Elm Creek Massacre

October 13, 1864 was a key day in the lives of several north Texas families. In a valley known as Elm Creek, located roughly ten miles south of the town of Newcastle in the western part of Young County, several hundred Kiowa and Comanche tribesmen raided several homes. The settlers (some black and some white) had been living there a while and their homes were scattered along Elm Creek.

Some of the men were away and some were in or around the homes. Probably best known was a (possibly former) slave by the name of Britton (Britt) Johnson, who had gone into Weatherford for supplies. His wife Mary and two children were captured and taken away, but their son Jim was killed. Elizabeth FitzPatrick was recently widowed after the murder of her husband Thomas and was living with her daughter Mildred Susanna Durkin and grandson, Elizabeth’s son Jim and Mildred’s two daughters Lottie and Millie Durkin. Of this group, Mildred Susanna Durkin and her infant son were killed, Elizabeth (the grandmother), Lottie and Millie were captured and taken away.

Peter Harmonson and his son Perry fired on but eluded the warriors and survived. Another person by the name of Joel Myers was killed. Dr. Thomas Wilson, Thomas Hamby and son Thornton Hamby were among a group of people who congregated in and around a cabin of George Bragg. Wilson and Bragg were killed but the others appear to have survived after they were aided by a nearby Confederate regiment, part of the Frontier Battalion, some of whom were killed. There were other survivors, including H. W. Williams who gave his account of the raid.

Most of the the individuals who died in the raid, including the warriors, have since been identified by name. There are several differences in the accounts, namely the number of warriors which range from 100 to several hundred. Also, some accounts include Apache warriors in the group of raiders.

Some of the captives died or were killed during their captivity while some were later ransomed and returned to their families. At least one female captive, Millie Durkin, remained and was integrated into the tribal family. Lottie Durkin was ransomed after being held for about nine months. She had been given a blue tattoo of the moon in the middle of her forehead. This tattoo is visible in a photo of her as an adult.

The mother of Lottie and Millie was Mildred Susanna Durkin who had married Owen Durkin. Owen was originally born in Ireland and appears to have been a soldier in the United States Army at Fort Belknap until his death. The information is somewhat sketchy, but Owen is thought to have been murdered by other U. S. Army soldiers in 1859, the year that Lottie (Charlotte Elizabeth Susannah) Durkin was born. The identity of the father or fathers of Millie (Mildred Jane) Durkin born in 1862, and Joe (Owen Joseph) Durkin born in 1864 is unknown. So, if Owen was Lottie’s father and he died in 1859, Lottie, Millie and Joe were half siblings.

Lottie was ransomed several months later in 1865 at Camp Napoleon near Verden, Oklahoma. Years after she was recovered, she married David Henry Barker at Fort Griffin in 1874. Barker was said to be a lawman by profession. The couple had at least six children, four of whom lived to adulthood. Lottie is believed to have died in 1887 while the family was living in Tascosa, Oldham County, Texas. The comment is made of Lottie that she never gave up hope of being reunited with Millie. An unnamed son reportedly died of cholera at the age of about one month in the late summer of 1887 and Lottie followed him in death that same day. She is buried in Casimiro Romero Cemetery in Oldham County. Lottie’s husband David Barker died in 1890 while residing in Colfax County, New Mexico and is buried there.

A newspaper article in the October 5, 1930 issue of the Wichita Daily Times, Wichita Falls, Texas told the story of Millie Durkin (spelled Durgan in the article). Millie was described as “a nursing child in arms” in 1864. Earlier in the year 1930, in May at the dedication of an Oklahoma monument honoring Quanah Parker, a member of a Kiowa family was speaking with the group and a female member revealed that her mother was white, a former captive, and that they desired to reconnect with her white relatives, if possible. Weeks of discussion led to the revelation that the mother was Millie Durkin who authorities had earlier been told had died in a Kiowa camp.

The article continued to recount that Millie had no recollection of her life before the battle but that she had been told the story by her Kiowa foster father, Chief Aperian Crow. The chief was able to keep Millie’s presence and identity secret despite visits and inquiries after her and other captives by telling the visitors that Millie had died.

Millie Durkin, 1930 – Image credit: Wichita Daily Times (Wichita Falls, Texas) October 5, 1930

Millie lived with the tribe for about seventy years and by every account, she was well treated and beloved. By the time of this 1930 event, her grandmother, Elizabeth FitzPatrick, had long since passed away. Her sister Lottie had been recovered, had married and settled in Texas and had a family. However, by then, Lottie too had passed away along with two of her children. Lottie’s husband David Barker had died as well, but some of the other Barker children were still living.

In an article on the Lawton Constitution, Lawton, Oklahoma, in its March 25, 1960 issue, Millie’s son in law George Hunt was very helpful in relating Millie’s story. Millie had been given the name Sain-to-oodie and had married a Kiowa man by the name of Joe Goombi (her second husband) with whom she had a number of children, including Lillian, the wife of George Hunt. The article related that the historical account that she had been given matched that of an elderly man named Billy Ratliff and that in a book written by Lawton historian and city councilman Hugh D. Corwin.

Beginning in 1930, efforts were underway to reunite the Kiowa and Anglo families, but it is unknown if that was ever accomplished prior to Millie’s death. Millie died in early January, 1934 and is interred at Rainy Mountain Cemetery at Mountain View, Kiowa County, Oklahoma.

The John Ford film “The Searchers” is said to have been largely based on the life and experiences of Millie Durkin. The screenplay was adapted from a novel by Alan LeMay. LeMay is said to have researched 64 captive accounts while writing his novel, including the earlier and perhaps more familiar 1836 abduction of Cynthia Parker. The film was released in 1956 and Millie’s story would have been public by then. No single captive account exactly matches the story of the novel or the film but “The Searchers” is considered to be one of the greatest films of the western genre.

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