Texas: Myths, Legends, and the Real Deal
Part 8, The Muncey Massacre -- Installment 1
Raiding to gain those fine, Kentucky horses. . .
In the fall of 1844, Jeremiah Muncey, his family, and McBain Jameson, a friend, were massacred by Indians at their home on Rowlett Creek.
Several years ago, I read a short description of the above-mentioned event which took place about fourteen or fifteen miles from my house. Now, the story called out to me. It needed in-depth research. The more I dug, the more questions arose. I wouldn’t call it an Agatha Christie type of mystery, but it certainly presented a number of unsolved threads. To keep the reading a reasonable length, I’m breaking this post into two installments. When all threads are laid out, you can decide for yourself what’s true and what isn’t.
To begin, some historical background is helpful to set the stage. The territory of Texas gained its independence from Mexico with a rousing victory over Santa Anna’s army on April 21, 1836. Then Texas declared itself a republic and offered free land to immigrants. By the 1840s, folks were coming to claim that land. They journeyed from the United States and European countries. Unfortunately for all involved, the new republic wasn’t a vast, empty space. It was already inhabited by native peoples --- Cherokee, Delaware, Kickapoo, Kiowa, Tonkawa, Caddo, Comanche.
At first, the tribes were hospitable to the settlers. They visited the cabins and enjoyed sweets that were sometimes offered by the woman of the house. Occasionally, homesteaders noticed things around their farms had gone missing, a shovel, a bag of seeds, a couple of chickens, a calf. Families knew the culprits were natives, although the thieving was more an annoyance than real trouble.
But there was bound to be a clash of cultures eventually.
The numbers of new settlers increased and the tribes grew anxious. Settlers took land as their own and they killed buffalo and other game. Native men started painting their faces and riding near homesteads as a means of intimidation. And thefts from homesteads grew from inconsequential items to the fine horses brought from previous homes in the United States. Those native fellows recognized a good animal when they saw it. Of course, Americans considered horse-stealing as a grave offense, while the indigenous fellows just wanted the horses. Peace between the homesteaders and native people was stretched thin.
Sam Houston in 1861, photographed by Matthew Brady
The clash of cultures was also exacerbated by a change in attitude toward the native groups by the new Texas government. During the war for independence, Sam Houston had promised the tribes ownership of their lands, in exchange for their neutrality in the conflict. When he became the first president of the Republic, he remained tolerant of the indigenous peoples.
Mirabeau B. Lamar
But the second president was a fellow named Mirabeau B. Lamar. He saw all Indians as foes to be banished. He and the government in Austin figured the only solution was to expel every tribe from the Republic. The mission was brutally carried out by the Texas Militia, although a few tribes managed to elude the republic's forces. These far-flung bands of native peoples were likely devastated at the loss of their territories. They would remember.
Months later, an assembly of north Texas farmers was displeased that even a few native villages had been established on land considered reserved for new homesteaders. Those farmers retaliated by taking matters into their own hands. They struck a known tribal encampment, killing and injuring a number of people. Word of the unprovoked attack spread to other native encampments and was added to the growing list of cruelties committed against the tribes.
Retaliation became the order of the day. Every group took vengeance, back and forth. Tribal raiding parties preyed upon solitary farms and homesteaders traveling alone. Children were kidnapped and used to gain ransom from the Texas government. Settler communities banded together and built forts for protection. Families lived inside the walls, while the men farmed outside, having to dash for the forts if any natives were spotted. When the threat seemed less, the farmers would pursue and attack whatever native group was discovered nearby.
In early 1841, fellows from multiple settlements decided to go on a large offensive against tribes who continued to inhabit north Texas. The intent was to run them off permanently. General Edward H. Tarrant of the Republic of Texas Militia led the farmer volunteers. (Tarrant County is named for this General.) They followed Indian trails and came to a large, established camp situated on Village Creek, in present-day Arlington, between Dallas and Fort Worth. This community was mainly populated by people of the Caddo Tribe, thought by most homesteaders to be non-hostile. But the farmer volunteers didn’t know the difference. Maybe the General didn’t know, either.
Scouts reported the camp had a high population, much outnumbering the farmers.
Tarrant ordered an attack anyway. (What was that General thinking?) The farmers went after the unsuspecting inhabitants, but the native men weren’t stuck in surprise. In a moment, the battle turned chaotic and the farmers realized their adversaries were fierce and experienced warriors. End of attack. The farmers had to hightail it for their lives.
There were losses on both sides of this fight, which only kept the hard feelings going for the tribes and for the homesteaders. The farmers returned to their homes, realizing attacks on native villages were too dangerous. During the next years, raids by tribal groups continued, although the frequency gradually decreased.
This brings us to the man named McBain Jameson, believed to be the first settler in what would become Collin County in north Texas. He arrived in 1840 and received a land grant from the Republic. To complete his grant, he gave his personal information as married and head of a family. Apparently, he’d left a wife and children somewhere in the United States. Maybe he planned to go back and get them when he’d made arrangements in the new land. During the next two years, did he work to clear his property and build a cabin? There is no evidence one way or the other.
In 1842, Jeremiah Muncey came to the same area with his wife and children, an infant and three teenaged boys. Muncey received a land grant that adjoined Jameson’s and the two became acquainted.
Another two years went by. What kept the Muncey family and Jameson occupied during that time? No one knows. But by 1844, Muncey and Jameson had come to an agreement. Jameson would settle with the Munceys, perhaps because, as oral history says, Jameson was old and he was alone. Maybe he felt safer to have a home with other people. They chose to homestead on a site near Rowlett Creek, at the edge of a wooded area and close to a spring. It was a prime location.
Muncey, his three boys, and Jameson built a lean-to, or some accounts call it a “board hut.” They would live in this temporary shelter while they built a solid, log cabin.
Muncey and Jameson surely had heard about the sporadic raids on distant homesteads by native warriors, the loss of horses, and the news of a killing, although infrequent. There is no evidence that they experienced any of those things in their location by Rowlett Creek. Everyone except the Muncey toddler (whether boy or girl is unknown) would have toiled from sun-up to sundown, felling trees for the house, clearing the land for planting crops, hunting game, preparing meals over an open fire, carrying water from the spring. Life for homesteaders required hardiness and perseverance.
Even so, in the quiet of evenings, it might have been satisfying to rest and listen to the sounds of the deep wilderness --- the whoosh of wind through trees, the hoot of an owl, the distant bark of a coyote. (Or is this just projecting my own 21st century mindset onto 19th century settlers who had no time for such calm musings. . .)
Hold this word picture until next time, when the story from 1844 of the Munceys and their friend McBain Jameson becomes intense.