Wilbarger, John Wesley (1806–1892)

By: Christopher Long

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: December 1, 1995

John Wesley Wilbarger, Methodist minister and author, was born in 1806, the son of John Wilbarger and Ann (Pugh) Wilbarger. Some sources claim that his birthplace was Bourbon County, Kentucky, but others maintain that he was born in Rockingham, Virginia, and moved to Kentucky with his parents in 1818. Wilbarger moved to Texas from Kentucky in 1837 at the urging of his brother, Josiah Pugh Wilbarger, who had lived near Bastrop since the late 1820s. He served as a minister for the area and assisted his brother in surveying the region. In 1833, while on a trip to Austin, Josiah Wilbarger was scalped by Indians and left for dead, but miraculously survived. This and other tales of Indian attacks that John Wilbarger heard during his lifetime prompted him to write a compendium of such stories, which he published as Indian Depredations in Texas in 1889. According to Wilbarger, he began actively collecting material for the book around 1870 and worked on it more or less continuously for two decades. The 672-page book, described by one author as "the most complete compilation of accounts of Indian warfare in nineteenth-century Texas," contained more than 250 separate narratives of attacks and counterattacks. In his preface Wilbarger noted that many of the articles had been "written by others, who were either cognizant of the facts themselves or had obtained them from reliable sources." Wilbarger, however, claimed that he had attempted to verify all of the stories. Written at a time when some writers, particularly in the academic world, were beginning to paint a more balanced view of Indians, Wilbarger's book cast them as unredeemable savages and showed little sympathy for their culture or motives. Nevertheless, the book is considered a classic work of Texana and has been reprinted several times. Also noteworthy is the fact that Indian Depredations was illustrated with thirty-four woodcuts signed by T. J. Owen, but which have subsequently been attributed to William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry. Wilbarger died in 1892.

John H. Jenkins, Basic Texas Books: An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Works for a Research Library (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1983; rpt. 1988). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Peoples
  • Native American
  • Writers, Authors, Publications, and Literature
  • Authors and Writers
  • Religion
  • Methodist
Time Periods:
  • Republic of Texas
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Christopher Long, “Wilbarger, John Wesley,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed July 02, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/wilbarger-john-wesley.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995

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