Henry Stout's Account of
the Death of John B. Denton
The Weekly Gazette Forth Worth, Texas Friday, July 1, 1887
THE LONG AGO.
A Half Hour's Chat with Mr. Henry Stout of Wood County One of the Texas Veterans. He Relates the circumstances Connected with the Finding of the Bones of John B. Denton. - The battle in which Denton was killed, in 1841, Fought in Tarrant County. Incidents of the Battle. - Death of Bowles, the Distinguished Cherokee Chief, Who was a Friend to the White Man of Texas.
Seated in front of Ginocchio's Hotel at the Union Depot was an old gentleman of perhaps four score and ten, enjoying the breeze as it came over the prairie. He was not a resident of any town, that was evident; he was not the typical farmer either, but belonged to a generation that has passed away and to a time long since marked down on the great calendar. He was tall, slender and marvelously active for his age, and his quick movement and rapid gestures while talking, showed that the old fire had not all died out. His head was covered with a full suit of hair, almost white, his face was clean shaven and his apparel bespoke more the frontier cowboy, modified to suit old age, than anything else. He had reached the city in the morning and had to lay over until night, waiting for a train, and occupied his time in looking out upon the prairies and over the hill tops, soliloquizing: "There; yes, right down yonder by that third piece of wood is where we passed in '41. I can follow the trail from right here to where we buried Denton. Yes, that's it; I knew I could find it; I found Denton's grave and dug up his bones nigh on to thirty eight years after we burried him, and I can tell just where the trail runs from the big spring up yonder to where we met the Indians," and the old gentleman would look long and wistfully out upon the prairies.
When the Gazette representative approached the old gentleman seemed glad to find an audience, and proceeded at once to relate his history and the object of his mission: "I'm one of the old ones," said he, "And have been to Austin for my pension money. I have been entitled to a pension for some time, but couldn't get it until I went to Austin. You see when Sam Houston was about finishing up his little business with the Mexicans he left me to guard the frontier. General Houston knew me, and knew if I was left there would be no Indians come in the settlements. When the Mexican war was over I went home and never received my formal discharge. There was no one to discharge me in this part of the State and I cared but little for it anyhow, because I had been fighting the Indians since 1819, and never looked for or expected a pension. This made it somewhat difficult to obtain, but when I went to see the boy's that Comptroller, McCall, I had no more trouble than it is for me to sit in this chair. Nobody has any trouble with that boy; I got along as well as if I had been the best lawyer in the state, "and he rubbed his hands in great good humor. "I wrote to Mr. ______, (a prominent lawyer in Austin) and told him I would give him $25 to get my pension. He wrote me back, here is his letter (showing letter), and wanted me to take $100 and let him take what he could get. You see, he just wanted to beat me. He knew that all he would have to do would be to ask for it and he would get it. I told him - I wrote him back - that he should not have a cent, and I got on the train and went to Austin.
I went in and demanded my papers. He was very polite and wanted me to sit down. He again asked if I would not accept his proposition and I refused. He wanted to beat me out of my money, and I told him so and demanded my papers. Just as soon as I got my papers I went back to that Comptroller boy and I just sat down a minute and then went out with another boy to the bank, who presented two checks an got me my $300. And you see that lawyer wanted to beat me out of $200, and if I had not gone to Austin I would have lost it, but that Comptroller boy - he's honest - he don't try to beat anybody. He has no interest in the matter only to pay out the money and he gets paid for that. I tell you nobody wants a lawyer with that boy. I got along as well as if I had been the best lawyer in the country”, and he seemed to be highly delighted with the thought of his cleverness and success.
"But you were saying something about finding the bones of Denton?" ventured the reporter in the hopes of bringing him to the stirring events of long ago. "Yes; poor Denton! I'm not at muself today. I feel like I had been on a spree. I did not sleep last night; was on the cars, and did not sleep. I slept some this morning, and don't you think they charged me half a dollar for sleeping three hours!" said he with evident surprise. "Now, if I had gone up to the other end of the village I could have got a bed for two bits in some of those taverns, couldn't I? The reporter told him that hotels charged 50 and 75 cents for a room, no matter how short a time it was occupied. "Well," said he musingly, "I thought maybe those taverns not so close to the road would give me a bed for two bits. I never used to pay for a bed when I was here before. I slept on the prairie in Red River County three or four years and it didn't cost me anything." "Times change and we change with them," said the reporter, "You speak of Red River County; I presume you know our venerable friend Hon. Charles De Morse?" "Charles De Morse!" said the old man dramatically. "Yes I know him; but don't say anything about those old fellows now. It troubles me and makes me unable to talk. I have something in here (pointing to his heart) and rises up when I talk of them”. The reporter excused himself and promised not to say anything more, but urged the old gentleman to speak about the early days of Texas and of his own history. He replied: "I can't tell the story straight like what you would read in a book, but I will tell it my way, and you can straighten it out."
From a somewhat rambling discourse, it was ascertained that the venerable old gentleman was Mr. Henry Stout, who is well known to all Texans. He had the reputation of being a great scout and a fearless Indian fighter in his day. He was born in Logan County Va., at or before the birth of the present century. He removed to Illinois when quite young and was raised in a "block house”, and it was there he learned the Indian character so well which enabled him to understand their peculiar mode of warfare. In 1819, he removed to Nacogdoches, moved from there to Nacatosh (Natchitoches, La.) and from thence to a point in Red River County where he stood guard over the settlers for a number of years, and was through the Mexico War as a frontier scout and Indian fighter and entered the confederate service in Marmaduke's Cavalry. He had voted against secession, but when the war came up he joined with his neighbors, and at Pleasant Hill his horse fell and he was injured so he had to return home. His life is one series of adventures and moving accident, and the writers of fiction cannot conceive of a character whose exploits are more thrilling.
FINDING DENTON'S GRAVE
"You spoke of finding Denton's grave," said the reporter. "Please give me the history of the search." "How I came to look for Denton's bones was this way: Denton was killed in 1841, and a great many people had looked for his grave, but nobody could find it. Major Jarvis of Fort Worth, (I wish I could see him) sent for me to come and look for them, and I came to Fort Worth. This was about thirty-eight years after the burying, and I had not been in the country since. I came to Major Jarvis' house. I stopped all night. I told him if he would furnish a horse I would go and find the place, and his wife fixed me up some provisions to carry along. I went out from Fort Worth one morning and rode along the skirt of timber yonder, Peter Smith going with me. I hadn't gone far before I struck the trail and could tell by the timber and the hills that it was the same one I had rode over thirty-eight years before. I rode along until I reached the timbers where I wanted to go, and after going around I met a fence and cornfield right on the trail." And the old man showed an indignant surprise at the desecration committed by civilization on the once famous "trail," that he had ruminated over, mentally, for nearly half a century. "Yes sir, a cornfield and a man named Pulliam was pulling corn. I told him my name and told him I was coming to dig up John Denton's bones. He asked me if I was at Denton's burying. I told him yes. He asked me how many was there then when he was buried. I told him seven and named every one of them. He laughed and said my name made even 500 who had been to see him to claimed to have buried or helped to bury Denton. He made me have dinner, however, and we set out in the direction of the grave. We went up the forks of Fossil and Trinity and around near Birdville. There was a ridge of post oaks on a knoll and, would you believe it," said he, again manifesting his disgust for the obliterating of modern times, "The trail was so worn by wagon wheels that I could hardly follow it." It was amusing to see with what a feeling of profound reverence he spoke of the "trail." To him it was not a primitive pathway worn out by horse or perchance by buffalo herds. It has a fixed, definite, palpable immutability. It was the first and ought to remain. The hills, and skirts of woods, the huge boulders and creek bottoms were there and the "trail" used to run thus and so. The hills, woods and rocks were still there just as he had seen them in '41 - just as he had seen them through the eye of memory for forty years. There was no change save the obliteration of the "trail," here and there, by wagon road or by an obstruction such as a wire fence or a corn field. He evidently could not bring himself to believe that the "trail" could change any more had the mountains. It might be obliterated by the vandalism of progress or the blasphemy of advancing civilization, but those guilty were guilty of sacrilege, and should receive condign punishment. And who can blame the old man? The "trail" unknown or insignificant though it be to us, was to him a something that could not be taken away. It was a part and parcel of the picture upon which he had gazed for years; it was a prominent feature of the landscape over which he had taken many mental excursions, and to change it in any way was to show him that his faith of half a century was defective, and that which was old, and dear and treasured, had been rudely shattered and cast aside.
FINDING THE BONES.
"When we had reached a certain point," continued Mr. Stout, "I sat down and looked around. The place was familiar to me. The country was too broken for farming, and it was left in its primeval condition. I did not look long until I pointed out a leaning tree and told my companions that there Denton was buried. And so he was, though no trace of grave could be seen. I knew how we laid him, and we soon dug down. We first found his hip bones, then portions of his skull, but most of his remains had crumbled into dust." JOHN B. DENTON. "Who was Denton?" repeated the old gentleman in apparent astonishment at the ignorance of the bystander who had asked the question. "John B. Denton was one of the grandest men Texas ever contained. He was a good man, too, and a brave man. He used to be a Circuit rider over in Arkansas, and he was A POWERFUL EXHORTER. He came to Texas at an early day and was studying law, preaching, farming and fighting Indians. He was a pious good man, and a truer friend or more daring spirit never lived. His death and my wounds were the result of bad management."
"I can recollect well the day Denton was killed. We were living in Red River County, making our corn, and the Indians came in on us and killed eight out of one family. They tortured even the little children. We could do nothing without provisions, so we made our crop and took the trail. Brigadier General Tarrant was there, but he did not order us out. We met among ourselves and elected Bowlin our Captain. Tarrant felt slighted, but wanted to come along, and offered to serve under anyone we would elect. I always thought that Tarrant's blundering and cowardice was the cause of Denton's death, and I always will. He got himself elected to command, and got scared in the wrong time. We met eight miles north of Clarksville and formed our company. We knew where the old Kechi village was in Wise County, and went in the night to Bridgeport on the Trinity, and found that the village had been deserted. Then we went south on the Jack County line to the Brazos River; then traveled around hunting for the Indians until we found ourselves at the upper edge of the cross-timbers at a big spring, where we stayed all night. Next day we rode down towards Birdville and over the Trinity and Fossil and camped again. This was the night before the fight and there was not a sign of an Indian around. Tarrant said we would give up the chase. He said he wanted to get back before Trinity raised, but it did not look like rain and we would not agree. He was twitted with cowardice and concluded that he would go along and we continued our search. We followed a buffalo trail down to Fossil and as soon as we crossed discovered two pony tracks. We noticed too, that the brush alongside the trail had been pulled out tufts of oats and rye, and we knew we were close to them. We sent back word to the main part of our little army - I have seven or eight men as a scouting party, the rest were behind under Tarrant - and we received word from Tarrant to watch out behind and before. One of my little party was Early of Ladonia. Denton, Scott and Bowlin were others. We passed over a little knoll and around close to where there were a whole tribe of Indians, but they did not see us nor we them. We turned further on to the left there saw two ponies and soon after two squaws. One of the squaws had a brass kettle preparing something. The only was an Anadargo squaw and had a baby in her arms. Tarrant learning that Indians were in the brush, kept his men out of the way and let us go it alone. Bowlin and I concluded to charge the camp. When we got within seventy-five yards of it the squaws saw us. One running down the creek, and the one with the child ran directly towards me. I could have killed both of them and, thinking of the eight people killed in one of my neighbor's families, I wonder I did not. The Indians were alarmed and sought shelter and concealment. Tarrant sent Denton, myself and two or three others to go into the brush and investigate. We had to divide into small crowds. We went into the thicket and came to a slough; Bowlin and two or three others rode across. If Denton had crossed he might not have been killed, but he thought it too boggy. He suggested a different route which we followed, and entering a thicket we saw evidence of the presence of Indians. Bowlin and party had taken the left and we the right, and that is what fooled us. We thought he was ahead of us and he was, in fact, behind. Just as Denton and I were going down a small ravine ten or twelve Indians fired on us from the thicket. I heard the shots and looked at Denton. He had raised his gun to shoot, but dropped it and fell dead. His horse commenced grazing by him. In a moment I received a severe wound in the arm and another bullet struck the lock of my Dutch gun; tore off the spring and knocked the stock against the side of my head with such force as to stun me. You see my arm is till shattered and scarred. Tarrant heard the guns and never made a move to assist us. He had sent a handful of us to look for Indians, knowing well that if we found them we would have to fight, and if we did not our errand would be fruitless. As soon as Bowlin heard the shooting he rushed to our assistance, and Scott cried out that Denton was killed and Stout wounded. Scott had sworn for some time, but he cursed the stupidity that brought about the accident. I was bleeding profusely and was weak, and Bowlin said we had better go to camp. We went to where Tarrant's command was, and on the way Bowlin reached down and picked up a brass kettle that the Indians had left, and dipping up water from the branch poured it on my head. I think that saved my life. Tarrant wanted to go back, but the boys would not hear of it. The Indians had fled in consternation, and we picked up a great deal of plunder. Kettles, buffalo robes, eighty head of horses, and worlds of corn which they had made and hid out in the thickets. We buried Denton in the forks of Fossil and I marked the place as I told you and recollected it and found it thirty-eight years after. We also found powder and lead and more salt than a mule could pack. A Dutchman in our party got ten head of horses that were stolen from him previously and we were rich in plunder and spoils." The old gentleman recounted many events of the early days of Texas. The death of Chief Bowles, the famous Cherokee; the part played in these stirring times by men whose names are a part of the history of Texas, and of the struggles and privations of early settlers. From the time Mr. Stout went to Red River County in 1820, until 1842 he was always under arms and ready to go at a moment's notice. In 1842 when the Mexicans threatened San Antonio, he was called out and started for the Alamo City. On the way they were turned back and given orders to be ready at minute's notice to march again, and since that date Mr. Stout says, "I have been a minute man ever since."
"We did not do Bowles right," said Mr. Stout, "and I'll always regret it. Bowles was the friend of the white man. In 1836 when the report got out that Houston was whipped, some of the Indians wanted to come and whip us. Bowles dissented. He said while the Indians might whip a few white frontiersmen, there were other white men and too many to attack. He thus averted a war. When Texas passed a law providing that no colored person could hold land, this applied to Cherokees. The Indians were ordered to quit the country at an impossible time. When they explained they could not, they were then told to give up their guns. Rusk had demanded this and Bowles was willing but his braves rebelled and would not do it. The last fight was on this account and poor Bowles was killed at the head of his people in Van Zandt county. Yes we done Bowles wrong," said the old gentleman regretfully, and the reporter moved on.