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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Forgotten Tales of Sugar Loaf

by Clay Coppedge

The community of Sugar Loaf in Coryell County lasted from 1852 to 1942. Today it's part of the "impact zone" at Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the world. But it was a dangerous place in the 1850s too.

Sugar Loaf started out as a dot on a non-existent map, a settlement more than a community. The community was named for a bald, volcano-shaped mini-mountain because pioneers thought it resembled a well-known candy of the day called Sugar Loaf. We don't know what the native tribes called it, but they had been there for a long time and in good numbers. Archaeological excavations on Fort Hood in the 1970s found at least 900 permanent Indian settlements in the area around the mountain.

John and Jane Riggs and their four children were among the first white settlers at Sugar Loaf when Central Texas was mostly wilderness and still home to many of the native tribes, most notably the Comanches. Sugar Loaf was the site of one of the last massacres in the area attributed (at first) to the Comanches.

It happened in March of 1859 when a band of marauders slipped into the area and killed a man named Young Pierce, who was cutting wood in a cedar break. Then they went after John Riggs and a boy named Thomas Elms. They stripped Elms of his clothes and whipped him with quirts but left when they saw Riggs getting away. Riggs made it back to the house before the attackers caught up with him.

One of the family's two daughters, Margaret, who was about eight at the time, later wrote about the incident and described what happened next. "After murdering my poor father and mother and leaving little brother crawling about in the blood, the Indians placed sister and myself behind them on the horses and carried us back to the house, which they plundered."

The villains then headed toward Comanche Gap, in what is now Harker Heights, stopping to kill a lone traveler along the way, stealing more than 50 horses, and tossing Margaret back and forth from one horse to another. After they spied what Margaret called "cow hunters" they dropped her and took off in pursuit. Margaret hurt her hip in the fall but survived. Rhoda managed to grab hold of a tree and pull herself off the horse she was riding. Their captors let both girls go.

Margaret claimed to have recognized one of the "Comanches" as a red-haired white man named Page. According to George Tyler's history of Bell County, the locals hung him and two other nameless accomplices. All four Riggs children lived well into adulthood.

So did Sugar Loaf. The community had churches, schools, a post office, a blacksmith shop, and a store. But in 1882 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe line bypassed the community and many residents moved from there to the new town of Killeen, which had the good geographic fortune of being on the rail line.

Local historians refer to Sugar Loaf as the cradle of Killeen because many of the people who made the move in 1882 turned out to be among the new city's first citizens.

Sugar Loaf barely held on until 1942, when the U.S. government took the land for Fort Hood. The Sugar Loaf cemetery was moved to Killeen, which includes the final resting place of John and Jane Riggs. It's also the final resting place for Sarah Scroggin, who was 103 years old when she died in 1882, about the time people started leaving Sugar Loaf. Her tombstone lists her birth and death dates and notes: "Gone To Meet Her Eighteen Children and Three Husbands."

Sarah survived longer than the community where she was buried.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" July 13, 2023 column


Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

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