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Britton ‘Britt’ Johnson (ca.1840-1871)
Hero of the Texas Plains
abducted by Kiowa and Comanche Indians during the Elm Creek Raid in 1864.
Johnson was the son of either Moses Johnson or his son John Johnson. The Johnsons also owned a young lady named Mary. When the Johnson family came west to Texas in the 1850’s, they
brought Britt and Mary with them.
While technically a slave, Britt did not behave as such and lived as a free man. He knew how to read, write, and had basic accounting skills. He was also a skilled horse and cattle breeder, and
an expert teamster. As foreman, he ran Moses Johnson’s new ranch in Peters Colony, Young County, west of Dallas. In exchange, Britt was given his own small farm where he raised horses
and cattle. Britt often handled Moses’ livestock sales out of town and accompanied him on buying trips.
Britt and Mary Johnson married and had three children by 1864. When Britt and Moses left on a trip, Mary and the children stayed with friend and neighbor, Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, at her trading
post and near Fort Griffin, which should have been a comfort given the rumors of Indian activity north of Peters Colony.
However, on October 13, 1864 several hundred Kiowa and Comanche warriors swooped down on the Fitzpatrick farm. In what would become known as the Elm Creek Raid, Britt’s eldest son,
Jubal, was killed when two warriors fought over who would get to keep him. Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s son, grandson, and daughter were also murdered. Mary Johnson, her two daughters, Mrs.
Fitzpatrick, and her two granddaughters were taken hostage and driven north across the Red River and into the Indian Territory.
Britt and Moses returned to the Fitzpatrick farm the next day. After burying the dead, Britt asked Moses if he could leave to find his family. Moses wrote out a letter of permission (required for
slaves in Texas) and handed over half of his savings to his friend.
Britt knew he needed to find his family sooner than later, knowing that conditions for the prisoners would be harsh and violent. Many captives did not survive for very long. He made several
dangerous trips north into Indian Territory, but made contacts within Kiowa and Comanche tribes as he searched for Mary and his children. Finally, he moved in with a Comanche tribe in 1865
hoping to gain their trust and aid.
Johnson began working with David White, who was also searching for his family, and Comanche Chief AsaHavey (“Milky Way”), who was trying to create peace between the Comanches and
settlers. Johnson brought goods to trade for captives. Through AsaHavey, he traded ponies, blankets, mirrors, and food for several other hostages such as Ben Blackwell, Elonzo White, and
Thomas Rolland. After almost a year, Johnson finally set up the trade for Mary, his daughters, and Lottie Durkin (Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s surviving granddaughter).
In the Fall of 1865, AsaHavey made the trade and brought the repatriated family to Fort Griffin. Johnson met with his family there and found, to his horror that Mary had given birth to a child
while in captivity. Since no provision was made for this child in the negotiations, the child remained with the Comanches. Johnson and AsaHavey went back to negotiate for the baby. It took
several years, but the child was eventually returned. However, some Comanches and Kiowas thought Johnson had dealt with them in an unfair manner and threatened that should they ever
find him alone, they would kill him.
Johnson moved his family south to Parker County, Texas, just west of Fort Worth. He set up another farm and started a teamster business to haul freight. He was well respected in the county
and treated with dignity due to his rescue of the hostages, though they were white and not members of his family.
Johnson hired two recently freed slaves, Dennis Cureton and Paint Crawford, to help him haul his goods. On January 24, 1871 Britt and his men were returning from an expedition when they
were attacked by a Kiowa war party led by Maman-ti (“Owl Prophet”). The twenty-five braves quickly killed Cureton and Crawford, but Johnson made them work for his death. He climbed behind
his dead horse and held off the incursion for as long as possible.
Hours later, when another teamster outfit happened upon the scene near Salt Creek in Young County, they found Britt’s body surrounded by 173 shell casings from his shot gun and pistols.
He had been scalped, mutilated and disemboweled, and his dog was killed and stuffed into Johnson’s stomach cavity. The teamsters also found the discarded scalps of the three African-
American men in bushes along the trails. The braves found the curly hair useless when trying to tie the scalps to their saddles for display, so they just threw them away.
A marker is placed on the site of the attack.
Contributed by Kathleen Howell
- “Carbine & Lance, The Story of Old Fort Sill” by Col. W.S. Nye, [email protected] University of Oklahoma Press
- “A Texas Frontier: The Clear Fork Country and Fort Griffin 1849-1887” by Ty Cashion, [email protected] University of Oklahoma Press
- “Circle The Wagons” by Gregory F. Michno and Susan J.Miechno, Copyright @2009 McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers
- “A Fate Worse Than Death: Indian Captivities in the West 1830-1885” by Gregory F. Michno and Susan J. Michno, Copyright @2007, Caxton Press
- “Indian Depredations in Texas” by J.W. Wilbarger, [email protected] State House Publishing
- “Britton Johnson” by Michael E. McLellan, Handbook of Texas Online (www.tshaonline.org) , Published by the Texas State Historical Association
- “John Johnson Interview” by Joe Southern, Indian-Pioneer History Project for Oklahoma, Published in 1937 by the Works Progress Administration