Indian Depredations

Burning the soles of Matilda Lockhart's feetThe word "depredate" means plunder or ravage. In the nineteenth century, the term "depredations" was universally used to describe massacres, conflicts, and cruelty inflicted by Indians upon whites. A classic of Texas literature, Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger (1890), compiles the stories of more than 250 attacks from the 1820s to the 1870s. Wilbarger's book harshly condemns the Indians and makes no attempt to consider their point of view. Nonetheless, the book is a valuable chronicle of the decades-long battle for control of Texas.

Indian Depredations is illustrated with thirty-four woodcuts signed by T.J. Owen, better known as the author William Sydney Porter (O. Henry).

The illustration at right shows an incident from the notorious kidnapping of Matilda Lockhart by the Comanches in 1838. The teenager was held for more than a year and severely abused; she died a few years after being returned to her family. After describing this incident author Wilbarger makes his point to those who censured white Texans for their treatment of the Indians: "Such writers probably never saw a wild Indian in their lives--never had their fathers, mothers, brothers or sisters butchered by them in cold blood; never had their little sons and daughters carried away by them into captivity, to be brought up as savages, and taught to believe that robbery was meritorious, and cold blooded murder a praiseworthy act, and certainly they never themselves had their own limbs beaten, bruised, burnt and tortured with fiendish ingenuity by 'ye gentle salvages,' nor their scalps ruthlessly torn from their bleeding heads, for if the latter experience had been theirs, and they had survived the pleasant operations (as some have done in Texas) we are inclined to think the exposure of their naked skulls to the influences of wind and weather might have so softened them as to permit the entrance of a little common sense."

Scalping of Josiah Wilbarger

Scalping of Josiah Wilbarger, 1833

Josiah Wilbarger, brother of the author of Indian Depredations in Texas, was one of the earliest American settlers in Texas. Wilbarger and a party of five others were riding near present-day Austin when they came under heavy attack. Wilbarger was scalped while still conscious and left for dead. He survived and lived for eleven years with his skull exposed. The attack on Wilbarger's party was the beginning of a bloody era in Central Texas that lasted until around 1846, when Texas was annexed to the United States.


Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

Joseph Lee Coming to the Rescue of Judge Jaynes' Family, 1842

During an 1842 Indian attack on Austin, Judge Jaynes and his hired hand were killed, his infant son wounded, and his fourteen-year-old son kidnapped.

Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

Joseph Lee Coming to the Rescue
He Carved His Name Upon a Tree

He Carved His Name Upon a Tree for a Tombstone and Then Expired, 1838

In 1838, a ten-man surveying party began work near New Braunfels. One man, an experienced frontiersman, became alarmed at the carelessness of the rest of the party and left the group. The rest were later found killed. One man by the name of Beatty had crudely carved his name upon a tree before he died.


Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

A Comanche Warrior Dragging to Death Mrs. Plummer's Child, 1836

In the same attack that became notorious for the kidnapping of young Cynthia Ann Parker, Rachel Plummer was also taken prisoner. She was made a slave and taken away to a camp in the Rocky Mountains. She gave birth while in captivity. At age six months, her child was taken from her and brutally killed. After twenty-one months, Mrs. Plummer was ransomed and eventually made her way back to her family in Texas.

Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

A Comanche Warrior Dragging to Death Mrs. Plummer's Child

Don't Shoot, We Are White Children

We are White Children, 1864

A number of Indian attacks took place in Parker County from 1863-73. In one such incident, a young sister and brother who were searching for their family's oxen were taken prisoner. A citizen's posse attacked the Indians in order to recover the children. During the fight, the youngsters climbed to the top of a big rock and shouted, "Don't shoot us, we are white folks." They were recovered and safely returned to their parents.

Indian Depredations in Texas, by J.W. Wilbarger.

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Page last modified: September 21, 2011