Coryell County Scrapbook by Mildred Mears records this chilling epitaph from Sugar Loaf Cemetery:
John and Jane Riggs
Murdered by Comanche Indians
March 16th, 1859
According to the State Gazette (Austin) August 3, 1861 Indians raided in Coryell County. The constant drain of the Confederate militia called to the Civil War reduced the number of men available for scouting duty to about six or eight against a dozen Indians, who were frequently better armed with repeating weapons than were the citizens. Under these conditions the marauders were encouraged to bolder acts, which resulted in two deaths and the loss of several horses and some cattle during the summer.
The book Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne is a master historical work on the rise and fall of the Comanche empire. Gwynne is a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize with this writing. He explains why rangers, state and federal forces were in many instances simply unable to catch the Indians.
This is partly because the European (or American) mind simply could not comprehend the distances the average Comanche could travel. The yearly nomadic range of their family bands was around eight hundred miles. A Comanche war party’s striking range was as much as 400 miles. That meant that a Spanish settler or soldier in San Antonio (or at Ft. Gates) was in grave and immediate danger from a Comanche brave sitting before a fire as much as 400 miles away.
Gwynne further explains that by late 1863 it had become clear to most of the free-ranging horse tribes on the southern plains that there were no soldiers to stop them. The few soldiers that did chase Indians were at a tremendous disadvantage. The large American horses were no match for the Comanche’s small mustangs, who were excellent long distance athletes. The Indians brought extra mustangs with them on their raids in order to change mounts when necessary.
By the summer of 1864 Comanches were riding roughshod into the settlements from Colorado to South Texas, attacking pioneers and soldiers alike recklessly and with little fear of retribution. The frontier again rolled backward, in some places between one hundred and two hundred miles, canceling two decades of westward progress. Their war parties could navigate enormous distances using only natural landmarks. They could also do it at night.
Stealing horses was also one of the main purposes of their raids. Colonel Dodge wrote that a Comanche could enter “where a dozen men were sleeping, each with a horse tied to his wrist by the lariat, cut a rope within six feet of the sleeper, and get away with the horse without waking a soul.”
A History of Coryell County by Zelma Scott records the following letter.
The letter was written on May 1, 1863, by Sarah E. Williamson to her sister, Rachael Williamson, who was then in Burleson County (near present day Somerville) with her brother attending school. It read as follows:
Well, Rachael, I have bad news to tell you. The Indians killed father last Sunday, the 26th of April. John Henderson was going above here after some horses and father went with him. They suddenly came upon some Indians! Now, Mr. Henderson suggested to father that they had better run for it and they immediately mounted their horses, but father’s horse didn’t get but a few feet before he was shot, and Mr. Henderson says he looked back and saw father jump down and shoot and almost immediately several Indians fell.
Mr. Henderson came on home, and secured a number of men and returned at once. Father was shot 17 times with bow and arrows. The Indians took everything he had and then scalped him. The party followed the Indians and recovered some of the horses that the Indians stole from them.”
In Empire of the Summer Moon Gwynne records that it would be June 2, 1875 before the last Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker and four hundred of his people surrendered themselves, their fifteen hundred horses, and their arms to the military authorities of the United States.
Come to Coryell Museum to see our Indian exhibit, clothing, maps, artifacts and descriptions of Comanches and many other Indian tribes of Texas. Coryell County Scrapbook as well as Empire of the Summer Moon may be purchased at the museum.