HUNT – This part of Texas along the banks of the Guadalupe River is one of the most beautiful in the state. Summer camps, homes with yards sloping down to the riverbanks, Indian raids. Yes, you and I are off on another historical mystery. (Did you ever notice that no one ever saw Edgar Allan Poe and John Wilkes Booth at the same time?) Now we are re-investigating what may have been the last Indian raid in Texas, or were they really Indians?
Let me set the stage: On Oct. 1, 1878, Jim and Susan Dowdy moved here from Goliad, arriving with some sheep and horses and eight children. At the time Houston had public schools, Dallas had a baseball team and Texas had A&M, but the Hill Country was still the frontier. On the morning of the fourth day after their arrival, four of the children were sent to a bluff a half-mile away to watch over a flock of sheep. There was a son, James, 11, with brown hair, large ears and a slightly sad expression; Martha, 16; Susan, 17, and Alice, 18 – girls with long, dark hair and pretty faces. A grown son, Richard, remained at the house so that he and a young friend, who was engaged to one of the girls, could eat an early lunch and then relieve the children so they could go back and eat.
The two men finished lunch about 11 a.m. and went out to find the children, but discovered them missing and sheep scattered. They raced back to the house to report. Their mother, Susan, hurried to the hills and there found the bodies of her four children. Two of girls’ bodies were lying together. The third was 200 yards away and James was some distance from her. All the bodies had been horribly mutilated with bullet, tomahawk and arrow wounds, but they were not scalped. A wagon took the bodies to the house of a neighbor, Mrs. “Wash” Floyd, who helped prepare the bodies. Her daughter recalled much later, “I remember Mama telling me Mrs. Dowdy said to her, ‘I can’t bear to see you pull out those arrows because I know it will hurt.’ The children were buried with the arrows still in their bodies.” Many other arrows were found along a hillside as though the children had been running along there, dodging a hail of arrows. The Indians had with them a herd of horses and had made their escape. A posse was formed, but that took a day or so to form, and no Indians were spotted.
End of a sad story. Almost. Yes, the first suspects were Indians. October was the time of the year when the dreaded Comanches came up from Mexico and from the Indian territories to the north. But they generally raided only during the light of the full Comanche Moon. There were arrows at the scene and tomahawk marks. But nothing was taken. One family member told me there were some horses stolen. And you can’t very well rustle a flock of sheep and make any kind of getaway. There were no reports that the girls had been raped. What was the reason for the raid?
Word began surfacing that the raid was not the work of Indians at all, but of U.S. renegades or Mexican bandits. “They just used those arrows and tomahawks to make the posse go looking for Indians,” an old timer told me. But now we have a new development, a newspaper clipping, misspellings and all: “Dallas Weekly Herald, 19 May 1881 – dateline San Antonio May 13. A letter from Kerville says last Sunday, as Deputy Sherriff Clemens, of Kervill County was returning from San Antonio with two prisoners, John Potter and William Dunman, he was waylaid by a party of unknown men near Kerville and both prisoners taken from him. The men stopped in the middle of the road with drawn revolvers. The deputy could do nothing but comply. Shortly afterwards Potter was shot down in the road. The deputy reported facts in town and an inquest was held on the body of Potter. Nothing is known as to who the parties were on the object of the killing. Potter had been arrested and was on his way to be tried for horse stealing.”
What’s the connection and who cares? The above mentioned Dunman was related to the Dowdy family. Potter supposedly boasted of his part in the massacre to Dunman while they were in jail in San Antonio, not knowing of the relationship. Dunman got word to the Dowdy family as to when Potter was to be taken by stage to Junction for trial. But we also have this version: When the stage got past Mountain Home, to the north, and reached the top of a hill, Dick Dowdy and another brother, Tom, stopped the stage, took Potter to a nearby tree and hanged him. Potter was buried there, but his body was later moved to make way for a highway, and today no one knows where it is. “He didn’t have anything to do with it,” a Dowdy once told me. “He was just bragging.”
In any event, Tom and Dick were tried for murder but were acquitted. An entire generation of Dowdys would not speak publicly of the tragedy. “That was so bad, so very, very bad, you can see why,” a resident finally told me. “One sister lived here the rest of her life, too frightened to leave her home. She became a total recluse. Even when the river would rise, neighbors would have trouble getting her to leave. And during the Comanche Moon….” At Mountain Home there is Sunset Cemetery, with small shell-covered graves for Susan, Allice (the gravestone seems to have two ls) James and Martha. All four have the same date of death, Oct. 5, 1878. Beneath each name is the word, “Murdered.” But who did it, and why?
Ashby is mystified at firstname.lastname@example.org