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

Advertisements

WILD MAN OF THE NAVIDAD

A story, circulated since the 1830s in South Central Texas, contains enough truth to merit a Texas Historical Marker.  Residents along the Navidad River bottom in Lavaca and Jackson counties began seeing strange footprints along the riverbank, and at the same time they began missing small amounts of sweet potatoes and corn.  On moonlit nights half the food in their cabins disappeared even though an intruder had to step over sleeping dogs.  Tools vanished, only to be returned later, brilliantly polished and sharpened.  In fall around hog-killing time families stopped fattening hogs because a fat hog was invariably replaced with a scrawny substitute.  Valuables such as gold or watches were never taken although they were plainly visible when the food disappeared.

Everyone speculated about “it.”  Slaves called it “The Thing That Comes,” thinking it was a ghost.  Settlers, finding two sets of footprints, believed one of the intruders to be a man and the other a smaller companion, perhaps a woman or child.

Many people organized search parties trying to capture the “Wild Man of the Navidad.”  Sometimes they found his camp among the thick growth of trees, but he never returned to the site while the pursuers waited.

Texas folk author J. Frank Dobie in his book Tales of Old-Time Texas concluded that the phantom figure had to be a woman because several well-documented sightings reported that “it” had long, flowing hair and facial features more similar to a woman. Dobie writes of a near capture in 1846 during an intense search when a rider heard rustling of the brush just before “it” ran in the light of the moon onto the open prairie.  “She ran directly across the prairie in the direction of the main forest.  The man nearest her rode a fleet horse and it needed all the speed it had to keep up with the object in pursuit.  As the figure neared the dark woods, the rider was able to throw his lasso. But, as the rope neared the woman, the horse shied away and the lasso felt short.  The figure darted into the woods never to be seen again.”

Dobie said the rider claimed that the creature had long, flowing hair that trailed down almost to its feet and it wore no clothing.  Her body seemed to be covered with short, brown hair.

“As she fled to the woods, she dropped a club to the ground that was about 5 feet long and polished to a wonder,” Dobie said.

Finally, in 1851, with the help of dogs trained to hunt down runaway slaves, local residents following their baying hounds found a black man in a tree.  He wore no clothes and spoke no English.  Some accounts say he was put in jail where he remained for about six months until a sailor wandered through who was familiar with the native dialect of the captive’s African tribe.

The captive said his father, a chief of their tribe, sold his son into slavery for the price of a knife and tobacco.  The new slave and a companion escaped after their transport ship reached Texas. They settled in the Navidad River bottom because of the abundance of wildlife and fruit. His companion died from exposure.

The captured man, whom they called Jimbo, was sold back into slavery and lived in Victoria and Refugio counties.  Freed after the Civil War, he reportedly died in 1884.

J. Frank Dobie writes, “Of course all of this happened many years ago and in the telling you can always guarantee some build up in the information will take place.  If these things did happen, I cannot explain how.”

HEARTBREAK ON THE TEXAS FRONTIER

It is probably legitimate to say she died of a broken heart, a heart that started breaking when she was about nine years old.  Cynthia Ann Parker’s family and several members of the Parker clan moved from Illinois to North Central Texas in the spring of 1835 and built a log fortress they called Fort Parker.

On May 19, 1836, several of the men in the Parker family were out working in the field a mile from the fort when a large force of Comanche, Kiowa and Kichai attacked the fort.  Cynthia Ann’s horror began as she watched the slaughter of her father, uncle, and grandfather.  As was the custom among Southern Plains Indians, the women were raped.  Some were killed or died later from their wounds.

Her uncle James Parker arrived from the field in time to help seventeen family members escape into the nearby forest, but he was too late to help Cynthia Ann.  She was carried away as were her brother John, and James’ own daughter and grandson, and his sister-in-law—five family members—stolen by the Indians who soon divided their captives among different bands.

Over the next several years, the Parker family began recovering first one and then another of its lost members through various ransom arrangements.

For twenty-four years stories surfaced of Cynthia Ann being spotted with various Comanche bands, even refusing on one occasion her brother John’s request to return to her white family.  An Indian Agent claimed that offers to buy her release were rebuffed by Comanches who vowed that only force would induce her captors to release her.

Cynthia Ann married Peta Nocona, war chief of the Nocone band of the Comanche who was so devoted to his white wife that despite Comanche custom of polygamy, he never took another wife.  She bore two sons Quanah and Pecos and a daughter Topsanna (often called Prairie Flower).

On December 18, 1860, Sul Ross led his Texas Rangers on a surprise attack of a Comanche hunting camp, killing many including women and children. Peta Nocona was shot, and accounts differ as to whether or not he was killed.  The Rangers were surprised that one of the three Indian captives who carried an infant daughter had blue eyes and spoke broken English.  When she said her family name, Ross believed he had found the missing Cynthia Ann.

Some of the Rangers tried to convince Ross to allow her return to the Comanches, but Ross believed so many families across the country had lost children in Indian raids that it would stir up terrible unrest among all the families not to allow her reunion with her white family.

When Cynthia Ann’s Uncle Isaac Parker arrived and said her name, Cynthia Ann patted her chest and said “Me Cincee Ann.”

At some point after her “rescue” Cynthia Ann, her hair cut short–a Comanche sign of mourning–was photographed with her two-year-old daughter Topsanna at her breast. She apparently believed her husband was dead and that she would never again see her sons Quanah and Pecos.

The following April, the Texas Legislature granted Cynthia Ann $100 a year for the next five years, a league of land (about 4,400 acres), and appointed her uncles guardians. Despite being moved from the home of one family member to the next, she never adjusted to life in white society and tried unsuccessfully several times to return to her Comanche family.

In 1864, Topsanna died of influenza.  Cynthia Ann never recovered from losing her daughter.  Some accounts say she stopped eating and died very soon; others say she continued to grieve until her death in 1870.  She died without knowing that her son Quanah became the last of the great Comanche chiefs.