Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Texas Forever -- Day 12 -- Chapters 20, 21


“Dusty! Wie gehts?”

“Now, don’t start with your damned Dutch, Johann. I didn’t come for no German lesson.”

“Vas…uh, I mean, what? Oh--sorry, Dusty. I’ve been around my countrymen too long, and I tend to speak Deutsch…er, German, without realizing it.” Bachman had gotten pretty good at English—way better than I was with German. Generally, you couldn’t even pick up much of an accent unless he had been around some other Dutchmen and then he tended to sound like he just got off the boat.

“What do you mean ‘countrymen’?” I asked him. He told me that more and more Germans had begun to move to Texas. They had been coming to one degree or another since before independence, but afterwards they really ramped it up. Bachman told me that Germany was way overcrowded, and Texas offered new opportunities. He had written different members of his family still in “der Vaterland” and some of them had taken him up on his offer to help them get adjusted in Texas.

“So there’s gonna be a whole mess of Bachman’s in Texas, huh? I mean, as if the ones we got ain’t enough,” I kidded him. John was good that way—he could take a joke. Some of them Dutchmen would get mad as hell.

“Not to worry, Francis.” He knew I hated to be called that. “This ‘mess’ is not a Bachman mess. These are Weinheimers!”

“What the hell is a Wine Hammer?” I asked him. Before he could respond, the door behind him opened. A head peeped out then mumbled something that sounded like “bitter” and ducked back in.

“No, Klara, please, er, bitte,” he said to the door. Then to me, “I want you to meet my vetter…I mean cousin.”

The door opened and in walked the prettiest thing I had ever seen. Growing up around Spanish gals, I always figured I’d be trapped some day by a brown eyed, raven haired senorita. But when that Dutch cousin of Bachman’s walked in…well, I was just speechless. She wasn’t a small gal like the senoritas tended to be. She was tall and well, big-boned I guess you’d say, because she wasn’t fat, no sir. She had the prettiest smile and dimples that never quite went away. Her eyes were blue as…well, the closest thing I could compare them to in my own experience was the waters off Mexico, but they made me think of mountain lakes—even though I had never seen any. And she wasn’t bashful. She looked right at me—like she was every bit as good as I was, and like she had every intention of staying in Texas and making a life here. But her hair—her hair was long and wound into thick braids, and wrapped around up on her head. And it was the color of the full moon. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I thought of—that round smiling face with those bright blue eyes and those braids winding around her head—it made me think of the full moon. I can’t honestly say she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, but she was striking. And it struck me that here was one Dutch gal I would like to known better.

“Klara, this is my friend Dusty Miles,” Bachman said slowly and deliberately, and I figured then that the young lady, like her cousin, was probably better at English than I was at German. “Dusty, this is my cousin Klara Weinheimer.”

Now, frontier women will just stick out their hand like a man, so I stuck mine out. She lowered her gaze a bit and bowed a little, and stared at my hand, then at her cousin, then at me, then back at the hand. I realized I had embarrassed her somewhat, and myself a whole bunch. “Dust-tee,” she said thoughtfully. “Why would someone name you after dirt?”

She certainly had a direct manner. John was somewhat embarrassed by her question, so now we were all thoroughly blushing. He explained that her mother—his aunt--had died in Germany and her father had brought Klara, who was seventeen, and her younger brother Heinrich to Texas to start a new life. Unfortunately, her father had taken sick on the ocean voyage and died shortly before the ship reached port. Klara and Heinrich were devastated, naturally, and terrified to be in this wild new country. John had learned all of this when he met them at the dock, so what could he do but take them in? They had been studying English before they left, and being young, had picked it up pretty quickly.

“But Heinrich,” he explained, “had practiced onboard ship, and his vocabulary is, uh, unusually broad for a thirteen-year-old boy.”

“For a Dutchman, maybe,” I said. “Probably not for a Texan.”

As if on cue, the door opened again, and in walked a tow-headed boy with a dimpled, cherubic smile.

“What in the ever-loving hell is going on here,” he said. “And who is this moony-eyed son of a bitch?”

Bachman was stunned. Klara was still trying to figure out what he said, so I just remarked, “Well, one thing about it John. I understood every word he said!” Then turning to the boy, I stuck out my hand. “Jackson Miles is the name. You can call me Dusty.”
He grasped my hand in a firm handshake. “Heinrich Weinheimer. But you can call me Inky.”


“Ja..I mean yes. On ship I was always curious about the way the sailors did things, so I asked questions. They started calling me ‘inquisitive little bastard’…but eventually we became friends and it was shortened to Inky’.”

Now Bachman was no prude, and could cuss with the best—in two languages. (I never knew what those German words were, but they seemed to capture the spirit of the thing better than the English and Spanish I could cuss in.) But hearing his young cousin talk this way was a bit much. “I think we’ll just call you ‘Henry’—it sounds much more, uh, TEXAN!” That pleased the boy and he assented.

I stayed for a while and told my tale of the Santa Fe expedition. Klara and Henry were spellbound. Even Bachman was impressed to hear about the Llano and the Jornada del Muerte and Perote. He caught me up a little bit more on the situation in Texas. It looked like there was going to be more trouble with Mexico. This whole thing about Santa Fe had really stirred the pot. Santa Anna claimed we had invaded Mexico. Texas and her allies were pretty hot over the treatment of the prisoners. Vasquez had already invaded, and there were likely to be others. Houston was trying to figure out he should respond with an empty treasury. Some wanted the United States to annex Texas and some didn’t. It was the same in the U. S.. Texas was a slave state and the abolitionists were against annexation. On the other hand, it would add a huge chunk of land to the growing nation.

It was serious talk, but every time I glanced at Klara and saw those captivating dimples, and that beautiful hair, and those intense eyes as she concentrated on the conversation, I knew the only claim I cared about was for her affection.

If there’s one thing you can say about the times, they sure as hell weren’t boring!


Even as we were speaking, Mexican General Woll was moving on San Antonio, which he captured briefly, then retreated. (These small excursions only proved that Mexico had no business with Texas. They couldn’t hold on to it if they got it.) It made all of us mad, but Papa seemed to take it personally. I think two things combined to forge his animosity. One was the way we were treated in New Mexico. There’s something about a first-born son, and Papa took it as a personal affront that his boy had been treated so badly. (The fact that I volunteered, that the Texas leadership—so grossly uninformed--was largely to blame, didn’t matter to him.)

But I really think he brooded on the fact that he had been the one to capture Santa Anna, that it had been in his power to kill him, but that he had been released to create more mischief. (Again, the fact that Santa Anna alive was more valuable than Santa Anna dead—at least in the days after San Jacinto—was never comprehended by him. All he could focus on is what grief that “cowardly son of a bitch” had caused.)

President Houston had had enough, and Texans were demanding retaliation. Texas could no longer sit idly by while Mexico continued to send armies to invade. Ol’ Sam sent out a call for volunteers to join with the militia under Alexander Somervell to make a punitive expedition against Mexico. Papa answered the call—he knew Somervell a bit, having served in the army with him. He was over forty by this time and still had the plantation and a growing family, but he felt compelled to go. I was still recuperating—and had had my fill of adventure for a while. Chuy wasn’t old enough and Papa felt that a Miles had to be there if Texas was being defended. You would hope a guy that age would have better sense, I thought. (Many times that line came back to haunt me as I marched with the 4th Texas in the Confederate Army.)

The army was undersupplied, and didn’t make a very impressive showing against the foe. Eventually, Somervell commanded that the army disperse and the men go home. For many, those words fell on deaf ears.

William Fisher was one who was not ready to give up. He was an old friend from Gonzales, and I guess Papa would have followed him anywhere. Fisher was elected leader of those firebreathers who stayed and attacked the Mexican city of Mier. There the Texans, after fierce house to house fighting, were tricked into surrendering. Originally, Santa Anna ordered the entire force executed. Cooler heads prevailed, reasoning that the outcry of world opinion would be intense. The dictator “relented”—after a fashion—and ordered that only ten percent of the men be executed. The decision would be by lottery. Every man would be forced to reach into a jar full of beans and draw one. Those who drew white beans lived. Those who drew black ones faced the firing squad. The rest were imprisoned.

William “Bigfoot” Wallace had accompanied Fisher on that ill-fated trip. He reported that he survived because he noticed that the white beans seemed to be larger, so when he reached into the jar he felt for the biggest bean he could find and drew out life. Prison was hell, he reported, but he was alive. I heard his tale when he returned from prison. He was a close friend of Bachman’s, and came by to tell of his ordeal. When we were introduced his eyes got misty. He put his huge hand on my shoulder. “Frank Miles was as fine a man as I have ever been around. He fought for Texas at San Jacinto, and he fought for Texas at Mier. He produced a fine Texas family. And when the time came, he died like a man…for Texas!”

Papa had drawn a black bean.

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