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Pingenot Auction, Lot 294



294. SPRAGUE, Captain and Brevet Major John T[itcomb]. Original autograph manuscript, signed: Journal from Fort Inge, Leona, Txs. to El Paso del Norte, Texas, between the 1st day of July and the 16th day of September 1850, for the Use of the Wagon Master. [West Texas, 1850]. [19] pp. (plus file notes and other notations on p. [20]), written in ink (occasional pencil notations) on rectos and versos, pale blue lined paper, old yellow satin cord at top. Some marginal wear to a few pages (no losses), creased and light at some old folds, overall very good. Preserved in a terracotta morocco over marbled boards folding box. Typed transcript of complete manuscript present, along with letters of provenance from 1981, documenting history of the manuscript and transfer of ownership.
         Original valuable source material of a Western (Texas) overland exploration in the summer of 1850, giving a day-by-day account of Sprague’s command of the government wagon train that was the first to traverse the road from Fort Inge on the Leona River to El Paso (the road had been laid out the previous year by Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston—see Basic Texas Books 112 & Plains & Rockies IV:184). Sprague records in good detail the journey of the large wagon train (140 wagons, 4,000 animals, and 625 people) crossing some of the most challenging terrain of the West in the grueling furnace of a late Texas summer, menaced by Native tribes and prairie fires. He also discusses advantages and disadvantages of various places along the route that would be suitable for army posts.

This manuscript has not been published in full. Pingenot wrote an excellent article based on the manuscript, with some direct quotation from it. See Pingenot's article "The Great Wagon Train Expedition of 1850" in Southwestern Historical Quarterly (XCVIII:2, October, 1994, pp. 182-224). Pingenot comments on the importance of this journal: "Sprague's mission was to resupply the Third Infantry Regiment at the Pass of the North and to provide a military escort for the civilian contractors who hoped to establish a flourishing trade with outposts on the trail to California. Although other wagon trains and small parties had traversed the road since it opened the year before, this was the largest military escorted wagon train to cross southwestern Texas by the southern route and the first for which a day-to-day record of the journey remains.... Until the recent discovery of Sprague's Journal, only fragmentary information was known regarding this major expedition and the remarkable individuals that were involved in the enterprise. The Sprague document is significant in that it not only details the first major attempt to transport supplies between San Antonio and El Paso, it also removes the mystery surrounding the outcome of a significant event."

Following are a few excerpts from Sprague’s journal to give an idea of the nature of the content:

         Tuesday, July 2nd, 1850: At 11 o’clock this morning, on command of Company F’s 8th Infantry, I marched out from Fort Inge to join the main body of the supply train, twenty miles in advance. Dr. Mollowney of Austin, Acting Asst. Surgeon, Lt. Jackson, 8th Infantry, and Lt. Roy, accompanied me. We camped on the Nueces river at 4 o’clock P.M. The road passes through an open country, road heavy, as there had been rain the night before. A good camping ground is found about one mile to the left of the road, immediately by the river, on a high bluff. Distance today 12 miles....
         Saturday 6th: Coacooche or Wild Cat, came into my camp today with his band consisting of fifty Kickapoo warriors, twenty Seminoles, and many negroes. The whole band numbered about one hundred fifty souls. Gopher John was along as interpreter. He said he was on his way to Fort Duncan. The train is making preparations to move on the 10th inst. Mr. Coons is still in the rear with twenty wagons....
         Saturday July 27th: Remained
in camp. Indians all around us, seen on the hills a mile off, and heard whistling around the camp at night, signals to each other to improve opportunities to attack or steal animals. The Prairies are burning all around. Apprehension there is a concert of action, and the fires signal to distant Indians to concentrate their forces upon the train. Two mules stolen, and five oxen shot with arrows belonging to Mr. Morrell Sutler, up all night with the command listening to various sounds on the hills around, sometimes approaching within a few yards of camp, sentinels on the alert, men under arms. The animals at the picket rope show alarm by snorting and restlessness. They doubtless smell the Indians. Serious apprehension about Coons in rear lest he might be attacked. Lt. Jackson and command with him. This spring affords an abundant supply of good water. The grass cannot be depended upon. Indians live immediately at the spring, their animals and those travelling to and fro, in large numbers, with animals from Mexico, eat up the grass. The grass is burning within a few hundred yards of camp. Most of Coons train camp up today, broken down, wagons in bad condition, animals lame from the rocky road. His mule train came up in good condition. Oxen should never be put upon this road....
         Sunday, July 28th: This is what we call the Stampede Sunday. We left Howard Spring at 10 A.M. leaving Coons in camp with sixty men and forty wagons in coral, said he was strong enough to meet any number of Indians. Lt. Jackson was expected every hour with his rear guard. After we had marched about seven miles, an express overtook us from Mr. Coons of a most alarming character, expecting an attack every moment, and wished once to return with my entire force, which was twenty three miles. With me, I had his mule train, thirty wagons, six mules to each, and my own baggage train, ten wagons. To leave these was impossible, as they would be the next attacked if Mr. Coons realized he was apprehended. The attack, if one was made, was a preconceived, concentrated movement, which we had feared from the fires around us....
[September] 6th: At San Elizario, a town of about five hundred inhabitants. The Presidio de San Elizario is a military work, forming a square of about six acres, surrounded by an adobe wall fifteen feet high. In the center of this is an adobe Catholic Church, fast falling to decay. A building which was once the residence of the Priest and Commanding officer. The whole work is in a dilapidated state, parts of it have been repaired and reused as soldiers barracks and hospital. The troops, two companies, are comfortably quartered. The officers reside in adobe houses adjacent to the work surrounded by gardens. Ditches intersect the streets furnishing water from the Rio Grande, upon which are built the residences of the citizens, low adobe houses. Every house is surrounded by gardens and fruit trees, grapes, apples, pears, peaches, and quinces grow in abundance. The population is poor and indolent. The old cracked bell in the church is constantly reminding them of their obligation to their priest and their god....

         Next is Ben Pingenot’s entire entry on Sprague from the The Handbook of Texas Online:

         John T. Sprague (1810-1878), soldier, was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, on July 3, 1810. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps on October 17, 1834, and in the fall of 1836 he directed the removal of a final band of Creek Indians from Tallahassee, Alabama, to the Trans­Mississippi lands allotted to them. The next year Sprague resigned his commission as a marine and became a second lieutenant in the Fifth United States Infantry, where he served from July 3, 1837, to July 7, 1838, at which time he transferred to the Eighth Infantry. He was promoted to first lieutenant on May 1, 1839, and was sent to Florida as an aide to brevet Maj. Gen. Alexander Macomb, who had been charged with bringing the interminable Second Seminole War to an end. When Col. William Jenkins Worth brought his Eighth Infantry to Florida in 1840, Sprague, as regimental adjutant not only became Worth’s aide, but eventually married his oldest daughter, Mary. Sprague was breveted captain on March 15, 1842, for meritorious conduct in the Seminole campaign and was promoted to that rank on September 21, 1846. During the Mexican War Sprague remained in Florida in charge of Indian Affairs and served as commanding officer at Fort Brook. He was breveted to the rank of major on May 30, 1848, for meritorious conduct in the Florida War. During Sprague’s long tour in Florida, he became sympathetic to the Seminoles. His book on the Second Seminole War, published in 1848, was the only full­scale history of that seven-year conflict for more than a century and is still an indispensable source.
         Sprague arrived in Texas with elements of the Eighth Infantry in January 1849, in charge of subsistence. In January 1850 he asked for field duty and was given temporary command of Fort Inge on the Leona River. There he was to assume command of a government wagon train that was to follow the road to El Paso that had been laid out by Lt. Col. Joseph E. Johnston the year before. Sprague, with E Company, Eighth Infantry, left Fort Inge on July 1, 1850, and joined the train that had already reached Las Moras Spring. Sprague took command of the train, which consisted of 340 wagons, 4,000 animals of all kinds, 450 citizens, and 175 soldiers. Because of its large size and owing to the scarcity of water and grass along the route, Sprague divided the train into two component groups, led by Nathaniel C. Lewis and Benjamin F. Coons. Although Indians were continuously sighted, the train was not attacked but did suffer from the heat and want of water before arriving at El Paso on September 16. On May 18, 1852, Sprague was detached from E Company at Fort McKavett, Texas, and was sent East on general recruiting service. In June 1855 he was sent back to the Southwest, where he served in both Texas and New Mexico Territory. In New Mexico he saw service against the Navajo, Apache, and Comanche Indians between the Rio Grande and the Sacramento Mountains. Before leaving New Mexico in August 1858 he received a "vote of thanks" from the Territorial Legislature in a joint resolution for his services and was commended to the President of the United States for promotion.
         Between 1858 and 1861 Sprague took a three­year leave of absence from the army, during which time he promoted a silver mining venture in southeastern New Mexico. In January 1861 Sprague was again ordered to Texas. He arrived in New Orleans about March 6 and was subsequently pursued to Texas for openly expressing Union sentiments and denouncing the Secession Convention then sitting in that city. Upon his arrival in San Antonio, he was prevented from rejoining his regiment at Fort Bliss and was arrested by a Committee of Public Safety. On April 23, 1861, Sprague was paroled by Confederate authorities and left Texas for New York. In June he presented a paper entitled "The Treachery in Texas" to the New York Historical Society. His monograph was the first detailed account of events leading to the federal exodus and was a scathing denunciation of the Confederate’s treatment of United States officers and soldiers serving in Texas during the takeover.
         Sprague was placed on active duty in Albany, New York, as United States mustering and disbursing officer and superintendent of the General Recruiting Service. Although he was elected by the citizens of Albany to command the 113th Regiment of New York Volunteers and appointed colonel by Governor Morgan, the appointment was disapproved by the Secretary of War. This disappointment was mitigated somewhat when incoming Governor Horacio Seymour selected Sprague to be adjutant general for the state of New York, a position he held from August 1861 to January 1865. Following the Civil War Sprague returned to Florida, the site of his glory days as a young officer. There he commanded the Seventh Infantry Regiment until April 1869. He retired on December 15, 1870, and died in New York City on September 6, 1878.

With this manuscript, we include a copy of the first edition of Sprague's, The Treachery in Texas, the Secession of Texas, and the Arrest of the U.S. Officers and Soldiers Serving in Texas... (New York, 1862, 32 pp., in slightly worn wraps). Nevins, Civil War Books II:240. Eberstadt, Texas 162:752: "An important collection of documents relating to seizure of Union forces by Confederates in Feb., 1861, by one of its victims." Raines, p. 194. Parrish, Civil War Texana 103.

(2 vols.)