Off to Texas
On the 15th of September, 1847, Garrett Igo Jr. was born to Garrett (Sr.) and Nancy Haggard Igo. Garrett’s birth was inauspicious in that he was roughly in the middle of his parent’s total of 11 (living) children: Pleasant H., Mary Molly B., Lewis, Greeenberry, Harrison, Emily Emma, Ephraim, Garrett , Jr., William W., Napoleon, and Clifton. He was born in Boonesboro, Madison, KY.
Garrett Sr’s father was William Igo, born in Baltimore, MD in about 1786. William had migrated through the Cumberland Pass. With Daniel Boone to settle the new country of Kentucky. He raised his family in Boonesboro, KY the community founded by Boone and his followers. He married Mary Polly Raburn in Madison County Kentucky.
Garrett Sr. was a member of a family on the move. Having migrated to America and thence westward with each generation the Igo family as a whole was searching for a new home. Leaving members scattered at each location there was always some member with “itchy feet” who would soon be heading for new Horizons.
Garrett Jr. remembered little of Kentucky as he left at the tender age of 3 and never returned to his birthplace. Communications of the 1800’s allowed little cross-country contact with family members left far behind.
Garrett’s mother Nancy was a hardy individual. In a time when death during childbirth was fairly common, she had 11 children whom survived along with her. Deaths during birthing in America and England in the mid-1800’s approached 25% in hospitals primarily due to infections. Birth at home and without a physician had definite advantages as doctors of the period seldom washed their hands and spread infections to all.
Garrett Sr. soon felt it necessary to pack his family and move-on to greener pastures. He chose Texas as a destination. It was newly incorporated into the United States and rumored to have fine soils for farming. Land could be had cheaply if you listened to the rumors; and, Garrett did indeed listen.
He used an old farm wagon fitted with a tent to transport his family and their few belongings. Few appurtenances were carried because new ones would be either built or acquired upon arrival at their new home. Space on the wagon was at a premium.
Nancy packed her cookware for the road, family maintenance equipment such as thread/needles, and clothing. She also fought for and won space for her dresser and mirror. Garrett Sr. recognized the need for some small tokens to her past. The dresser was a gift from her parents upon her marriage.
Garrett packed farming implements not easy to replace, his weapons, powder and ball, and little else. Milk cow and mules made the trip to Texas as well as two or three horses. Chickens were held in a cage on the wagon, however, most were be eaten on the trip.
Americans setting-out for “the West” at this time were a courageous lot. Little firm information was available apart from the occasional traveler who was returning from the new lands to the east. Rumors abounded of course, but truthful information was lacking.
Garrett Sr. found himself being increasingly enclosed by more and more people in his Kentucky birthplace. He sought both room and the freedom that new country brought. He had grown-up with the tales of travel from his father and mother who sought new country in which to raise their family as their parents before them.
So, in about 1850, Garrett Sr. and his family bid kin and Kentucky farewell, crossed the broad Mississippi River and made their way slowly to the new state of Texas.
They traveled across Arkansas to Little Rock and thence southward into northeastern Texas. They would wish to avoid the Indian Nations and the wild natives who lived there. Though many eastern “civilized tribes” were moving into the territory there still remained the wild untamed bands of Kiowa, Shawnee, Commanche and others who preyed upon white travelers.
The trip was broken by rest stops to allow animals to graze and family members to relax. In all, it was a trip of about 3-4 months. This did not compare to the later cross country pilgrimages to Oregon and California, but the trip was arduous never-the-less.
Looking back years later Garrett remembered little of the trip. He was trapped on the big wagon with his mother due to his age. Only seldom was he allowed to ride with his brothers on the big plow mules or with his father on the horse due to their duties on the trip.
The older folk were required to hunt more or less constantly for game to feed the family. They had to also be on the alert for bandits and other unsavory folk. This country was far from well settled. Garrett wanted to hunt from his earliest memories. Always wanting to shoot the long rifles, he constantly begged his father and brothers to take him on the trail.
The camps also allowed Garrett Jr. to play with his younger siblings, dig in the earth and rough-house with the family dogs. Each family member was busy with their own chores and responsibilities, but found some time for the little younger children. Garrett was often found on the bank of a stream throwing stones.
He was too young to actually hunt. His father finally did relent and allow him to shoot the big rifle he carried. Garrett Sr. probably thought the huge kick of the rifle would discourage his son from his constant barrage of entreaties to shoot the gun. In this he was wrong.
One evening after little Garrett had asked yet again to fire the rifle, his father said, “Son, I’ll let you fire this gun, but it will kick you into Missouri…:
“Please, please, Paw, I don’t care,” Garrett eagerly begged.
So, Garrett Sr. loaded-up the weapon and carefully showed his son how to hold the long cumberson gun and tuck it into his shoulder tightly to minimize the damage of the kick. He indicated the medium sized tree trunk some twenty feet or so away and, as other family members gathered around for the big event, finished with, “Ler ‘er fly, son!”
Young Garrett carefully sighted the rifle trying to balance the long weapon. He was careful to squeeze the trigger as his father had instructed him. He was totally unprepared for the action which followed.
A huge, defeaning explotion and powder smoke filled the air, which made little difference as Garrett was immediately flattened on the ground. Knocked violently backwards by the recoil, he managed to hold onto the rifle, but could remember nothing of the event.
His father and brothers were laughing almost uncontrollably. It was always an event when a young man fired his first shot. A three-year-old firing a Kentucky long rifle was just too good a show for them.
As Garrett sat back up, he glanced at the target and yelled, “I hit it paw, lookit, I did it!!”
His father and brothers looked and to their amazement the boy had managed to hit the trunk of the tree chosen as a target.
“Well, well done boy,” his father patted him on the back. “You’ll make a sure-enough keen hunter for us,” he prophecized.
Arriving in Texas, Garrett Sr. tarried a few weeks to look about for a likely homeplace. The section of Texas he chose was sandy land not far from the Red River. A deep loamy soil it was good for all types of crops and grazing. It was also far from the Indian woes caused by the fearsom Commanche out in the unsettled western part of the state. The Commanche would not be subdued for another three decades, but never raided this far into east Texas.
The location of the Igo homeplace would later become known as “Veasey” after another early local inhabitant. For now only the Igos lived upon it. A relatively flat land it quickly grew excellent vegetable crops to feed them and their livestock. Pigs and more chickens were acquired from more settled neighbors who had raised an excess of livestock.
In the months following settlement of the homestead Garrett Jr. found himself incorporated into the family business of existence. He fed animals and whatever else he was assigned to do. His sisters Emily and Mary helped mother him and keep him from becoming too much the little savage. His older brothers either worked with Garrett Sr. or fanned out across the country looking for income-making opportunities.
Making actual money in this country at that particular time was rare. Mostly payment was in goods or services. A barter system was in place with everyone aware of the relative worth of various goods in relation to their labor or other goods.
Pleasant (Ples), Ephrim (Eph) and Greenberry (Green) helped neighbors with their labor and returned home with chickens, cows, pigs, meat and other needed goods. They were all good hunters equipped with fine Kentucky rifles. They were able to trade fresh wild meats for many items which was demanded by the family to continue to grow upon.
The years passed and Garrett Jr. grew quickly in this new land. He was soon helping his father drive the mules pulling wagons of produce to markets in Clarksville and learned to plow the land.
He found the rhythm of the seasons to his liking. He assisted with the crops and learned the art of tracking and killing game. He enjoyed stalking the whitetail deer and black bears. He rapidly became adept at all forms of the hunt. Garrett knew the location of deer herds and flocks of wild turkey.
One day his eldest brother Pleasant invited Garrett to go with he and Ephrim across Red River into the Nations. The brothers were going to play cards with the Indians there. The US government occasionally allocated cash money to the Choctaws there who had been removed from eastern states to the Indian Territories.
Plying the Indians with liquor and any other means, they did their best to take these funds back home. The Igo brothers looked upon this as much needed supplimental hard cash for the family. That they had to use “shady” means to acquire it was unfortunate but necessary. Their allegiances belonged to the well-being of their own family.
Garrett eagerly looked foreword to the adventure. His hunting trips often led him to the southern bank of the Red. He would sit for hours staring across the river wondering about the dark-skinned peoples living over there. Now he would see them!
Pleasant warned Garrett to mind his own business and stay out of trouble. Garrett eagerly agreed and they set forth. They crossed the Red River at Jonesboro on the ferry located there. Jonesboro was a fairly sizeable place with many families, several businesses, and two cotton gins for the processing of cotton grown by the many local farmers.
The ferry was a new sensation to Garrett. He could not recall having been out upon the water when they moved south to Texas. He ran from front to back taking in the whole experience. He even though he saw a massive fish in the wake of the ferry rolling in the small wave. He fervently wished he had his rifle to “pot” the fish.
On the far side they set foot into the Indian Nations. Garrett was simply agog at the dark peoples milling around the tents and rough clapboard buildings of the tiny trading post.
These were the Choctaw Indians in “town” to buy supplies and visit with far-flung relatives. In colors varying from light brown to nearly black, they were a new breed to Garrett.
Many blacks were interwoven with the Indians. The Choctaws held some slaves and many freedmen lived amongst them. There were blacks in Texas, of course, but Garrett rarely saw them as families rich enough to own slaves were not common aroung the Igo home.
Garrett roamed the area while his brothers sought out a game of poker. They would ply the Indians with cheap liquor while playing cards and relieved them of their remaining cash.
In truth, many Indians had no idea of the worth of the money issued to them. Barter was the common form of exchange and cash was a new institution for them. They felt little loss of something which held no value for then to start with.
Young Garrett walked, gawked and talked to whoever he could find who spoke English. He located a young Choctaw who spoke fairly good English and plied him with questions about life in the Nations.
They had been looking over a collection of new pocket knives for sale. Garrett noticed the young Indian about his age looking at the knives with a longing which he felt himself.
“Speak Texican?” asked Garrett.
“Talk english,” casually replied the Indian with a thin smile.
“Sure wish I had the money to buy one of them fancy pocket blades,” observed Garrett.
“Mnnn,” was all the Indian relied.
Garrett was determined to pry some information out of the lad. The Indian was of about the same age and size of Garrett. He persisted until a conversation was struck-up.
The young Indian told him about life with his own family which was little different from Garrett’s own. They farmed and traded, hunted and fished. Fishing was new to Garrett who had hunted for miles around his home. He listened carefully to the Indian’s advise and stories. He resolved to try this new enterprise when he returned home.
The Indian boy helped Garrett locate some fish hooks being traded.
“The dark ones there,” he indicated some cast iron hooks, “they last long and you can resharpen them many times.”
The hooks were a nickle a box…more than Garrett could afford. He would approach his father about some later at home.
They had wandered back to the lean-to building where Garrett’s brothers were playing cards. He indicated to his new friend that Ples and Eph were his brothers. He noticed a little dark flare in the Indian’s eyes as he glanced upon his brothers.
“Them Igo’s your brothers? The take plenty white cash from our men,” said the Indian.
“Wal, I reckon they came here to do that. They don’t cheat tho,” Garrett replied somewhat defensively.
“Come across the river sometime…I’ll show you a fishin’ hole,” invited the Indian boy.
“Thanks and I’ll fetch-up there sometime. When I can…,” promised Garrett.
The young Indian desolved into the crowd and Garrett assumed he’d seen the last of him. Little did he suspect how their paths would cross again in the future.
The day quickly resolved into night and he found his brothers still deeply involved in the game of milking money from the other willing players. Garrett watched until he could no longer hole his eyes open and fell to sleep in a corner behind big brother Pleasant..
Late that night the brothers finished-up their game and Pleasant carried their sleeping little brother down to the ferry with Ephrim. Garrett missed the early morning crossing and only awoke when the ferry had docked on the Jonesboro side.
No one had told Garrett that this same ferry once carried Davy Crockett to Texas on his was to destiny in the famous battle of the Alamo. It had also carried Sam Houston several times on his trips between his wife in the Cherokee Nation to battles in the Texas War of Independence and later as first President of the Republic of Texas. It also carried Stephen Austin into Texas and his place in history.
Garrett tried the new art of fishing with some success. He was able to supply the family with fresh fish to break the tedium of chicken and rare beef, and pork. His parents appreciated his contributions to the growing family. Garrett had been number eight and there were now 11 members. He grew quickly in this wild country and was soon a young man.
Garrett Sr. had little time for each individual in his family. Garrett Jr.’s brothers helped much in his upbringing and he, in turn, helped with younger siblings William, Napoleon (Nappy), and Clifton. At ten, Garrett Jr. was treated much like a grown man. He was an important family member and made contributions to the family as such.
Young Garrett had not had the opportunity to attend school as there were none within any reasonable distance. His younger brothers would find themselves in a schoolrooms later as the country built-up with people.
His mother gave him lessons in reading, writing & arithmetic. His father and brothers gave him important lessons in life: farming, hunting, and trading. Taken together, these two courses so different gave him a good basic education for life in early Texas.
At twelve years of age, Garrett Jr. Igo cut quite a figure. Dressed in rough-spun pants of a deep brown color from long heavy use in brush and field, a cotton shirt made of flour sacks draping his thin frame, heavy boots and a wide-brimmed slouch hat always pulled low over his face.
He was thin but with the strength of a steel cable. He worked hard since childhood. He labored long days and was not always able to get all the food his young growing body demanded. Face and hands on the slender boy were burned a dark almond brown from the harsh Texas sun. With Garrett’s dark hair resembled one of the Indians running in the Territories across the Red River.
Garrett rode wide circles around the family homeplace as he assumed most of the hunting chores for the family. With his growing skill at catching fish in streams and the river he provided a significant amount of fodder to his family. In return for this steady supply of meat he was allowed much freedom not enjoyed by other boys his age. In fact, his parents and family considered him as a man in means if not in age.
He had become familiar with most all families in Veasey and those in communities far about. As he roamed into other communities he had been forced into fights on numerous occasions. It was the custom of the time to challenge newcomers and find if they were “worth their salt.” He sometimes won, but mostly took a solid thrashing from older boys. Garrett didn’t mind; it was all a part of the time and he enjoyed many a lifelong friendship from these former antagonists.
He generally walked but often rode a bay gelding technically belonging to his brother Green (Greenberry). Green had won the horse playing poker with the Choctaws but having large paint horse he allocated the extra to Garrett.
Garrett and the bay roamed far together in search of game & adventure. One day they happened upon a gathering of people near the little community of Spring Hill, east of Veasey. The crowd was closely formed in a semi-circle near a large hole of sparkling water on a sandy little brook.
In the water was a single man who was unexplainably dunking first one person then another into the stream. Men and women along with children followed each other singularly in being thoroughly wetted and then stood cheering and throwing their arms into the air.
Garrett could not figure what was happening. He sat the bay on a small rise over the streambed. A dark figure in old clothes and hat pulled low. It was perhaps good the people could not see him. It would have certainly spoiled their joyous time.
He did not for a long time understand what they could possibly be doing. Then he remembered his mother’s description of baptizing in streams near her childhood home in Kentucky. This then was a church group. That settled the question. But, as the bay restively shifted it’s feet and Garrett perchanced to glance away from the group, he reflected that this was not the only show at the moment.
Beyond the crowd were a clutch of horses and wagons in and on which the people had come the the celebration going-on below. Garrett could just make-out on the far edge of the tethered horses two Indians were leading a horse apiece away and into the brushy woods.
Garrett smiled slightly at the sight of the theft in broad daylight. They were only a scant three miles from Red River and the Indian Nation. In the summer heat the big river would be low and easily forded. Once into the Nation the Indians and horses would untraceably disappear. They would simply melt into the endless miles of trackless wildnerness.
Garrett eased his horse around to the north and circled the small of woodland which held the Indians and stolen horses. He took a position near a game trail on the far side and awaited developments. He dismounted and stood quietly waiting.
He cared little about catching the thieves and only wished to test his own skills. He planned to simple observe the Indians and perhaps when they were beyond rifle range yell or somehow show them they were not completely un-noticed. He smiled at the thought of surprising the thieves.
“Did you think it would be that easy, Igo?” came a quiet voice immediately behind him.
Garrett whirled in his tracks and faced a grinning young Indian. He immediately recognized the young buck he’d met across the river from Jonesboro when he had accompanied his brothers.
“How in the…,” Garrett was too astonished to finish the sentence. He did manage a weak smile.
“Saw you watching us while you hid on the far side of the creek,” supplied the Indian. “My name is Ben…Ben Watson,” said the young man, ” I guess you wont be tellin’ on us.” he went on.
“Naw, I was just tryin’ a little sneakin’ myself,” said Garrett. He was still astonished, but recovering his wits. “How long you been doin’ this kinda thing?” he asked.
“Years,” said the Indian quietly. “We cross over in daylight and scout, then steal something after dark and go back across while white-eyes sleeps,” he said with a grin.
“You are the first one to catch me. Be Proud,” he complimented Garrett. “We don’t steal in daylight, but those horses were too much to pass-up,” he went on to Garrett.
“Well I got caught myself in the catchin’,” said Garrett.
The second Indian emerged from the thick brush. Garrett remembered later that he had hardly heard a sound from the horses. He wondered at the ability of the Indians to creep silently through thick brush. He understood better the perils of the Indian fighters out in west Texas.
They talked briefly before the Indians headed quickly for the river and safety. The horse theft was also the largest haul the young Indians had ever made.
“Come over sometime and I’ll show you how to catch some really big fish. We catch big catfish and skin them,” he said by way of invitation to Garrett.
“Probably get skinned myself,” Garrett obeserved, “but look for me one day.”
“We still got some of what you call “Grizzly” bears…up in the hills,” said Ben.
Garrett’s eyes lit-up immediately. “Be there with bells on,” he replied.
They touched briefly in the tradition of the natives who did not like to shake hands in the white tradition. Both young men recognized the adventurous spirit of the other. Seeing little of one another they would never-the-less remain friends through their lifetimes.
Garrett thought back over the years and remembered numerous times his mother had come-up missing chickens. “Paw lost that brand new shovel two summers ago,” he remembered. He smiled inwardly thinking, “Ples, Green, Eph and me go up into the Nation to skin the Indians and they come down here to return the favor.”
Garrett thought, “Life balances,” with the deep insight of someone much older.
He did go hunting the big bears a few years later, but life had a major interruption in store for him. Events were happening far to the east which would cut short what childhood remained to Garrett. And the childhood of countless other young men across the breadth of America.
A few days later his oldest brother Pleasant had gone into Clarksville on business. He returned after everyone had settled down to eat a late supper. The month was May in 1861.
Pleasant sat down to eat with the family. “It started, Paw,” he said quietly.
Garrett Sr. looked up sharply. “What?” he asked.
“The war. It started last month in Charleston harbor. The South seceded from the Union,” supplied Pleasant.
The whole family was wide-eyed now. They had heard many rumors, but never figured that the war would actually come to them.
“Fellow named Greer is raising a Calvary in town. Lots of men are joining right now. I thought about it, but no Yanks ever hurt me or mine,” rambled Pleasant.
Garrett Sr. looked glum. He little desired to lose any of his strong sons to fighting back east. Especially a fight they had no stake in here in Texas. But, as he looked at his bronzed young hunter Garrett he realized it was a losing cause. The young man was positively beaming at the thought of riding off into battle.
For young Garrett it was an opportunity not to pass-up. He might never have the chance again to test himself against other men in a major battle. Testing himself is what he did nearly every day.
He could hear the roar of guns in his ears and the sound of countless horses charging an implacable enemy firing huge guns directly at him. The smoke stung his eyes; the sounds were deafening.
Garrett never even mentioned joining to his parents. He simply rode into Clarksville and volunteered for duty. Mr. Greer, soon to be Colonel Greer, was signing recruits into a big ledger book on a cracker barrel in the local general store. He looked at the youngster before him. While other men laughed at the kid, Greet recognized the look of a natural hunter. He signed Garrett Jr. without even asking his age.
“Horse, saddle, tack, weapons, ball and powder…bring them back here. We begin drilling in a week, do not be late!” was all Greer snapped at Garrett.
And, in fact, a scant two months later Garrett found himself in that major battle.