Saturday, November 8, 2008

Texas Forever -- Day 8 -- Chapters 13, 14

Looking back now, it seems like all we did was scrabble for a living. The Republic of Texas was broke, and President Houston was trying hard to get us out of debt. He curtailed expenses as much as possible, but defense for the nation was essential, so Texas maintained both a navy—to protect the Gulf coast, and an army—to protect against incursions from Mexico and the Indians. It was about this time, I guess, that Ol’ Sam realized the Rangers were cheaper and more effective than a standing army.

You can get a fight going about when exactly the “rangers” came into existence. Some say that Austin started them back in the early colonial days. Some say that they were officially started during the unrest before the War for Texas Independence. I know that there was a bunch of fellows during the Runaway Scrape that were assigned to protect the fleeing settlers as much as possible. That was probably the first time I had much contact with them. A lot of people held them in disregard, since they weren’t fighting in the army, but I’m here to tell you, we needed them in the Scrape, too.

We were running for our lives, scared to death of the Mexican Army, but that wasn’t the only danger. We never knew when the Indians might spring on us, but the worst was the renegades. There are always folks ready to take advantage of other people’s misfortunes, and the Runaway Scrape was no different. It was bad enough that we had to leave our farms and homes. It was bad enough to think that some Mexican soldier might make off with the things you couldn’t take with you. But there were men—white men, Texans (so-called)—who not only pilfered the stuff left behind, but would actually follow the runaways picking up stuff they left. Some were even rotten enough to rob the runaways face-to-face, and I heard of a case or two where they…well, I hate to say, but let’s just say that the rangers were needed and appreciated—especially by the women.

That may be where I began to admire the Rangers, but I really think it came earlier. Men would come back from a fight with the Indians, talking about how many they had killed, and how they were making the country safe. That, to a young boy’s ears, was heady stuff. Of course, I never thought much about the ones who came back laying across their saddles, or bleeding form a wound, or the ones who didn’t come back at all. Or if I did think about them, it was with a measure of pride, and a thought of the glory they befell them.

I used to think about that a lot when I lay rotting in that Yankee prisoner of war camp. Why is it we make war so glorious? I daresay that most of that comes from folks who were never in the heat of the battle—from folks who never saw the flash of a rifle or cannon and realize that the shot was headed your way. I believe there are times when fighting must be done—but not anywhere near as often as we do it.

But anyway, I admired the Rangers, and Bachman didn’t help any. As a matter of fact, he’s probably the main fellow responsible for me wanting to be one so bad. Between admiring the Rangers and hating the plantation, it wasn’t hard to see where the direction of my life was headed. By the time I was sixteen, I could ride like a Mexican, trail like an Indian, shoot like a Tennessean, and fight like the devil, as the saying goes, so there was no doubt what I would do. Mama cried and cried. Papa didn’t really like it much, but he understood. As a matter of fact, he had rode with them a time or two himself.

I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I forgot to mention that Houston—who could only serve one term as President (that’s what the law was) was succeed by Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar. So help me God, that was his real name, and how he ever told it to anybody with a straight face, I’ll never know. At least my brother had a couple of nicknames he could fall back on, but I guess Lamar had to live with his.

Lamar was a fighter—he had proved it in the war—and was smart as a whip. He could sell a buffalo robe to an Indian, and he wrote poetry too. And he was one of those fellows that you didn’t have to stay around long to find out what they were thinking. Papa had been in the army with him at San Jacinto. He admitted he was a good soldier, but wouldn’t say much beyond that. That may be because Papa was, without question, a Houston man and Lamar fought Houston as hard as he fought the Mexicans. Houston believed we could live peacefully with the Indians, while Lamar was ready to kill them all. There were other differences, as well.

Houston had tried to be fiscally responsible with the Republic’s money—or lack of it—but Lamar spent like a sailor in port. And speaking of sailors, that was another difference. Houston grudgingly supported the navy as a necessity for defense. Lamar saw it—and used it—as a means to attack Mexico. Lamar sent the navy, under Commodore Edwin Moore, to support Mexican revolutionaries in the Yucatan peninsula and elsewhere.

As a matter of fact, there was one time when Moore sailed the navy up a river in Mexico to some town, aimed his cannons, and sent a message to the city leaders to empty their coffers of gold and bring them to the ship. Not wanting to see their town leveled, they complied. Moore took the gold in the name of Texas and high-tailed it back to Texas. In a way, that’s kind of funny, but it’s not really the way to build better relations between nations. It should be remembered that Mexico had never recognized Texas independence (the concept, I mean, not my brother—though Mexico had never recognized him, either), so a state of war still existed. But taking gold at gunpoint sounds like piracy to me. Houston thought so, too, and decommissioned the navy. But that was in his second term, and I’m getting ahead of myself again.

One of the biggest differences in Sam Houston and Mirabeau Lamar was that Ol’ Sam had wanted to annex Texas to the U.s. from the beginning. As a matter of fact, there’s some evidence to indicate that’s what Houston was doing in Texas to begin with—to tey and acquirre Texas for the United States. I don’t know if Mexico would ever have sold it or not, but when it became apparent that there were unresolvable differences between Texas and Mexico, Andy Jackson stepped up his efforts. When the Texans declared independence, however, Jackson was stymied. He didn’t mind putting a little pressure on Mexico to sell, but the couldn’t aid a government in rebellion against a sovereign state—and that’s what Texas was.

Lamar, though, he wanted the Republic of Texas to remain so, and become an empire stretching to the Pacific Ocean. That’s why he ran the Cherokees out of Texas and made all the other Indians mad. That’s why he encouraged Commodore Moore’s questionable acts with the Texas Navy. And that’s why he endorsed a couple of acts that turned out to be real blunders.

Nov 5 10062)


The first was what was called “The Texian-Santa Fe Expedition”. Now before I go any further, let me clarify something here, as far as what residents of Texans are called. Generally, before the days of the Republic they were called “Texicnas”. I don’t know if that’s a combination of Texan and Mexican or not—it’s just what we were called. During the Republic, the term became “Texian”, but after annexation, that just sort of faded into “Texan”, which is fine with me and a hell of a lot easier to say. I might also mention that the Spanish and native-born Mexicans who lived in and fought for Texas were generally called “Tejanos”. I guess you could say that I was born a Texican, became a Texian, but will die a Texan.

You remember that I told you that when Texas conquered Santa Anna at San Jacinto, one of the terms of the treaty was that the southern and western boundary would be the Rio Grande. At the time it didn’t make much sense, seeing as how the land between the Nueces and the Rio Grande was all desert, but now it became clear.

You see, about the time Austin was working out a deal with Mexico to settle Texas, a fellow named William Becknell showed up in Missouri with saddlebags full of Spanish silver. He had made his way from Franklin to Santa Fe on the banks of the Rio Grande—the east banks of the Rio Grande. The Spanish had not wanted trade with the U. S., forcing all residents of the Spanish provinces—especially those in New Mexico—to accept only goods that had come through the proper channels through Mexico. The proper channels always made sure a tax was imposed, so finer things were pretty pricey in Santa Fe.

The Mexican government was much more lenient, so Becknell loaded up some mules with trade goods, sold them in Santa Fe, and returned to Missouri with the silver, and the Santa Fe Trail was opened. Lots of money was being made—by freighters, by merchants, by eastern manufacturers. The folks in New Mexico, and even down into northern Mexico were getting things they couldn’t before. It was a lucrative operation and it seemed almost everybody was coming out ahead. This was not overlooked by the founders of Texas.

By the time the Republic of Texas was established in 1836, the trade had been going on for 15 years, with no signs of stopping. The route had been shortened to avoid the mountains, and made it possible to move the goods in huge freight wagons. When Lamar came into office, he began to agitate for an expedition to Santa Fe. After all, the city was on the east bank of the Rio Grande, making it in the portion that Texas claimed. Of course, Texas had never been able to “prove up” the claim—it was having a tough enough time with what was settled—but Lamar thought big.

Houston, since he couldn’t be president, was in the Texas House of Representatives, and opposed the plan as being fiscally irresponsible—the nation just couldn’t afford it. A lot of his colleagues agreed, and Lamar couldn’t get the congressional support he needed. After the session ended, however, Lamar—I told you he was smart--put out a call for volunteers. The expedition was to be made up of freighters, with a complement of volunteer soldiers. If it was successful, it would solve a lot of Texas’ financial woes, bringing badly needed money into the national coffers.

It wasn’t a bad idea. Texas didn’t manufacture much, but goods could be shipped to Galveston or Linnville, then transported overland to Santa Fe. It was a much shorter route than the one that left from Missouri. Part of the problem was that no one knew exactly how to get from Austin to Santa Fe. (I forgot to mention that Lamar had moved the capital of Texas to Austin—which was still pretty much on the frontier—during his administration.)

I’m not sure why Austin was chosen as the jumping off place. (Really, it was a place north of Austin on Brushy Creek that later got the name of Roundrock.) It’s probably because Lamar wanted his new capital to be the one to benefit, but the fact is that we had known about a passage between Santa Fe and San Antonio for a long time. A Frenchman named Vial had blazed a trail between the two cities in the late 1700s. (He had also traveled what became the Santa Fe Trail long before Becknell.) So did a man named Mares a little later. Heck, if I remember right, Abuelo Archibeque once told me about the time he served in the army under a man named Amangual and they traveled from San Antonio up onto the Llano Estacado and into Santa Fe—and Amangual was an old man at the time.

What I think is this: Lamar, and a lot of his compatriots, did not like Mexicans or the Spanish Texans and did not like San Antonio. They probably knew that there was a route, or at least somebody who knew of the route, but they would be of Spanish descent, and therefore suspect. They wanted to find a new way—a way from Austin. “Surely” I can almost hear them say, “If those Meskins can find a way from San Antonio to Santa Fe, we can find a way from Austin.” They thought all that had to be done was to go north until they hit the Red River, then turn west.

That might’ve worked—if they had known the country between Brushy Creek and the Red. It might’ve worked if they had realized that Santa Fe was several hundred miles to the west of where they thought. And it might’ve worked if anybody on the trip had been over even some of the route before. But nobody did.

But, man, did they promote it! They made it sound like a cakewalk—like we were all going to get rich. And yes, I said “we”. I was young then, and aching for adventure, and it sounded like a good time. Me and Bachman made plans to go together. We could see ourselves marching into Santa Fe to cheering crowds and smiling senoritas.

You see, Lamar had gotten word that the folks in Santa Fe did not being under Mexican rule any more than we Texans had, and part of the idea behind the expedition was to claim the east bank of the Rio Grande in reality as we had in theory. Since we would be crossing the plains, which were dominated by Kiowas and Comanches, a military force was recruited to protect the freighters and merchants. There was one Brit who had just come to Texas and gotten wind of the expedition. He buddied up with that New Orleans newspaperman Kendall. They were to be the group’s journalists, I guess. Altogether—merchants, freighters, soldiers, politicos, and adventurers, the number came to over 300.

Hugh MacLeod was in charge over the army—a brave man, but maybe not the best choice for this trip. For an incursion into what might be considered Mexican territory, we were woefully lacking people of Spanish descent. Navarro was along as a commissioner, along with three others were to be the civil commissioners, just in case the tales we heard about the Santa Feans ready to be governed by Texas were true. There were on or two others that could truly be called “Tejanos” or Texans of Spanish descent. I guess I would have qualified—and I certainly knew how to speak Spanish—but, hell I was just a kid, a few months beyond my seventeenth birthday. Altogether, there were over 300 of us. And to think that not a one had a clue as to how to get from Austin to Santa Fe. But man, what an adventure it would be!

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