THE KILLING OF THE INDIAN CHIEF, IRON JACKET
W. D. Mathews, of Coleman County, Texas
(The experiences of W.D. Mathews, of Coleman County, Texas, were written by Captain H. A. Morse in the following article, which was published in the Pecan Valley News, Brownwood,
Texas, in 1899.)
In the year of 1858 before the Civil War, I entered the state service February 7, 1858, while Governor H. H. Runnels of Bowie county was governor, and Frank R. Lubbock of Houston, lieutenant governor. Our company left Austin and came to where Brownwood now stands, to guard against Indian raids and to protect the few settlers in this section from Indian depredations. We had our headquarters under a post oak tree which is still standing by the side of the road just below where the present jail now stands. We were encamped here March 15, 1858. There were no houses at that time where Brownwood now stands.
During the year I went with lieutenant Ed Burleson to San Antonio and brought back the supplies for the company. I met Capt. Ford's company here where Brownwood now stands. Our company was composed of eighty men. From here we went to the Clear Fork of the Brazos, where our headquarters remained for the balance of the six months, which was the length of our enlistment. On, or very near the first, day of May, 1858, Governor Runnels commissioned Nelson (who was later General Nelson of the Confederate Army) as lieutenant to raise twenty men in Cowell county for Ranger service. He also commissioned Frank Tankersley, who then lived up on the Clear Fork of the Brazos, as lieutenant to raise twenty more men. These forty men, so raised, joined with us. We left twenty of our old company at camp and started on a scout with one hundred men with Captain John S. (Rip) Ford in command. Captain William A. Potts was our second lieutenant, and Lieutenant Ed Burleson was our first lieutenant.
We were gone 35 days. During this time we found and fought the famous Indian chief, Iron Jacket, so named from the iron jacket he wore. A portion of the jacket can still be seen among the archives in the Capitol building at Austin.
We went from our camp at the Wichita Mountains on up to the staked plains and Panhandle of Texas, and on to the Canadian river where we found Iron Jacket with his band of three hundred and fifty warriors encamped. Our scout and guide, a "Kechii" Indian (which means traitor in Indian language) knew about where Iron Jacket was and piloted us to his camp. Iron Jacket had fully 350 warriors with him. You can tell the number of warriors a chief has by the number of wigwams—each wigwam represents a certain number of warriors and I am fully satisfied there were that many there.
After our scout. "Kechii" as we called him, had shown us the Indians, we surprised them and charged in on them between daylight and sun up. As we charged across the Canadian river many of our horses got bogged up in the quicksands but the boys jumped off and waded out, caught the horses as they came out and charged on with the others, though somewhat delayed by the quicksand trouble. We rushed in on them, killed 75 warriors and the balance ran away, leaving their entire camp together with their women and children of about 350 or 400 squaws and fully 500 children, in our possession. I never saw so many children at one time in all my life. The Indians were in winter quarters and had with them 350 horses they had stolen. We got back to our camp with all the horses.
The custom then was for all parties who had had horses stolen from them to come up and swear to their property, prove same and take it away.
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Tom Tatem, from either Coryell or Erath county, was killed in this fight and we lost a number of others. U. W. Paschall, was wounded several times with a lance in the arm and shoulder. We killed Iron Jacket and his leading chief among the first. The killing of their chiefs demoralized the Indian, very much and after fighting a while they soon stampeded and a running fight then kept up back and forth all day. Neither party wished to bring on the fight and would dash out and dare the other party to charge them. Just before night, we withdrew and came back to our pack of mules about twelve miles back on Elm Creek--I think that was the name.
Mr. William Drayton Mathews, now living (1899) near Trickham, Coleman county, is credited by most historians with having killed Iron Jacket in this fight. Mr. Mathews says this is a mistake. Although he had his gun ready loaded to do so and many of the boys saw him starting to take aim to shoot the elder, but jumping from his horse Mr. Mathews threw his bridle rein over his left arm and shoulder. Iron Jacket was now coming straight toward him and as he went to take aim Lieutenant Bill Pitts, now of Austin, made a remark that Mr. Mathews will remember to his dying day, which was, "Kill the s-of-a-b" referring to Iron Jacket. As Mr. Mathews threw up his gun his horse jerked and threw Mathews partly around to the left, and seeing another Indian chief who was second in command, Mr. Mathews fired and the Indian fell. Mr. John Bane, then of Seguin, and later a Colonel in the Confederate Army, but now dead, fired at the dead chief also. The iron jacket, from whence the chief's name was derived, fitted very much like a vest, the many different plates of iron being placed together something as shingles are placed on a house—No bullet from guns then made would have penetrated it, hence it was necessary to shoot him under the armpits, which was done and Iron jacket fell dead. Mr. Mathews does not remember the name of the man who killed him, but he was one of the twenty men raised in Erath, and Coryell counties by Lieutenant Nelson and joined the command. Right here Mr. Mathews saw something he never wishes to witness again. There were in his company two Tonkaway chiefs and about 18 Tonkaway Indians. These chiefs cut off the right arm and leg of both of these dead chiefs, boiled the flesh on the fire and ate the meat. Until then, he never saw them do this. They think this adds to bravery and Strength.
Continuing the narrative, Mr. Mathews said:
From here we went to Lampasas where we were discharged and went home, our term of service having expired. We were discharged August 5, 1858. In 1850 Capt. Ed Burleson from San Marcos, Hays county was appointed by governor Sam Houston to raise a company of 100 men for frontier service—for twelve months, if not sooner discharged. We served 9 months and were discharged at Austin. Col. James McCord now living at Coleman, was first Lieutenant and quartermaster; D. C. Burleson of Austin, was with us. Joe Carson of Blanco, a nephew of old Capt. Kit Carson, was second Lieutenant. Our headquarters during this time was on Home creek, in Coleman county, four miles from where I am now living.
During that year, 1860, we surprised a camp of Comanche Indians just about where Sweetwater now stands. The Comanches, as a general thing, were very brave and desperate fighters, but these seemed to be a band of thieving Indians, who were completely surprised and ran away. We got all their camping outfit, buffalo robes, and saddles. We only killed one Indian during the fight. These Indians were not strictly on the war path, but had on their war paint.
We found two images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, one of each made of some kind of hard clay and painted up in war paint. These would be readily recognised by anyone who has ever seen any of these images. The image of the Christ was about 12 inches high and that of the Virgin. Mary about ten inches. They, together with a section of the iron jacket were sent to Austin and were in the archives in the old capitol building. They should be there now, unless destroyed when the capitol building was burned.
Continuing the review of his experiences in the ranger service before the war, Mr. W. D. Mathews of Trickham related the following incident of fights with the Indians.
In 1861 I joined Henry F. McCullough's regiment, and became a member of the company headed by W. A. or Bill Pitts of Austin, stationed at Colorado post. We went on with about 50 men to fight the Indian chief Buffalo Hump, as he went to Mexico on his horse stealing expedition. We intercepted him on the Colorado river about 40 miles above where Colorado City now stands. We had a fight with his advanced guard in the evening, losing man for man - lost six and killed six. Poor Indian fighting, Zach Rugg, Bob Rugg, Andy McCarty and myself. During the fight we got after some Indians and cut their chief off from the main body. He was a young chief. We ran him about four miles and saw that he had been badly wounded, his right arm being completely broken and banging helplessly by his side. He clung to his Horse by lying flat on his back with his good arm around the animals neck. In shooting at him as he ran, we killed his horse.
When the animal fell, the Indian crawled off into a little alum thicket about 20 feet square. We went near him and talked to him in Spanish, but he refused to surrender. Andy McCarthy then got down off his horse and walked up in the thicket. The Indian got up, came out and met him. McCarthy shot three or four times with his six shooter as he advanced toward him. McCarthy then grabbed him by the throat and beat him over the head with his six shooter. The Indian reached with his left hand and secured an Indian arrow that had been shot into McCarthy's horse and drove this into McCarthy's heart and killed him. They both fell together. We pulled them apart in their death grips. We dug a grave with our butcher knives in the sand right on the spot and buried McCarthy there, first wrapping him up in his blanket. We placed a big stone on his grave to keep the wolves from digging up his body. We scalped the chief and left him there, and got back that night to our camp on the Concho river.
Next morning the Indians, though ten to one, were afraid to fight us, but would dart out at us on the open ground trying to draw us into a fight, their mode of warfare being much different from that of the whites. We did not propose to be drawn into a trap and Buffalo Hump, with his Indians, went on to old Mexico, leaving about sundown. We returned to camp at Fort Chadbourne. The Indians were gone about six weeks. Major Ed Burleson, went to intercept them on their return, but while he could see them, could not catch up with them and have a fight. The Indians traveled both day and night. They had about 2,000 stolen horses, as near as we could judge from the trail. It was the custom of the Indians every year to go to old Mexico in the spring and steal horses.