Black Seminole Scouts of Texas

The history is long and cruel for the Black Seminole Scouts of Texas. Their ancestors––slaves on English plantations in the Carolinas and Georgia––began fleeing in the 1600s to the protection of the Spanish crown in northern Florida. The runaways, known as maroons, joined

Seminoles, a confederation of several Indian tribes to whom the Spanish had given land as a bulwark again British incursion. Life for the Maroons improved, but freedom was not part of the deal. They were allowed to form their own communities, elect their leaders, farm their land, and use firearms, but they had to pay an annual tribute to the Seminole Indians, which was usually a percentage of their crop.

Over the years, the two cultures lived alongside each other––each race calling itself Seminoles. They rarely intermarried because the Blacks were monogamous, but the Seminoles relied on them as English interpreters during negotiations with the whites. The United States’ effort to relocate all the Seminoles to the West, triggered the Seminole Wars in which the Black Seminoles proved to be excellent guides, spies, and fierce fighters. The U.S. Army began a program to separate the two groups, by offering the Black Seminoles their freedom if they agreed to be removed to Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). The Seminoles resented U.S. interference because they felt betrayed by the Blacks and cheated them out of their property by the U.S.

When 500 from both groups reached Indian Territory in 1838, the Black Seminoles discovered they had been placed under the jurisdiction of Creek Indians who considered them slaves and did not allow them to own property or weapons. The U.S. Army refused to keep its bargain to free the Black Seminoles, which led members of both races to head to Mexico where slavery had been outlawed for years.

Mexico offered the Seminoles a large land grant near the Texas-Coahuila border in exchange for the newcomers serving as a buffer against raiding Apaches and Comanches. In Mexico, the Maroons were called Mascogos, and they settled into farming in El Moral, a village that became a haven for runaway slaves. Pressure from slaveowners and the U.S. to return the escaped slaves finally led to officials moving the Black Seminoles to Nacimiento in the Mexican interior.

In 1870 the U.S. Army needed scouts for the Texas Indian Wars and made a deal with the Black Seminoles to relocate to Fort Duncan near Eagle Pass and Fort Clark near Brackettville in exchange for land. The Black Seminole Scouts proved their value to the army as fierce fighters and for their knowledge of English, Spanish, and several Indian dialects. Four of the scouts were awarded Medals of Honor.

Despite their valiant service, controversy arose over their ethnicity. The army classified the Seminoles as Indians and planned to relocate them on Indian lands. Indian agents argued that they were Blacks. During the back and forth, conditions worsened. The Black Seminole Scouts had trouble raising crops on military reservations and they were often denied sufficient rations. In 1876, they were told to leave Fort Duncan and Fort Clark. Finally, some returned to Nacimiento in Mexico, some traveled to the Seminole Nation in Indian Territory, and others remained at Fort Clark.

By 1912, when the scouts were disbanded, about 200 to 300 Black Seminoles moved from the fort into Brackettville where they continued to maintain their cemetery. Each year in September, descendants of the Black Seminole Scouts from all over the country gather in

Last of the Seminole Scouts about 1913.

for an Annual Celebration

Black Seminole Scout Cemetery, Brackettville

Campaign to Open the West

After the Civil War, views differed about what should be done about the Southern Plains Indian’s often-vicious determination to keep their hunting grounds free of white settlement. The Texas government wanted to see the Indians exterminated, while the federal government planned to move them to two reservations established in Indian Territory (present Oklahoma).

Two turbulent chapters in history came together in the 1870s to subdue and contain what the white man called the “Indian threat.” The first transition followed the completion in 1869 of the Transcontinental Railroad, which opened the east coast and European markets to commercial shipment of buffalo hides from the Great Plains. An avalanche of professional buffalo hunters swarmed onto the Southern Plains where tens of millions of buffalo grazed on the rich grassland. The second upheaval, the Red River War, began in 1874 as a campaign of the United States Army to forcibly move the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes to the reservations in Indian Territory.

Bison sustained the life of the nomadic tribes who used every part of the buffalo for survival. Hides provided housing and clothing; brains soften the buffalo skin; bones could be scraped into brushes and awls; hair made excellent ropes, stuffing, and yarn; sinew served as thread and bowstrings; and dung became fuel. Every part of the animal, even the nose gristle, fetus, and hump contributed to the Indian diet.

Indians hunted with bows and spears, killing only the number of bison they needed for survival, whereas a good buffalo hunter made a stand downwind from a herd and could shoot as many as 100 in a morning and 1,000 to 2,000 in a three-month season.

The teams varied in size from one hunter and two skinners to large organizations of hunters, skinners, gun cleaners, cartridge reloaders, cooks, wranglers, and wagons for transporting equipment and supplies. After skinning a beast, which weighed up to 2500 pounds and stood

Buffalo hunters used a tripod to steady their aim.

six feet tall at its shaggy shoulders, the men ate the delicacies—hump and tongue. They hauled hides and bones to the railroad and left the carcass to rot on the prairie. This careless slaughter almost completely exterminated the buffalo

Buffalo hides waiting for shipment to the railroad.

and observing the demise of their livelihood infuriated the Indians.

Charged with harassing the agile bands of Indians until they gave up and moved to the reservations, several army columns crisscrossed the Texas Panhandle searching for the Indians as they moved entire families to various campsites. When the army units discovered a group of Indians, few casualties resulted, but the army destroyed the supplies and horses, slowly reducing the size and force of the roaming Indian population.

In retaliation for the army’s tactics of search and destroy, coupled with Indian anger over the destruction of the buffalo, in June 1874, Comanche Chief Quanah Parker and a spiritual leader named Isa-tai led 250 warriors in an attack on Adobe Walls, a small outpost of buffalo hunters in the Texas Panhandle. The hunters, using large caliber buffalo guns, held off their attackers, but the violence surprised government officials. As the warriors continued raiding along the frontier, President Grant’s administration authorized the Army to use whatever means necessary to subdue the Southern Plains Indians.

With firm directions from Washington, the Red River War began with a fury as five army columns swarmed across the Texas Panhandle from different directions. Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie’s scouts found a large village of Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne hidden in their winter quarters on the floor of Palo Duro Canyon, a 6,000-foot-deep gorge stretching almost three hundred miles across the Texas Panhandle.

Palo Duro Canyon

At dawn on September 28, 1874, Mackenzie’s troops hurtled down the steep cliff wall, surprising the Indians who tried to protect their squaws and pack animals as they fled from the persistent army fire. Nightfall found four Indians dead, 450 lodges burned to the ground, and the winter supply of buffalo meat destroyed. The army rounded up 1,400 horses, shared some with their guides, and shot the remaining.

MacKenzie Raid at Palo Duro Canyon

Out of food and housing, without their horses, and facing winter, the Indians had no choice but to walk to the Fort Sill reservation.

The Red River War ended the following June when Quanah Parker and his band of Comanches—the last of the southwestern Indians––surrendered at Fort Sill. The almost complete devastation of the buffalo and the persistent military attacks successfully ended the Indian presence on the High Plains and opened settlement to white farmers and ranchers.

Lost Mission of San Saba

The Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission, built in 1757, is the only Spanish mission in Texas destroyed by Indians.  So thoroughly was the destruction that it took another 235 years for archeologists to finally confirm the site on the banks of the San Sabá River about 120 miles northwest of San Antonio.

Construction of the mission was a dream of Franciscan padres in San Antonio who believed a mission in Apache territory would put an end to almost perpetual warfare with the tribes.  Encouraged by a peace ceremony with the Apaches in 1749 and the Indians’ request to have a mission and a presidio to protect them from the Comanches, Spanish official sent three expeditions into Apache territory in search of a suitable site.  Several factors influenced the choice of the San Sabá River valley, including its potential for irrigated farming and the concern that rumors of rich veins of minerals in the area might attract the French if the Spanish failed to establish a presence.  Spanish officials, always concerned about the cost of every endeavor in its Texas province, finally authorized the new mission when religious ornaments and furnishings became available after the closing of three missions on the San Gabriel River.  And, a wealthy mine owner agreed to fund the cost of up to twenty missionaries for three years providing that his cousin Fray Alonso Giraldo de Terreros be placed in charge of the new mission.

With Col. Diego Ortitz Parrilla appointed commander of the San Sabá presidio, the march to the new site began on April 5, 1757.  A total of about 300, including six missionaries, arrived on April 17th with 1400 cattle and 700 sheep.  To their dismay they found no Apaches waiting to join the mission.  In an effort to satisfy concerns of the padres who feared the soldiers would corrupt their Indian neophytes, Ortiz Parrilla selected a site for the presidio on the opposite side of the river and about two miles from the mission.

By mid-June not a single Indian had come to the mission.  Then, to the padres’ delight 3,000 Apaches who were heading north to hunt buffalo and fight Comanches, camped near the mission.  After ignoring the missionaries’ overtures, the Indians left behind two of their group who were sick and promised to join the mission upon their return.  By this time, three of the original six missionaries had given up and returned to San Antonio.

With the arrival of winter, rumors circulated of northern tribes gathering to fight the Apaches and destroy the mission.  The missionaries seemed unaware that despite Apaches never one time coming to the mission, it looked to the Comanches like the Spanish were siding with their bitter enemies.  On February 25, 1758, after Indians stole fifty-nine horses, Parrilla Ortiz led soldiers in pursuit, only to find hostile Indians all over the countryside.  Returning to the mission, he tried unsuccessfully to convince Father Terreros to move the remaining three missionaries and thirty-three others to refuge in the presidio.

On March 16th as the mission went about its morning routine, 2,000 Comanches and other tribes that were enemies of the Apaches attacked the log stockade with some of the warriors using European guns at a time when most Indians fought with bows and arrows or hatchets.  Father Terreros and seven others were killed, while one missionary and about twenty others escaped to the presidio.  The attackers killed almost all the animals, including the cattle, and set fire to the stockade.

The Indians moved on to the presidio and when they could not lure the soldiers outside the fortress, they departed on March 18th.  After less than one year, the Santa Cruz de San Sabá Mission had come to an end.

The Spanish government, determined not to appear weak to the Comanches, refused to close the presidio.  In September 1759, Ortiz Parrilla was sent with 500 soldiers and Apache braves into Comanche country to punish the warriors for the attack on the mission.  After several brief encounters Ortiz found Comanches and other tribes on the Red River in a village flying a French flag and surrounded by a stockade and moat.  The Comanche had been warned of the Spanish approach and Ortiz suffered fifty-two dead, wounded, or deserted before he ordered a retreat.

The Spanish government insisted that the San Sabá Presidio remain open despite the superior power of the Comanche and other northern tribes who had firepower similar to the Spanish.  Many soldiers asked to be transferred and despite the presidio being rebuilt in limestone and surrounded by a moat, the soldiers were killed if they ventured out of the compound.

In 1762 a painting, The Destruction of Mission San Sabá was commissioned.  It is believed to be the first painting to depict a historical event in Texas.  In 1769, Presidio San Sabá was finally closed, over ten years after the fall of the mission it had been built to protect.

Destruction of the San Saba MIssion

Destruction of the San Saba MIssion

Saga of Sophia Suttonfield Aughinbaugh Coffee Butt Porter

Two official Texas historical markers sit on the shore of Lake Texoma, the enormous reservoir separating North Texas and Oklahoma.  One marker commemorates Holland Coffee’s Trading

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee's Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

Texas Historical Markers for Coffee’s Trading Post and Sophia Coffee Porter

preston1Post, now under the waters of Lake Texoma.  The neighboring marker calls Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere.  The colorful lives of Sophia and Holland Coffee came together in 1837 probably while Coffee served in the Congress of the Republic of Texas.

Sophia was born a Suttonfield in 1815 on the remote military post at Fort Wayne (present Indiana).  As a beautiful dark-haired girl of seventeen, she ran away with Jesse Aughinbaugh who had been the headmaster at her school.  The twosome split up in Texas—Sophia said he deserted her—in 1836 and Sophia, who told many stories about herself, said she was the first woman to reach the battle site at San Jacinto on April 22, 1836, the day after Texas won its independence from Mexico.  Although there is no record of their relationship in Sam Houston’s published letters or biographies, Sophia claimed she nursed the wounded general back to health, and they did remain friends.  Some historians believe she was a camp woman who sold her services to the general.

Holland Coffee established his trading post in the early 1830s on the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) side of the Red River and moved it to the Texas side of the river in 1837.  The historical marker says Coffee traded with the Indians for many white captives.  Some historians think Coffee was out to make money and that, like many of the stories Sophia told of her exploits, not as many rescues took place as later generations have been led to believe.  Coffee did ransom a Mrs. Crawford and her two children by paying the Indians 400 yards of calico, a large number of blankets, many beads, and other items.  In later years, Mrs. John Horn wrote that when Comanches refused to trade for the release of her and her children, Holland wept and then gave her and the children clothing and flour.  Although he was accused by settlers of trading whiskey and guns to the Indians for cattle and horses they stole from the whites, his neighbors must have forgiven him because they elected him as their congressman.

14165345_114780775898Apparently Sophia and Holland met in Houston, one of the early capitals of the new republic.  When Sophia failed to get a divorce from Aughinbaugh through the courts, she petitioned the legislature to intervene on her behalf.  After several attempts to get a bill through the legislature that was more concerned with passing a Homestead Exemption Law, Sam Houston finally used his influence and the petition passed both houses with Holland Coffee as a member of the House of Representatives voting aye.

Coffee and Sophia took a 600-mile honeymoon on horseback through Anderson in Washington County, to Nacogdoches and along the Red River, stopping at several locales to attend balls in celebration of their marriage.  Coffee settled with his bride at his trading post, a popular place for Indians and for drovers heading north with their cattle.  Coffee’s wedding gift to Sophia was one-third league of land, about 1,476 acres—only the first of her many acquisitions.  In her later accounts of life on the Red River, Sophia said her nearest neighbor was twenty-five miles away and that to protect against Indian attack, Texas Rangers guarded their trading post, the horses had to be watched while slaves plowed the fields, and firearms were stacked nearby for easy access during preaching services.

Because of the constant threat of Indian attacks, the Republic of Texas built a protective line of forts along the western edge of the frontier and connected them with a Military Road from Austin to Fort Johnson on the Red River near Coffee’s Trading Post.  The military base bought supplies, clothing, tobacco, gunpowder, and tools from Coffee, which injected new life into his business.  He opened a ferry at a crossing on the Red River and he and Sophia bought land and slaves.  New settlers arrived in the area, and in 1845 Holland sold town lots on his land for the new town of Preston.

In 1845-46 Holland Coffee hired Mormons traveling from Illinois to Central Texas to build Glen Eden, a home that expanded over the years into the most impressive house in North Texas and where Sophia entertained lavishly.

Glen Eden

Glen Eden

By her own account, she entertained such notables as Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant (no record exists that either men were there), and Sam Houston.  Men from nearby Fort Washita in Indian Territory seemed always to be guests at Glen Eden.  Stories vary about how Coffee died in 1846.  Some say it began when Sam Houston was scheduled to dedicate the new county courthouse in nearby Sherman and planned to stay with the Coffee’s at Glen Eden.  Coffee’s niece had married Charles A. Galloway who offended Sophia by commenting about her former relationship with Sam Houston.  She demanded that Coffee horsewhip his new nephew.  When Coffee refused to publically air the family problems, Sophia said she had rather be the widow of a brave man than the wife of a coward.  Coffee started an “Indian duel,” a fight to the death, with Galloway who killed Coffee with a Bowie knife.

A rich and charming widow of a brave man at age thirty-one, Sophia managed the 3,000-acre slave plantation, tended her extensive gardens, and continued to host grand parties.  On one of her regular visits to New Orleans to sell her cotton crop, she met Major George N. Butts, who returned with her to Glen Eden to manage the plantation. There is no record of a marriage in either Texas or Louisiana, but the relationship was Sophia’s happiest—Butts enjoyed the niceties of gracious living—and they paid for their lifestyle with the sale of their cotton and land.  They enlarged Glen Eden, filled it with fine furnishings and china from New Orleans.  She became known for her rose garden, an orchard of more than a hundred fruit trees, and grape and berry vines for jams and wines.  She grew a magnolia tree in the front yard from a seedling given to her by Sam Houston.  Albert Sidney Johnston brought catalpa seeds from California, which she planted, in a line down the driveway.

In 1863, William Clark Quantrill with his group of Confederate guerrillas from Kansas and Missouri moved into Sherman and began robbing and killing anyone who did not agree with his brand of Confederate support.  Although Sophia and Butts were southern sympathizers, Butts got into an argument with one of Quantrill’s men and was ambushed one night as he returned from a cotton-selling trip to Sherman.  Sophia garnered the sympathy of Sherman residents against Quantrill and got him arrested; he later escaped.

Some historians say the historical marker story calling Sophia Coffee Porter a Confederate Lady Paul Revere may not be altogether accurate.  Several tales surround this claim, most of them encouraged by Sophia herself.  One says that when James Bourland, commanding a Texas frontier regiment, stopped at Glen Eden on his way back to Fort Washita, he warned her that federal troops were following him.  When the Yankees arrived, Sophia fed them dinner and then took them into her wine cellar where they proceeded to get drunk. She locked them in the cellar and then, riding a mule, forded the treacherous Red River to warn Bourland of the Union’s plans, thus preventing the invasion of North Texas.  Another version of the story says she stripped to her underwear and swam the river and then whistled to get the Confederates’ attention.

At age fifty, toward the end of the Civil War, Sophia found the Red River country too dangerous.  She packed her gold in tar buckets and took her slaves with her to the safer environment of Waco in Central Texas.  There, she met Judge James Porter, a Confederate cavalry officer from Missouri.  Rufus Burleson, president of Baylor College performed their marriage on August 2, 1865 and the Porters returned to Glen Eden.  With her slaves freed, Sophia’s net worth dropped, but she and James Porter began buying land at sheriff’s auctions and reselling it quickly to increase their holdings.

James Porter apparently influenced Sophia’s desire to “get religion.”  She attended a camp meeting and rushed forward throwing herself at the feet of the preacher.  In front of the entire congregation the minister said she must wait for twelve years because “the sun, moon, and stars were against her being a Christian.”  The Methodist preacher in Sherman, however, welcomed her into church.  She gave a section of land to Southwestern University, a Methodist institution at Georgetown and land for a Methodist Church at Preston Bend.  “Aunt Sophia,” as she became known in later years, apparently earned the respect of her neighbors.  When the Old Settlers Association

in Sherman was founded in 1879, one of the speakers at the first meeting was Sophia Porter who entertained the crowd with the stories of her life as a pioneer woman along the Red River.

Glen Eden continued to be a social center, but Sophia no longer allowed dancing.  She and James Porter continued giving money or land to churches in the area until his death in 1886.  For the next eleven years Sophia and her long-time friend and companion Belle Evans searched the shops in nearby Denison and Sherman and ordered from catalogues new fashions that would restore Sophia’s youth.  Mrs. Evans also applied Ayer’s Hair Dye each week to maintain Sophia’s black locks that had attracted so many suitors over the years.  On August 27, 1897, when Sophia died quietly at the age of eighty-one in her fine home of fifty-four years, the man at her side was Reverend J. M. Binkley, the Methodist preacher from Sherman who had accepted her into his congregation.

Sophia Porter in later years

Sophia Porter in later years