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  • Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

    Sarah’s Story

    by Mike Cox
    Mike Cox

    Few Texas women ever lived a harder life than Sarah Creath McSherry Hibbens Stinnett Howard. A lady with true grit and more, the way she came by her long name is one of Texas’ more gripping tales.

    Born Sarah Creath on Jan. 7, 1810 in Jackson County, Ill. , she grew up on her prosperous family’s large plantation.

    Described as “a beautiful blonde...graceful in manner and pure of heart,” at only 17 Sarah married John McSherry, a hard-working Irishman. In 1828, they came to Texas and settled in Green DeWitt’s colony along the Guadalupe River.

    McSherry built a log cabin on Little Carlisle Creek, about two hundred yards from a good spring. As one writer later put it, “They were happily devoted to each other.” In 1833 Sarah’s gave birth to her first son on her 23rd birthday.

    Around noon one day, McSherry grabbed a water bucket and walked to the spring. A few moments later, Sarah heard her husband scream. Holding her baby, she opened their cabin door and ventured outside just far enough to see Indian attacking McSherry. As she looked on in horror, they killed and scalped him.

    Running back inside, she barred the door and stood ready with her husband’s rifle, prepared to drive off the Indians. Luckily, the Indians opted to leave. A neighbor happened by later that night and took the young widow and her child to safety.

    Sarah and her little boy lived with Andrew Lockhart and his 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 to visit family.

    She returned to Texas early in 1836, accompanied by her only brother, George. Hibbens met them with an ox cart at Columbia, not far up the Brazos from the coast, and the five of them began their trek back to the Guadalupe Valley. Fifteen miles from the Hibbens home, 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 High Plains with their captives. The second day, tiring of Sarah’s crying infant, the Indians smashed the baby’s head against a tree.

    Not long after they reached present Travis County, a strong norther hit. The Indians made camp on the south side of a cedar brake to wait out the harsh weather. On the third night, her captors asleep, Sarah lay awake thinking about escape. 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 away into the cold darkness.

    Late the following day, a company of Texas Rangers sat around their fire about to eat their supper when a nearly nude, bleeding and bruised woman staggered into camp. After hearing Sarah’s story, the men left Sarah with a family who lived nearby, saddled up and rode in pursuit of the Indians. The next day, after a hard ride and a harder fight with the Indians, the rangers succeeded in rescuing the child Sarah had left behind.

    That summer, the twice-widowed Sarah married again, this time taking former neighbor Claiborne Stinnett as her husband. They moved to Stinnett’s land in Gonzales County, where he later briefly served as sheriff. Two years later, he vanished after leaving on a business trip for Linnville, a community near present Port Lavaca. At first, everyone thought he had met the same fate as Sarah’s first two husbands. But in 1842, four years after Stinnett’s disappearance, two runaway slaves found in Mexico confessed that they had robbed and killed him and described where his remains could be found.

    Only 25, Sarah had outlived three husbands, her only brother and one of her children, all having died violently.

    It took only a short time before a fourth man, a twenty-five-year-old Kentuckian named Phillip Howard, decided to take a chance on marrying Sarah. The couple tied the knot in May 1839 and eventually settled in Bosque County. Thirty-one mostly good years passed before she died of natural causes in 1870.

    Sarah’s last husband eventually married a woman named Rebecca. About seven years younger than her new husband, she and Howard stayed 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 any marriage.

    Desendants who have delved into Sarah’s story believe she is lies in the old Fort Graham Cemetery near Lake Whitney in Bosque County. A thorough search of the cemetery failed to turn up a tombstone bearing her name, but several of the older graves have illegible markers. One of those could be Sarah’s.

    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.”

    Sarah Creath McSherry Hibbens Stinnett Howard was one tough lady.


    © Mike Cox - March 12, 2013 column
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