It is easy to think of 1836 as the year that hostilities ceased between Mexico and Texas. Though Texas was an independent republic until 1845, area conflicts continued with Mexico on a fairly regular basis until the conclusion of the Mexican-American War which ended some twelve years later.
In 1842, General Rafael Vásquez led an attack on San Antonio. This was followed by another attack known in Texas as the Dawson Massacre, led by General Adrián Woll that fall when he defeated a small force, mostly from the La Grange area, led by Nicholas Mosby Dawson in which 36 were killed (including Dawson) and 15 were taken prisoner at Salado Creek, located north of what is now the military base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. Woll went on to capture the District Court of San Antonio before retreating to Mexico with captives.
These attacks, all believed to be at the direction of Mexican dictator Santa Anna, led to a developing sentiment on the part of the Texas residents favoring retaliation. The Texas authorities authorized a force to invade Mexico. A group of about 700 or more volunteers was formed in San Antonio and began to head south to Mexico in November, 1842 under the direction of Alexander Somervell. It took several weeks of marching in inclement weather to reach the border and by then the force numbered around 683 men. At Laredo, they expected to find Mexican troops, but the Mexican forces had previously withdrawn across the border. Somervell’s group plundered Laredo and took supplies left behind by the Mexican troops after which they continued on into Mexico. They reached Guerrero, about 90 miles to the northwest, with about 500 men, after around 185 had withdrawn and returned to Texas. Guerrero, just off the Rio Grande in Coahuila, was taken with little resistance in mid December. Somervell, perhaps realizing the futility of continuing further in Mexico, ordered his force to disband and return to Texas. Over one-third of them complied, but a little over 300 elected to continue on into Mexico.
Accounts differ regarding the authority for the group that continued on. Some treat it as an independent action without authority while others say that Somervell verbally approved it. Nevertheless, the groups divided about December 19, 1842. Under the command of Colonel William S. Fisher, a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto, they divided themselves into six companies of varying sizes, the smallest being twenty-seven and the largest being sixty-six. They headed down river, the Rio Grande, some by barges and others by land, seeking Mexican forces. After about three days, they arrived at Mier, then a town of over five thousand people, located roughly 90 miles southeast of Laredo. There they demanded supplies and ammunition and camped nearby across the river to await delivery. In their absence, Mexican forces under the command of generals Francisco Mejia and Pedro de Ampudia had moved in and were discovered by Fisher’s lookouts. The Texas forces elected to attack Mier and began to do so on Christmas Day, 1842, leaving behind just over forty who were ill or injured. They numbered about 262 individuals and tried to capture Mier, in Nuevo Leon, but were facing a superior number and better equipped Mexican army force. The battle continued for more than about twenty-four hours, but the Texans surrendered on the afternoon of December 26, 1842. The Texans who surrendered numbered about 248. Two of their force had escaped and an estimated twelve were killed. The Texans were directed to enter the town square.
The prisoners were marched into the interior of Mexico toward Mexico City. On February 11, 1843, some 181 escaped, but most were recaptured near Salado, Tamaulipas. When they were in the vicinity of Saltillo, Coahuila, they became aware of Santa Anna’s order that the attempted escapees all be executed, but the Mexican commanders, the United States and Britain are believed to have negotiated with Santa Anna who revised his order to state that one in ten of the recaptured prisoners would instead be executed.
This led to what is called the “Black Bean Episode” in which a jar was filed with 159 white beans and 17 black beans. Prisoners were blindfolded and directed to draw their bean. The sixteen who drew black beans were listed as William M. Eastland, Patrick Maher, James M. Ogden, James Torrey, Martin C. Wing, John S. Cash, Robert Dunham, E. E. Este, Robert Harris, Thomas H. Jones, C. M. Roberts, William Rowan, James L. Shepherd, J. M. Thomson, James Turnbull, and Henry Walling.
The survivors were taken first to Mexico City and then on to Perote Prison in Veracruz. There they were united with the few survivors of the Dawson Massacre and other prisoners captured in San Antonio. Some died, a few escaped and the remainder were released by Santa Anna on September 16, 1844.
[Primary source: James M. Day, “Black Beans and Goose Quills,” Texian Press, 1970.]
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