Texas Tales—Mike Cox

At 64, folks still called him Johnny.

That suggests a convivial nature, but at this late date, that's only a guess. Unless his descendants -- and he had quite a few when he died -- possess a letter or yellowed newspaper clipping with more details, the full story of John Williams' life may never be known. He was born in Alabama and, as one brief account puts it, "moved several times before reaching Cherokee Creek country about 1854."

Well into his 50s by the time he came to San Saba County, he must have had some interesting experiences before then. At his age, he could have been in Texas since the days of the republic. Question marks aside, he had at least one shining moment.

In the fall of 1858, Mose Jackson, his wife and four of their seven children set out in their wagon to gather pecans along Pecan Bayou, a tributary of the Colorado River. Their plan was to meet two other neighboring families and set up camp.

As the wagon rolled along under the trees about four miles from their homestead, Jackson saw figures in the distance. Drawing closer, he realized they were Comanches, not the friends he was supposed to rendezvous with. Turning the wagon, he tried to outdistance the Indians, but on horseback they easily overtook the family.

Jackson and his 18-year-old daughter Louisa absorbed a barrage of arrows. With Jackson mortally wounded, the wagon careened into a tree. The Indians tore Mrs. Jackson's screaming baby, I.J., from her arms and tossed him around before smashing his head on a log. Seeing this, 10-year-old Joshua began yelling at the Indians. His mother, desperately hoping to save someone in her family, told him to be quiet. Her whispered warning ended in an agonal gurgle as an Indian came up from behind and slashed her throat.

Grabbing Joshua and his screaming eight-year-old sister, Rebecca, the

Indians rode off, adding the Jacksons' wagon team to a herd of horses stolen

earlier in Brown and Coryell counties.

A company of rangers under Williams rode up on the scene of the attack shortly after it happened.

None of the men recognized the victims but learned who they were when one of the families the Jacksons were supposed to meet arrived. Jackson and his wife were buried in one grave and their children in another.

After the funeral, the rangers and volunteers took up the trail of the Indians and two Jackson children. Fifteen days after the Jackson family massacre, the rangers found a freshly-deserted Indian camp. Seeing the footprints of children, the men began searching around the camp site. Before long, two of the men saw a little face and two large, frightened eyes peeping from a tangle of thorny brush and vines. Though scratched and bleeding, their feet swollen and blistered, the children at least were alive. Rebecca told the rangers they had managed to escape their captors. Seeing horsemen approach, and fearing the riders were Indians, they had hidden in the thicket until the rangers found them.

Even though the children had managed to get away from the Indians on their own, they were alone out in the middle of nowhere when the rangers found them. Williams saved their lives.

Not only did Indians continue to be a problem along the Texas frontier, the situation grew worse. On Feb. 20, 1860, Williams wrote to Gov. Sam Houston requesting protection from Indians. Houston replied four days later, noting that he "greatly commiserates your distressed condition." Had the Legislature provided any means, he continued, "I would, ere now, have afforded you protection."

After the Civil War began, Williams' part of Texas became even more distressed. Too old to fight Yankees unless they invaded San Saba County, he still saddled up if Indians were reported in the vicinity.

Williams also helped feed the Confederacy during the early days of the Civil War. In the summer of 1862, he and David S. Hanna and others from the area drove a thousand "fine fat beeves" from San Saba County to Little Rock, Ark. Presumably with money in their saddlebags, they headed back to Central Texas in September.

Near Babyhead Mountain in Llano County, Williams was attacked by Indians. Whether he was alone or with others did not make it into any of the San Saba County history books, but he did not survive the experience.

What happened to him? Did he get caught out alone, dying hard because he faced more Indians than he had bullets? Did he try to outrun them only to have his horse stumble or go lame?

No matter the circumstances of his death, he was buried on land near Cherokee he had donated for use as a cemetery.

Some time later, friends and relatives placed a granite marker on his grave. For as long as igneous rock will last, which is a long time, these are the words on the monument: "Capt. Johnny Williams / Born 1798 / Killed by Indians / Oct. 2, 1862 / Donated this cemetery plot to the public."

Too bad someone didn't add the words "Saved two children."