Whence They Came

The Watterson folk found a prairie.  Its beauty held a comfort in a rising upswing, green in the afternoons, darkened here and there in gullies and moist ravines by heavy wedges of cedar, pine, and oak, their limbs weighed down by grapevines of every rarity, while at their feet grew chinquepin and sumach. Creeks wound their ways to the river, skirting the prairie’s edge. A high, auburned-earth bluff looked out serenely over an expanse of golden-hued grass waving against the breeze. In season, the prairie was blanketed with bluebonnet, heart’s ease ‘dahlia, and goldenrod, hoisting their Joseph’s coat above leafy tips.

Black bear prowled the creek banks dining on fish and dewberries; underfoot, the rattlesnake coiled in wait for an imprudent rodent, while the moccasin sunned on flat rocks beside the streams. Deer browsed warily on stunted oak; wild horses and cattle, buffalo and antelope gathered vigilantly in small herds to graze the tall, coarse grass. Immense flocks of pigeon, prairie hen, turtle dove, and quail took flight at the slightest disturbance; the fish hawk and prairie hawk patrolled the air in search of prey; the gabble of geese in the autumn and the song of the mockingbird in the spring brought sound to the prairie, while the cardinal’s darting flash gave color to the four creeks. Cedar Creek, Walnut Creek, and Piney Creek were distinguished from Sandy Creek by the stands of timber giving them their names, just as Sandy got its name because of its banks. Up Sandy Creek from Red Bluff were great piles of rock Iaid geometrically as if the Indian had arranged them for defense against invaders. Atop Red Bluff the Comanche and Tonkawa camped, stood sentinel, and, in due course’ broodingly watched the white man as he occupied the land, constructed his cabin, tilled the soil and pastured his herds. In time there came the Watterson folk. This is their story.

The Texas Faulkners in the War Between the States

The company had eight non-commissioned officers and sixty enlisted men. Its services were offered at once to the southern cause.

By October, however, the officers had changed. This was not an unusual occurrence, for in both armies at the start of the war it was the custom for the ranks to elect by popular vote regimental and company officers. While the system did note ensure the election of trained and capable officers, it did make for frequent change. The troops soon realized that if officers could be made so easily they could be unmade just as easily. Any officer who was considered too rigid in discipline quickly earned the dislike of the men, many of whom regarded military service as a God-given opportunity to skylark. Confederate soldiers, moreover, held their officers in rather low regard, and consequently often availed themselves of the opportunity to take them down a peg or so. The practice of electing officers, until it was corrected, accounted for much of the weak discipline within the Confederate army. This weakness was quickly discovered and soon the government began to assign regimental commanders, but the innovation was not welcomed by the men for they wished to elect their own. When R. T. P. Allen, of Bastrop and founder of Allen Academy in Bryan, was named as the first colonel of the Fourth Texas Infantry Regiment, the men conceived a dislike for him, or else wish to demonstrate their power, and their evident animosity caused him to leave after he had served as their commander for only a few days. He was succeeded by Col. John Bell Hood, who led them into battle and into enduring fame as the Texas “hell roaring” Fourth of Hood’s Brigade. Hood, whom the soldiers esteemed highly, became the hero of thousands of Texans and the brigade he headed retained his name long, long after he became a general. 

Allen was made commander of another regiment, manned almost entirely by youngsters and older men and serving mostly in Texas. It took the name of Allen’s Regiment. In time, Allen was replaced by wash Jones as its commander, but it continued to be known by the name of its earlier colonel. Both Charles Coffin Watterson and will Eastland served.  In Allen’s Regiment, as did a goodly number of other Bastrop County men. M. B. Highsmith, by the summer of 1861, was recruiting men for a company to serve exclusively as cavalry. The com any was formed July 24, 1861. He was its first captain. In addition to Highsmith, other officers were First Lieutenant Dan Grady, Second Lieutenant John Hancock, and Third Lieutenant John Moncure who was familiarly known as Jack. Cicero Nash was First Sergeant, A. W. Orms, Second Sergeant, and A. Y. Person was Third Sergeant. The company was mustered into service and certified on September 16, 1861, for twelve months wholly within the boundaries of Texas, and was ordered to join the Texas Fourth Cavalry under the command of Colonel William H. Parsons in the 26th Brigade. The muster roll for the Highsmith Company for July 24, 1861, lists (in addition to those already named) the following as members of the company: W. M. Faulkner, G. W. Hendricks, E. Gabriel, Charles Wolfenberger, William, Frank Yoast, Peter Yoast. The men and officers of the company varied widely in age’ captain Highsmith was thirty-two, as was Lieutenant Moncure First Lieutenant Dan Grady was forty and Private A’ R’ Stephenson was forty-two. W. C. Brooks was seventeen. Will Eastland was barely seventeen and was the youngest man in the company by only a few weeks.  He was really only sixteen when he enlisted but had given his age as seventeen. 

Even earlier, in May, W. W. Apperson, the recruiting officer, got together his own company of men from Bastrop and Hays counties. He was elected Captain and G. W. C. Hendrix was designated First Sergeant. Most of the companies from Bastrop, Hays, Caldwell, and Travis Counties were assigned to the 26th Brigade of the Texas Militia with headquarters in Austin. Shortly, however, they were directed to proceed to the vicinity of Rockett in Ellis County. There, September 11, 1861, they became a part of the Fourth Texas Regiment of Cavalry under the command of Colonel Willian H. Parsons. Not long after Parsons assumed command there were 1200 men who had been assigned to the regiment.

Unlike so many of the early regimental commanders, Colonel Parsons had the benefit of some military experience, for he had served with the 2nd Dragoons in the Mexican War. He was aware of the importance of military courtesy and military discipline and he immediately set about instilling a sense of them in his command. He established a tent camp near Rockett and put his officers to drilling the men while he waited for more to report. Many of his recruits were young and exuberant and meant to make the most of their first trip from home. Nevertheless, some were homesick and wrote seeking news of their friends. A letter written by J. T. Faulkner shortly after he reached Ellis County to his friend William Wolfenberger, who was still in Bastrop County, gives in the records of a nineteen-year-old boy an excellent idea of their spirits:

Dear friend I now embrace the present opportunity of writing you a few lines just to inform you of my health and whereabouts. I am at present as fat as a Bear and twise as wooley. We are at the time encamped on Red oak Creek in Ellis and I expect that we will remain here some fifteen or twenty Days Will our employment at the present is eat and Drill and Drill and Eat from day till Dark. Will, I wish you was up here I could Show you Some of the prettiest Girls you ever saw there is one or too A living in about too hundred yards of our tent at this time. Will, I want you to write to me as soon as you get this letter you can direct your letters to Redoak Post office Ellis County. I do not know Whether we will Stay ere long enough for me to get a letter from you but if we move our tent I will have the letter Sent on after us You must direct your letters to the Care of Capt M H Highsmith Fourth Texas Regiment Texas

Will, I want you give my Love to all my old friends on high Walnut and tell them all I want you to write me whether Miss N.U.S. is married yet or not And if She is who She Marrid an when. Will as we came through Waxahatchie. I Saw some of the pretties little little Girls you ever Saw I Believe That I have given you all the news that I know of and told you about all the pretty Girls I have Saw Since I left high Walnut Creek So No More att present I remain yours truly devoted friend

J. T. Faulkner to

.:. William Wolfenberger


As the Bastrop County units were being whipped into shape, the people at home were doing their bit. None of the companies had sufficient arms, ammunition, medicines and first aid supplies, tents, uniforms, or provisions. They appealed to the people at home for assistance. In August of 1861, aware of the need, the Bastrop County Court appropriated $500 which it turned over to Lieutenant John B. Hancock, quartermaster of the M. B, Highsmith Cavalry Company (sometimes called the Bastrop Cavalry), to pay for arms, provisions, and expenses of transportation. It was assumed by the court that the company was destined for Missouri to help repel the federal invasion., In the meantime, Colonel Parsons detailed Lieutenant Jack Moncure and Private John H. Jenkins to request the court “to have 100 slashers with scabbards” manufactured for the Bastrop Cavalry. The court authorized the detail, to which Captain Highsmith had been added, to arrange for the manufacture of the “slashers” on the best possible terms. It planned to issue county bonds to liquidate the contract.

In addition, the court set aside $185 from the school fund to furnish Captain John M. Finney’s company with blankets. The money was meant to be replaced in the school funds. Another $100 was appropriated to buy medicines and a chest for the H. S. Morgan Cavalry Company.

By October of 1862, the M. B. Highsmith Cavalry Company was at Camp Moss in Limestone County. William Wolfenberger was back in the company and had been reunited with his friend, J. T. Faulkner. In high excitement, he wrote to his mother:

Dear Mother I Seat my Self down to informe you a few lines to let you know that We will take up the line of March to go to hempstid. this is 2 letters I rote to day I rote one before we got the Newes from Galveston You may look for me home a Christmas if i can get off me & John Faulkner both you will hear from me when I get to encampment again I forgot to tell you About my geting wildfrut mapops and PoSimiens & Grapes Too. I have Saw a good deal on my trip hear My paper is so big I cant write Good So turn the paper. I Saw 14 hundred People today at one Sight they wer at A Big Barbecue today I got plenty to Eat at it I lost a dollar & 20 ces at this camp & I have not found it yet We Draw from the Stat Any thing I want if they have Got it in the Store I have got one of the best horses in the company except one or Too he is a White himself I want Write much to Day I Dont no wher to tell you to Write to me I Will Write to you when I get to A Camp I Want you tell my GaI how I am Getting along Mary I Want you to rite to Miss Amanda Owens and Write to me and tell me how to Write to her So I can Write to Her & if I goe to Galveston I will try to find out Wher Billy is & I will goe and see him I Want you AII to Write me-

The Highsmith Company reached Little Rock, Arkansas, April 29, 1862. On the way, they found the Red River in flood, and after being delayed for several days they swam their horses across. While waiting for the flood to subside, they caught two large fish, one of forty pounds and one of twenty. William Wolfenberger and G. W. Hendrix killed the fish with their knives. At Little Rock, they camped not far from the home of Ed Weaver’s sister. Practically everyone in the company, including the officers, took the opportunity to visit, to talk with the pretty girls, and to hear them play the “peaner.” The regiment received orders to proceed by steamboat to Memphis, Tennessee, and they all looked forward to the experience. The men were asked to volunteer for two additional years, but most expressed doubts that they would. William Wolfenberger wanted to know why the three Weaver boys, Ed, John, and James, were not with the army. But the company, on the verge of its first battle, missed the steamboat ride. The battle took place in Arkansas and not in Tennessee. 

William Wolfenberger wrote to his mother:

I: Seat my Self down to Drop you a few lines to inform you of Mine and Guy good health We are well at this time and I hope when this letter comes to hand it will find you all enjoying the same Blessings also We are Now in 40 mites of the Enimy 400 of the Boys went out on A Scout. 50 of Capt Highsmith men Went. Guy Went I expect they will have a hard fight mabe & mabe they wont have any fight We wont Know yet tell they Come back I did not goe my horse had such a sore Back I did not goe I will Start in 4 or 5 days on A Scout if the Boys get Back they will Stay out 5 days Guy and the rest When they get Back I will Write to you Again and I want you to writ as Soon as you Get this letter We are camped near little Rock on Arkansas River We are in the age of Little Rock City it is a big city heap large than Houston John Faulkner has Ben very sick But he is up and A Bout Again I will not write a long letter this time I want you to Write all the Newes you have rite who is Married or Dead Its report that they had a Big Battle at [illegible] rrent and We Whip them out illegible ant you to writ as Soon as You get this letter Guy Said he wanted you and Peirce to take good care of his turkeys and writ how many they is he wants to know how Many he has got I will close But  I Remain Yours Untill Deth Goodby

 Although the letter was well meant, it was not calculated to still the dread in Caroline Wolfenberger’s heart’ It was, however, typical of a youngster of William’s age. His anxious concern for his brother shows clearly and his own wish to be with Guy and the rest of the company is evident. On May 19, 1862, the day after the letter was written, they engaged the enemy. According to William Wolfenberger, there were 125 Confederates and 300 Federals involved. In describing the fight, he said: “We just whiped them and we killed from100 to 200 Parsons Regt just Walked in to them like a Dull Meet Ax We got”2 men kitl out of the Arkansas Company . ‘”There were fifteen men from the Highsmith Company in the skirmish. Among them were William Faulkner, G. W. Hendrix, William Wolfenberger, Bart S. Reid, John Litton, Andrew Perceville, Thomas Owens, and J. L. Estes. William Faulkner was credited with killing two and G. W. Hendrix three. The company was not especially disturbed by the battle. After all, it had suffered no casualties. But the men had not been paid in six months, and they voiced their complaints. Apparently, the men were paid in state script, from which the money-changers derived a tidy profit. Even while he was still in Galveston, back in January, William Wolfenberger had written Caroline:

Mother if Lieut. J. J. Moncure leave my State Script with you to pay tackes with You Make ever Who gets it give Dollar for Dollar I could get it hear if I had it hear. If he dont leave it I will try and Send you it when he comes.

Whether the men drew their pay or not, they expected more fighting. A month after the first skirmish, Parsons’ Regiment was at Searcy, White County, Arkansas, within twenty miles of the enemy whom it had already pursued for forty miles. Numerous prisoners were taken and fighting was expected at-any moment. William Wolfenberger, who was to be in the attack, doubted that he would ever get out of it safely and predicted that “this may be the last Scratch You will ever see from my Hand and Pen.” A few lines later, however, he said to tell the girls he was safe, since he was the fastest runner in the company. Guy Wolfenberger and thirty others would not share in the attack because of illness. The skirmishing of which William Wolfenberger was writing was a part of the massive campaign which in June culminated in the Federal attempt to take Vicksburg by naval assault. The country between the Mississippi and White rivers in Arkansas was occupied by Parsons’ Regiment and another commanded by Colonel George W. Carter. Within the space of a month, Parsons’ Regiment fought at Cotton Plant, Arkansas, and again at Searcy on White River. These were only two of several skirmishes in the area.

In early June, William Wolfenberger was made the non-commissioned officer in charge of a fourteen-man squad. In the squad were men he mentioned frequently in his letters: F. M. McClure, Gabriel Lentz, F. A. Stone, William Stone, W. J. Smith, Guy Wolfenberger, William Faulkner, J. B. Robinson, W. P. Scott, Frank Yoast, T. B. McDavid, William Lehman, and W. H. Watson. William Wolfenberger, in spite of his premonitions, survived the fighting at Searcy, but met death July 8, 1862, at Duvall’s Bluff on White River, felled not by the enemy’s bullet but by a brain fever to which several of the regiment succumbed in July and August. His mother, Caroline Wolfenberger, wrote in the old Wolfenberger account book: “He was only twenty years old.”

“Parsons’ Regiment remained in the field. Colonel Parsons became General Parsons and was placed in command of a brigade which took his name. Much of the brigade service was in Missouri and Arkansas. For a few months in 1868, the brigade was a part of Walker’s Texas Division and fought on Tenasas River, at Perkins’ Landing on the Mississippi, in the battle of Milliken’s Bridge, at Young’s Point, and helped to repel a Federal invasion of the Red River country. The rest of 1863 and the early months of 1864 was spent in marching back and forth through the Atchafalaya Swamp. But in March, as a part of the 13,000-man cavalry unit commanded by General Thomas Jefferson Green, the brigade was called upon to help throw back a second attempt at invasion of the Red River area by General Banks. Battle came quickly. On March 30, 1864, before Parsons’ Brigade could join, Green’s forces encountered the enemy near Pleasant Hill in Louisiana. While the regimental bands played “Dixie,” Walker’s Texas Division formed a battle line on the Mansfield Road. In the first clash, the Confederates captured 200 wagons loaded with supplies, and the Federals were compelled to retreat four miles. Walker’s Texas Division suffered 600 casualties and found the cost high. 

The Texans were not permitted to consolidate their gains. Recognizing that General Banks had a superiority in numbers, the Confederates ordered General Parsons in Missouri to join with his brigade at once. Remarkably, Parsons’ Brigade, of which the Texas Fourth Cavalry was still a part, made a forced march of forty-five miles in two days. 

On April 8 and 9, at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, the Federals were forced, into retreat and the attempted invasion was halted. Slain in the fighting was Eliza Eastland’s husband, Captain Cicero Nash. Captain E. P. Petty was also killed, and Captain Joseph D. Sayers, who had earned distinction in the Sibley New Mexico Campaign, was wounded. Although the Union forces were cleared from the area, Parsons’ Brigade and Walker’s Texas Division continued their patrols. By March 1865, however, it was evident that the war was lost, and the Texas soldiers began their weary march home-ward. In April 1865, after having performed notable service throughout the Trans-Mississippi Department, the soldiers, tired and fearful of what the future held, were released from duty.

Red Rock Lodge

It was in Red Rock Lodge No. 310 that the Watterson folk were most active. It was near to their homes, and its members were either close friends of or were related to the Watterson people by blood or by marriage; and, too, some of the Civil War veterans living in the Red Rock vicinity had become Masons during that conflict and others were Masons even before moving into Texas. They were all eager to resume their masonic activity of Hopkinsville Lodge No. 183; W. C. Cantwell of Young Lodge No. 168 of Missouri; and John G. Weaver of Speight Lodge No. 178 of Mississippi.

The first meeting of Red Rock Lodge under dispensation was held at Millertown, August 13, 1867 .In attendance were visitors who became charter members: John McMahon and W. L. Carter of McMahon Lodge No. 208; F. Voight, Levi Fowler, and James After the meeting was opened in due form, the first official action of Red Rock Lodge was to act on the petitions for affiliation by Master Masons O. L. Forwell, F. Voight, Z’ H’ Pannell, and N. S. Slaten. David Heynie was elected a Fellowcraft Mason. The petitions of William M. Await, John W. Bowen, John T. Faulkner, and Gabriel M. Lentz were read and the petitioners were elected to receive the degree of Entered Apprentice. John T. Faulkner was initiated that evening’ A month Gabriel Lentz was initiated; in December, Lentz and sharing the experience as they had shared so many in Brigade, were made Master Masons. John T. Faulkner and Gabriel Lentz remained members of Red Rock until their deaths. John Faulkner’s masonic life was regrettably short for he died, January 24,1869. Gabriel Lentz, however, lived until January 6, 1909, when he died at Cedar Creek of “LaGrippe.”

The lodge continued to meet in the same room until it merged with Gamble Lodge. Red Rock Lodge contributed materially to the lives of the local men, many of whom seldom missed a meeting’ Its members from among the Watterson folk included George Washington Corbell, Henry Cleveland, Guy Wolfenberger, Frank Watterson, Gabriel M Lentz, John T. Faulkner, Frank W. Mc’Guire, S. D. Petty, S. F. Voight, Ashley R. Lentz, Z. H. Pannell, J. A. Pannell, Jim McDonald, Walter C. Hendrix, Alvis Cleveland, George Ellis, H. F. Chambliss, Joe C. G. Watterson, Tom G. Breeding.  A number of these lived in Red Rock, Pettytown, High Grove, or Bateman; but all of them were in some way a part of the Watterson folk. in the dispensation of charity and in the maintenance of. Lodge grounds, especially in preserving the massive oaks which, still shade the lot.

All of the preceding was extracted from “Watterson Folk of Bastrop County, Texas” by D. L. Vest