Editor’s Note: The following column originally appeared on Dec. 27, 2015.
James Hunter was born in Bunrscombe County, North Carolina, in 1829. The wife of Governor Bob Taylor of Tennessee was his niece. He came to Texas in 1851 and worked as a trader with his brother in Fredericksburg. He arrived in Seguin in 1852, opened a saloon and set up the first billiard table. Not liking the business, he sold out after only a year.
At this time, Seguin’s Maj. Robert Neighbors was a member of the State Legislature and was employed by the Pewters Colony Company to take charge of a surveying party to locate lands for the company along the Clear Fork River. He hired James Hunter to raise a company of men to act as guards for the surveying party. He employed 18 men, several from Seguin and Guadalupe County.
Among these men were William M. Rust, William Tom, Frank Biler and Bud Grinage. William Rust was also a surveyor. Before leaving Seguin, Maj. Calvert, who’s daughter had married Texas Ranger Jack Coffee Hays in the Magnolia Hotel in 1847, presented James Hunter with a pair of pistols that had once belonged to Jack Hays and were used in the war with Mexico.
The men from Seguin arrived at Fort Belknap on the Brazos River and began their surveying work. After completing the survey work they returned to Austin, arriving there in November 1853. The legislature was in session at that time and H. E. McCulloch of Seguin was a member. James visited with McCulloch and stayed in the same hotel.
From Austin, James went to San Antonio and got a contract to carry the mail from San Antonio to Santa Fe, the same route on which Big Foot Wallace drove his stages. This was 1854. James had the contract for two years and during that time had three major fights with the Indians. At that time, the vast country from San Antonio to El Paso, a distance of 700 miles or more, was inhabited only by the Indians.
The first incident was near the Pecos River where they had stopped to water the horses and it was there that the Indians made their attack, firing on them from the nearby hills. There were eight men, including the passengers and regular guards. The Indians numbered about 20, three of which had rifles and the balance with bows. The Anglos had rifles and killed several of the Indians when they charged, forcing them to withdrew with their dead and wounded. The Anglos suffered no loss except one mule killed. The Indians were Mountain Apaches.
In another fight near Van Horn’s Well at a place called “Dead Mans Hole,” 50 Apaches attacked. One of the passengers was Dr. Giddings. The Indians approached and yelled “Amigos,” but the coach driver, who could speak Spanish, told them not to come any closer. The Indians withdrew and then circled to block the stage. They stopped in the road and displayed a soldier’s jacket on a spear, held up a letter and then dropped it in the road. A week before an Army messenger had been killed.
The Apaches were determined to stop the stage, kill the passengers and steal the horses.
The stage passengers and driver fought the Apaches off and at sundown the Indians withdrew, having five of their men killed and a number wounded. Two of the stage horses were killed. Two days later the stage was again attacked during the night at Devil’s River. The Apaches attempted to stampede the horses but failed and were again forced to withdraw with no loss to either side.
Many people were killed in battles along this route where James Hunter and Big Foot Wallace drove their stages. Sul Ross, later to be governor, was in one of those battles and was badly wounded.
James Hunter served as one of Seguin’s Texas Rangers, was a member of the Texas Legislature, and when he moved from Seguin to Mason County, served as a judge for 10 years. During his career on the Texas frontier he had been associated with distinguished men such as Gen. John B. Hood, Capt. Robert E. Lee and while in Seguin, Jack Coffee Hays. Seguin has many long forgotten heroes.