The murder of the Phelps couple in 1869 outraged the residents of Blanco County, but there was little they could do to improve the situation. Although the Civil War ended four years earlier, the U. S. Army was slow to move back into the frontier forts in adequate numbers. To make things worse, the reconstruction government forbid the establishment of state troops to provide local defense. Sickened by continuous suffering from Indian attacks the population of the frontier counties pleaded for some form of protection.
The State Legislature made meager provisions for Texas Rangers in 1870, but tight control by the governor and a depleted treasury made the measures ineffective. It was not until 1871 that a bill was passed that allowed the formation of local Minute Men militia companies for frontier defense. Company A was organized in Blanco County under the command of Lt. James Ingram. The return of the Army and former rebels to the western counties had already caused some decline in attacks by the roving bands. Raiding parties however continued to make forays into the Hill Country.
One such party made their appearance in August of 1872. Their trail was picked up near what was known as Porter Gap by Dan W. Roberts along with his brother George and four other men from Round Mountain. Lt. Ingram and three more local men soon joined them. The party followed the trail south for sixteen miles to a point just southeast of the current site of Johnson City, where steep hills rise up at the head of Deer Creek Here the men sighted one or two Indians disappearing up the hill and gave chase. A moment later they found themselves caught in a hail of bullets from the Indians hidden in a shallow ravine. George Roberts was wounded in the first volley and the men dismounted to take what cover they could find on the open prairie. The Indian band was estimated to consist of more than twenty-five warriors armed with repeating rifles. The ravine in which they concealed themselves provided them a natural fortification.
George Roberts was carried to safety as the remaining men dug in and began a desperate fight from their exposed position. After trading shots with the raiders for about twenty minutes, Dan Roberts attempted to work his way to a more advantageous site and received a painful wound in the left thigh. A short time later J. D. Bird was hit in the shoulder as well. As the battle raged on two of the horses were wounded and the men began to run short of water. Twelve of the Indians now began to move out to the left side of the militiamens exposed location and despite a determined resistance, it became obvious that their position was untenable. The men recovered their wounded comrades from the field and withdrew to the ranch of Samuel Johnson, some three miles distant.
C. R. Rufe Perry arrived on the scene with reinforcements and the men returned to the site of the battle. By this time the Indians had fled taking their dead and wounded with them. A closer examination of the strong position the Indians had held caused Lt. James Ingram to comment, Knowing what I now do, I do not know how a man of us escaped alive. A few of the men followed the trail of the retreating raiders to the edge of the County and reported finding four hastily dug graves along the way. The raid in Blanco County was over.
The Deer Creek fight was herald as a victory by a frontier population starving for good news in the struggle against Indians. Newspapers commended the exploits of the gallant defenders. Their action even caught the attention of the Texas Legislature. The next year Senator H. C. King, impressed by Dan Roberts description of the battle, saw to it that each man in the party was awarded an engraved version of the prized Model 1873 Winchester rifle for services rendered to the state.
In truth the Deer Creek fight had been a near disaster for the militiamen. Only the cool heads and unerring aim of the men involved allowed the party to survive the incident. However, it had achieved what before that time, the local settlers had not been able to. It drove the Indians out of the County and kept them from causing further mischief. For these reason the battle was a victory and a turning point in the fight for control of the Texas Hill Country.
For Part Three click HERE
Indian Trouble in the Early Days Copyright Glenn Hadeler 2001, all rights reserved
REPRINTED BY PERMISSION.
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