Friday, December 12, 2014

TOP STORY >> Confederate went undercover

Lonoke County Museum

Howell (Dock) Rayburn was born in Roane County, Tenn., in 1842, the son of Hodge and Susan Raburn. By 1850, the family had moved to Shelby County, Texas.

Rayburn’s name first appears on the muster roll with Col. William H. Parson’s “Johnson County Slashers,” stating he was a 19-year-old private who signed up for one year, or sooner if discharged, at Camp Hebert near Hempstead, Texas.

Parson was a newspaper editor from Waco, who recruited troops to fight for the Confederacy. The Johnson County Slashers were formally known as the 12th Texas Cavalry, Company C, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

While en route to Tennessee, Rayburn was left at Des Arc (Prairie County) to either recover from a wound or sickness, where he persuaded other young men to help the Confederate cause and was successful in organizing a small company to begin their guerilla strikes against Union troops.

The recruits came from White, Prairie and what is now Lonoke counties. Rayburn was elected captain and was assisted by Lt. John Bethell. Their activities earned them the name “The Phantom Unit” and attracted the interest of Gen. Dandridge McRae, a Searcy native, who helped the unit gain recognition in the Confederate Army.

The most celebrated legend concerning Rayburn centers upon his activities at DeValls Bluff (Prairie County) in December 1864.

He told his men that, if he could make it through a Union picket line that evening, he would bring each of them back a Christmas present. A small man with long blonde hair and blue eyes, he barely weighed 100 pounds.

Borrowing female clothes, Rayburn passed rather easily for a girl. He made his way through the picket line to a Christmas dance hosted by federal officers.

After an evening of dancing, Rayburn made his way to the corral, where he mounted a horse and stampeded enough for each man in his command to receive a horse for Christmas.

Rayburn chose a beautiful black horse that belonged to the federal officer who had invited him to the dance.

He named it Limber Jim and rode it for the rest of the war. He and his men later stole other horses from the garrison’s pastures.

This daring captain was a well-known figure at Brownsville (Lonoke County), where his exploits attracted attention. He often called on Miss Sallie Jones of Tennessee, who was visiting the family of her uncle, Q.T. Webster.

On one occasion, five federal soldiers came into the Webster home while Rayburn was hiding in the barn. Miss Jones signaled to him with a handkerchief. He dashed in and captured the men.

The highlight for Rayburn’s company came when they served as guards for Gen. Sterling Price and were with him throughout the Missouri campaign in 1864.

After the Union offered a dead-or-alive reward for Rayburn, he was arrested and placed in a Union prison. His followers were paroled.

Rayburn was released in 1865. He contracted tuberculosis and died soon after. He was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere near Des Arc.

He had married Mary A. Booth of West Point (White County) in 1863.