11. May 2012 · Comments Off on Such a Disagreeable Man · Categories: History, Old West · Tags: , , , ,

I’m sure I’m no ascetic; I’m as pleasant as can be;
You’ll always find me ready with a crushing repartee,
I’ve an irritating chuckle, I’ve a celebrated sneer, I’ve an entertaining snigger, I’ve a fascinating leer.
To ev’rybody’s prejudice I know a thing or two;
I can tell a woman’s age in half a minute — and I do. But although I try to make myself as pleasant as I can,
Yet ev’rybody says I’m such a disagreeable man!
And I can’t think why! –

From Gilbert & Sullivan’s Princess Ida

I suppose that one of the most enjoyable things about romping in the halls of historical research is getting to know people, some of whom are famous and others notorious, all of them interesting and they tickle my interest to the point where I would have very much liked to have met some of them personally. Sam Houston is one of them in Texas history that I’d have loved to meet, Jack Hays another, Angelina Eberly a third. I would have loved to have met Queen Elizabeth I of England – three of the four are complicated people, as nearly as I can judge from reading accounts of them. I just would have liked to have had the chance to form my own, independently-arrived at opinion, you see. About the only way that I can indulge this curiosity is to work them up as characters for various books – walk-on parts, usually. Assemble the various views, take a look at some known writing of theirs, consult the grave and sober historians and come up with something that I hope will be revealing, true to the historical facts, and at least a jolly good read … but now and again, in the pages of history, I those that I don’t like very much at all. Some of them are so immediately disagreeable, dislikeable and all-unpleasant that I marvel they lived long enough to make a mark in history at all.

Ah, well – the Muse of History records mercilessly and without particular favor … although she does seem to favor the literate and those with a basic grasp of favorable marketing. She will have her ways with her humble devotees.

The historical character which I developed such an immediate and thoroughgoing dislike for was one John Robert Baylor: he is not the Baylor that Baylor University is named after. That Baylor was his uncle, Robert Emmett Bledsoe Baylor; a dedicated and relatively harmless Baptist minister, judge and politician, as well a co-founder of the university. John Baylor was another and completely unappetizing kettle of fish entirely. He managed – in the middle of the Civil War – to be sacked from his relatively high and responsible position as the Confederate Governor of Arizona Territory, and to have his commission as an officer in the Confederate Army revoked. I read about him first in Alvin Josephy’s The Civil War in the American West, where the action that he proposed in time of war was considered to be so vile and unacceptable to Jefferson Davis and the Confederate high command … that he instantly became a military untouchable. What could have been so horrible, so beyond the limits of what was considered acceptable in fighting for the Confederacy that it cost Baylor so dearly?

To begin to grasp an explanation one need to know a little about Baylor. Like many of his contemporaries in Texas, he had come there as a relatively young man of eighteen years, after the death of his Army surgeon father. In 1840, John Baylor and his brother settled on a farm near LaGrange owned by their uncle. Almost immediately he began participating in the local mounted militia company, defending the settlers against constant, bloody raids by Comanche Indians. The depredations of the Comanche on the Anglo settlers and Mexican alike were horrific – sufficient indeed to engender a considerable amount of hatred for them on the part of those who fought against them. But Baylor’s unvarnished and indiscriminant hatred of Indians seems to have been extreme even among his fellow militiamen and Rangers. Texians frequently depended upon Indian allies such as the Tonkawa, the Cherokee and the Delaware. A fair number of them observed the distinctions between tribes, divisions and even individuals, inclined to walk the path of peace and those who were not. Sam Houston himself was especially a partisan of the Cherokee, John O. Meusebach, leader among the German settlements along the frontier even negotiated a successful peace treaty between his settlers and the Southern, or Penateka Comanche. Robert Neighbors worked tirelessly to ensure the safety and security of such individuals and bands who were willing to follow the Cherokee example to settle down, and John ‘Rip’ Ford recruited fighters among the Tonkawa, Anadarko and Shawnee for an 1858 punitive expedition into the heart of Comancheria.

But John Baylor was of a different ilk – and not just because of a couple of narrow escapes. He arrived too late for the great Plum Creek fight, where companies of Rangers and mounted militiamen ambushed Buffalo Hump and his Penateka band after the sack of Linville. And he was a member of Nicholas Mosby Dawson’s company, come from La Grange in answer to Mathew ‘Old Paint’ Caldwell’s plea for volunteers to beat back the Mexican Army expedition which briefly took San Antonio in 1842. John Baylor somehow became separated from the main body of Dawson’s men, and so was not there when Dawson’s company was overrun and all but exterminated by the retreating Mexican force. Upon that narrow escape, he settled for a while in Oklahoma Territory, at Fort Gibson and took a job as a teacher – but it didn’t last long. He was charged as an accomplice when his brother-in-law murdered a local Indian trader, and hopped it back to Texas. By 1851 he had settled down somewhat to a life of farming and ranching, married and was elected to the legislature. In mid-decade, Baylor was appointed as Indian Agent to those Comanche who had settled on the Clear Fork Reservation. It was not a successful appointment, for he clashed bitterly and constantly with his supervisor, Robert Neighbors, who had long been a champion of Indians and had worked tirelessly to defend them. Baylor also accused several of the Reservation Indians of conniving with their non-settled brethren in carrying out raids. The area around the Reservation on the Clear Fork was rich land and was becoming settled by white men. When they were raided by Comanche, they blamed the Reservation Indians; some accounts have it that the raiders were quite pleased to leave tracks and evidence framing the Reservation Indians. On being relieved as Indian agent, Baylor took up an anti-Indian crusade; he traveled extensively across the settlements of Northern Texas, preaching hatred of Indians … all Indians, regardless of tribe or peaceful intent. He edited an anti-Indian newspaper and recruited vigilantes. He feuded viciously with Robert Neighbors and campaigned for his replacement and Indian Agent.

Late in December, seventeen peaceful Anadarko and Caddo Indians were attacked by white vigilantes as they slept. Although identified by name, the murderers were never tried. By 1859 it was clear that the Clear Fork Indians would be slaughtered if they remained in Texas and Baylor was chiefly responsible for the situation, in continuing to throw rhetorical kerosene on an already blazing bonfire. Those surviving Indians on the Clear Fork Reservation were evacuated to a new reserve in Indian Territory. Robert Neighbors and three companies of Federal troops accompanied them there. On his return, Robert Neighbors went to file his report on the matter at Fort Belknap, and was murdered there by a local man who disagreed with Neighbor’s advocacy of the Indian’s rights.

John Baylor doubtless felt himself vindicated. With secession and the fortunes of the new Confederate States riding high, he shortly found himself as the commander of the Second Texas Rifles, with a mission to secure the overland route to the west. In short order he had captured Mesilla, forced the surrender of Union troops at Fort Fillmore, and established the Confederate Territory of Arizona, with himself as governor. It was one of whose early Confederate victories which gave overwhelming overconfidence to those who had championed secession and the military virtues of the Southern cavalier … but very soon, Baylor ran into trouble. He might have gotten the Union soldiers to surrender easily enough, but his old bête noir – Indians – were another matter. The various Apache tribes were every bit as adept at warfare as the Comanche. At the start of the war, an outbreak of Apache raids had forced the Butterfield Stage line to cease operations. The Apache were in no way inclined to make common cause with the Confederacy against the Union, on the principle of an enemy of an enemy being a friend. The Union Army had all but withdrawn from that part of the southwest. Impulsive, proud and intemperate in deeds and words, Baylor does not seem the kind of man who could deal tactfully and efficiently with a fluid and complicated situation. Proof of that is in what happened when Robert P. Kelley the pro-Confederate editor of the Mesilla Times criticized him repeatedly in in a series of articles. Baylor took violent exception – so violent that it came to physical blows. Kelley was so badly injured in this frank exchange of opinions that he died as a result of them, some days later.

But there is more. Baylor’s command was so harassed by Apache raids and by their inability to do anything effective about them, that he wrote a letter to one of his subordinates, directing him to take certain actions against the Apaches. “I learn that the Indians have been to your post for the purpose of making a treaty,” Baylor wrote. “The Congress of the Confederate States have passed a law declaring extermination of all hostile Indians. You will therefore use all means to persuade the Apaches or any tribe to come in for the purpose of making peace, and when you get them together, kill all the grown Indians and take the children prisoners and sell them to defray the expense of killing the Indians.” There were also reports of Baylor ordering that poisoned foodstuffs be given to Indians – but the contents of this letter became known to Jefferson Davis and his government. They had never ordered any such actions be taken, and as far as is known none of his orders with respect to exterminating Apache Indians were carried out. But the scandal was immense; as a matter of record, Davis had been trying for allies among the Oklahoma Indian tribes. Baylor was sacked from his office as military governor and his officer’s commission revoked. He appealed the decision, but Davis stood his ground.

Baylor did return to Texas, where he was later elected to the Second Confederate Congress. He served the remainder of the war as a private, regaining a commission only at the end of it. He ended his days as a rancher, near Montell, Texas. He ran unsuccessfully for the office of governor in the 1870s … which seems to have been a fortunate decision on the part of the voters. He continued to have a reputation as a man with a violent temper; he is supposed to have killed a man in a feud over livestock and been involved in at least one gunfight. Surprisingly, he lived to the age of 71 and died of natural causes.
(Cross posted at my book blog, and at Chicagoboyz.net)

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