MASSACRE OF THE KHENEN FAMILY IN MONTAGUE CO, TX
From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, May, 1925
Written in 1911 by Judge I. D. Ferguson, Denton, Texas - a witness to the events
In the year 1867 nearly all the people who lived in Montague county, Texas, were forced to leave their homes and go east on account of Indian depredations. A few of the settlers concluded to remain and take care of the' property which they had 'accumulated. Among the number who stayed was the family of Stephen Roberts and a German by the name of Khenen and his family. Roberts lived about four miles west of where the town of Forestburg is now located, and his family consisted of himself and about ten or twelve boys. He prepared himself for the danger by building around his house and barn a fortification about twenty feet high; out of the post oak logs set in the ground like pickets. He and his boys were well armed and good shots with either rifle or pistol. About 100 yards from his house, in a deep gorge, was a spring of water that was never known to go dry, and this spring furnished water for his family and stock, and had also been a watering place for the Indians on their way to the settlements for a time far beyond the memory man.
The Indians made frequent raids into settlements to steal horses and usually selected this route, and came at a time when the moon would go down about midnight in order to give them moonlight to gather up the horses belonging to the settlers and when they had stolen as many as they wanted they would start back to the Indian territory, having the dark part of the night to go out so they would not be seen by the settlers on the border.
Mr. Khenen, the German farmer above named, had in an early day left the Fatherland to come to the new world and cast his lot among those people in Montague county, and selected his home a half mile south of Stephen Roberts. His family consisted of himself, a wife and three small children. Mrs. Paschall, a widow with two small children, lived with the Khenen family. Mr. Khenen had erected his home of post oak logs, a small rude hut covered with boards. Being a new country, the settlers had to construct their doors and window shutters out of boards, as lumber, window sash and glass could not be had. It becomes necessary that this house of Khenen's should be fully described: It was about 14x16 feet square, one door on the south side, and a window on the north side; the window shutter had been hung with rawhide hinges, and by long use it was broken off and the window was closed by propping up the shutter with a fence rail. A fireplace was in the east end of the building. This description will aid the reader to meditate upon the facts to be related hereafter.
These were poor people; they bad but little, but what they had had been amassed by honest toil by the efforts of the husband and wife. With the help of his wife, Mr. Khenen had cleared a small farm, enough to make their bread, and had gathered about him 15 or 20 head of hogs, six or eight cows, and two yoke of oxen to work his wagon. Mrs. Khenen by hard work made the clothes for the family. During the day the buzz of the spinning wheel and clank of the loom could be heard which told the story that Mrs. Khenen was spinning the thread and Mrs. Paschall was weaving it into cloth by which the family was clothed. This was the poor but happy family that had come to stay and hold the outpost until civilization could come to their relief.
Mr. Khenen had raised his crop and gathered it in, and made preparations to go to Arkansas after a load of aprileh to sell to get money to supply his family with shoes for the coming winter, and such other necessities that could not be raised at home. Apples, at that time, were not raised in Texas and could be had at a very high price. He left home during the last days of September, 1867, with his wagon and two yoke of cattle as his team, and expected to return about the first of November. On the morning of his departure he kissed his wife and three little girls goodbye, cracked his whip and moved out, and as he drove around the field, he looked back and saw his wife and little ones wave their hands to him. He did not know that he had kissed his wife and children for the last time, nor did he know that the little childish voices that sounded in his ear, "Goodbye, papa" had spoken: to him for the last time. The smiling faces of his dear wife and children was a sweet picture never to be seen again by him except upon the canvas of memory. The anticipation of the home return to meet his wife and tell her the incidents of the trip and to gather his children on his knees and distribute to each with joy the presents brought home was never realized. The location and description of the little home has been told and how the husband and father had left, and what he had left behind him, but is sad to tell the awfulness that confronted him on his return.
It was in the month of October, 1867, when the moon was shining, and at a time when it went down about midnight, that a band of 20 or 30 Indians stole down into the northwest portion of Denton county and gathered up a large herd of horses and started with their stolen property for the Indian Territory. No one knew the Indians were in except the family of Robert Green, who lived about 300 yards from the residence of James Chisum, at which place the writer was staying that night.
Just at daylight Mrs. Green came up to Mr. Chisum's and told us to get up, that the Indians were in and had stolen their horses. The writer, before going to bed that night, had tied his hose to. Mr. Chisum's gate post. On stepping out of the house I looked for my horse, but he was gone. The tie rope had been cut; and a poor, sore-backed, run down pony was standing at the gate, wet with sweat and so stiff from travel that it could hardly move. The neighborhood was soon notified and about 40 men took the trail, which led north up Clear Creek for about 10 miles, then turned west of north in the direction of Spring Station, a point on the old California stage road at the eastern edge of the upper cross timbers, which was two and one-half miles from the Khenen place. It was about 18 miles to Spring Station, and it took so much time to gather the crowd and find the trail, it was about 3 o'clock p. m. when, we reached Spring Station. While resting our horses at this point, the probability of overtaking the Indians was fully discussed, and by a large majority of the the crowd it was decided that it was useless to follow them any further, considering our mounts and the start the Indiana had of us, and all decided to return home except William McConnell, Brad Sanders, Tom Sanders and the writer. We each sided to go on and take chances of getting reinforcements up in Montague county, either from the Roberts family or the McDonalds, who lived still further west in the cross timbers. We kept the trail until it got too dark to follow it. By this time we had gone beyond Roberts and Khenen places, and we stopped and stayed all night, and during the night we decided when daylight came to go to the Roberts place and get provisions and reinforcements. It was about six miles back to this place and we arrived there after sunrise. Rufus Roberts came out to the gate and admitted us and said: "Ride in quick, boys. The Indians have killed Mrs. Paschall and all her children except one, and also Mrs. Khenen and her children. Mrs. Khenen is not dead yet, but is shot through in three places and scalped alive. One of her little girls is not dead yet. Mrs. Paschall's youngest child is all that escaped unhurt, it was sleeping on a trundle bed which was pushed under the large bed, and they failed to find it and it escaped."
We were horrified by his words and asked when they did this, and he said "Last night about midnight. We decided to go to the mill today, and late yesterday evening we loaded the wagon with grain so that we could get an early start this morning; so early this morning I got up and saddled my horse and put on my pistols to go and drive up the steers that I intended to work to the wagon; I heard the ox bell down south of Khenen's field and started after them, and when I got in about 75 yards of Khenen's house, I noticed that the window shutter on the north side of the cabin was down; I saw someone come to the window and stick their head out. I took it to be Mrs. Khenen; she looked like she had on her head a bright red hood; I took no further notice of the party and went on down the road till I passed the house and got to the southeast corner of their garden, there to my surprise I found the road and ground covered with feathers. I knew what it meant. The Indians had ripped open the bed and pillow ticks and emptied them out to get the cloth. The first thought that flashed through my mind was the party who stuck their head out the window was an Indian and that they were still there plundering the house. I drew my pistol and whirled my horse and dashed up to the house; the fence was down, and I rode into the yard just south of the gate. Just as I appeared in front, Mrs. Khenen came to the door; her head and face were one mass of blood; and the blood running down all over her clothes. She was scalped alive! With a gasping and faint voice, she said "they are all gone now—O! my poor little children, they are all dead. I am the only one left alive. God bless you, you have come to help me." She fainted and sank down on the floor, I ran to the well and got some water and wet her face and she revived; I then told her I would run home and get help; I jumped on my horse and ran home and got father and the other boys and we unloaded the wagon and harnessed up the horses and went dawn and brought them all up and they are here now in the house."
Enjoying this story?
We all lifted our hands and took a vow that we would never spare the life of an Indian that should fall into our hands. We have not all been able to keep that vow; Creed Roberts afterward had the opportunity, and killed an Indian; and his father one morning found two Indians at the spring, and shot one dead, but the other one escaped. But all this did not compensate for the lives of those innocent women and children. By the time Rufus Roberts was through telling his story, we had put up our horses; we then went to the house and ate breakfast, and then walked out of the dining room into the room where the dead lay. With uncovered heads, we lifted the sheet and looked at the little innocent faces that once beamed with smiles of childish joy— there were no smiles there—they were cold in death; those little hands that waved good-bye to papa, were still and motionless, and cold as ice; they were little flower-buds plucked from the garden of life by a merciless and savage foe. Did God design that little innocent children should bleed and die to concentrate the soil to make homes for others? Had those little children done anything to deserve death? All such thoughts passed through my mind as I stood there looking at those little pale faces stained with blood. A sick and faintly feeling came over me as I stood there, and I turned away and walked with the other boys through the hall and into the room where Mrs. Khenen lay. The doctor had come and dressed her wounds and had given her morphine and she revived from her shock and was feeling better. She talked freely with us, and gave the particulars of the tragedy..
When we went into the room Mrs. Khenen knew us all and reached out her hand to us and said "You are brave boys, but you have come too late to save me and my children; all you can do now is to avenge our death." We told her we would do so, and told her the vow we had taken. She then related to us her story. She said: "I had been hard at work all day yesterday spinning thread to finish a piece of cloth that Mrs. Paschall had in the loom, and worked until after sundown before I stopped. I sent the little girl out to drive up the milk cows; by the time she got the cows it was dark, and I milked the cows and turned the calves out, went to the house and strained the milk; by this time Mrs. Paschall had supper ready and we all sat down and ate supper. Mrs. Paschall had been weaving all day and was very tired; she went to bed early. I had a pair of socks that I was knitting for Mr. Khenen, as I was expecting him home in a few days. The children after romping and playing until nine o 'clock also went to bed leaving me alone. The night was cool and I had a fire and sat there and worked until near midnight before I finished. I felt uneasy, as it was near the time of the moon for the Indians to make a raid; the fire had burned low, and I had been listening to the clank-clank of Mr. Robert’s ox-bell as they browsed along the back of our field; my cows had laid down in the lot, and I could hear their heavy blows or breathing and the tinkle tinkle of the bell as they lay and chewed their cuds. The moon had gone down and it was extremely dark and that was about all the sounds to break the stillness of the night. I had just finished the pair of socks and stuck my knitting needles through the ball of yarn and put them up. It must have been midnight; the ox bell had ceased to sound at the back of the field, and the tinkle of the cowbell in the lot had also ceased, and the extreme darkness and the awful stillness of the night-seemed ominous of approaching danger. I attributed my feelings to nervousness. I commenced to shovel ashes on the fire to cover it up so it would keep till morning, and had just shoveled about three shovels when all at once with a terrible crash the old board window shutter that was propped up at the back of the house fell; it caused a shudder of fright to run over me. I looked and could see the sky through the open window; I thought it must have been the dogs that ran in the yard had rubbed against the rail and caused it to fall; and I returned to shoveling more ashes on the fire; and had just finished covering it when I heard a rustling noise at the window and looked and could see something bulky in the window outlined against the sky. Springing to my feet I screamed out `What was that' and whatever it was jumped down in the house with a heavy thud; I screamed with terror, but something struck me on the head and knocked me unconscious and I knew no more till I came to myself in the condition I am now in. I crawled to the window and pulled myself up and Iooked out to see if I could see anyone, and saw Rufus coming on his horse down the road. I tried to hallo to him, but I was too weak to make him hear me. He passed on but it was not long until he rode into the yard in front of the door with his pistol in his hand."
Mrs. Khenen stopped talking for a minute as if in prayer, and in a low voice said, “Oh if I could live to see my husband; My God have mercy upon us, for when he returns, we will all be gone."
This was the sad story told us by Mrs. Khenen. She lived twelve days before death relieved her of her suffering. Mr. Khenen did not return in time to see her before she died; and her prayer was not answered.
We all then got our horses and went down to the Khenen place and found the little house a poor of blood. The dishes had all been broken up in small pieces, every thread of cloth about the place had been taken off; the feathers in the pillows and bed ticks had been emptied out, the wind had scattered them over the ground and it looked like it was covered with snow. We found about seventy yards west of the house, where three horses had been tied to some trees and there we found the moccasin tracks of three Indians and trailed them up to the house and to the place where the window shutter fell. They were the spies that lurked in the rear to watch for possible pursuers and had committed this awful crime.
Such people as the Khenens led the way for the advancement of civilization and made it possible for others to come and find homes where they have grown rich and prosperous, and are now living in peace and luxury, and without a knowledge that beneath the soil where they live, lies sleeping remains of those brave pioneers without a written history or a stone to mark their graves.
20,000+ more pages of Texas history, written by those who lived it! Searchable flash drive or DVD here
Get 352 issues packed with stories like the one you just read