Craddock: Potter’s birthday gift was watery grave

Robert Potter’s 42nd birthday wasn’t very merry. The one-time secretary of the Texas Navy turned that age on March 2, 1842, but was shot to death and disappeared beneath the waters of Caddo Lake.

Ringleader of the ruffians who killed Potter was William Pinckney Rose, a War of 1812 veteran who fought at New Orleans with Andy Jackson.

Rose, a former Mississippi state legislator, moved to East Texas in 1839. Shortly thereafter the Regulator-Moderator War broke out across East Texas. Rose became a leader of the Regulator gang as dozens of East Texans died in the conflict.

A native of North Carolina, Robert Potter had fought in the 1835-1836 Texas War for Independence. He was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and participated in the Battle of San Jacinto. He later was appointed secretary of the tiny Republic of Texas Navy.

Caddo Lake

Potter married Harriet Ames in 1836. The couple had two children and built a house at Potter’s Point on Caddo Lake. He was elected to the Texas Congress, then became a leader of the Moderator faction that was battling Rose’s Regulators in the Piney Woods.

How do I put this delicately: Rose and Potter hated each other. These were two men with fiery tempers and large egos.

On March 1, 1842, Rose and a group of Regulators sneaked up on Potter’s Caddo Lake home with the intent to arrest Potter. Potter heard them coming and successfully hid under a pile of brush.

That very night, Rose and his Regulator cohorts turned the tables on Potter. A number of Regulators made their way back to Potter’s cabin.

The next morning Potter found himself surrounded. It was March 2: Texas Independence Day and Potter’s birthday. Harriet reportedly wanted her husband to fight it out from their home. However, Potter feared that the family was in harm’s way and he decided to make a mad dash for nearby Caddo Lake.

One contemporary newspaper reported that Potter “sprang from his couch, seized his gun, and, in his night clothes, rushed from the house. For about two hundred yards his speed seemed to defy his pursuers. Unfortunately, Robert Potter “got entangled in a thicket and he was captured.

“Rose told him he might run … Potter started at the word of command, and before a gun was fired he had reached the lake. His first impulse was to jump in the water and dive for it, which he did.”

Martyred Moderator

However, Rose and his companions reached the bank and stood with weapons poised, waiting for Potter to surface. When he did, several shots rang out and Rose again sank under the water.

Harriet found her husband floating in the lake two days later, on March 4. She buried him at Potter’s Point.

The grieving widow then brought murder charges against Rose and nine other Regulators. They were arrested but charges were dismissed “for lack of evidence.”

William Pinckney Rose died in January 1850. He lies under one of the tallest monuments in Harrison County’s historic Scottsville Cemetery.

Harriet remarried at Caddo Lake, wrote an autobiography and eventually moved to New Orleans. She died in Louisiana in 1902.

In 1928 Robert Potter’s remains were moved to Austin and reburied in the State Cemetery. Potter County (Amarillo) in the Texas Panhandle is named in honor of the martyred Moderator.

— Van “Back Stroke” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” Available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. E-mail

Today's Bible verse

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

— Psalms 139:23-24

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