Sunday, December 17, 2006

Return to the Hill Country

Part 5—Enchanted Rock

Enchanted Rock is a noted landmark between Llano and Fredericksburg, Texas. If a foreign visitor were to ask me the one place that is quintessentially “Texas,” this would be the spot. Although a huge granite outcropping, to call it a mountain would invite ridicule from those who live where there are real mountains. Yet, it is certainly something more than just a large hill. I have climbed it 5 or 6 times—so far. After spending most of this fall on crutches, scaling the peak was something of a personal vindication as well. My healing foot made it just fine, and gasping for breath as I approached the summit was not as embarrassing as expected. I enjoy the view, and watching the sunset from here is a special treat, though this day was noticeably chilly and overcast.

Captain Jack Hays was the hero of a famous Indian skirmish here in 1845. He was working on a survey party, became separated from his group, and soon found himself confronted by about 20 Comanche. He sought refuge on the peak, as the war party followed. Hays was able to keep them at bay, without ever firing a shot. As they would approach up the bald, unprotected face of the mountain, he would rise to fire off a shot, and they would retreat back. This standoff allowed his survey party time to discover what had happened and come to his rescue. Hays went on the have a distinguished career, which included becoming mayor of Oakland, California.

Conditions remained dicey here, even 20 years later. The Civil War wiped away whatever defenses that the U. S. Army and/or Texas Rangers had afforded. My great- grandmother’s brother, Charles, was a young man of 20 years, just home from the war in July of 1865. He volunteered to help his uncle and family move from Honey Creek down to Mountain Home, a two-three day journey. On the return, Charlie stopped off in Fredericksburg, refreshed himself in a local saloon and then pushed on. About four miles out of town, he stopped at a creek to water the team and camp out for the night. He was ambushed by a party of Comanche, tied to a wagon wheel, tortured and then scalped. Neighbors overheard his screams. When word reached his family's ranch on Sandy Creek, his father, brother and brother-in-law set off to retrieve his body. Before leaving, they dug a hasty grave for him next to his mother. The heat and the time delay, however, dictated that they bury him where found, south of Enchanted Rock. In 1923, my granddad and his uncles sought to relocate the grave, but to no avail. Soon after the tragedy, my family abandoned their home of 13 years and moved 75 miles northeast to a safer area. They would remain away for 12 years. The murder (and the subsequent murder of another uncle nearby some 4 years later) has always made me take a somewhat jaundiced view of the “noble red man” school of revisionist American history. I realize that it was 140 years ago, but generationally (merely my grandfather’s uncles), it was not far removed at all, and the stuff of my childhood stories.

Looking out from Enchanted Rock, I recalled this saga, and pondered how life seldom works out the way we envision. And thank God for that. Most of our envisioning is motivated by our selfish wants and whims of the moment. Somehow this story causes me pause, even at home when I walk down our hallway and the honest, confident, clean-shaven and youthful face of my Uncle Charlie stares out at me from the old daguerreotype on the wall. If my family had not been chased off by the Indian depredations, my great-grandmother would have never met my great-grandfather (himself, ironically, part-Indian). Their love, and the years and obstacles that stood in the way of their marriage, is another story. But somehow, this twisting tale is all God’s grace, and part and parcel of who I am.


Luke said...

You need to tell the story of your great grandparents. I think it is worth telling, and I have forgotten most of it.

John said...

Well, here's the story in a nutshell. Indian depradations forced my great-grandmother's family to move to a farm on Reese's Creek, where they lived near my my great-granddad's family. The two more or less grew up together and became sweethearts. Her father and step-mother disapproved of the relationship. Just why is not completely clear. Descendants say that her family had a lot of family pride. They were certainly not rich, but were an established family and well-connected, as they say. His family was less so. Her family were staunch Confederates. His family was Unionist. And then his mother was 1/4 Choctaw Indian, but looked full-blood. Anyway, her family stepped in and broke up the budding match.

In 1875, my great-grandfather was heart-broken and wrote the following poem for her:

"Across the wide country
A courting I'll go
Intending to marry
Sweet Mary I know.

Farewell, sweet Mary
I'll bid you adew,
I am ruined forever
By loving of you.

Your parents don't like me,
That I well know.
They say I am not worthy
To knock at your door.

Farewell, sweet Mary,
I'll bid you adew.
I'm ruined forever
By loving of you.

O Mary, O Mary,
Would you think it unkind.
For me to sit by you
And tell you my mind?

My mind is to marry
And never to part,
For the first time I saw you
Wounded my heart.

Fare you well, sweet Mary,
I'll bid you adew.
I am ruined forever
By loving of you.

Go build me a castle
On yonder mount high
Where I can see Mary
As she passes by.

Farewell, sweet Mary,
I'll bid you adew.
I am ruined forever
By loving of you.

I'll eat when I am hungry,
I will drink when I am dry,
And think of sweet Mary
And sit down and cry."

That same year, she was married to a son of well-to-do rancher from their old neighborhood. The marriage was short-lived. A son was born and soon died, and her chosen husband deserted her and simply disappeared.

My great-granddad continued to love only her. But she was still not free to marry. She was not widowed, and as her husband's whereabouts were unknown, she could not divorce. In time, her father died and her brothers returned to their old ranch. My granddad went with them, to work as a ranch hand for her family, and of course, to be near her. They waited for 7 years for her husband to be declared legally dead. Then, late in 1884, and 10 years after their courtship began, they finally married.

That's the story. Thanks for asking, Luke.