BEN McCULLOCH – Texas Hero

by Julia Robb

Ben McCulloch was a hero, but most of us don’t know who he was. Yet Ben McCulloch fought in the Texas revolution (barely missing dying at the Alamo), he fought the Comanches, he was a Texas Ranger, a U.S. marshal and a Confederate brigadier general. B_McCulloch_civ_ACW McCulloch was born in Tennessee in 1811 and David Crockett eventually became one of the McCullochs’ neighbors and closest friends. In 1835, Ben and his brother Henry decided to follow Crockett to Texas. They planned to meet in Nacogdoches on Christmas day. Ben and Henry didn’t get there on time and Ben tried to catch up with Crockett, who had left for San Antonio. But Ben got the measles and Santa Anna got to the Alamo before Ben did. That didn’t stop Ben from fighting. He joined Sam Houston’s army, fought at the Battle of San Jacinto and earned a battlefield commission as first lieutenant. At that point, the revolution was more or less won and Ben began working as a surveyor in Gonzales and Seguin. But Ben McCulloch was a restless man. He soon joined the Texas Rangers and won a reputation as an Indian fighter. In 1839, McCulloch was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. Ben is sometimes criticized for his rifle duel with Reuben Ross. It’s complicated. Alonzo Sweitzer, one of Ben’s political enemies, originally challenged Ben to the duel. But he sent his friend Reuben to issue the challenge for him. Ben told Ross he wouldn’t fight Sweitzer because Sweitzer wasn’t a gentleman. Those were fighting words and, predictably, Reuben Ross took offense and challenged Ben to a duel. This time, Ben accepted the challenge. The two men faced off with rifles, at forty paces, two miles north of Gonzales. Ross shot McCulloch, permanently crippling his right arm. Ross, who seems to have been a good man, sent his doctor to treat McCulloch and expressed his regret at having “to meet so brave a man in a private encounter.” Ross’s gallant behavior didn’t save him. Henry McCulloch shot and killed Ross a few months later. Ross was reported to have gotten drunk and picked a fight with Henry. Robert S. Neighbors, an Indian agent and Texas state legislator, killed Sweitzer in 1841.       Ben quit politics and returned to surveying and fighting Indians.       At the Battle of Plum Creek (fought against the Comanches) on August 12, 1840, Ben commanded the right wing of the Texas army.       The Texans won. walker-creek-navajo-ponies-for-comanche-warriors-by-frank-mccarthy2-2 In February 1842, when the Mexican government launched a raid against Texas and seized San Antonio, McCulloch scouted enemy positions and helped push Mexican raiders back across the Rio Grande. On September 11, 1842, a second Mexican expedition captured San Antonio. Ben again fought, helping to defeat the Mexicans. After helping to defeat the second Mexican invasion, McCulloch remained with a ranger company. That company was part of an army that would (it was planned) invade Mexico. Ben and Henry, however, believed the Somervell Expedition was not well managed and they went home. Good thing too, because the expedition was a disaster and many of the men were killed. After Texas joined the Union, McCulloch was elected to the First Legislature and after the Mexican War began he raised a Texas Ranger company. Ben was soon named chief of scouts for the American army and won great admiration for his reconnaissance into northern Mexico. Leading his mounted infantry company at the battle of Monterrey, McCulloch further distinguished himself, and before the battle of Buena Vista his daring scouting saved the army and won him a promotion as major of United States volunteers. McCulloch returned to Texas at the end of the war and served for a time as a U.S. Army scout In 1849, however, when gold was discovered in California, Ben hightailed it to Sacramento and was eventually elected sheriff. A few years later, friends lured McCulloch back to Texas and he was appointed United States marshal for the Eastern District of Texas. In 1858, he was appointed one of two peace commissioners to treat with Brigham Young (in Utah) and the elders of the Mormon Church. Ben is credited with helping prevent war  between the United States government and the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. When Texas seceded from the Union, Ben was first commissioned a colonel and then Jefferson Davis promoted him to brigadier general, the second-ranking brigadier general in the Confederate Army and the first general-grade officer to be commissioned from the civilian community. McCulloch commanded Indian Territory and made friends with the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, and other tribal peoples. Many a good man died in the Civil War. McCulloch commanded the Confederate right wing at Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern, and on March 7, 1862, overran a battery of artillery and drove the enemy from his original position. As federal resistance stiffened around 10:30 a.m., however, McCulloch rode forward through the thick underbrush to find the enemy line. He was shot from the saddle and killed. McCulloch was first buried on the battlefield, but his body was removed to the cemetery at Little Rock and reburied at the state cemetery in Austin.  

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Jack Hays and The Wild Texas Rangers

by Julia Robb


In 1840, Texas Ranger Captain Jack Hays and twenty of his men tracked down two hundred Comanches herding stolen horses.37-Jack-Hays

Hays said, “Yonder are the Indians, boys, and yonder are our horses. The Indians are pretty strong. But we can whip them. What do you say?”

The Rangers charged, killed the Comanche leader and the rest of the warriors ran.

That’s a typical Ranger story.

The nineteenth century Texas Rangers were special to Texas and there’s a reason.

The Rangers were quick-shooting, hard-drinking, brutal, aggressive men, “just this side of brigands and desperados,” who fought a “war to the knife,” according to S.C. Gwynne, author of Empire of the Summer Moon.

In other words, they were just what Texas needed when the Comanche, Kiowa and Kickapoo were besieging us on every side.

The Rangers were also self-sacrificing.

Not only did they fight the tribes, they also fought Mexican soldiers (in two different wars), Mexican bandits and Anglo outlaws, while having to supply their own food, weapons, equipment and horses.

Rangers carried one rifle, two pistols, a knife and one blanket.

In time, Texas paid each ranger $30 per month.

Rangers also slept fully clothed in case they were forced to jump from their bedrolls and fight.

Texans organized the Rangers in 1835, and the new military waged all-out war against the tribes, especially during the 1839 Cherokee War in East Texas, the Council House Fight in San Antonio, in March 1840, and the (victorious) Battle of Plum Creek, against 1,000 Comanche warriors, in August 1840.

By 1841, the Rangers had undermined, if not broken, the tribes’ power. Comanches were still a threat, but the frontier was advancing west.

Things changed in 1861.

So many men left Texas during the Civil War, to fight for the Confederacy (including the Rangers), the tribes again ruled the plains.

Wilderness reclaimed whole parts of Texas because the Comanche had either killed the settlers or used fear and fire to push them out.

And the reconstruction government (1865-1870), did not allow the Rangers to operate, instead forcing a state police force down Texas’ throats.

State police were not effective against Comanche, and were highly unpopular–they were renowned for killing suspects without benefit of trial, particularly when those suspects were former Confederates.

By 1874, Texans were desperate for help against the Comanche and legislators again funded the Rangers.

Good move. The “Frontier Battalion,” about 450 men, fought in fifteen Indian battles.

After U.S. Fourth Cavalry Commander Ranald Mackenzie and his troopers, and the Rangers, were through with the Comanche, the tribe agreed to remain on the Fort Sill, Oklahoma, reservation.

The Rangers also “thinned out” more than 3,000 Texas desperados, including bank robber Sam Bass and gunfighter John Wesley Hardin.

Rangers were also ordered to end several frontier feuds–which they did.

The Rangers have occasionally committed wrongs, as organizations are full of imperfect human beings.

Accusers have charged the Rangers with racial prejudice; of not always giving Hispanics and African-Americans the benefit of the doubt.

That probably happened.

A folk song originating in South Texas tells the story of Gregorio Cortez Lira, who killed a Texas sheriff.

The sheriff had it coming and Gregorio was brave, the song says, adding “Don’t run, you cowardly rangers, from just one Mexican.”

The history of the world is bathed in blood and injustice, and organizations usually mirror culture.

But the Rangers came through for Texas when Texas needed them, and I, for one, am grateful.

JackHaysStatueSanMarcosTX211JRJack Hays’ Statue in San Marcos


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by Julia Robb


Sam Houston told us not to do it.

And Houston was the sitting governor when he opposed Texas joining the Confederacy, as well as hero of San Jacinto, twice President of the Republic of Texas and a former U.S. (TX) senator.

Joining the Confederacy would ruin the state, Houston warned, then ordered Texan Rangers to guard the federal arsenal in San Antonio.220px-SHouston_2

Texas secession leaders, Houston said, should “learn to respect and support one government before they talk of starting another.”

Texas didn’t listen.

In February, 1861, the state legislature appointed a special Texas “Secession Convention” which met and voted 166 to eight to secede from the Union.

Houston did everything he could to stop the convention meeting and fumed about “the mob upstairs,” which was meeting in the legislative chambers at the state capitol.

A referendum supported the convention; 46,153 votes to 14,747.

After the popular vote, Houston refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Confederate government.

A few days later, on March 17, 1861, Houston went to his office one morning and found newly-sworn in governor Edmund Clark sitting at his desk.

“Well, governor, you are an early riser,” Houston said, according to James L. Haley’s Sam Houston.

Everybody knows the end of this story.

We not only lost the war, Texas was economically destroyed.

If Texans had not rounded up wild longhorns and driven them to Northern markets–a stroke of genius–Texas would have suffered many more years than it did.

Moreover, of the 90,000 Texans who fought for the Confederacy–many of them on the frontier, against the tribes–about 24,000 were killed; somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, somebody’s husband.

About 2,132 white Texans fought for the Union, as did 47 black men.

And the way Texas got to this point was not pretty.

It was a rigged war.

Seventy percent of the secession convention delegates were slave owners.

Population in Texas in 1860 totaled 604,000, but only 20,000 white males owned slaves, half of those owning less than three.

Moreover, mobs targeted Texans who opposed secession, burning their houses, and sometimes even murdering them, according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

In Cook County, Confederate supporters hung 40 (supposed) Union sympathizers and shot two.

In Gillespie County, Confederate supporters hung fifty (supposed) Union sympathizers.

When I was young, I romanticized this war. I think all Southern kids do; we loved the gallantry, the underdog fighting overwhelming odds, bravery.

My three-times great-grandfather, Littleton James Hegler, was killed fighting with the South Carolina Volunteers (Confederacy) and one of my ancestors fought for the Confederacy until he was captured.

Union officers gave my ancestor (I think his last name was McClung) an ultimatum: Join the Union or go to a POW camp.

He joined the Union, but after the war would never wear anything blue.

I guess we know where his heart was.

But I don’t romanticize anymore.

It’s too hard to deny dead bodies stink in the sun, wounds cause pain, gangrene eats flesh until it stops hearts, being forced to stop on the march and relieve bowel-ridden dysentery is humiliating, and eating nothing but hardtack for days on end is a terrible punishment.

My guess? Most Civil War soldiers would have given anything for a good meal and 12 hours sleep.

Also, slavery was a terrible evil and needed to be abolished. Badly.

Personally, the thing I admire most in life is courage, and the rebs had it in abundance.

Hood’s Texas Brigade, which fought with Lee’s boys in Virginia, was renowned for its bravery.bmphood

At one point, in 1864, at the Battle of The Wilderness, Lee ordered the Brigade to the front, and they in turn ordered him to the rear.

When the battle line was crumbling, Lee saw the Texans coming to the front and cried “Hurrah for Texas!”

Lee began leading Texans in a charge.

The Texans, unwilling to risk their idol in battle, stopped and gathered around him, yelling “Lee to the rear!”

They held his horse until he withdrew.

Stuff like that makes Texans proud.

I don’t think most Confederates fought for slavery.

Most of them fought because they weren’t going to let the Yankees tell them what to do.

Not the best reasoning for a shooting war.


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