The apprehensive Kickapoos watched the surveyors’ every move on the morning of Oct. 8, 1838, knowing from bitter experience that when white men came to measure the land, settlers were not far behind.
A ghost town now for more than a century, Old Franklin was in the early days of the Texas Republic a jumping-off place for the central frontier. A steady stream of surveyors stocked up on supplies at the outpost before plunging into the trackless wilderness to lay out homesteads for impatient pioneers.
Two days out of Old Franklin in October 1838, a surveying party camped for the night at Parker’s Fort, site of the recent Comanche abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker. Forced by a defective compass to retrace their steps, two members of the expedition escaped the fate of their 25 companions.
At lunch the next day, several skittish Kickapoos approached the surveyors. In broken English, they profusely professed their own good will but warned of a hostile reception planned by less friendly tribes.
After politely thanking the Kickapoos for the tip, the map makers laughed at the simple-minded savages for thinking their lives might be in danger. What chance did anyone in a loincloth have against rapid-fire rifles?
The surveyors were still snickering, when a deadly rain of arrows began falling from the clear blue sky. Grabbing their instruments and weapons, they sought cover in a clump of trees only to run headlong into a waiting band of bowmen.
The second choice of concealment was a shallow ravine in the middle of the barren prairie. Making the most of the crowded hiding place, the surveyors pressed their bodies against the banks of the dry creek bed.
Though too busy dodging arrows to take an accurate head count, the Texans figured they were outnumbered at least ten to one. Having spotted Tehuacanas, Ionies, Wacos and Caddos as well as the two-faced Kickapoos during the mad dash for the gully, they surmised the surprise attack was a joint effort of every tribe in the area.
The resourceful Indians easily compensated for the modest cover provided by the small ravine. From perches in nearby trees, expert archers picked off surveyor after surveyor with uncanny accuracy.
Refusing to die flat on his belly, Euclid Cox bravely exposed himself in order to return fire. A bona fide marksman in his own right, he eliminated ten treetop snipers before an arrow put an end to him.
During a lull in the fighting, the surveyors’ fickle friends reappeared on horseback. They shouted from a distant ridge well out of range, “Kickapoos good Indians. Come to the Kickapoos.”
Everyone saw through the transparent trick, but an 82 year-old was willing to stake his long life on the slim chance the Kickapoos were sincere. He rode out to meet them and was slain in an instant.
By midnight 18 of the 25 surveyors lay dead. Waist-deep in corpses, the seven survivors faced the grim fact they were certain to be wiped out at first light. The pitch-black darkness offered the only chance of escape.
In the last group to leave was a badly wounded man named Violet. Even though a thigh bone had been broken by the impact of an arrow, he tried his best to keep up with his three able-bodied compatriots.
When the quartet stopped for water at dawn, Violet insisted his friends go on without him. The pain in his leg made walking impossible, and in his condition he only slowed them down. The others reluctantly concurred with his selfless assessment and left Violet behind never expecting to see him again.
Four days later, the tired trio staggered into Old Franklin. After listening to their tragic tale, 50 of the strongest stomachs in town volunteered to give the slaughtered surveyors a decent burial.
At Tehuacana Springs, the astonished riders discovered Violet. He had crawled 25 miles on his hands and knees to the popular waterhole and patiently waited to be rescued.
But at the scene of the massacre, only death and desolation greeted the burial detail. Wild animals had reduced the remains of the victims to bare bones, which the horrified volunteers hurriedly interred in a common grave.
Meanwhile, the Kickpoos and their allies celebrated a great victory. Exaggerating the significance of the one-sided skirmish, they naively presumed their tribal lands were forever secure.
The Indian never quite understood that a bloodbath every now and then did nothing to deter the western migration of the white man, who took occasional calamities in stride. But incidents like the slaughter of the surveyors did convince him there was no place in Texas for the red man.