John Bird, soldier and Indian fighter, was born in what was later Perry County, Tennessee, in 1795, the son of William Bird. After service under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 he returned to Tennessee, where he married Sarah Denton. The couple had four children. The Bird family moved to Stephen F. Austin's Texas colony in June 1830 and the next year received a league of land in what later became Burleson County. Bird was elected captain in the colony's militia and in 1832 led a column of volunteers up the Brazos River on an expedition against the Comanches. During the Texas Revolution he commanded a unit of Texas cavalry against the Mexicans near San Antonio in 1835, and in March 1836 he commanded sixty volunteers in defense of the western frontier on the Brazos.
On April 2, 1839, Bird was elected captain of a company of rangers, which he led to Fort Milam on the Texas frontier. He and a single companion, N. Brookshire, set out on the morning of April 20, 1839, scouting for Indians. After crossing the Little River on the morning of May 25, the two encountered a party of Comanches skinning buffalo. The Indians fled but returned on the following morning, May 26, heavily reinforced, and stampeded a herd of buffalo thorough the rangers' camp. Bird and his men pursued the retreating Indians for four miles before discovering that they had ridden into a trap laid by an estimate 300 warriors. The rangers attempted to fall back to Fort Milam but were overtaken and attacked after about a quarter of a mile, at about 3:00 p.m. The rangers repulsed several mounted charges by the Comanches but were severely beset by Indians on foot, who approached Bird's position by way of a sheltered ravine. At sunset, however, the Indians withdrew, "yelling like devils," according to one survivor of the fight. Five of the rangers had been killed, including Bird, who was shot through the heart by an arrow. "He was the bravest of the brave," according to one of the rangers, "and died encouraging his men to fight like heroes." Comanche deaths were variously estimated at between thirty and seventy-five.
Despite having successfully defended themselves in what is now known as the Bird's Creek Indian Fight, the rangers were too badly weakened to sustain their position any longer and immediately began their retreat toward Fort Smith, which they reached at 2:00 a.m. on May 27. Reinforced at Nashville and commanded by N. Brookshire, they returned to the field to bury their dead and found that Bird and the others had been mutilated by the Comanches. The rangers set out in pursuit of their enemies but were unable to catch them. They took revenge on the body of a Comanche chief who had been killed in the battle and buried near the Indians' abandoned camp.
At the time of his death Bird owned 354 acres of land in Austin County. Blair Alexander was named administrator of his estate. A marker commemorating the Bird's Creek Fight was erected near Temple by the Texas Historical Commission.
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Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Muster Rolls of the Texas Revolution (Austin, 1986). Charles Adams Gulick, Jr., Harriet Smither, et al., eds., The Papers of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar (6 vols., Austin: Texas State Library, 1920–27; rpt., Austin: Pemberton Press, 1968). Frances Terry Ingmire, comp., Texas Ranger Service Records, 1847–1900 (St. Louis, 1982). A Memorial and Biographical History of McLennan, Falls, Bell, and Coryell Counties (Chicago: Lewis, 1893; rpt., St. Louis: Ingmire, 1984). New Orleans Daily Picayune, June 17, 1839. George Tyler, History of Bell County (San Antonio: Naylor, 1936). Gifford E. White, ed., The 1840 Census of the Republic of Texas (Austin: Pemberton, 1966; 2d ed., Vol. 2 of 1840 Citizens of Texas, Austin, 1984). Gifford E. White, 1830 Citizens of Texas (Austin: Eakin, 1983).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Thomas W. Cutrer,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 27, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
Most Recent Revision Date:
November 1, 1994