A WOMAN’S DARING ESCAPE FROM THE INDIANS
From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, January, 1925
Among the early settlers in Western Texas in 1867 was a man by the name of Rabb. He was one of those restless, adventurous men so, frequently met with on the frontier who are never satisfied except when they are in advance of all other settlements. The nearest neighbor to Rabb was fifteen miles below. His family consisted of his wife and three small children and a female friend, whom we shall designate as Mrs Jones (as we are not authorized to give her name to the public). Mrs. Jones having recently lost her husband was living with the Rabb family. She was a fair specimen of those hardy, self reliant heroines of the border, who are undaunted by dangers, and who bear unflinchingly the hardships and exposures incidental to life in new and sparsely settled countries. Born and reared in Texas, she inherited a good constitution to which her active life in the open air, a great portion of which was spent on horseback, gave unusual vigor. From an early age she had been a fearless rider, and her life on the frontier where all traveling was necessarily performed on horseback, had given her better and more practical knowledge of the equestrian art than she could have acquired by training for the same length of time at Astley's
One morning in June, 1867, Rabb started off to a distant market with some cattle, leaving his family at the ranch without anyone to protect them against the Indians. He did not apprehend any danger, however. during his absence, as no Indians had been seen for some time in the vicinity. Everything went on as usual for several days, until one morning while the women were occupied with their domestic affairs in the house, one of the children who were playing in the yard called out to its mother and told her that some men on horseback were coming over the prairie. Mrs. Rabb stepped to the door and saw, to her horror, that these men were Indians, coming at full gallop towards the house She ordered the children to run in at once as she wished to bar the door, knowing that Indians seldom ventured to attack a house when barred against them, fearing that armed men might be within who would give them a warm reception. But the children did not obey their mother, thinking, no doubt, that the Indians were cow hunters, and the door was left open.
As soon as the alarm of Indians was given, Mrs Jones ran up a ladder leading to a loft, and concealed herself, where through a crack in the door she could see all that passed beneath.
The Indians rushed up seized and bound the two children in the yard and then entered the house. They took the babe from the arms of the terrified mother, in spite of her struggles to retain it and threw it on the floor. One of them caught the poor woman by the hair, drew back her head and cut her throat from ear to ear with his butcher knife.
Mrs. Jones who was watching their proceedings through a chink in the floor above, when she witnessed this cold blooded murder of her friend, involuntary uttered a cry of horror witch betrayed her place of concealment to the Indians. Several immediately sprang up the ladder, dragged her down and out of the house, placed her and the two children on horses, and then hurried off with them, leaving the Infant unhurt by the side of its murdered mother.
For several days and nights fearing pursuit, they traveled rapidly, only making an occasional halt to rest and eat. Weary from harsh usage and the want of sleep and food, they moved on day after day and night after night towards the staked plains, crossing the Brazos, Wichita and Arkansas rivers by swimming them, as they were all too full to be forded.
The Indians kept a close watch upon their captives until they had gone a long way beyond the frontier settlements when they somewhat relaxed their vigilance and permitted them to walk about camp, but gave them to understand that death would be the certain result of any attempt to escape. In spite of this threat, Mts. Jones was determined to seize the first opportunity to escape from them that might present itself. Having thus resolved she carefully noted the qualities of different horses in order that she might be able to make a good selection when a chance of escaping should occur.
One dark night after a long hard day's ride, while the Indians were sleeping soundly, she cautiously crept away from the lodge occupied by herself and the two children, who were also fast asleep, and going to where the Indians had staked their horses, she selected one of the best, sprang on his back, without saddle or bridle, and with nothing to guide or control him but the rope around his neck She started off slowly toward the north star, thinking that course would lead her to the nearest white settlements, but as soon as she was out of hearing of the camp, she put her horse into a trot and then into a gallop, and continued thus to urge him on as fast as he could go during the whole night.
At the break of day the following morning she reached the crest of a considerable eminence overlooking a vast expanse of bald prairie, and there, for the first time after leaving the Indian camp, she halted, turned around with fear and trembling and cast a glance to the rear, fully expecting to see the savage bloodhounds on her trail, but to her great relief not a living thing was visible except a herd of antelopes quietly grazing on the prairie below. Still her uncertainty in the midst of dreary, trackless plains as to the course she ought to pursue in order to reach the nearest settlements filled her with gloomy forebodings as to her ultimate fate. Perhaps nowhere does one realize their helplessness and dependence upon the Almighty Ruler of the universe than when bewildered and lost on the almost boundless plains of the west, and she raised her thoughts to heaven in fervent supplication. She knew that one of the many points embraced within the horizon could lead to safety and that the direction to this one point must be kept without road, tree or other landmark to guide her. But the indomitable spirit of the heroine of this narrative did not succumb to the imminent perils that surrounded her. All day long she urged forward her generous steed until she was so worn out with fatigue and want of sleep that it was with great difficulty she could keep her seat on his back. To add to the horrors of her situation a new danger stared her in the face as the shades of night began to darken around, a danger quite as much to be dreaded as recapture by the merciless savages. Hearing the howling of wolves behind she looked back and discovered a large gang were closely following her trail They seemed to know instinctively that the wearied horse and his rider must soon fall prey to their voracious appetites. The idea of being devoured by wolves was so horrible that it gave her the strength of desperation and through the gloomy hours of that dismal night she continued to urge her faithful steed until she became so exhausted that it was with difficulty she could keep awake. Frequently she found herself in the act of falling from the horse just in time to save herself from being left alone on foot among the ravenous wolves, whose dismal howling could be heard in every direction.
At length her horse, too, began to fail rapidly until at last the poor animal was scarcely able to drag one foot after the other and she momentarily expected he would drop dead beneath her. The failure of the horse seemed to encourage the wolves and they finally rushed upon him, snapping at his heels and endeavoring to drag him and his rider to the ground. This so terrified the horse that he went on for awhile with renewed vigor, and fortunately before the wolves could come up with him again daylight began to show in the east and the cowardly beasts, shunted away to their dens
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For the first time in thirty-six hours Mrs. Jones now, dismounted, and knowing that sleep would soon overcome her as there was no tree or brush to which she could fasten the horse, she tied the end of the rope around her waist, threw herself on the ground and in a moment was fast asleep. How long she had slept she does not know, but the sun was high in the heavens when she was roused by the clattering of horses feet. Looking up she was terror struck to find that she was completely surrounded by a large party of Indians. Worn down as she was by her long ride and her nerves unstrung by anxiety and the hardships she had undergone the shock was too great for her and she fainted. When she regained consciousness the Indians placed her on a horse and started with her to their camp, which was not far off. On their arrival there they left her under charge of the squaws, who prepared some food for her and gave her a buffalo robe for a bed. It was several days before she was able to walk about camp. She soon learned that her last captors belonged to Lone Wolf's band of Kiowas. These Indians treated her much more kindly than the Comanches, but as she did not think they would ever voluntarily release her and although she had not the remotest idea of her locality or of the direction or distance to any white settlement she was determined to take advantage of the first opportunity to make her escape from them.
Some time after she was captured by these Indians a party left camp, going off in a northerly direction, and in five or six days they returned bringing back with them some ears of green corn. She knew the prairie tribes did not plant corn, and she felt confident this party had visited a white settlement in a northerly direction not more than three days travel from where they were encamped.
Late one night after all was quiet in camp and everything seemed auspicious for carrying out the purpose, she cautiously crept from her bed and went to where she knew the Indians had staked their horses. Having caught and saddled one, she was in the act of mounting him, when several dogs rushed out after her and by their barking created such a disturbance in camp that she thought it most prudent to return to her lodge, which she reached without having been seen by anyone.
On a subsequent night however, fortune favored her, and selecting a good horse she rode off in the direction the Indians had taken when they brought back the ears of green corn. Guided by the sun and the stars at night, she was able to keep her course and after three days of hard riding, anxiety, fatigue and hunger, she came to a large river. The stream was swollen to the tops of its banks, the current coursed like a torrent along the channel, and she thought her tired horse would he unable to stem it; but after surmounting the many difficulties she had already encountered, she was not to be turned aside by this formidable obstacle. She let her wearied animal rest and graze for awhile, then mounting him again the dauntless woman dashed into the turbulent stream and with great difficulty the faithful steed bore her in safety to the opposite bank.
Giving her horse a few moments rest, she again set forward, and had gone but a short distance when to her inexpressible delight she struck a broad wagon road, the first and only trace of civilization she had seen since she left her home in Texas. Nothing, she said, ever gave her so much pleasure as the sight of this road, for she felt confident that it would lead her to some settlement of her own race; and her anticipations were more speedily realized than expected, for a little while afterwards she saw a long train of wagons slowly coming.
At the sight of this train her feelings overpowered her, and she wept tears of joy while offering up sincere thanks to the Almighty for delivering her from a bondage more dreadful than death. She hurried on and soon met the foremost wagon, which was driven by a Mr Robert Bent who had charge of the train. He was very much astonished to meet a young woman traveling all alone on horseback in that wild country, with no covering on her head save her long hair, which was hanging in disheveled locks upon her shoulders.
When she came up, Bent stopped his wagon and asked her where she lived and to what place she was going. She replied that she lived in Texas, and that she was on her way to the nearest settlement. At this response he shook his head incredulously, and said she must be mistaken, as the nearest point in Texas was some five or six hundred miles distant. She however, reiterated her statement, and described to him briefly the leading incidents of her capture and her escape from the Indians. Still he was inclined to doubt the story she told him, thinking possibly she might be insane. He informed her that the river she had just crossed was the Arkansas, and that she was then on the Santa Fe road, fifteen miles west of Big Turk Creek, where she would find the most remote frontier settlement. He then gave her some provisions, and after thanking him for his kindness, she proceeded on her way.
When Bent reached Fort Zara he called on the Indian agent there and told him about meeting Mrs. Jones on the road. By a curious coincidence it happened that the agent was at that very time holding a council with the chief of the incidental band of Indians from whom Mrs Jones had just escaped and the chief had given him a full history of the whole affair, which seemed so impossible to the agent that he was not disposed to credit it until his account was confirmed by Mr. Bent. The agent at once dispatched a man to follow the woman and conduct her to Council Grove where she was kindly received, and remained for some time hoping through the agent to gain some intelligence of the two children she had left with the Comanches, but no tidings could be obtained. They were eventually found, however, ransomed and sent home
By reference to the map of the country over which Mrs. Jones traveled, it will be seen that the distance from the place of her capture to where she struck the Arkansas river, could not have been less than five hundred miles, and the greater part of her route was through an immense desert plains unvisited except by occasional bands of Indians.
Her escape from the Indians and her equestrian feats were most remarkable, and the accounts herein given of them seems almost incredible, and yet there are those still living in Texas to whom the facts are well known, and who can authenticate the truth of the foregoing narrative.
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