William Mosby Eastland was born in Kentucky on March 21, 1806 to General Thomas Butler Eastland and the former Nancy Mosby. William was one of at least about six siblings, mostly males, born to the couple before Nancy died in 1814. Shortly afterward, his father remarried and at least three more children were added to the family. The Eastlands were a military family. As he came up through the ranks, Thomas Butler is known to have served as Army quartermaster in Kentucky before William was born. Prior to the War of 1812, the family relocated to White County, Tennessee where they apparently remained until Thomas Butler died in 1860.
William Mosby had relocated to Texas in or around Bastrop by about 1825. He is thought to have been an acquaintance of Edward Burleson back in Tennessee, who is believed to have encouraged Eastland to come to Texas. There he married the former Florence Evangeline Yellowly of Bastrop. The couple had at least one child, Caroline, before moving on to near LaGrange. There he worked with his brother William Nathaniel Eastland and a cousin Nicholas Mosby Dawson in the timber business. He joined the volunteer militia to defend the area against local Native American tribes before the onset of the Texas Revolution. During the Revolution, he participated in the siege of Bexar under Edward Burleson and participated up to and including the Battle of San Jacinto. By the fall of 1836, he had joined the Texas Rangers. The following year, 1837, his wife Florence Evangeline died. About two years later, Eastland married the former Louisa Mae Smith.
Hostilities between the Republic of Texas and Mexico continued in the 1840s. The government of Mexico continued to decline to recognize agreements between the new Republic of Texas and Gen. Santa Anna. In March, 1842 Mexican General Ráfael Vásquez led a force of 500 men from Mexico and briefly occupied San Antonio before returning to Mexico. Later that year in September, 1842 Mexican General Adrián Woll again briefly invaded the Republic of Texas and occupied San Antonio before returning to Mexico. In the latter case, General Woll took prisoners including some prominent citizens with his forces back to Mexico.
President Sam Houston was encouraged to send a response to these incursions by Mexico, resulting in the Somervell Expedition, led by Colonel Alexander Somervell. In an oversimplification, in the late fall of 1842, Colonel Somervell and around 700 troops including many volunteers occupied Laredo and Guerrero before around 200 men elected to head back to Texas. Somervell ordered the entire band to return to Texas via Gonzales, but around 300 elected to continue on to Ciudad Mier. The Mier Expedition resulted in a defeat for the Texas forces. They initially captured Mier but were left with depleted supplies and ammunition, making them vulnerable to Mexican troops and their reinforcements. Many of the volunteers were either taken prisoner or killed before the Texas forces surrendered to the superior and better equipped Mexican troops. Gen. Santa Anna ordered 17, about one out of every ten, executed in the “Black Bean Episode.” Prisoners drawing white beans out of a jar were spared but prisoners drawing black beans were executed. The survivors were marched back to Mexico where they were imprisoned at Perote until 1844 when the remainder of those survivors were released.
Among those 17 killed was William Mosby Eastland who had elected to continue to Mier. At Hacienda Salado in Coahilla, Mexico, Eastland was one of the first, if not the first, to be shot on March 25, 1843. Out of the 17, 16 died at the scene and one individual named James Shepherd was only wounded and briefly escaped before being recaptured and killed a few days later. A survivor, Israel Canfield, wrote his notes about the incident. Canfield said he was handcuffed to Eastland and was an eyewitness to the executions. This quote is attributed to Eastland as his last words, “For my country I have offered all my earthly aspiration and for it I now lay down my life. I never have feared death nor do I now. For my unjustifiable execution I wish no revenge, but die in full confidence of the Christian faith.”
Canfield’s notes concerning the incident have survived and have been summarized in at least one book, “Black Beans and Goose Quills” by James M. Day. Canfield also recounted that before his execution, Eastland had given his money to Robert Smith, a brother in law of Eastland, and Canfield had taken offense at Smith’s seemingly gleeful response upon receiving the money. No one really knows why Smith made his remark and Smith was not able to provide an explanation since he died while confined in the Perote Prison. Smith is thought to have been a brother of Eastland’s second wife, Louisa Mae Smith.
In 1848, the remains of the 16 prisoners executed at Hacienda Salado were removed from Mexico and relocated to near La Grange, Texas, buried in Monument Hill Cemetery. Eastland County is named for William Mosby Eastland and the town of Eastland took its name from the county.
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