Bowie’s Battle With Indians at Calf Creek

Portrait of Jim Bowie (the only known oil pain...

Portrait of Jim Bowie (the only known oil painting portrait painted from life) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Bowie and ten others fought more than 150 Caddo and Lipan Indians along Calf Creek on November 21, 1831.  A historical marker remains there in McCulloch County, Texas today. The following letter about that battle was written by James Bowie and published in J. C. F. Kyger’s  “Texas Gems”  ISO-154.

[This letter was found in the Archives of Bexar.  Its author, as everyone knows, fell with Crockett and Travis at the Alamo, in San Antonio, in 18S6.  The letter shows him to have been a brave man – cool in time of conflict, and equal to the emergency of the terrible
occasion.  It, moreover, develops the fact that he could wield the pen very becomingly, also that he was a citizen of Texas some years before the revolution.

Account of an Indian Fight

James Bowie

“To the Political Chief of Bexar:

Commanches as appeared in 1830s. Lino Sánchez ...

Commanches as appeared in 1830s. Lino Sánchez y Tapia (1830s) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Agreeably to your Lordship’s request, I have the honor to report to you the result of my expedition from San Antonio to San Saba.  Information received through different channels in relation to that section of the country, formerly occupied by Mexican citizens, and
now in the hands of several hostile Indians, induced me to get up that expedition, expecting that some benefit might result therefrom both to the community and to myself.  But, as my intentions were known to and approved by your Lordship, I deem it useless to enter
into these particulars.  I left this city on the second of November last, in the company with my brother, Reazin Bowie, eight men and a boy.  Wishing, with due care, to examine the nature of the country my progress was quite slow.  On the 19th we met two Comanches and one Mexican captive (the last acting as an interpreter) at about seven miles northwest of Llano river on the road known as “de la Bandera.” The Indians, after having asked several questions in regard to the feelings of the Mexicans toward the Comanches, and receiving an assurance on my part that they were kindly disposed toward ail peaceable Indians, told me that their friends were driving to San Antonio several horses that had been stolen at Goliad.  I promised them that they would be protected, and they continued on their way to the city to deliver the said horses to their proper owners or to the civil authority.  On the following day, at sunrise, we were overtaken by the captive, who informed us that 124 Tahuacanoes were on our trail, and at the same time showing us the medal this year by his captain from the authority of this city, which was sent to us to prove that the messenger was reliable.  We were then apprised that the Tahuacanoes had the day before visited the campaign ground of the Comanches, and told them that they were following us to kill us at any cost.  Ysayune, (such was the name of the Comanche captain,) having become informed of the determination of the savages respecting us, tried first to induce them to desist from the prosecution of their intention, insisting that they should not take our lives, and telling them he would “be mad” with them if they went to attack us, but they separated dissatisfied with each other.  Ysayune sent us word that if we would come back he would do all he could to assist us, but that he only bad 16 men under his command, and thought we could defend ourselves from the enemy by taking position on a hill covered with underbrush which the captive was ordered to show us, adding that the houses on the San Saba were close by.  (The houses alluded to were the remains of those belonging to the San Saba mission that had long been abandoned.)  We did not follow the Comanche’s advice, thinking that we could reach our destination, as we did, before the enemy could overtake us.  But once arrived, we could not find the houses, and the ground upon the San Saba offering no position for protection, we went about three miles to the north of the river, and there selected a grove wherein to encamp for the night.  There was a smaller grove about 50 varas from the one chosen for our encampment, and caused it to be occupied by three men, so as to prevent the enemy from taking possession of it, and thereby have an advantage over us.However, we passed the night without being disturbed.

On the 21st, at 8 o’clock, a.m., we were about to leave our camping-ground, when we saw a large body of Indians close upon us, and at a distance of about 200 varas.  Several of them shouted in English:  “How do you do?  How are you?  How are you?”  We soon knew by their skins that they had among them some Caddoes, and we made signs to them to send a man to inform us of their intentions.  Just then we saw that the Indian, who was ahead on horseback, was holding up a scalp, and forthwith a volley of some ten or twelve gun shots was discharged into our camp, but without effect.  At the arrival of
the Indians, my brother repaired with two men to the smaller grove which was between us and the Indians, but when I saw the most of them were withdrawing and sheltering themselves behind a hill about 100 varas northeast of our position, expecting that they would attack us in a body in that direction, I went to tell my brother to come back,
and on our return, Vs. Buohanan was shot and had his leg broken.  We had scarcely joined our camp, when, as I had expected, the Indians came from behind the hill to dislodge us, but as the foremost men, and among them one who seemed to be their leader, fell, they busied themselves in removing their dead, and to do this, they had to come closer and fight sharply, but it was at the cost of more lives on their part.  This contest lasted about 15 minutes; but when they perceived that they could not enter our camp they withdrew, screening themselves behind the hill and surrounding timber, and thence commenced firing upon us from every direction.  While we were thus engaged, fifteen Indians, who, from the report of their firing, seemed to be armed with rifles, concealed themselves behind some oaks in a valley, about 60 varas to the northwest.  These were the severest of our foemen, and they wounded two rnore of our men and several horses. At about 11 o’clock, a.m., seeing they could not dislodge us with their firearms, they set fire to the prairie, hoping thus to burn us, or compel us to abandon our cam?.  So soon as the prairie was on fire they loudly shouted, and expecting their stratagem would be successful, they advanced under protection of the smoke to the position they had’first been obliged to abandon; but when the fire reached the valley it died out.

Painting of Comanches

Painting of Comanches (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thinking the siege,would be protracted, we employed Gonzales and
the boy Charles in making a breastwork of whatever they could lay their hands upon, such as boughs and our property.  From that moment until 4 o’clock the fire slackened gradually, and the Indians withdrew to a considerable distance.  But the wind having shifted from the southwest to the northwest the Indians again fired the prairie, and the conflagration reached our cam?, but by dint of hard work in the way of tearing the grass, and by means of our bear skins and blankets, made use of to smother the flames, we succeeded in saving the greater part of our animals and other property.  We expected a furious attack of the enemy under cover of the smoke, in order to penetrate our camo, but the greater part of them withdrew to a pond, distant about half a mile from the battle-field, to procure water, and those of them that remained kept up firing and removing their  dead.  This work on their part went on until about 6:SO, p.m., when the battle closed, only one shot being fired by them after 7 o’clock, which was aimed at one of our men who went out to obtain water. We had agreed to attack the enemy while they were asleep, but when we reflected that we had only six men able to use their arms,  and that the wounded would have to remain unprotected, we thought it more advisable to remain in our camp, which we had now fortified with stones and timber, so as to make it secure against further assault. On the 22nd, at about 5 o’clock, a.m., we heard the Indians moving to the northeast, and at daybreak none were to be seen.  However, about 11 o’clock we observed thirteen of then, who, upon seeing us withdrew suddenly.  Subsequently, in order to intimidate them and impress them with the idea that we were still ready for a fight, we hoisted a flag on a long pole, as a sign of war; and for eight days we kept a fire constantly burning, hoping thereby to attract the attention of any friendly Comanches that might be in the neighborhood,  and procure some animals for the transportation of our wounded and  our camp property.

On the evening of the 29th, the wounded being somewhat relieved, , we began our march for Bexar, and on striking the Perdanaies we ob- served a large Tahuacanoe trail, and noticed several others between  that stream and the Gaudalupe, all seeming to tend in the direction  of a smoke that curled upward from some point down the Perdanaies.  Upon seeing these trails we took a more westerly course and after  having crossed the Gaudalupe we saw no more signs of Indians, and arrived here on the 6th inst.  My only loss among my men during the battle, was by the fall and death of the foreman of my mechanics, Mr. Thomas McCaslin, from a bullet that entered below the breast and
passed through the loin.  He was one of the most efficient of my comrades in the fight.  I had, also, three wounded, five animals killed and several severely hurt.  We could make no estimate of the loss of the enemy, but we kept up a continual firing during the day and al-
ways had enemies to aim at, and there were no intervening obstacles to prevent our shot from having their full effect.  We saw twenty-one men fall dead, and among them seven on horseback, who seemed to act as chiefs, one of whom was very conspicuous by reason of the buffalo horns and other finery about his head.  To his death I attribute the discouragement of his followers.

I can not do less than commend to your Lordship for their alacrity in obeying and executing my orders with spirit and firmness all those who accompanied me.  Their names are, Robert Armstrong, Thomas McCaslin, (killed), Daniel Buchanan, (wounded), James Goryell, Mateo Dias, Cephas K. Ham, Jesse Wallace, Senor Gonzales, Charles (a boy).

God and Liberty,

Signature of James Bowie. Taken from signed do...

Signature of James Bowie. Taken from signed document dated January 5, 1836. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

James Bowie.”

J. C. F. Kyger, Texas Gems. ISO-154.   On the monument placed at
Calf Creek in commemoration of the heroes of this battle appears the
name of Matthew Doyle.  There also the name is David Buchanan instead
of Daniel.

1 thought on “Bowie’s Battle With Indians at Calf Creek

  1. Matthew Doyal is my great, great, great grandfather. His last name is spelt wrong and I’m trying to get the state of Texas to change the name on the historical marker. I can prove it because on his grave marker in Mason Texas his name is written as Matthew Doyal. I can trace my lineage back thru my father and grandfather and great grandfather all the way back to Matthew Doyal. Doyal family genealogy.

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