The Wild West of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts
(Or the Killing of Adam Paine, Medal of Honor Winner)
By Katarina Wittich
Photos by Bennie J. McRae, Jr.
Copyright January 2000. Katarina Wittich, Los Angeles, California. No portion of the document shall be reproduced without express written consent of the author.
This is a little known story of the west in the final years of the Indian wars, but the west as it really was, not the whitewashed version of movie westerns and dime novels. It's the story of a violent time of rapid social and cultural change, the end of an era of transition to America as we know it today. The characters in this story are of many cultures and skin colors, but their roles are not the simple ones of soldier and Indian, or good guy and bad guy. Instead, they shift with the fluidity that marks life on any border - the transition from one century to the next - from the old America to the new.
The story takes place in a town called Brackettville, near the Texas/Mexico border. This tiny town has the unusual distinction of being graced by the gravestones of five Congressional Medal of Honor winners. It is also the site of the only known killing of one Medal of Honor winner by another.
Four of the Medal of Honor recipients were Seminole Negro Indian Scouts: Adam Paine, Isaac Payne, John Ward and Pompey Factor. The fifth, Claron "Gus" Windus won his Medal of Honor as a soldier in the all white 6th Cavalry. He later became a deputy sheriff in Kinney County.
On New Years Eve 1876, Claron Windus killed ex-scout Adam Paine during a botched attempt to arrest him. It is said that Paine was shot in the back with a shotgun, at such close range that his clothing caught on fire. It is almost certain that the other three Medal of Honor winners witnessed this shooting.
How these five men's lives intertwined is a fascinating tale that illustrates the harshness of life during the last days of the "Wild West". It is not the sort of story you see in a typical western - but it is as much a part of our history as the stereotypes we are usually presented with - and much more interesting.
Adam Paine, Isaac Payne, John Ward and Pompey Factor were Mascogos, or Black Seminoles, the descendants of slaves and free Africans who joined the Seminole Indians in Florida in the 1700's and 1800's. Some of these black members integrated fully into the Seminole society, intermarrying and becoming full Seminoles, while others lived in their own villages, blending their African heritage with Seminole customs but remaining separate. Nominally slaves to the Seminoles, in truth they were autonomous and self-governing allies whose only sign of slavery was a small tithe from their harvests paid to the Seminole Chief.
Black Seminoles played a prominent role in the Seminole battle against the United States Army in Florida during the Seminole Wars, and eventually were forced to emigrate to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 1840's along with the rest of the Seminoles. Hounded by slavers and tired of the terrible living conditions on the reservation, a group of Black Seminoles under the leadership of John Horse joined the Seminole sub chief Wild Cat and his followers as they fled to Mexico in the early 1850's to become military colonists under the Mexican government. There they defended the Mexican border against the attacks of Indians and Texans for a country that acknowledged their freedom and gave them land and pay for their service in the military.
By 1870 the political situation in Mexico had deteriorated and life was becoming difficult for the Mascogos. Slavery had ended in the U.S., so when Captain Perry of the U. S. Army came to Mexico to persuade the Mascogos and their allies the Kickapoo to return to the US and settle in Indian Territory, the Mascogos decided it would be a good idea.
On July 4th, 1870, a large group of the Mascogos crossed the Rio Grande back into the United States, to wait at Fort Duncan for transportation to Indian Territory, where they had been promised land to farm. While waiting, they offered to work as scouts for the U.S. Army, in order to earn money and provide for their families. The army jumped at the chance to have such seasoned fighters who were so knowledgeable of the ways of the Indians in the area. 11 Mascogos were mustered in as the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts on August 16th, 1870.
The Mascogos were excellent warriors and farmers, fiercely independent and never subjugated - the only sovereign nation to have voluntarily left the United States and then voluntarily agreed to return. Culturally a blend of Seminole Indian and Afro/Baptist, they now had some Mexican Catholic mixed in. They spoke Spanish, the Seminole languages Hitchiti or Muskogee, some English, and their own language, very similar to African based Gullah, which they called Seminole.
Adam, Isaac, John and Pompey were young men when they crossed over the Rio Grande into the US. Adam was the oldest, around 28. Isaac was 16, Pompey around 17 and John around 23. They had spent most or all of their lives in Mexico, farming, and fighting the Indians who came across the Rio Grande from the United States to raid in Mexico. Now they were expected to help the US army fight Indians coming from the Mexican side of the border. Some of the Indians they would now be fighting were formerly allies - like the Kickapoo - and some were mortal enemies, like the Lipan Apaches and the Comanche.
In Mexico the Mascogo had been known as fearsome warriors, and usually fought under their own commander, John Horse, their Chief. They fought in small groups alongside the Mexican army, or partnered with their allies, the Seminoles and Kickapoo. In the US they were expected to follow army discipline and rules which to them were foreign and foolish. Naturally, there was a lot of conflict with their officers. In addition, the promised supplies and land grants were slow in materializing and it was difficult to support all the members of the various groups on just the scouts' salaries.
In March of 1873 the situation improved when they were assigned a new officer. Lieutenant John Lapham Bullis was a fighting Quaker who had commanded black troops during the civil war and was immediately able to see the value of the scouts fighting and tracking skills despite their disregard for army procedure. He was a fighter of the same sort that they were, able to go for days without rations or sleep, fighting with the same stealth and flexibility as the Indians they were chasing. As one of his scouts put it "His men was on equality too. He didn't stand back and say "Go yonder", He say, "Come on, boys, let's go get em". In Bullis, the scouts found a commander that they could trust and work well with, and together they became an almost unbeatable combination. In eight years of Indian fighting on the frontier they lost not one single man in battle, nor did they have any serious injuries. And they were instrumental in ending the Indian and outlaw raids in that section of Texas.
However, the story in the Black Seminole community was not so pretty. Many of the Mascogo were close to starvation and the Army and the Bureau of Indian Affairs were taking turns denying responsibility for subsisting them or giving them the land and supplies they had been promised. At one point it seemed as if the Bureau of Indian Affairs was about to give them land in Oklahoma, when suddenly some one high up discovered that they were black, and therefore could not be Indians and were not entitled to Indian land! Much later the Bureau again agreed to move them to Oklahoma, but, unwilling to share tribal benefits, the ex-Confederate Chief of the Seminole Nation refused to acknowledge them as Seminoles.
Despite the desperate situation of their families, the Scouts continued to prove themselves heroic in battle and uncanny as trackers and scouts. The records show constant petitioning for their rights by their superior officers, particularly Bullis and Mackenzie. Almost every major officer they worked under spoke of their courage, battle skills, and the outrage of their being denied what they had been promised.
Then a new ruling denied rations to anyone but the men who were actually serving as scouts. Out of a community of over 200 people the scouts never numbered more than 50 men. The situation became impossible. The elderly and families without a scout in them to depend on were literally starving. Without adequate land and supplies to farm, camping temporarily on the army reservation, they had no way to subsist themselves. Some resorted to petty thievery, occasionally stealing a stray cow. It must be understood that in the Texas of this time prominent white men had made their fortunes by rounding up stray cattle and branding them as their own. But if a Mascogo took one it was theft and they were liable for prosecution. In 1877 Bullis paid the county tax inspector, James Ballantyne, the exorbitant sum of $40 for four cattle supposedly stolen by the Mascogos.
Against this backdrop the scouts performed feats of incredible bravery and skill. They worked hard and long hours together, survived great deprivations and were usually victorious. Most of them seem to have genuinely enjoyed their working relationship with Bullis, although there is evidence that there were factions among the community who quarreled with each other, and even some that hated Bullis. In 1876 scout Dan Johnson Jr. was arrested for threatening Bullis' life with a pistol. He also was hauled in several other times that month for assaults on other scouts. As their situation deteriorated, tensions grew worse in the community. Many began to think of returning to Mexico.
This is the situation faced by the four Medal of Honor winners in December of 1876.
Here are their individual stories.
THE MEDAL OF HONOR WINNERS
Seminole Indian Scouts' Cemetery
Adam Paine was born in Florida sometime around 1843. His real name was Adam Payne, but it was misspelled in his citation for the Medal of Honor, and so he has been called Paine in most records since. It is unlikely that he was related to Isaac Payne. Payne was a common name in the Mascogo community. In Mexico Adam took the last name Morillo, while Isaac went by Mariscal. However, Adam and Isaac were known to have been close and spent a lot of time together.
Adam was known as a "bad man" within the Mascogo community because of his ferocity in battle and perhaps some of his habits. He often wore a Comanche buffalo horn helmet and was said to have been an impressive and frightening figure. He was also given great accolades for his skill and bravery by Colonel Mackenzie who said "This man has, I believe, more cool daring than any scout I have known".
On Sept. 19th, 1874, Paine, two Tonkawa scouts and two other Black Seminole scouts were sent out by Mackenzie to search for hostiles. Instead, the hostiles found them. Outnumbered by 40 Kiowas the scouts fled, fighting as they went. The details are not clear, but Paine seems to have held back to protect the others, allowing them to get away as he fired repeatedly at their pursuers. When his horse was shot out from under him he used it as a shield and somehow managed to kill one of his attackers and capture the dead man's horse and use it to escape.
For this feat of "habitual courage" he was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, there is no evidence that he ever received it. Probably disillusioned by the broken promises and increasing hardships of his people, Adam did not re-enlist when his time came up in 1875. Instead he drifted back and forth across the border, forming a close association with a known cattle thief and bandit, Frank Enoch. On Xmas Eve, 1875, Paine reportedly stabbed a white soldier in Brownsville. There are many accounts of the story, including that he was arrested for the stabbing and held in a bullring but escaped when a cyclone wrecked this temporary prison.
In any case, by December of 1876 Adam Paine was a wanted man and a fugitive. However, he was still a part of the close knit Mascogo community and, along with his crony, Frank Enoch, had returned to his family in Brackettville to celebrate the New Year.
Seminole Indian Scouts' Cemetery, Brackettville, Texas
ISAAC PAYNE, JOHN WARD AND POMPEY FACTOR
Trumpeter Isaac Payne, Sergeant John Ward and Private Pompey Factor were still scouts, living in the Seminole encampment at Fort Clark. Isaac was in between enlistments. He was discharged on 2/28/76 and didn't return to duty until a month after Adam's death. (In July of 1875 Isaac was declared a deserter for having left the field command without being formally discharged. This often happened to the scouts because they were usually out in the field when their term of enlistment expired - but they had to be officially discharged by appropriate personnel who were only available at a fort. Rather than wait around, unpaid, the scouts would merely go home and then report in later to be formally discharged.)
Isaac was the youngest of the lot, born in Mexico; he was around 17 when he enlisted. Family tradition has it that he was captured by Comanche as a boy and raised by them, only to be returned to his family when soldiers captured the Comanche when he was a teenager.
Pompey Factor was one of the first group of scouts enlisted. Born in Indian Territory he was somewhere between 18 and 21 when he enlisted, depending on which records you go by. He was actively enlisted in December 1876.
Sergeant Ward was born around 1847, probably in Arkansas. His real name was John Warrior, brother of Bill and Scott Warrior, but an enlistment officer changed it to Ward. Enlistment records are very faulty as to names and ages for the scouts. He too was actively enlisted in December 1876.
In April 1875, Ward, Payne and Factor accompanied Lt. Bullis on a scout to check on some Comanche camped on the lower Pecos. They found the Indians, about 40 of them, and 75 stolen horses. Positioning themselves behind the rocks so that they would appear to be greater in number the scouts and Bullis opened fire. According to Bullis' official report "we twice took their horses from them and killed three Indians and wounded a fourth". However, the Comanche finally caught on to how small the scouts' party was and began to surround them, trying to cut them off from their horses. The scouts made it to their horses and were on their way to safety when they realized that Bullis had lost his mount and was on foot with the Comanche pouring down on him. Despite the constant gunfire and the danger to themselves the scouts wheeled back and Ward pulled Bullis up behind him while the others provided cover. As Bullis put it, they "just saved my hair", and were all three awarded the Medal of Honor for their "bravery and trustworthiness".
Claron "Gus" Windus was also given the Medal of Honor for his bravery under fire.
Born in 1851 in Wisconsin to a family of German immigrants, he was 13 when he ran away from home to become a drummer boy for the Union army in the Civil War. He never returned home again, and after the war somehow managed to join the Regular Army at the age of 15. In 1867 he had had enough. With the help of a friend, he stole four army horses and deserted. He was caught thirteen days later and condemned to hard labor for a year. After his release his records show only commendations for good behavior.
In July 1870 he was Bugler and Orderly at the Battle of the Little Wichita River against Kicking Bird and the Kiowa. His command was almost wiped out, when he and two others volunteered to try to make it through the surrounding Indians and bring help. They succeeded and Windus was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery.
In 1871 Windus left the army and became a teamster and mail agent. In July of 1875 he arrived in Brackettville and was appointed Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff L.C. Crowell. He was a young man moving up in the world, not only Deputy Sheriff but also Constable and Deputy Tax collector. By December 1876 he was engaged to be married to Agnes Ballantyne, daughter of Kinney County Inspector of Hides and Animals, James B. Ballantyne, one of the most prominent men in the region.
Then, on December 31st, 1876, these men's lives collided.
NEW YEARS EVE
No one knows quite what was going on in the Black Seminole community in the fall and winter of 1876. What we do know is that in May of 1876 there was an assassination attempt upon the life of John Horse, the Black Seminole Chief. Horse survived, but his companion, Titus Payne, (possibly related to Adam because he had the same Mexican last name, Morillo) was killed.
There appears to have been no attempt to find the culprit: some believed the bandit and prominent citizen John King Fisher was behind it, others that it was irate citizens who didn't want the Mascogos cultivating the land along the lush Los Moras river. King Fisher was notorious for his hatred of the Scouts, and he was such a powerful figure that he essentially controlled law enforcement in Kinney County. When he killed Scout George Washington in a barroom brawl it was impossible to find a grand jury to even convene, much less indict him. Everyone, including Judges and prosecutors, were too scared to show up. So it is not unlikely that he had a hand in the attempt on Horse's life.
With their leader, John Horse, half dead from his wounds, the community was in an uproar. Mascogos were in constant fear for their lives. They were also starving, and they began to quarrel amongst themselves. From September through December there were repeated cases of threats made against each other, brawls and rioting. In the meantime members of the white community began to attempt to use the law to try to oust the scouts. The ironic thing about this period is that while certain of Brackettville's citizens were swearing out complaints that the Mascogos were thieves, other equally upstanding citizens were requesting that the Army enlist the rest of the available Mascogos as scouts in order to form a larger command under Lt. Bullis to keep them safe from bandits and hostile Indians.
In late August Scott Warrior, John Ward's brother, was accused of stealing five horses. Then, early in September, Isaac Payne and Dallas Griner were indicted on charges of theft of a prized gelding belonging to none other than Deputy Sheriff Claron Windus. Isaac and Dallas spent the rest of the year hiding out in the Mascogo community in Nacimiento, Mexico with occasional visits to the community in Brackettville. In December 1876, they came back to celebrate the holy days with their families.
Somehow Sheriff Crowell got word that Adam Paine, Frank Enoch, Isaac Payne and Dallas Griner, all fugitives from the law, were in the scouts encampment for New Years Eve celebrations. He devised a plan for their arrest based on taking them by surprise at midnight, as the year changed, when they would least be expecting it. According to one account the plan was backed up by a company of soldiers brought in to help with the arrest - if so they don't seem to have played an active role.
Crowell, Windus and Jonathan May, a local teamster, positioned themselves outside the scout's camp, waiting for midnight. A dance was going on, some say in Scout Friday Bowleg's yard, others say at the church. Dances for the Mascogos were usually a combination of religious ritual and social activity. This one was probably a "Watch Night" as the community held a shout in the church to bring in the New Year. At midnight the Mascogos would come out and circle the exterior of the church with the shuffling dance steps of a shout, singing of the dead they had lost that year. This was the moment Sheriff Crowell was waiting for. According to one account, Adam Paine was dancing when he heard the Sheriff call his name. As he turned, Claron Windus fired at him with a double-barreled shot gun, "shot him so close it set him on fire". Other accounts say that there was a struggle while the Sheriff was trying to handcuff the men and that Adam and Frank were shot while trying to run. What is certain is that when the smoke cleared Adam Paine was dead and Frank Enoch mortally wounded. Scout Bobby Kibbett jumped Windus, and while Windus and Crowell were wrestling with him, Isaac Payne and Dallas Griner got away. Isaac's wife Julia recounts, "Along about midnight I heard the shooting, and then I heard a horse galloping, and my husband fell off -- he was drunk -- and said, "Julia, they've killed Adam".
Crowell called Judge W.W. Arnett to the scene to perform an inquest. Adam's body was given to his family for burial. Enoch died under the care of a surgeon in town. Bobby Kibbett was later tried and acquitted of attempting to murder Claron Windus. And that was that.
Isaac Payne escaped to Mexico, but came back within the month to re-enlist. Either Windus must have dropped the charges that Isaac and Dallas stole his horse, or Bullis somehow managed to get them cleared. It does raise the question of how substantial those charges actually were if they could have been cleared so rapidly as to allow Isaac to re-enlist that month. He remained a scout until 1901 and died in 1904. Oral histories conflict as to whether he is buried in Nacimiento, Mexico or with his official headstone in the Seminole Scouts Cemetery in Brackettville.
Pompey Factor had had enough. Along with Chief John Horse and a number of other Mascogos he left for Mexico, where it was safer. He was listed as a deserter, but several years later returned and was removed from deserter status and re enlisted for another year. In 1880 he left the army for good, and spent the rest of his life as a farmer in Mexico, only returning to Brackettville in 1926, destitute, in hopes of a pension. He was finally granted the pension, but it came too late. He died a pauper in 1928 and is buried in the Scout's cemetery.
John Ward remained in the scouts for a total of 24 years as a Private, a Corporal and a Sergeant. He was forced by rheumatism to leave the army in 1895. He received a monthly pension until his death in 1911. He is buried in the Scout's cemetery.
Adam Paine is buried in the Scout's cemetery alongside the other three.
Less than a month after Adam Paine's death Claron Windus resigned as Deputy Sheriff in order to become Kinney County Assessor of Taxes. The next month he married Agnes Ballantyne and within a few years had become one of the largest landowners in the country by purchasing land sold at delinquent tax sales. By 1897 he was so wealthy that his house was the first in Brackettville to have indoor plumbing. In 1898 he volunteered for the war in Cuba and spent a year there. He died in 1927, a wealthy and successful man with a long and varied career. He is buried in the Masonic Cemetery in Brackettville.
John Lapham Bullis commanded the scouts until 1881. When he left the citizens of West Texas joined together to thank him for his role in protecting them against Indian attacks. They awarded him two ceremonial swords, along with the title "Friend of the Frontier". The Texas legislature passed a resolution thanking him for his "gallant and efficient services" He died in 1911, a wealthy and respected man, promoted by Teddy Roosevelt to Brigadier General on merit alone.
The Seminole Negro Indian Scouts were disbanded in 1914, and all but a few of the scouts families were thrown off the military reservation to fend for themselves. Neither the scouts nor their descendants ever received the land or supplies that were promised them. Nor was their essential role in ending the Indian raids ever acknowledged.
The descendants of the scouts are now scattered throughout the U.S., but every September they come together at the Seminole Negro Indian Scout Cemetery in Brackettville, Texas to celebrate Seminole Days and to remember with pride the achievements of their ancestors, the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.
**Special thanks to William "Dub" Warrior for information on Adam Paine's Mexican last name, ?Isaac Payne's burial place, and "Watch Night".
BLACK SEMINOLES - A HISTORICAL OVERVIEW
Katarina Wittich is a native New Yorker now living in Hollywood, where they make movies about the "Wild West". She graduated Cum Laude from Yale University ?and earned her MFA from New York University Graduate School of Film and Television. After many years as a First Assistant Director she has now begun to concentrate on writing and directing her own projects. Her professional directing debut was an episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE based on her original story idea. BREAKING & ENTERING, her feature adaptation of the acclaimed novel by Joy Williams, is currently in development.
In 1997 she accidentally came across the story of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts. The tale of this courageous and unique people and their search for a home resonated deeply for her. It seemed a terrible loss that it had never been shown on screen. ?After several years of research she is now writing a fictional screenplay based on their history. She would like to take this opportunity to thank the members of the Black Seminole community who have been so generous with their history and with their time, in particular: William and Ethel Warrior, Izola Raspberry, Joni M. Jordan, Alice Fay Lozano, and Gertrudis Factor Vasquez.