The Webster Massacre

Source: The Frontier Times, November 1923

Transcribed by JoAnn Myers, Sept 2002


[Martha Virginia Webster Strickland Simmons died in 1927 at the age of 93, in Oakland, California. She was the last survivor of the massacre on Brushy Creek near Leander on 30 June 1839. John Webster and his party of 12 men were massacred by Comanche chiefs Yellow Wolf and Buffalo Hump and about 300 savage Indians. Mrs. Webster, her son, age 10, and little daughter Virginia were taken captive. -from the Williamson County Sun, Georgetown, Dec 1927]


Horrible Massacre Described by a Survivor.

The story of the massacre of the Webster party and the captivity of Mrs. Webster and her children, as told by Virginia Webster, the only survivor of that terrible tragedy, as published in the San Antonio Express, April 27, 1913:

"I will first give you a sketch of my father's life before he came to Texas, as told to me by my mother, and by my uncles and aunts. My father, known as Capt John Webster, something like a hundred years ago now, owned a farm or plantation as it was called then, on the Potomac river in the state of Virginia. On the farm he had 110 Negro slaves. Hearing much about the new republic of Texas and the possibilities of this new country, he thought he could better his condition, and so he sold his plantation and all of his slaves except ten.

But before finally deciding to come to Texas, being a lawyer and a good businessman, he was induced to go into the banking business at Wheeling, W. Va., and bought a farm in Harrison county, West Virginia. On this farm he put up a store and built a sawmill and a gristmill.

My father, being of a fearless and adventurous disposition, ignored all the stories told him of the wild and dangerous conditions then existing in Texas. He sold part of his possessions in Harrison county, W. Va., and drew all his money out of the Wheeling bank except $10,000, which he left in case he met with misfortune in the new country. He made up a company of 44 picked men and induced them to come to Texas with him, all being like himself, ready for adventure, and expecting to assist Texas in gaining her independence from Mexico.

Captain Webster, with his family consisting of my mother, one brother 10 years old, and myself, 2 years old, and two or three Negro servants and his company of 44 men, landed at Galveston in November of 1836. The fighting with Mexicans and Indians was still going on and my father and his company was in service of Texas from January 1837 until the first of March 1839, and twenty one of his men were killed in battle and many of them wounded. A Mrs. Boone who lived with us after my father's service in the Texas army, and whom I was with after my return from captivity told me all about my father's service in the Texas army- and it so impressed my mind that I never forgot it.

My father's intention was not primarily to serve in the army, but to speculate in land. He brought his surveyor with him from Virginia, expecting to locate land and the other members of his company were to assist him and protect him from the Indians, and were to have a part of the land. This is what my uncle, Paul Flesher, who kept me after I escaped from the Indians told me. After my father's service in the army, he went to Hornsby's Bend, a short distance below Austin. We were at Webberville, in Bastrop county, in the spring of 1839, where my father had bought some three hundred beeves and cows, intending to start to the home he had selected and build a fort as a protection against the Indians.

About June 13 the party started, consisting of our family, my father, my mother, my brother, and myself, a Negro servant and twelve men of my father's company, making fourteen men. There were four wagons with four yoke of oxen to each wagon. We also had one cannon. The wagons were loaded with provisions, ammunition, guns, clothing and other supplies. The place selected on which my father intended to make his home was on North Gabriel in what is now Burnet County, near what is now called Strickland. When the Webster party got within about six miles of its destination, Indians were discovered in great numbers, and it was thought that the Webster party was not strong enough to engage the Indians in battle, so it was determined that the best thing to do would be to turn back as Colonel Burleson was expected to follow us in a few days with a hundred men.

My father also expected to meet some of his men who were following us with a herd of cattle. But we afterwards found that the men driving the herd were delayed by a stampede. The party turned back about sunset, and, in driving in the dark, the axle of one of the wagons was broken. The men worked until about 3 o'clock in the morning repairing the wagon. The party reached a point on Brushy Creek near what is now the town of Leander, in Williamson county, about sunrise. This was on the 12th day of June, and not the 27th day of August as has been erroneously stated in Browne's and other histories of Indian depredations in Texas.

As soon as possible after it was seen that the Indians were going to make an attack, the wagons were formed into a small square and immediately the battle began. This was a most unequal battle, for my mother often told me that the number of Indians was estimated by my father and his men to be fully three hundred, my father's party being only 14 men. The battle lasted from sunrise until 10 o'clock at night, when the last man of the Webster party fell.

By the time the battle was ended, six hundred or more of the savages had arrived, swelling the number to nine hundred, the Indians leaving the scene of the massacre after dark. There were ten sacks of coffee in the wagons and they poured that out on the ground. They smashed the crate that contained my mother's fine china and silver that she had brought with her from her home in Virginia, taking the silver and making trinkets out of it with which they ornamented themselves, stringing them around their necks, their arms and their ankles.

My father had his sword with him, and they broke it up into small pieces, breaking the hilt into three pieces for the three chiefs-Guadalupe, Buffalo Hump and Yellow Wolf. While I was very young, scarcely 4 years old, yet I can well remember these old Comanches breaking up the sword and cutting up the silver on that awful day. Oh, that awful day still haunts my memory, but I feel happy that such sorrow can never come to me again. Oh, it was a horrible sight to see all of the brave and good men fell at the hands of the savage demons. I well remember how I cried, and how my little brother fought the Indians after the battle was over, when they would approach him.

Neither tongue nor pen could describe the awful sufferings of my dear mother, nor can any reader of this story imagine her horror at seeing her beloved husband and friends cruelly scalped and mutilated with only two small children with her and expecting every moment to see them, too, killed and scalped. My brother, who was in his 13th year, could distinctly remember all the details of the horrible day and night. After the savages had completed their work of death and destruction, they started to their great camping place, which was a good many days travel from the bloody scene, taking mother, brother, and myself with them.

When we reached the camping grounds of the Indians, they took all our clothing from us, dressing my mother in the garb of the Indian women, and my brother like the Indian boys. As for myself, I never had a stitch of any kind of clothing at any time while I was in the possession of the red devils. Just think about me, a little child, going with out clothing in the winter's cold and summer's sun, in sleet and in snow. If any mother who reads this story will only think of her own tender babe being placed in the situation that I was in she can imagine the feelings of my mother, and will wonder doubtless, as I often do now, how a little child could endure such hardships and live to be 76 years old, as I have. And to think of the brutal torture I had to undergo at the hands of these brutes in human form-for the red devils burnt me, and whipped me, because I cried. They would sometimes tie a rope around my body ad throw me into the river, and then drag me out. I still have scars on my body that were made by these savages by burning and whipping me. I was almost a solid sore all over my body when my mother and I reached San Antonio. Just think of me being stark naked and sore all over and in the winter at that.

At one time for their amusement, they tied me on the back of a wild horse and turned it loose, and a lot of the Indian bucks put in after the wild horse and ran him until he was tired out, and all of this torture to me a little child. Oh, it is impossible for me to tell all the fright and torture and suffering I endured. They treated me worse than they treated my mother, and God knows they treated her cruelly. They treated my brother much better than mother and I for some reason, and he would fight them whenever the occasion offered.

I don't know how many days we traveled before we reached the camp of the whole tribe of Comanches. When we did reach them, they held a great war dance, displaying during the dancing the scalps of men, women and children they had murdered on their expedition, holding them on their spears and hoops, while dancing around a big fire, and when they would pass my mother, they would dash the scalps in her face and the faces of the other women captives. Indeed it was a most horrible scene for all of us.

These orgies lasted perhaps for ten days or more, and at the conclusion of their dances and the celebration of their victories, they divided up into bands, one band taking my mother, another taking my brother, and I was taken by another, there being about thirty women and children captives being taken by the band that took me. These bands went in different directions and I never saw my mother and brother but three times after this separation. I was the only small white child in the bunch that took me, and I was given to some of the old squaws, I for one having a savage "mama." The first time the whole Comanche tribe got together after holding their great war dance, soon after we were captured, was at the Enchanted Rock in Llano County. The next time was at Santa Fe, N.M., and the last time was at the head of the Devil's River. Each time the whole tribe came together, my mother stole me out and tried to make her escape, but was unsuccessful, the Indians recapturing us.

At the last gathering of the tribe, which was held on the Devil's River and in the month of February, the Comanches were preparing to make a treaty with the white people, and had promised for a certain amount to deliver all of the captives they then held, and the delivery of the captives was to be made at San Antonio. Mother told me that at that time they had thirty-three white prisoners, including my mother, brother, and myself. During the time the tribe was together on the Devil's river, previous to starting to San Antonio, mother said she saw the Indians murder six white girl prisoners and, being able to understand and speak the Indian language and Spanish too, she learned that under certain circumstances, all the captives were to be killed.

Knowing full well what our fate would be if their treaty with the whites did not go to suit them, my mother decided to make an effort to escape. As soon as she determined to escape she began preparations. She was able to get a small amount of dried buffalo tongue and this with a small exception of fish that she caught and some roots that she could dig up with a stick or with her hands, was all the food we had along the three hundred mile journey. The fish were eaten raw, as we had no means of making a fire to cook them.

My mother carried me nearly all the way, I only being strong enough to walk short distances. We traveled altogether at night, hiding during the day, avoiding the trails and watering places, for mother knew that many of the warriors were then on their way to San Antonio to attend the treaty meeting and that we might at any time be discovered and recaptured, which meant death to us. When we got near San Antonio (I was told afterward that it was three miles from the city) we were so weak and so near starved to death that mother had almost given up, to lie down and die, and I was too weak to cry. We were sitting under a live oak and happily for us, it was on a small rise near a road. Mother happened to see a train of Mexican carts coming along the road. We were within two hundred yards of the road, but did not know it. Mother saw from where we were that the man, or boss, in charge of the train was white. As soon as she saw that it was a white man, her joy knew no bounds. She was too weak to call him, but began waving her hands, and as soon as he saw her he stopped the train and he and all the Mexicans came to us.

Six of the Mexicans came near enough that they could hear my mother speak, but they could not understand English, and my mother then spoke to them in Spanish.

My mother had on what little was left of her Indian garb, which certainly was scant enough, and the Mexicans did not know what to make of us. Her moccasins were gone and her feet were worn to the bone and were bleeding. The boss of the train took off his coat and wrapped mother in it, and a Mexican picked me up and carried me to the carts and wrapped me in a blanket. They at once unloaded one of the carts and put us in it, and started with us into San Antonio.

The boss rode along beside the cart talking to mother and hearing her story and when near the city, he rode off as fast as his horse could carry him and told the story of our rescue.

When we reached the city, it seemed that every bell in the town was ringing, all rejoicing at our escape from the Indians. Mexicans and white people came to the cart to see us. It was about 11 o'clock in the morning when we got into the city.

My mother was so nearly dead from hunger, she cried for something to eat and the doctors only allowed a tablespoonful of beef broth to be given us at intervals. I was too weak to walk without assistance.

My brother was brought in by the Indians about six days after we reached San Antonio. I think this was in March 1840, and about the time of what is known as the "Council House Fight."

I can remember a man of the name of Cooksey going with mother, brother and I to see the dead Indians. I was not a bit scared at the sight of the dead Indians, Mr. Cooksey saying that I was the "nerviest" child he ever saw.

Mr. Cooksey said blood and brains were scattered on the floor and walls, and it made him shudder to look at it, but he said I looked around at the dead Indians and called some of them by name while he held me in his arms. I was told that nearly a thousand warriors came to this treaty meeting, and it was the refusal of the Indians to give up their captives, and their treachery, that brought on the fight.

The people of San Antonio were very kind to us, made up money for us and gave us clothing.

The men who went out and found the bodies of my father and his party, went back to Austin and reported, and Col. Ed Burleson, with one hundred men went in pursuit of the Indians. But it was too late to overtake them. Burleson's men went to the scene of the massacre, but the bodies were decomposed and it was impossible to handle them, but the burial party could recognize each one. Not finding the bodies of mother, brother and myself among the slain, they took the trail of the Indians in the hops of rescuing us. They followed the trail ten days until the trail showed that they separated into several bands.

The men sent to bury the remains of the massacred party scattered over the prairie, gathered them up and dug a grave the best they could with hatchets and hunting knives and used one of the wagonbeds for a coffin.

Several of the Burlesons were along when they buried the dead, and they were friends of my father and they told me all I know about the burial of my father and his party. It is sad to think that all these pioneers, good and brave men have passed away, never enjoying the pleasures of the victories they fought so bravely to win.

They are at rest. May their memory ever be cherished by those who are enjoying the fruits of their battles and labors.

Mother took my brother and I and started to our home in Virginia. At Galveston my brother was afraid to go aboard the vessel and General Houston took him and placed him in school. Mother and I went to Virginia and arranged affairs there and returned to make Texas our home.

Mother never was herself again after her sufferings and bereavements, and she died July 29, 1845. My brother remained in college until the breaking out of the war between the United states and Mexico, when he enlisted in the army and went to Mexico. At Monterey he was wounded and died there.

The Indians dressed, if what little they wore could be called dress, principally of buckskin, the children all going naked and I was dressed like the Indian children. For bedding, buffalo robes was all they had. Their food was wild meats and fish, acorns, pecans and roots of different kinds. They had no bread nor any substitute for it unless it was the acorns they ate. Their dress for both women and men was made of buckskin, the children were perfectly naked, as was I as long as I was with them and until I reached San Antonio. Their bedding was buffalo robes.

The Comanches were a roving tribe of Indians, traveling over the plains of Texas and New Mexico. The men were large and portly and were fine specimens of the human race. They were always on the warpath and would not keep a treaty made with the white people. They were bloodthirsty and savage, and did not want to remain at peace.

My mother left me in Virginia and I stayed there until in 1849, when my uncle, who was coming to Texas with his family, brought me back with him. I was married at the age of 17 to M. G. Strickland, February 3, 1853, and we moved to the place where my father was going to build his fort, which was afterward the village called Strickland, in Burnet County. We remained there until the death of my husband, August 12, 1865. In June 1868 I was married to Charles Munro Simmons, who died in 1889, leaving me with three sons and one daughter. We afterward moved to [copy ends there]

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