Friday, June 13, 2008

Box Family Massacre 1866

Box Family Massacre by Indians in Montague County, Texas 1866
I remember Grandma (Mabel Leffel Baldwin) telling me a story about some of her family that were killed and captured by the Indians in Texas.  After a little research, I found which relatives Grandma was referring to – the James Jackson Box family. James Box was a first cousin to Grandma’s mother, Caldona Jane Box Leffel.  To see an account of the Massacre by General George Custer, click here.
James Jackson Box was the 4th son of James Francis Box and Pinnina Babb. He married Mary Eliza Matthews about 1842 in Titus County, Texas. The newlyweds soon moved to Westport, Hopkins County, Texas and lived there until 1861. All of their older children (Sarah, Margaret, Josephine and Ida) were born in Westport. In the spring of 1861, they moved to Montague County, Texas. James was a "Union man" and hoped to escape some of conflict of the Civil War by moving further out on the frontier. Another daughter, Laura, was born in October 1865 in Montague County. Other children may have been born to James and Mary but there is no record of them.

In 1866, after learning that his brother lay near death, James loaded up his family and headed back to Hopkins County. After staying until his brother was better, they started home in August. The trip back took five days. On last night of the trip, James and his family stayed in Gainesville with his wife’s cousin, the mother of Mrs. Fern Suydam. They started out the next morning for their home in Montague County. When they were in sight of their home, James saw someone near the homestead and at first thought it might be a neighbor but soon realized it was Indians.

The Kiowa Indians, led by Chief Santana, attacked the family -- killing and scalping James. The Indians tied the mother and daughters (Margaret, Josephine, and Ida) on ponies and took them into Indian Territory. Baby Laura was killed when the Indians bashed her head against rocks then threw her into a ravine. They traveled without rest or sufficient water. One daughter filled her shoe with water from a stream to take back for her mother to drink. She received a beating from the Indians for helping her mother. Mother and daughters were separated once they reached the Indian camp and were treated as slaves by the Indians. They were beaten and given only boiled or raw meat to eat. It was a terrible life for them. Several months later, they were rescued by the army and returned to Texas.

According to a letter in Gov.Throckmorton Paper's, written on Sunday, Sept 2, 1866, the massacre took place "on the main road from Gainesville to the Town of Montague, about three miles east of the Head of Elm and about fifty-yards from the west line of Cooke."

There were several stories written about the Box Family massacre and kidnapping. Each account differs but all have some of the same elements.

Gen. George A. Custer's account of the Box Family Massacre can be found here.

Below is an account given by Mary Matthews to Captain Andrew Sheridan, Fort Dodge, Kansas, 20 October 1866, after her rescue.  This document is supposedly available from the Department of the Interior.
My name is Mrs Matthews Box. Am about forty-two years of age. Was born in Gibson Tennessee , went to Texas when I was about eight years old. Was married to James Box in Titus Co, Texas, when I was seventeen years of age. After we were married we lived in Titus Co. three months, Then moved to Hopkins Co, (Westport) we lived in Wesport, Hopkins Co. for along time, all my children but one were born in Westport. About the breaking out of the late rebellion, we moved to Montague Co Texas on the extreme frontier, the cause of our moving was owing to my husband being a Union man and did not wish to fight in the rebellion. It was sometime in May 1861, that we moved. There were five families of us, all relations. While we were living in Montague Co, my husband learned that one of his brothers was laying at the point of death and that another of his brothers had had a leg amputated, in Hopkins Co, and that they wished to see him at once. So we started, and went to Westport, Hopkins Co and stayed with my husband’s brothers until they were nearly well: I should say about five weeks.
We started for home, about the 10 of Aug. last. My husband had put a quantity of leather in one wagon to take home, there being no leather in Montague Co. On our journey home, it rained a great deal. About five days after we started and when we were within three miles of our home, my husband saw somebody on the hill,whom he supposed to be one of his neighbors. He said to me , "I wish that man would come down to us, so that I could borrow his horse for our jaded one then we could get home faster. I looked in the direction where he pointed and said "Why there are three or four of them:" He then said "they are Indians, we are gone.  Margaret, get my sixshooter quick!" Margaret went to get it and before she could give it to him, the Indians came upon us and shot him in the breast. He fell  over in the wagon. Pulling the arrow from his breast, arose and fired at them.  He was then shot through the head by an arrow . He pulled the arrow from his head, jumped out of the wagon and around to the left side of thewagon when he fell to the ground. The Indians then scalped him twice,and cut his left jaw.
They then pulled me out of the wagon by the hair of the head, robbed and took everything out of the wagon. Took Josephine Maizie and Ida and tied them on ponies. They put Margaret on one, but she jumped off and ran arount to her father, and held him until they pulled her from him. They put Margaret back on the pony and started off on a gallop. We traveled fourteen days (night and day) before we stopped, about eleven days after we were taken, my baby Laura died.  They took her from me and threw her in a ravine. We traveled on until we got to the camp, where all the Indians were. I stayed at this camp about four days with my children, when they moved me off about six miles farther to another camp, where I stayed until they brought me inhere; I had to stack wood and carry water. When I delayed they would whip and beat me and even the squaws would knock me down. I was very sick while with the Indians, not withstanding they would beat me. It was a terrible life. They gave us nothing to eat but boiled meat, nothing whatever but that. My husband’s three brothers are still living in Texas . Wade Box lives in Johnson Co. Texas. Young Box lives in Hopkins Co. Texas, Westport and John Box in Westport, Hopkins Co. Texas. My mother’s brother and niece are living at our home in Montague Co, 25 miles from Gainesville.
(signed) Mary Matthews Box

Below is another letter describing the massacre.  Written by T. F. Mosby, Sept. 2, 1866, from Denton County, TX. (Governor's Papers. J. W. Throckmorton, Folder 11, September 1-10, 1866, Texas State Archives)

An account of the massacre by General George Custer can be found here.


Anonymous said...

I was doing some research on The Box Massacre and trying to find out what each survivor had gone on to do with their lives when I came upon your site.
James and Mary Box were my Great-Great Grandparents and their daughter,Margaret was my Great Grandmother.I have extensive knowledge of Margaret's life but can't find anything on Josephine,Ida or Mary.
I also see that we are distantly related(cousins who-knows-how-many-times removed).So that was a pleasant find.
I would love to hear from you and share some of my findings and pictures.I can be reached at: TEVA77@MSN.COM or 719-250-1142

Barbara Hughley

Christopher said...

Wow! Did anyone in this family settle in Arkansas at some point! My family (Box, Gulley, Sockwell, and Vanhook) are from that state... Let me know...
My email is

Evelyn Elaine Smith said...

I suppose I am a distant cousin since I am a descendant of William Young Box and Nancy Jane Henderson, of Cumby, Hophins, Texas, as well as their son, James Joseph Box and Elizabeth Ellen Johnson, also of Cumby, Hopkins, Texas, and their son (my maternal grandfather), David Eckley Box and Mary Ruth Box. D. E. was born in Cumby, and spent most of his adult life in Grapevine, Tarrant, Texas.

Life in frontier Texas was really hard, but Mary Mattnews Box's story brought tears to my eyes.

Vintage Rider said...

There is an account of the Box family massacre and subsequent captivity recorded by General George Custer in Chapter 4 of his book "My Life on The Plains". He obtained the details directly from the mother, whom he met when released from her captivity.

clm said...

To Vintage Rider comment -- Thank you for the information about the Custer book. I found the story about the Box Family Massacre on pages 43-45. There is even an audio recording of the book available online.:)

Nada Davis said...

My Great-Grandmother was Caldona Box m. Charles Edgar Leffel who was the son of David Miller Leffel who was one of 40 men hung in Gainsville, Tx in 1862 for voting to not leave the Union.
References are the Great Hanging in Gainsville. Tainted Breeze: The Great Hanging in Gainsville by Dr. Richard McCaslin.