Written by Art Hall
Often when we consider the Edens-Madden Massacre, we tend to look at the massacre as an isolated incident and not consider the events surrounding it. These surrounding events help us place the massacre into historical perspective and understand the eventual expulsion of the Cherokee and Kickapoo Indians from East Texas.
Prior to Texas winning its independence from Mexico in 1836, the Mexican authorities had good relations with the various Indian tribes, primarily the Cherokees and Kickapoos, who were found in East Texas. The Mexican government had no plans to colonize East Texas and, consequently, had no problem with the Indians claiming large sections of land for themselves. Things began to change, however, after Texas independence in 1836.
Under Mexican rule, few Anglos came to Texas, but after independence a flood of settlers began arriving. And although many came through the Gulf ports of Galveston, Brazoria and Indianola and settled along the rivers near the Gulf coast, most came overland through the gateway town of Nacogdoches and settled near the Old San Antonio Road (El Camino Real) in close proximity to Nacogdoches. More and more these new settlers encroached upon lands claimed by the Indians. The East Texas Indians were not nomadic as were the Plains Indians, but were a mountain and forest people who hunted and fished, built villages, raised livestock, and cultivated fields. And they were being forced off of their lands at an increasing rate.
In an effort to pacify the East Texas Indians, Sam Houston (prior to and while President of the Republic of Texas) entered into a number of treaties guaranteeing them title to their lands. However, the Texas legislature refused to ratify these treaties and they were generally ignored by local authorities and settlers.
Following its defeat in 1836, Mexico began a campaign of inciting the East Texas Indians and native Mexicans in Texas to rise up against the Anglo-Americans in hopes of driving them out and eventually reclaiming Texas. These efforts were largely carried out by native Mexicans in Texas and by government agents sent to Texas. One of the more active and successful of these Mexican agents was Vincente Cordova who had lived in Nacogdoches for many years. He had been an early supporter of the Texas Revolution and was once a wealthy leader in Nacogdoches community affairs. A local judge and captain of militia, he held several government posts during colonial days in Mexican Texas. Cordova fought for the revolution when it was the colonists’ struggle for constitutional rights under Mexican rule. But after the revolution became a war for Texas independence, Cordova declared loyalty to Mexico.
Cordova eventually recruited a force of Mexican loyalists, Indians, blacks and disaffected Anglos to dismantle Texas independence from within with promised support from the central government in Mexico City.
In 1838, Mirabeau B. Lamar was elected President of the Republic of Texas, replacing Sam Houston who could not run for re-election under then current law. Lamar’s campaign promise to suppress the Indians and to drive them from Texas won him much support with the settlers who were suffering more and more from Indian depredations across East Texas. Lamar’s election, the increasing flood of Anglo settlers into East Texas, and the failure of Texas to guarantee the Indians their lands made fertile ground for Cordova to instigate an uprising in 1838. The uprising became known as the “Cordova Rebellion”.
August, 1838 – Indian depredations increased, particularly around Ft. Houston, near present day Palestine, in Anderson Co. Following is a letter written August 25, 1838, from the citizens of Ft. Houston to President Houston (Lamar was not inaugurated until Jan., 1839).
“Our property has been stolen, our houses and farms infested and surrounded, our families alarmed and ourselves compelled to desert our homes on account of depredations committed by our Indian neighbors. We would further beg leave to suggest as our settled conviction that from our isolated situation and sparseness of our population, this settlement will be compelled to desert our property and protect our women and children from the tomahawk and scalping, or more cruel horror of Indian captivity. This subject is most respectfully submitted to the consideration of the Executive and some protection earnestly but strongly solicited in our truly unpleasant and distressing situation. The Indians who are doing mischief in this neighborhood are supposed to be principally the Kickapoos.”
Ft. Houston was within an easy days ride from the home of John Edens and other settlers on San Pedro Creek, near Augusta. Note, also, that the Indians being blamed for the trouble were the Kickapoos. So the trouble had begun close to home a good two months before the Edens-Madden Massacre.
September, 1838 – As a result of the above letter to President Houston and reports of other depredations in the vicinity, Maj. Leonard Mabbitt and three companies of cavalry were dispatched to Ft. Houston to pacify the area. They arrived on September 27th. Maj. Mabbit’s troops patrolled east from Ft. Houston to the Neches River and came under increasing Indian harassment, primarily from Kickapoos who had been enlisted by Vincente Cordova.
Much of the frontier defense was left to volunteer companies of Texas Rangers. One such company was commanded by Capt. William T. Sadler, a neighbor of John Edens on San Pedro Creek. Sadler’s company patrolled south of Ft. Houston to Ft. Brown, a small log structure on San Pedro Creek a few miles west of the Edens home. Many of Sadler’s troops came from the San Pedro Creek area, including, among others, John Murchison; Robert Madden; and brothers Darius Edens, Balis Edens and John Silas Edens.
October 5, 1838 – Killough Massacre. The extended Killough family had settled on a creek near the Neches River and near the Kickapoo Village in present day Anderson Co. A large group of Indians attacked during the afternoon while a number of the men were in the adjoining fields. And while a number were able to make their escape, 18 men, women and children were slaughtered that afternoon. Originally blamed on the Cherokees, it was later thought that the massacre was committed by Cordova and his Mexicans and Indians. When word of the massacre reached Nacogdoches, Thomas J. Rusk began mobilizing as many men as possible to march on the Cherokees and Kickapoos in northern Anderson County.
Of interest is the fact that Olive Edens, daughter of John Edens, later married Allen Killough, one of the surviving members of the family.
October 11, 1838 – General Rusk left Nacogdoches with a large contingent of men with the intent of meeting Maj. Mabbitt’s men at Ft. Duty, about halfway between Ft. Houston and the Neches River. The combined force was then to proceed north about 20 miles to the vicinity of Kickapoo Village and engage the sizable contingent of Indians there.
Capt. Sadler was ordered to proceed immediately to Ft. Houston to join Maj. Mabbitt’s men for the campaign against the Indians. Since the men of Capt. Sadler’s Company were leaving Ft. Brown and their homes on San Pedro Creek, this may well have been when many of their wives and children gathered at the home of John Edens for protection.
October 12, 1838 – Maj. Mabbit, joined by the men from San Pedro Creek, left Ft. Houston for Ft. Duty to meet Gen. Rusk. As the trail was narrow through heavily forested terrain, Mabbitt’s men became spread out over a considerable distance. The rearmost company was that of Capt. Brown and had fallen behind the main force by about a mile. Approximately 6 miles east of Ft. Houston, Capt. Brown’s troops were ambushed by a group of Cordova’s Mexicans and Indians. And while they were able to eventually drive off their attackers, four of Capt. Brown’s troops were killed and a number wounded.
When Maj. Mabbitt received word of the ambush, he immediately ordered a return to Ft. Houston to bury the dead, nurse the wounded, and to re-supply his troops. Word was sent to Gen. Rusk that Mabbitt would be delayed but would join up with Rusk on the Neches.
October 14, 1838 – Maj. Mabbitt again left Ft. Houston but proceeded directly to the Neches River, just south of Kickapoo Village. Here he joined Gen. Rusk’s troops late on the afternoon of October 15th. That night, the Indians, being fully aware of the Texan’s presence, started fires around their camp in the hope of burning them out. The fires were unsuccessful but heightened the Texan’s alertness throughout the night and for the battle which would take place early the next morning.
October 16, 1838 – The Indians attacked early that morning. Rusk’s men had constructed defensive positions the night before and were fully prepared when the attack came. The battle lasted about one hour and when it was over, the Indians and Mexicans had experienced heavy casualties. The survivors escaped into the forest. Rusk lost only one man (Pvt. James Hall). No one from the San Pedro Creek area had been killed and only one wounded, that being John Murchison, who would lose his wife, Sarah Hall Murchison, in the Edens-Madden Massacre two days later.
One other casualty, however, was suffered by the men from San Pedro. The casualty was Darius Edens’ horse. An affidavit prepared and signed shortly after the battle reads as follows:
“We the undersigned being appointed by Gen. T. J. Rusk to value a sorril mare about 15 ½ hands high belonging to Darius Edens a private of Capt. J. Box’s Spy Co. on oath appraise the said mare to be worth the sum of two hundred and seventy five dollars and to certify that she was killed in the action fought this day at the Kickapoo Village.
Signed: J.C. Box, Captain
Approved: Thos. J. Rusk, Major General”
(Darius had been transferred to Capt. Box’s company while at Ft. Houston shortly before departing for Kickapoo. His claim was paid by the Republic on May 11, 1840, for $200.)
After the battle, the men under Maj. Mabbitt returned to Ft. Houston, arriving there on October 18th. After a short rest, the men of Capt. Sadler’s and Capt. Box’s Companies departed for their homes on San Pedro Creek.
October 18, 1838 – Edens-Madden Massacre. Several older men of the San Pedro Creek area and a number of the wives and children of the men in Capt. Sadler’s Company had gathered in the home of John Edens, probably shortly after Sadler’s volunteers had been ordered to Ft. Houston on October 11th. It is possible that those who gathered at the Edens home continued a fairly normal routine during the day but retired to the Edens home for protection at night. Gathered there on the night of October 18, 1838, were John Edens; his son-in-law James Madden; Elias Moore; and Martin Murchison, the father of John Murchison who had been wounded two days earlier at Kickapoo Village.
Among the women and children who were present were John Edens’ second wife (a Pollitt, but given name unknown), and daughters, Emily, 16, Caledonia, 3, and Melissa, 1. Also present were Edens’ daughter, Lucinda Madden, wife of James Madden, and their sons, Balis, 9, Robert, 7, and Seldon, 4. Others present were Mrs. Robert (Nancy Halhouser) Madden and her daughter Mary, 3; and Mrs. John Murchison and her step-daughter-in-law, Mrs. William T. (Mary Murchison) Sadler.
It is known that the Indians attacked at bed time and were able to isolate the four men in one of the cabins of the double cabin home. The women and children, in the other cabin, were at the mercy of the Indians. Killed were John Edens’ wife, his daughters, Emily and Caledonia and grandsons Robert and Seldon Madden. Also killed were Mary Madden, Mrs. John Murchison and Mrs. W.T. Sadler. Severely wounded were Lucinda Madden and Mrs. Robert Madden, but both recovered to lead long and productive lives. Infant Melissa Edens was carried to safety by Patsy, a Negro slave who probably had been her nursemaid. Patsy was credited with also saving the two severely wounded women, Lucinda Madden and Ms. Robert Madden. Nine year old Balis Madden was able to escape as did the four men isolated in the other cabin. With coals from the fireplace in the women’s room, the Indians were able to set fire to the structure which totally consumed the home and many of the bodies of the dead.
October 19, 1838 – The men from Ft. Houston arrived to find many of their loved one killed or maimed. They nursed the wounded and buried the dead in the John Edens Cemetery about 150 yards from the site of the massacre. Since many of the victims had been burned in the fire, identification must have been difficult if not impossible.
There was some speculation in later years that the Indians had taken some of the small boys captive, but I tend to discount that theory. If captives had been taken, the men arriving from Ft. Houston would surely have tried to track the Indians, and there is no evidence that such was the case. Also, because of the fire, it would have been difficult to identify the remains, particularly those of the younger victims. Burial would have taken place as soon as possible, possibly in a common grave. In any event, the victims’ graves are unmarked in the old John Edens Cemetery.
The particular group of Indians responsible for the massacre was never identified, but from evidence which has been uncovered, it appears that they were Kickapoos.
Elias Vansickle, of Nacogdoches, was taken prisoner by Indians near Kickapoo Village about the 1st of October, 1838. He was held captive at a nearby village until December 21st, 1838 when he was able to make his escape. Upon his return to Nacogdoches, he gave a statement, as follows:
“He states that he was in their camp at the Kickapoo town at the time of the battle between General Rusk’s forces and them, and that there were then fifteen Cherokees with them, who all joined in the attack upon General Rusk’s camp.
He states, also, that Dogshoot, a Cherokee, came to the enemy some time before and brought a scalp which he said belonged to one of the Killough family, who had been murdered about the same time in the Cherokee nation. The Cherokees, Dogshoot and others, said that in three days from that time, thirty besides those then in camp would join them, and unite with them in a war upon the white settlements. Previous to this time some Kickapoos, a large number, came in and stated that they had killed the families of Eden (sic) and others, near Mustang prairie, Houston County.”
From Vansickle’s statement it seems clear that the perpetrators were, in fact, Kickapoos. And since a war party of Kickapoos had been close to San Pedro Creek only six days before the Edens-Madden Massacre (when it ambushed the trailing elements of Maj. Mabbit’s troops on their way to Ft. Duty), it is entirely possible that part of this group was involved in the massacre.
January, 1839 – Indian depredations around Ft. Houston continued. In January, 1839, four members of the Campbell family were massacred at their home near Ft. Houston.
July 15, 16, 1839 – General Rusk mounted a major campaign against the East Texas Indians. In running battles along the Neches River, Rusk was finally able to comer a large contingent of Cherokees and Kickapoos just north of present day Chandler in Henderson Co. and very near the old Kickapoo Village. Here approx. 100 Indians, including Chief Boles, were killed which effectively ended the Indian uprising in East Texas. The remaining Indians were removed to Indian Territory.
Taking part in this last campaign with Rusk were brothers Balis and Darius Edens. Also participating were James Madden and Martin Murchison, both of whom had been present at the Edens-Madden Massacre and who had been roundly criticized for their failure to mount a better defense of the women and children there.
September 18, 1842 – Vincente Cordova escaped to Mexico with a number of his Mexican and Indian followers after the Battle of Kickapoo Village in October, 1838. He was still determined to bring down the Republic of Texas. In 1842 he and his followers joined Mexican General Adrian Woll’s vain invasion of Texas. Vincente Cordova was killed on September 18th at the battle of Salado Creek in Bexar County.