a wise old man once said, "always marry a Texas girl. No matter what happens,
she's seen worse." It took only a
few years before a fourth man, Phillip Howard, decided to take a chance on marrying
Sarah. They tied the knot in 1840 and eventually settled in Bosque County. Thirty-six
mostly good years passed before death again ended a marriage for Sarah. This time,
though, she was the one who died -- of natural causes. The year was 1876, making
her about 64 when she left Howard a widower.
Few Texas women ever saw any worse than Sarah Creath
McSherry Hibbens Stinnett Howard. A woman with true grit, the way she came by
her long name is one of Texas' more gripping tales.
She was born Sarah
Creath around 1812 in Jackson County, Ill. Described as "a beautiful blonde...graceful
in manner and pure of heart," as a teenager Sarah married John McSherry. Not much
is known about the young couple's life in Illinois, but in 1828 they came to Texas
and settled in Green DeWitt's colony along the Guadalupe River.
writer later put it, "They were happily devoted to each other." A year later,
they had a son. Around noon one day, McSherry grabbed a bucket and walked to a
nearby spring for water. Hearing her husband screaming, Sarah opened their cabin
door in time to see him killed and scalped by Indians.
She ran back
inside with her baby, barred the door and prepared to use her husband's rifle
to drive off the Indians. For some reason, the Indians opted not to attack and
left. A neighbor happened by that night and took the young widow to safety.
Sarah and her little boy lived with the Andrew Lockhart family for a time
before she found a new husband, John Hibbens. In the summer of 1835, Sarah --
who by now had a child by Hibbens -- traveled with her two children to Illinois
for a family visit.
When she returned to Texas early in 1836, accompanied
by her only brother, Hibbens met them with an ox cart at Columbia, not far up
the Brazos from the coast. The reunited couple, their children and George Creath
began the trek back to the Guadalupe Valley. Fifteen miles from their home place,
in present Lavaca County, Comanches attacked. The Indians killed Hibbens and Creath
and took Sarah and her two children captive.
Riding northwest, the raiders
headed toward the Plains with their captives. The second day out, tiring of Sarah's
crying infant, they killed it by smashing its head against a tree.
were in what is now Travis County when a strong norther blew in. The Indians made
camp on the south side of a cedar brake to wait out the harsh weather. On the
third night at this camp, Sarah lay awake as her captors slept. Knowing she could
not travel with her son, she made the excruciatingly hard decision to leave him
behind while she went for help. Wrapping him in a buffalo robe, she slipped into
the cold darkness.
Late the following day, a company of Texas Rangers
were sitting around their fire about to eat their supper when a nearly nude, bleeding
and bruised woman staggered into their camp. After hearing Sarah's story, the
men saddled up immediately to take up the trail after the Indians. The next day,
after a hard ride and a harder fight, they succeeded in rescuing the child.
That summer, the twice-widowed Sarah married again, this time in Washington
County. Her new husband was a former neighbor, Claiborne Stinnett. Later elected
sheriff of Gonzales County, Stinnett was murdered a short time later by two runaway
slaves who then fled to Mexico.
Only 25, Sarah had outlived three husbands,
her only brother and one of her children, all of them having died violently.
had lived in Texas for nearly half a century, but not long enough to see the end
of the Indian wars in her adopted state. But the long conflict was nearly over.
Rangers tangled with Comanches for the last time in 1878, and in January 1881,
Texans had their final fight with the Apaches in far West Texas.
last husband, about her age, eventually married a woman named Rebecca. About seven
years younger than her new husband, she and Howard were together until his death
on Jan. 6, 1894. His family buried him in the Meridian Cemetery, where, only a
little more than a month later, Rebecca joined him in a state more enduring than
If Sarah is buried in Bosque County, her tombstone
either has been lost or the devoted genealogists and grassroots historians who
have recorded most of the inscriptions in the county's 126 cemeteries somehow
have missed her. She needs to be found and a historical marker placed at her grave.
Maybe Thomas Rusk, once the Republic of Texas' Secretary of War, had Sarah's
trying life in mind when he said:
"The men of Texas deserved much credit,
but more was due the women. Armed men facing a foe could not but be brave; but
the women, with their little children around them, without means of defense or
power to resist, faced danger and death with unflinching courage." No Texas woman
ever had a better claim than Sarah Creath McSherry Hibbens Stinnett Howard of
being one tough grandma.
© Mike Cox