Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 546

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 546


This is the grave of Ben McCulloch.

McCullloch was born to a once wealthy Tennessee family in 1811. His father had graduated from Yale and his mother (always buried here and getting the lead no less) was from a prominent Virginia planter family. But his father was something of a wastrel who blew through the family fortune to the point that Ben and his brothers received little to no formal education. They moved around a bunch, finally settling in west Tennessee.

In 1834, the young Ben McCulloch headed west to be a fur trapper. Didn’t work out though. He showed up late for the annual trapping season. So he ended up in Wisconsin investigating lead mines. Didn’t work out either. The next year, he was back in Tennessee and farming. He didn’t want that. He was young and wanted adventure. So in 1835, he headed to Texas, where that place was about to commit treason in defense of slavery for the first time, against Mexico. But he got measles on the way to Texas and was bedridden. By the time he was healthy, the Alamo had already fallen. But he did join Sam Houston’s army and became a first lieutenant.

When Texas became independent, McCulloch decided to stick around. He joined the Texas Rangers and really liked killing. He was known for his weaponry, which was frequently used against Native people and the small community of Mexicans in Texas, who soon found themselves largely dispossessed in this white supremacist republic. In 1839, he ran for the Texas House. He won, but the campaign was so contentious that he ended up fighting a duel against the man he defeated. That guy shot McCulloch in the arm and made it useless for the rest of his life. The next, McCulloch’s brother killed the guy. This was the “civilization” these people were bringing to Texas.

McCulloch continued to fight whenever he could, bad arm notwithstanding. That included in the 1842 Mexico attempt to retake Texas and then of course in the Mexican War, when the U.S. decided to annex Texas and then steal the northern half of Mexico to expand slavery. Mostly he was a scout, which made sense given his arm. By all accounts, he was quite good at it, having developed very solid backwoodsman skills over the years on the frontier. He was a major by the end of the war. He then immediately headed to California to get rich in the gold rush. Didn’t happen, which was true of most people. But he did get elected as sheriff of Sacramento. A prominent Democrat with powerful friends, he managed to get named federal marshal for the Eastern District of Texas by Pierce and kept it under the Buchanan. Ambitious but also uneducated, he actually spent quite a bit of that time on the east coast learning military tactics, usually through reading in libraries, which let’s face it, weren’t really a priority of Texans and maybe still aren’t today. In 1858, Buchanan sent him to Utah to deliver his ultimatum to Brigham Young that avoided war with the Mormons, largely because it was serious enough that they caved on the key issues.

When Texas committed treason in defense of slavery in 1861, McCulloch was definitely all in for that. Jefferson Davis named him brigadier general and was placed in command of Indian Territory, which was not part of the Confederacy but which the Confederates occupied. To be fair, quite a few Cherokee and other tribes forcibly removed there a couple decades earlier had adopted African slavery before that and brought it with them. He led his troops to an early victory at Wilson’s Creek, in Missouri. On March 7, 1862, McCulloch was scouting enemy positions when American troops shot and killed the traitor. Good riddance to bad rubbish. The officer behind him in command James McIntosh was also killed at Pea Ridge while Louis Hébert , who followed McIntosh, was captured. The Americans won the battle. A good day overall for the nation.

I would be remiss by not linking to the excellent Steve Earle song about McCulloch. I tried to embed it, but none of the versions available allowed me to do so. Who knows.

Ben McCulloch is buried at Texas State Cemetery, Austin, Texas.

This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit the other traitors killed or captured at Pea Ridge, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James McIntosh is in Fort Smith, Arkansas and Louis Hébert is in Cecilia, Louisiana. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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