Texas Military Forces Historical Sketch
As on every other frontier of the United States as it pushed forward and out to the Pacific, the Indians proved troublesome on the Texas frontier. The greater part of the duties of the volunteer companies was to guard against raids and depredations of the Indians. The Comanches were especially dangerous.
When several leading Comanches were slaughtered in the Council House Fight at San Antonio during negotiations in the spring of 1840, the Comanches were set on revenge. The Great Comanches Raid of 1840 swept across Texas to the Gulf Coast and resulted in the sacking of Victoria and Linville. Adding to their desire for revenge were their severe losses at the Battle of Plum Creek some 30 miles southeast of Austin that followed in August of the same year and the destruction of their villages on the San Saba and the loss of many braves besides women and children, some of the latter being brought to the settlements and put to service.
Despite these many losses and defeats, the Comanches were not a beaten race and the remnant of the tribe seemed to lay aside all other thought save that of revenge, wreaking death and severe losses upon the whites during the next four years.
It was to combat this menace that the volunteer militia was once again rallied. Early in June, orders were issued calling on the militia from Travis, Bastrop and Fayette counties to muster at different places and prepare for Indian raids. On June 9, a public meeting was held at the capital to organize a temporary militia force for protection of the town by night so as to render surprise impossible. This meeting was held in consequence of a raid in which two men were killed and many horses stolen. Then on June 22, Major General Felix Huston arrived at Austin for the purpose of interviewing the War Department about calling out the militia all along the frontier for a simultaneous move against the Indians.
Although the records of which companies participated in the fight against the Indians are not available, the courage and fighting efficiency of these early militia units are well described in a letter written to the Honorable Branch T. Archer, Secretary of War, by General Huston, concerning the battle of Plum Creek. In the letter, General Huston wrote:
"I have been requested by a number of persons to make an additional report of the battle of Plum Creek; and I think it is due to my companions in arms that I should do so. My report was written immediately after the return from the chase, when I was surrounded by all the confusion and bustle incidental to a force so hastily collected together, and engaged in gathering several hundred horses and packed mules.
"I am satisfied that our force was estimated too high, and the force of the Indians much too low; and also that the number of slain was underrated. Our real force was 186. In the report, I stated that the Indians had a point of woods on their right, which they occupied and that their left extended upwards of a quarter of a mile into the prairie and that their force exceeded 400. On examining the ground more particularly, it appears that their left wing extended more than three-fourths of a mile into the prairie from which their strength should be estimated at nearly 600.
"The Comanches form in open order and with no regular intervals; they are continually in motion, and frequently gather together in clusters. There were at least 250 in the woods, and the number extended into the prairie must have exceeded that number. I am confirmed in this estimate by learning from Mr. Suterland that he had information from a Mexican that the expedition was got up at Matamoros, and was to be composed of 600 Comanches and other Indians and 40 Mexicans; and this is confirmed by the fact that new Mexican blankets and other articles usually given as presents to Indians were found amongst the plunder.
"As to the number of slain, it is hard to form a certain estimate; the chase continued between 15 and 18 miles, and spread sometimes for a mile or two to the right and left. When the report was written, General Burleson insisted that upwards of 60 had been killed, and I ought to have yielded to his greater experience. Subsequently, as parties came in during the evening, additional reports were received of Indians killed, and observation made by persons visiting the ground in search of horses, mules, and packs, which were scattered for miles over the country; I have no doubt that upwards of 80 were killed.
"The Comanches during the retreat, kept the woods on their flank, and as it was very dry and the prairie having been recently burned, they were almost hidden by the clouds of dust and ashes. This enabled them, unobserved to convey their killed and wounded in the thickets and conceal them. One party, who have since searched the ground, brought in seven rifles found near dead Indians; another party found three bodies together; and another party found eight or 10 in the bottoms of the San Marks. Bodies have been found many miles from the field of battle; in one or two instances as high up as the road to San Antonio. From these facts, it is reasonable to suppose that upwards of 80 Indians were killed; and a great many others must have died from their wounds, as they do not appear to have rendered each other much assistance or to have collected in any larger bodies after the battle; but in scattered and confused parties, they made a precipitate and disorderly retreat to their haunts.
"There is one fact which I wish particularly to remark. It has been generally supposed that the Comanche horses are fleeter and more durable than ours. Such, however, is not the case; for as the chase continued, the Indian horses gave out, and at its termination there were not more than 30 Indians ahead of us, and they were compelled to abandon the prairies. From long observation and experience, I am fully convinced that our corn fed horses are far superior to any grass fed horses, in a long pursuit."
There is a vast difference between the battle at Plum Creek and the great battles of the World Wars, but the same courage and determination to win characterized those Indian fighters of the early days as were predominant in the ranks of the 36th Division of Texas during the two World Wars.
Although the victory at Plum Creek was a great one for the Texans, it did not mean the end of Indian fighting and the depredations of the Indians continued for many years, with volunteer companies forming expeditions from time to time to fight the Indians.