The aim of the Texan-Santa Fe expedition was twofold. To being with, Texas had claimed all of the area to the Rio Grande—which included Santa Fe—after San Jacinto. While Texas was in no way able to govern the area, Lamar hoped to try. Ol’ Sam himself wasn’t against the idea—just the timing. If the New Mexicans wanted to be governed by Texas—and there was evidence they did—we were ready.
Secondly—and this was probably the more realistic goal—Texas wanted in on the Santa Fe trade. If the New Mexicans wanted to stay under the thumb of Mexico City, that would be fine, as long as Texas got her share of the Texas trade. It wasn’t a bad idea—it was still a good bit less distance to Santa Fe from Indianola, Texas’s most important port, than from Independence, Missouri.
I don’t think I’m cutting it too fine to say that many of us—if not all—had visions of entering Santa Fe with flags flying, a band playing, people cheering, and senoritas flirting. After things had gotten so tough, we may have modified our visions to entering the city quietly, getting a good meal, maybe a taste of “Taos Lightning”, and there would still be the senoritas. I can assure you that none of us had visions of not entering the city at all. Of being arrested and marched under guard to Mexico where we—those who survived the march—would rot in prison. But that is exactly what happened.
We were tricked into surrendering our arms, though in all honesty we could not have fought our way out. What could we have done? Gone back across the Llano, fighting Indians and starvation the whole way? Some blame Captain Lewis for the whole disaster, and there’s no question that he did betray us, but I place the blame on Lamar and the other organizers who understudied and oversold the whole project.
Anyway, after getting General MacLeod and the rest across the plains, we were all arrested and taken prisoner by the Mexican army under Governor Armijo. San Miguel—a little village several miles from Santa Fe was as close as we got to our intended destination. Our weapons and prized possessions were taken from us—sometimes even our boots and our hats! We were still suffering from hunger and the rigors of our journey as we were rounded up and marched toward Mexico.
At each town, the resident would come out to see us go by. Sometimes they threw things or jeered. Some took pity on us. I’ll never forget the first time one of the women broke from the ranks, rushed towards me, and placed tortillas in my hand. With that kind gesture, and the word “Pobrecito”, I admit I broke down and bawled. Here I considered myself a man, was over 700 miles from home, but when that senora did that, all I could think of was my mother, and how many times I had heard her use that word—though often in a gentle mocking way that Anglo mothers may say “poor little thing” to child that feels put upon. A Mexican soldier ran up and pushed her away, knocking the tortillas out of my hand. Though I was starving, I don’t think I could have eaten them anyway with that lump in my throat.
We suffered many indignities on our way to Mexico City. Armijo had given orders that if any man died on the trail, his ears would be cut off to prove that he had not escaped. But I would be unfair if I did not recount that we were also treated well at times—for prisoners of war. I know many of my fellow Texans have nothing good to say about Mexicans or people of Spanish descent, but I can assure you they are like people everywhere. When “men” like Santa Anna and Armijo get into power it leaves a bad taste for sure, but there were many gentlemen among the Mexican officers and men who had authority over us. (Even during the War for Texan Independence many of Santa Anna’s generals attempted to persuade the despot that captured Texans should be treated humanely as prisoners of war, but he would not listen.)
Almost 2000 miles we were marched, from near Santa Fe to Vera Cruz, where we were placed in Perote Prison—the same place Austin had been incarcerated aver two dozen years before. It was a horrible place—whatever horrors the word “dungeon” conjures up, with the exception of out-and-out torture, was at Perote. I tried to keep my mind active, even as my body was wasting away, but I won’t bore you with any more doggerel. I’ve forgotten most of it, anyhow.
Some guys didn’t make it—they died in New Mexico along the “Jornada del Muerte”, or in the Mexican deserts, or in prison. Falconer, being British, obtained an early release through the demand of Her Majesty Queen Vicky’s influence. Kendall also had important friends and became an advocate for the rest of us. Both of those fellow wrote accounts of the whole ordeal, and if you want to know more, I recommend you read them, because I’ve said about all I’m going to about it.
Thanks to pressure from the American and British governments, most of the rest of us got out of prison in April of 1842. We were shipped to New Orleans, then to Texas. I vowed I would never leave the Republic of Texas again—a promise I couldn’t keep.
I made my way back home. I had written and said I was coming, but I didn’t know when. When I walked into the house, Mama was fixing tortillas. She had gotten a little plumper while I had been gone. I said “Mama, estoy en casa.” She whirled to face me, rushed to kiss me, and kept saying “Pobrecito! Pobrecito!” and damned if I didn’t start bawling again. Moni and Mali and Lupe came from somewhere and everyone started talking and crying at once. Moni was now 16 and a beautiful young woman—engaged to a local farmer but putting off the wedding until I could get home. Mali and Lupe would be after the boys pretty soon themselves. From outside came a little six-year old terror, who was already showing signs of taking more after the “Independence” part of his name than the “Jesus” part. I think he had grown a foot in the time I had been gone.
How long had I been gone? Let’s see we left in June ’41 and it was now May…what? Surely not 1842? Hadn’t I been gone about ten years? It sure seemed like it. When Papa came in, he looked like he had aged that long for sure. If possible, I think my ordeal had been harder on him than on me. There was something there that had not been before—a seething, a brooding. He had developed a hatred for Santa Anna and the Mexican government that allowed him to stay in power.
“We should have killed that black-hearted cowardly son-of-a bitch when we had the chance after San Jacinto,” he said many times. “If I had known that’s who that sniveling prisoner was, I would have killed him myself.” I can’t say I cared much for the so-called “Napoleon of the West” myself, but there was something unhealthy about Papa’s anger and I figured no good could come of it. I was right.
“How’s that old Dutchman Bachman?” I asked as soon as the family had had a good look at me—and I had had my fill of Mama’s cooking.
“El es bueno,” Mama said. “He has asked about you often. Did you hear that San Antonio was captured in the spring by General Vasquez? Dios mio, I pray he is no relation! Anyway, he and some Mexican soldiers invaded and attacked San Antonio. Some of the Rangers—Bachman among them—resisted, but there was not enough of them and they had to give it up. Vasquez could not hold onto it, though—he was only making a show.”
Papa chimed in, “Scared the hell out of people though. Sam Houston—you know he’s back in office now—got worried about the government being in Austin out on the frontier and ordered the archives be taken back to Houston. This didn’t set will with the “Austinites”--or whatever the hell you call them—and refused. Damn near started a war over it. Don’t know as how it’s over yet.”
“Well, I think I’ll go over and see Bachman. Looks like we can compare notes on what it’s like to be humiliated by Mexican soldiers.” It wasn’t far to walk, but damn it, I had been walking for what seemed like years, so I took Papa’s horse—saddled out front—and rode him over.
It was a short trip--I did not expect it to change my life.