Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Texas Forever--Day 4--Chaps 7, 8


Sam Houston was appointed General of the Texas Army, but it was an army in name only. Oh, there were plenty of men ready to fight, they just weren’t ready to follow orders. The tradition in those days was to have militia units who would elect their leaders from among their ranks, which led to disaster in more cases than one. Houston, on the other hand, had been appointed general of the Texas Army—the “Regulars”.

Houston was in fear of getting “forted up”, so he sent Jim Bowie to San Antonio to destroy the old mission there, then rejoin the main body of troops with Houston. When Bowie and his men reached the Alamo, he decided it was worth defending; that the Mexican Army—if they came back at all—should be stopped as far west as possible. It was a decision that cost the lives of many good men.

I remember one day that January when Papa and me were in town. A crowd had gathered around this feller that seemed pretty old to me at the time. (Now, I would think him a young man.) He must’ve been about 50. He talked a lot about free land (he was for it) and Andy Jackson (he was against him) and I don’t know what all. It was some time later I learned this fellow was the famous David Crockett.

Now you can brag about how Crockett died fighting for Texas independence. I suppose he did, but I am pretty well convinced that he did not come to Texas to fight. He came to acquire land and get involved in politics. Hell, that’s what everybody came to Texas for—at least the land part. I do not intend this as a way of disgracing the man’s memory. I just don’t believe he came with the intention of fighting—he was nearly fifty years old. Be that as it may, when the time came he fought and died like a man. I am proud I got to see him once.

I was only 11, but I recall as if it were yesterday when Papa came to me, his usually jolly face all serious, and told me that he was going to join Sam Houston and fight for the freedom of Texans--I would have to be the man of the house for a while.

That was a bigger job than I may have led you to believe. I haven’t mentioned it, but Mama had given birth several more times. I didn’t think it was worth mentioning it, seeing as how they were all girls. Let’s see, I was born in ’24, Monica in ’26, Amalia (“Molly”) in ’29, and Guadalupe (“Lupe”) in ’34. Mama had lost one in ’31. And to top it all, she had one “in the oven” when Papa left. She wasn’t overjoyed that he was going to join the army, but she understood why. Papa still had Joe, of course. He could’ve taken Joe with him—a lot of men took their personal servants—but he decided it would be better to leave him with us.
That meant I was also in charge of the plantation, but since it was winter, there were no crops to worry about, and chores were managed by the overseer, anyway.

We had heard that the Mexican Army had invaded Texas. Santa Anna was marching on Bexar..that is, San Antonio, and other groups were coming from elsewhere along the Rio Grande. We didn’t know what to do, but since Mama was going to “domino” at any time, we stayed put. On March 1 she told me to run to Tio Mano’s house and bring back his wife, Mercedes, who had helped with the other births. The next day about mid-morning, a new little Miles came into the world. And this one would stay a Miles. I finally had a brother.

Papa hadn’t cared much what names the girls got, but Mama was pretty sure he would want some say in naming this boy, so she put off naming him, hoping Papa would come back. A few days later, a messenger rode up and told us what had happened at the Alamo—how all the men with Bowie, plus the ones that came with Travis, plus the ones that rode in with Crockett, had been killed. There was much distress around Gonzales with the news—at least a dozen women had been left widowed, and their children orphaned. Silently Mama prayed her thanks that her man was with Houston.

The same rider that told us about the Alamo told us that Texans had declared their Independence from Mexico on March 2, and that men were flocking to join General Houston. Mama realized that it might be a long time before Papa came home—she wouldn’t allow herself to consider that he might not—and named the baby. She proclaimed his name would be Texas Independence—and just to honor her Catholicism, she gave him one more name—Jesus. Texas Independence Jesus Miles. I started calling the baby “Chuy” and never griped about my name again.

When another messenger came with the word that Santa Ann was on the move toward the settlements, we began to pack. When we heard the news about Goliad and other massacres, we quit packing and started moving. A man that would order prisoners to be shot in cold blood would no doubt be similarly ruthless regarding women and children.

We were not alone. It seemed all of Texas was moving east. This became known as the “Runaway Scrape”. To me, a “scrape” sounds like a trivial thing, but I can assure you this was serious. “Unbridled panic” is not too strong a term. We were on the run and it seemed Houston and the army were too. The further east the Mexican troops moved, the further east the Texan army moved. It was one of the wettest springs ever, and the creeks were all rushing bank to bank. We had determined to make it to the Sabine River and cross into the United States, but the swollen rivers were hampering our efforts. Every night people wondered aloud why Houston didn’t stand and fight. Some ridiculed the army and that hurt. I knew Papa was no coward. I also believed Houston must have a plan. I just hoped the plan didn’t involve beating the civilians into Louisiana!

(Unbeknownst to us, President Jackson had stationed troops near the Texas border, with orders to follow any marauding Indians as far as necessary. Unfortunately, the Indians stubbornly refused to “maraud”, denying the U. S. troops any pretense to enter what was still the sovereign nation of Mexico!)

As we waited to cross one more river we heard a shout to our rear. This was initially cause for alarm, but it was good news. A messenger was shouting that Santa Anna had been defeated on a creek called the San Jacinto near Harrisburg—and not only defeated but captured! We shouted for joy. The “Scrape” was over! One week later I turned 12.


So now we began our return—but what was there to return to? Houston’s retreating army had burned nearly everything that could be used by an invading army. What was left had been used up, burned, or otherwise destroyed by the Mexican army.

When we reached the plantation it was in ruins. Here we were, a woman with a half-grown boy, three young girls, and a baby boy. Of course, we did have Joe and that helped a lot. He was able to locate some of the other slaves and they began to rebuild the place. Why they didn’t take the opportunity to “light a shuck” I’ll never understand—just didn’t really have anywhere else to go, I reckon.

When it became obvious that the Mexican Army was going to leave Texas sure enough, Papa got a furlough and came home for a while. A generous parcel of land went to all veterans, so a lot of men were still flocking into Texas and joining the Army. That gave Papa and the other veterans a little time to look after their affairs.

I still remember Papa’s face when he looked in Mama’s eyes again. I wasn’t there the first time they saw each other, but I think I can guess what it looked like. I also remember Papa’s face when he looked upon his second son for the first time. Now, Papa loved his girls, but a boy is special—especially after such a long drought. But what I remember most of all is when mama told him what the boy’s name was. Papa looked like he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He just gurgled a bit and said, “I reckon we’ll just call him “Tex”. To the end of his days, Mama, me and his sisters called him “Chuy”. Papa and everybody else called him “Tex”. But nobody ever called him Texas Independence Jesus!

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