Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

July 10, 2010

STRINGER: Josiah Wilbarger

By Dr. Tommy Stringer
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — Wilbarger County, whose county seat is Vernon, is in northwest of Wichita Falls and southeast of Childress. The area was part of the Comanche buffalo hunting grounds until the arrival of the Anglo settlers in the years immediately after the Civil War. When the county was organized in 1881, there were only 56 eligible voters. Vernon was designated as the seat of government short after the county was organized. There is some dispute regarding the naming of Vernon. One story claims it was named for Mount Vernon, home of George Washington, while others claim it was named for a traveling whiskey salesman named Vernon Brown.  

There is no dispute regarding the namesake of Wilbarger County, however. It honors the memory of Texas pioneer Josiah Pugh Wilbarger who was born in 1801. Some sources indicate his birthplace was Virginia, but others say he was a native of Kentucky. In 1827 he moved to Matagorda, Texas, where he taught school and worked as a surveyor. Wilbarger received a 4,400 acre land grant from Stephen F. Austin ten miles north of present day Bastrop on the Colorado River.  

In 1833 Wilbarger was a member of a surveying party that was attacked by Indians near Pecan Springs four miles east of present-day downtown Austin. Two members of the party were killed immediately in the attack, and Wilbarger was wounded, with arrows lodged in both legs. One of the other party members hoisted the wounded Wilbarger on to a horse in an attempt to escape, but as they rode away, Wilbarger was hit again. As he fell from his horse, it appeared he could not survive. In fact, as they rode away from the scene of the attack, one survivor witnessed Wilbarger being scalped by an Indian. Those who did escape arrived at a farm owned by Ruben Hornsby to report the news of the attack and to announce Wilbarger’s death.  

During the night, Mrs. Hornsby awakened her husband to tell him she had seen Wilbarger in a dream, still alive. He dismissed her story, but she awakened him a second time with the same dream. He promised to lead a search party at daylight. Arriving at the scene of the massacre, they found Wilbarger under a tree, covered with blood, but still alive. Wilbarger claimed that during the night he had a dream in which his sister from Missouri told him help was on the way. Some weeks later Wilbarger learned that his sister had died on the very night she had appeared in his dream. Although he never completely recovered from his injuries from the attack, Wilbarger lived another 11 years. He died after bumping his head on a low rafter in his barn, but his memory lives on in west Texas county that bears his name.

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Dr. Tommy Stringer is executive director of the Navarro College Foundation. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? E-mail: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com