Houston 101: The Battle of Jones Creek, 188 Years Ago Today

There aren't that many Indian battles in Houston's history, but on this date in 1824, a vicious little skirmish took place pitting Karankawas against Stephen F. Austin's settlers in Brazoria County.

The trouble started on June 21 just west of what is now Angleton at a country store owned by a brawling, eccentric, hard-drinking disgraced former Kentucky congressman named James Britton "Brit" Bailey. (Bailey's Prairie bears his name today.) According to a later account put together by settler militia leader Randal Jones, the Karankawas were enraged when Bailey refused to sell them ammunition.

That was probably a wise move on Bailey's part, as the Karankawas were among the fiercest tribes on the continent. They were a tall people, and they silently roamed coastal waterways in bark canoes, gathering shellfish and fish and taking down game with their sturdy spears and huge five-foot longbows. The men pierced their lips with cane stalks, and wore nothing on their skin except for a mix of dirt and shark or alligator grease to ward off mosquitoes. At religious ceremonies, they would get loaded on a black beverage made out of parched yaupon leaves, or vomitoria, as it is known in Latin. Sounds tasty.

The Spanish and French both tried and failed to tame the Karankawas, who were also rumored to be cannibals. The tribe was greatly weakened in an 1819 battle when, seeking the release of a kidnapped woman, 300 of them attacked Jean Laffite's Galveston pirate nest. Laffite's two cannons slaughtered them by the hundreds.

The band in Brazoria County might well have been a remnant of the Galveston group....At any rate, after Bailey told them he wouldn't be selling them powder and shot, fighting soon broke out and the Indians fled. Austin commissioned settler and veteran Indian fighter Randal T. Jones to round up a posse to chase the "Kranks" back to the coast.

At dawn on June 22, Jones and 23 other settlers attacked the encampment of 30 Karankawas on the banks of what is now Jones Creek in southern Brazoria County. According to the state historical marker, Jones's muskets took down 15 of the Karankawas and dispersed the rest across the San Bernard River, but not without losses on his side: among several other casualties, one of Brit Bailey's sons fell to a Karankawa spear.

Bailey himself died nine years later, probably in what was known as "the Big Cholera" of 1833. In his will, he requested that he be buried standing up, with his rifle in his hand, and a lantern and a jug of whiskey at his feet. He also stipulated that he be placed facing the west. "All my life I have been traveling westward, and I have never looked up to any man, so I do not want it said `here lies old Brit Bailey', but rather, `here stands Brit Bailey,'" he reportedly stated in his will.

To this day, his ghost is said to roam the prairie that bears his name, a mysterious white-light presence ceaselessly searching for a jug of smooth corn liquor.

Chased out of Texas to Mexico and then back across the border again by the Mexicans, the Karankawas were believed to be utterly extinct by the outbreak of the Civil War.

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