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
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 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
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.
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