William J.] 1829-1908 [Maltby.

Captain Jeff; or, Frontier life in Texas with the Texas Rangers; some unwritten history and facts in the thrilling experiences of frontier life online

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Online LibraryWilliam J.] 1829-1908 [MaltbyCaptain Jeff; or, Frontier life in Texas with the Texas Rangers; some unwritten history and facts in the thrilling experiences of frontier life → online text (page 9 of 14)
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claims on every available location suitable for a big stock ranch; so at
the time of which I write, all of the locations worthy of note, for
size, water and grass, were located and had the cattle on them,
and the last and only chance to get possession of a big stock ranch
lay on the Eio Grande some two hundred miles below El Paso.

Its security from location was, on acount of it being held by the
different bands of uncaptured hostile Indians and Mexican marauders,
spoken of at the beginning of this chapter. It was understood that
thirty leagues in one body of this land, in the desirable portion be-
longed to one rich Mexican, and the facts and records of same could
be obtained only in the city of Chichihuhua, Mexico.

Clabe eMrchant and T. B. Hadley, being very extensive stockmen,
like all others, were very desirous of getting permanent possession
of just such a ranch of thirty thousand acres of well watered and
well grassed land, so as to graze their cattle upon a thousand hills
where no one could dare to make them afraid.

The determination of the above named gentlemen was to send
a representative to negotiate and get an option for twelve months
on the land so as to give them time to look it over and decide as to its
value as a big and permanent ranch.

The next consideration was a man that they could send for-
ward to Chichihuhua as their representative and they both nominated
Capt. Jeff as their first choice. TYey at once called on him and ex-
plained what they wanted and urged him to accept the mission,
saying, "We will grant you any request you may make in the premises.
Captain replied: "Well, gentlemen, I think your first choice of me
for this mission flatters my abilty in a deal of its probable magni-
tude, but give me Ed S. Seay, one of my true and tried rangers,
whose courage and ability has ever been equal to the occasion or
the requirements, and I will undertake to carry out your mission
to a successful and profitable conclusion."

As Ed S. Seay was a son-in-law of Clabe Merchant, the pre-
liminaries for the trip were soon made, the day set to start, and


the journey to Chichihuhua made without let or hindrance. The records
examined, the owner found, negotiations entered into perfectly sat-
isfactory, records made and our little party of two, very reluctantly
bade adieu to the land of perpetual roses, dark eyed, blushing, senor-
itas, sparkling fountains, moon-lit promenades, etc.

If they had not been married men, and honor bound to return
they would have been there yet. Reader, had you been with them
you would have thought so too. They reached home without any
incident worthy of note on the trip. Their trip was more than sat-
isfactory to their employers, and the day was set to board the Texas
and Pacific Railway at Baird, with saddle horses, pack mules and
everything necessary to make a close and careful inspection of the
country on both sides of the Rio Grande, both above and below (where
the famous Spring of the Future is located).

The mantel of the expedition was thrown on Capt. Jeff, and he
was compelled to wear it in honor of his long service and experience
after Indians in this same country in the year of 1855. The party
that was to go forward and view out this "promised land," if there
was any such, was Glebe Merchant, Tom Hadley and our Jeff, and
no truer or better men, or better shots could be found on the frontier
of Texas, the natural home of the true and the brave.

Our little party of three got everything, as they thought, that they
could use on the trip, but they didn't, as will be told later on, and
three days before they were to start Mr. Clabe Merchant was taken
sick, and his doctor said it would be impossible for him to go, so
h- 3 picked one George Laird, one of his true, trusted and tried cow-
boys, to go in his place. So the outfit was loaded, the tickets bought
for Carizo Pass, which place we reached in due time. We unloaded
and took inventory of our stock and found everything we could use
but a fish hook and line, which was one of the things that they
would need badly, especially when they got to the Rio Grande.

So they borrowed a small perch hook and line from a lady, and Jeff
said, "Boys, I will show you some expert fishing with this hook and
line before we get back."


The horses were saddled, mules packed and they struck out for
Eagle Springs, some fifteen miles distance, and directly on the way
they wanted to go. They reached the springs and camped for the
first night.

After horses were cared for and supper was eaten, Capt. Jeff said,
"Boys, throughout the balance of this trip, we will each one be
called by his Christian name. I will be called simply Jeff and you will
be called Tom and George, the old familiar frontier style." He
then said, "Boys, to while away the time, and make sleep sweeter
when we do lie down, I will relate to you some of my experiences
at this place, Eagle Springs, just twenty-eight years ago in this
month in the spring of 1855. The Indians on this road, which runs
from San Antonio to El Paso, were very troublesome and killed
a great many people all along the road, and more at this place
than at any other, and to protect the travel on this road, the
United States Government sent Maj. Rough with one company of
United States rifle men to scout up and down the road.

A train of twenty-five six-mule teams was sent with him to haul
necessary supplies for a company of men for six months. The
expedition started from Fort Clark. At that time and for years be-
fore I was in the quartermaster's employ as a carpenter, and had
helped to build a number of the Government posts on the frontier of
Texas. The Quartermaster sent me with Maj. Rough as his carpenter
tj keep his train of wagons in repair, so that he could keep on the
move to give better protection all along the road, as this Eagle
Spring was considered one of the worst places on the road, Maj.
Rough put in more time here than anywhere else. The first time
our command camped here, our guide, James Cloud, was telling me
and the wagon master of the scenery there was back on the Rio
Grande, just where we are going tomorrow.

His description was so grand and romantic that we three went
to Maj. Rough and asked his permission to allow us to go back to
the river and view its sceneries, to which the Major readily consented,
saying, "I will send Lieut. Randal and twenty men along with you,
make a scout and add business to pleasure/'


The guide led off to the front and the scout followed in military
procession for a distance of some twelve miles. The guide rode some
little distance in advance of the scout and just as he reached the top
of a ridge or hill his quick eye discovered a band of Indians at the
bottom of the hill beating up mesquite beans on a large, flat rock.

He drew his horse suddenly up and motioned back, "halt."
The Indians did not see him, and the top of the hill completely hid
the scout from their view. Here a council of action was quickly
held. Lieut. Randal, with a part of the men, the guide in the lead,
was to go around them. Some were detailed to hold the horses, the
others to lie down and crawl to the top of the hill, but not to show
themselves and not to make any noise until the report of the guide ? s
rifle was heard, which was carried out to the letter. The guide worked
his party around to within two hundred yards of the Indians un-
discovered, at which time the chief raised his head to look, and the
clear, keen crack of the rifle broke the silence of the mountain air,
and the chief fell back with a rifle ball through his brain.

The signal to shoot was given, and all hands tried to make a full
u hand" in the massacre. For massacre it was to the poor, unfortunate
victims, as they had no show for their lives, surrounded as they were.

The smoke of battle soon cleared away, and we advanced to
where they fell, ten in number, and two of them were women; and
there by the side of one was a beautiful little girl, some twelve or
fourteen months old. We carried this little thing back to this place,
and my mess had plenty of pork and beans and the little one seemed
to be nearly famished and I fed her all of the pork and beans that
her little stomach could hold, thinking at the time that the gorge
would kill her, and she would be better off, but it never made her the
least sick. I kept her and fed her the same thing day after day for
two months and she fattened like a pig.

The newspapers of San Antonio made a great to do about Major
Rough's ten strike and Lieutenant Randal's scalping the chief, but
did not mention us that got up the scout. Had he, Major Rough,
been the Indian fighter that the papers blew him up to be or had the


expedition been under the command of some of the old Texas Ban-
gers, and I could have lived to make the report, I think I could
have made the report of the biggest Indian fight and the capture
of the most horses and mules of any one fight on the frontier of
Texas outside of General McKenzie's fight, but Major Rough was
not a McKenzie, neither was he a Texas E anger.

It was this way: After Major Rough had made this ten strike
chat I have just related, we moved on towards El Paso and moved
on back by this place, some two months later went on down by Fort
Davis and camped at what was then known as Barilla Springs, some
thirty miles east of Fort Davis, and some thirty miles west of Leon
Holes. As our command was pulling out of camp just as the
sun was rising the next morning, we saw two lone horsemen coming
to meet us, which proved to be George McClellan, a government
wagonmaster, and one of his teamsters. He reported to Major
Rough substantially as follows: That he had been sent from Fort
C'ark with nine six-mule teams and wagons loaded with supplies
to be delivered at Fort Davis; that yesterday he reached the Leon
Holes about noon and turned his mules loose to water and graze,
placed two men to herd them; the Indians saw them coming and
secreted themselves and when the mules got off a little distance
from the wagons they dashed in between the mules and wagons and
drove them off, all but one, which was blind in one eye and in the
scare its good eye was towards the wagons and it ran to them and
was saved. The teamsters all had six-shooters and they ran afoot
after the Indians firing as best they could and captured several
things which they made the Indians drop, among which was a beau-
tiful blond scalp, no doubt of some pure white girl that they had
captured, outraged and brutally murdered. The guide, James Cloud,
and myself rode over the ground and found that there was four
bands of the Indians and that they were driving as much as 1000
head of mules and horses to the band, making 4000 head in all,
besides the fifty-four mules of the government train. They had
so many the teamsters while running them afoot captured thirteen


head of horses and mules, one of which one of the teamsters rode
while the wagonmaster rode the one-eved mule which the Indians did
not get.

The wagonmaster did not know anything of Major Rough's where-
abouts so he waited till dark and he and his teamsters saddled up
the two mules and struck out for Fort Davis and came to us as I
have stated. Major Rou^h moved his command on down to Leon
Holes that day and camped. The next morning he ordered a scout
of thirty men to take the trail and follow it thirty miles and then
return. I did not hear the orders given to Lieutenant Randal so
I saddled up my horse and started with the scout. After riding
along six or eight miles I rode up by the side of the guide and he
said: "Jeff, if I was you T would not go." I said, "Why?" He
said, "We are only going to follow the Indians to-day and back to
camp to-morrow, and we have no show to overtake them, and you will
have two days' ride for nothing." So I turned and rode back and
it proved as he said. When the scout got back the next evening
I went to the guide and asked him all about it and he said: "The
Indians stopped, killed and ate three government mules in going
less than thirty miles," which so exasperated Garrigus, the wagon
master and myself, in connection with the pretty blond scalp, that
we three went to Major Rough and plead with him to let us tako
government mules and the teamsters who were all willing to go,
and follow them and make the fight As the guide said he was sure
the Indians were no farther than the Horse Head crossing on the
Pecos, their noted place to rest, eat and sleep after their long, hard
raids on the frontier settlers, as they had no knowledge of Major
Rough and his sixty-five well-mounted, well-armed CJ. S. riflemen and
his thirty-seven teamsters, being in fifty miles of them and they
need not have cared, as it proved. Boys, here was the best oppor-
tunity to make a historical fight and recapture 4000 head of the
suffering and bleeding frontier men's horses and mules that has
ever come under my observation, but it seemed that the Indians'
Kind Providence sent them a Major Rough to protect them.


We will go by the place tomorrow and .see if the Indians were ever
found and buried. I thought then and think yet that such a killing was
cruel and savage in the extreme, our only justification was and is
that they would have murdered us just the same, if they had been
given the opportunity that was presented to us.


And now, boys, as times have changed so much in the last twenty
eight years here at Eagle Springs, I think we can spread down our
blankets and sleep sweetly without fear of the bloody tomahawk and
scalping knife of the wily savage/'

By daybreak the next morning our little party of three was up
and as gay as larks and felt ready and equal to any and all emer-
gencies that might lie in their path. Breakfast was prepared and
eaten. Horses saddled, mules packed and the start made for the
Rio Grande via where the Indians were slaughtered twenty-eight
years before. Jeff's retentive memory of location, being a natural
woodsman, enabled him to go straight to the spot where the unfortu-
nate Indians were killed. Their bones were all there as none survided
to tell the story to the rest of the tribe.

About noon they reached the river, and while Tom and George
unpacked the mules and made a fire, Jeff stepped down to the river
with his little perch hook and brought back a five or six pound cat
fish, which, with other things, made a splendid dinner. As they had
had a very hard ride in the forenoon they took a long rest and in
the afternoon they saddled up and crossed the river. As the river
was dry in that place, they went several miles into Mexico, and re-
turned back at night to their first camp. As they came into camp
that evening Jeff noticed a good many deer signs and he said, "Boys,
I will go over there in the morning and kill a deer for breakfast."


So, next morning when it was good light he said, "Tom, saddle up
a horse and when you hear me shoot come over. I will have a nice
deer for you to bring back to camp." So saying he walking across
the bed of the river and in a few minutes the crack of the rifle rang
out clear and sharp, and Tom said, "George, Jeff has got it. I will
ride over and get it, and we will have a good venison steak for
breakfast." After partaking of a hearty breakfast they packed and
saddled up and went down the river some miles where it made a short
bend, and ran against the bluff. There was grass in the bend, and the
prettiest place to fish that was ever seen.

Jeff said, "Boys, let's noon here and I will show you what an
expert I am in catching big catfish with a minnow hook." So, while
the boys were attending to the horses and making a big fire, Jeff
cut a long willow pole, took 'a piece of the deer's liver and went down
to the river, where he found one of the prettiest places to land a
big fish with a small hook that was ever seen, and then the fun
commenced, for no sooner than the bait struck the water than a nine
pound cat fish had it and he was safely landed, and a second and
a third in rapid succession. After cutting a willow switch and
running it through their gills he carried them to the fire, and George
remarked, "I'll bet my boots and make this trip bare-footed, that
Jeff can catch the largest fish with the smallest hook of any man in
the world." As there was more fish than enough for one meal they
thought that they would have one for dinner. So Jeff soon had one
dress for dinner which George fryed to a fine finish, and another
good old frontier dinner was eaten.

After they were rested they saddled and packed and Jeff re-
marked, "I think we have more good meat than we can eat, two
nine-pound catfish and a deer, but we will tak.3 it along until we get
something better." They moved on down the river and found that
they had nooned at the upper end of the lower Narrows where the
bluffs set in two or three hundred feet high and the river bends
from bluff to bluff, and there is no possible way to get through, only
to cross the river at each bend, and here the river is one continuous


body of water, so when our party came to the first place where they
had to cross or turn back, they all dismounted to consult what to do,
and going down to the water's edge lo and behold a band of Indians
had crossed ahead of them, their mocassin tracks were plain in the
sand where they went into the river. Here Tom and George hesitated
about crossing, for forward the river looked much deeper than back-
wards, and we did not know but what the water was very deep. Jeff
said, "Boys, I never have turned back and am not going to this
time,if you will stay with me." They replied, "We come to stay,
and you bet we will." Jeff then instructed them to stay and guard
the horses while he waded the river, first remarking that the Indians
had crossed and he could cross also. After crossing he found that it
would not quite swim the pack mules. When he got to the other
shore he found the Indian tracks where they came out, which he in-
formed the boys. He then instructed them to stay where they were
and keep a sharp lookout while he went on down the river to ses if
they could get through. He cautiously wended his way some two
hundred yards down the river, when sudenly a quick crackling in a
thick bunch of bushes not more than twenty steps in his advance
made his hair stand up and nearly throw off his hat. In an instant
ho had his gun ready for service, when a magnificent buck of the
blacktail variety bounded up on a point of the mountain and turned
his side to him The temptation was too great, and in the twinkling
of an eye the gun was at his shoulder and he fired. The buck bounded
high, fell over and rolled down nearly to his feet. He called back, "All
right, boys, we have more meat." He quickly put another load in
his gun, drew his big hunting knife, that was made expressly for
him in San Antonio, at the commencement of the Civil War, and that
he had carried through all his scouts, and bled the buck as hunters

He then reasoned thus : "The Indians did not pass here today
or that buck would not lie down so close to their trail. In fact, I
think he could smell their trail two or three days old, and it is <i
suro thing that he would not lie down where he could smell them."


Being thus assured by practice and experience he moved cheerfully cm
to the next crossing of the river.

He waded here as at first crossing and found the Indian trail going
"in and coming out as at the first crossing. Here the bluff receded from
the river on the Texas side and the calley opened to a beautiful level.
He returned and went back to where Tom and George were very
anxiously awaiting him.

He explained his discoveries and they were as eager and ready
to go forward as he was, so they mounted their horses and forded
the river and went on to where the big buck lay. They dismounted
and dressed the buck and prepared one of the pack mules, and lifted
him* on, head, homes and all, tied him firmly to the pack saddle,
mounted and went forward, crossing the river out on to Texas soil
and the beautiful level country and the change of scenery was so in-
spiring contrasted with the dismal and lonesome passage of the Lower
Narrows of the Rio Grande that Tom and George set up the Texas
yell of victory that reverbrated from bluff to bluff.

A short distance below the Narrows stands a large cotton wood
tree on the Texas side of the river and when our party reached the
tree, the place and all surroundings were too inviting for a camping
place for the night for Jeff to pass. His experienced eye took in the
situation at a glance so he said "Halt, this is too good to pass." As
Indian signs had been disagreeably in evidence all the afternpon the
experienced frontiersman, as he had been taught so to do utilized every
natural advantage that woud tend to ward off the surprise and sud-
den attack of the enemy in this connection.

It is due the reader to give a brief sketch or pen picture of this
almost perfect camp ground for defence. Standing under this grand,
old cottonwood tree on the Texas bank looking north and south, a
deep, broad pool of water runs north and south. A perpendicular
bluff on the west or Mexican side, a high bank on the east until it
comes to within 100 yards of the tree, either way, north or south,
Here the bank is about five feet high and sets back some twenty
feet from the water almost level east from the top of the bank is


a beautiful level without rock or shrub but covered with best of
grass. Here our little party of three felt like they could stand off
every roving Indian on the Rio Grande.

After horses and mules were all attended to and we had gone
back to the tree we looked down the river to where the bank set
into the water about one hundred yards distance, and there sat a fine
wild goose. Tom said it would be cruel and almost a wanton waste
for me to shoot that goose, but I wanted to keep up my "rep" as
a fine shot, and I said, "Jeff, if you are willing I will shoot its head
off, at least thereby giving it a chance for its life." Jeff replied,
"Poor goose, I pity its chance." After which Tom raised his gun, took
deliberate aim and fired. The goose turned over on its back with its
head cut off as smooth as if with an axe. Jeff said, "Tom, if the
Indians do charge us I intend to give you the first shot, and see if
you can kill Indians like you can geese."

Tom said, "Good, I won't loose my 'rep'."

We moved everything over the bank to the nice little level that
extended to the water. Tom brought his goose and we skinned the
big buck, and oh, my ! He was fat ! We then set in to have a night's
feast such as no man ever had, and if we could have had a jug of
"0. B. Joyful" we would have had the ideal meal. But let me tell
you what we did have we had roasted buck ribs as fine as mortal
man ever tasted, roasted goose, roasted cat fish, roasted bread a la
ranger style, Rio Grande water, strong coffee and health and West
Texas appetites, which is about the biggest thing that wild game
ever ran up against. A man may be poor in purse, but in Texas
ho is rich in health, rich in hospitality, rich in patriotism, rich in
bravery, rich in honor and big rich in a broad and expansive appetite
for pretty women, red liquor and good eating, and as those three
were no exception to the general West Texan, they set in to have
a full night of it as far as their stock of good things of West
Texas was concerned.

The fire was completely hidden by the river bank, which was just
high enough for one to stand up straight and look over the


beautiful level where their horses grazed, while the other two kept
themselves busy feasting, barbecuing fat buck meat, baking bread
and fixing up generally for any emergency that might arise during
the furtherance of their journey, as the light of the fire shone plainly
on the water a tremendous fish would flounce and make the water
boil and whirl, no doubt he was attracted by the smell of the big
buck. Jeff said, "Boys, I am going to hook that fellow with my lit-
tle hook just to see hov r he feels on a long limber pole."

So suiting the action of the word, he cut a long willow pole,
fastened his little hook and line to it, put on a piece of the fried
meat and droped it into the water. The fish took it at once and
moved slowly off to the other shore. Jeff gave the pole a jerk, and it
hooked the fish like it hung in a log, but it steadily moved straight

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Online LibraryWilliam J.] 1829-1908 [MaltbyCaptain Jeff; or, Frontier life in Texas with the Texas Rangers; some unwritten history and facts in the thrilling experiences of frontier life → online text (page 9 of 14)