Friday, June 26, 2009

Dio's backstory, part two -- a west texas ranch wife

reposted from the Road to Deadwood Forum

Though Texas, both as a Republic and after gaining statehood, allowed slavery, Dio and Jack never held any enslaved people. However, on one occasion, Jack won a card game in San Antonio and to his surprise found that the pot included the papers of an older enslaved man named John Husar. Jack often commented that it proved to be the most expensive card game he ever won, as he promptly manumitted the man, and then he and Dio spent considerable time and money locating as many of John's family as they could and purchasing their freedom. A number of them, including John and his grandson settled near Jack and Dio's ranch.

Sepp, meanwhile, grew bored with ranching, and joined the Texas Rangers. He eventually wound up organizing and leading a mixed company of Rangers, made up mostly of Lipan Apaches and Tonkawas (traditional enemies of the Comanche), Tejanos, and a few radical German immigrants who had migrated to Texas after the revolutions of 1848. When Dio and Jack were having serious arguments, she would occasionally go riding off on patrols with Sepp's company of Rangers. It was during these excursions that she acquired the bad habit of taking a scalp--or other souvenirs--every now and then from a fallen enemy.

When the war came, Jack decided that he wanted to volunteer to fight for the Confederacy. Sepp at first wanted nothing to do with it, having a deep seated hatred for the wealthy elite slave-holding planters and ranchers that were at the pinnacle of southern society, but out of his friendship for Jack he decided to go with him and try to keep him from getting killed. One of Sepp's uncle in East Texas was helping to form the 3rd Texas Cavalry, so the two went and volunteered for that unit. As Sepp was educated and an experienced leader, he was elected to be an officer, eventually becoming a Captain. Jack served as his First Sergeant.

Sepp and Jack were in a number of close scrapes, but always made it through all right until May of 1863, when Jack was killed by Union artillery fire near Vicksburg. Sepp was wounded by the same shell. He lost an eye, and being in hospital when Vicksburg surrendered in July, he spent the rest of the war in northern prison camps: principally Camp Douglas in Chicago and Rock Island. During the course of the war, Dio had received exactly 5 letters from her husband, who--being illiterate--had dictated them to Sepp. No word from either of them came after mid-1863.

In the meantime, the State of Texas had pulled its ranger units away from the frontier in order to use them in the war effort against the North. The Comanches took advantage of this, pushing the line of settlements back almost 100 miles in some places, except in the area around Dio's ranch. Sepp's Tejano, Apache and Tonkawa rangers had all chosen to leave the Texan service and settled in that vicinity with their families. Their presence made it a relatively safe place, though to support and feed all these people, Dio had heavily mortgaged the ranch. When Jack didn't come back--and she was no longer able to keep up the payments, the bank began foreclosure proceedings. In June 1865, a few of Jack's comrades arrived at the ranch to tell her what happened to her husband. They presented her with a battered blood-stained gray cap and she knew for sure he would not return. Dio began drinking heavily, and was unable to stop the foreclosure and auction of the ranch. She said goodbye to the people who had settled around her home and disappeared.

On the day of the sheriff's auction Sepp arrived, only to find Dio gone, and his old rangers and friends dispersed. Only a couple of the Tonkawas and John Husar's grandson still remained. He saw Jack's cap still lying on the kitchen table and took it with him. On the way out, he learned that the ranch had been purchased by a wealthy landowner who had managed to avoid serving in the war.

Two weeks later, four men--two Indians, an ex-Confederate officer, and a young Black man--were on the run for having killed a county sheriff, a bank owner and a well-to-do land speculator. But that's another story.... you probably want to know what happened to Dio.

No comments:

Post a Comment