Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Gilbert Boys

During my childhood I heard stories about my great grandfather and his father being cowboys and Indian fighters. A good many of these stories came from my best friend and grandfather, Colonel Robert (Bob) Gilbert.Only recently have I found any documentation or clarification of these tales. The first document came to me by way of my aunt, Belva Gray, in the form of a scrap of newspaper which had been scanned and sent to me by email. M.C. Gilbert was my great grandfather and I met him only once when he was 90 years old. I have included an image of the above mentioned article here but have also located a transcript of that September 21, 1934 article from the Abilene Reporter News which I have copied here because it is easier to read:

Abilene Reporter
NewsAbilene, Taylor Co., TexasSeptember 21, 1934Life of Pioneer Adventure Reviewed by Mack Gilbert, Still a Cowboy at Seventy by M. H. PRUITT
When “an old Texas cowboy” or anyone else for that matter reaches three score and ten of life, it is about time for him to settle town. This is the philosophy of Mrs. M. C. GILBERT, concerning her husband, “MACK” GILBERT, who still has the desire t ride broncs and rope calves. The Gilberts recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in their home west of View. The day was quietly spent. They are planning a belated celebration when all seven children expect to attend. Mr. Gilbert lays claim to a unique record. He has ridden horseback in every count of Texas with only one exception, and he visited that county in a truck some years ago, spending a winter on the Perdanales River, hunting and fishing. “Kid Mack” Gilbert has twirled his lariat over the backs of little doggies to big Brahma steers from the Rio Grande to Dodge City, Kansas and from Silver City, New Mexico to Fort Worth. Even now, should the occasion arise, and with Mrs. Gilbert’s consent, the veteran cowhand probably could the “starch” out of a broncho on most any frosty morning. When he was fifteen, Mr. Gilbert spent three years, 1879, ’80 and ’81, ten miles above Sweetwater. The ranch headquarters were located where Plum Creek intersects the Clear Fork, but its cowboys were scattered all over the country. Besides the vast herds of buffalo roaming the country then, Mr. Gilbert said, there was an abundance of turkey, deer, and other wild game. “I killed my first and only buffalo in ’83,” the pioneer related. “I was riding along early one morning up near Sagerton. Three buffalo, a mother, her calf and a heifer ran out of the brush just ahead. For fun I rode after them. My horse was swift, but they ran faster. After a quarter mile race, the heifer dropped a little behind. I roped her and wished later I had let her go. She was a two year old and stouter than the average bull. After exhausting my horse trying to let her loose, I finally managed to wind the rope around a mesquite tree. Going to the ranch I borrowed a gun and killed the buffalo.The year 1883 brought the first wire fence to west Texas, he recalls. Previous to that, Mr. Gilbert stated it was open range from Weatherford to the North Canadian River. Drift fences, 100 miles in length, began to appear, and a short while later were numerous. In the early eighties, the “wildest” towns in the west were Dodge City, Kansas and San Angelo. Mr. Gilbert made his last long drive to Dodge City in 1882. In the herd were 3000 head of cattle and four months were required to make the trip. They took the old McKinnie trail, leading out by the Double Mountains in Stonewall County. Northeast of Paducah at Doan’s Store was located a trading post. Buffalo Bill with his hunting crew of 20 men were stationed here. They were killing buffalo for the hides. Cody was described as being handsome, friendly but conversed very little. “My last cattle drive to Dodge City happened without any special event,” said Mr. Gilbert, “unless you’d call that Oklahoma affair something special. As I said, we got the 3000 head of cattle across the river into Oklahoma alright. But there the Spanish fever struck the herd and they started dying. We lost 500 head within two weeks. Then the herd started to improve. We had been camped there 17 days.”“That night I was guard, riding herd, a good distance from camp. About 11:00 a group of riders rode up and asked if those were JOHN ROBERTS’ cattle. When I answered they were, the men dismounted and bedded for the night. I did not know what to make of it.”“The next morning when they had saddled, the leader sought out Roberts. The man told our boss he was owner of the Lazy H Ranch directly to the north. He had come, he said, with his men, to help drive our herd of sick cattle around his range. The distance was 50 miles out of our way.”“John Roberts refused to take the circuit route. When he did, the owner of the Lazy H threw his gun in Roberts’ face and told his own men to start rounding up the cattle. He also told us that we were working for him. If we didn’t like it, he said, then was the time to say so. I was a kid, just 18, but I, for one, liked it. So did the other cowboys.”“We were five days making that 50 miles.” Mr. Gilbert said. “On the third day, JOHN Roberts, the ‘prisoner,’ was released and from then on rode alongside his “abductor.” Once on the other side of the Lazy H, the proprietor gave Roberts $50 and bid us adios.”M. C. GILBERT was the second child born in Eastland County in 1864. At the age of 5, he witnessed the battled between 40 Indians and 9 white men, in which his father, SAM GILBERT, was so badly wounded, he succumbed three months later. “My father was one of the first settlers in Eastland County,” said Mr. Gilbert. “He was captain of the fort at ELLISON Springs which is about 20 miles southeast of where Cisco now stands. Other families there besides our own were ANCIL BEARDEN, JACK and HUGH BRASHER/BRESHEAR, JIM ELLISON, BILL MCGOUGH, my uncle “SING” GILBERT, and a lad ‘BUTTOM” KEITH.”“It was one spring morning in 1869 that we discovered our horses had been stolen,” the pioneer continued. “Right off the reel we knew it was Indians. At that time there were two troublesome tribes to the north. The Kiowas were camped below Lueders, near old Fort Griffin. The Comanches were gathered on the Wichita River near old Chalk Hill.”“On this particular morning a man from the fort at Old Mocassin Rock in Erath County brought word that the Kiowas had stolen horses there. He had followed their trail to our fort. He was seeking aid and wanted our men to take up the trail.”“The little band of eight men, under the command of my father, set out in pursuit of the marauders. The trail headed for the camp on the Clear Fork. About where Cisco is now, the white men found the Kiowas had been joined by the Comanches. Perhaps elated over the successful raid of the Kiowas, the two tribes started back for Moccasin Rock. This time the trail veered from the one which we had followed. Probably that the reason we missed them.”Anxiety of the men increased as the Indians’ trial swung back toward the fort. For it was unguarded and its inhabitants were women and children, including Mr. Gilbert, then a child of 5. But let him tell the story:“Only a short distance from our fort the Indians stopped to eat dinner. We did not know they were there until we heard the shooting when the white men came upon the. Later we learned how the battle began. “On locating the Indians, father gave orders for no one to fire until he gave the command. But Button Keith, 16 years old, was eager for the right. He disregarded orders by spurring his horse forward, shooting at the Indians to the right and left. Once through the surprised redskins, he wheeled the horse and came riding back, repeating the performance. “An arrow in the breast stopped the youth’s mad ride. As he fell, immediately half a dozen savages with knives leaped for his help. “My uncle, SING GILBERT, galloped from the group to rescue the dead body. Reaching down from his horse, he was shot, the arrow piercing below the left shoulder blade. He straightened up, as if mystified, then slumped over the saddle horn, dead. “Father then ordered his men to charge and the fight was on in earnest. The Indians retreated out in the open and we could see them from the fort. Uncle Sing’s horse walked slowly from the scene of the battle with his dead master still on his back. The animal did not stop until it had reached the fort gate.”SAM GILBERT led his eight men against the 40 howling, horrible warriors to avenge his brother’s death. The captain had never taken his eyes from that burly blanketed from which had come the death arrow. Straight to that individual rode the white man. He drew aim on the rider of the plunging pinto pony. The Indian received the charge in the hip and fell. As he took aim to fire again, Sam Gilbert, in turn, was shot. A poisoned arrow had pierced his knee. Death came to him three months later in Lampasas. “The battle ended,” Mr. Gilbert said, “when the Indians ran out of arrows about the same time the white men’s ammunition played out. They were fighting hand to hand encounters, with clubs and fists. My mother ran from the fort with a pouch of ‘shot.” When the Indians saw what she carried, they retreated. “Several days after the battle, my father grew worse,” continued Mr. Gilbert. “The nearest doctor was at Lampasas 110 miles away. We made that long journey with him on a bed pulled by a yoke of oxen.”

Now here’s an article about the previous generation of “Gilbert Boys”. My great great grandfather, Sam, was Sing (Singleton) Gilbert’s brother:

ELLISON SPRINGS INDIAN FIGHT. The Ellison Springs Indian Fight took place on August 9, 1864, near Ellison Springs in Eastland County, in Maj. George Bernard Erath'sqv Second Frontier District. It was typical of the kind of small-unit actions that occurred on the frontier during the Civil War.qv Lt. Singleton Gilbert was in command of citizens of Eastland, Callahan, and Shackelford counties, who formed a company stationed at Nash Springs, three miles northwest of the site of present-day Gorman. On August 8, 1864, he sent out a squad of eight men, led by Cpl. James L. Head; they left camp for a ten-day scouting foray and the next morning came upon fresh Indian signs between the sites of future Cisco and Eastland. Moving southward, they followed a trail made by an estimated thirty to fifty Indians for more than twenty miles before overtaking the party at a ranch several miles west of Gorman, near Ellison Springs. Head promptly retreated to the Gilbert ranch, a few miles away, to where Gilbert brought recruits. Gilbert's arrival provided a force totaling twelve to sixteen troopers to face thirty to thirty-five Indians. Gilbert ordered a frontal assault against the Indians, a number of whom were on foot carrying blankets and bridles to be used on the horses they planned to steal. The charge fell back before a withering fire that killed Gilbert and two other Texans, wounded three more, and left no Indian casualties. The Indians left the field unimpeded by the Texans. This was the only unsuccessful Indian engagement of the summer for Erath's command. The Texans continued to trail the Indians, however, and managed to recover eighteen horses out of approximately fifty that the Indians stole near Stephenville. Several days after the Eastland County men ended their pursuit, Sgt. A. D. Miller, whose eight-man squad was due north of Eastland in Stephens County, came upon a party of at least twenty Indians northwest. These were probably the main body of the party attacked earlier by Gilbert's men. Miller followed the trail for fifteen miles, overtook the Indians, and attacked. In a one-hour battle, with no loss to themselves, Miller's men killed two Indians, wounded three, and captured seventy-three horses, seven saddles, and an assortment of bridles and blankets, thus bringing to a close the brief campaign that began in Eastland County.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Charles Goodnight et al., eds., Pioneer Days in the Southwest from 1850 to 1879 (2d ed., Guthrie, Oklahoma: State Capitol, 1909). Carolyne Lavinia Langston, History of Eastland County (Dallas: Aldridge 1904). Joseph Carroll McConnell, West Texas Frontier (Vol. 1, Jacksboro, Texas, 1933; Vol. 2, Palo Pinto, Texas, 1939).
David Paul Smith
The text on the Historical Marker image is hard to read so here’s what it says:

Used for centuries by Indians inhabiting the region. Named for James Madison Ellison (1840-1923), a native of Alabama, who was the first settler in this section of Eastland County, erecting a cabin near the springs in Oct. 1958. He soon married Eliza McGough, a member of another pioneer family, and had 3 children. During the Civil War, frontiersmen organized militia companies for mutual protection against the Indians. Ellison joined the company mustered from Eastland, Shackelford, and Callahan Counties. On Aug. 9, 1864, a group of 12 scout
s from the company was attacked near the springs, and took refuge in Ellison's cabin. The commander, Capt. Singleton Gilbert, and Leroy "Button" Keith were killed, and Ellison, Tom Gilbert, and Tom Caddenhead wounded. Ellison was disabled for life. After cessation of Indian activity, Ellison Springs became the center of social and cultural functions for the scattered settlers in the area. Picnics, community gatherings, and brush arbor camp meetings were held at the site. In the early 1870s, a Baptist church was constructed, with the Rev. C. Brashears as minister. A cemetery was begun in the mid-1870s. The present frame house at the springs was built by Ellison in 1886.
location: From Gorman take FM 8 about 3.5 miles, on north side of highway

That’s about all I know about those old boys for right now except that somehow I feel that a trace of their pioneering spirit and desire for adventure and travel is in my blood.

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