Seth Carey
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SETH CAREY'S ESCAPE FROM THE MURDEROUS YOCUM GANG

By W. T. Block

Reprinted from "Escape From Murderous Yocum Gang Recalled," Beaumont Enterprise, December 25, 1977.
The principal source of Seth Carey's life was his own memoirs, titled "A Tale of A Texas Veteran," published in Galveston Daily News of Sept. 21, 1879, which is reprinted verbatim in W. T. Block, "Emerald of The Neches: The Chronicles of Beaumont, Texas etc.," pp. 158-163 at Tyrrell Historical Library. From about 1845 until 1880, Seth Carey and his wife farmed, and raised livestock near the mouth of Cedar Bayou in Harris Co. In 1859 he was also running a 20 hp. circular sawmill there, that cut 5,400 cedar and cypress logs into 1,878,000 feet of lumber, worth $28,000. See 1860 Harris Co. Sched. V, Products of Industry - on microfilm.

Parts of this story will coincide with another named "Yocum's Inn: The Devil's Own Lodging House." However, Seth Carey's encounter with the Yocum murderers is so unique a tale of frontier violence that it deserves retelling as a separate story. The main source is Carey's own long memoirs in the Galveston Daily News of Sept. 21, 1879.

If old Seth Carey looked back on any portion of his life with something less than nostalgic feeling, it was during the year 1841 when he fell into the clutches of the notorious Thomas D. Yocum gang of Pine Island, Jefferson County, Texas.

Just another fly caught up in Yocum's web of murder and intrigue, Carey not only survived his slated assassination and dismemberment in Yocum's alligator slough, but he lived instead to finger the gang and account for its destruction. It was an episode, however, that he was always reluctant to discuss and one that "cost him in one way or another at least $5,000."

When Carey told his life story to a newspaperman in 1879, he was already in the 73rd year of his life, silver-haired and partially bald. Small of stature, he had already lived most of his life as a farmer and livestock herdsman near Cedar Bayou in Harris County. His looks and gentle demeanor would wholly camouflage the fact that he had once killed a man and had participated in some of the most violent moments in the history of early-day Texas.

Born in Vermont in 1806, Capt. Carey had migrated at an early age to Boston, and later to New Orleans, where for several months he was employed as a laborer on the waterfront. It was early October of 1835 that the first news from the Mexican province of Texas heralded the impending revolt against the Mexican oppressor and begged for volunteers and supplies sufficient to guarantee its success.

Everywhere in the saloons and coffee houses, there were speakers and solicitors for the Texas cause, and when Captain William G. Cooke approached Carey about joining the Texas-bound "New Orleans Grays," the young New Englander enlisted.

The "Grays" traveled first by steamboat to Natchitoches, La., overland from there to Pendleton Ferry on the Sabine River, and thence to Nacogdoches, Texas, where they were royally welcomed. At Nacogdoches, the citizens outfitted them with muskets, ammunition, and Bowie knives before the "Grays" departed en route to San Antonio. Upon nearing that Mexican stronghold, they then joined the main force of Col. Ben Milam's command, and on Dec. 7, 1835, helped storm the citadel known as the Alamo and wrest it from Mexican control. When Gen. Perfecto de Cos surrendered the city, and later he and his army were allowed to retreat toward the Rio Grande River, the Texans hailed the success of their revolution and considered it as already ended. Unknown to them at that moment, Mexican Generals Santa Ana and Urrea were advancing on the Rio Grande with a large army of the enemy.

The "Grays" were then transferred to Col. James Fannin's command at Goliad, and except for a quirk of fate, Carey's bones, because of the Goliad Massacre, might have been left to bleach on the prairie there as were those of most of his comrades in the "Grays." But before leaving New Orleans, he and a friend named Moser had shipped a trunk via schooner to Brazoria, Texas, and they were granted furloughs to go there and recover it.

While en route, Carey was stricken with the first attack of a recurring malady, probably malarial fever, that for the next three years was to leave him often upon the threshold of death, and Moser left him to recuperate at the log cabin of a Captain Hatch. In the meantime, the Alamo and Goliad fell to the Mexican armies, and after his initial recovery, Carey and Hatch rode on horseback to Harrisburg, seeking the main body of the Texas troops. After joining General Sam Houston's army, he suffered a relapse of fever, and was placed aboard the wagon of a refugee fleeing in the Runaway Scrape toward Louisiana.

At Beaumont, Carey was left in the custody of an old ferryman named Joel Lewis, who sooned nursed him back to health. Later, when a small company was mustered at Beaumont for Indian service on the western frontier, he enlisted again, but upon reaching Lynchburg the malady struck him for the third and last time. For most of the next eighteen months he remained bedfast and a virtual invalid, at first in the care of Dr. Harvey Whiting, and later on Cedar Bayou at the residence of an old man named Benjamin Page, whom Carey had known before he left Boston.

By the time he recovered from his last and worst attack of malaria, he had been in the Page home for fourteen months and had become an adopted member of the family. Page had already exacted a promise from Carey that the latter would marry the old man's only child, a 13-year-old daughter, when she reached her sixteenth birthday. That union would bring to him the title of Page's league of 4,428 acres received from the Mexican government. But shortly after his recovery, Carey took complete possession of the place anyway, tending its cattle herds and supervising the cotton fields, because Page had grown too infirm and feeble to do so himself.

Carey received a 640-acre bounty grant from the Republic of Texas and a 1,200-acre land certificate from his county's Board of Land Commissioners, which he soon located on unclaimed public domain adjacent to Cedar Bayou. And in 1838, he acquired valuable business property near the waterfront in Galveston. By 1840, he had channeled about $4,000 of his own wealth into improvements on the Page place, knowing that the title to the league of land would soon be his.

By 1839, Carey's troubles with a neighbor named Whitney Brittain had already begun. The initial outburst resulted from a quarrel over a dog, but long before and without his knowledge, he had already become the victim of Britton's intense jealousy, hate, and violent temper.

Originally, Brittain had accompanied the Page family from Boston to Texas, built his cabin on neighboring property, and enjoyed the same position in the Page household that Carey would later assume. And as Carey's stature in Page's affections increased, Brittain's resentment and hate mounted in like proportion until he used every means short of murder to vent his spite.

Soon transferring his enmity entirely from Page to Carey, Brittain, so the old veteran noted, "shot his cattle, girdled his peach trees, turned over his windmill, injured his cart, and threatened and annoyed him in every way." On one occasion Brittain chased him with a cow whip at a time when he was unarmed and unable to resist. He added that he would have killed Brittain then and there if he had had any weapon, but he had neither owned nor carried a gun since his days in the Texas Army. Many neighbors, including the former Col. Moseley Baker, told Carey that Brittain had insulted him publicly in the town of Lynchburg and even threatened to kill Carey. Brittain warned that such indignities would end only when Carey acquired a will to resist. In desperation, Carey went to Houston and bought a gun, and even the justice of the peace assured Carey that if Brittain's death occurred at his hand, the killing could amount to no more than a justifiable homicide.

Early in 1841, Carey accompanied Dr. Whiting to the home of a Col. Turner to deliver some medicine. On the way, the doctor admonished him that Brittain needed no additional pretext for murder than to find Carey carrying a pistol. They arrived at Turner's place just as the colonel, in company with Brittain, rode up at the gate. The latter immediately launched "a tirade of abuse and threats against Carey," who in turn drew his gun, killing Brittain instantly.

The latter's death produced no tears in the Lynchburg vicinity, and a magistrate, to whom Carey had surrendered, scoffed at any thought of an arrest or trial, adding that the defendant had been provoked beyond human endurance and had rid the county of a violent and troublesome man. But within days, the same voices that had condoned the action before the event soon warned that public indignation over the killing was rising rapidly. Some suggested that Carey should abandon the country permanently, and a few offered to buy his property at a paltry fraction of its actual worth.

The warnings notwithstanding, Carey decided to give himself up for trial in Houston, and while on his way there, he stopped at Nimrod Hunt's place on Buffalo Bayou. Hunt offered to go to Houston and ascertain the true temper of the people, and after his return, he warned that the only justice that Carey could expect would be the lower end of Judge Lynch's rope. With a power-of-attorney received from Carey, Hunt went to Galveston to raise cash on the defendant's property there. And later, Hunt gave $100 in Texas currency (worth only $25 U. S.) to the fugitive, although Hunt had raised $300 in gold coin for the property.

Earlier, Hunt had told Carey of a place on Pine Island Bayou called Yocum's Inn. Located on the old Opelousas cattle trail northwest of Beaumont, it was a hideaway where on outlaw might purchase asylum for a price. In desperation, Carey gathered up what cash and valuables he had, along with his gun and a gold watch, and in the middle of the night, he saddled a mule and started eastward toward the Neches River. Finally, he arrived at the Beaumont cabin of David Cole, who was married to Yocum's daughter, Sydna Lou, and Cole agreed to accompany Carey to his father-in-law's estate.

The trail from Beaumont led through some of the prettiest pine and hardwood forests in North America. Blackberry vines and dogwoods were in full blossom, and here and there a raucous bluejay or redbird flitted through the branches. After a few hours' ride, the pair arrived at a large log house, nestled within the shadowy perimeter of a pine barren. A painted board across the front bore the crude notation "Pine Island Post Office." Nearby was a long barn, built of rough hewn logs, which also served as one side of a rail-fenced corral and a couple of slave cabins. As they approached, the bearded, old Tom Yocum could be seen in the doorway, conversing in an undertone with a stranger, whom Carey recognized immediately as William H. Irion. Irion's exact connection with the Yocum gang has never been firmly established. Perhaps he was deeply implicated; if not, he was at least an esteemed friend of Yocum's, one who was fully conscious, as he later admitted, of the murderous activities which were being conducted on the premises.

Carey had met Irion the first time at Joel Lewis' ferry near Beaumont during the Runaway Scrape of 1836, and afterward had encountered Irion on two or three occasions in Houston. Despite the latter's association with Yocum, Irion was a respected Beaumonter in the early days. In 1838, Beaumont's proprietors had contracted with him to build a steam sawmill, which never materialized, on the townsite's "Steam Mill Square." When Irion died almost simultaneously with Yocum in September 1841, the Houston "Telegraph and Texas Register" quickly heralded both deaths as resulting from vigilante violence (which was a falsehood) directed at the gang of murderers. But Rep. George A. Pattillo of Jefferson County, upon arriving at Houston the following month, declared that Irion's death at Beaumont had stemmed from natural causes, whereas Yocum had been lynched in another county.

Carey found old Yocum to be a genial host, somewhat talkative about the political affairs of the day, and he soon paid the innkeeper for a month's lodging. He was assigned to a bunk in the large , single-room attic of the log house. On several occasions, he shared his quarters with the dusty cattle drovers who stopped by for a place to sleep and a piping-hot meal, served by an elderly black woman.

Once a week, the mail rider passed through, traveling west, and Carey was pleased that he could communicate with the Page family if the occasion to do so arose. And perhaps with luck and the passage of time, the public indignation over Brittain's killing might subside and he might even return to Cedar Bayou.

Carey told Yocum the full extent of his troubles with the law and was assured of concealment from it. But the old robber baron warned him to avoid any movements far from the house or trips to Beaumont, where he might be recognized. And especially, he was not to mail any communication to Page which might fall into the hands of the Harris County sheriff. Yocum introduced to Carey a young man. named Jeremiah "Bud" McClusky, whom, he said, was his most trusted employee and who would gladly ride to Cedar Bayou for him if such a trip were required.

During the next two months, McClusky made three trips to the Page home, carrying letters from Carey, but on his return, he always reported that Page was too sick to write, and had forwarded no message, and the clamor for Carey's arrest and conviction had not subsided. Later, Carey learned that the Pages had always sent him money, clothing, and letters, but none of the items they sent were ever given to him by McClusky.

Irion came to Yocum's Inn once or twice each week, and Yocum assured the fugitive that neither McClusky nor Irion would ever betray him. Carey wandered at first only as far as the corral to tend his mule, but as time passed, he occasionally went for short strolls in the nearby forest. Sometimes he chatted with some of Yocum's slaves, one of whom was a 19-year-old Mulatto named Job, a stock-minder, whose mother had been Yocum's cook since long before his birth.

Once, when Carey heard cattle lowing, Job took him down a wooded trail to the stock pens, where a number of steers had just been sold to a cattle drover and would soon begin the long trek to New Orleans. There he met a red-haired stock-keeper, Ezekial Higdon, who oversaw Yocum's large herd of cattle and horses and lived in a rude cabin nearby with his wife. Higdon also enjoyed a wide reputation in the area as a "broncobuster" and horse racer.

Yocum's two older sons were usually gone and reputedly spent much of their time in Beaumont, where one of them, Chris, lived with his young bride. Two smaller children often played about the yard, but Yocum's wife was rarely seen outside of the house except when she rode her elegant carriage to Beaumont. A couple of men, "Boozer" and "Wes," were introduced to Carey as being among Yocum's most trusted employees, but no surnames were mentioned, a rather common occurrence on a frontier where outlaws abounded.

The more sinister aspects of Yocum's Inn, however, were transmitted to Carey by the young slave, after the former had gained Job's confidence. Nearly all of the tales, among them Yocum's earlier association with the notorious John A. Murrell gang of robbers along the Natchez Trace and Yocum's horse and slave-stealing escapades in the Neutral Strip, had been passed along to Job by his mother.

A few decades earlier, before Yocum had fled from law enforcement in Mississippi, it was said that an aged veteran of the American Revolution had lived with him, having deeded to Yocum all of his bounty lands in exchange for care, board, and lodging until his death. The old soldier imbibed quite freely, however, and often "slept off the fumes" on a pallet in front of the fire place. One day when the old man was drunk and Yocum was molding musket balls from molten lead, the innkeeper stuck a small funnel into the old man's ear and filled his head with boiling lead, which brought on instantaneous death.

Other tales recounted by the young slave mentioned the thoroughbred horses in Yocum's stable, whose owners, usually cattlemen returning from New Orleans with fat money belts, had ridden them to the Inn in search of food and a night's lodging. The next day, the horses were seen running loose in the corral or pasture, but the owners were never seen again. And a gray mare with two white stocking feet, which Carey had seen in the stock pens, certainly answered the description of a missing Liberty County cattleman. On one occasion, Job said that he had seen two huge alligators in Yocum's slough devouring the body of a man, and elsewhere, the bones of other victims were reported as scattered about the nearby thickets.

After a few weeks, Carey despaired of ever returning to Cedar Bayou, and decided to sell his property to Yocum, if an agreement could be reached. He would then escape to Louisiana, and Yocum readily agreed, offering to compensate the fugitive partly in gold, partly in slaves, and the remainder to be several heads of horses. But first, Yocum told him, he would have to see the Cedar Bayou property himself, and determine if the title were clear and transferable. Carey then executed a power-of-attorney so Page could transfer the property, and as the innkeeper prepared to ride westward, he warned the fugitive again to remain close to the attic and not show his face outside if strangers appeared at the Inn.

After Yocum left, Carey decided to walk through the woods to the stock pens where Higdon lived, and along the way he ran into W. H. Irion, whom Carey tended to trust because of their previous acquaintance. He told Irion the complete story of the Brittain killing, his agreement to sell Yocum his property and his plan to flee to Louisiana. Irion feigned great astonishment, but with a selfsame frankness, he told Carey that more than likely the latter would be murdered as soon as Yocum returned. Irion then recounted a few of the murder episodes that had transpired at the Inn, and readily admitted his own involvement in some of McClusky's and Yocum's machinations, which had ended short of murder.

Carey asked Irion to ride hurriedly to Cedar Bayou with a letter for Benjamin Page in order to try to stop the transfer of Carey's property before it was too late. Irion replied that he couldn't because he had no money for the trip, but that Carey should not worry -- that Irion would not stand by and permit Yocum to kill him. Carey, however, pressed his desire, offering Irion his expensive pistol and gold watch to finance the trip, and the latter finally agreed. Carey then penned a brief note to Page, and Irion rode away with the gun, watch, and letter, exclaiming as he dug in his spurs, "I'll defeat old Yocum this time, damn 'im!"

Instead, the scheming Irion rode straight to Yocum's house and gave the letter to the innkeeper's wife. Then he left for Beaumont to sell the watch and pistol and pocket the proceeds. As of that moment, Carey felt that he could no longer wager his life by spending another night in the attic of Yocum's Inn. While the innkeeper was away, he would slip out of the house each day after dark and spend his nights hidden away in the hayloft of the barn. The next Saturday, the same day that Yocum returned, Carey left at daylight for Zeke Higdon's cabin, only to learn that the stock-keeper and his wife planned to spend the day grinding corn at Yocum's mill. Carey later hid out in the woods near the trail, and as sunset approached, he saw the Higdons returning with a cartload of corn meal.

As the fugitive pondered his plight, he considered for the first time the feasibility of returning to Harris County and face the legal music there rather than fleeing to Louisiana without any money. Beset with fright and unaware that Yocum had already returned, Carey began pleading for Higdon to help him in his flight, adding that he already knew a plot to murder him existed. At first Higdon scoffed at the idea, but later, as they approached the latter's cabin, Higdon grew strangely silent and appeared depressed. Later he asked Carey to remain outside while he and his wife discussed a matter of importance in the privacy of their home. While Carey waited, their muffled but upraised voices were sometimes audible through the log crevices, but always their subject of conversation remained a mystery. Finally Mrs. Higdon opened the door and invited Carey inside.

At a glance he could tell that Higdon had been crying. For a second time, Carey inquired about the cause of Higdon's depression, but received no answer, the latter only turning and staring blankly at the wall. At last his wife intervened, "Come on out with it, Zeke! It's Carey's life that's at stake so tell him!"

Higdon commenced in a slow and unsteady voice, remarking first that Yocum was already back from Cedar Bayou with the title to Carey's property, but for payment the old robber planned to substitute murder for the gold, slaves, and horses he had originally promised.

"My life and yours are both at stake if I back down, Carey," he said, "but I ain't no Judas hunting thirty pieces of silver. Yocum made me promise to take you tomorrow morning to a swamp, about seven miles from here, under the pretense of hunting the mule you have running loose. He, his son Chris, and Bud McClusky will be waiting there. If I do not choose to see you murdered, I am to pretend to see a deer and ride away, while they kill you and throw you into the slough with the alligators. My payment for playing Judas is to be your mule, a gun worth about $100, and a good race horse."

Relieved that he had finally found some one he could trust, Carey proffered a solution that he thought might get Higdon temporarily off the hook. Unknown to either Yocum or Higdon, Carey's mule was in the nearby woods, hobbled and grazing, for he long foreseen the possible need for a quick getaway. And about four miles south of stock pens, there lived an old farmer, named E. C. Harris, who raised and cured tobacco, and Carey had already visited him on two occasions to buy the fuel for his habit.

"Early in the morning," Carey suggested, "tell Yocum that I left before daylight to buy smokes at old Harris' place, but will be back by 10 o'clock, and we'll go looking for the mule then. He'll believe that 'cause he knows I'm a slave to tobacco. I'll leave my coat and knife at your place and that oughta convince him that I'll be back."

" Where are you going?" Higdon inquired.

"I guess back to Cedar Bayou and face up to the law. There's plenty witnesses for my defense and maybe I can get a fair trial."

He then shook hands with Higdon and retreated to the woods to find his mule, fully-prepared to rise before daylight and follow the westbound sun toward Cedar Bayou. Along the way he planned to stop off at the residence of a certain Liberty County rancher and tell him where he could find his missing brother's mare with the stocking feet.

As directed, Higdon also rose early the next day, and he and his wife rode through the woods to Yocum's Inn. Old Yocum, his son Chris, and Bud McClusky, each of them heavily armed, stood by the rail fence of the corral as they talked. When Higdon drove up, Yocum demanded in an upraised voice, "Where's Carey, and when are you two heading for the thicket?"

"In two or three hours. Carey left early to go to old Harris' place for smokes, but he'll be back by ten."

"You didn't follow my order!" old Yocum retorted.

"Don't fret over it!" Higdon replied, noting the old killer's piercing eyes and stern facial expression." Carey'll be back soon, and your plan will still carry through. Why, he even left his coat and knife at my place, and you know he wouldn't leave without those. Ask my wife if you don't believe me!"

Old Yocum then glanced at the young woman and seemed convinced after her affirmative nod. "Never mind!" he answered, "I'll change the plan, but you shore cheated yourself out of a fine mule, a gun, and a fast stallion."

He then turned to his son, Chris, and Bud McClusky and directed them to hide out along the trail south of the stock pens. When they sighted Carey, they were to shoot him immediately and haul the body away to the alligator slough. After Zeke and Tabitha Higdon returned to their cabin, they hastily loaded their sparse possessions on the mule cart and lit out toward the west, avoiding the south trail where the killers would be hidden.

In the meantime, Carey arrived in Liberty County and told the rancher about the murder outpost on Pine Island Bayou, spicing his story in places with details about the alligator slough and the skeletons that lay scattered throughout the thickets. And as he rode on, the cattleman began rounding up a posse of friends, a band of vigilantes that eventually would reach 150 men in size. After arriving at the Page residence on Cedar Bayou, Carey surrendered to Judge Moreland, who bound him over, on a $500 bond signed by Page and Dr. Whiting, to the next session of the district court. And later, after a dozen witnesses appeared in his defense, he won a rather easy acquittal based on his justifiable homicide plea.

After the trial, he hurried back to Beaumont and having located Zeke Higdon, who accompanied him back as a witness, Carey appeared before Sheriff Robert West to state his complaint against Yocum and seek the return of his swindled property. But he soon learned that the infamous inn and its outbuildings had already been burned by the 150-man posse of Regulators, led by the Liberty County rancher.

Forewarned in some manner, Yocum's gang of cutthroats had scattered in all directions, and his wife, children, and slaves had been driven from Jefferson County. Some days later, after the old murderer had been tracked to the cabin of a relative on Spring Creek in Montgomery County, the posse dispatched old Yocum to the lower regions with five bullets through the heart.

Bud McClusky escaped to the Neches River bottomlands, and when last reported, he was recognized as he rode across Calcasieu Parish, La., on horseback. And a few weeks later, Chris Yocum was found hanging one morning from an oak limb on the courthouse lawn in Beaumont. As an added token of affection, his vigilante executioners had driven a 10-penny nail into the base of his skull. While lynch justice was usually regrettable and always illegal, somehow it seemed a fitting end for the murderous villains who had brought so much grief to so many trusting patrons.

Frontier intrigue and derring-do passed from Seth Carey's life after 1841. As he had promised old Page, Carey married the daughter on her sixteenth birthday, and later the couple reared a large family on Cedar Bayou. Except for a couple short periods of residence elsewhere, he spent his surviving years tending to his cattle herds and cotton fields on the bayou, and running his sawmill. Long a prosperous farmer, Seth Carey died, nearing his eightieth birthday, still delighted that Providence had seen fit to deliver him from the clutches of the infamous Yocum gang of assassins on Pine Island Bayou.

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