In 1840 the land that would later become Blanco County, was a desolate wilderness, some fifty miles west of the nearest settlements. For the most part, it was in the undisputed control of the Penateka Comanches and the other roving tribes of Native Americans who drifted through the hills. These nomadic people could not possibly understand the events that were about to change their centuries old style of life.
In 1847 John O. Meusebach successfully negotiated a treaty with the Penatekas, which allowed settlement along the Pedernales and Llano Rivers. The following year the United States Army established the first frontier military post in Texas in the German colony at Fredericksburg. These actions opened the Texas Hill Country to a flood of Anglo settlers. By 1854 the first log homes began to appear along the Blanco River and in the area of present day Round Mountain. Constant pressure from the Army and Texas Rangers like Henry McCulloch and John Rip Ford, displaced the Indians from the area with astonishing speed. By the mid 1850s the once mighty Penatekas found themselves confined to reservations on the upper Brazos River, far to the north of their ancestral hunting ground. As a result, the early settlers of this region suffered surprisingly little from thefts and depredations by Indian raiding parties. This peaceful existence allowed the area to rapidly develop and prosper. Blanco County was created in 1858. The vast areas of rangeland seemed a place of unending opportunity for any industrious soul with the will to carve out a life for himself, but such was not to be the case much longer.
In 1861 the first cannon shots sounded the onset of the Civil War. Almost overnight the Army vanished from the frontier outposts and with them went control over the nomadic raiders. As a war of attrition between North and South continued, it stripped the frontier of men and opened the door for Indian raids where they had been almost unheard of previously. Those who were lucky enough to escape with their lives still suffered badly from livestock and property losses. Even after the end of the war, it took several years before peace was restored to Central Texas.
Between the years 1861 and 1870 Gillespie, Burnet, Llano and Blanco Counties all suffered increasing violence from Indians. During this period at least five different attacks left six people dead in Gillespie County and many more were carried off as prisoners. Burnet County recorded six attacks, which killed twelve people, and countless head of livestock were stolen. No place in the Hill Country was more ravaged than Llano County. Seven incidents in this County cost the lives of fifteen people, including the infamous Friend/Johnson family massacre in Legion Valley. In this single raid three women and five children were captured. The ordeal resulted in the deaths of five members of the party and the severe wounding of another. The remaining two children were carried off as captives.
Insulated by the more western counties, Blanco County was spared the brunt of the Indian onslaught during these bloody years. Even so, occasional raiding parties did penetrate the settled areas this far. In December of 1865 a man named Jackson, in the company of his son-in-law, Mark Stewart, were out hunting hogs. Jackson and Stewart split up in order to search a larger area. Shortly afterward Stewart heard Jackson call for assistance and arrived on a hilltop to see him surrounded by a raiding party. Stewart fled for help but the rescuers returned to find the old mans dead and mutilated body.
Perhaps the most noted attack came in July of 1869. Thomas Phelps and his wife Eliza were fishing on Cypress Creek when they were startled by a Negro boy running toward them, crying for help. He ducked into a cornfield in time to elude a band of red raiders who were in hot pursuit. The Indians, believed to be some twenty in number, fell upon the Phelps couple, quickly killed them both and stripped the bodies. They then defiantly paraded by the home of Mrs. Phelps mother and waved the bloody clothing on their lances. They continued their raid to the home of Benjamin Phillips and stole a large heard of horses. Next they appeared at the ranch of Mr.Woolf where they murdered Woolfs twenty-one year old son and took another boy prisoner. The Indians headed west with their plunder and captive. A party of fifteen men followed the raiders and recovered the boy in Mason County but the Indians made good their escape.
Even by this time the situation on the frontier was changing. With the end of the Civil War, the Army reoccupied the forts and settlers moved back into the western Counties. Though they did not know it, the days of the Indian in Texas were fast coming to a close.
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Trouble in the Early Days Copyright Glenn Hadeler 2001, all rights reserved
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