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LINNVILLE RAID OF 1840

LINNVILLE RAID OF 1840. The sacking of Victoria and Linnville in August 1840 in what was then Victoria County was the strategic object of a great Comanche raid in 1840, the most terrifying of all Comanche raids in Southeast Texas. The attack originated as an aftermath of the Council House Fight in San Antonio in March 1840. By August the Penateka Comanches were able to accept the leadership of their remaining chief, Buffalo Hump, the others having been killed in the Council House Fight. In what became the largest of all southern Comanche raids, Buffalo Hump launched a retaliatory attack down the Guadalupe valley east and south of Gonzales. The band numbered perhaps as many as 1,000, including the families of the warriors, who followed to make camps and seize plunder. The number of warriors was probably between 400 and 500, though witnesses put the figure higher. The total included a good number of Kiowas and Mexican guides.

The raiders first appeared at Victoria without warning on the afternoon of August 6, and upon crossing Spring Creek were mistaken at first for Lipans, members of a friendly group that often traded with settlers around the town. "We of Victoria were startled by the apparitions presented by the sudden appearance of six hundred mounted Comanches in the immediate outskirts of the village," wrote John J. Linn, who recorded the attack on Victoria and the burning of Linnville in his Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (1883). The Comanches killed a number of slaves working in fields and also some whites who were unable to reach Victoria. They captured over 1,500 horses belonging to area residents and to some Mexican horse traders who had arrived with a large herd. The Indians surrounded the town, but the settlers' defensive efforts apparently prevented their sacking the town itself. The attackers retired to Spring Creek at day's end and killed a white settler and two black slaves before a group of Victoria men left for the Cuero Creek, Lavaca, and Gonzales settlements for help. The next day the Comanches killed a party of men returning to town, except for Jesse O. Wheeler and a companion, who reached safety.

With their spoils the Indians then left Victoria and thundered toward the coast. They camped the night of August 7 on Placido (now Placedo) Creek on the ranch of Plácido Benavides, about twelve miles from Linnville. There two wagoners were intercepted, of whom one escaped and the other was killed. Three miles from Linnville the raiders killed two black men cutting hay. Tradition holds that Daniel D. Brown warned the citizens of the danger and that Mary Margaret Kerr Mitchell rode horseback across Prairie Chicken Reef with word of the attack on Victoria. Nevertheless, early on August 8, the Comanches surprised the town; most residents supposed them to be Mexican horse traders.

The Indians surrounded the small port of Linnville and began pillaging the stores and houses. They killed three whites, including customs officer Hugh Oran Watts, who delayed escape to retrieve a gold watch; they captured Watts's wife of only twenty-one days, Juliet Constance, and a black woman and child. The surprised people of Linnville fled to the water and were saved by remaining aboard small boats and a schooner captained by William G. Marshall at anchor in the bay. From their Gulf vantage point the refugees witnessed the destruction of their town. For the entire day the Comanches plundered and burned buildings. They tied feather beds and bolts of cloth to their horses and dragged them about in sport. They herded large numbers of cattle into pens and slaughtered them. One exasperated onlooker, Judge John Hays, grabbed a gun and waded ashore through the shallow water, but the Indians ignored him. When he returned to the schooner his gun was found to have been unloaded.

Goods valued at $300,000 were at Linnville at the time of the raid; many items were en route from New Orleans to San Antonio. Linn noted that in his warehouse were several cases of hats and umbrellas belonging to James Robinson, a San Antonio merchant. "These the Indians made free with, and went dashing about the blazing village, amid their screeching squaws and `little Injuns,' like demons in a drunken saturnalia, with Robinson's hats on their heads and Robinson's umbrellas bobbing about on every side like tipsy young balloons." After loading the plunder onto pack mules the raiders, attired in their booty, finally retired in the afternoon with some 3,000 horses and a number of captives, including Mrs. Watts, and encamped across the bayou near the old road.

By this time the men of Victoria had recruited reinforcements from the Cuero Creek settlement. On the morning of August 7 the combined forces joined volunteers from the Gonzales and Lavaca settlements under Adam Zumwalt and Benjamin McCulloch and skirmished with the Comanches about twelve miles east of Victoria on Marcado Creek and again on Casa Blanca Creek, two branches of Garcitas Creek. The Indians stole away with their captives and plunder but were defeated by volunteers at Plum Creek near the site of present Lockhart on August 12 (see PLUM CREEK, BATTLE OF). Although the Indians tried to kill their Victoria and Linnville captives during this final battle, Juliet Watts's corset prevented her arrow wound from killing her. She returned to the Linnville area, married Dr. J. M. Stanton, and opened the Stanton House, the first hotel in Port Lavaca, the new settlement established on the bay 3½ miles southwest by displaced Linnville residents.

Twenty-three settlers are known to have been killed in the Victoria-Linnville raid, including eight blacks and one Mexican. There is evidence that this raid also was part of a scheme among Mexican Centralists to punish the citizens of Victoria and Linnville for providing Mexican Federalists a port and site for the short-lived provisional government of the Republic of the Rio Grande. The captured horses and plunder were evidently received by Centralist generals Valentín Canalizo and Adrián Woll and used in an invasion of Texas. Although this was the last great Comanche raid into the coastal settlements, Linnville never regained prominence and soon vanished in the wake of Port Lavaca's growth. The Victoria battle is commemorated by a historical marker on De León Plaza in downtown Victoria near the site of the Round Top House, the fortified home of colonist Plácido Benavides, which served as an improvised citadel against the attack. The site of Linnville is 3½ miles northeast of Port Lavaca on the bayfront, just off Farm Road 1090 in present Calhoun County.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

T. Lindsay Baker, Ghost Towns of Texas (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986). Donaly E. Brice, The Great Comanche Raid (Austin: Eakin Press, 1987). John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). Calhoun County Historical Commission, Shifting Sands of Calhoun County, Texas (Port Lavaca, Texas, ca. 1980). Claude W. Dooley, comp., Why Stop? (Odessa: Lone Star Legends, 1978; 2d ed., with Betty Dooley and the Texas Historical Commission, Houston: Lone Star, 1985). Paul H. Freier, A "Looking Back" Scrapbook for Calhoun County and Matagorda Bay, Texas (Port Lavaca, Texas: Port Lavaca Wave, 1979). Roy Grimes, ed., 300 Years in Victoria County (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1968; rpt., Austin: Nortex, 1985). James L. Haley, Texas: An Album of History (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1985). John J. Linn, Reminiscences of Fifty Years in Texas (New York: Sadlier, 1883; 2d ed., Austin: Steck, 1935; rpt., Austin: State House, 1986). Victor Marion Rose, History of Victoria (Laredo, 1883; rpt., Victoria, Texas: Book Mart, 1961). The Victoria Sesquicentennial "Scrapbook" (Victoria, Texas: Victoria Advocate, 1974).

Craig H. Roell

Citation

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

Craig H. Roell, "LINNVILLE RAID OF 1840," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/btl01), accessed April 18, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.