Notable Old Texans Of the Pioneer Era
John H. Moore
Specially Written for The News Magazine by James T. De Shields.
The distinguished subject of the present sketch. Col. John Henry Moore, one of the earliest settlers on the Colorado and a famous Texas Ranger and Indian fighter, was born in Rome, Smyth County, Tenn., in the year 1800. His father, Armistead Moore, was a Kentuckian: his mother, Tabitha Bowen Moore, one of the three famous Bowen sisters who were pets of Andrew Jackson, was a Virginian. With such a parentage, it is not surprising that the son was generous, high-spirited, brave and daring.
John Henry Moore was the second son of eleven children, all of whom grew to maturity. Young Moore's life was spent uneventfully upon the old homestead in Rome until his eighteenth year, when preparations were completed for sending him to college. Instead of pursuing the course laid out for him by his parents, he ran away to Texas, doubtless through a boyish love of adventure and excitement. Texas was yet a possibility of the future.
Jean Lafitte, the "pirate chief" or "naval hero," according to the standpoint from which you observe him, occupied Galveston Island at that time, and his name and fame were spreading throughout the country. Reports had reached the United States of the condition of affairs In Texas, offering plenty of Indian fighting and wild adventure to irrepressible youth.
Young Moore remained in Texas some time and then went back on a visit home, returning to Texas in 1821. At this time he came to the determination to make Texas his future home. He spent the next seven or eight years in contesting with the Indians for every inch of soil which he strove to redeem from its native wilderness, and in enduring those hardships which have ever been encountered by hardy pioneers of every State in our Union.
His Early Life.
In these struggles the boyish frame grew stalwart; the heedlessness or youth gave place to the sedate judgment of manhood; his character deepened and he was recognized by the colonists, who were flocking into Texas (then a Province of Mexico), as a power in their councils, as well as an efficient leader in their numerous contests with the aborigines who were bravely contending for the ownership of this fair and fertile domain. But the valiant young soldier, it seems, was amenable to softer emotions than those of war, and in 1828 or 1829 he married a Miss Cummins, whose father was an Alcade under the Mexican Government. He then settled in Gonzales. For the next three years Mr. Moore employed his time in farming, stock raising and Indian fighting, as opportunity presented or necessity required. Says John Henry Brown: “During the spring and summer of 1833 the Indians were very troublesome and were constantly committing depredations all along the frontier, killing the unprotected and helpless settlers and stealing their horses. In the spring of this year Major Oldham raised a company of twenty-five men in Washington to pursue and punish a party of marauding Keechies, and, if possible, to recover a large number of horses which they had stolen and carried off. Following the trail of the Indians to their village on the Trinity River, in the present county of Leon, Major Oldham immediately commenced a successful attack on the Keechie village, killing a number of warriors and routing the others, besides capturing a considerable number of horses, some provisions and camp supplies. Soon after this Capt. Robert M. Coleman of Bastrop, with twenty-five volunteers, made a campaign against the Tehuacanas, at the famous spring of that name, now in Limestone County. He crossed the Brazos at Washington on July 4, 1835, and was not discovered till near the village.
“The Indians manifested stubborn courage. A severe engagement ensued, but in the end. Though killing a considerable number of Indians, Coleman was compelled to retreat having one man killed and four wounded. The enemy was too numerous for so small a party.”
“Falling back to old Fort Parker near the present site of Groesbeck in Limestone County, Coleman dispatched a messenger to the settlements, calling for reinforcements to chastise the enemy. Three companies of volunteers were immediately raised, one commanded by Capt. Robert M. Williamson (“Three Legged Willie”), one by Capt. Phil Choeen and one by Dr. George W. Barnet.
Col. John H. Moore was given chief command and Joseph C. Neill (a soldier at the Horse Shoe) was made Adjutant. They soon joined Coleman at the fort and rapidly marched toward the Tehuacana Springs to attack the Indians, but the wily Tehuacanas discovered their approach and hastily fled in different directions so as to evade pursuit. The Texans now scoured the country for some distance in search of the Indians, going as far up the country as the present site of the city of Dallas, then passed over to and down the Brazos, crossing it where old Fort Graham now stands, and leisurely returned to the settlements, without any incidents of material interest.”
Col. Moore served with honor and distinction throughout the Mexican-Texan War of 1836, bravely enduring the hardships incident to that great epoch in the history of our State. To detail his many deeds of personal daring and bravery during this campaign would require space far exceeding the limits of this brief sketch.
On Dec. 10, 1838, Mirabeau B. Lamar was formally inaugurated President of the Republic of Texas. Toward the Indian tribes President Lamar’s policy was just the reverse to that of his predecessor. While President Houston endeavored to maintain friendly relations with them by kind treatment and conciliatory means, Lamar thought they should be excluded from the territory, and to accomplish this policy he proposed to “mark the boundaries of the Republic with the sword.” The entire frontier was constantly in great peril from the frequent incursions of the several different tribes of freebooters who hovered along the outskirts, and the cry for protection was now becoming loud and clamorous. But how was this to be accomplished? The young Republic was not able to support a standing army. The available finances had been entirely exhausted and the country could not obtain credit. Yet Lamar was determined in his policy and at once commissioned Col. John H. Moore to raise three companies of rangers to patrol the most defenseless portion of the frontier.
Defeat on the San Saba
In consequence of the repeated and continued inroads of the Indians through 1837-1838, at the close of the latter year Col. Moore determined to chastise them. Calling for volunteers from the thinly settled country around him, he succeeded in raising a force of 55 whites, 42 Lipan and 12 Toncahaus Indians, an aggregate of 109. Col. Castro, chief of the Lipans, commanded his warriors, assisted by the rising and ever faithful young chief, Flacco, whose memory is honored and whose subsequent fate is and ever will be deplored by every pioneer of Texas.
“The advance scouts,” says Col. Brown whose narrative we again quote, “reported to Col. Moore the discovery of large Comanche encampment, with many horses, on the San Saba River, yet the sequel showed that they failed to realize its magnitude in numbers. With adroit caution the experienced frontiersmen, by a night march, arrived in the vicinity before the dawn of day on Feb. 12, 1839, a clear, frosty morning. They were in a favored position for surprising the foe, and wholly undiscovered. At a given signal every man understood his duty. Castro, with a portion of the Indians, was to stampede the horses grazing in the valley and rush them beyond recovery. The whites and remaining Indians were to charge without noise upon the village. The horses of the dismounted men of both colors were left tied a mile in the rear in a ravine.
“As light sufficiently appeared to distinguish friend from foe, the signal was given. With thirty of his people the wily old Castro soon had a thousand or more loose horses thundering over hill and dale toward the south. Flacco, with twelve Lipans and twelve Toncahaus, remained with Moore. The combined force left, numbering seventy-nine, rushed upon the buffalo tents, firing wherever an Indian was seen. Many were killed in the first onset, but almost instantly the camp was in motion. The warriors, as if by magic, rushed together and commenced fighting; the women and children wildly fleeing to the coverts of the bottom and neighboring thickets. It was at this moment amid the screams, yells and war whoops resounding through the valley that Mr. Lockhart (whose daughter was captive among the Indians) plunged forward in advance of his comrades calling aloud, “Matilda, if you are here, run to me! Your father calls! And though yet too dim to see, every word pierced the child’s heart as she recognized her father’s wailing voice while she was lashed into a run with the retreating squaws. The contest was fierce and bloody till, as the sunlight came, Col. Moore realized that he had only struck and well nigh destroyed the fighting strength of the lower end of a long and powerful encampment. The enraged savages from above came pouring down in such numbers as to threaten the annihilation of their assailants. Retreat became necessary, demanding the utmost courage and strictest discipline. But not a man wavered.
“For the time being the stentorian voice of their stalwart and iron-nerved leader was a law unto all. Detailing some to bear the wounded, with the others Moore covered them on their flank, and stubbornly fought his way back to the ravine in which his horse had been left to find that every animal had already been mounted by a Comanche and was then curveting around them. All that remained possible was to fight on the defensive from the position thus secured, and this was done with such effect that after a prolonged contest the enemy stopped the assault. Excepting occasional shots at long range by a few of the most daring warriors, extending into the next day, the discomfited assailants were allowed to wend their way homeward. Imagine such a party, 150 miles from home, afoot, with a hundred miles of the way through mountains and six of their comrades so wounded as to perish in the wilderness, or to be transported on litters home by their comrades. Such was the condition of six of the number. They were William M. Eastland (later to draw a black bean and to be murdered by the order of Santa Ana in 1843); S. S. B. Fields, a lawyer of LaGrange; James Manor, Felix Taylor, Leffingwell and Martin, the latter of whom died soon after reaching home; Cicero Rufus Perry and Gonzalvo Wood.”
After much suffering the part reached home, preceded by Castro with the captured horses, which the cunning old fox chiefly appropriated to his own tribe. Col. Moore, in his victorious destruction of a Comanche town high up the Colorado in 1840, made terrible retribution for the trials and adversities of the expedition.
In August, 1840, occurred the great Comanche invasion, the sacking of Linnville and Victoria and on the 12th day of the same month the famous and decisive battle of Plum Creek, the details of which this space forbids narrating. In this great Indian fight, were less than 200 Texans routed more than 1,000 Comanche warriors, Col. Moore commanded a company and bore a most conspicuous part.
“Following this last raid the veteran soldier, Col. John H. Moore of Fayette County,” says Col. Brown, whose excellent narrative we again adopt, “sent forth circulars calling for volunteers to again penetrate the country of the hostiles on the upper waters of the Colorado, as another lesson to them that the whites were determined to either compel them to abstain from robbing, murdering and capturing their fellow citizens or exterminate them. A prompt response followed, and about the first of October the expedition left Austin, at once entering the wilderness. Col. Moore commanded, with S. S. B. Fields, a lawyer of LaGrange, Adjutant Captains Thomas J. Rabb and Nicholas Dawson of Fayette commanded the companies, the latter being the same who commanded and fell at the Dawson massacre in 1842. There were ninety men in all. Clark L. Owen of Texana (who fell as a Captain at Shiloh at 1862), was First Lieutenant in Rabb’s company. R. Addison Gillespie, who fell as a Captain of Texas Rangers in storming the Bishop’s palace, in 1846, was one of the Lieutenants, his brother being also along. Nearly all the men were from Fayette and Bastrop, but there were a few from the Lavaca, among whom I remember Isaac N. Mitchell, Mason B. Foley, Joseph Simmons of Texana, Nicholas J. Ryan and Peter Rockefeller (Simons and Rockefeller both dying in Mexican prisons, as Mier men, in 1844 or 45). Col. Moore also had with him a detachment of twelve Lipan Indians, commanded by Col. Castro, their principal chief, with the famous young Chief Flacco as his Lieutenant.”
The command followed up the valley of the Colorado without encountering an enemy till it reached a point now supposed to be in the vicinity of Colorado City. The Lipan scouts were constantly in advance and on the alert. Hastily returning while in the vicinity mentioned, they reported the discovery of a Comanche encampment fifteen or twenty miles distant, on the east bank and in a small horse shoe bend of the Colorado, with high and somewhat steep bluff on the opposite bank.
Col. Moore traveled by night to within a mile or two of the camp, and then halted. It was a clear, cold night in October, and the earth white with frost. The men shivered with cold, while the unsuspected savages slept warmly under buffalo robes in their skin-covered tepees. In the meantime, Moore detached Lieut. Owens, with thirty men, to cross the river below, and move up and down to occupy the bluff. This movement was successfully affected and all waited the dawn of sufficient light to guide their movements.
Soon the stalwart old leader, mounted on his favorite steed, with a few whispered words summoned every man to his saddle. Slowly, cautiously, they moved till within 300 yards of the camp, when the rumbling sound of moving horses struck the ear of a warrior on watch. His shrill yell sounded the alarm and ere Moore and his men, under a charge instantly ordered, could be in their midst, every warrior and many of the squaws had their bows strung and ready for fight. But pel-mel the whites rushed upon and among them. The rifles, shotguns and pistols of the white man, in the contest, largely hand to hand, with fearful rapidity struck the red men to the earth. Surprised and in close quarters, the Indians, though fighting with desperation, shot too rapidly and wildly to be effective. Seeing their fate a considerable number swam the narrow river and essayed to escape by climbing the bluff. Some were shot in their ascent by Moore’s men from across the stream and tumbled backward. Everyone who made the ascent to the summit of the bluff was confronted and slain by Owens’ men. At the onset two horses were tied in the camp. On these, two warriors escaped. Besides them, so far as could be ascertained, every warrior was killed, excepting a few old men and one or two young men, who surrendered and were spared.
A Plucky Squaw
Many of the Indian women for a little while fought as stoutly as the men and some were killed, despite every effort to save them. In the charge Mitchell’s bridle bit parted asunder and his mule rushed ahead into the midst of the Indians-then halted, “sulked” refusing to move. A squaw seized a large billet of wood and by a blow on his head tumbled him to the ground, but he sprang to his feet, a little bewildered, and just as his comrades came by and seeing the squaw springing at him, knife in hand, they sang out, “Kill her, Mitchell.” With a smile, not untinged with pain, he replied: “Oh no boys! I can’t kill a woman.” But to prevent her killing him, he knocked her down and wrenched the weapon from her hands.
A hundred and fifty Indians were left dead on the field. Thirty-four squaws and children and several hundred horses were brought in, besides such camp equipage as the men chose to carry with them, among which were good plundered at Linnville the previous August.
After the annexation of Texas Col. Moore and his wife had their marriage ceremony again performed, because his marriage had taken place under the Mexican Government, and the true patriot was determined to allow no official act of a Government he had disowned to be connected with his private life.
At the close of the great Civil War he owned about a hundred slaves, and like many other Southern gentlemen saw wealth disappear as a stroke of lightning. But while his slaves were lost to him his real estate remained, and by honest industry and thrift he made this the nucleus of another fortune. Returning to peaceful avocations after the war, Col. Moore amassed a large amount of property, and spent the remainder of his life in managing his large estate.
Col. Moore ended a useful and prosperous life at his old home, known as the “Moore Plantation,” in Fayette County, in 1880, at 80 years. Col. Moore was the original proprietor of the town of LaGrange, in Fayette County, Texas. His name will ever belong to the pages of the history of our great State.
Having thus spoken of his life, we may briefly contemplate the character of the man. He was a consistent member of the Christian Church, and was exceedingly generous in the exercise of his church duties.
It was his delight to contribute abundantly to the support of the ministry. His liberality was also evinced in his building a church entirely of his own means. The poor and needy were never turned from his door, and he fulfilled a Scriptural injunction by being “a friend to the widow and fatherless.” A kind and loving father, an indulgent husband and a just but humane employer, he surely justified the words. “An honest man is the noblest work of God.”
Many thanks go to Debbie Hanson for her help in getting this biography online!