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