Thursday, October 8, 2015

JOSIAH WILBARGER, A SCALPING, AND A GHOST




 With this post, I hope to prove to one and all that I can tell a horror story and ghost story--all wrapped up in one event--without scaring myself. 
I can do this.

The story is about a Texan named Josiah Wilbarger who was one of the early settlers of Austin, Texas. Some dispute exists where he had lived before, but probably it was Indiana or Missouri.

ONION CREEK IN PRESENT DAY
He settled near the Colorado River where there is a bend called Hornsby Bend, named for Reuben Hornsby. Today this bend is close to an area between Austin and San Marcos called Onion Creek.

In 1820, Hornsby and his family had built a blockhouse fort there, and a small settlement grew up around it. Josiah Wilbarger spent time at the fort and soon became enamored with one of the Hornsby daughters.

Since Wilbarger was single man and a frontiersman, he hired himself out as a guide to surveyors and land scouts in the wild area west of Austin. However, he made one fatal mistake, and that was to take the same route every day into the open land that was free for the taking.

When a man begins to use the same route every day, he becomes predictable. A good and capable scout would know to vary his route often. Failing to do so put him and the men he led in serious trouble. They became vulnerable to ambush.

On one fateful day, a group of Comanche warriors approached Wilbarger's party and began shooting. Two men escaped, but the rest of the party were shot, including Wilbarger.

He was hit in the neck by a large-caliber musket ball. It apparently bruised his spine, temporarily paralyzing his entire body. Although conscious, he was unable to move or even blink his eyes. This method was called "creasing" if used intentionally.
The Indians stripped him naked except for one sock on one foot.

SIDE NOTE:
"Creasing" a Wild Horse consisted of shooting a bullet so that it strikes the animal on the top of the neck just in front of the ears and about an inch or so deep close to the spinal column. The shock stunned the horse, and the hunter ran up and tied the animal's feet together before it recovered.

Some advocated this method of capturing a mustang, but more often than not, the act killed or maimed the horse such that it had to be put down in the end.

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Wilbarger suffered these same symptoms after being struck by a musket ball. To others, he appeared dead. Luckily, this act saved his life.

As a writer and researcher, I was surprised the Comanche had guns in addition to bows and arrows. Also, some accounts say the Indians were Kickapoo--not Comanche.

The Indians began to strip and scalp the men. When it came Wilbarger's turn, he did not feel pain, but only pressure on his scalp where the Indian cut around the hair and skin he intended to remove.
Wilbarger later related he heard a sound 'like distant thunder" as the scalp was ripped away. He said he looked into the Indian's eyes the entire time, unable to move or even blink. If he had done either, the Indian would have killed him.
At some point he lost consciousness.

When he awakened, the sun was low. He dragged himself to the banks of Onion Creek, washed as much of the blood off as he could, wet the one sock, and placed it atop his head over the area that had been scalped.

He tried to go in the direction of Hornsby's fort but didn't get far. Exhausted, he sat down at the base of a big tree, still naked, and prepared himself to die. He folded his arms and cupped his hands over his privates so whomever found him would not be distressed or disgusted.

Shortly after the sun went down but before true darkness fell, he amazingly saw his sister, Margaret Clifton,  walking toward him. He thought she was still back in Indiana, 700 miles away. She stood in front of him and said "Have no fear, brother Josiah. Help is on the way." She then 'disappeared' going in the direction of Hornsby's fort.

When the two survivors arrived at Hornsby's blockhouse fort, they insisted all others had been killed. All men there tightly closed up the fort and loaded all rifles and pistols in preparation for a possible attack. When darkness fell and there was no attack, the residents relaxed slightly and the Hornsby family went to bed.
 
Soon after falling asleep, Sarah Hornsby abruptly awoke.
She sat up. She'd had a dream. In it she saw Wilbarger--wounded but alive, sitting under a tree. She woke Reuben and told him of the dream.
Reuben didn't put much stock in dreams. He told his wife to go back to sleep. Wilbarger was dead. The survivors saw him killed. He and the boys would go collect the bodies as soon as the sun came up.
 
Sarah went back to sleep. She had the dream again, this time in greater detail. "He's been scalped," she told Reuben. "He's got something on his head-some sort of cloth over where he was scalped."

Reuben again told his wife that dreams meant nothing, and to go back to sleep.
Sarah had the dream a third time, this time in much greater detail. She was able to describe his exact location. Reuben gave in and woke the boys. They dressed, and went out to saddle horses.
"Take the wagon," she told them. "He can't ride." She brought blankets and quilts from the house to pad the wagon's bed.

They found Wilbarger exactly where Sarah Hornsby described from her dream, and he was alive. At the fort, the Hornsby daughters nursed him back to health.
Later, Josiah married one of the daughters, retired from his job as a scout, and operated a cotton gin for the rest of his life.

The skin never grew back over the skull where he'd been scalped. He wore, according to the stories, a silk or quilted skull cap at all times.

Several months into his recovery, Wilbarger received a letter from his family. It had been written months before, soon after his sister "appeared" to him as he lay near death under the tree. Mail service was slow during those early days in Texas.
The sister who appeared to him died the day before he was shot. As he lay unconscious and bleeding on the banks of Onion Creek, she was laid to rest.

When she appeared to him, she was spending her first night in the coffin in her grave. Believe it or not.

Years later, Josiah Wilbarger hit the scalped portion of his head on a low doorframe, fractured his skill, and died.

Josiah Pugh Wilbarger (September 10, 1801 – April 11, 1845)
A legendary early Texan who lived eleven years after being scalped by Comanche Indians.
(The following is found on the back of his tombstone.)
Captain of a Company of the
Mississippi Militia in the War
of 1812. First came to Texas in 1814
In 1818 he was Brigade Major
of Long's Expedition
Returned to Louisiana and
next came to Texas in 1822 with
Stephen F. Austin
Fought in the Battle of
Velasco in 1832
and was a delegate to the
Consultation in 1835
~~*~~
Celia Yeary-Romance...and a little bit 'o Texas

Sources:
Wikipedia
The Handbook of Texas Online
South Texas Traveler
Texas Tales Your Teacher Never Told You

24 comments:

  1. Wow! What a story, Celia. I've never heard of creasing. How horrible to be aware of your surroundings, but unable to move. I'm surprised he lived as long as he did in a time period where sanitation wasn't that popular. You did very well with your first ghost story. :)

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    1. Thank you, Kirsten. I left out the really awful part, that of maggots getting in his wound...if you majored in biology like I did, you knew all about this!

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  2. You did an awesome job on this post, Celia. I really enjoyed reading it.

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    1. Thank you, Paisley. I found that this story has been told about a hundred times...it's all over Google. But each telling is a little different.

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  3. Celia, wonderful retelling of a harrowing, yet fantastic story. Thank you. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines-author

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    1. Doris--yes, it has been told many times. Thanks for visiting!

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  4. Celia,
    That's quite a story! Thanks so much for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Kristy--I appreciate your reading and commenting.

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  5. Well, that's a perfect Halloween story, isn't it? Celia, I don't blame you for wondering whether you could tell it without disappearing under the covers! :-D

    Thank you for filling a deplorable gap in my knowledge of Texas history. :-)

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    1. Kathleen--I left out the other really icky part, the part where he describes maggots getting in the wound...well, you can figure that out. But this story? It's really rather well-known....at least some parts of it. Thanks for coming by. I do appreciate it.

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  6. Yowzers, I'm both shivering and weepy. What a story...couldn't make this one up. WOW. That said, the method of creasing is just sickening to me. This is a terrific post, Celia. Thanks.

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    1. Tanya--the method of creasing is not found in every account, but I did run across it in two books. Seems the authors wanted us to know about the cruelty the Indians--Comanche or Kickapoo--inflicted on these feral horses. Poor creatures.

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  7. Wow. That's some story. Truth is always stranger than fiction. This guy got an 11 year reprieve from death. I wonder if he felt lucky or cursed?

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    1. Maggie--it seems he felt lucky because one of the Hornsby girls married him and they had 11 years of wedded bliss. I think it might have been a blessing how he died. The wound was always painful. I didn't mention that, but there was always some amount of pain.

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  8. Really interesting. I have documentation about an ancestor who was scalped when she was about 13 but lived. She wore a hat always, married, had kids and eventually contracted a bad infection on her scalp and died.

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    1. Charlene--in other research, I also learned that scalping victims who lived usually got some kind of infection on the bare scalp--see, the bone was exposed and tender. And those victims did suffer a great deal before they died. Wilbarger, though, probably was lucky by cracking his head on the doorframe.
      Thank you for coming by.

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  9. Great post, Celia! Scary, sad and uplifting all at once! I'd heard of Wilbarger but didn't know the details of his story. Thanks for sharing. I hope it didn't make you see any ghosts of your own. :-)

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    1. Lyn-Oh, I am a natural born scaredy cat--I have a post for Halloween Day about my fears!

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  10. That's quite an exciting story and definitely leads to some spine tingles. Life is definitely a mystery

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    1. Isn't it, though. I don't believe in ghosts..but sometimes times I sort of do. Usually ghost stories are such that go on and on in an old house or hotel...those I don't believe. In this case, I believe something...not sure what. Instead of ghosts, maybe it's something like mental telepathy. Shoot...I have no idea.
      Thanks for stopping by.

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  11. Now that was a truly eerie story. I loved it. I still have chills running down my spine.

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    1. Oh, good! I made chills run down your spine! I'm so excited that you found it interesting. So, see, I can write something frightening..but I assure you, I won't do it very much! Thanks, Sarah, for commenting.

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  12. That poor man. The pain of the scalping must have been excruciating. Very interesting post, Celia.

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    1. Ashley--he was paralyzed and felt no pain during the scalping--just something like "pressure." Later, when the temporary paralysis went away, he did have much pain...for years...but not enough to stop him from working, marrying, and fathering a couple of children. But it was not good under any circumstances. Thank you for reading it.

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