Army major protected Lampasas County settlers from Indian raids
Few Lampasans know anything about Major William Russell Jr. Russell was not from Lampasas, but he died here protecting Lampasas settlers from Indians who still made raids into the county in the 1870s. He was buried in Lampasas soil for almost two years before his remains were returned to his home in Albany, N.Y.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, the state of Texas was under military control. In order to protect the frontier, U.S. Army troops were stationed in places like Lampasas for protection against Indian depredations. These troops may have been something like an occupying force in a defeated country. That protection probably ended in 1870, when Texas rejoined the Union.
Before and during the war, companies of local men organized to fend off Indian raids, but during Reconstruction these local militias were not allowed. After it rejoined the Union, Texas was permitted to raise companies of men to protect the settlements on the fringe of civilization.
Later in 1870, the Frontier Forces were stationed in Lampasas County. These state military units were made up of Texas men employed for this service. Not long after this, the state enacted legislation to create Minute Man Companies to be formed in frontier counties, including Lampasas. Men from the county enlisted for this duty.
The last Indian attack in Lampasas County in which a white citizen was killed occurred in 1875.
On the night of May 13, 1870, a small party of Indians, about 18 in number, came within a mile of the town and began gathering horses. They soon were discovered, and someone was sent to the military camp at Hancock Spring to inform the soldiers. Col. E.B. Beaumont and Major William Russell Jr. pursued the Indians for some miles and eventually caught up with them.
The Indians realized they were about to be overtaken and took refuge on a "shin oak" mountain, which gave them the advantage over their pursuers.
The major led his men up the mountain, but the result was unsuccessful. Then Russell ordered his men to "dismount and retreat in front of horses." As he was dismounting, the major received a mortal wound in the region of his liver. The fighting ceased, and the Indians were allowed to escape. Those who were there thought the battle would have been won and the property recovered had Russell not been struck down.
Russell died a day or so later and was buried with full military honors. The story of his death was carried in the Daily State Journal, Belton Journal and other newspapers. Lampasas did not have a newspaper at the time.
The best account of the incident appeared in the Georgetown Watchman, sent in by someone who signed his name C.A.W. This probably was Charles A. Wooldridge, who had been editor and proprietor of the Lampasas Chronicle in 1859, but it could have been anyone with similar initials.
In 1872, the Daily State Journal of Austin reported that the remains of Major William Russell, who was killed in a gallant fight with the Indians at Lampasas in 1870, were forwarded to his father in Albany, N.Y.
From the "Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army" we learn that during the Civil War Russell was a first lieutenant, regimental quartermaster of the 18th New York Infantry from Sept. 21, 1861 to April 11, 1963. He was recognized for meritorious service and gallantry in battle, having been in battles at Antietam, Gettysburg and Petersburg, Va. He was honorably mustered out on Feb. 10, 1866.
After the war, Russell joined the U.S. Cavalry and was sent to Texas and served at the Waco post before coming to Lampasas. He died of wounds received in action on May 14, 1870, and died on May 15.
Just after his death, a group of Lampasas men offered this tribute to Russell: "May his name ever remain dear to us."
Although a great deal of time has passed and life in Lampasas is very different than during Russell's time, one element has not changed: Soldiers still die in action serving their country. This account is offered to remember a soldier from New York who came here to serve his country.
Jeff Jackson is a local historian and chairman of the Lampasas County Historical Commission.
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Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Military History Institute, CWP29.47.