Friday, November 14, 2008

Texas Forever -- Day 14 -- Chapters 22, 23


If anything good could come out of such disasters as the Black Bean Incident and the Texan Santa Fe Expedition, it is that it turned world opinion in favor of Texas against Mexico. In Texas, we weren’t as concerned with what the world thought of us as what the United States did.. Houston had always looked toward annexation, and it became apparent that Texas would have a rough time making it on her own. We had loads of natural resources, we just couldn’t cash in on them. Personally, I didn’t give a damn about the United States. I had never been an American. Papa would talk sometimes about his childhood, and I might have warm feelings for South Carolina, but I was a Texan, through and through, and was loyal to the Republic.

I don’t think Mexico really wanted Texas either—they just didn’t like the idea of having a large piece of property jerked away. The expeditions against us were more of a punitive nature than any real attempt to get the property back. Santa Anna had been disgraced, and he couldn’t stand it—but his high-handed ways were to work against him. Texas’s friends in the U.S. began to work toward annexation, and we were ready.

One of the biggest drawbacks to admitting Texas to the Union was the fact that she was a slave state, and the abolitionists were against it. Having grown up around slaves I guess I just couldn’t see the harm in it, though my period of captivity in Mexico sure made me see that chains and cramped quarters weren’t much fun. I hate to admit it now, but I guess I—like a lot of other folks—just had a hard time admitting that colored folks were as good as others.

Mama was dead-set against slavery, but it didn’t come up much at home. I guess she loved Papa and knew she couldn’t change him, so they had agreed to disagree on the subject and by the time I came along it was never discussed. But now, Mama had to face it. With Papa gone, she had inherited all of his property which included his slaves. If she could have had her way, she would have freed them all, but there were a couple of problems with that. One was that for the most part, they had no marketable skills off the plantation. The other—and bigger—problem was that it was illegal to manumit slaves in the Republic.

Her solution was to sell the whole shebang—plantation, slaves, buildings—even our home. As the widow of a veteran, she could claim a headright of property on the frontier. Of course, she couldn’t work it herself, but she felt like between her and her children and their spouses, it could be managed. By now, one of the girls was married, and the second was a-fixing to be. I had even thought about it myself.

I had begun calling on Klara. To begin with, I used the excuse of wanting to see Bachman, but I didn’t fool anybody long. If he wasn’t there, Klara would invite me in fro coffee and..well, it would have been unneighborly of me to refuse! And I must say, I didn’t mind looking at that gal one bit. She was fun to talk with, too. She wasn’t simpering like a lot of the “belles”, she wasn’t rough like the frontier gals, and she wasn’t as full of vinegar as the senoritas. She was different. (Stubborn as hell, I admit, but that could be an advantage in Texas.) I had found lots of girls pretty, but this was one I knew I wanted to build a life with.

But it was no time to be building a life. Texas was in turmoil. I never knew when I might be called on to defend her. The Comanches were on the warpath—hell, they had BEEN on the warpath ever since the Council House fight--and the Rangers were almost constantly needed. Once, a few years earlier, they had raided all the way to the coast! (I could never quite get Cynthia Ann Parker out of my mind. I wondered if she was even still alive, though once in a while you’d hear a report that she was—but she had become as savage as her captors.)

Speaking of fighting Comanches, I really ought to tell you about when I got my first Colt revolver. Now that was something. About a dozen or so of us Rangers were called to accompany Captain Jack Hays on a search for Indians. The trail led us to the Pedernales. We had recently come into possession of some Colt “Patersons” and were anxious to try them out. We spotted the Indians and formed in battle formation. The Indians—and there were about eighty of them—charged us. We quickly dismounted and fired our muzzle-loading rifles. We then remounted. This was how it had always been, and the Indians fully expected us to remount and ride to a safer place where we could reload.

This time was different. We remounted and drew our new five-shot Colt revolvers and headed into the body of Indians. “Powder burn ‘em, boys,” Captain Jack yelled, meaning to charge and fire at close range. (The Comanches loved close battle—it allowed them to “count coup” with their war clubs—but this time they were surprised!). Looking back, it was almost funny to think of how their eyes got big when we charged and were still able to shoot. We proved that day the devastating firepower of the Colt revolver. It was—and is—a fine weapon.

I kept seeing Klara, and she wanted to get married, but I kept putting it off. For one thing, I wasn’t sure that Bachman, being her guardian, would approve. (Later he told me that there were lots of times he came in to find my horse tied outside, so he just stayed away a bit longer. Sometimes he would take Henry so Klara and I could have some time alone.) But mainly it was just that the times were so unsettled. I guess maybe I was afraid that being married would make me more cautious and less of a good soldier if the time came.

So Mama sold out. She said she wanted to get away from slavery and from the threat of Mexican invasions—but I really think the old place was too painful for her. Her parents, a child, and now her husband were buried here. She wanted a new life.

She filed a claim in Navarrro County. (I thought it appropriate that they would name the county after Jose Navarro. He had been on the Santa Fe Expedition, and had suffered more than most of us, as Santa Anna had resented that a man he considered a “paisano”, or countryman, be supportive of Texas. (As far as I was concerned, most people didn’t even know I had Spanish blood--Mama was very light complected and had blue eyes—which I inherited. Besides, I was a lowly private—not a leader like Senor Navarro.)

As a Ranger and veteran, I too had a right to file a claim, but since I was not ready to settle down, I decided to wait—there might be better land further out there, somewhere—something more suited to ranching. I really was not interested in farming. I was not really into politics either, but wherever you went, folks were talking about annexation. The Mexicans made a last-ditch effort and recognized the Republic, the Brits were against it, and that made the U.S. interested, so finally they agreed to it. Lacking just a few days being ten years, Texas President Anson Jones declared “The Republic of Texas is no more.”

So it was now the STATE of Texas, not the Republic. We could settle down to business. The federal government in Washington would send its soldiers to protect us from Indians and Mexicans and we would all live in peace and harmony.

Well, not quite


The federal government was all too ready to accept the boundaries that Texas had established for herself—probably because the land included Santa Fe—but Mexico insisted that the boundary should be the Neches. Zachary Taylor advanced toward the Rio Grande, so to save face, the Mexican Army crossed that river and engaged the American army. President Polk insisted that was American soil, and the fight was on. Captain Jack and other Rangers had been taken in as a special force of scouts and guerillas and I knew I had to go. I hated to leave Mama and Klara, but I was needed on the march to Mexico City. I had been there.

There has been a lot written about the Mexican War, so I’ll only mention a couple of things. First, the Rangers did their job well—maybe too well. Many of us had been in Mexico as prisoners and we had no use for the Mexican guerillas. It was said that Jack Hays took no prisoners. After Goliad, I can’t say as I blame him.

Sam Walker was killed in Mexico. He had been with us at the battle on the Pedernales when we proved the Colts, and later went to show Sam Colt how the weapon could be improved. (Colt named the his new improved model the “Walker”.) He had also been with Papa on the Mier Expedition and fought like a tiger. He was a good man.

A new song had become popular in the United States—or really new words put to an old song. All the Americans were singing it. It started like this: “Green grow the lilacs.” The Mexicans heard us sing it so much they began to call us the “Green Grows”—which was shortened to “Gringos”.

When the Mexicans were defeated, I returned home. In the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the war, Mexico ceded all of its claims on Texas clear to the Pacific Ocean. More importantly, the Rio Grande was recognized as the southern boundary of Texas. Two other significant details that came about—though I can’t remember whether it was with annexation, the war, or something else—was that a huge chunk of Texas, including Santa Fe was carved off, in order to settle her debts. The Lone Star State, however, retained the ownership of all public lands. It didn’t seem like much at the time, but it would prove to be pivotal.

Mama was doing fine--Chuy was about twelve and making a good hand. Monica had married her beau, Addison “Addy” Ritchie, and they were helping farm Mama’s place. Bachman had stayed in DeWitt County and married Addy’s sister Caroline and they were starting a brood. He had taken a job as school teacher, and doing a good job of it. So Klara and I tied the knot.

I claimed land along the Brazos for my homestead—land that was owed to me as a citizen of the Republic, as a Ranger, and as a veteran. I built a cabin and corrals and set up ranching.

To begin with, we were in constant danger of Comanche raids. We lost some cattle, lost some horses, but the raids were at night and we were never molested personally. It seems like the Indians could tell when we were beginning to get a little bit ahead, for that’s when they would strike, and we were back at square one financially. Mama helped us some—she still had some money left from the sale of the plantation—but mostly it was just us.

I was in heaven, though. I was my own boss, living free on some of the most beautiful land in Texas. And Klara was my wife. I truly felt that no man could ask for more. She worked as hard as I did—harder really—but she never lost her beauty. She always wore that moon-colored hair wrapped around her head in the German fashion, but when she would take it down and let it fall in all it’s glory….

We were just a couple of hard-working energetic kids and before long Klara had one “in the oven”, which put a blush on her cheeks that made her even more beautiful. When the boy came, I would have liked to name him after Papa, but none of his names seemed to fit. We tossed around the idea of naming him Sam Houston, or John Hays, and then the answer became obvious—John Bachman Miles—after her cousin-guardian, and my best friend.

“Hell of a thing to do to a helpless kid,” Bachman told us when he came by to see the new addition, but he couldn’t hide his pride. Caroline had given birth to a son in the second year of their marriage, but the boy did not live long. I think it gave them pleasure—and the courage to try again—to see Klara and I with a baby. At any rate it wasn’t much more than a year later that she gave birth again—this time to a girl they named Catherine.

Life was good, but tragedy always seemed to be lurking around the corner. Monica and Addy had a boy about a year before we did, named Jesse. When the boy was about four years old he contracted typhoid. Just a year or two earlier, a doctor had moved to Golconda, the nearest town, and through his hard work and something else—God’s grace maybe, I don’t know—the boy pulled through. He was very weak and could eat only soft foods. The doctor strictly warned the family about letting him eat anything coarse.

Now Mama was an excellent cook. She had learned the ways of her people, and of the Southerners that made up most of the white population of Texas. (Ol’ Joe had even taught her how to cook carp, but thankfully, she never did!) Growing up the oldest, I personally preferred her tortillas, but the younger ones of the family preferred her cornbread, and I must say it was larrupin’. Little Jess, in his young years had developed a taste for it as well. After his illness, he tired of the mush he was forced to eat, and began to beg Mama for some cornbread. (Monica was a hard worker like Klara, and she and Addy worked the fields while Mama cooked.)

Mama was a most tender-hearted woman. She hated to see any of her brood suffer. She knew what the doctor’s orders were, but Jesse was getting stronger every day, and he had been so good to always eat his mush. As the tears rolled down his cheeks, her heart broke and her good nature overruled her good judgment. She gave Little Jess a small piece of the golden cornbread. The smile on his face was like hearing the angels sing, and Mama was happy that such a simple gesture could bring such pleasure to them both.

By that evening, the boy was gravely ill. By the next morning he was passing blood and the doctor was called for. “This boy must have had some improper food,” he declared. “He was on the mend. The diet I prescribed must have been deviated from.” It was then that Mama broke down and confessed that she had fed the child a tiny bit of cornbread. “Then you have succeeded in killing your grandchild,” was the doctor’s retort. “There’s nothing I can do here.” He snapped his bag shut and left. I could easily have killed the arrogant son of a bitch.

Mama was devastated. Monica and Addy were heartbroken, but they, more charitable than I, saw it as God’s will—that many children died of typhoid, and they had been given a few extra days with their beloved son. I couldn’t understand it myself. Why would God save a child from a disease that normally killed—only to have that child die from the well-meaning act of a beloved grandmother? It didn’t make any sense to me then. It doesn’t make any sense to me now. But neither can I understand why a beautiful woman and her son would be savagely killed trying to live a peaceful life, while a thousand miles away her husband was killing other people, yet could not die himself.

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