As the Civil War raged in the east, the western frontier went up in flames, along the Sierra Nevada, and from Minnesota to Texas. With the attention of both the Union and Confederate militaries focused on eastern battlefields, there was nothing much to restrain the Indians, except the volunteers of various western communities. Late in 1864, as the Confederacy stumbled through it’s final agony, a massive Indian raid flashed through Young County, Texas. An ambitious young Comanche chief, Little Buffalo hungered for the plunder and prestige accrued to him by a successful raid into the white-settled country at the headwaters of the Brazos River. Who would stop them? The Federal soldiers were long-gone from Fort Belknap, leaving only a few companies recruited for frontier defence – and Little Buffalo planned to avoid them. All during the fall of 1864, he talked up the possibilities to his fellows and their close allies, the Kiowa. By mid-October, he had gathered a raiding party of seven hundred or so, and they poured south, into the scattered holdings along the Brazos and Elm Creek where about a dozen families had settled. Many of them – the Fitzpatricks and the Braggs had taken the precaution of barricading their houses with a palisade of logs. The commander in charge of frontier defense had seen that another palisade with blockhouses at the corners protected settlers living there. A second fortified place was called Camp Murrah.

The war party came down both sides of Elm Creek; they first encountered and killed a man and his son who were out searching for strayed cattle. Then they fell like hungry wolves on the Fitzpatrick place, the local trading post and general store.  The men had all gone to Weatherford to purchase supplies, so there were only three women; the widowed Elizabeth Carter Fitzgerald, her daughter Susan Durgan and a slave, Mary Johnson, whose husband Britton was Mrs. Fitzgerald’s foreman, with half a dozen children and an infant. Susan Durgan died on the front porch, a shotgun in her hands before the Indians swarmed into the house, looting and setting fire. But the smoke and noise carried along the valley alerting their nearest neighbors; the Hambys and the Wilsons. There were three men there at the Hamby place, branding cattle. By good fortune, one of them was Thornton Hamby, a young Confederate soldier on leave, recuperating from wounds received. Thornton, his father Thomas, and Tom ‘Doc’ Wilson rushed their families into a safe hiding place, away from their houses – a cave in the creek-bank hidden by brush. Thornton Hamby directed Tom Wilson to ride as fast as he could up the creek to warn their neighbors, while he and his father covered for him. They withdrew up the valley, pausing now and again to shoot at the Indians following after, while Tom Wilson galloped ahead. Wilson managed to warn the families at two farmsteads; all took shelter in brush along the creek and survived. By the time the three riders reached the George Bragg place, which had been fortified, the Indians were closing in. An arrow struck Tom Wilson through the chest as they ran for the door; he staggered into the house, gasping, “Hamby, I am a dead man.” He had enough strength to pull out the arrow, and he died just inside the doorway. More »