Uncle Ben Dragoo Has Colorful History - E. V. S., in Junction Eagle
[From J. Marvin Hunter’s Frontier Times Magazine, February, 1928]
THE SUBJECT of this sketch is Benjamin Crawford Dragoo who was born in Washington County, Illinois, December 9, 1835. He came with his parents to Texas when he was three years old. His father first settled on Blossom Prairie in Red River county and a year later moved to what is now Titus County, four miles from where Mount Pleasant now stands. Shortly after locating at this place, the Indians became so troublesome that the father moved his family to Fort Sherman where the people had erected a block house and palisades for protection.
Mr. Dragoo says that when a small boy, he often played with Cynthia Ann Parker and lived only eight miles away when the Indians attacked the Fort, murdering the Parker family and carrying Cynthia Ann into captivity.
Relating some of the experiences which he underwent as a Ranger, Mr Dragoo says:
"In 1855 I joined John R. Baylor's company of rangers. While stationed at Cottonwood Creek, our scouts brought in word that they had discovered a large body of Indians passing up the country with a herd of horses. About 40 of us under Captains Baylor, Dalrymple and Ross, were soon in the saddle and we were not long finding the Indians' trail. The Indians must have known that the rangers were in the country for they traveled for dear life. We followed them day and night until we overtook them in some very brushy country and when we charged every red skin scoundrel took to the brush and got away. We captured about all the horses, some 60 head, which we took back to Belknap and delivered to their lawful owners.
"After my enlistment period expired, I returned to my home, which was six miles east of Waco village, as it was called in those days. In a short time Captain Sull Ross came to see me. He was organizing a company to chastise the Comanches, who had been committing murders and depredations along the frontier, and he told me that he needed me and that I must join his company. I told him that I was ready to start any day and that my younger brother, Jim Dragoo would also join his company. The company went from Waco to a point where Fort Griffin was afterwards built. F. M. Cassidy, who now lives at Llano, was in our company. While in camp at the point mentioned, word was brought that the Indians had made a raid in Parker County and were on their way out. They were driving out about 75 head of horses and had killed several people. They had taken captive two girls and a boy. The girls were about grown, and the boy was 8 or 9 years old. After being kept all night and being fiendishly outraged by these inhuman monsters, one of the girls was murdered; the other girl was subjected to the same brutality, only she was not killed. As if the savages wanted the settlers to know of the atrocities they were capable of inflicting, they stripped every vestige of clothing from this girl and turned her loose. She made her way back to the settlements, reaching a frontier cabin almost famished. She concealed herself in bushes near the spring and saw a man pass near once or twice, but her modesty overcame her extreme suffering and forbade her calling to him. At length a woman came to the spring for water and the girl called to her. This lady removed part of her underwear and clad in this, the girl was led to the house. Of the boy, whom the Indians had captured, we never heard more.
"When the news of this raid reached our camp, most of us were out on duty. I and seven others, under Lieutenant Callahan the gallant ranger for whom Callahan County was named, had been out on a nine-days chase and for seven days of this period we had been without practically any food. Orders soon came for us to take the trail and without taking time to change horses or to get a bite of grub, we lit out after those savages, with a man by the name of Gray and I in the lead as trailers. We soon struck the trail at the hay camp and pushed on until evening, when one of the boys killed a deer which we cut up into chunks and each man rode forward with one or more of these chunks tied on behind his saddle. When night came, we continued the pursuit until a late hour, when we halted in order to give our horses a brief rest and a chance to graze. We were not allowed to build a fire as the Indians would see the light. We had to eat our meat raw. After a few hours rest we hastened forward and kept up the chase for six days. The second evening out we halted on the banks of a creek where there were five or six large cottonwood trees. Here the Indians had camped and the signs showed that there was a large body of Indians. They had killed and barbecued a horse and the fires were yet smouldering. The grass in that vicinity had been eaten off by the buffalo and we had to cut branches from the Cottenwood trees for our worn out horses. The place had evidently been a battle ground. We found a number of skulls and other human bones which bore the appearance of having lain on the ground a long time. Old fragments of leather from saddles were picked up and I found the bit of what had once been a part of a fine Mexican bridle. The skulls were those of Indians or Mexicans, at least that was our conclusion.
Six days and nights, I might say, we followed this trail. The third day out we killed a buffalo and this we ate raw. On the sixth day, far up in the Pease River country, we saw a mot of small trees far ahead of us. This mot was on a high elevation, and I saw a bunch of men ride into the mot, we halted until the command came up and we reported our observations to Callahan."
With the utmost caution we continued our advance, bearing off to the left where Gray and I ascended an eminence from the summit of which we looked over into a valley and beheld a large body of Indians, well mounted and apparently lying in wait for us. All at once the Indians began pouring over the ridge west of us. There were at least 200 Indians. They gave some fiendish yells as they dashed toward us on freshly mounted horses, while only nine of us had horses that were not exhausted. Our chase was now at an end and instead of us being the pursuers, we were pursued for six days. In fact, it was the next thing to a running fight all the way back to Belknap. Lieutenant Callahan, one of the bravest of the brave, told us to keep close together and to never fire without orders. The Indians would charge us more or less each day, but would never come to close quarters. They would seek to ambush us and to block our way where the country was favorable, but would always scatter or give back when we crowded them. At night we had very little rest and no food and the last two days of our journey, our suffering from hunger and thirst became almost unbearable. Our horses were weak and our progress was very slow. The Indians knew all of this and if they had made a bold attack could have killed every one of us but they were too cowardly. In this condition we reached Fort Belknap, the place from whence we had started twelve days before, making in all twenty-one days in the saddle, and had, during this time, nothing to eat but raw venison and buffalo meat."
Uncle Ben Dragoo has lived a large portion of his life in Kimble County, living for many years in the Little Saline country, near London. He is truly one of Kimble's most noted pioneers. His wife died September 10, 1925. Her age was 78 years. She was buried at Christoval, Texas. At this writing Mr. Dragoo is residing with one of his daughters, Mrs Dan Gephardt, who lives in Kimble County near Yates. He has five sons and two daughters living in various parts of Texas.
Although Uncle Ben has passed his ninety-second year, he is yet rather active and he can vividly portray the scenes of Texas during an early day. To Uncle Ben and his kind, the State of Texas is extremely grateful, for because of their having pioneered for us, are we able to live in an age of civilization and the hardships we have are not nearly so great as those sturdy old veterans of early Texas. These old pioneers will soon have passed from this stage of action to a place where Indian wars and other struggles are unknown, but after they have passed away, a permanent monument in memory of them shall be stamped indelibly, of Texas people and also upon the minds of the posterity of Texas so long as Texas shall continue to stand.