The Battle of Village Creek
The Texas Sentinel
Editor's note: The following account in the Texas Sentinel was found in the Archives of the State of Texas in Austin. This is the first published account of the death of John B. Denton and is the official War Department record of the Village Creek incident.
Austin Thursday evening- July 8th,1841.
Important situation of our northeastern frontier. We have been politely furnished from the War Department the following official report of Brigadier General Tarrant. A few days since Captain Chandler of the Robertson pioneers captured some Indian prisoners who informed him of the camp which General Tarrant discovered. One of the prisoners agreed to act as pilot to this camp. Colonel Cooke, of the Santa Fe Command, was applied to for succor by the frontier settlement high up on the Brazos. When Mr. Powhatten Archer, a minor son of the honorable Secretary of War Clovis, volunteered and went alone over one hundred miles through an Indian country in order to obtain this pilot. Young Mr. Archer arrived in town on yesterday from Robertson County for orders from the president to take said pilot. He leaves today with some spirited young friends to join his command. To much praise cannot be awarded to this young gentleman. He has, we believe, been among the foremost in almost every Indian conflict for the last two years and has ever sustained a high character for gallantry. Orders have been issued by the Secretary of War to Brigadier General McLeod to attack said encampment and if possible break it up.
Bowie County, June 5th 1841. Honorable B.T. Archer, Secretary of War.
Dear Sir, by order of General Edward H. Tarrant Brigadier General of the 4th Brigade Texas militia I communicate to you the following facts relative to an expedition which he has lately completed against the hostile Indians which he has lately completed. On the 14th of May he left Fort Johnson (3 obscured words) one company of men commanded by Captain James Bourland. Owing to late depredations by the Indians of a more frequent and daring character and learning the village of the Indians had lately been discovered on the headwaters above the Trinity River, he determined that the small number of sixty-nine men, if possible, to find the Indians and attack them.
We marched five days in a direction a little south of west passing through the lower cross timbers and crossing the head branches of the middle fork of the Trinity. On the fifth day we entered the upper cross timbers and changed our direction a little more south. On the nineteenth we discovered tolerable fresh signs and we had every reason to believe that there were Indians in the vicinity. We soon found two of their villages which we found to be deserted. The Indians at some previous time had cultivated corn at these villages. there were some sixty or seventy lodges in these villages. They were on the main western branch of the Trinity, they being situated on the high branches of the mountains, General Tarrant deemed it imprudent to burn the villages for fear of giving alarm to the Indians. From such elevated positions the smoke could have been seen for many miles, but they were in great measure destroyed with our axes. We changed our course southeast following the course some distance the main western branch of the Trinity and on the twenty first we crossed the high divide and camped that night on the most eastern branch of the Brazos. Finding no Indian signs there we changed our course east until we again struck the Trinity, intending to scour the western branch of its mouth. On the twenty first we came to the ford of the Trinity where Generals Rusk and Dyer charged the Kickapoo camp in 1838 inside of the lower crosstimbers.
We recrossed the Trinity from the eastern side to the western and upon the high prairies one mile from the ford we found very fresh signs of the Indians. The spies were sent ahead and returned and reported the Indian village within three miles. We arrived within four or five hundred yards of it and took up a position behind a thicket. The men were ordered to divest themselves of their blankets, packs, and all manner of encumbrances after which the line was formed and the word given to charge. We charged into the village on horseback, it was taken in an instant. The Indians scarcely having time to secure their lodges before we were in the village. Several were shot in attempting to escape. Discovering a large trail leading down the creek and some of the Indians having gone in that direction, a few men were left at the village, and the rest, at full speed took their course down the creek upon which the village was situated. Two miles from the first village we suddenly burst upon another. This was taken like the first. There was another village in sight. Below many of the horses having failed the men ran towards this village on foot. The Indians having heard the firing of the second village had the time to get their guns and ammunition and commenced occasionally to return our fire. From this time there was no distinction between villages but one continuous village for the distance of one mile and a half only separated by the creek upon which it was situated.
We had now become so scattered that General Tarrant deemed it advisable to establish some rallying point where smaller parties would be expected to rally. We marched back to the second village and the rear guard with the packs, etc. having come up the General chose this as his position. At this point Captain John B. Denton, aid to General Tarrant, and Captain Bourland took ten men each for the purpose of scouring the woods. The parties went different directions but formed a junction one mile and a half below the second village. From this point they intended to return but discovering a very large trail, much larger than any seen yet, one end of which lead over a mountain west the other east towards the main Trinity crossing the creek upon which the villages were situated. They were compelled to cross this creek at the lower end of the bend which was formed like a horseshoe. They turned to cross the creek perceiving through the timber what appeared to be a village still larger than any they had heretofore seen. But just as the head of the two detachments were on the eve of entering the creek they were fired upon from every direction by an enemy that could not be seen. At the first fire General Tarrants aid Captain Denton was killed and Captain Henry Stout was severely wounded. Captain Griffin slightly. The clothes of many others were pierced with bullets but fortunately no one else touched. Situated as they were it was impossible to maintain their position being fired at from almost every quarter and being unable to see the enemy. In this situation the men done the best they could, dismounting some of them raising the yell and making every demonstration as though they were intending to charge across the creek. The Indian yells and firing soon ceased and both parties left the ground. It was not the wish of General Tarrant to take any prisoners. The women and children alone we suffered to escape if they wished, and the men neither asked, gave, nor received any quarter.
From the prisoner that we had taken we learned that at those villages there were upward of one thousand warriors, not more than half of which were at home. The other half were out hunting buffalo and stealing on the frontiers. Here is the depot for the stolen horses from our frontier and the home of the horrible savages who have murdered our families. There were portions of a good many tribes, principally the Cherokees, who were driven from Nacadoches County, Creeks, Seminoles, Wacos, Caddoes, Kikapoos, Anadarkoes, etc. We counted 225 lodges all in occupation, besides those we could see the glimpse through the trees. In the main village they had about three hundred acres of corn that we saw and were abundantly provided with ammunition of every kind. They had good guns and had molded a great many bullets. Each lodge had two or three little bags of powder and of lead tied up in equal proportions, and at one lodge a sort of blacksmith shop where we found a set of blacksmith tools. We found over half a bushel of molded bullets. We also found some sergeants swords , musket, flints, musket and rifle powder, pig lead, and musket ball, which we suppose they must have taken from the place where the regular army buried a portion of their ammunition. They had all manner of farming utensils of the best quality except plows. In some of the lodges we found feather beds and bedsteads. We felt convinced that if the Indians could ascertain the smallness of our numbers they might with so great a number, by taking advantage of us at the crossing of those creeks, with such immense thickets in their bottoms which we were compelled to cross, if not defeat at least cut off many of our men, and if we had remained at the village all night it would have given the Indians time to have concentrated their forces, ascertained our numbers, and with ease have prevented us from crossing a stream the size of the Trinity.
It was deemed advisable therefore to take up the line of our march and cross the Trinity that night. At five o'clock with our dead companion tied across a horse we left the village, marched twelve miles back on the trail we came, crossed the Trinity and camped on an open prairie. The next morning twenty-five miles from the village we buried our friend and in five more days we arrived at the settlements. We had one killed, one badly and one slightly wounded. The Indians had twelve killed that we counted and a great many more must have been killed and wounded from the quantity of blood we saw on their trails and the thickets where they had run. We brought in six head of cattle, thirty-seven horses, three hundred pounds of lead, thirty pounds powder, thirty brass kettles, twenty-one axes, seventy-three buffalo robes, fifteen guns, thirteen packsaddles, two ladies saddles, three swords, besides other things not recollected.
I am with great respect your obd't servn't
William N. Porter acting Brigadier Inspector
(Editors note: When I found this article in the Texas Sentinel it was not possible to obtain a printed copy. This version is my own transcription. Although there were many errors in the printed original, any deviations from that printed version are my errors alone. MC)