Shootout marks dark day in lit­tle-known tale of Texas his­tory

Houston Chronicle - - CITY | STATE -

A re­mark­able let­ter that Chron­i­cle reader John Kel­ley sent my way re­cently in­tro­duced me to an episode in Texas his­tory I’d never heard of. It’s an episode that un­der­scores how early Texas was “rough coun­try,” to bor­row a de­scrip­tion from Prince­ton so­ci­ol­o­gist Robert Wuth­now, who’s writ­ten about the state’s dif­fi­cult, dis­or­derly past in a book of the same name. The let­ter, writ­ten on April 22, 1878, is from a Kel­ley fore­bear, E. Chap­man Moore of Cor­pus Christi, to an un­cle, Col. Ni­cholas J. Moore of Galve­ston. Its pur­pose was to pro­vide de­tails of the vi­o­lent death of Col. Moore’s son, Fred­er­ick, in what would come to be called the Mex­i­can and In­dian Raid of ’78. “It’s a de­scrip­tion of death and sur­vival and faith in a time when life was frag­ile in re­mote ar­eas of Texas,” Kel­ley writes. It does in­deed, and in its depth of de­tail and feel­ing, the let­ter en­gages the reader, re­mind­ing us that our fore­bears weren’t that much dif­fer­ent from us. I’ll quote as much of it as I can.

As E.C. Moore re­ports to his “dear Un­cle Nick,” he and his cousin were “vis­it­ing sheep ran­chos and in­spect­ing flocks of sheep” in South Texas. They spent their sec­ond night out at the ranch of a Mr. Labbe, 25 miles from San Diego.

He en­ter­tained us with true and kind-hearted French hos­pi­tal­ity. His two sons, about the age of Fred and I, en­gaged us in gym­nas­tic sports, which both of us en­tered

into with great zest. The old peo­ple looked on with de­light and we did not re­tire un­til af­ter ten o’clock. De­voutly we knelt to­gether. We slept in the same room and the same bed. Fred and my­self, in the morn­ing, again knelt in prayer to our com­mon Heav­enly Father.

The two young men left about 8 a.m., singing hymns as they rode along. At noon they camped near a creek, a pond and a hill. It was warm, Moore wrote, and they lin­gered for about three hours since they had only about 10 miles to go for the next ranch.

We had roasted pecans in camp — a new thing for Fred and he liked them — and he was eat­ing them as we both rode along to­gether — he on my left side and I’m on his right — our road at this time be­ing due west. We had rid­den about three quar­ters of a mile when Fred look­ing ahead said, “Look! What a whirl­wind!” As I raised my eyes I saw a party of eight men. (The whirl­wind was the dust raised by Indians driv­ing stock. We did not see the stock or the Indians. This we learned only af­ter­wards from

oth­ers).

The young men had no way of know­ing the eight rid­ers com­ing their way were part of a band of about 40 Mex­i­cans and Kick­apoo, Li­pan, Apache and Semi­nole Indians.

The raiders had crossed the Rio Grande north of Laredo and were steal­ing horses and killing men, women and chil­dren — 18 peo­ple dur­ing their six-day ram­page.

In a let­ter plead­ing for help from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, a group of Cor­pus Christi-area res­i­dents and of­fi­cials put to­gether a packet of ma­te­ri­als for U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Wil­liam M. Evarts. It in­cluded Moore’s let­ter and oth­ers, along with a de­tailed de­scrip­tion that reads like a Louis L’Amour tale: “On Sun­day, the 14th day of April, 1878, three days ere the moon had reached the full, a band of Mex­i­cans, Indians and — from the tes­ti­mony — a white man or two, crossed the Rio Grande from the State of Coahuila, in Mex­ico, and in­vaded Webb County. … Their ob­jects were mur­der and plun­der.”

I told Fred to put up his quirt (whip) which he did. Fred, I still no­ticed, strangely con­tin­ued to pick at the pecans. I ex­claimed “For God’s sake throw down the pecans”! How­ever, he had put up his quirt and he had ad­justed his six-shooter belt, and both our pis­tols were be­fore us and ready for use upon the turn of a hair. We were both cool, col­lected and ready …

Our pre­cau­tions were only the or­di­nary pre­cau­tions taken on the road in a wild coun­try. … I thought them cow driv­ers. One there was a white man: bull neck, sun burnt but fair — not florid — light hair, lit­tle beard, tall, would weigh 180 to 200 lbs, and he was in the front. Next to him was a small very dark-fea­tured, brushy beard and long­haired, wiry lit­tle Mex­i­can. The white man rode a large gray horse — the Mex­i­can rode an or­di­nary but good brown pony. The white man ad­vanced, and nearly flanked me as if ap­pear­ing to give us way. We bore to the left ex­pect­ing his party to fol­low his move­ment and al­low us to pass them. The Mex­i­can on the brown pony, how­ever, con­fronting us moved to the side we were on and op­po­site from the white man. Thus we were al­most flanked on both sides, and the re­main­ing six men faced us. … Fred first no­ticed the flank­ing move­ments, or a mo­tion which con­vinced him, and he said “Here they come!!!” They were his last words to me.

The cousins wheeled their horses and fled, their pur­suers fir­ing at them. The two took cover in some bushes and re­turned fire.

Fred and I were side and side. He was too near to me to see him. I had to look on the side away from him. As we were turn­ing — or per­haps about to turn — into the bushes I did look — I don’t know how or why — on Fred’s side. He threw up his right arm, he clasped his right thigh with the same hand, and in a mo­ment more he fell. He was shot through the body — the ball pass­ing through his chest. Those who saw him af­ter­wards say he was killed out­right.

E.C. Moore got off a shot at the white man and wounded him. Leav­ing his horse be­hind, Moore even­tu­ally reached a dense thicket and man­aged to es­cape.

All are in deep af­flic­tion. We do most pro­foundly sym­pa­thize with you. There is not one such young man in ten thou­sand as was your noble son, Fred Moore. Laura is greatly af­flicted. I have Fred’s sad­dle bags — it was left at San Diego. Also, his mem­o­randa book and a let­ter from Wil­lie. I have too, but bathed with his blood, his pocket edi­tion of Moody’s and Sankey’s hymns.

“We have over­come many dif­fi­cul­ties,” the Cor­pus Christi con­tin­gent wrote in their plea to the sec­re­tary of state a few days af­ter Fred Moore’s mur­der. “We have pros­pered. We hoped to give ad­van­tages to our chil­dren that have been de­nied to our­selves. … The acme of our ex­pec­ta­tions have al­most been reached, and then the labors of years have been swept from us with the fury of a hur­ri­cane …”

The anx­ious Tex­ans got no re­sponse from Wash­ing­ton or from lo­cal law en­force­ment.

The raiders, un­pun­ished, slipped back across the Rio Grande.

JOE HOLLEY

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