Early History of Camp San Saba
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, March, 1933]
THE ROAD LEADING from Fort Mason, said to have been established in 1850 by direction of Col. Harvey of the Second U. S. Dragoons, and Camp Colorado, on Jim Ned Creek about nine miles east of where Coleman, Texas, now stands which was established by Major Van Dorn of the Second Cavalry in 1856 crossed the San Saba river at a point known as the Hardee of Camp Colorado Crossing. The name Hardee was evidently after William Joseph Hardee, an officer who served with distinction in the Mexican War and who entered the Confederate Army in the Civil War, with the rank of colonel and was promoted to lieutenant general. He was at one time commandant of West Point Military Academy and was also author of Hardee's Tactics, the standard military tactics manual during the Civil War period.
It was at or near this spot that John O. Von Meusebach, the founder of Fredericksburg and commissioner general of the "Adelsverein," met with a large band of Comanche warriors and their chiefs in the early part of 1847. After being in council with them for several days he arranged for another meeting at the next full moon at which time he again met with them at a point evidently several miles below, and made a treaty allowing the Germans to survey and explore the whole San Saba country. The territory was surveyed in 1847 under the supervision of John J. Giddings. This land is part of the Fisher and Miller grant by President Sam Houston to them in 1843; they ceded or sold their rights to the "Adelsverein," or German Immigration Company.
In the early part of the Civil War companies of state troops known variously as "rangers," mounted volunteers, etc., were organized all over the state. The ones in this particular part of the state were a part of Col. J. E. McCord's regiment. One or more of these companies had a camp on the San Saba River about a mile or a mile and a half south and east of the Harden crossing above referred to, near another crossing known as the "Flat Rock"crossing. They were quartered in log cabins and a few tents. It was from this camp of rangers that the town of Camp San Saba took its name. It is said that the first soldiers to occupy the camp were members of Capt.McMillan's company of San Saba and among the members of that company is said to have been W. W. Brooks, Mart Bolt, "Doc" Hansford, the company physician, W. L. Hays, Tom Fry, Dick Nelson, Tom Forker and others. So far as is known to the writer no official records or roll of the above mentioned company exists and the names are given on the hearsay of "old timers." Capt. W. G. O'Brien seems to have succeeded Capt. McMillan as commanding officer of the camp at Camp San Saba and through the courtesy of the Archivist of the Texas State Library at Austin a muster roll of that company is available and is copied below.
Captain W. G. O'Brien's Company, Regiment of Mounted Volunteers, commanded by Colonel J. E. McCord, called into the service of the State of Texas by the Governor under the act of the legislature approved Dec. 21, 1861, from the 30th day of April, 1863, when mustered, to the 31st day of December, 1863, the date of the present muster: W. G. O'Brien, Captain; J. M. Wood, 1st Lt.; T. P. C. Hambin., 2nd Lt.; R.H. Flippen, 2nd, Jr. Lt.; G. B. Cooke. 1st Sergeant; J. R. Phillips, 2nd Sergeant; N. Lawyer, 3rd Sergeant; C. G.Wood, 4th Sergeant; C. Y. Vanderveer 5th Sergeant; J. A. Taylor, First Corporal; G. R. Chapman, Second Corporal; J. Tanner, Third Corporal; W.T. Shugart, Fourth Corporal; Jasper Bradford, First Bugler; John J. Altman, Second Bugler; and R. Caviness, Farrier.
Capt. O'Brein's Company, Enlisted men: Altman, Matt, Altman, Josiah, Barker, M. W., Binion, R. G., Boone. R. J., Begole, A. W., Bradford, John,Brantley, W. W., Caveness, S., Caveness, Wm., Crosby, J., Coots, M. J., Clock, J., Coleman, H., Chapan, J., Clucky, J., Deats, F., Davis, B.F., Emmit, L. L., Farrar, H. G., Farquhar, D. L., Farquhar, T., Gammenthater, G.A, Gardner, E. M., Gambol, G., Gibson, B. M., Hardin, R. W., Hardin, G.W., Howard, G., Hanna, Joe, Hanna, Jack, Hinton, W. D., Hunthall, E. S..Hambrick, B. M., Manbrick, T. F., Hubbert, A. J., Hall, J. A., Haynes, C. B., Jackson, J. W., Kelley, T., Lowe J. B., Lindsey, T. D., Lindsey, W. M., Linn, W. T., Lackey, J., Morriss, L.B., Modgling, E., Mulkey, L. A., Milne, Harvey, McFarland, F. M., Mabry, R.E., McDowel, J., New, W. H., Nobles, N., Nabers, A. W., Norris, J. O., Nix, H., Olney, S., Pope, J. O., Pankey, E.S., Phillips, J. W., Russell, H., Russell. John, Rambolt, L. W., Rambolt, N.,Rambolt, J., Roberts, A. J., Reeves, S. J., Stayton, W. T., Smith, W. A. Shelley, T, H., Shelley, E., Snow, P. G., Shilling, C. C., Turner, T. A., Williams, A. J., Williams, Wm., Williams, J. D. Whitehead, James, Wood, C. P., Wood. Wm., Wood, J., Willis, S., Watson, J. S,. Rank, J. E., Ragsdale, R. A., Wilson, N. D.
James E. Rank, the father of Mason is said to have played a prominent part in the organization of the above company. It is quite likely that there are a few errors in copying these names from the original roll, for instance the one given as G. Gambol is supposed to be Geo. Gamel and the three Rambolts should be Rainbolts. These men were from the counties of McCulloch, Mason, San Saba, Llano, Burnet and possibly one or two from Blanco. A few of them had formerly been soldiers in the U. S. Army. Practically all were well known and respected and have descendants living today. The company's primary purpose seems to have been to guard the frontier against the Indians but most of the above company finally became a part of the Confederate Army and were sent to Harrisburg, Texas. After they left, troops of "Minute Men" were organized for protection against the Indians and lawless element. Two of these were Lieut. Decator Bartons Company and Capt. Dan Wills Company.
It seems pretty well established that there were a few settlers in the vicinity of Camp San Saba before the "rangers" came. Hugh Allen is said to have had a log house there in the 50's as did James A. Williams. These were both on Katemcy Creek. And by the way, the mention of this name brings up questions. Some old people, and at least one old writer calls it Tecumseh Creek, and there is known to have been a Comanche chief by the name of Catumseh. However, the old Fisher and Miller map published in 1855 has it Katemsey's Creek, and the post office on it is Katemcy.
Wm. R. Turner and his family moved to the Hugh Allen place on Feb.12, 1861, according to a member of the family. The Vanderveer family settled about three miles east of Camp San Saba in 1862. W. F. Middleton.Henry Nix, W. A. Pope, a family named Hindslay, and possibly a few others lived in Camp San Saba during the Civil War. A number of families seem to have moved into the county about 1862, there was quite a settlement on Lost Creek a few miles east of Camp San Saba. These early settlers lived in log or picket houses, some with puncheon floors, and some with flagstone floors. Wm. R. Turner mentioned above was the first to build a stonehouse. This residence was quite large, and, having several children, his home must have been the social center of the time. The old home is still standing and is used by Monroe Fleming and his family as their residence. The front has been modernized by Mr Fleming but the back part, the old store house, spring house and barn have not been altered. The flagstone floor of the old Allen cabin can still be seen in the yard.
Dancing must have been the principal social pastime as most all of the "old timers" speak of the many sets they have danced to the fiddling of Van Buren and of Bob Flippen. While there a race track was built west of the camp, and "Shorty" Brown, Paddy Fields and Bob Caveness are mentioned as having played prominent parts in these early horse races. At least one killing is known to have occurred over a horse race on this track and the victim is buried under the old burial oak near the old camp site. There is also several other people buried under the same tree. Bob Caveness seems to have been quite an athlete and it is said that he was never beaten in a broad jump. The only serious contender was an Indian who came within six inches of equaling his mark. As this purports to be a true story the number of feet he is said to have jumped will not be given.
Judge Woodall is said to have taught school in Camp San Saba at a very early day, as did a Miss Moss and Miss Allen.
Camp meetings were held in the early days of Rev. Moorehead, Parson A. J. Potter, Rev. Stewart, Rev. Lyons and others. Probably the most noted of these is Rev. A. J. Potter, the story of whose life is running in the Frontier Times at this writing.
A Masonic lodge was organized at or near Camp San Saba in 1864 thought to have been principally among the members of the "ranger" camp. This lodge later became McCulloch Lodge No. 273 A. F. & A. M., and was moved to Mason, Texas, and the Masonic Lodge at that place still retains the same name and number.
The first known merchant establishment was that of Col. T. A. Burns,established in a picket building in 1866. Col. Burns is, or was a short time ago, hale and hearty at 100 years of age, and now lives at Burkett, Coleman county, Texas. A man named Sanders is said to have purchased the business from Col. Burns and at, or near the same time, a store was opened by a Mr. Ward of San Antonio, and is referred to as "Z Vanressler Ward." He seems to have been quite a character and the mention of his name will bring a smile or grin from anyone who remembers him. The only stone store building was built by Charlie Smith and later sold to the Masonic Lodge.The lodge still uses the second story as a meeting place but the lower story has been vacant for a number of years.
Just after the Civil War quite a number of people moved into the country up and down the river and started cattle ranches. Among these were the Staytons, Watsons, Cavins, Mrs. Eubanks. Popes, Presslars, and Gargers. But most of them were compelled to abandon their holdings on account of the Indians. The Indians are said to have been so bad that they came practically every full moon and raided, stealing horses and cattle. For several years hey raided constantly. They were a very common sight in the late 60's.
The most commonly recounted Indian killings are those of Jim Hudson, who was killed in the Appleton pasture, about two miles west of and a little south of the Otte place, while moving timbers to build cattle pens. Another is that of Smith and Ruff. This occurred when a party from the neighborhood went to where the low water now is—mouth of Hudson Creek—to talk with some other men about a cattle deal of some sort. The party ran into the Indians thinking they were the men they had come to meet before they realized that they were Indians. All made a dash to get away, but in some way the horse of Smith got away from him and he was shot in the back while crossing the river. His body was buried under the old oak tree and a marble slab marks his resting place. It is said that Ruf was also killed at the same time and that the river got on a big rise that night and washed his body a mile or so down the river where it was discovered several days later. His body was buried where it was found, a short distance below the "FlatRock" crossing.
Most of the incidents mentioned in this article are thought to have occurred prior to 1870. The writer will not attempt to treat of the happenings of a later date at this time, other than to say that Camp San Saba was the largest town and principal settlement in McCulloch county until after the organization of the county and establishment of Brady as the county seat in 1876. Not long after this it began to decline. However, it is still "on the map" and there are a number of modern homes there, besides the church, schoolhouse and Masonic Lodge. The post office has been moved over on the highway, a few hundred yards west of the old town. It is well worth one's time to turn off the highway and visit the principal points of interest, which are several artesian wells, the Lowry Bluffs, the old Turner home, Masonic Hall and the old burial oak in the Brooks field, where the "ranger" camp was located. Good fishing may be had in the river nearby, and there is a modern tourist camp and swimming pool on the exact site of the old Hardee crossing.