Josiah Wilbarger located his land grant northwest of the town of Bastrop, near grants for Stephen F. Austin and Samuel May Williams. W. von Rosenberg, Map of Bastrop County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1861, Map #3280, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Visions of Survival on the Texas Frontier — the Story of Josiah Wilbarger

Wilbarger’s grant, highlighted in red on a satellite view of eastern Travis and western Bastrop Counties. To get a sense of how large the grant was, to the west is Austin Bergstrom International Airport for scale. Image courtesy Texas General Land Office GIS Webviewer, accessed 11 March 2016.

The name Wilbarger appears on Texas maps in the form of Wilbarger County, in north-central Texas, as well as Wilbarger Creek, near Austin. They are named in honor of Josiah Pugh Wilbarger, a man whose experiences truly personified the thrilling, and hazardous lifestyle of a pioneer on the Texas frontier.[1]

Wilbarger was born in the United States on September 10, 1801. He moved to Mexican Texas as part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Little Colony” in 1827 after getting married.[2] As a married man, he was granted a title for a league of land (4,428 acres), which he located in Bastrop County at the mouth of what is now known as Wilbarger Creek. This grant can be found in the Archives of the General Land Office.[3]

Mexican Title issued to Josiah Wilbarger,22 June 1832, Box 18, Folder 4, Records of the Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.
Artist’s depiction of the scalping of Josiah Wilbarger. Wilbarger, JW. Indian Depredations in Texas. Austin, TX: Hutchings Printing House, 1889, 8.

In August of 1833, Wilbarger rode with a group of men to survey land a few miles outside of Austin,[4] a particularly dangerous affair for many reasons. As they stopped to rest, they were ambushed by a group of Comanche Indians.[5] They ran for cover behind scant trees and fired back. Wilbarger first received an arrow through his calf and another wound in his hip. As he continued to fight, he was hit by an arrow in the other leg and was shot through the neck with a bullet shortly after, which temporarily paralyzed him. Two in his party were killed, two escaped, and Wilbarger was left for dead. Conscious but paralyzed, he had to watch as the two men who were killed in the attack were mutilated. Assuming he was dead, the Native American party also scalped Wilbarger.[6] 
 
 As night fell, Wilbarger, feeble from loss of blood and severe wounds that had quickly been infested with flies and maggots, waned in and out of consciousness. He was able to drag himself to a pool to drink water, but soon collapsed at the foot of a large Post Oak tree while attempting to make a three-quarters-of-a-mile trek to the home of Reuben Hornsby. Wilbarger claimed that while lying beneath the tree, he saw his sister approach him. She insisted he was too weak to travel and that help from friends would arrive, before she drifted off in the direction of the Hornsby home. Wilbarger later discovered that his sister had died the previous day in Missouri.

Wilbarger Creek Watershed in Travis and Bastrop Counties. Image courtesy Lower Colorado River Authority, accessed 11 March 2016.

That evening, after Wilbarger was reported dead by the two men who had escaped, Mrs. Hornsby awoke from vivid dreams in which she saw Wilbarger scalped — but alive — lying underneath a tree. After falling back asleep and immediately seeing the same image, she woke Mr. Hornsby and “urged the men at the house to start to Wilbarger’s relief.” 
 
 The men were indeed able to locate Wilbarger in the same state that matched Mrs. Hornsby’s visions, and he was taken to the Hornsbys’ home to be nursed back to health. Miraculously, Wilbarger survived his ordeal, but his scalp never fully healed, and a portion of his weakened skull always remained exposed. He died on April 11, 1845 after hitting his head on a low door frame. He was buried near his home, and in 1936 was reinterred at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.

Wilbarger County, named for Josiah and his brother, Mathias, is located — somewhat ironically — adjacent to the Indian Territory (the future State of Oklahoma) in north Texas across from the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Reservation. Charles P. Scrivener, Map of Wilbarger County, Austin: Texas General Land Office, 1887, Map #16926, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

The tale of Josiah Wilbarger, originally told by witnesses from the Hornsbys’ home and by Wilbarger himself, spread throughout the colony, and was eventually written down by a family friend[7] and one of Wilbarger’s brothers.[8] The tale of Wilbarger’s survival has persisted through the years as a gruesome example of the dangers and adversity of life on the Texas frontier.

Today, while traveling in air conditioned comfort on Highway 290 from Austin towards Manor, a small bridge bears a green sign which reads “Wilbarger Creek.” Below the bridge, the creek named in honor of the courageous frontiersman flows on toward the Colorado River, serving as a reminder of Texas’ frontier days.


[1] “Wilbarger Creek (Travis County),” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/rbw88), accessed January 06, 2016. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] Roy A. Clifford, “Wilbarger, Josiah Pugh,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwi08), accessed January 06, 2016. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[3] Title for Josiah Wilbarger, 22 June 1832, Box 18, Folder 4, Spanish Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin.

[4] Near the present day intersection of 51st Street and Manor Road in east Austin, according to the Texas Historical Commission’s Historic Sites Atlas, atlas number 5507016095, accessed March 28, 2016. (https://atlas.thc.state.tx.us/Details/5507016095/print)

[5] Some accounts say it was a group of Kickapoo who attacked the scouting group.

[6] Texas State Cemetery Research Department, Biographical Sketch of Josiah Wilbarger (http://www.cemetery.state.tx.us/pub/user_form.asp?pers_id=18), accessed February 16, 2016.

[7] John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas. Austin: L. E. Daniell, Publisher, 1880.

[8] J.W. Wilbarger, Indian Depredations in Texas, Austin, TX: Hutchings Printing House, 1889, 7–14.