ON THE WESTERN TRAIL
A Western Quest Series Novel
July 1875, Callahan County, Texas
Riding with the Rangers
The bugle’s sharp notes pierced the hot, humid morning air sounding “Recall.” Almost immediately we heard a brisk exchange of gunfire, as rifle shots rang out to our west.
“Come on!” I yelled to my seven companions. We galloped to the sound of the guns.
A band of about thirty Comanche braves were waging a fighting retreat, fleeing north with their women and children. The half dozen travois carrying their goods slowed them down, but the men were making a strong rear guard fight to let them get away.
Captain William J. Maltby commanded Company E, Frontier Battalion of the Texas Rangers. We had been recruited to support the Rangers as had other ranchers in the area. The Frontier Battalion was making a clean sweep to remove the last pockets of Indians in Callahan County. We had travelled in a wide mounted line along Pecan Bayou, turning north at Lytle’s Gap at the corner of our ranch.
The Comanche had situated themselves in a good defensive position; they would be mighty hard to knock loose. We could see dust rising to the north as the women, children and old ones rode away. The braves carried repeating rifles and knew how to use them. There weren’t enough Rangers and volunteers to force them out. Pecos reined in near the Captain and dismounted.
“Beggin’ the Captain’s pardon, sir. Pecos Wade, volunteer. I speak good Comanche. If they agree to join their families and keep travelin’ past the Red River, would you be willin’ to let them go?”
“You musta been a good ol’ Johnny Reb, too, son.”
“Yessir. Texas Fifteenth Regiment, Company F.”
“I don’t trust them Injuns as far as I could throw an anvil.”
“Sir, that’s their families raisin’ dust up north. If they break off the fight, keep their rifles and horses and let us escort them to the Nations, would you give it a try?”
“Well, at this point, we don’t have a lot to lose. You goin’ alone?”
“No sir! I want you and my friend, Aaron Turner, to go with me.”
Pecos rode into sight with a white rag tied to his rifle. He held it horizontal above his head, a universal symbol of truce among the Plains Indians. The gunfire from the Comanche immediately stopped. A stout middle-aged brave swung onto his horse with a white rag tied to his Winchester, just like Pecos. When they got within shouting distance they parlayed a bit, then turned and rode apart.
“Captain, if you and Aaron would follow me, he said he’d talk.”
The speaker’s name was Broken Nose for obvious reasons. Two more braves accompanied him. Comanche was an incomprehensible language to me, but I could follow some of the hand talk.
“If they can keep their guns and horses, they’ll take their families north of the Red River. We’re to follow just out of rifle range. Broken Nose pledges his band won’t return south of the river, even to raid for horses.”
“You believe that ol’ heathen?”
“No, sir. But I told him if he lies, we’ll ride into the Nations until we find his camp and kill his family. He takes that real serious.”
It seemed my family had enjoyed little peace since my father, Aaron Turner, first came to Texas
in 1817. I was the youngest of a long line of children. I had been born Aaron Lloyd Turner in 1850, the year before my father died. My mother, Nancy, and my older siblings raised me to be pretty independent. I had enlisted in the Confederate Army at age twelve, along with my older brothers, David and Noah. David lay buried in Chicago, a victim of Camp Stephen Douglas. My brother, Noah, hadn’t been seen or heard from since 1872. He had left for the buffalo hunting grounds along the Republican River. I had a sister, Mary Ann, who was married to Pickney Hawkins back in Limestone County, along with my mother, my half-brother, Marcus King and his wife, Glynna, and David’s orphaned daughter, Alice. Pecos didn’t have any family left after the war and had just become part of ours.
We had returned to a world turned upside down by Reconstruction. Catching maverick cattle and driving them north to trade for Yankee silver dollars had kept the wolf away from the door.
I had put together a good ranch on the North Fork of Pecan Bayou in Callahan County where we ran good crossbred cattle on homestead and free range land, making frequent trips back to Groesbeck to check on Mother. It was a hard life, but it had proven to be profitable. Even though we had to deal with outlaws, Indians and the dangers of the frontier, it was a life I loved.
We trailed the Comanche north about thirty miles a day. The second night, we made camp at
the ruins of Fort Phantom Hill. Inconsistent water sources had caused the fort to be abandoned, but the tidy stone buildings provided good shelter. Pecos, who was part Comanche, said spirits roamed the fort at night. Captain Maltby rotated two Rangers at a time in shifts all night to keep an eye on the Indians.
A messenger rode ahead to alert Fort Griffin of what was happening. Broken Nose’s band made camp on the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos. We positioned ourselves between them and the unruly buffalo hide hunters who lived near the fort.
We skirted wide of Seymour and Vernon. Mr. C. F. Doan at Doan’s Store and Crossing met with Broken Nose. He told him he had men who watched the river for many miles. If he heard Broken Nose returned, he would send for the Rangers. Mr. Doan told us that Quannah Parker had brought his band of four hundred Quahadi Comanche to Fort Sill in June. That had been the last major war band outside of the reservation. Parker was perhaps the greatest of the Comanche chiefs, but he was a man of his word.
John Lytle was the man who had earlier found a pass through the Callahan Divide. He had blazed a trail following good water sources across north Texas and western Oklahoma all the way to Dodge City, Kansas. In August 1875, he succeeded in driving a herd of three thousand five hundred head of cattle up the newly named Western Trail. There had been sharp skirmishes with Comanche, Cheyenne and Arapaho along the trail. Dodge had welcomed him royally. The opening of the new trail and the security of the now vacant plains would propel the cattle business in Texas to incredible new heights.