A Texas Frontier Woman

Elizabeth Ann Carter Sprague FitzPatrick Clifton knew tragedy long before October 13, 1864, when 700 Kiowa and Comanche warriors tore through Young County in what became known as the Elm Creek Raid.

At the age of sixteen in 1842, Elizabeth married a free black man in Alabama. She moved with his family to Texas where they eventually settled on her father-in-law’s ranch near Fort Belknap, ninety miles west of Fort Worth. Elizabeth was illiterate and epileptic, but those drawbacks did not keep her from working on the ranch with her husband and father-in-law and operating a boarding house. Both men were mysteriously murdered, and the ranch was left to Elizabeth’s children––fourteen-year-old Susanna and young Joe. Elizabeth managed the ranch and boarding house for her children. Then Elizabeth and Susanna both married.

Eight months later, her second husband disappeared. Elizabeth continued to manage the ranch. The boarding house prospered, especially after the Butterfield Overland Mail Route made a stop at nearby Fort Belknap. In 1862 she married her third husband––one of her ranch hands––named FitzPatrick. He was murdered eighteen months later.

Then came the horror of the Elm Creek Indian Raid. The men had gone to Weatherford for supplies, leaving children in the care of Elizabeth, her widowed daughter Susanna and Mary, wife of Britt Johnson, a freed slave who worked for Elizabeth.

When they heard the shrieks of the approaching warriors, Susanna grabbed a gun, ran into the yard, and fought until she was overpowered, stripped and mutilated as Elizabeth watched.

T. R. Fehrenbach says in Lone Star that two braves quarreled over who had captured Britt Johnson’s oldest son; they settled the argument by killing him. They murdered Susanna’s baby boy and then discovered eighteen-month-old Millie crawling out from under a bed in the burning house. The Indians divided the survivors––Elizabeth, little Millie and her five-year-old sister Lottie, thirteen-year-old Joe, and Mary Johnson and her two children––and rode away in separate groups. Joe was sick, and when he could not keep up with the pace of his captors, they killed him.

Before the raid of Elm Creek Valley ended, eleven settlers had been killed, eleven homes damaged or destroyed, and seven women and children carried off.

Elizabeth was held for over a year in northwest Kansas. Although accounts differ over who actually won her freedom, Fehrenbach writes that Britt Johnson, who had spent all that year searching for his wife and two surviving children, found Elizabeth. She begged Johnson to help ransom all the captives and promised to pay from her considerable land and cattle holdings whatever it took to gain their freedom. Johnson made four trips into Comanchería, paying “two dollars and a half” to ransom his wife and eventually rescuing all the captives except little Millie.

After Elizabeth was freed, she spent ten months in a mission in Kansas where she nursed, fed, and cared for other released captives, all the time demanding better care for those in her charge and begging for more to be done to find all those still being held by the Indians.

When Elizabeth finally reached home in 1866, almost two years after her capture, she was reunited with her granddaughter Lottie whose Comanche captors had tattooed her arms and forehead.

Elizabeth married her fourth husband, Isiah Clifton a farmer who still had four small children. They moved with Lottie to the ranch her mother had inherited. Elizabeth never gave up her search for little Millie, contacting the Office of Indian Affairs only a few years before her death in 1882, asking them to investigate rumors that Millie was living with a Kiowa woman.

Fehrenbach writes that Millie was found after being raised by a Crow family and “her life was not an unhappy one.” Another account claims that in 1930 a Kiowa historian began seeking the white relatives of his mother-in-law, Saintohoodi Goombi, who knew she had been captured by Kiowas when she was eighteen months old. Several elderly men, including one who had been a young warrior on the raid, confirmed the story of the capture of a toddler.

Apparently, Elizabeth had described Millie to government officials as one-quarter African descent with dark skin, hair, and eyes. Mrs. Goombi had fair skin and blue eyes, which convinced many that she was not the missing Millie, but the child of another family who never knew their baby daughter was alive.

This account also says Mrs. Goombi had lived a happy life with no memory of her white childhood. She had nine children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She lived in Oklahoma with her daughter until her death in 1934 and apparently never met any of Elizabeth’s or Lottie’s descendants. Whatever the true story, Fehrenbach writes that when the Governor of Texas asked Mrs. Goombi “what the state might do for her, she answered, ‘Nothing.’”