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

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A 19th CENTURY WOMAN OF INFLUENCE

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau
Texas Historical Commission

Jane McManus Storm Cazneau was born in Troy, New York, in 1807. After a failed marriage and being named as Aaron Burr’s mistress in his divorce, she came to Texas in 1832 with her brother Robert McManus in an attempt to improve the family’s shrinking fortune. Although she received a contract to settle families in Stephen F. Austin’s colony, she apparently lacked the funds to get the enterprise off the ground. The German colonists that she landed in Matagorda refused to go farther inland, which ended that adventure. It was not, however, the end of Jane’s land speculation and her interest in the future of Texas. She was a prolific writer, and one of the causes she trumpeted in her columns for East Coast publications was Texas independence from Mexico. She also tried to sway U.S. public opinion in favor of annexing the Republic of Texas.

Linda Hudson’s autobiography of Jane Cazneau

During the Mexican-American War, Jane served as the first female war correspondent and the only journalist to issue reports from behind enemy lines. She was sent to Mexico as an unofficial representative of the New York Sun editor Moses Beach’s secret peace mission, which was endorsed by President James Polk. Her expansionist interests showed clearly as she began promoting the annexation of Mexico as a way to bring peace.

Jane married William Leslie Cazneau––Texas politician and entrepreneur––in 1849, and lived with him for a time in Eagle Pass, a town on the Rio Grande where Cazneau opened a trade depot and investigated mining potential in Mexico. Jane wrote of her experiences in Eagle Pass; or Life on the Border, and she continued to write editorials championing U.S. expansion.

William Cazneau was appointed as a special agent to the Dominican Republic in 1855, and the Cazneaus settled there on their estate, Esmeralda. Jane continued writing her columns and books that advocated her expansionist philosophy, and the couple invested heavily in property all over the Caribbean.

Some writers, including Linda Hudson, author of Jane’s biography, Mistress of Manifest Destiny, credit Jane with being the first writer to use the term “manifest destiny.” It has been difficult to trace her use of the term since her editorials were handwritten, often unsigned, and she also used the pen names Storm, Cora or Corinne Montgomery. Nevertheless, she was such a strong advocate of manifest destiny that she bought into the New York Morning Star in order to use the publication to editorialize for the expansion of the south and the spread of slavery into Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua. She was not in favor of the South seceding from the Union because she believed that the division would weaken the United States and slow its expansion. She also stood to lose on her land investments if slavery and its spread to the Caribbean came to an end.

Her influence was widespread; she socialized and corresponded with James Polk, James Buchanan, Jefferson Davis, and Horace Greeley. Former Republic of Texas President, Mirabeau B. Lamar dedicated his 1857 book of poems, Verse Memorials, to Jane Cazneau.

The Cazneaus fled to another of their properties in Jamaica in 1863 following the destruction of their estate after Spain returned to the Dominican Republic. However, when Spain left the island, the Cazneaus returned and assisted President Andrew Johnson in his efforts to acquire a coaling station at Samaná and President Grant’s effort to annex the Dominican Republic.

William Cazneau died in 1876, and two years later Jane, the woman who often used the pen name Storm, was lost in a storm while sailing from New York to Santo Domingo.

A Love Story

Jim Shankle was born in 1811 on a Mississippi plantation. When he married Winnie, she already had three children fathered by the plantation owner. Soon after the marriage, Jim overheard the business deal their master made with a planter to sell Winnie and her children. He knew they were taken to a plantation in East Texas. He grieved for several days and then made up his mind to find his family. With a price on his head as a runaway slave, he headed west, always moving at night, foraging in fields for his food, and hiding in the fields when he heard others on the road. Not daring to use a ferry, he swam both the Mississippi and Sabine rivers.

After a 400-mile journey, he reached East Texas and moved at night from plantation to plantation asking about Winnie. Finally, Jim found her as she collected water at a spring. For several days, Winnie hid Jim and brought food to him at night.  Some accounts say Winnie’s master found Jim, other stories say she told her master about her husband. Whatever the truth, the plantation owner agreed to buy Jim.

In addition to Winnie’s three children, they raised six of their own. When emancipation came following the Civil War they became farmers and began buying land with their partner Steve McBride. Eventually, they held 4,000 acres, and as other black families began settling in the area, they formed the community of Shankleville. The Shankles and McBride oversaw the building of a school, church, a cotton gin, sawmill, and gristmill.

Stephen McBride

Steve McBride, who could not read, married one of the Shankle daughters. He established McBride College (1883-1909), fulfilling his dream of helping others receive the education he had been denied.

Winnie Shankle died in 1883 and Jim died five years later, ending a love story that has become an East Texas legend.

Texas Historical Marker story of Shanklesville.
Courtesy Barclay Gibson

“A Happy Home Without Husbands”

“Charismatic, religious, smart-as-a-whip, trouble-maker”—descriptions applied to Martha McWhirter, who moved into Belton after the Civil War with her husband George and their twelve children. George opened a mercantile business, they built a large limestone house and the

George and Martha McWhirter.

couple, active Methodists, attended the non-denominational Union Sunday School.

McWhirter Home

Martha organized a weekly women’s Bible study and prayer group. In August 1866, after two of her children and a brother died, Martha attended a revival and felt it had failed to offer comfort for her losses. Afterward, she reported to her Bible study group that she heard God speak and experienced a “Pentecostal baptism,” which may have included speaking in tongues. She believed she had been sanctified, set apart by God for a special purpose.

With the zeal of the newly converted, she emphasized the importance of dreams and revelations as the source of spiritual guidance rather than the sacraments and baptism. She encouraged the women in her Bible study to pray for sanctification and to share their dreams and revelations to arrive at a group consensus for their guidance.

The women prayed about trials of everyday life such as authoritarian husbands, dishonorable business dealings, drunkenness, and physical abuse. One of their early group decisions—the sanctified should not have sexual or social contact with the unsanctified—may have resulted from already having more children than they wanted. Whatever led to the decision, it spelled the beginning of some high-profile divorces and angry outbursts from townspeople. The new theology also resulted in the removal of five Baptists from their church rolls and several others being elbowed out of their denominations.

In addition to refusing to sleep with their husbands, the women refused monetary support except as payment for work. In the beginning, they sold eggs, butter, and hooked rugs. They placed the profit into a common pot, enabling them to help a sister whose husband denied her money for necessities. Later, they used their funds to hire a lawyer for divorce proceedings.

Distraught women came with their children to Martha’s house, escaping angry and often abusive husbands, filling the house beyond capacity. George McWhirter, believing in Martha’s sincerity, did not understand her behavior, but he never publically criticized her. Eventually, he moved into a room above his downtown store.

One woman inherited a large house, which they turned into a boarding house for lodging members and the public. Townspeople watched in amazement as wives of prominent men showed determination to make their way financially by taking in laundry, a chore traditionally relegated to black women of the community. Recognizing they were no longer accepted in polite society, the women took any work offering financial gain.  Two women chopped wood and delivered it to homes. Others worked as domestics, seamstresses, home nurses, and one became a cobbler.

Hard work paid off, and the group prospered, allowing members to rotate working four-hour shifts and take turns caring for and teaching their children.

The Sanctificationist code did not exclude men. In later years the women told an interviewer no man ever stayed with the group longer than nine months because “they want to boss, but they find they can’t.” In 1879, two young men from Scotland who belonged to a similar group at home, came to Belton seeking membership. It was one thing for the men of the town to put up with women being “Sancties,” but quite another for males to join. A group of men took the newly arrived gentlemen from their home at midnight and whipped them severely. When they still refused to leave town, they were declared insane in a district court hearing and sent to the State Lunatic Asylum in Austin. They were released very quickly, after agreeing never to return to Belton.

A hotel operator in nearby Waco hired some of the women in 1884 for one dollar a day and was so pleased with their industry, that he asked for more workers. Besides offering a good income, the women learned the hotel business. They opened the Central Hotel across from the

The Central Hotel

railroad depot. At first, townspeople boycotted the place, but after George McWhirter died, and it became obvious the hotel was the finest in town and offered the best food of any establishment, it became popular for locals.

The community’s attitude changed toward Martha. Maybe it began when she became a widow, no longer separated from her husband. Perhaps Martha’s donation of $500 to bring in the railroad spur or her contribution for building an opera house caused a change in the attitude of the community. She became the first woman to serve on the Belton Board of Trade—a precursor of the Chamber of Commerce.

Believing the women should see more of the world, Martha rented a house in the summer of 1880 near New York’s Central Park. She divided the members into three groups, each staying for six weeks. They traveled to the city by rail and returned by ship to Galveston. Martha estimated the total cost at $3,000.

By 1891, when the group incorporated as the Central Hotel Company, they owned several pieces of the local real estate, three farms providing food for hotel guests and feed for their livestock. Their net income reached $800 a month.

One of the women became a self-taught dentist charging only the cost of the material because she did not have a license. One member moved to New York, setting up a business selling pianos. By the 1890s, they traveled extensively to New York, San Francisco, and Mexico City, subscribed to many magazines, hired tutors for their children, and no longer held prayer meetings. They continued gathering, discussing dreams and arriving at group decisions. Although Martha served as the leader, the group operated on feelings and consensus, often sensing when something was wrong, and relying on dreams to tell them what to do. The answer might be selling one of the farms or encouraging a “disloyal” member to get married.

In 1899 the group decided to leave Belton for a locale with a more stimulating environment. Group consensus settled on Washington, D.C. as the best place for pursuing their cultural interests.

It’s unclear how much the group received from the sale and lease of their Belton property. Some estimates claim $200,000. They paid $23,000 cash for a house in Mount Pleasant, Maryland, and spent another $10,000 renovating the property.

Martha died in 1904 and contrary to predictions, the group of aging women continued living in the house until at least 1918. Another account says a daughter of one of the members lived there until 1983.

By the time the women settled in the Washington area, newspapers and magazines from around the country took note of the unusual group of religious women who wore no identifying habit, lived a Spartan existence, and made “A Happy Home Without Husbands.”

The Sanctified Sisters

A MAN OF VISION

Rasaca Converted to Irrigation Canal

The railroad and visionaries like Sam Robertson deserve much of the credit for development of the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Before the arrival of the railroad, the Valley was a no man’s land. Towns such as Brownsville and Matamoros, Mexico, relied on the Rio Grande and the

Sam Robertson
Courtesy Valley Morning Star

Gulf of Mexico for access to the outside world. Travel from Brownsville to Corpus Christ took days of slogging through the Wild Horse Desert, the vast jungle of mesquite, cactus, chaparral and brush-covered country that was infested with bandits and cattle thieves.

In 1903, as Robertson fulfilled a contract to lay the first rails from Corpus Christi to Brownsville, he noticed that the peculiar topography of the area along the Rio Grande looked much like that of the Nile River—higher by several feet than the surrounding landscape. Unlike other river valleys that drain into nearby streams, years of flooding left behind silt, resulting in the Rio Grande flowing at a higher level than the surrounding terrain—ideal or harnessing the water for gravity irrigation into the fertile land along its banks. Robertson also observed dry riverbeds left behind after centuries of the Rio Grande flooding, then changing course, and cutting new channels. Locally known as resaca’s, or ox-bow lakes, the 400-foot wide dry canals twisted through the area north of Brownsville offering readymade irrigation potential.

Robertson convinced local investors to join him in purchasing 10,000 acres to begin land development and laying out the town of San Benito along one of the curving resacas. The developers cut a canal from the Rio Grande to introduce irrigation water into the dry resacas and began selling land to northern farmers looking for new opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley. The farmers, forced to travel on dirt roads using horses and mules to get their produce to market, sought to buy land next to the railroad, which led to Robertson taking the railroad to the farmers. In 1912 the San Benito and Rio Grande Valley Railroad, an intricate network of lines and spurs snaked thirty-nine miles across the valley.

The train made two round trips daily at a grand speed of fifteen miles per hour, picking up both passengers and freight. Many farmers built tiny loading platforms beside the track, while others merely flagged the engineer to take on travelers or a few bushels of produce. The twisting route earned it the title of Spiderweb Railroad, and the train was called the “Galloping Goose” because it often jumped the track, forcing passengers to help lift it back on the rails.

By 1924 the Missouri Pacific took over the line, but the little railroad, whose track never extended beyond 128 miles, had served an important role in opening the rich Rio Grand Valley to worldwide markets.

Robertson’s visions extended to establishing ice plants for refrigerated railcars carrying vegetables to city markets. He served as San Benito’s first postmaster and two terms as sheriff before joining General John J. Pershing’s army chasing the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. During WWI, Robertson once again proved his competence building light rail lines to the front trenches and remained in Europe after the war to help rebuild Germany’s rail system.

Upon Robertson’s return to San Benito, he embarked on his final grand scheme—developing Padre, the barrier island paralleling Texas’ southern shore, as a resort community. He built a “trough” causeway from the northern end of Padre to the mainland near Corpus Christi. A trestle supported four parallel wooden slots constructed wide enough to accommodate a standard car tire. With automobile wheels set firmly in each trough, traffic flowed both directions across the causeway

Wooden causeway.
Wikitree

In his zeal to attract tourists, Robertson opened ferries at Port Aransas and at the south end of Padre Island. Then, he built a hotel and four houses on the southern end of the island and a fifth house near the causeway on the north.

Ferry tugging auto to the island.
Wikitree

Although the unusual trough causeway boasted 1,800 cars the first month and 2,500 cars the second, interest began waning, after the 1929 Stock Market Crash. By the next year, Robertson’s dream appeared doomed; he could not pay his debts. He sold his interest in the development and must have watched in horror as the 1933 hurricane destroyed all the structures on and leading to Padre Island.

Sam Robertson died in 1938, twenty-four years before his dream came true.  Congress established Padre Island National Seashore and President John F. Kennedy signed the bill into law on September 28, 1962.

Musical Genius Finally Recognized

By the time he was seven, Scott Joplin was proficient on the banjo and had started experimenting with the piano at the house where his mother worked as a cleaner. Born about 1867 into a musical family—Joplin’s father, a former slave, played the violin for plantation parties and his mother, a freeborn African-American, sang and played the banjo—Joplin grew up amidst music making. The family moved to Texarkana around 1875 where Joplin’s father worked as a laborer on the railroad and his mother cleaned houses.

Scott Joplin

Although several local teachers helped Joplin with piano lessons, his world opened when Julius Weiss, a well-educated German who had immigrated to the United States to teach music, heard the eleven-year-old boy play the piano. Weiss worked as the private tutor for children of a wealthy Texarkana lumberman. He offered Joplin free piano lessons, including sight-reading and skills to enhance his natural instinct for harmony.

Joplin’s father left his mother and six children over what some claim was his father’s belief that the piano playing kept Joplin from working to help with the family income. Whatever the cause, Weiss helped Joplin’s mother purchase a used piano and Joplin continued seriously studying music and practicing after school. Weiss introduced Joplin to folk and classical music, including opera, and instilled in him a desire for education.

After the death of his employer, Weiss left Texarkana in 1884, but Joplin stayed in touch with his mentor. In later years, he sent regular gifts of money, which continued until Weiss died.

For a time after Weiss left Texarkana, Joplin played piano for a vocal quartet and taught guitar and mandolin. Some accounts claim he taught at the local Negro school. In the late 1880s, Joplin became a traveling musician, playing piano where black musicians were accepted such as churches, brothels, and saloons. He returned to Texarkana in July 1891 to perform with the “Texarkana Minstrels” to raise money for a monument for Jefferson Davis, President of the Southern Confederacy. By this time Joplin’s music was called “jig-piano,” a pre-ragtime rhythm popular throughout the mid-South.

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair did not welcome black performers, but the 27 million visitors attending the fair also visited local saloons, cafés, and brothels where they heard ragtime for the first time. Many accounts credit the fair with introducing ragtime and by 1897 the St. Louis Dispatch described ragtime as “a veritable call of the wild, which mightily stirred the pulses of city bred people.”

Joplin played in black clubs, formed his own six-piece dance orchestra, and published his own compositions, Please Say You Will and A Picture of Her Face.

He was touring Texas in 1895 when the Katy Railroad staged a train crash as a public relations stunt at a site called Crush north of Waco. The following year Joplin published The Great Crush Collision March.

He taught piano to future ragtime notables, Arthur Marshall, Brun Campbell, and Scott Hayden. He also played the violin and cornet, working at times as a cornet player with traveling bands. Financial success eluded him. The contract for Maple Leaf Rag called for him to receive one percent royalty on all sheet music sales with a minimum sale of twenty-five cents. Some versions of the story claim Joplin was the first musician to sell one million copies of a piece of instrumental music; however, later research indicates that the first print run sold 400 copies over a year and garnered $4 for Joplin. Later sales earned a steady income of about $600 a year.

In the early 1900s, while living in St. Louis, Joplin produced some of his best-known pieces, including The Entertainer, March Majestic, and The Ragtime Dance.  After the death of his second wife, for whom he had written The Chrysanthemum, he wrote, Bethena, called by some admirers “among the greatest of ragtime waltzes.”

By 1907 Joplin made New York his base for touring along the East Coast and settled there permanently as he worked on Treemonisha, a black opera that appeared to parallel Joplin’s early life. Although it is now considered one of the most important of his compositions, it failed to be recognized for its worth until Joplin received a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for the first grand opera by an African American.

Joplin contracted syphilis that by 1916 caused his health to deteriorate and his playing to become inconsistent. He was forty-nine when he died in a Manhattan mental hospital on April 1, 1917 and was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

In 1974, the man whose works included a ballet, two operas, a manual for aspiring ragtime musicians, and forty-four original piano pieces including rags, marches, and waltzes, finally received a grave marker. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. The following year the New York Public Library published his collected works, and his music was featured in The Sting, the 1973 Academy Award-winning movie. The biographical film Scott Joplin was released in 1977; the United States Postal Service issued a Joplin commemorative stamp for its Black Heritage series in 1983; Joplin was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987—quite a record for the son of a former slave who earned the title “King of Ragtime.”

The Thing That Comes in the Night

A story, circulated since the 1830s in South Central Texas, contains enough truth to merit a Texas Historical Marker. Residents along the Navidad River bottom in Lavaca and Jackson counties began seeing strange footprints along the riverbank, and at the same time, they began missing small amounts of sweet potatoes and corn. On moonlit nights half the food in their cabins disappeared even though an intruder had to step over sleeping dogs. Tools vanished, only to be returned, brilliantly polished and sharpened. In fall around hog-killing time families stopped fattening hogs because a fat hog was invariably replaced with a scrawny substitute. Valuables such as gold or watches were never taken although they were plainly visible when the food disappeared.

Everyone speculated about “it.” Slaves believed it was a ghost and called it “The Thing That Comes.” Settlers, finding two sets of footprints, believed one of the intruders to be a man and the other a smaller companion, perhaps a woman or child.

Many people organized search parties trying to capture the “Wild Man of the Navidad.” Sometimes they found his camp among a thick growth of trees, but he never returned to the site while the pursuers waited.

Texas folk author J. Frank Dobie in his book Tales of Old-Time Texas concluded that the phantom figure had to be a woman because several well-documented sightings reported that “it” had long, flowing hair and facial features more similar to a woman. Dobie writes of a near capture in 1846 during an intense search when a rider heard rustling in the brush just before “it” ran in the light of the moon onto the open prairie.  “She ran directly across the prairie in the direction of the main forest. The man nearest her rode a fleet horse and it needed all the speed it had to keep up with the object in pursuit. As the figure neared the dark woods, the rider was able to throw his lasso. But, as the rope neared the woman, the horse shied away and the lasso felt short. The figure darted into the woods never to be seen again.”

Dobie said the rider claimed that the creature had long, flowing hair that trailed down almost to its feet and it wore no clothing. Her body seemed to be covered with short, brown hair.

“As she fled to the woods, she dropped a club to the ground that was about five feet long and polished to a wonder,” Dobie said.

Finally, in 1851, with the help of dogs trained to hunt down runaway slaves, local residents following their baying hounds found a black man in a tree. He wore no clothes and spoke no English. Some accounts say he was put in jail where he remained for about six months until a sailor wandered through who was familiar with the native dialect of the captive’s African tribe.

The captive said his father, a chief of their tribe, sold his son into slavery for the price of a knife and tobacco. The new slave and a companion escaped after their transport ship reached Texas. They settled in the Navidad River bottom because of the abundance of wildlife and fruit. His companion died from exposure.

The captured man, whom they called Jimbo, was sold back into slavery and lived in Victoria and Refugio counties. Freed after the Civil War, he reportedly died in 1884.

J. Frank Dobie writes, “Of course all of this happened many years ago and in the telling, you can always guarantee some build up in the information will take place.  If these things did happen, I cannot explain how.”