomatic. He was a connoisseur as well; he became intimate with the French at Natchitoches and kept French women at Los Adaes, for which however, he was later thrown into prison by Governor Franquis.
As an administrative unit, Texas was a part of the Kingdom of New Spain. The government apart from the missions was wholly military. The missions were the principal concern. They were agencies of the State as well as of the Church. The Spanish policy looked to the civilization of the Indians and the task was turned over to the missionary.
Settled Indians, such as the Pueblo of New Mexico, could be easily handled. The missions on the San Antonio, Guadalupe and the Rio Grande, were fairly successful but the east Texas missions became confessed failures. The Indians would not live in them. Three of the missions were moved to San Antonio in 1730. The Caddoan tribes and the Indians on the lower Trinity, were too independent and liberty loving ever to submit to instructions and toil. For this, they cannot be censured. They had long before reached the Ultima Thule of satisfaction and were instinctively aware that the tide of the white man’s civilization could only detract from their condition. So the missionaries had to content themselves with going among the scattered Indian settlements, ministering to the sick, preaching and baptizing in articulo mortis.
For more than fifty years this mission and presidio at Los Adaes held its position on that lonely frontier. Many of the supplies for the mission were obtained from the neighboring French of Natchitoches and other from the agricultural Indians of the surrounding country. Supplies from Mexico were transported over the Camino Real and pack trains over this road were usually accompanied by a military escort, since the route was beset by hostile Indians. These Indians which infested the Camino Real were principally the Eastern Apache, particularly the Lipon, the Natages and the Mescalero tribes living in general, west of the San Antonio and South of the upper Colorado River.
The Camino Real, whose route had been designated by the Texas Legislature as unchangeable, ran from Natchitoches by way of Los Adaes, now Robeling, to Pendleton on the Sabine, then to Nacogdoches crossing Auish Bayou at the mission of Los Ais. From Nacogdoches, the route lay to the southwest. The crossing on the Trinity was probably at Robbin’s Ferry, at the old village of Randolph, in Madison County. Here the Camino Real forked, one route bearing almost due southwest to San Antonio and the other more to the south, by the missions and presidios on the lower Guadalupe and San Antonio Rivers, and thence on to the Rio Grande at Laredo.
In 1772, the Spanish government decided to give back to nature and the Indians, temporarily at least all that portion of Texas lying northeast of San Antonio de Bexar and Bahia del Espieitu Santo, some parts of which had been occupied continuously even if weekly, for more than half a century.
Spain’s reasons for withdrawing the eastern settlements were connected primarily with the Louisiana session of 1762, with the Indian troubles of the interior province and with the general reorganization of the frontiers of New Spain by the aggressive Charles III, in response to the outcome of the Seven Years' War.
With the acquisition of Louisiana, Texas ceased to be the outpost against the French, a position which had been given to the province its character since it founding. Spain’s eastern frontier was now the Mississippi.
To secure information on which to base an extensive reorganization of the northeast outposts of New Spain, the Marques de Rubi was sent out on a tour of inspection.
Leaving Mexico in March 1766, Rubi reached the northeast frontier in the latter part of 1767. He was accompanied by Nicholas de la Fora, a capable engineer, who made a remarkable map of the whole region traversed. Rubi found the northeastern frontier as a whole greatly infested by warlike tribes, as had been intimated. The missions of eastern Texas he regarded as utterly useless, since the Indians still refused to live in them.
A few months after Rubi entered the province on his tour, Father Gasper Jose de Solis was sent to inspect the missions of the College of Guadalupe de Zacatecas. His report of what he had seen was little more encouraging than that of Marques.
At Los Adaes were two missionaries, no neophytes and the presidio garrison of sixty soldiers. Round about the presidio, in a village and on ranches, was a declining population of some forty families. Here was a stretch of wild country, several hundred miles wide, over which Spain claimed dominion but which was crossed by two rude paths, occupied by only one small garrison, a handful of impoverished settlers and a small mission.
Rubi concluded that Spain was trying to spread herself over too much ground and he recommended that the district of Los Adaes be attached to Louisiana or that the presidio and mission be suppressed and the settlers and the capital moved to San Antonio.
Rubi’s report went to the king and in September 1772, a plan of reorganization was adopted in the form of the “New Regulation of Presidios” which provided, among other things, that the presidio of Los Adaes, with its mission, be suppressed and the neighboring settlers taken to San Antonio and given land.
The work of carrying into effect the New Regulation of 1772 was entrusted to the governor, and Baron de Ripperda, by instructions which reached him in May 1773. Setting out immediately on his mission, Ripperda passed through Nacogdoches and Los Ais to Los Adaes. In this district he found a population of more than four hundred persons, who it was his duty to expel. Among these settlers was one who in ability and substance stood out far above his fellows. He was Antonio Gil Ybarbo (properly Gily Barbo), a native of Los Adaes and now forty-four years old. He was owner of a large ranch, already a pueblo, at El Lobanillo (The Mole), on the highway west of the Sabine. Ybaro became the leader of the exiled “Aaesanos.”
Ripperda’s task on the eastern border reminds one of the expulsion of Evangeline’s people from Acadia, a few years before. Upon his arrival at Los Adaes, the Baron issued a proclamation declaring that in five days everyone must be ready for the march to San Antonio. The consternation and commotion caused by this order can be readily imagined. The removal involved the abandonment of all permanent improvements. Ripening crops, stick, household goods, all had to be abandoned. Ybarbo, in particular was hard hit. He was a trader with a large amount of stock. El Lobanillo was the pride of his life and in addition to his ranching interest, he had for several years maintained commercial relations both at Adaes and El Lobanillo, with a wealthy France merchant, Nicolas de la Mathe, from Point Coupee, Louisiana. Ybarbo was reputed by his enemies to be a mullate [mulatto?]. We now know that he was a Redbone and one of the outstanding characters in the entire history of the Texas-Louisiana frontier.
To the inhabitants of Los Adaes, Ripperda’s order meant no less than expatriation. The love of home is deeply rooted in the human breast, more deeply the simpler the people. Many of these frontier folk had been born at Los Adaes and had spent all of their lives there. Some had personal ties across the Arroyo Hondo in the French settlement, or in the Indian villages and some had material interest in ranches and in Indian trade.
Most of the inhabitants prepared to obey the command, yet it became necessary to drive many of them from their homes and a number of persons, thirty-five according to reports, refusing to be evicted from the frontier, fled to the woods. These must evidently have become the nucleus of the Redbone stock of western Louisiana.
Several members of Ybarbo’s family and a number of other persons, became conveniently ill and were permitted to remain at El Lobanillo. Others dropped out at Nacogdoches and several died on the weary march to San Antonio.
As soon as the Adaesanos arrived at Bexar, Ripperda promulgated an order granting the exiles the right to choose lands which however, they refused to do. They petitioned the Governor to allow them to return to the eastern frontier. A compromise was finally effected whereby the exiles were allowed to settle at Paso Tomas, at the crossing of the Camino Real on the Trinity. This settlement, knows as the Nuestra Senora del Pilar de Bucareli, was unsuccessful, owing partly perhaps, to the length of its name. It became a center for smuggling and likely would have been suppressed, had its abandonment not been precipitated by other events.
Three years after its founding, Bucareli became the object of attention for the dreaded Comanche. Raids became frequent, on one of which the “Whooping Devils” drove off two hundred and seventy-six horses. Then came the great flood of 1779. On the night of February 14th according to the story of Ybarbo, the Trinity overflowed its banks - an old “Spanish Custom” on this river - rose to half the height of the house and drowned most of the remaining stock.
A few days after the flood, the Comanches again appeared and ran off the thirty-eight head of horses which had been saved from the deluge.
The settlers had already petitioned the Governor to send them aid and arms or to allow them to remove to the neighborhood of the Texas villages to the eastward. Not receiving a prompt reply to their request, the little band of ignorant, poverty stricken and harassed colonists, prepared to act for themselves. Whether by accident or design, half of their homes had been destroyed by fire and now, thoroughly frightened by Indians and evicted by fire and flood, Ybarbo at once set out for the Texas country. The exiles from Los Adaes had again circumvented the royal policy. And their judgment proved the better for them. They journeyed northeastward and reoccupied the old mission of Nacogdoches. This was the beginning of the modern city of this name.
In spite of the Government commands, the Louisiana frontier was never wholly abandoned. With the Spanish garrison removed, the French from Natchitoches flocked in to trade and live among the Indians in greater numbers than before. Many of the fugitives, who escaped from convoy going from Los Adaes, took refuge at Ybarbo’s old ranch, El Lobanillo, from which they gradually drifted back across the Sabine.
From the time of the official abandonment of the Spanish frontier in 1772, until the adjustment of the boundary question in 1819, a period of nearly fifty years, all that vast, wild country between the Red, Quelqueshoe and Sabine Rivers, was a vagabond’s paradise. Long before this time however, it had become a disputable hinterland. That vaguely defined region between the Arroyo Hondo and the Sabine, was conceded by France, to be the land to which Spain held the rightful claim, and as a consequence, the whole territory between the divide of the Mississippi watershed and the Rio Sabinas, had always lain as a sort of Terra Incognite.
For more than a hundred years before Los Adaes was suppressed and the region abandoned to the natives, it had been a hatching ground for mixed breeds of every description, most of whom had remained in the territory. There is plenty of evidence to support this statement and it is therefore almost absurd even to deny the contention that the Moorish blood in the Redbone came from the Carthaginian stick who peopled America before historic times and thus became the ancestors of all these “Lost” people of America. We have only very poor evidence to support the theory that Carthaginians reached America before the Spaniards. We do know that soldiers of strong Moorish stock were in the very earliest Spanish Expeditions to America and that some of these Moors left a trail of half-breed children through the ranks of the southern Indians.
Perhaps the first European to explore any part of the area drained by the Sabine was Alvar Nunez, the “Cabeza de Vaca” of history. His famous or infamous companion Estevanico, the Moor from Azamor on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, was not inclined to ignore Indian women and earned some reputation in this respect. After living for nearly six years among the Indians on the Texas coast, DeVaca and Estevanico marched (with two other companions), across the continent, where the latter continues his indiscreet amours with Indian squaws, until he finally was killed for his proclivity, somewhere in the north of Mexico.
While DeVaca, and his companions were virtually prisoners among the southeast Texas tribes, DeVaca, having become a faith healer among the Indians, was allowed considerable freedom. He made several trips far into the interior, on one of which he visited a tribe of Indians to the north and east, who were living in what we may consider the domicile of the Redbone today. During this visit, the explorer may have been the hero of social adventures which he neglected to record in his famous journal.
While there seems to be only a slight basis for the assertion that the Atayos mentioned by DeVaca were the Adaes or Adai, it is reasonable to suppose they were
The Adae, a small tribe of Caddo confederacy, formed one of the eight villages observed by Iberville on his journey up the Red River in 1699. Iberville called the tribe “Natao.” In 1802, des Mezieres estimated their number at one hundred eighteen years later, they had dwindled to about thirty and were then living on Bayou Pierre near the Red River. They have since lost their identity in that of other Caddoan tribes. At the time of Cabeza’s visit these people were likely far more numerous and must have occupied a considerable territory in the timbered portion of western Louisiana. They were settled timber dwellers and were doubtless one of the several strains whose blood make up the modern Redbones.
Another Spanish explorer to touch the Redbone country at a very early date was Luis de Alvarado Moscoso, who made prolonged wanderings in the basin of the Red River in the latter part of 1542, following the death of his chief, the great De Soto. Whether Moscoso himself was social with Indians is not certain but it has been established that other members of De Soto’s expedition were so inclined. It is stated on some authority that the De Soto himself had two Indian mistresses. A definite example of miscegenation is furnished by the case of a soldier in Alvarado’s party, a “Christian named Frencisco de Guzman, illegitimate son of a gentleman of Seville.” While the party was wandering in southern Arkansas, this soldier, in fear of being made to pay for gambling debts in the person of an Indian girl, his concubine, took her away with him into the wilderness and was never heard of again.
Further down the stream of history, we find the effective possession of Louisiana was taken by the “Irish” Spaniard, Alejandre O’Reilly, in 1769. He made Athanase de Mezieres lieutenant governor of the Natchitoches District. The Sabine River country was at that time the home of splendid Indians, much game and many traders. Trade in both legitimate and contraband goods had long been the principal business of the frontier. O’Reilly instructed De Mezieres to license traders for the friendly tribes but suppress all trade with the hostile Indians, whether conducted by Spanish subjects or by foreigners. A special evil to be suppressed was trade in stolen horses and Indian captives. This was particularly vicious at Taovayas villages on the Red River. When they were not at war, the Wichita tribes supplied the Comanche with French weapons and agricultural products. In exchange they secured horses and mules stolen from the Spanish settlements; Indian captives, among whom Apache predominated; and Spanish captives from the frontier settlements. For the horses, mules and Indian captives, they had found a ready market with the French traders from Louisiana, where Apache slaves and stock bearing Spanish brands were common.
Many runaway negro slaves from the Red River plantations went to the Indians. We find evidence of this in the Caddo people who appear to have much negro blood. Most of the Apache slaves who escaped from the French, and nearly all escaped, fled to the south where they joined the element that was forming in the wilderness west of the Quelqueshoe. Therefore, the Redbone boy who informs us that he had Indian blood in his veins, is one hundred percent correct.
However, he dreams not that it is Apache blood. To make this affable Redbone boy, it is a far cry from the hills of his beloved Cherry Winche country to the canyons of the Guadalupe which know Geronimo, but the long strings of history tie them together. Though several strains contributed to the baneful element of the Redbone, these Apaches who refused to be enslaved, supplied the really noxious blood. For the Apaches, some authorities to the contrary notwithstanding were the worst Indians on the North American continent.
We have seen that the wilderness region between the Quelqueshoe and the Sabine was long a true “No-man’s land,” where various odds and ends of humanity had gathered. In 1806, this territory became a legal no man’s land. In October of that year Generals Wilkinson and Herrera entered into their sudden and mysterious contract. This agreement declared the territory between the Arroyo Hondo and the Sabine a neutral zone, “until the Boundary Question should be settled.” And herein lies the mystery, for there was really no boundary question to be adjusted.
Then, by the “Treaty of San Ildefense,” [San Ildefonso?] of October 1, 1800, Spain had secretly retraced Louisiana to France, the territory was described as “The Colony or Province of Louisiana with the same extent it now has in the hands of Spain and the other States.” And when, on April 30, 1803, France ceded the territory to the United States, she employed this identical language.
Since the Arroyo Hondo, named in the treaty between Wilkinson and Herrera, is but a small tributary of the Red River, about seven miles west of Natchitoches, and physically an insignificant boundary stream, it was employed in the spirit of the original designation for the whole line of the divide from the Gulf northwestward, to an indefinite point. None of this territory west of the Mississippi, which is directly drained into the Gulf of Mexico by streams which are not a part of the of the Mississippi system is a part of La Salle’s Louisiana as has been noted. This region southwest of LaSalle's discovery and proclamation of 1682, when the limits of Louisiana were defined, and title to this district was neither offered or transferred by France to the United States in the sale of 1808.
The agreement between General Wilkinson and General Herrera was one between men and not between nations. It may be suspected that General Wilkinson was only taking advantage of Aaron Burr’s wild scheme in order to stall Herrera off Spain’s rightful territory. However, this private agreement was not considered to have jeopardized Spain’s claim since in the Florida Treaty of 1819, the United States surrendered a part of the true Louisiana Purchase, a tract on the upper Canadian River of much greater area than the disputed territory, in exchange of the “Neutral Ground.”
Most of the settlers of the Los Adaes District, who fled to the woods to escape the removal to San Antonio, joined the Indians living between the Quelqueshoe and the Sabine Rivers. Some of the more cultured refugees went toward the east and either joined or settled near the French colony of Natchitoches. A minor band of these Adaesanos, now also termed Redbones, and now somewhat interrelated with the French may be found seasonably around the shores of Black Lake, where they spend a large part of the summer, fishing and hunting. These Redbones have been made a subject of romance by students of the State Normal College at Natchitoches.
The Indians living in the Neutral Ground were pastoral and fond of little ranches. Although miscegenation went on promiscuously and unabated, two of the tribes which occupied the region remained unmixed and live to this day, separated from each other and cash a practically pure stock. One of these is the remnant of the Quashette, or Coushatta Indians of Alabama stock, living near Elton, Louisiana and numbering perhaps two hundred. The other is the pitiful scrap of the Alabama Tribe which is still living in the “Big Thicket” of eastern Polk County, Texas, on land set apart for them by the immortal Sam Houston.
Other Indians of the Sabine country became extinct, amalgamated with tribes up Red River, or joined the Redbones.
The inhabitants of the Neutral Ground at that time may be loosely divided into two classes; with a more or less fixed abode, and those on the dodge. With the signing of the Wilkinson-Herrera Treaty, the neutral ground became a “Catch all” for much of the riff-raff of Louisiana and East Texas. Escaped criminals, whom the officer of the law had no intention of following, bandits, runaway slaves, vagabond French traders with their Indian concubines, English traders ditto and others unclassified, men from God-Knows-Where flocked to this genuine no-man’s land, between the Quelqueshoe and the Rio Sabinas. This was the period of incubation of the Redbone; and the environment in which he grew.
It is clear then the Redbones can not be merely half-breeds; they are fractional breeds with a different denomination for every mother’s son of them. But their common denominator may be set down as that nucleus formed from the exiles of Los Adaes, the remnants of the Pirate Crews which infested the Sabine Coast, the strays from the dwindling Indian Tribes and escaped Negro and Apache slaves. This combination of blood produced a hybrid element of Humanity whose cunning, treachery and downright malevolence have never been surpassed by any people in the history of the world.
The largest community of Redbones was the settlement in the Cherry Winche country which lies directly south of old inland town of Hineston, but across or west of the Quelqueshoe River. Traveling with one’s back to the Posar Star, about six miles as the wheeling crow flies, only there are no crows in this region, one crosses Blunt’s Creek and so comes to a range of high, gravel-bearing hills. It is in these hills that the Ten Mile and Cherry Winche have their sources. The former stream was so named perhaps from the condition that its crossing at the Redbone settlement of Westport, on the old Alexandria-Niblett’s Bluff Military Road, was about ten miles from Hineston. Between Ten Mile Creek and the Quelqueshoe, is the small picturesque stream which bears the pseudo-Indian name of “Cherry Winche Creek.” The origin of this odd and novel place name has been lost in obscurity and the English sense cannot be certainly known, but it is this writer’s theory that the work is a construction of the possessive phrase, “Cherokee Wench’s Creek.”
This stream was in the country of the Opelousa, or Atakapa Tribes which spoke an almost identical language. Later after the middle of the eighteenth century, Western Louisiana was invaded by wandering bands of Indians from the east, belonging to the Alabama, Loasati, Choctaw, Biloxi, Pascagoula and other tribes, including a small number of Cherokees. Earlier, as we have noted, the region had been the home of the splendid Adai, a tribe of settled timber dwellers whose language has been lost in the dialects of the Caddoan tribes which the Adaes became amalgamated.
Since the phonetic occurs in none of the Caddoan or Attacapan languages, it was believed that the name Cherry Winche is not Indian. In the eastern Atakapa dialect with which the Opelousi was affiliated, wichi meant “big” and it has been suggested that “Winche” is the corruption of the Indian word; that it has been hitched onto the “Cherry.” But this is unlikely. For while the wild black cherry, prunus scrotina, is found along the stream, neither the tree nor its fruit has been known to grow larger here than in other places; consequently no good reason can be given to show why the stream should have been named “Big Cherry Creek.”
Reviewing the history of the locality in an effort to discover the origin of the peculiar name, we find that one John Cook was surveying in this part of Louisiana in June, 1807, but this early surveyor gave no name to the stream. He refers to it however, in his field notes, as a “Handsom Creek, twenty-five links wide, and adds that it runs flush twelve inches deep, water clear and cold and banks subject to inundation.” The original plat made by this early explorer is remarkably clear, and is conspicuous for the lack of a name on the stream line. The creek was accurately located by this surveyor in its course across the township.
Seventy years later, in May 1877, and again in July 1882, James L. Bradford, John Kap and Henry W. W. Reynolds were conducting United States Public Land Surveys in the same region and in their field notes we find that their lines cross “Cherry Winche Creek.” Sometime between 1807 and 1877, the stream had been christened. However, on the map of Louisiana, issued by the General Land Office in 1886, the name is given as “Cherrywine Creek.” This, I do not consider a translation, but rather an error. Other Government maps of later compilation have shown the stream with the correct name of Cherry Winche. This is the only mane ever used by the Redbones who have inhabited the valley of this stream for the last one hundred fifty years.
One of the oldest residents of Cherry Winche valley told this writer once that the creek was named for a Cherokee Chief’s wife, and on this clue is built the theory now to be advanced, that the word is neither a true, nor hybrid Indian name, but a contraction of the possessive, “Cherokee Wench’s Creek.”
A Cherokee chief and his squaw lived on this creek for many years. The Indian woman died there and is buried by the stream where, all the year between its tortuous green banks and softly flowing water, murmurs its low lullaby. Some say that the old Indian squaw survived her husband chief. In view of this, and considering that negro women and sometimes Indian women living near the white settlements were termed “wenches,” it is very plausible to assume that at first the stream was referred to as the “Cherokee Wench’s Creek" and this was probably the appellation given to the early surveyors who inquired the name of the stream. Considering that there was likely no native of the locality able to spell even his own name, and taking into account the hostility of these natives, we can easily see that the topographers would have asked but few questions, and so put the name down as “Cherry Winche” Creek.
For further proof of this hypothesis, we find the name spelled in various ways, as if doubt has always existed as to the proper form; as to whether the name is a single word or two words. In old letters and notes we find such renderings as Cherry Wenche, Cherrywinch and Cherrywenche. The final is omitted on at least one old Government plat.
By whatever appellation, the stream is a very beautiful one. It is tributary to the great Bayou Quelqueshoe, from the westerly side and disembogues into the Bayou near the thirty-first parallel of latitude. It’s course is torturous. The valley of the Cherry Winche is scarcely more than fifteen miles in length. It is separated by the Masqueshoe on the east and from its own tributary Cow Bayou, on the west; along it, high somber hills, once covered with a gloomy forest of giant pine.
This considerable area is somewhat locally referred to as the “Cherr Winche Country.” For some vague reason at best far beyond the pale of human explanation, this area has ever been a land of mystery and charms. It is a sort of “Spell Land” which by a subtle import of the explicable, and anyone who travels through this vast locality must always be affected by this sense of the mysterious. This sensuous psychical effect on imparted by the environment, can be but very poorly described but there is something not altogether intangible that forever lurks in the edge of the ripple of the stream and in the aspect of the sky which indelibly identified this Cherry Winche country.
Some vaporous and hypochondriac vision seems to hang over the whole neighborhood; the soul of the region as it were, appears detached and afloat in the alder thickets. Some venture to claim that this feeling exists because of several mysterious happenings which occurred in the locality many years ago and which have never been explained. There are those who say that the spirit of the old Indian Squaw loiters about the place and has plaintive expression in the songs of the birds and the bloom of the berries. And yet others declare that the entire idea is but a pure product of the imagination; a hallucination of dread induced by an unconscious fear of the Redbones. The somewhat complicated topography of the region must have contributed much to the stature of the boding genius loci.
About the mouth of Cherry Winche Creek and extending to the southwest was a vast, dense swamp known as West Bay. Large areas of this great swamp, constantly covered by water and matted with saw-briars and cane brakes, were impenetrable. These were known as “Tye-tyes.” Not many years ago one might hear true accounts concerning the bears, wolves and panthers which infested this swamp and children were sometimes warned by their parents of the dreaded catamount, sagacious, monstrous and exceedingly ferocious, and described as resembling no other sentient being ever seen. And tales of a dark stagnant lake were told; how on certain still, dull days a bright yellow vapor arouse.
Civilization and modern psychology of child rearing drove the catamount away and branded the yellow light a will-of-the-wisp; but there was something else too elusive and obstruse ever to be driven away or explained. That thing, a nameless allure, has remained. For even to this day there is a vague inanimate entity which is certainly obscure and which seemingly borders on the occult itself. While this condition can possess only an incorporeal existence, a few feature of the topography add something of reality to the impression. And thus remains the fact that this Cherry Winche country, inhabited by the Redbones, is a region of charm, lovely and lonely and indefinable strange.
With the signing of the Florida Treaty in 1819, which made the Sabine River the western boundary of Louisiana and the United States, law and order came into the region west of the Quelqueshoe and with its coming, the transient freebooters of the Neutral Ground vanished from the scene. But the Redbones drew “within their shells,” and remained, resisting all intrusion and taking the Cherry Winche country to keep, as we shall recently see.
For many years this virile community of Redbones in the Cherry Winche valley, had but meager intercourse with the Anglo settlements at Sugartown, Hineston, Babb’s Bridge and elsewhere in the territory. The “Ten Milers” early became known as a most peculiar and clannish type people who considered their country a private domain over which they held sovereign authority. They stubbornly apposed all attempts at colonization of the region by settlers of any stock other than their own. Dangerous indeed, it became to the outsider who knowingly or unwittingly made any effort to change the existing order. Travelers might pass along the roads which ran through the Cherry Winche country in fair safety during hours of daylight, but no traveler, if at all informed of the danger, would entertain the idea of camping along the route for the night or even of allowing darkness to fall upon him “West of the Quelqueshoe.” Hunters and trappers from the outlying settlements left the Cherry Winche region to its own few inhabitants, though it long was a veritable paradise for wild game.
The Redbone were ever a baleful enemy of the intruder; malicious, resentful and revengeful; constantly to be feared. The nature of their attacks was always singularly pernicious, way laying a traveler along a lone road, firing into a lighted camp or shooting from an ambush, or the covering of darkness being the favorite modes of carrying on their hostile operations.
It should not be understood that the Redbones’ only affrays were with residents of the world beyond their bailiwick. While this enmity constituted a never-healing feud with them, there were not infrequently encounters among their own people. “Acts and pistols” as one old Ten Miler expressed it, with blood, brimstone and corruption.
The hostility of the Redbones to the other settlers of the Sabine frontier continued for many years. It finally reached its culmination and practical end in the infamous historical battle known as the “Westport Fight.” The qualificative “Practical” is used for the reason that the Redone, (I shall be waylaid for this), being a mixed blood, has retained all the vices of this several constituent races with but few of the virtues of any of them and so carries on his bush-wacking to this day, or more properly, to this night.
End of Part One
THE WESTPORT FIGHT
(As Told To Webster Talma Crawford By Frank Taylor)
In the fall of 1881, I was working with a government surveying party on Cherry Winche. I even had a Redbone sweetheart. Toward the last of November we finished our survey, moved north and make camp near Hineston. About two weeks later I decided to try to see my girl again. I say try, because he pappy, old man Ephraim Dyal, was mightily opposed to my courtin’ her. But I expected to see Ruth by attending a dance which was to be given at the home of the Redbone farmer, Bob Wray. And this is how I happened to get into the Westport Fight. And you never heard of it? Well, it was shore a real battle and I am quite surprised that you haven’t heard the story many times. Still, come to think of it, you have been away from this part of the country so long I guess, you have forgot that the old timers who set around Williams store at Hineston for twenty-five years never tired of recountin’ vigorous though somewhat exaggerated versions of this famous old “Rawhide fight!”
Well, back there in “81, a man of the name of Joe Moore, with his partner Dr. Hamilton, was running a general merchandise store and a mill I believe, at Westport. A man named Hatch it seems, had an interest in the business, but was not an active partner. Hatch probably had established the mill at this place several years before, at least prior to May ’77, for in that month we ran a line near the mill and I mark its location if I remember correctly, as being on the north side of the Old Sugartown Road, some eight or ten chains east of the west line of Section 17. This would fix the site more than a mile from the crossing on Ten Mile Creek, at which place it generally is supposed the fight occurred. But the site of the Old grist mill and store were the Westport Fight took place, is not the same as the “Westport” on Ten Mile, from which the battle got his name.
Moore was born in Mayo County, Ireland. To escape the wrath of an irate nobleman whose dog he had killed, the boy fled to this country in the early fifties, and later settled in western Louisiana.
About this same time the young doctor Hamilton had left his home in Virginia to try his fortune in the West and had taken up his residence in that same hinterland between the Quelqueshoe and the Sabine.
The culture Moore and Hamilton had known sorter drew them together it seems, and with Hatch whom I know nothing of they established the store at Westport, in the very heart of the Redbone country. There being no other grading post nearer than Hineston or Sugartown, it was a good stand and business prospered. But it was a “Daresome” venture, a downright risk thing to do, for every and anon the Redbones looked with baleful eyes on this encroachment into their domain. It was anathema to the old Redbones tradition to permit an Anglo-American establishment west of the Quelqueshoe.
This part of Louisiana was still a vast, unexplored and unclaimed hinterland over which the “Painter,” the wolf and their human cousin, the Redbone, held high carnival. Here, the untamed wilderness was making a stubborn last stand. Here was the pioneer’s paradise. The Redbones, though apparently and perhaps, even ostensibly engaged with the wilderness, were in reality standing guard against it spoliation. Like their Indian ancestors from whom the virtue was inherited, they could settle in a primeval region without besmirching it with the evils of progress.
This Neutral Ground, as history knows it. Bred a race of heroic figures but having passed across the stage of America at a time when the attention of the nation was centered on bigger events, those heroes of Western Louisiana remain pretty well unknown. Since this territory was a part of the original Texas, it is meet that several of its natives are numbered with the other immortal heroes of the Alamo.
The deadly enmity between the incoming settlers from the east and the already established Redbones began in the twenties of the nineteenth century. In the early thirties, a moral fight between those opposing factions of American colonial life occurred at a place called Rawhide, the exact location of which I don’t know and I doubt if it would be possible to ascertain, but it was somewhere in the Ten Mile or Six Mile country. In this fight, the Redbone by force of overwhelming numbers had been victorious; the new settler had been driven out, and during the half century that followed, a constant hatred had been smoldering about the borders of the Redbone settlement into which easterners were steadily trying to push their way.
The valley of the Cherry Winche was a fine grazing country; sheep and cattle thrived; land cleared of its thick growth was productive of bountiful crops; hogs fattened to solid grease in the creek bottoms; and deer, turkey and all manner of other wild game provided an easy living.
Every man engaged in the Westport Fight was a hero. Only heroes lived in western Louisiana in the early ‘80’s, but in stronger relief perhaps than any of the other combatants, there stands but one figure; this man was Gordon Musgrove.
Musgrove moved to West Louisiana about 1878. He settled near the northwestern border of the “Dead Line” flung about the Cherry Winche country by the Redbones. But it was not in Gordon Musgrove’s mind to stop at either an imaginary or real line of demarcation. Nor was he inclined to call a spade a hand shovel, or a Redbone an “Israelite.” He was about thirty six at this time and of powerful physique. Reputed to have Indian blood in his veins, he was justly proud of his heritage; for he was a man of high character and unflinching courage.
The beginning of the actual trouble which led up to the Westport Fight occurred at a camp meeting when Musgrove stoked the fire by suddenly leaving the building which was packed with Redbones, after making the statement that the “Smell of Nigger” always make him ill.
Then there was the animosity which had been stirred up by the horse race about ten days before Christmas, where it was quite generally accepted that the decision given had been unfairly in favor of the Redbone’s horse ridden by Henry Perkins. The new settlers had of course bet on the horse owned and ridden by the “White” farmer, Buck Davis.
There was much bitter, ugly argument that day between Redbone and “White settlers” and nobody knows just how a serious encounter was averted. Yet the day ended without bloodshed, although the factions went away to their homes with much snarling and rancor of heart.
Getting back to the dance, on the night of December 23rd, a week following the horse race, the Redbones for miles around, gathered to the home of Bob Wray. It was to be purely a Redbone affair and no place for any “White” settlers. And while any older or better informed man, or indeed, any man with a thought for caution would have stayed away we do not know. Full of daring and also in love, I rode straight for the Redbone settlement on Ten Mile.
Upon reaching the Wray place I found it a focus of excitement somewhat stronger than I had ever before observed. It was a cold crisp night. In a corner of the yard a big pine knot fire was going and a crowd of men were standing around it, drinking and “Whooping it Up” in general revelry.
I tied my horse to a sapling and joined the crowed by the fire. I found a cool greeting and an almost hostile attitude. Thinking that all the “White” men probably were in the house, I made my way through the pack of men on the porch and into the front room of the building, where the dance was in progress. On the hearth of the immense dirt chimney at the end of the room, a great fire of pine knots was roaring, while couples were shuffling over the rough boards to the spirited strains of a veteran darkey’s fiddle. He alone comprised the orchestra. And what men of mature years who was reared in Western Louisiana has not danced to the music supplied by that lovable old slave Negro, “Uncle Rube.” Later, “Pete” joined Rube with the guitar and it was “Pete and Rube” playing for the country dances for years on years.
Red Likker was the universal drink throughout the backwoods of that day and a dance near Christmas was the supreme occasion for its use. Wine was tolerated, for the women folks. So, on an inverted dry-goods box in one corner of the big room, two kegs were set enthroned, one of whiskey and the other of wine, and beside this box, next to the broad fire place, old Rube sat with his fiddle; the kegs and the old darkey being joint rulers over the conviviality of the merrymaking crowd.
At first glance I saw no one whom I recognized and I was about to pass out into the yard when I caught sight of my sweetheart dancing with a strapping young Redbone. The girl saw me about the same time, immediately disengaged herself from her partner and returned to the seat near the door, where I joined her and asked for a dance.
“No, no, we mustn’t dance together here,” Ruth replied. “I am afraid all my people dislike you, Frank, and you had better leave.” But I insisted, so when the next dance started we waltzed out on the floor.
After finishing the set, my girl’s father, old Eph Dyal, told me he wanted to talk with me a little, so I followed the old man outside. “I’m a thinkin you had better git on ter hoss and ride stranger,” old Eph declared as soon as we had cleared the room. “Why?” I asked him. “Because I ainter goin’ to have you a dancing with my gal and because we’ unses don’t want you here no how.” “All right, I’ll be going then,” I told him. Being unarmed, I know it would be unwise to remain and so assented to his demand, but I decided to ask Ruth first, if she thought I was really in danger.
Ruth told me that I must not remain another minute, else her father sen someone out to waylay me on my way homn. So, with hurried words of parting, I left my sweetheart with her Redbone lover and rode swiftly out of the Cherry Winche Country.
With calls such as “Skip fire in a fen’ swing your partner and swing him again,” the sets were announced and the ball roared on into the night.
As the evening advanced the leaders of the Redbones’ affairs gradually assembled before the throne of Bacchus where, inspired by the worship, the conversation drifted into the inevitable topic of threatening hostilities. Simon Morrows, prominent and influential among his fellow Redbone; was a habitual dispenser of the festive fluid and represented the Hatch store in that lucrative capacity. During the low but open discussion, Morrows diplomatically discouraged any plan or plot which involved an open break at Ten Mile, as this would jeopardize his cherished source of income and inspiration. Instead, Simon proposed and advocated to his compatriot the plan of waylaying their enemies the next morning, at a lonely place known as Chinquapin Gulch.
Most of the “white” settlers, including the Musgroves, Davises, and both the older and younger generations of the Creole family, LaCaze, passed this arroyo on their routes to the Hatch store to which they would most certainly go for Christmas supplies the following day. This plan, Morrows pointed out, was much the best, as the victims could be shot from an ambuscade with no danger to the ambushers and no one need know who did the shooting. Simon’s motto was that of his Spanish-speaking friends across the Sabine; “Los Muertes No Habian” - “Dead Men Tell No Tales.”
Since ambushing his enemies is the “Long Suit” of every Redbone, it required no permission for Simon to bring all his hearers into agreement with his scheme - that is, all save one. This lone dissenter was an entirely passive one, a silent, unknown hearer of the discussion.
Freely and confidently the determined Redbone had talked, all unmindful of Uncle Rube who was sawing valiantly away on his fiddle, beating time with his feet and ostensibly obvious to everything but his own paramount part in the success of the evening. But old Rube’s hearing was more acute than his years belied and if the solemn visaged old darkey, eyes closed and body swaying to his music, missed a word of what passed around the throne that night, it was nothing more potent than a request of another tune.
Rube’s best friends were “White Settlers,” but the old Negro was closely associated with the Redbones and lived only a short distance from Wray’s. So, when the dance broke up soon after midnight, the faithful old fiddler and his lame mule were seen to jog sleepily through the sagging gate and out to the low lean to stable, half an hour after the last strains of “All Over Now” had sobbed from the weary fiddle. But no one saw Rube and his mule slip silently through the gap and into the woods behind the barn lot, nor did anyone see them steal silently back again, after a ten mile circuit, which ended just as the sun broke over the Cherry Winche swamp, Christmas Eve morning.
So, it came about that, however many skulking forms may have lain under cover of the brush, or crouched behind tree trunks at Chinquapin Gulch that morning, the intended victims did not appear and as the day advanced it became evident to the ambuscaders that the “White Settlers" had missed the trap. The usual Christmas Eve crowd was straggling in by the various other neighborhood roads and trails that led to the Hatch store. None came the way by Chinquapin Gulch.
At the Hatch store a careless jovial crowd circulated. Of the high tension flowing under the surface of affairs no evidence was apparent; but human nerves never were strung more taut.
As was their custom, but few Redbones came into the building. Preferring the open, most of them hung around the hitching racks, or leaned against the tall pines amidst which the store had been built. At intervals one of the Cherry Winche men would enter the store, make some purchase and return to his comrades outside.
About ten o’clock I suppose, Gordon Musgrove drove up. He tied his team and sauntering up the steps of the wide store gallery, passed a cheery word of greeting to Buck Davis, who stood leaning against the out post of the gallery, chewing a cud of tobacco. The talk between the two men soon turned to the horse race, and whether by design or by chance, it was just as Marion Perkins stepped out of the store that Musgrove spoke the words which precipitated the inevitable battle. Marion Perkins was an older brother of the jockey whose horse had run the race, and he was a somewhat larger man. He held a new bull whip in his hands which he had just bought.
“You won that race clean, Buck,” Musgrove said, “and if I’d bin a ridin’ instid o’ you, I’d er had the money or a whipped Henry Perkins.”
It was a straight challenge to Marion Perkins’ hot Redbone blood, and he didn’t hesitate a moment. Tossing his new bull whip to the floor, he faced Musgrove arrogantly.
“Mebby you wanta whap his brother now,” he roared.
Without further word, and like a pair of old bucks, the men charged each other. The hatred of generations, now released, put force and fury into their rushes. Each man’s blows found solid target, for it was a backwoodsman’s fight without rule, science or quarter. With each man seeking to keep his back to the building and each instinctively circling when driven toward the open front of the gallery, the crafty crouching movements and catlike springs of the Redbone strikingly contracted with the swift bold charges and more open attack of the hardy timber jack.
The Redbone was employing the advantage of his greater weight and getting in a solid blow to Musgrove’s face, the latter was sent crashing against the wall of the building; but as if bouncing from the impact, the agile hard-knit form leaped into the air and launched a slashing kick which landed squarely on the Redbone’s unguarded jaw. Staggering from this driving crash, Perkins yielded himself to its impetus and drove toward the nearest gallery post as if to leap, but catching a brace, the man drove himself back toward his antagonist. Musgrove made a savage swing at the Redbone but Perkins ducked under it and grappling the timber man around the waist, he lifted Musgrove off his feet and hurled him to the floor, the Redbone driving his own head into the pit of the under man’s belly as he fell.
With the breath knocked out of him by the fall, Musgrove was unable to retain the hold he had secured on Perkins who lost no time in taking full advantage of what he had gained by gripping his prostrate opponent between his knees, and driving his heavy fists into the unyielding face pillowed on the rough board floor.
Just as Musgrove’s vicious kick had landed on Perkin’s chin, a rangy horse had trotted around the corner of the store and the steel gray eyes of the rider had taken in the situation at one flashing glance. Seeing nothing alarming in that stage of the fight, John Watson had casually wheeled his horse toward the store gallery. And in the next instant when the rider saw the fighters’ crash to the floor, he leaped clear of the saddle. Pitching his bridle reins to a popping-eyed Negro to whom he snapped, “Heah boy, hold my hoss.” Watson bounded toward the store gallery.
Now, if there was a “best man” in all the wild reaches of that rough and tumbled country west of the Quelqueshoe, it was John Watson. He went always armed and seldom wore a coat. Tall and rangy as the big stallion he rode; broad of shoulder and slim of hip, with his muscles bulging the great breadth of his back with every panther-like movement of his perfectly synchronized body, he carried the air of being always stripped for action. And from one river to the other there was not a ten year old boy who had not heard of the quick and deadly accuracy of John Watson’s heavy, single action 40.
As Watson landed on the store gallery, Perkins, intoxicated with the joy of the killer, was aware of nothing but the battered, blinded face beneath him and not failing to sense in full the mercilessness of the victor in his triumph, Watson saw no need for silk gloves had he owned them. Gauging his stride, he swung a kick which lifted Perkins clear off his victim and slammed him against the corner post of the gallery, and before the Redbone could even get to his knees, Watson seized him by the shoulders and hurled him sprawling into the dust of the road; half way to the hitching rack, twenty feet away. Before attempting to rise, Perkins looked dazedly about to see what gargantuan power had burst so disastrously into his hour of glory. Watson stood at ease on the edge of the gallery, but there was no mistaking his tone when he drawled, “You stay there til you git up.”
As Perkins landed in the open roadway, Joe Moore came from the store and bent over the quivering form of the still prostrate Musgrove, who lay unconscious. Moore turned to Watson; “Looks as if that hard fall had knocked all the wind out of Gordon,” he said calmly. The storekeeper then addressed Davis sharply. “Get a horse, Buck,” he said, “and go for Dr. Hamilton.” Although the whole encounter had been crowded into a period of time perhaps shorter than four minutes, every man about the mill and store had gathered to the scene as Musgrove began to draw his breath again. The dazed man staggered to his feet just as Dr. Hamilton rode up to the west door of the store. Davis had ridden to the Doctor’s home, only a short distance away, but Hamilton had been away on a call and knew nothing of the trouble until he reached the scene.
Having seen Dr. Hamilton approaching, Moore and Watson went to meet the Doctor as he entered the store at the rear, for they realized that it was a time for straight thinking and for steering a steady course.
I had arranged no rendezvous with Ruth Dyal for that day, but I was determined to see her and in the hope of meeting her by prowling around the Dyal homestead, the early morning of that fateful Christmas Eve found me riding surreptitiously down the old Sugartown road toward Westport. I had decided that it would be best first to reconnoiter the store and ascertain whether old Eph were away from home. I had assumed that Dyal would be at Westport but I knew that it would be good business to verify the assumption. So it happened that I reached the store just as Musgrove and Perkins opened the first act of the Westport fight.
Realizing at once the inevitability of a serious battle, and the danger of open attack, the Redbones who had been loitering about the hitch rack at the beginning of the hostilities, vanished into the woods.
The opening of the long festering wound was now eminent; the Redbones must drive the “White” settlers out of the Cherry Winche country once and for all.
Many of the details of the Westport Fight were still clear in my memory, after these long years; yet it is rarely possible ever to ascertain a thoroughly complete account of any complicated affray, even directly after its occurrence. Fifty years after the task is multiplied a thousand fold. In the minds of some of the witnesses there has even been the question as to the year in which the Westport Fight occurred. Some of the participants have claimed '81, some '82. But this has been conclusively settled by reference to the inscriptions on the grave stones of the victims which all read “1882,” and by the fact also, that the Christmas Eve of 1882 fell on Sunday.
In such a melee as the Westport Fight, none of the eyewitnesses and least of all the combatants ever remember just what occurred. All account will differ as to the sequence of events, number of shots fired, and the relative positions of the antagonists. The mind is unable to concentrate on the various details of the complex situations and the rapidly shifting and simultaneous views, each with high spots of interest, so crowd upon the centers of vision and hearing as to make the entire scene kaleidoscopic. Whether the first account a witness gives is better than any subsequent construction, as has often been contended, I shall seriously question. Such an account, given before the witness has had time to correlate and properly arrange the order of events, is likely to contain much that is conflicting. Although it is doubtless true that a fresh account will more often give the better view of what was apparent to the observer’s mind, however variant with reality.
While Moore and Watson discussed the situation with Dr. Hamilton, the Redbone, Perkins, lay in the dust of the roadway where he had fallen. Only the fact that he was under the orders of John Watson was protecting the man from violence at the hands of the mob which had gathered around him. The actual presence of the cold-eyed executive, Watson, could have added nothing to the inviolate status of the recumbent Perkins. The crowd about the man was less afraid of him than they were of John Watson.
This ludicrous and almost unbelievable situation lasted for several minutes while Moore, Hamilton and Watson held a confab within the store. Having reached a tentative decision, the three cool-headed men walked out to the spot where Perkins lay in the road. As the circle of men standing around the Redbone opened to admit the trio, Moore stated the decision, “Get up Marion,” he said to Perkins, “and go inside.” But looking quickly at his jailer, the Redbone made no move until Watson nodded, thereupon Perkins obeyed the order, and no man spoke or made a move as the four disappeared through the doorway of the store.
The Westport store was a large two-story frame building, set facing the east and, as I told you, stood on the north side of the old Sugartown road. The stairway leading to the upper story was located at the rear of the building and leading the group to the lower landing, Dr. Hamilton calmly gave his order to Perkins; “Go upstairs Marion,” the doctor said. “Keep quiet and don’t show yourself. We will see that you are safe.” But again glancing at Watson as an accused man to his lawyer, Perkins caught a quick nod and obeyed the doctor’s command.
Half an hour passed, Tom Perkins the elder, father to Marion and Henry, rode up to the Hatch store, dismounted and went in, Old man Tom had heard of the fight between Musgrove and Marion; had heard that this son was being held prisoner in the store. The old Redbone’s face was set and tense as he approached the proprietor, Joe Moore. But without waiting for Perkins to address Moore, Dr. Hamilton caught his attention and suavely nodded to old Tom to come over into the vacant corner of the store. Dr. Hamilton, always agreeable in manner, bland of appearance, and a cool moderator in the affair of all that back country between the rivers, was also a man of unflinching courage. Apart from the boisterous crowd which stood about the counters drinking, Dr. Hamilton hoped to allay Perkins’ anger. The doctor laid the situation briefly before the aggressive father; and as he did so, Hamilton poured a glass of his best wine and extended it to Perkins.
“Mr. Tom,” the doctor said soothingly, “we have assured Marion that we will see that he is not harmed and now that you have come and can go with him, we will send the boy for his horse and keep the crowd occupied up front while Marion slips out the back door and gets away. Where shall we say that you will meet him?”
Pushing back the proffered glass of wine, old Tom straightened his heavy shoulders with the cold arrogance of his Moorish lineage; “Dr. Hamilton,” he said, “This ain’t no time for drinkin’. My boys have done run away for the last time and nothing but a rawhide fight is goin’ ter do now.” And turning about, the old Redbone strode silently the length of the store and out to his horse. Mounting the cayuse, Perkins drove his spurs viciously into the animal’s flanks as the pony wheeled from the hitch rack and dashed away through the trees.
Beyond sight of the store, Perkins came upon a group of his people who awaited the outcome of this interview. Angered beyond all reason, the old leader of the clan ordered a runner to make all speed through the Redbone settlements with the inflaming report that the “White” men at Westport were holding Marion Perkins a prisoner within the store; that they were going to kill him; and that the settlers must gather all their forces with all the guns and ammunition they could find, and for all to come at once to “Fight it out.”
Little did the men at the store suspect the lurid lie old Tom has sent back to his people and the sinister program his report had inaugurated. As a result of the old Redbone’s story, the protection which had been afforded young Perkins now became a tremendous liability.
The “Whites” at the store had no premonition of the impending assault. Even when the approaching cavalcade of Redbones were sighted, bearing guns of every description, some with barrels as long as hoe handles, the men at the store continued unperturbed in the casual, carefree drunken way of the holiday season. Failing to realize the seriousness of the situation, the “Whites” were unable to take whatever advantage that might have been secured by Marion Perkins being within the store.
Many women were in the attacking party and soon now the yapping babble of their high-pitched voices grew so plain as to compel recognition of the alarming fact that the whole Redbone community had taken to the warpath. I became at this time both too drunk and too badly scared to remember any further details of the Westport fight, but according to the memoirs of one of the besieged settlers, the attackers must have numbered more than fifty. The Redbone women remained in the background, hiding behind trees the while, keeping up a continual turmoil of shouting. Most of the men likewise kept within the shelter of the grove, dodging from tree to tree as they approached the store.
Several of the bravest Redbones came out of the forest on horseback and rode boldly up to the hitching rack where they tied their horses and advanced toward the building on foot. These men were all heavily armed and in fighting mood. Only three of the band came on the store gallery. These three, old Tom, Simon Morrows and Hamp Dual, disarmed the suspicions of the “Whites” by climbing the steps and approaching the front door of the store as though on peaceful business. It may seem strange that a man walking up to a country store with a rifle or a shotgun on his shoulder could be regarded without any suspicion whatever, but it is true. Game was so plentiful in the woods traversed by the lonely roads over which they settlers went to the store or to the mill, and men and boys were so frequently seen with guns, that an armed man not only attracted no attention; his gun was unnoticed.
The deadly purpose of the Redbones in this particular case however, was soon revealed. Joe Moore was standing in the doorway of the store. As the three Redbone men reached the door, Louis LaCaze, who had missed his rendezvous with fate at Chinquapin Gulch that morning, stepped out of the wide doorway behind Moore and unguardedly started toward his horse. Simon Morrows instantly threw his rifle on LaCaze, and was balked in his murderous purpose only by Moore’s quick action in springing between Morrows and his intended victim.
“For God’s sake, Simon,” Moore cried, “Don’t do that!” The trigger on Morrow’s rifle was not pressed. The esteem and respect which the Redbones still held for Moore saved LaCaze’s life and also Moore’s own. Morrows lowered his gun and LaCaze, realizing that he had better not start off through the cordon of Redbones in the woods, reentered the store. Moore followed closely behind LaCaze. The heavy doors were then quickly slammed shut and barricaded, as a roar of rage went up from the disappointed crowd of Redbones who were now advancing on the building. This turn of the situation fell so swiftly as to catch several “Whites” outside, who were now left to the disposition of the Redbones.
Within the big store at this time, and upon whom devolved it defense, besides the present reviewer, were Joe Moore and Dr. Hamilton, proprietors John Watson, Louis LaCaze, Sam Nolen, a stranger from the settlements whose name was afterwards learned to be Hugh Sanders, and Moore’s three sons, Mayo, Dan and Joe, fifteen, thirteen and eleven years old respectively.
The Moore and Hatch store at Westport was the base of supplies for a large territory between the Quelqueshoe and Sabine Rivers, at a time in the history of Western Louisiana, when firearms were a very necessary adjunct to livelihood; and unfortunately for the besiegers, the garrison was rather amply supplied with means of defense.
Marion Perkins, who had been left prisoner upstairs, had been watching developments from his position near the window, and at the first outbreak of hostilities, he came down to the ground floor of the building. It was reported that Moore immediately unbarred the rear door of the store and allowed Perkins to go, unmolested. But another account, given by the Redbones and more likely correct, is that young Perkins fought his way down the stairs and out of the store with a “Double derringer and two other pistols;” his coat having been shot to threads. It is known that he was wounded which adds to some confirmation to the story.
A few minutes after Perkins’ escape, the first fatal shot of the Westport Fight rang out to echo sharply upon the crisp air of that bright Christmas Eve Morning. It was fired by Marion Perkins himself immediately after his peaceful (?) release from the “Protection” of the “Whites,” and that shot killed a quiet, inoffensive non-participant in the race riot, a man named Hance Dykes who, innocently and unarmed had come to the Hatch store to do his Christmas buying. But Dykes was a “White” settler and he was living in that domain which the Redbones has reserved for their own. The “White’ settlers must go out of the Cherry Winche country, now and forever, or be killed.
After young Perkins, “In cold blood,” shot and fatally wounded his victim, the man sagged a few steps to the side of the building, groaning in his death agonies. In that condition and over his pleading that he was already a dead man, Dykes was attacked by the older Perkins and brutally beaten over the head with a six gun. One of the men inside the store, crouching against the wall, plainly heard the pleading and the attack, and announced to his co-defenders that old Tom had killed a man.
To the Redbones, this opening act was simply retribution. The Anglo settlers had crossed the Quelqueshoe. To the “Whites,” barricaded within the store, it appeared as a ghastly outrage, and it was the casting die in favor of a fight to the finish, without quarter. So as the old Redbone gloatingly returned to the front of the store he was shot down and instantly killed by a charge of buckshot fired by some man within the building, and thus the penalty old Tom had earned was paid while his hands still were hot with the earning.
Gordon Musgrove was the next victim. He was another who had failed to get inside the building before the doors were barricaded and during Marion Perkins’ rushes, he came upon Musgrove, shot him several times and left the young lumberjack lying on the ground, in a perfect pool of his own blood. After Perkins had hurried away in search of other victims on which to vent his murderous wrath, another Redbone, Matt Johnson it is said, came across Musgrove, perceived some sign of life in him, fired another shot into the prostrate man, after which the Redbone seized a piece of rough scantling and beat the helpless body until he was sure no life remained in it.
The rifle fire which was opened on the building as old Tom fell, now became a steady bombardment. Ranging from window to window inside the store, the defenders of that little civilization which existed west of the Quelqueshoe, were sending out hot lead into the thickets of pine through which the skulking forms of the attackers ranged from tree trunk to fallen log. And with an accuracy that was fast making every window of the store a dangerous port hole, the long-range rifle fire of the Redbones poured into the opening.
Musgrove remained on the ground lying in the crimson stain in which he had fallen. After an hour or so of this ineffectual warfare and during a lull in the firing, Moore peering cautiously, very cautiously indeed through a small window, thought he saw Musgrove’s eye lids quiver. So, on the chance that a spark of life still lingered in the man, it is said that Moore “Risked” his thirteen year old son by sending the boy out to investigate. Perhaps in all justice to this boy, we should say that he was the real hero of the Westport fight. I suppose God alone knows what saved him from a bullet as he made his investigation. But Dan, like Daniel of old, got safely back and reported that the man still breathed. The defenders then sent out two volunteers whose names it has not been possible to ascertain; but who, under a terrific volley of shots, succeeded in bringing their wounded comrade inside.
The fighting continued with renewed though ineffectual fury, through which Moore’s sons valiantly stood by their elders, loading guns and serving drinks, since it appears from all accounts that the besieged garrison required plenty of fluid stimulants to keep up their courage. From the beginning the situation must have seemed hopeless, as the supply of water could not last more than a day or two, and realizing this, the besieged men doubtless went easy on the Adam’s Ale, and heavy on the whiskey, rum, gin, anisette, cider and Cherry bounce, with all of which they were well supplied. The Cherry bounce was bouncing well enough to the tune of muzzle-loaders’ bullets whistling through the pines on Cherry Winche Hill.
At this stage of the wild party young Joe Moore had a narrow escape. As the boy stooped to draw a glass of cherry from a barrel on the floor, a bullet crashed through the window, whizzed over his head and embedded itself in the wall beyond. It may be recorded here that none of Moore’s sons who served the drinks that merry Christmas Eve, became bartenders in later life.
The attackers were having poor luck in silencing the defense, and they had no Cherry Bounce to cheer them up. Of the entire Redbone clan, Simon Morrows was perhaps the most disgusted and disappointed. The “Whites” had escaped the trap at Chinquapin Gulch. Somebody had let the cat out, old Tom had been killed and things were going badly indeed.
The Redbones had never gone in for guerrilla warfare, en masse it had been thrust upon them two or three times, but they proved to be poor troops, having no esprit de corps. They are lone scouts, sharp shooters, snipers and true “unknown soldiers par excellence.” Gathered into battalions, Simon’s men are poor soldiers, but one Redbone can carry on a war. And how!
Openly embittered at the thought of having yielded the chance to kill his man early that morning, Simon stealthily ranged from one vantage point to another, seeking a chance to redeem himself. Finally, in desperation, apparently seeming to feel that old Tom and Matt had outdone himself, Morrows became bolder, and less cautious until, in a reckless effort to place an effective shot, he exposed himself to the quick aim of Louis LaCaze, the man Simon wanted most to get and the Redbone himself fell dead, his shotgun exploding in his hands and tearing a great hole in the ground as it fell. Another defeat to be chalked up against open warfare.
With this loss the bravest two men of the entire Redbone clan were gone and the boldness and aggressiveness of the besieging force went with them. From that time on none of the attacking party showed himself in the open, but a constant bombardment was kept up from behind the nearby trees. Even a shadow passing across a window drew a volley of shots from the alert gunmen hid in the surrounding forest.
The leading spirit of this typical Indian warfare was Hiram Morrows, the blustering bravery of Marion Perkins having waned with the unexpected turn of events which had resulted in the death of his father; and the too-evident fact that the notches were not all to be cut on the Redbone’s guns.
After this, the day and the siege wore on, broken by funny incident.
Jeff Davis, brother to Buck, who had lost the horse race, himself also a jockey, had been shut out of the store at the commencement of hostilities, and had remained crouched on the beam of a “Lean-to” at the rear of the building, and in a precarious position. Unarmed, the poor fellow had hid to escape the onslaught of Marion Perkins. The fighting now having become concentrated on the east side of the store, Jeff thought his chance to escape was come, and dividing his attention between running and watching for Redbones, he tore out. A volley of shots put more speed into his legs, and whether a bullet actually struck the flying jockey or whether he collided with a sapling, or perhaps both, is not clear. Anyway he burst a bottle of whiskey he was carrying in his shirt bosom, and feeling the liquor running down his legs, the fellow thought he was hit, forgot all caution and hung his entire faith on speed.
“I’m kilt, I’m kilt and my bowels are running out,” he cried as he ran on. However, the supposed loss of his digestive tubes only lighted the man for greater speed, which was such we are told, that marbles might have been played on his coat tails.
While knowing that he had left Dr. Hamilton behind in the store, but perhaps feeling that the medical man’s wife had acquired a knowledge of first aid, Davis fled to the Doctor’s home yelling, “I’m kilt,” as he ran into the yard. But Mrs. Hamilton knew that Jeff could not be very badly wounded, and realizing very well the danger which would at once accrue if Davis were seen taking refuge in her house, refused the frightened man entrance, but recommended instead that he continue his flight into the adjacent creek swamp, and hide behind a trunk of a large tree which had fallen close to the hog trail beyond the barn lot. Davis vanished into the swamp and with this, passes from the story of the Westport fight, only to be remembered as the flying jockey who was more fleet of foot than any race horse he ever urged down the turf.
About this time it became evident to the besieged “Whites” that the tactics of Hiram and his followers meant a long drawn out fight. It was then that the straight line of John Watson’s lips tightened, his steel gray eyes narrowed to slits, and the hard gunman took his stand by a broken upstairs window which commanded a view of the infested grove.
Soon a coat sleeve showed for an instant at the side of a tree. The long barreled .45 roared and a chip flew from the trunk of the pine behind which the Redbone lurked. The smoke of the shot half concealed a darting form that was seeking safer shelter behind a larger tree in line, but a rod farther from the window whose defender needed no further classification.
The history of the next minute of the Westport Fight becomes repetitionary; there was another crashing report; another flying chip and another retreating Redbone. And so on.
After the advance firing line of the attacking guerillas had been in this way dislodged, man by man, some of the punctured hat rims and some with creased skins, Hiram, the leader, recognizing the importance of silencing that deadly window, risked a lightening quick shot whose aim had been carefully gauged before a narrow slab of the Redbone’s body had revealed his intention. But Morrows had not even then been quick enough. When he snatched himself back into shelter, it was with a stinging sensation which told him he had been hit, an only with the greatest of difficulty was the Redbone leader able to keep on his feet as he backed slowly away, carefully keeping his tree in line of Watson’s unerring fire.
Steadily the retreat continued. The shooting abated and shortly ceased altogether. The hoof beats of the Redbone’s horses were heard on the Cherry Winche road; apparently the attack had been at least temporarily abandoned.
The sun was now low in the timber; the lonely pine forest grew darker. The settlers at the store began to take stock. Dykes was dead, but wonder of a Frenchman, Musgrove still lived.
Sure that the Redbones would renew the attack at dawn the next morning, and possibly continue desultory firing throughout the night, the tired men in the desolated store held a conference. Then as soon as they could be reasonably sure that no skulking Redbones lurked for a final shot, the defenders of the Hatch store came cautiously from their improvised fortress.
Gordon Musgrove was removed to his home, and in spite of the desperate condition in which his assailants had left him, he eventually recovered, tribute to the doctor’s care and the fine example of the wonderful hardihood of the men who shaped the destiny of that rough frontier. Musgrove became a Baptist minister of the gospel and lived to the venerable age of eighty-nine.
At dark, Dr. Hamilton went to the home of the old Negro fiddler and instructed Uncle Rube to saddle his mule, take a circuitous route to the Steven’s home where he could secure a fast horse; then, as soon as he felt it was safe, to push on to Sugartown and summon reinforcements in anticipation of renewal of hostilities next day.
The brave old darkey safely made his way out to the Redbone settlement and accomplished his mission. The call for help was answered by a squad office of six men who rode through the danger zone during the night. These men relieved the exhausted garrison and remained on guard on Christmas Day. It was Sunday as well and the day passed monotonously, without incident.
It was virtually certain, however, that the Redbones would make another attack. Therefore, toward the middle of the afternoon a plan was adopted to forestall a renewal of hostilities.
The situation was serious. The habitations of the settlers were scattered; the roads and trails were through thickly timbered country and if general guerrilla warfare should break out, it could soon wipe out every family in the outlying settlements.
In this hour of extremity, the “White” settlers fell on the help of one man, Louis LaCaze’s brother, Soulonge LaCaze. For, in all that territory between the rivers there was no other settler whose decrees were known among whites, blacks, Redbones to carry up so true and accurate to the letter of their making as were as those of this “Cajun” rancher. Whether the rugged pioneer’s word was given for the fulfillment of an obligation, or the enforcement of an agreement, no man had ever known LaCaze to depart on hair’s breath from the program. And because of this reputation, the settlers by a unanimous vote chose this “Cajun” to carry the flag of truce into the Redbone Camp.
The headquarters of the Redbone Clan was Hiram Morrows’ home and riding calmly up to the house without a glance to either side, LaCaze called for the men to come out. No man appeared. But after a brief interval, during which the lone rider sat motionless and patiently waited, two women came slowly from the house, saluted their visitor respectfully and stated that the men folks were all away from home.
It was LaCaze’s opinion that the women were stating an untruth, but not deigning to dispute their word, the ambassador replied so coldly and clearly that his voice could have been heard throughout the house before him.
"As you like,” he said, “I will tell you my business then.” And leaning slightly forward in the saddle the Cajun, with a voice that was deep but quiet, continued slowly; “I warn you all now, that if there is a hair of another white man’s head hurt, anywhere in these settlements as long as I am here, we will make a black burn of you.”
Wheeling his prairie pony a quarter turn closer to the gate before which the women stood, LaCaze tapped his broad chest with the butt of his riding quirt as he proceeded in a tone the very mildness of which told the hearers how deadly in earnest the old Cajun was; “I will see to it that there isn’t seed of a Redbone left this side of Sabine River.”
The Redbone women shrank closer together as their eyes glowered and remained fixed on the stern face above them.
“We don’t want trouble Mister Soulonge, we want peace.” And then, without moving a muscle or allowing his piercing gaze to release his transfixed listeners, the stately horseman answered with the ring of chilled steel in his tones; “We want peace and we are going to have peace.”
After a few tense seconds during which it seemed that even the dark green leaves of the big magnolia tree above his head dared not move. LaCaze pressed his knee gently against his horse’s ribs and without further word wheeled and rode off at a brisk walk down the grass grown trail into the shadows of the trees which closed behind him.
Soulonge LaCaze had demanded peace while he lived in the Redbone country, but after making his mandate he did not long continue to reside there. Had he done so, the brave Cajun doubtless would have been blessed with that eternal peace which came to the other settlers who continued to live in the Cherry Winche Valley; for bushwhacking went on apace.
A convenient time came and LaCaze moved away from the Redbone settlements. Wives often have their way; they don’t like to have their husbands left in the woods, and so forth. Musgrove moved away. The Davises moved; old Rube moved.
Not long after the Westport Fight, the Moore and Hatch Store burned to the ground. A little later Hatch’s historic old mill disappeared in another conflagration. The site became known as the “Lod Burn Down.” Hamilton, Moore and Hatch all escaped and never came back. They used good judgment.
Watson continued to be fast on the draw, but he camped one night alone, on the borders of the Cherry Winche country. In the glow of his camp fire, he was a plain target. I have had pointed out to me the hollow where he was killed. It is in the pine hills near the site of the old “New Hope” church.
What the combined attack failed to do, Redbones working singly and in squads of twos accomplished. By deed and by warnings, the “White” settlers were slowly but effectively ousted from the region. The process required several years to complete, during which the few remaining Anglo settlers burned very little oil in their kerosene lamps.
Civilization has not yet completed its reduction of this Cherry Winche country, for the settlement of strangers there is taboo to this day.
The Redbones won and as we view the valley and the land about, we are glad somehow that they did. For it is lovely there. The streams flow sweetly; sheep graze on the rolling hills and there is a peace over everything which makes Cherry Winche Valley more like it was a hundred years ago than those who have not seen it will believe.
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