INDIAN WARS AND PIONEERS OF TEXAS.
The Famous Council House Fight in San Antonio, March 19,
1840-A Bloody Tragedy-Official Details.
From the retreat of the people before Santa
Anna in the spring of 1836, down to the close of
1839, the Comanches and other wild tribes had
depredated along our entire line of frontier, stealing
horses, killing men, and carrying into captivity
women and children, more especially the latter,
for they often murdered the women also.
On several occasions, as at Houston in 1857, and
perhaps twice at San Antonio, they had made quasitreaties,
promising peace and good behavior, but
on receiving presents and leaving for home they
uniformly broke faith and committed depredations.
The people and the government became outraged
at such perfidy and finally the government determined,
if possible, to recover our captives and
inculcate among the hostiles respect for pledges
and a desire for peace.
The seat of government in the fall of 1839 was
removed from Houston to Austin, a newly planned
town, forming the outside settlement on the Colorado.
There was not even a single cabin above or
beyond the place, west, north, or east, above the
falls of the Brazos. So stood matters when the
first day of January, 1840, arrived, with Mirabeau
B. Lamar as President, David G. Burnet as VicePresident,
and Albert Sidney Johnston on the eve
of resigning as Secretary of War, to be succeeded
by Dr. Branch T. Archer.
On the 10th of January, 1840, from San Antonio,
Col. Henry W. Karnes (then out of office), wrote
Gen. Johnston, Secretary of War, announcing that
three Comanche chiefs had been in on the previous
day, expressing a desire for peace, stating also that
their tribe, eighteen days previously, had held a
council, agreed to ask for peace and had chosen a
prominent chief to represent them in the negotiation.
They said they had rejected overtures and
presents from the hostile Cherokees, and also of
the Centralists, of Mexico, who had emissaries
among their people. Col. Karnes told them no
treaty was possible unless they brought in all
prisoners and stolen property held by them. To
this they said their people had already assented in
council. They left, promising to return in twenty
or thirty days with a large party of chiefs and
warriors, prepared to make a treaty, and that all
white prisoners in their hands would be brought in
From their broken faith on former occasions, and
their known diplomatic treachery with Mexico from
time immemorial, neither the President, Secretary
of War nor Col. Karnes (who had been a prisoner
among them) had any faith in their promises, beyond
their dread of our power to punish them.
Official action was based on this apprehension of
their intended duplicity.
On the 30th of January Lieut.-Col. William S.
Fisher, commanding the First Regiment of Infantry,
was instructed to march three companies to San
Antonio under his own command, and to take such
position there as would enable him to detain the
Comanches, should they come in without our prisoners.
In that case, says the order of Gen. Johnston,
" some of their number will be dispatched as
messengers to the tribe to inform them that those
retained will be held as hostages until the (our)
prisoners are delivered up, when the hostages
will be released." The instructions further say:
"It has been usual, heretofore, to give presents.
For the future such custom will be dispensed
Following this military order, and in harmony
with the suggestion of Col. Karnes, President Lamar
dispatched Col. Hugh McLeod, Adjutant-General,
and Col. William G. Cooke, Quartermaster-General,
as commissioners to treat with the Comanches,
should they come in, and with instructions in accord
with those given Col. Fisher. They repaired
to San Antonio and awaited events.
On the 19th of March, in the morning, two Comanche
runners entered San Antonio and announced
the arrival in the vicinity of a party of sixty-five
men, women and children, and only one prisoner,
a girl of about thirteen years, Matilda Lockhart.
In reporting the subsequent facts to the President
on the next day Col. McLeod wrote: "They
(the Indians) came into town. The
little girl was very intelligent and told us that she
had seen several of the other prisoners at the principal
camp a few days before she left, and that they
brought her in to see if they could get a high price
for her, and, if so, they intended to bring in the
rest, one at a time.
"Having ascertained this, it became necessary
to execute your orders and take hostages for the
safe return of our people, and the order was
accordingly given by Col. William G. Cooke, acting
Secretary of War. Lieut.-Col. Fisher, First
Brown, John Henry. Indian wars and pioneers of Texas / by John Henry Brown.. Austin, Tex.. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth6725/. Accessed July 28, 2015.