"Seco" Smith, Bandera County Pioneer - By J. Marvin Hunter
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, July, 1926]
Some years ago, when I was gathering and compiling material for the "Pioneer History of Bandera County," I spent a very delightful afternoon with William Densley (Seco) Smith, at his home near Medina, Texas. Mr. Smith is now 90 years old, and although he has been seriously ill during the past year, he is again able to be about and gives promise of living many years yet. His mind is clear, and he has a ready recollection of events that happened in the early days on the frontier, and he related many interesting things that transpired in those early times. Portions of the sketch given below were used in the "Pioneer History of Bandera County," published by the writer in 1922. It was away back in 1848 that his father, Robert M. Smith, started to Texas, the land of promise, but when the family reached Memphis, Tennessee, on their journey to the Lone Star State, they found the Mississippi river too high to cross, so they went to Tishomingo county and rented a small farm, where they remained about a year. While they were on this farm there came along one day some men who were members of the Fremont Expedition just returning home from, California. They camped near the Smith home, and gave such glowing reports of the discovery of gold in California that everybody became interested. But I will allow Mr. Smith to tell the story:
"When father talked to these men and learned that they were on their way home to get their families and take them to California he made up his mind to accompany them to the Golden State, and all agreed to meet at Council Bluff Ferry, on the Missouri river, the following March. When the time arrived we were right there and joined the emmigrant train headed for California. We followed the old Fremont trail to Salt Lake City, Utah, where we took the Lower Route into California, arriving at the Santa Ana river about where San Bernardino now stands. Here we stopped and father established a ranch, which he sold out after a time and we moved to near Los Angeles. He remained in California five years, and further decided to remove to Texas, via Ft. Yuma, Arizona, and El Paso. To make this trip he engaged some men to accompany us, but they were a tough lot and plotted to get us out on the desert, steal our stock and leave us stranded. There was an orphan boy in our party who overheard the plot and informed us of it, and of course we were on the alert for the first indication of crookedness. It came while we were encamped in the vicinity of Ft. Yuma, when the ringleader got drunk and started to raise trouble. I was well-armed and, though just a boy, I promptly covered the leader and we forced them to take their belongings and clear out. There were twelve men in the outfit that left us. They went on ahead some distance and were attacked by Indians, one man being wounded in the fight. The redskins got their stock and they had to return to Ft. Yuma. We made it to El Paso without mishap, and found that place to be only a small village with one store. Here we tarried for a few days, then resumed our journey and reached San Antonio June 26, 1856, camping at the San Pedro Springs, then on the outskirts of the town. Later we moved out to the Olmos, six miles distant, where we remained a short time. While we were here the Indians stole some of our horses and mules. I joined a party headed by John Jones, father of Andy Jones who now lives near Bandera, and we followed the Indians to near the head of the Medina river, where the trail led through a large plum thicket, and the fruit almost covered the ground where the ripe plums had fallen off. Here we lost the trail, which had been completely obliterated by bear tracks. All the bears in the country must have been there eating those plums. We had to give up the chase and returned home.
"Father bought a small place from A.D. Jones, moved to it, and remained there over 45 years, or a until his death, which occurred when he was 89 years old. I was married in 1857 to Miss Amanda Coker of San Antonio. Three children, two girls and one boy, were born to us. These two girls, Frances and Josephine married Joe and Frank Moffett. Frances lives on the Frio, Josephine died recently near Medina, and my son, William A. Smith, lives at Douglas, Arizona. My wife died in 1863.
"In 1867 I was married to Miss Julia A. Long, the daughter of S. A. Long, a San Jacinto veteran who lived on the Hondo. Of this union there were seven children, four boys and three girls: R.S. Smith of Medina, J. D. Smith of Poteet, Frank M. Smith and A. E. Smith of San Antonio, Mrs. Mary Mayfield of Medina, Mrs. Rosa Stevens of Bandera, and Mrs. Laura Hand. In 1873 my second wife died.
"In 1898 I was married to my present wife, who was Miss Elizabeth T. Akin, the daughter of J. T. Akin, an early settler of Bandera county. Five children have been born to us, two boys and three girls: Mrs. Esther Skinner of Port Arthur, Miss Beulah Smith, Austin Milam Smith, Sidney Raymond Smith, and Miss Valentine Smith, under the parental roof.
"I am the father of fifteen children, fourteen living, and filling places of usefulness in this world. One of my sons, Sam Smith, was sheriff of Bandera county several years.
In 1860 I located on the Seco, about forty miles from the town of Bandera, and that is how people came to call me "Seco" Smith. There were three different Smiths in that region. W. L. Smith lived on the Frio; he was known as "Frio" Smith. Rube Smith lived on the Hondo; he was called "Hondo" Smith. I lived on the Seco, and ever since I went there people have called me "Seco" Smith. These are all Spanish names. In that language, “frio" means cold, "hondo" means deep, and "seco" means dry. I do not know which is most distressing, to be cold, deep or dry. However, the nickname has stuck to me and I have had to carry it.
"While I lived on the Seco my nearest neighbors were Ben Ragland and Squire Boone. I remember when the Indians killed Berry Buckclew, and many other tragedies that occurred in that region. In 1862 the Indians killed old man Schreiver three miles below my place. In company with Dr. Schoffhausen, Schreiver was out stock hunting when attacked. Dr. Schoffhausen disappeared and it is supposed that the Indians killed him too, but his body was never found, although diligent search was made for it. The Indians also killed my wife's brother, Sam Long, over on the Blanco in 1862. His brother, Andy Long, outran the Indians and got away. After he was shot with several arrows, Sam made his way to his father's home, and died as soon as he got there. Julia Long, who afterwards became my wife, had been to the post office and was returning home when the Indians attacked her brothers, and when she saw what was taking place she started to run for home, but was overtaken by the Indians, jerked from her horse, and as she fell one of the Indians grasped her by the hair and with his knife cut off a handful, no doubt trying to scalp her. Evidently fearing pursuit the Indians were in a hurry to escape, and this fact probably saved her life. She made her way home, not seriously hurt, but very badly frightened. The same year the Indians killed old man Sanders of Uvalde, between the Frio and Leona rivers. I remember the attack that was made on the Kincheloe home, when Mrs. Bowlin was killed and Mrs. Kincheloe was fearfully wounded.
"On another raid the Indians killed Captain Robertson and Henry Adams, while these two men were in camp, and ate their hearts. They killed Dud Richardson on the Frio, and scalped a little girl alive. This same band of Indians killed Mr. and Mrs. Stringfield, and carried their little boy, Tommy Stringfield off into captivity. The Indians came on up the country and divided into two large parties. "Big Foot" Wallace, with a party of men, followed one of the bands which went out on the divide between the Sabinal and the Medina rivers. The Indians discovered their pursuers and laid an ambush for them. They tied a fine mare on the side of a mountain for a decoy and when some of the rangers, over the protest of Big Foot Wallace, went to get the mare, the Indians fired on them and wounded Bill Davenport in the thigh. Wallace ordered his men to dismount and prepare for a fight. Some of the men then flanked the Indians on both sides and ran them out, killing some of the Indians and capturing a big herd of horses which had been stolen down in Atascosa and Medina counties.
"The other band of Indians had gone up the Sabinal, and I, in company with several men, took their trail and followed them to the head of Devil's River, out near where Sonora is now located. There were about 100 Indians in this band, and they made a very plain trail. A settlement fort had been constructed on the Sabinal for the protection of the few settlers there, and a company of rangers from Washington county, under command of Captain Meyers, was encamped about a mile below this fort at this time. We sent a runner to the ranger camp for assistance to help in chasing these Indians and Captain Meyers sent 25 men to join us. In the party of rangers were two men from San Antonio, Sam Maverick and a young man named Simpson. As soon as the rangers joined us we pushed forward on the trail and followed it until sundown, then camped where the trail went up the divide between the Sabinal and Guadalupe rivers. Early the next morning we were again in the saddle and going forward as fast as possible, but our progress was hindered by the roughness of the divide which was covered with honeycomb rocks, which made travel very slow for the horses of our friends that had been used to a flat, level country. These horses were clumsy and many of them soon became lame. We traveled until late that night when we reached Paint Creek, a tributary to the South Llano river. Next morning the Washington county fellows were sick of the chase and all turned back, except two—Sam Maverick and Simpson. Five or six of our men decided to turn back also, leaving 26 of us to follow on after the Indians. We were determined to overtake those redskins if possible and try to annihilate them, and resumed our chase. But the next day twelve more of our party turned back, and that left fourteen to continue on the trail of 100 Indians. The second night after they left us we camped about a mile above old Fort Territt, our horses were pretty well fagged out, our men all tired from steady riding, and were about out of grub. We did not know it at the moment but the night we camped here, the Indians were camped just about a mile further on. We found their camping place the next morning after we resumed the chase. They had butchered and barbecued a horse, and used the paunch to carry a supply of water in. We discovered from their preparations that they intended making a long dry run across that semi-arid region, but we hoped to overtake them in a few hours and force them to fight. Two or three of our horses gave out and our men took turns walking. We followed the trail all that day and called a halt and sized up the situation. We were many miles from water, out of grub, hungry and worn out; our horses were about exhausted, so we decided to turn back. While we were resting here John Ware went out and killed an antelope. We cut it up in chunks and started back to water, about thirty miles, which we reached the next morning at daylight. Here we cooked that meat and ate it without salt or bread. We rested here awhile, and then went back to Fort Territt, and camped. We succeeded in killing several deer and turkeys, roasted a great quantity of the meat, and resumed our homeward journey. The second day on our return we had eaten all our meat and were again a hungry bunch. That night we made a dry camp, and one of the men killed an old turkey gobbler, and fourteen hungry men ate him in a very little while. When we got back to the settlement fort we found well loaded tables waiting for us, and we consumed everything in sight. That Washington county bunch got lost when they started back, and beat us in only a few hours, with their clothes torn and their horses in bad shape.
"I think people sometimes have a premonition of death. I know of one case where such a thing happened. Robe Smith was a cowman, but not a kinsman of mine. He lived on the Hondo. We went down on the San Miguel one time to get some cattle, and while we were there Rube received word that members of his family were very sick. He seemed greatly worried about it and said if he could get one man to go with him he would pull out for home, about sixty miles. I told him I would go with him, and we immediately started and traveled all night, reaching his home on the Hondo early the next morning. He talked about Indians killing him all the way and at other times whenever he would be with me he expressed his dread. It seemed to prey upon his mind. He was a brave man, but no matter what the conversation was about, he invariably brought up the subject of Indians killing him some day. Sure enough, sometime afterward he was killed by Indians on the divide between the Tehuacana and the Hondo,
"Big Foot” Wallace was one of the best men I ever knew. He was modest and retiring in disposition, but a terror when aroused. I met him in San Antonio in 1856. He had tanked up and started to his location on the Chicon, and while riding along he dropped his rifle and broke the stock off. He came back to San Antonio to get fixed, and I met him at this time. Wallace told me that a belly full of booze and a broken gun was a poor combination to take out into an Indian country. How did he get his name? I will tell you: Colonel Duran was a member of Jack Hays' company of rangers, and he told me that once, when they were camped at San Pedro Springs, in 1845, Hays gave twelve or fifteen of his men permission to go up on the Guadalupe and hunt and scout for awhile as things had been quiet along the border for some time. These men, with Wallace in the crowd, went above New Braunfels, had a fine time, saw no Indian sign, and thinking there was no danger, they relaxed their vigilance one night, with the result that the Indians came while they slept and drove off all their horses. They were forty miles from San Antonio, and a foot, with all of their camp equipage and saddles. They built a raft of logs loaded their stuff on it. and started down the river. Wallace and another man got on the raft to steer it, while the other men walked along the bank of the stream and kept in hailing distance. Wallace pulled off his shoes and placed them on top of the blankets and saddles on the raft, and while floating through a swift, deep channel the raft was overturned and everything on it went to the bottom and was lost, except Wallace and his companion who swam out. They could not recover a thing for the current had washed it all down. Wallace joined the party on the bank and walked until his feet became some and his friends had to take turns in carrying him. Finally they found a bunch of wild cattle and shot a yearling. They cooked the meat and used the hide to make some mocassins for Wallace and he was enabled to get along very well. When the party reached New Braunfels the German citizens curiously eyed Wallace's feet and called him "Gross Fos" (Big Foot), and the name was taken up by his companions, and ever afterwards stuck to him. Big Foot Wallace once owned a grant of land in Bandera county, above Medina, and Wallace Creek was named for him, as was also the town of Big Foot in Frio county. He died January 7, 1899, in his 83rd year, and his remains now rest in the State Cemetery at Austin.
"I located on Wallace Creek, in Bandera county, in 1878, and remained there about three years, then bought 640 acres on Benton's Creek from B. F. Bellows. Later I sold this land and moved to Medina, where I have a nice farm, and am spending the evening of my life in quiet retirement. Most of my old comrades have passed over the borderland of time. The days of long ago seem but yesterday when I recall their faces and the happy times we had together."
This is one of the excellent, first-hand stories included in our new e-book, "The History of Bandera County, Texas", a collection of articles from the 1923-1954 publication of J. Marvin Hunter's Frontier Times Magazine.
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