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The Gotcher Massacre

This is an excerpt from A History of the James Gotcher Family by David O Emison. Mr. Emison was often in the company of his grandfather, Riley Carrol Gotcher. Riley Carrol's father was William Riley Gotcher who was kidnapped by a group of Comanches in 1837. Mr. Emison recorded the account told him by his grandfather. I am indebted to Mr. Emison for allowing me to reprint this portion of his book.

Following Texas Independence in April 1836, one of the sons (of James Gotcher), Samuel Gotcher, enlisted in the Texas Rangers and served under the command of Captain Billingsley. Samuel obtained his land grant from Texas which was due him, having been of age and a single man when he immigrated to Texas. Single men were granted one third of a league of land as their headright. The one third league given to Samuel was Certificate No. 50 and was located in the downtown area of Austin, Texas.

The present Capitol building rests on the Samuel Gotcher land grant. The approximate north-south center line of the grant is Congress Street in Austin, and extended south to the Colorado River. It is the same land that Great-Grandfather William Riley (Gotcher) later inherited.

In November 1836, Samuel returned to his home in Bastrop. (Bastrop on that day denoted a very large area, generally encompassing present Bastrop, Lee, Williamson, and part of Travis County). The following March 1837, was the date of the tragic event in the story of the family of James Gotcher.

The family was in their home on Rabbs Creek in present Lee County. The home was located on a hill about 400 yards east of Rabbs Creek and 100 yards north of the Gotcher Trace. Their now widowed daughter Jane Crawford, and her baby girl, Margaret Elizabeth were living in their household also. Mrs. Gotcher, Jane, her baby, William Riley and James, Jr., were at the homesite. Mr. Gotcher and his oldest sons being Samuel and Nathaniel were in the forest preparing firewood. Jane and William Riley went to a small creek nearby to get water for the family use. Comanche Indians were then approaching the Gotcher home and when Jane and Riley saw them, they immediately attempted to return and warn Mrs. Gotcher. However, the Indians captured them both and Mrs. Gotcher heard them. She then very bravely defended her home and her loved ones inside as best she could. Before she fell dead, her body pierced by many arrows, she had shot and killed five of the attackers. Mr. Gotcher and his sons, hearing the shots, quickly ran to defend their loved ones, however, they were all quickly killed. Jane struggled to free herself that she might comfort one of her dying brothers nearby, but her captors would not permit.

The Indians scalped Mrs. Gotcher. She had long beautiful hair which they placed on a pole for their ceremonial. The survivors, Jane, her daughter Margaret Elizabeth, James Jr, and William Riley were forced to participate in the Indian ceremonial dance around their mother's scalp. Immediately afterwards the captives were forced to leave with the Indians. Besides the survivors, horses, hogs, and salt were the only things the Indians took from the Gotcher home. Before the day ended, some settlers took chase to the Indians, unaware of the Gotchers being among them. The settlers soon lost track and had to return to their homes. That night, the Indians ate the hogs they had taken and became violently ill from fresh pork and their hard ride from the settlers.

Three days after the tragedy, Colonel Edward Burleson came upon the Gotcher home and found the terrible scene. He buried them directly across the Gotcher Trace from their home. A Texas State Historical Marker has been placed on the burial site. Colonel Burleson buried the Indians which Mrs. Gotcher killed near a very large oak tree between the homesite and the family graves.

For the survivors, life was completely miserable on the trail. Their food consisted of whatever could be found, or a morsel occasionally tossed them by an Indian. William Riley remembered having some skunk to eat. Jane learned to prepare a broth made from acorns. The Indians treated them with extreme cruelty, and on one occasion tried to kill Jane's daughter. Being a baby, no doubt hungry and weary, she cried very much. This annoyed the Indians. One of them took her and threw her into a stream of water to drown. Jane immediately retrieved her and the Indian moved to take the baby again. Jane hit him over the head with a stick of wood. The Indian leader observed this and intervened. He gave Jane her baby, admired her bravery and told her that her baby would not receive such treatment again.

Onward in a northerly direction the party went, with the Indians on ponies and the Gotchers on foot. Jane obviously was a remarkable person to keep her daughter and two brothers alive. At night they were closely guarded or tied securely to prevent their escape. It was near the present Oklahoma border that escape did occur only to be captured again. The Comanche party encountered another party of Indians and a skirmish between them began. During the skirmish Jane with her daughter and her brothers did escape only to be captured by the other party of Indians who were Choctaws and who resided in Oklahoma. The Choctaws took the little family of Gotchers to their camps in the Arbuckle Mountain area of Oklahoma.

During this period of Texas history, it was very common for Indians to take captives to the Red River area of Texas where they were able to trade them for their desired bounty to other Indians, or to white traders at trading posts. It is believed that this was the Comanche's intent as they approached the Red River area and encountered the Choctaw party. No doubt the captured family was considered by the Indians to represent very attractive trading possibilities.

The Choctaws were not cruel to the family. They were required to work for them as servants and they were closely guarded to prevent escape. It became William Riley's chore to keep the camp fires burning. The village chief would wake him with the exclamation "Sosh-comma-rye-ah", being their language for "get wood on that fire!" Quite obviously William Riley was a fearless and actually a wild lad who at first was in disfavor with the Choctaws. In their games that he was forced to participate in, he was usually the winner. One game involved sticks in the hand of each player within a marked off area on the ground. Players would be required to be within the "ring" and attempt to hit the other player or cause him to leave the ring. An opposing player would ward off the other player's attack with his stick. William Riley became an undisputed winner, and even injured an Indian lad. Many in the camp were opposed to his action and his obvious superiority over the Indian lads and were annoyed by his presence. However, the chief was attracted to William Riley, admired his bravery and skill. With his influence, the chief won the acceptance of all the acceptance of all the Indians for William Riley and although he was a captive, he became one of them. On one occasion, the chief kept him hidden for several days in a buffalo hide to protect him from the village people.

In January 1838, the Choctaw chief and his party took the family to Coffee's trading post on the Red River to negotiate a trade with the whites or some other Indians. Colonel Coffee was the owner of the trading post and he and his wife, "Aunt" Sophia Coffee resided in the post. When the Indians approached the post with their captives, "Aunt" Sophia saw the pitiful little family and pleaded with the Colonel to negotiate for their release. Charles Spaulding was also in the post and was there in search of the family. He and Colonel Coffee traded with the Indians for their captives. Many stories have been given as to the actual trading items, but no doubt the family brought a handsome amount of goods, trinkets, and usual items desired by Indians.

Charles Spaulding was very attracted to Jane and after a short romance, married her on February 1, 1838. Charles and Jane with the children then left for Bastrop.

Another retelling of this tale is Indian Depredations in Texas: Reliable Accounts of Battles, Wars, Adventures, ... by JW Wilbarger. That version erroneously lists Lemuel Crawford, Jane's husband, as being killed in the Gotcher massacre. In January 1836, Lemuel joined with a group of volunteers headed for the Alamo and there Lemuel died with his fellow volunteers on March 6, 1836. His name is listed on the monument outside the Alamo.

Wilbarger's version of the story makes for lively reading, and there is an illustration of Jane rescuing her infant daughter, Margaret from "a watery grave." Mr. Wilbarger reports that the barter for the release of the Gotcher family consisted of "four hundred yards of calico, a large number of blankets, a quantity of beads and some other articles."

The recounting in Volume 1 of A Comprehensive history of Texas edited by Dudley G. Wooten states that the tribe was Caddoan, rather than Comanche.

Search the Texas Historical Commission Atlas for information on the historical marker.

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