Early county settlers faced hostile elements, natives

Posted 1/28/20

For those folks who often ask, Madison County was created in 1853 and organized in 1854 from land taken from Grimes, Walker, and Leon Counties. Of course, settlers were here before that.

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Early county settlers faced hostile elements, natives


For those folks who often ask, Madison County was created in 1853 and organized in 1854 from land taken from Grimes, Walker, and Leon Counties. Of course, settlers were here before that.

Much has been said about who supposedly was our first non-native settler. Some sources say Jesse Young, who received a Spanish land grant in 1835 between the Trinity River and La Bahia Road. Others insist that it was Major William Foster Young, who moved to Texas in February of 1835 and settled near present-day Midway. The schoolteacher in me says there were not sign-in sheets so we will never be sure.

Per family accounts in Madison County, Texas, Volume II, Eduardo Arriola (later shortened to Ariola) was a full-blooded Spaniard who came here in the 1820s. Others say 1832 and that he received a Spanish land grant in 1835. He, his wife, Candelaria Simes (sometimes spelled Sims) and their seven children settled on the banks of Black Lake on La Bahia Road (and knowledge of that road is not exact). Their home was on a hill just north of Bedias Creek. More children were born, and in 1833 Candelaria’s brother, Ignacius Simes, moved nearby.

The next year the Antonio Rivers (Rios) family joined the settlers there. Those family histories say they were the first in the area. They banded together and fought the elements and Native Americans to carve an existence in a very hostile land.

There are no records of the final resting place of Eduardo or Candelaria. At least four of their sons are buried at Bethel Cemetery, in Grimes County just south of the Madison County line. One of those, Gregorio “Gray” Ariola (1827-1906), was interviewed by Joe Wren for The Review, a local publication, and an account of the interview was published in September of 1904.

At that time, Gray told that he had been born in San Augustine and brought to this area with his family in 1832. He said he lived here since then except for his eight years as a Texas Ranger under William A.A. “Bigfoot” Wallace and another period as a soldier in the Confederate Army. His stories about his early years here are worth sharing below.

The Ariola, Simes, and Rivers families thought themselves to be the only white settlers from Midway to Old Washington. For their mutual protection against Indians, they built a fort around the Antonio Rivers house by setting logs on end. When they knew hostile natives were near, they all sought protection in that fort.

One time, Indians stole every horse the three families owned, so Gray’s brother Frank walked to San Augustine and bought another that they intended to use in catching wild mustangs.

When he got back, they were determined to keep that horse from the Indians, so one of them would sit up at night to keep the animal safe. One night, Eduardo fell asleep while the horse tied nearby to a porch post. An Indian cut the rope and stole the animal. The next morning, the thief showed off and rode the fine steed in sight of the house, sporting around with other Indians, making the horse rear and jump.

The Waco and the Tehuacau Indians lived high up the Brazos near Waco and proved most dangerous to the settlers. For the most part, closer tribes were friendlier, including the Bedias Indians who lived in a village just a few miles down Bedias Creek at Village Lake. One day, a cow came up for milking with three arrows in her, so young Manual Rivers was sent to call others to the safety of the fort.

One of his young sisters was riding behind a Captain Friar, who was visiting them. Along the way, they passed an Indian leaning against a tree with his gun in his hand but making no move to shoot them. Captain Friar wisely prevented others in the group from shooting that one enemy. The next day they found that there had been ten or more other Indians right there too. If the settlers had chosen to fight, they were outnumbered and would most likely have all been killed.

Gray also told that his father had pointed out the site of a massacre of Mexican soldiers on Bowman Creek, near where Bowman school house later stood and near well-traveled La Bahia Road. When Mexico still controlled Texas -- so before 1936 -- Mexican soldiers were transporting payroll in the form of silver on mules from Mexico City to the garrison at Nacogdoches.

Realizing that an Indian attack was imminent, the soldiers either buried the treasure or sunk it in a creek before they were all massacred. Some stories say three soldiers escaped and came back later to retrieve it, with no luck. People hunted it for years in vain.

When hostilities broke out between Texians and Mexico, travelers going to join the Texian army stopped and rested with the families at Black Lake. On their way to the Alamo, David Crockett and Jim Bowie stopped for water with the Ariola family and proceeded to the Simes family home on the south side of the creek to spend the night.

Gray remembered both of them as riding good horses, Crockett as a tall man dressed in buckskin, and Bowie as not so tall but nicely dressed for those times in “citizens” clothes. General Sam Houston and Thomas J. Rusk (a general at San Jacinto and first Secretary of War for the Republic of Texas) also visited in the area several times.

By the 1840s and early 1850s, lives had settled down enough for entertainment sometimes. Gray and old Joe Larrison (maybe Joel Larrison, 1821-1900) were the only fiddle players in this part of the country. They played for dances all the way from Montgomery to Wheelock in Brazos County.

Eduardo and his children were staunch supporters of Texas Independence, and their names appear on several monuments. In 1836, sons Delores, Francisco (Frank), Juan (John), and Mariano joined one of the first companies of the Texas Mounted Rangers under the command under Captain Elisha Clapp in Mustang Prairie. Eduardo left the family in 1842 and served in the Somervell Expedition intent on invading Mexico to repay Mexico for raiding Texas. In 1856, his wife, Candelaria, received $37.60 from the State of Texas for his service in that campaign. Gray served as one of the original Texas Rangers under Capt. J.B. McCown as well as Bigfoot Wallace.

We owe such folks a great deal for their service and bravery. If anyone has information regarding The Review publication mentioned above, please contact the Museum. We will also treasure other history you might share.

Madison County Museum, at 201 N. Madison St., Madisonville, TX 77864, is open to the public Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. The Museum’s Facebook page is active again after long being dormant. Also, we have new curators, Karen Foster and Sharon Foster. I hope you will go in and visit.