General Santa Anna was disgraced and removed from power by Mexican officials when they heard he had lost an eighteen-minute battle against a much-smaller Texan force on April 21, 1836. Therefore, Mexico gave no value to the treaty Santa Anna signed granting Texas its independence. Santa Anna regained favor with the Mexican people in 1838 and won the presidency. (Watch this site next week for the story of Santa Anna’s amazing ability to return time after time to power.)
One of Santa Anna’s generals sent a warning to Texans in January 1842 of an impending attack if Texans continued insisting on their independence. The following March, Mexican troops invaded Goliad, Refugio, and Victoria. By the time they reached San Antonio, the frightened populace had abandoned the city. The Mexicans withdrew, but they left the settlements along the western edge of Texas in panic, demanding that President Sam Houston send an army into Mexico to halt the attacks.
Houston, anxious to avoid another expensive war and to work instead toward building a strong republic, reluctantly made appeals to the United States for money and volunteers in preparation for an invasion of Mexico. The needed assistance from the United States never arrived. Then on September 11, 1842, General Adrián Woll, with 1,200 Mexican troops, captured San Antonio.
Texans heard of the Mexican occupation and sent out a call for more volunteers. As men arrived, they gathered just outside San Antonio at an advantageous site on Salado Creek. On September 18, they finally lured Woll into a battle, and because of the Texans’ strategic position, they held off the Mexican advance. The following morning, the Texans discovered that Woll’s army had slipped away during the night.
Meantime, Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson had heard the call for help and raised a company of fifty-three men from the La Grange area. On the same day that Texans were skirmishing with Woll, less than two miles away a disaster was taking place.
Dawson had rushed headlong into battle with Mexican cavalry patrols only to be overpowered by a column of 500, reinforced by two cannons. When the cavalry pulled back and opened fire with the cannons, Dawson’s men were completely overpowered. Despite trying to surrender, survivors claimed the Mexicans continued firing. By the time the fight ended in late afternoon, thirty-six had been killed, two had escaped, and fifteen prisoners were marched to Perot Prison in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz. Word spread that the dead in the Dawson Massacre had been buried where they fell among the mesquite trees.
Sam Houston finally called on Alexander Somervell, a customs officer from Matagorda Island, to organize a volunteer militia to punish the Mexican Army for the attacks. Somerville raised a force of 700 young men who were eager for revenge, for adventure, and for plunder. The expedition left San Antonio at the end of November 1842 and captured Laredo on December 7. Finding little wealth to plunder, the men ransacked Laredo. Somerville, who had not been eager for the expedition, realized he was losing control of his command, and that they would be facing a much better trained and stronger Mexican Army as they marched south. On December 19, he ordered his men to disband and head home.
A group of 308 Texans, including five captains, ignored Somerville’s command and under the leadership of William S. Fisher, continued their march down the Rio Grande to Ciudad Mier where they agreed to wait for supplies. When the goods did not arrive, the Texans attacked on Christmas Day. They fought into the night against a much larger Mexican force before finally surrendering. As captives, they began the long march south toward prison. On February 11, 1843, the Texans overpowered their guards and fled into the arid mountains of Mexico, to roam for six days without food and water. When the Mexican troops rounded up the starving Texans, orders came from an infuriated Santa Anna to execute each of the 176 captives. The government changed the decree to executing every tenth man.
Seventeen black beans were placed in a pot of white beans. Some accounts say that the black beans were added last and that the officers were required to be the first to draw, then the selection proceeded in alphabetical order. A firing squad executed the men holding the black
beans. The other prisoners eventually reached Perote Prison. Over time, some escaped, family and friends arranged a few releases, and some died of illness and starvation. Finally, on September 16, 1844, Santa Anna ordered the release of the remaining 104 Texas prisoners.
At the end of the Mexican-American War (1846-48), Captain John E. Dusenbury who had drawn a white bean returned to the burial site of his dead comrades. He exhumed the remains and carried them by ship to Indianola and then by wagon to LaGrange. The citizens of LaGrange retrieved the remains of those who had died in the Dawson Massacre outside San Antonio. All of the fallen were reinterred in a common tomb housed in a cement vault on a 200-foot bluff overlooking LaGrange. Today, the gravesite is part of the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites.