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
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
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
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
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
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
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