A SCALPING AND A VISION

 

by STEVEN L. YUHAS
I found this story while doing research on the life of "Bigfoot Wallace". Wallace had stopped to spend the night at a cabin about twelve miles above La Grange. A man wearing a fur hat came in and stood before the fire. After a few minutes he removed his hat and bent over to warm his head. It was raw, red and had some bone showing. In those days it was frontier custom not to ask questions of a stranger, but Wallace’s curiosity got the best of him. "Excuse me for asking, but what happened to your head?"

The man matter-of-factly replied, "I been scalped."

His name was Josiah Wilbarger and his story is still told by his descendants and can be found in several books written about the times.

Josiah Wilbarger came from Missouri and settled about ten miles above Bastrop. Several years later, Reuben Hornsby built a dog-trot cabin about nine miles east of Austin just across the river from present day Del Valle. Wilbarger Creek and Hornsby Bend mark the locations of their homesteads. In August 1833, Wilbarger went to Hornsby’s to join four men, Christian, Haynie, Standifer and Strother. They went to explore the country to the northwest. Near Walnut Creek, an Indian appeared for a brief moment then disappeared in the cedar bushes.

When they stopped for lunch near Pecan Spring, Strother, Christian and Wilbarger unsaddled their horses. The others left their horses to graze with their saddles on. As they were preparing their food, a large band for Indians crept up on them and opened fire with rifles and bows. The men took cover behind some small trees and anxiously returned fire. Strother was killed outright. Christian took a ball in the hip and then a second arrow. Wilbarger took an arrow in the calf of his leg. Far outnumbered, the survivors hurriedly mounted up to effect an escape. Hornsby bravely turned his horse to pick up Wilbarger but saw him go down and immediately pounced upon by Indians. The remaining men spurred their horses on to Hornsby’s place. There they told of seeing Wilbarger being scalped. A rider was quickly sent to gather reinforcements. As they planned on retrieving the bodies in the morning.

Around midnight, Joe Hornsby’s mother woke and told him of a dream. She had dreamed that Wilbarger wasn’t dead, but gravely injured. She wanted her son and the others to leave immediately to rescue him. Joe said, "Ma, you’re excited and your imagination made you dream these things. Wilbarger is dead. The last I saw of him, he was down on his back with the Indians running lances through him. They never quit a man as long as there’s any life in him."

But later that night the dream was repeated, and this time Mrs. Hornsby said there was a tree and described the area. She said Wilbarger was no longer under the tree but had clawed his way to a water hole. The men still doubted her visions but said nothing. As promised, reinforcements came at daylight. When the rest of the men were mounted and ready to go, Mrs. Hornsby came out of the cabin with a blanket saying, "Here, take this to make a stretcher, he’s not dead but he can’t ride."

Joe Hornsby, the last to see Wilbarger, went straight to the tree. He wasn’t there, but a trail of blood led them to a pool of water. They found him there alive, horribly wounded, scalped and covered with blood. The put his naked body in the blanket and carried him between two horses. When they arrived at the cabin, Mrs. Hornsby was waiting outside with bandages and poultices of wheat bread and bear grease.

After he regained some of his strength, Joshia told his story. He remembered being speared soon after Hornsby fled. His previous wounds and a bullet that had gone through his neck, had rendered him helpless. He felt a knife working around his head and realized he was being scalped. Once the knife had gone around, the Indian twisted the hair in his fist and gave a jerk. At the sound, he said it felt like a gun going off in his ear and immediately passed out.

When he awoke, the moon was shining and he could hear the usual night sounds. Unexpectedly, he saw an almost transparent figure of his sister Margaret, sitting next to him. She had been dead many years and had never been to Texas. She advised him to stay where he was, because his friends would rescue him in the morning. The vision then vanished in the direction of the Hornsby home.

He began to remember what happened next. His scalp was burning fiercely, but he remembered the water hole nearby. Unable to rise, he painfully crawled to the water and immersed his body in it. He found that submerging his head greatly relieved the pain in his scalp. Each time his head would begin to burn, he would dip it in the water. He continued the procedure until his rescuers arrived.

Joshia Wilbarger recovered to live another eleven years. All the events were verified and sworn to by all who were present. They were adamant about it for as long as they lived. Wallace was amazed at the story but as he had heard it from the lips of the scalped man, he was not inclined to doubt.

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