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Clay Coppedge

Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Legend of
Bosque John

by Clay Coppedge

The Keechi Indians were known to early settlers of Central Texas primarily as thieves, but they could be as ruthless and violent as any other tribe, including the Comanches. They were supposedly at peace with the early white settlers but one group of Keechis didn't get the memo.

This group attacked Laughlin McLennan's home in Falls County in 1835 or 1836, killing Laughlin while he worked in the river bottom splitting rails, then moved on to the house and murdered Laughlin's elderly mother and took his wife Peggy and her three sons captive. On their way out they slaughtered the livestock and set the house ablaze.

Peggy and the youngest son, Daniel, who was four at the time of the attack, died in Keechi captivity. Neal, two years older, was later ransomed off to white people and never heard from again.

The oldest son, John, was somewhere between six and eight years old when the Keechis abducted him. He lived as a member of the tribe for 10 years and reportedly participated in battles and raids against white settlers until the Keechi returned him to Texas society in about 1845. By that time he was a 6-foot-2, 200-pound teenager and very fleet afoot. The Keechi hated to see him go.

"He is one of the best horse thieves we have," Keechi chief Dead Man said. "We will miss him."


The feeling was mutual. It took John a long time to cut his waist-length hair, and he much preferred sleeping outdoors, on the ground. C.F. Locklin, a fellow Texas pioneer, recalled Bosque John in a 1931 Frontier Times story by J. Marvin Hunter. He said that Bosque John "for a time strongly objected to the restraints of life among the whites, sometimes trying to run away to the tribe that had adopted him."

He eventually adjusted to his new circumstances. Neil McLennan, Bosque John's uncle and the man for whom McLennan County is named, took good care of the land holdings of the boy's slain parents,. Those holdings made John a fairly wealthy young man. The real tipping point came when he fell in love with and married "the best looker" in McLennan County, Barilla Reed, in 1850. Though his bride favored the indoor comfort of a soft bed, Bosque John still preferred sleeping outdoors. The couple made it work to the tune of seven children in as many years.

John worked for a time as an interpreter in Indian country, first for U.S. Army and Texas Ranger expeditions, then for the Confederate forces. His reputation as a great horse thief and his command of several Indian dialects made him a great companion if you were a white man heading into Indian country.

By all accounts, Bosque John was a popular figure around the courthouse in Waco and even slept there when he had to be in town overnight. True to his nature, he preferred sleeping outdoors, even at the courthouse. He died in either 1866 or '67 when he fell (or was pushed) from a ledge on the second floor of the courthouse while he slept.

Versions and theories about his death vary from one source to the next. Some say he simply rolled off the ledge in his sleep. Others say he was sleepwalking, or he was robbed and killed for money he had earned interpreting. He was 41 years old.

A dam on the South Bosque River brought the waters up to the McLennan family graveyard in Bosqueville in the early 1930s, but the bodies of Bosque John and the others were moved. The McLennan gravesites are now in the Chapel Hill Memorial Park cemetery in Robinson.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" June 26, 2023 column


Clay Coppedge's "Letters from Central Texas"

  • Texas' Tobacco Road 5-29-23
  • La Menken and the First Horse Opera 4-11-23
  • A Different Kind of Alamo Story 2-18-23
  • Elmer "Pet" Brown: The Idol of His Fans 1-12-23
  • Rattlesnakes, Bandits, and Big Bend's Hot Springs 12-7-22

    more »

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