As it turned out, Papa was home permanently—more or less. At any rate he didn’t have to go back to the army. Enough men were pouring into Texas, so he could try to rebuild his life—it’s amazing what things can change in a small amount of time.
And did he have some stories to tell. He told us all about Houston retreating across Texas. How the men were beginning to think he was a coward. Even Papa was beginning to wonder. What he was doing, though, was making Santa Anna stretch his supply line, spread out his army, and waiting for the Mexican General to make a mistake—which he did. The men were primed and ready for a fight and charged the Mexican camp yelling “Remember the Alamo!”-- “Remember Goliad!” Papa laughed when he told how the soldiers in Santa Anna’s army would fall to the ground begging for mercy, crying, “Me no Alamo!”-- “Me no Goliad!”
The battle was over in 18 minutes. The Mexicans were totally routed. At first, the Texans were disappointed, because Santa Anna himself—proving to be the coward he was—escaped in all the excitement. Some of the Texan soldiers—Papa among them—were sent out to round up those that fled the battle. They were finding them everywhere. The day after the battle, Papa rode down one soldier who was trying to escape. He was dressed in a common soldier’s clothes, so Papa didn’t think anything about it, but brought him back into the camp. He noticed that the Mexicans were pointing and whispering, and then they got a little louder. Papa realized they were saying “El Presidente! El Presidente!”. Sure enough it was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna himself—the “Napoleon of the West” as he liked to call himself—wearing the clothes of a common soldier to escape detection. Almost, that is. He still had on his silk underwear! (I’ll bet he wanted to knock the heads together of those who had identified him.
Papa said that the only thing that kept the men from killing Santa Anna right then and there was that they couldn’t decide whether he should be shot, hung, beheaded, or tortured to death. Houston, however, prevailed upon the men that a live president was more useful to the future of Texas than a dead rascal, so the men begrudgingly let him live—for the moment.
Santa Anna had established himself as dictator of Mexico, so Houston wanted to keep him alive so he could get a treaty. Houston’s leg had been badly injured, so he was planning on going to New Orleans for treatment. He insisted that the general not be harmed, and that he be returned to Mexico when the terms of a treaty were met. I can’t help but think that the old rapscallion must have been sweating bullets after Houston left.
The terms of the treaty are in the history books and you can read them there, but there was one item I’d like to talk about. From the time when Texas had been declared a different part of New Spain from Mexico, the Nueces River had been the boundary. There were no colonies granted south of the Nueces and there were certainly no Anglo settlements on the Rio Grande. So why did those fellows declare the Rio Grande to be the southern and western boundary of Texas? Some folks have said that it was just their right as conquerors, but it was not like the land between the Nueces and the Rio Grande is good for anything—hell, the damn stuff is mostly desert.
The answer to that became clear within just a few years. But for now we were a family again, and that was enough.
Now, with all the fighting between Texas and Mexico going on, sometimes it’s hard to remember that there was fighting elsewhere, too. The settlers on the frontier were always in danger of being raided by Comanches.
Just about a month after San Jacinto, a band of Comanches, Kiowas, and maybe some others raided Parker’s Fort on the Navasota River. They killed several of the inhabitants, and carried of five—one of them a girl named Cynthia Ann Parker. Indian raids were not rare, and neither was the taking of captives, but something about this girl, who was just about my age, sort of got to me. I heard that the other four captives were eventually released, but for some reason Cynthia Ann wasn’t.
It wasn’t always bad to be taken captive by the Indians, but it could be horrible. Sometimes they adopted their captives, sometimes they enslaved them, and sometimes they tortured them to death. If there was any rhyme or reason to it, I never saw.
Of course, we saw the Indians as something to be eliminated. Sure, Houston had lived with them—even been adopted by them—but those were Cherokees, one of the “civilized” tribes. Our problem was Comanches. It may be a little unfair to say we wanted them eliminated. We just wanted them to quit bothering us. I guess it never occurred to us that were invading their home, and we would have fought as hard had the situation been reversed. But even at that, I didn’t understand—I don’t understand now—why they had to be so mean about it, torturing and scalping and all. I heard that the Mexicans in New Mexico, east of Santa Fe had learned to get along with the Comanches. I don’t know how they did it. But I can’t say we whites were blameless.
We were far enough from the frontier to be insulated, we felt, but you never could be sure—just a few years later, the Comanches raided all the way to the coast—driving the folks at Linnville into the gulf.
Sam Houston, to no one’s surprise, was elected the first President of the Republic of Texas, and right before the new year started Stephen Austin, “The Father of Texas”, died of pneumonia, having never really recovered from the time he spent in the Mexican jail. It may have been a blessing that he did, rather than see the growth pangs the new nation endured.
Houston was a conservative, when it came to the state treasury, which I suppose was fine, because the Republic damn sure had no money. That was part of the reason we had trouble getting recognized by the United States. Houston cut the army, the navy—even the Texas Rangers, though later he would be convinced that the Rangers were not only the most effective fighting force, but since they furnished their own clothing, horses and weapons, they were the most fiscally efficient as well.
I was growing up. Papa was trying to teach me how to run a plantation, but I just didn’t have it in me. He was also running some cattle, and I liked that a lot better. I was honing the skills that Tio Mano had taught me, and learning some on my own. Texas was great for cattle, but there was never much market for them. We raised them for the beef—to feed ourselves and the slaves—and for the tallow.
Once in a while, somebody would get a bunch together and drive them to the coast for shipping, or to New Orleans. I always wanted to go on one of these drives, but I was still Mama’s “hijito”, or little boy, and she would let me. And what Mama wanted, Mama usually got.
I said earlier that I could ride like a Mexican and track like an Indian. By now I was getting pretty good with a rifle, too. Papa knew it was important to be able to shoot, so he taught me. He said we might need it against the Comanches someday, but what was left unsaid was that we always lived in fear of a Mexican invasion. We didn’t use pistols, much--their range was too short for hunting, and papa said they weren’t much good in battle. You had to get too close, and then you just got one shot. You were better off with a good club, he said, or better yet, a Bowie knife.
I had heard, though, that the Texas Navy had been issued some repeating pistols. The concept had been tried before, but a fellow named Colt was able to figure out how to make it work. His invention had a cylinder that held five pre-loaded balls. The cylinder rotated around a pin, “revolving” into place when the hammer was pulled back—thus the name revolver. Man, I wanted to get my hands on one of those!
So I just bided my time—like every growing boy must, I guess. I was learning things about farming I didn’t care whether I knew or not, while out there somewhere was adventure.
New people were moving to Texas all the time. There were Southern planters with their slaves, and Yankee traders. A lot of folks think that all Southerners had lots of slaves. Some, like Papa, did—it took a lot for a cotton plantation. But a lot of slaveholders just had one or two. Some of them—the masters and the slaves—were almost like friends, sort of like Papa and Joe were.
Not everybody coming to Texas was an American, though. There were some French, and some Brits, Scots, and Irish. even some Italians. But the biggest bunch of foreigners were the Germans. When I first saw them, I thought they were funny as hell. (Though not as funny as the French, who were hilarious in a country as rough as Texas!) They always sounded like they were hocking up something when they talked, and you didn’t want to stand too close or you were bound to get spit on.
Of course, they didn’t say “German”. They said “Deutsch”, which to me sounded like “Doitch”. That’s why we ended up calling them “Dutch”, I guess. That’s probably where the term “Dutch Treat” came from too for they were stingy bastards. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, seeing as how I ended up being related to them, but it’s true for the most part. I’ll say this in their favor, though: they were smart. If they didn’t have something they needed, they’d figure out how to make one, how to make something better, or how to get along without it. They also figured out how to get along with the Comanches.
When I was about 14, a family named Bachman came to Texas and settled in Dewitt County. One of them—Peter, I think--had come first, and then told the others what a great place Texas was, so they all came. If there was a Backman left in Germany, I’d be surprised. They pitched right in, though, to become “Texians”, as we were called in the days of the Republic.
Johann, or John, Bachman was just a few years older than me. I guess he was about 18 when he came to Texas, and could speak English passably well. He already knew how to shoot—and they’ve never made a German that wasn’t ready to fight—so he joined the Texas Rangers under Captain John Bird. He hadn’t been with them too long, when the company had a run-in with some Indians—Comanches, Kickapoo, and Caddo. The Rangers put up a hell of a fight, but took a beating. Several, including Captain Bird, were killed. The creek was given his name, and the engagement became known as Bird’s Creek fight.
Bachman and I became pretty good friends, despite the four years difference in our ages. He was pretty educated, and if sometimes I show any sign of being somewhat literate, it’s because of him. While I was thinking about a wild life on the frontier, his goal was to be a teacher. We both succeeded.
When John was in town, he would come over to our place—he had a penchant for Mama’s fresh tortillas—and tell us of his adventures. One day he came in with his right hand bandaged up, and missing a couple of fingers. He said that he had been out fighting Indians. He had shot at one, and the Indian fell, apparently dead. John crept up and was just reaching down to take the Indian’s amulet off, when the brave raised his head, caught John’s fingers in his mouth and bit them off. Before John could draw his knife with his left hand and dispatch the Indian, the fingers were gone. We were all fascinated and horrified—Mama especially. Later John told me that actually he had been out hunting. He had fired his rifle and was loading it to be ready to fire again. Those old muzzleloaders would sometimes retain a spark in the barrel and that’s what happened. As he poured fresh powder down the barrel, it ignited, sparking into the powder horn, which blew up in John’s hand, removing the two fingers. I laughed and laughed, and don’t know if Mama ever did find out the truth!