Mary, A Texas Maverick

She came to Texas as the young wife of a powerful man, and the diary she kept of her travels and her life in the growing republic has captured historians and lovers of Texas history. Mary Ann Adams Maverick (1818-1898) was born on a plantation in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama. She attended a nearby boarding school and when she was eighteen, she met thirty-three-year-old Samuel Maverick––a Yale-educated lawyer who had just returned from the Texas war for independence. His plans to sell some of his property in Alabama and hurry back to land speculation in Texas got delayed when he met Mary. They married within three months.

Samuel A. Maverick

Mary and Samuel Maverick did not get to San Antonio until June 1838 and by then Mary had given birth to the first of their ten children. Samuel knew San Antonio well, for he had gone there in the fall of 1835 with plans to start building a land empire. Instead, he was thrust into the developing Texas Revolution. Mexican officials placed him under house arrest for a time and when he was released he went to the Texan force gathered south of the city and urged them to continue their siege of San Antonio de Bexar. He kept a detailed diary of the events as the Texans defeated the Mexican garrison and took over the town. He stayed in San Antonio and after Santa Anna’s army arrived on February 23, Maverick was elected as a delegate to the Texas Independence Convention in Washington-on-the Brazos. He made it through the Mexican Army lines on March 2 and reached the convention in time to be one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  By the time the convention ended, the Alamo had fallen and Texans were fleeing east ahead of Santa Anna’s advancing army. Suffering from chills and fever, Maverick made it to Nacogdoches where he remained until after Texas won independence at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Soon after the Mavericks reached San Antonio, Mary gave birth to their second son. That same year, she also used ink and watercolors on paper to produce the oldest known image of the church, which we know today as the Alamo and the Convento, which had served as

Alamo and Convento, ink and watercolor drawing of Mary Maverick.

the quarters used by the priests when the old structure was a mission. And Samuel set the pattern that he kept for the rest of his life. He made forty-one land purchases, moved the family into a house on the northeast corner of

Maverick home on the northeast corner of the Main Plaza.

the Main Plaza, and entered politics as mayor of San Antonio.

The following year, Mary wrote in her diary that March 19, 1840, was “a day of horrors.” Comanches had come to San Antonio seeking a treaty to draw boundaries that would halt western settlement into Comancheria. Texan authorities had demanded that the Indians bring in all their white prisoners. When they arrived with only Matilda Lockhart, a sixteen-year-old girl who had been a captive for over eighteen months, the Texans announced that the Indians would be held as prisoners until all the captives were returned.

Mary Maverick and a neighbor who lived nearby heard the gunfire and watched from behind a fence the battle that spilled into the plaza. When the terror ended, thirty-three Comanches lay dead and thirty-three were taken prisoner. Six Texans and one Mexican also perished.

Mary’s memoir, published in 1895, offers an account of the Council House Fight that historians reported for years. She claimed that the Texans were horrified to discover that Matilda Lockhart had been raped, had burns all over her body, and her nose had been burned away. However, later research revealed that Matilda Lockhart’s sister-in-law who was in San Antonio at the time wrote a letter to her mother and did not mention any injuries. In Col. Hugh McLeon’s report of March 20, 1840, he commented about Matilda’s intelligence but said nothing about a missing nose. Since the memoir was not published until many years later, it may have been an effort to justify the Texans rage.

Within two days of the Council House Fight, Samuel Maverick left for South Carolina and Alabama where he sold some of his property and purchased two-year’s worth of provisions. He had the supplies shipped to Linville, the seaport on Lavaca Bay.

Meantime, the Comanches who had been taken prisoner in San Antonio escaped, returned to Comancheria to grieve their losses and plot revenge. The following August, a party of about 1,000 warriors and their families swept across Texas in what became known as the Great Raid of 1840. They attacked Victoria, stole several hundred horses, and sacked the seaport village of Linnville. While terrified residents sat in boats in the shallow bay, they watched the town burn and all the warehouses destroyed. Among the losses, were Samuel Maverick’s supplies waiting to be shipped on to San Antonio.

Mexico had never accepted Texas independence and had made several forays across the border. In 1842, while Samuel Maverick served as San Antonio treasurer, word arrived that Mexican forces were headed toward the city. The Mavericks joined families fleeing the advancing troops in what was known as the “Runaway of ’42.” They stayed for a time in an abandoned house near Gonzales and then Maverick moved the family to LaGrange to get them farther away from the Indian threat. He had returned to San Antonio to argue a case before the district court when the Mexicans captured the city and marched many prisoners, including Maverick, to Perot Prison in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz.

When Mary heard of her husband’s capture, she gave money to one of her slaves to use for ransom and sent him with her Uncle John Bradley and another company to free her husband.  Mexicans surprised the little group, the slave was killed, and her uncle was taken to the prison with Maverick. They were not released until April 1843.

While he was in prison, Samuel Maverick was elected senator in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. He served in the last session and was a strong advocate for Texas annexation to the United States. During the time he served in the Texas Senate, Mary and the children lived in a log cabin near LaGrange on the Colorado River.  Believing the site caused some of their illnesses, in late 1844 Maverick moved his growing family to Decrows Point on Matagorda Peninsula. During that time, a farmer repaid his debt to Maverick with 400 head of cattle. Samuel had no interest in ranching and turned the management over to some of his slaves who did not bother to brand the calves. Finally, Maverick moved the cattle and the slaves to a ranch south of San Antonio. Still, the cattle roamed unbranded and neighbors began referring to the unmarked beeves as Maverick’s. Over time, that moniker stuck, and by the end of the Civil War when so many unbranded cattle roamed the Texas countryside, they were called “Mavericks.”

Mary Maverick and five of her children.

Violence was not the only hardship faced by those early Texas settlers. When they finally moved into a new home across from the Alamo, their seven-year-old daughter Agatha died from a fever. Over the next two years, cholera took

Maverick home on Alamo Plaza.

both Augusta then John Hays. Ironically, the child named for their friend the legendary Texas Ranger John Coffee Hays died the year that his father traveled with Coffee on an expedition to chart a route from San Antonio to El Paso. Maverick’s task was to document the trip. Finally, their youngest a girl of about eighteen months died in 1857.

After the Mavericks returned to San Antonio, Samuel expanded his West Texas landholdings from almost 140,000 acres in 1851 to over 300,000 acres at the time of his death in 1870. He served in the state legislatures from 1851-1863, where he worked for equal opportunity for his Mexican and German constituents. He fought for liberal land acquisition laws and for a fair and efficient judicial system.

He opposed secession, but when the conflict became inevitable, he supported the Confederacy. Four of their sons served in the Confederacy and Mary worked in the relief effort in San Antonio. A devout Episcopalian, she helped establish St. Mark’s Church and served for over twenty years as president of the Ladies’ Parish Aid Society.

With the help of her son George Madison Maverick, Mary shaped her diaries into her memoir and published a few copies in 1895.  She served as a member of the San Antonio Historical Society and of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. As president for many years of the Alamo Monument Association, she kept the public aware of the need to restore the decaying site, even writing a brief account of the fall of the Alamo. Mary Maverick and her many descendants have worked to preserve San Antonio and the memory of the pioneer men and women who shaped the future of Texas.

Picture File
Maverick Family
Mary Adams Maverick
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SANTA ANNA: A PARADOX

Daguerreotype of Santa Anna.
Wikipedia

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico. He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation. His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution in 1836 and finally to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican-American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle-class criollos (persons of Spanish descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Veracruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Veracruz infantry regiment. For five years he helped police Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain. Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence.

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain. However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence. All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whoever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico. Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero. Without hesitation, he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833. Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy. He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas. The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.

When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours. Then he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded the surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves. The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates. On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched in several groups away from the Goliad fort and shot. Those who had been injured in the battle were killed inside the compound. When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain. His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring. He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.

Oil on Canvass, Santa Anna displayed in Mexico City Museum.
Wikipedia

Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad. In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannons that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner. The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh. When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn-around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates. Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his

“Surrender of Santa Anna” William Henry Huddle
Wikipedia

loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished. After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Veracruz. In December 1838 the French landed in Veracruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary. In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage. He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the motherland. He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years. During his reign, he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful protection. However, his autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the United States annexation of Texas, which resulted in the Mexican-American War. He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States. At the same time, he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders. Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president. Again, his military prowess failed, and when the United States won victory with the capture of Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica. Mexico’s loss gained the United States more than 500,000 square miles––westward from the Rio Grande to the Pacific Coast.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, would invite Santa Anna back. But, that is what happened in April 1853. This time his administration was no more successful than before. He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends. A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle––the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree––as an additive to natural rubber. He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City. To fulfill his scheme, he worked with Thomas Adams a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, who may have served as Santa Anna’s secretary.

Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to use it to make carriage tires. Adams had observed Santa Anna chewing the chicle and began to experiment with the substance, eventually creating what became “Chiclets” chewing gum––a windfall from which Santa Anna failed to benefit.

Meantime, in 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts. He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years of his life virtually ignored by the Mexican government. “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.

THE ANGEL OF GOLIAD

Many stories survive from the 1836 Texas War for Independence from Mexico, but several almost forgotten tales surround the deeds of a beautiful young Mexican woman whose name is shrouded in the mists of history and legend. To a person they called her the “Angel of

Angel of Goliad, Courtesy The Austin Chronicle

Goliad.”

She steps onto the scene as the woman accompanying Capt. Telesforo Alavez when his ship from Matamoros, Mexico, landed at Copano Bay on the middle Texas coast about the same day as the fall of the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Variously called Francita, or Panchita, or Francisca, those who met her assumed she traveled as Capt. Alavez’ wife; however camp women regularly followed the Mexican army, and later research disclosed that Capt. Alavez had abandoned his wife and children in Mexico the previous year.

When Francita arrived at Copano Bay, she discovered that General José de Urrea’s army held prisoners who were bound so tightly that the cords cut off the circulation in their arms. Several of those men remember her as the beautiful Mexican lady who convinced the guards to loosen the bonds and give them food.

As he headed to San Antonio and the Battle of the Alamo, General Santa Anna split his forces, directing Urrea’s army to move toward Presidio La Bahía, an ancient fort housing 500 militia, the largest collection of men in the Texas army.

It is unclear which route Capt. Alavez took with his cavalry regiment as he moved from the Texas coast to join Gen. Urrea’s forces. Some accounts claim a priest and “a Mexican lady named ‘Alvarez’” convinced Gen. Urrea at San Patricio to save the lives of twenty-one captives and ship them back to prison in Matamoros, thereby ignoring Santa Anna’s repeated orders to shoot all prisoners taken in arms.

Presidio LaBahia Chapel, 1836, Wikipedia

While Urrea continued his march toward Presidio La Bahía, the commander at the at the old fort, Colonel James W. Fannin, ignored orders from General Sam Houston to abandon La Bahía and join forces with Houston’s ragtag volunteers as they moved ahead of Santa Anna’s advancing army.

Fannin delayed for five days before he began a slow march out of the presidio, only to be overtaken in mid-afternoon by Urrea’s rapidly advancing force. The Texans and the Mexicans fought valiantly until darkness fell. Without sufficient water for cooling their cannons or to ease the suffering of the injured, and without the hoped-for reinforcement by the next morning, the Texans chose surrender.

Despite the decree that Santa Anna pushed through the Mexican Congress the previous December, which directed that all foreigners taken in arms against the government should be treated as pirates and shot, General Urrea appealed to Santa Anna for clemency for Fannin and his men.

Urrea’s force moved on to capture nearby Victoria while about 240 uninjured or slightly wounded were marched back to Presidio La Bahía under the direction of Col. José Nicolás de la Portilla. Colonel Fannin who had sustained an injury and about fifty more severely wounded were moved back to La Bahía over the next two days. Again, Francita appears as a comforter of the suffering, intervening to improve care for the prisoners crowded into the presidio’s 85- x 25-foot Chapel of Nuestra Señora de Loreto. Soon, more prisoners from other battles arrived to increase the population to over 500.

A letter from Santa Anna arrived on March 26 demanding that Col. Portilla carry out the orders to execute the prisoners. Two hours later, Portilla received a letter from Urrea imploring him to treat the prisoners with respect, especially Col. Fannin.

Despite being torn between conflicting orders, Portilla continued with plans to execute the prisoners at dawn the next morning––Palm Sunday, March 27. The prisoners were marched out in three groups––some believed they were going to gather wood, others expected to drive cattle, another group thought they were headed to Copano Bay for shipment to freedom in New Orleans.

Apparently Francita heard of the plans to murder the troops, for she worked during the night with several officers to hide about twenty men. Dr. Joseph H. Barnard, who was spared from the massacre and sent, with another doctor, to the Alamo to aid the injured Mexicans, wrote that “during the time of the massacre she (Francita) stood in the street, her hair floating, speaking wildly, and abusing the Mexican officers, especially Portilla. She appeared almost frantic.”

Another account, written years later by Benjamin Franklin Hughes, who at age fifteen had served as an orderly, claimed that his group believed they marched toward embarkation and return home. He saw Urrea’s wife and a young lady he called “Madame Captain Alvarez” watching the groups move out. As Hughes marched past, the ladies directed that he be taken from the ranks and placed between them. Within minutes, by a prearranged signal, the massacre began, and Hughes realized the women had saved his life.

A study of Fannin’s command indicates 342 executed, including Fannin and the wounded that were shot in the fort’s quadrangle. Only twenty-eight escaped the firing squads by diving into the nearby San Antonio River or escaping through the woods along the riverbank. A group of blacksmiths, wheelwrights, and other artisans that were needed to serve the Mexican army also escaped the massacre. About eight avoided execution because Portilla claimed they were not captured “while bearing arms.”

Although Francita accompanied Captain Alavez on to Victoria, she continued to send messages and supplies to the surviving prisoners at La Bahía. The grandson of one of the Victoria families preserved stories of the wives of Mexican officers throwing themselves in front of a firing squad, successfully halting the execution of three or four prisoners.

After Texas won independence from Mexico and captured Santa Anna in the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the Mexicans began a slow retreat. Captain Alavez evacuated his Victoria post and returned to Matamoros where Texans told of “Señora Alavez” ministering to the prisoners. After she followed Captain Alavez on to Mexico City, he abandoned her. Returning to Matamoros penniless, she found friends among the Texans who remembered her kind treatment. However, none of the people who told the story of her humanitarian deeds ever bothered to accurately record her name.

The Question of Santa Anna’s Leg

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

Display at Illinois State Military Museum, photo Sangamon County Historical Society

I usually try to tell the tale and let readers make up their own minds about the merits of the case. This time, I am admitting up front that I am siding with the state of Illinois against my own birthplace of Texas. Here’s the conundrum: The Illinois State Military Museum owns and proudly displays Santa Anna’s artificial leg and the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum wants it.

The story goes like this: In 1836, after General Santa Anna won the Battle of the Alamo and had the survivors slaughtered and then ordered the massacre of about 300 Texans at Goliad, he marched in glory toward San Jacinto where he expected to defeat those “land thieves,” once and for all. His hubris, his view of himself as the Napoleon of the West, caused him to leave the bulk of his army behind and rush to San Jacinto. He lost the battle at San Jacinto in eighteen minutes, which gave Texas its independence from Mexico. Actually, he didn’t lose; he ran off and was not discovered until the next day cowering among some marsh, dressed as a common soldier.

When the Mexican government heard of the fiasco, the officials promptly kicked him out of office as president of Mexico and commander of the Mexican Army. Consequently, Mexico claimed that Santa Anna did not have the authority to sign the peace treaty that declared Texas independence.

Santa Anna was not done. After a time of exile in the United States, he made his way back to his hacienda in Veracruz. In December 1838, the Mexican government had refused to compensate French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico, and the French Army landed in Veracruz demanding payment. Mexican officials called on none other than the disgraced Santa Anna to defeat the French, using any means necessary. The assault failed, and as the Mexican Army was retreating, cannon fire hit Santa Anna in the leg, shattering his ankle. His leg had to be amputated, and that was the vehicle Santa Anna rode on his return to Mexican politics. Despite Mexico having to meet the French demands, Santa Anna turned defeat in victory by having his amputated leg buried with full military honors. He never again allowed his countrymen to forget his great sacrifice.

Santa Anna turned to the only man in the United States that made artificial legs. Charles Bartlett, a former cabinetmaker from New York City, crafted for $1,300, a prosthetic leg of cork covered in leather.

Santa Anna's $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

Santa Anna’s $1,300 cork leg with leather cover.

While serving as acting president of Mexico in 1841, he helped overthrow the government. After four years under his dictatorship, during which he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, his autocratic rule caused so much resistance that he was forced into exile in Cuba. Santa Anna was not done. At the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Santa Anna made a deal with President James Polk to enter Mexico through the U.S. naval blockade in exchange for negotiating a reasonable price for the sale to the U.S of the disputed land. While dealing with President Polk, Santa Anna arranged with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders (that is the United States). Both presidents agreed to Santa Anna’s deals, and as soon as he reached Mexico he declared himself president and began leading the Mexican Army in its unsuccessful fight against the United States.

On April 18, 1847, in the midst of the Mexican-American War, Santa Anna was sitting in his carriage enjoying a chicken lunch a safe distance from the fighting, when Company G, 4th Regiment of Illinois Volunteers surprised him. The General got away, but he left behind his cork leg and $18,000 in gold. The story is that the men finished off the chicken, turned the gold over to their commander, and took the leg with them back to Illinois at the end of the war. For years they charged the curious, ten cents a viewing of the leg. In 1922, it was donated to the state.

Today, Santa Anna’s leg is the central attraction in the Illinois State Military Museum in Springfield. The challenge came in April 2014 when the San Jacinto Battle Monument and Museum launched a petition on the White House website seeking 100,000 signatures to get the leg moved to Texas. There were not enough takers to qualify for the White House to look into the cause, however, it is hard to imagine that a president from Illinois would step into a move to take a prize from his state and send it to Texas.

If I had been asked to vote, and I was not, I would say Santa Anna’s artificial leg belongs to Illinois. While Santa Anna was a bitter enemy of Texas and continues to be held in low esteem, he had both his good legs while he was in Texas. Those Illinois volunteers found that leg eleven years after Santa Anna foolishly led his men to defeat at San Jacinto.

He Came to Texas Seeking Revenge

It’s hard to know what’s truth and what’s myth about the adventures of William Alexander Anderson Wallace. He was a nineteen-year-old working in his father’s Virginia fruit orchard in 1835 when he heard that his brother and a cousin had been killed in the Goliad Massacre during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico. That was all the six foot two inch, 240-pound fellow needed to send him to Texas to “take pay out of the Mexicans.” He arrived after Texas had won independence and become a republic, but he wasn’t ready to stop fighting. He tried settling on a farm near La Grange, but the life didn’t suit him. According to his own account, which he embroidered to suit his audience, it was while living on the edge of frontier that he woke to discover that Comanches had raided in the night, taking all his horses except for one old gray mare that had been staked away from the other animals. Wallace jumped on the old horse in pursuit of the Indians. He dismounted in a hickory grove and crawled near their camp where the band of forty-two Indians had started eating his horses. Tying off his pant legs and his shirtsleeves, he filled his clothing with the hickory nuts until his body bulged into a new grotesque size. He claimed to have crawled (how did he manage that?) near the camp, shot one of the Indians, and then stood to his bulging height. The startled Indians quickly regained their composure and began firing arrow after arrow into his hickory nut armor. When Wallace continued standing the Comanches ran for the hills. Now, the story takes on a new level of interest. Wallace untied his clothing, and the hickory nuts tumbled out three inches deep on the ground. He brought his wagon, gathered the nuts, which the arrows had already cracked, and took them home to feed his pigs.

He soon ventured west to the new Texas capital of Austin, which was being carved out of the hills and cedar trees in hostile Indian country. In fact, it was Wallace’s encounter with an Indian who was a lot bigger

Bigfoot Wallace

Bigfoot Wallace

than Wallace that earned him the life-long nickname of “Bigfoot.” He claimed to have earned two hundred dollars a month hewing logs for the new buildings being quickly constructed for the capital. He and a partner went out into Comanche Territory, cut cedar and other logs and floated them down the Colorado River to the new town. During one of his absences, a neighbor discovered that his house had been ransacked and huge moccasin tracks led from his house to Wallace’s home. Since Wallace wore moccasin, the neighbor stormed over accusing Wallace of the robbery. It seems there was a Waco Indian, much taller and much heavier than Wallace who also wore moccasins. Everyone called him Chief Bigfoot because his foot measured over fourteen inches and his big toe protruded even further. To calm the neighbor, Wallace took him home and placed his own foot in the giant prints to prove that Wallace was not the guilty party. Wallace’s roommate, William Fox, thought the encounter so funny that he began calling Wallace “Bigfoot,” a moniker that lasted the rest of his life. Ironically, the next year Chief Bigfoot killed and scalped William Fox. Wallace tried to take revenge, but the giant Indian survived Wallace’s attack.

After Bigfoot Wallace saw the last buffalo run down Austin’s Congress Avenue, he decided the capital was getting to crowded and moved on to San Antonio, which lay on the extreme edge of civilization. He joined local residents in their fight against encroaching Indians and Mexicans who, having not accepted Texas independence, made forays into the new country as far north as San Antonio. In 1842, after another Mexican raid of San Antonio, Bigfoot Wallace joined the Somervell and Mier expeditions, which were intended to put a stop to the Mexican incursions. Some of the volunteers turned back, deciding their Texas force was not large enough to counter the power of the Mexican Army. Bigfoot Wallace was among the 300 who determined to continue into Mexico. A strong Mexican force at Mier promptly defeated them and began marching them to Perote Prison in Vera Cruz. The prisoners tried escaping into the Mexican desert, but were quickly found and under orders from Santa Anna, were sentenced to a firing squad. Army officials convinced Santa Anna to execute only every tenth man, and to accomplish that plan, seventeen black beans were placed in a jar of white beans. The unlucky seventeen who drew a black bean were quickly shot. Bigfoot Wallace drew a gray bean, and the Mexican officer decided to classify Wallace as one of the lucky white bean drawers. Instead of a quick death, he and the other fortunate men were marched to Perote Prison where they remained in dungeons for two years before being released.

Bigfoot Wallace and his Gun

Bigfoot Wallace and his Gun

Bigfoot Wallace had not gotten the urge to fight out of his system. Upon returning to San Antonio he joined Jack Hayes’ Texas Rangers in the Mexican-American War and when it ended in 1848, he served as a captain of his own ranger company, fighting border bandits and Indians. They were known for forcing confessions, hanging those they believed were guilty, and leaving the dangling bodies as a warning to other outlaws. One of his ranger buddies, Creed Taylor, complained of constantly loosing his stock to bandits and Indian raids. When a Mexican raider known as Vidal and his gang stole a bunch of Taylor’s horses, Bigfoot and his rangers went after the Vidal gang. They found them asleep and by the time the fracas ended, all the bandits were dead. That’s when Bigfoot and his rangers decided to make an example of Vidal. They beheaded him, stuffed his head in his sombrero and secured it to his saddle pummel. They tied Vidal’s body in his saddle, mounted it on one of the stolen horses, and sent the horse off in a run. The vision on a dark night of a body swaying wildly on the back of the galloping black stallion with the gruesome head hanging in plain sight, may not have stopped horse thieves, but it scared so many people that as late as 1900, people from Mexico to New Mexico to Texas were claiming to have seen El Muerto: The Texas Headless Horseman.

Bigfoot Wallace’s next encounter with danger came when he began freighting mail over the 600-mile route from San Antonio to El Paso. A month of hard riding was required to get through the Texas desert and cross the old Comanche Trail leading into Mexico. Although killing or wounding the fearless fighter would have been a feather for any warrior, Bigfoot managed to make the trips, suffering only one badly shot up mail coach. He claimed that on one occasion he lost his mules to Indians and had to walk all the way to El Paso. Just before reaching town, he stopped at a Mexican house, where he ate twenty-seven eggs, then went on into town and had a “full meal.”

The Civil War brought new challenges for Bigfoot Wallace. He did not agree with secession, but refused to abandon his own people. Instead, he spent the war guarding the frontier settlements against Comanche raids.

Bigfoot Wallace never married, and he spent his later years in Frio County in a village he founded named Bigfoot. He welcomed visitors and delighted in regaling them with

Replica of Wallace home in Bigfoort

Replica of Wallace home in Bigfoort

his stories of life on the Texas frontier. He told his friend and novelist John C. Duval in The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter that he believed his account (with the Mexicans) had been settled. Soon after his death on January 7, 1899, the Texas legislature appropriated money to move his body to the State Cemetery in Austin.

The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter by John C. Duval

The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter by John C. Duval

Santa Anna: Hero or Traitor?

Some call his era the “Age of Santa Anna.” He was known as a brave soldier and a cunning politician. Over his forty-year career, he

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna

served multiple times as a general and eleven times as president of Mexico.  He thought of himself as “the Napoleon of the West,” yet historians say he was among the many leaders of Mexico that failed the nation.  His political endeavors and his military failures resulted in Mexico losing over half its territory in the American west, first to Texas after its revolution and finally to the United States after the Mexican American War.

Antonio López de Santa Anna was born in 1794, the son of middle class criollos (persons of European descent born in the Americas) in the Spanish province of Vera Cruz.  His family had enough money to send him to school for a time, but at sixteen, he became a cadet in the Fijo de Vera Cruz infantry regiment.  For five years his regiment policed Indian tribes and fought against insurgents, including filibusterers from the United States who were trying to free Texas from Spain.  Many historians believe that this early period of Santa Anna’s military career shaped his ideas of how to put down rebellions through the use of a fierce policy of mass executions, which he later used during the Texas War for Independence,

As a member of the Royalist army, the dashing young man, who used his charisma to charm acquaintances, fought for a while on the Spanish side as Mexico began its eleven-year war for independence from Spain.  However, as he did throughout his military and political career, he realized his best interest lay in switching sides to join the rebel forces fighting for independence.  All during the turbulent 1820s as coups ushered in first one and then another president, Santa Anna changed his allegiance to whomever was clawing his way to the top, quickly rising through the ranks while gaining the reputation as a valuable if treacherous ally.

In 1829 Santa Anna achieved what some claim was his greatest (and perhaps only) military victory when Spain made its last attempt to regain control of Mexico by invading Tampico.  Santa Anna, who was good at stirring up emotions and quickly rounding up an army, led an expedition that defeated the Spanish force. The invading army was suffering from yellow fever, but the defeat was real and Santa Anna emerged as a national hero.  Without hesitation he branded himself “The Victor of Tampico” and “The Savior of the Motherland.” More coups followed, accompanied by presidential exiles and executions, until the new Congress of Mexico elected Santa Anna as president on April 1, 1833.  Despite having run as a liberal, within a year Santa Anna claimed that the country was not ready for democracy.  He dissolved Congress and centralized power, turning his regime into a dictatorship backed by the military.

Liberals all over Mexico felt betrayed and several states began to defy the new authority including citizens in Texas y Coahuila, which was the northernmost state in Mexico that would eventually become the Republic of Texas.  The Texas settlers, who were mostly from the United States, had received generous land grants from the Mexican government and were demanding more fair treatment and the return to the original liberal terms they had received during colonization. Several open rebellions occurred along the Texas coast, at Nacogdoches, and finally at Goliad.  When citizens in Zacatecas also rose up in December 1835 in defiance of Santa Anna’s new authority, he moved quickly to crush the resistance and allowed his army to loot the town for forty-eight hours.  Then, he marched his army at top speed through winter cold to San Antonio where he raised the red flag of no quarter and demanded surrender of the Texans, whom he called “land thieves.” The thirteen-day siege ended with the killing of all the inhabitants of the Alamo fortress except for some women, children, and slaves.  The next demonstration of his intent to dominate the rebellious citizens occurred at Goliad when he ordered the execution of over 300 captives who had surrendered on the battlefield to General Urrea.  Despite Urrea’s letter requesting that the honorable surrender be recognized, Santa Anna sent word that they should be executed as pirates.  On the morning of March 27, 1836, the prisoners who could walk, were marched away from the Goliad fort and shot.  Those who had been injured in the battle were shot inside the compound.  When word spread of the Massacre at Goliad, people who had thought of Santa Anna as cunning and crafty, realized that he was indeed cruel and the realization fueled an infusion of volunteers from the United States to help the Texans fight for independence.

Santa Anna continued to march eastward intending to kill or drive across the Sabine River all the Texas land thieves whom he held in such disdain.  His amazing ability to hastily round up an army had never been tested at such long distances from the center of Mexican supplies or in the bitter cold and rain of that Texas spring.  He did not have ample food or supplies for his men, and as he chased the rebels across Texas, his nemesis, General Sam Houston, had the towns burned and supplies destroyed as Texas settlers fled in terror before the advancing Mexican Army.  Still confident of his superior force and determined that his military skill would win the day, Santa Anna left half his force on the banks of the Brazos River as he raced eastward to catch the officials of the interim Texas government and then defeat the ragtag army of Texas volunteer farmers and merchants.

When the two armies finally met on the banks of Buffalo Bayou on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna grossly underestimated the fury and determination of the Texans to repay the Mexican Army for the slaughter at the Alamo and at Goliad.  In fact, as the Mexican Army enjoyed its afternoon siesta, the Texans using two cannon that had only recently arrived from citizens of Cincinnati, Ohio, raced across less than two miles separating the two camps and in an eighteen-minute battle defeated the startled Mexicans.  Despite their victory, the furious Texans continued killing the Mexicans until 630 lay dead and 730 were taken prisoner.  The Texans lost nine.

Santa Anna was found the next day, dressed in peasant clothing and hiding in a marsh.  When he was taken before General Houston and realized his life was to be spared, he boldly announced his willingness to treat with Houston regarding the boundaries of the two countries, a real turn around from the day before when he planned to exterminate the pirates.  Santa Anna signed the Treaty of Velasco agreeing to Texas independence, but the Mexican government, upon hearing of his loss of Texas, deposed him in absentia and did not recognize his authority to give up Texas.

Santa Anna was not finished.  After a time of exile in the United States, he eventually made his way back to his estate in Vera Cruz.  In December 1838 the French landed in Vera Cruz after the Mexican government refused to reimburse French citizens for their financial losses in Mexico. Ironically, the government gave Santa Anna command of an army with instructions to defend Mexico by any means necessary.  In typical Santa Anna fashion, the assault failed, Mexico was forced to meet French demands, but Santa Anna managed to turn the disaster to his advantage.  He had been hit by cannon fire in his leg and hand, and his leg had to be amputated. He returned to politics as a hero of the war, touting his sacrifice for the fatherland.  He even had his amputated leg buried with full military honors.

He served again as acting president the following year and helped overthrow the government in 1841 to become dictator for the next four years.  During his reign he sent military expeditions into the Republic of Texas, which convinced many Texans that annexation to the United States would give them powerful support.  His autocratic rule fomented so much resistance that he was forced to step down and was exiled to Cuba.

Santa Anna found another chance to return to Mexico with the beginning of the Mexican-American War in 1846.  He made a deal with President James Polk to allow him to enter Mexico through the United States naval blockade in exchange for getting a negotiated settlement of land for the United States.  At the same time he was making that deal, he was arranging with Mexico’s president to lead an army against the northern invaders.  Reneging on both agreements, as head of the army, he marched to Mexico City and declared himself president.  Again, his military prowess failed and when the United States captured Mexico City, Santa Anna retired to exile in Jamaica.  The United States gained all or part of ten western states that stretched its borders all the way to the Pacific Coast.

General Santa Anna on a lithograph from 1852.

General Santa Anna on a lithograph from 1852.

It is hard to believe that even the conservatives, who wanted a central government under the control of the army and the Catholic Church, invited Santa Anna back in April 1853.  This time his administration was no more successful than before.  He declared himself dictator for life, funneled government funds to himself, and sold more Mexican territory to the United States in the Gadsden Purchase.  His “Most Serene Highness,” as he called himself, finally became too powerful even for his conservative friends.  A group of liberals, led by Benito Juárez, overthrew him and he fled again to Cuba. When the new government discovered the extent of Santa Anna’s corruption, he was tried in absentia for treason, and all his property was confiscated.

Santa Anna roamed from Cuba to Colombia, to St. Thomas and to Staten Island, New York, where he came up with the idea of selling chicle, which is the sap from the Mexican sapodilla tree, to the Americans as an additive to expensive natural rubber.  He planned to use his new wealth to raise another army to take over Mexico City.  Apparently Thomas Adams, who was a photographer, glassmaker, and inventor, was assigned to oversee Santa Anna.  Adams bought one ton of chicle from Santa Anna and tried unsuccessfully for a year to make rubber for carriage tires.  However, he remembered seeing Santa Anna chewing on the substance, decided to add sugar, and began what became known as “Chiclets” chewing gum. That was one windfall that Santa Anna failed to get in on.

In 1874, after Mexico issued a general amnesty, Santa Anna returned, a crippled old man who was almost blind from cataracts.  He had written his memoirs while in exile and spent the last two years virtually ignored by the Mexican government.  “The Napoleon of the West” died in Mexico City on June 21, 1876.

The Black Bean Episode

Despite the glorious story of Texas winning its independence from Mexico in that eighteen-minute battle at San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, the new republic remained embroiled in a series of political, economic, and military struggles.  The Black Bean Episode was the culmination of all those forces coming together for a grand failure.

Although Santa Anna lost the war for Texas Independence, he regained favor with the Mexican people in 1838 and won the presidency. (Watch this site next week for a review of Santa Anna and his amazing ability to return to power.) One of Santa Anna’s generals sent a warning to Texans in January 1842 of an impending attack if they 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.

Sam Houston, anxious to avoid another war and work instead toward building a strong republic, understood the political challenges and 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. On September 11, 1842, Gen. Adrián Woll, with 1,200 Mexican troops, captured San Antonio. Texans gathered at nearby Salado Creek to drive out the raiders, and while they were making headway in a pitched battle, less than two miles away a disaster was taking place.  When word had spread of the need for Texan support at San Antonio, Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson had raised a company of fifty-three men from the La Grange area.  On September 18, Dawson’s men 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 Texans were dead, fifteen were taken prisoner, and two escaped.  The dead were buried where they fell among the mesquite trees.  The survivors were marched to Perote Prison near Mexico City and only nine finally returned to Texas.

After what became known as the Dawson Massacre, 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 a town with little wealth to plunder, the men ransacked Laredo.  Somerville, who had not been especially 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.

Crossing the river to Ciudad Mier, the Texans battled all Christmas Day and into the night against a much larger Mexican force before finally surrendering. As captives, the Texans began the long march south toward prison in Mexico City. On February 11, 1843, the Texans overpowered their guards and in an effort to avoid capture fled into the arid mountains of Mexico, only to suffer 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. It is unclear how Santa Anna was convinced to change his mind and decree instead that one in every ten should be executed.

Seventeen black beans were placed in a pot of white beans.  Some accounts say that the black beans were added last, and that the

The Drawing of the Black Beans

“The Drawing of the Black Bean” by Frederic Remington.

officers were required to be the first to draw, then the selection proceeded in

Those who drew Black Beans faced a firing squad.

Those who drew Black Beans faced a firing squad.

alphabetical order.  The seventeen men who held black beans were executed before a firing squad.  The other prisoners eventually reached Perote Prison outside Mexico City.  Over time, some escaped, others had family and friends who arranged their release, and some died of illness and starvation.  Finally, on September 16, 1844, Santa Anna ordered the release of the remaining 104 Texas prisoners.

In 1847, while the United States Army occupied northeastern Mexico during the Mexican-American War, Captain John E. Dusenbury who had drawn a white bean, returned to the burial site of his comrades who had drawn black beans.  He exhumed the remains and carried them by ship to Galveston and then by wagon to La Grange. The citizens of La Grange retrieved the remains of those who had died in the Dawson Massacre and reinterred all the fallen in a common tomb housed in a cement vault on a high bluff overlooking La Grange.  Today, the gravesite is part of the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites.

Monument to the fallen in the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Episode.

Monument to the fallen in the Dawson Massacre and the Black Bean Episode.