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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
When the Texas army, under General Rusk, moved up from San Jacinto to Victoria in the wake of the retreating Mexicans, the rangers were detailed to guard the baggage. The country being deserted, we helped ourselves to anything in the way of provisions we found lying around loose; but, the Mexican army having marched and countermarched through that section, there was little, except livestock, left to forage on. Camping for the night at Squire Sutherland's place on the Colorado, the only thing in the way of commissary we could find, was a number of fat hogs lying around the gin house. They jumped up and "booed" at us when we came up, and, our military honor forbidding us to allow such an affront to pass unnoticed, we charged upon the saucy porkers, bringing down a 200 pounder. Dressing our prize, we soon had pork chops to broil. The odor arising therefrom wasn't exactly what we could have wished; but, as we sniffed the air rather doubtfully, familiarity with the peculiar odor served to lull our suspicions, and by the time the meat was cooked, we had persuaded ourselves there was nothing unusual about it. One bite served to dispel the fond delusion. Having been fattened on cottonseed alone, the meat was so strongly impregnated with the flavor that it was impossible to eat it.
All danger from the Mexicans being over, our men were strung out across the prairie, sometimes a mile ahead of the wagons. The sedge grass, which in many places was waist high, was getting dry, furnishing material for a terrible conflagration if by chance a spark should light among it. So when a column of smoke suddenly rose up some little way ahead, realizing the danger to which we were exposed, we put spurs to our horses and hurried to the spot to prevent its spreading. On reaching the scene of the incipient fire we found a man lying half unconscious in the midst of the smoke, his face blackened and burned, his clothing on fire and his right arm almost torn from his body. The fragments of what had a few moments before been a powderhorn and a pipe accounted for the poor fellow's condition, but there was no time to waste in speculation, as the fire was making such headway that a few moments more would put it beyond our control. The fire being extinguished, we resuscitated the unfortunate victim, who, to our inquiries as to the cause of the explosion, said he had lighted his pipe for a smoke, but the tobacco didn't burn well, so he turned up his powderhorn to add a few grains of powder for kindling. The experiment was entirely successful, and but for our prompt arrival on the scene, he might have burned himself and the wagons and possibly other men. Thus the Texas rangers demonstrated their ability to cope with the devil in his natural element as well as when incarnated into a Comanche.
Arriving at Victoria, we erected a lot of cowhide sheds, which we dignified by the name of barracks, a mile or so above town. General Rusk then issued an order for all the smiths and wagon-workers to form an armorers' corps and go into town to work. My trade put me in the corps, having for my assistant a stalwart son of the Blue Grass state, Lang by name. General Rusk, had he been inclined to enforce strict military discipline, knew too well the disposition of the men to attempt it, so we were given, or took, the largest liberty possible to any kind of regulations. One order, however, it was necessary to enforce, that those dealing in intoxicating liquors should not sell their goods to the men except in the presence of an officer. The boys naturally resented any such infraction on a time honored custom, and laid their heads together to devise some plan to circumvent the general. One day a little Frenchman came up with several goatskins filled with vina mescal, for which he charged the exorbitant price of fifty cents a wineglass - five dollars a bottle. Half dollars were scarce, but we determined to test the virtues of the Frenchman's wares, officer or no officer.
There was an old sailor in the crowd who had served in the navy, and it was said was one of Lafitte's men. Be that as it may, he was up to all the tricks to outwit officers. He devised a plan whereby we might get the better of the commandant and the grasping Frenchman also. Among the plunder taken at San Jacinto was a captain's uniform. Into this we inducted Lang and commissioned him captain. He looked every inch of it. After rehearsing his part we staked him with fifty cents, and after dark he sauntered into the Frenchman's shanty. Swaggering-around with an air of importance, he called for a glass of liquor, for which he threw down the half dollar. Directly the boys began to drop in, each one saluting "Captain" Lang. When the initiated had all got in, Lang looked around patronizingly.
"Well, boys," said he, "if I had known I was going to meet so many of my company here I'd have put some money in my pocket to treat you."
The Frenchman's face fairly shone with delight.
"Ah, monsieur Captain, zat is no matter; suppose you like for treat ze men, never mind ze money; you pay me to-morrow."
"All right," said Lang. "Step up, boys."
We obeyed the order with alacrity, emptying our glasses with military precision, first to Captain Lang and then to the smiling vendor of the villainous liquid. By that time the stock was exhausted and we didn't tarry.
"Come around to my quarters to-morrow," said Lang, as we departed.
Returning to camp, we court martialed Lang and broke him of his commission. Bright and early next mornings the Frenchman was on hand inquiring for Captain Lang's headquarters. Up and down he went, but, it is needless to state, he never found them.
The complex character of the army rendered the position of commanding officer an extremely difficult one to fill. The citizen soldiers, having proved the worth and wisdom of their leaders, were disposed to acquiesce in their decisions; but, as other parties, under their own officers and actuated by different motives, came on, there was unavoidably some friction. The citizens had taken up arms in self-defense; another class had come through sympathy with their struggling countrymen; others, still, from love of adventure, and, as is always the case, there were some who seemed to be actuated by no higher principle than prospective plunder, and in the pursuit of their object were no respecters of persons. These latter, so far as I know, were not engaged in any of the battles, and acknowledged no authority, either military or civil. At Victoria they did not even camp with the army; still General Rusk was held responsible for their misdeeds.
They foraged the country round, gathering up horses and mules, ostensibly preying upon the unfriendly Mexicans; but I knew of their taking a pair of mules from the widow of Martin De Leon, whose family were always friendly to the Texans. Her son complained to General Rusk, who went with him to the captain of the thievish band, but that worthy refused to surrender them, and Rusk was not in a position to force their release, inasmuch as the men were not regularly enlisted and a conflict with them was not advisable. They did not tarry long after that, but, gathering up everything of value they could lay their hands on, left for their stronghold.
Our men all liked General Rusk, whose native good sense would not allow any assumption of superiority over the men under his command. The dignity of his position demanding a "staff," he appointed a couple of young striplings, sons of old friends, as aids, with the rank of major. One day a bluff old citizen called on the general, and, being well acquainted with him, walked into his tent without any ceremony, ignoring the presence of the youthful aids until Rusk formally introduced them as "Major Dexter and Major Hoxie, my aids."
"Aids, h----l" said the old fellow, looking the boys over contemptuously; "when I was their size I went in my shirt tail."
When General Green came on he requested a quarter guard. Rusk, who had never had anything in his quarters worth stealing, pretended to misunderstand.
"Why, bless your soul, General," said he, "there isn't a man in the army that would hurt you."
Pretty soon Green had a ten-gallon cask of wine sent to his tent, an outrage the boys were not disposed to submit to. So they located the cask and after night the general was called out on some pretense, when Cy Gleason, a sturdy New York boy, raised the flap of his tent, rolled the cask out, and, raising it on his shoulders, marched off to the river, where he sank it, raising it as occasion required.
Captain H----, the only officer who ever had the temerity to try to enforce strict military discipline, paid for his folly with his life. There came up a violent thunderstorm one night, and when it was over the poor fellow, whose only offense was a little youthful vanity, was found in his tent with his brains blown out.
James P. Gorman, well known in the vicinity of Bastrop, was appointed wagonmaster. He picked up a Mexican sword, for which he made a cowhide sheath. With that strapped to his side and his head surmounted with a fox-skin cap, the ears standing erect on top and the tail hanging down behind, he cut a grotesque figure. The boys called him General Gorman. He was sent down to Linn's Landing on the bay to bring up a cannon that had been landed there. On the way up he was tempted to try the merits of the piece on a drove of deer that were feeding some distance away. He put in a charge of grape, and, bringing the gun to bear on the deer, touched it off. Hearing the report and suspecting that Gorman lead been attacked, General Rusk hurried off a detachment to his relief. We made all possible haste to reach him, and imagine our disgust when we came up and instead of the enemy we were prepared to engage, saw only a herd of harmless deer, upon which the shots had taken no effect except to make them bound into the air when the bullets cut the dirt under their feet. General Rusk: placed Gorman under arrest for his escapade, but he swore "the show was worth it; he never had so much fun in his life."
Sauntering up through camp one day I came upon another character well known to most old Texans along the Colorado - Peter Carr - seated on a dry cowhide the center of which was doing duty for a table. Another hide laid on a framework of poles served to keep off the summer sun. Peter was engaged in dealing 21 with a deck of cards so ragged and begrimed that their faces were scarcely decipherable. "Hello, Pete; what's your limit?" said I.
"Oh, bet as much as you please," he replied.
I "sized his pile" and knew I could beat it, and with an unlimited game was sure to win in the long run, so down I sat. The other players soon "went broke" and dropped out, leaving the issue to Peter and myself, and it wasn't long till I had the game "busted." He accepted his defeat good naturedly, often referring to the incident in after years as the "unkindest cut" fortune had ever dealt him. He had had many reverses and was at that time flat broke, and had just succeeded in getting up a little game whereby he looped to make a "raise," when along came a friend and "scooped the pot."
The detailed adventures of Peter Carr would make an entertaining narrative. Briefly stated, Peter Carr, a native of Pennsylvania, I think, first made his advent into Texas with a little schooner loaded with merchandise, about 1824. Chartering his vessel to another party, he took his goods up to Victoria, and after a short sojourn there, during which time he contracted a matrimonial engagement with a daughter of an old Spanish family, packed up his stock and went on a trading expedition among the Indians, who robbed him of his outfit. Returning to Victoria, the mercenary old don refused to allow his daughter to consummate her engagement. About that time Carr got word that his vessel (which he had taken the precaution to insure in New Orleans) had been wrecked. He went back to New Orleans, collected the policy, and invested it in a fine hack and span of horses, with which he proposed to run between San Antonio and Matamoros. On his first trip out he drove into one of those bottomless water holes to water his team. The horses went down, taking the hack with them, and, being unable to extricate themselves, were drowned, Peter narrowly escaping the same fate. Again he was broke, but with undaunted courage he made his way down to the gulf and from there round to New Orleans, thence home to Pennsylvania. His family being well-to-do, he got another stake, with which he bought a distilling outfit in New Orleans, shipping it on the vessel which brought me back to Texas in 1835. After getting his property safely aboard, seeing he had an hour or two to spare before the sailing of the schooner, he went back up town to take leave of his friends. When the hour of starting came, Peter was still absent, but the steam tug hitched on to our vessel and away we went. Before we were out of sight Peter came rushing down to the dock, shouting and waving his hat, but the captain didn't go back, so he had to hunt up another vessel, and I did not meet him again till I returned with the army to Victoria. In the meantime his attitude on the political situation not seeming satisfactory to General Houston, he had Peter arrested and his property confiscated, which left him stranded for the third time. After many unsuccessful attempts to retrieve his fallen fortunes, he finally got in with some cattle buyers and with them went out to the Rio Grande, where his knowledge of the language and "peculiarities" of the Mexicans enabled the buyers to make much more favorable terms than they could otherwise have made. For his services he received a share of the stock, which he drove in on the Colorado below Austin. From that time on Peter prospered, and many a poor family blessed the day when Uncle Peter, as he came to he known in later life, brought his herds into the country. Anyone was welcome to take up the cows and milk them. He was the first mail carrier from Austin to LaGrange. Whether the heartless desertion of the senorita chilled his heart, rendering it impervious to the smiles of her sex, I cannot say, but he lived and died a bachelor. Before his death, which occurred some years back, he bequeathed a large tract of land in Burnet County for the founding of a university. The will, I believe, was broken. Thus the last hope of his eventful life, like most of its predecessors, was doomed to disappointment. Faults he had, as who has not? But his good deeds counterbalanced them.
One of our new recruits, Jimmie Snead, a Pennsylvanian, was out on the prairie one day when he found a Mexican bridle-bit. Thinking it some kind of a trap, he procured a stick and tried to spring it. He failed to touch it off; but, not daring to put hand on it, he got it on the stick and brought it into camp.
One other incident of army life and I am done. The Mexican army in its retreat left a number of heavy baggage wagons on the east side of the Colorado, being unable to cross them. These some of us were sent back to bring up. Before we could cross them the river began to rise, and having no ferry, we went up to Sutherland's gin and collected a lot of bale rope, of which we constructed a cable of sufficient strength to tow the wagons over, crossing back and forth in a "dugout." We had an old sailor along who was engineering the work, and, like many another old salt, he couldn't swim. He was crossing the river (which by this time was pretty full) with the tow-line when the canoe fouled and capsized. Fortunately there was a stranded tree near, some of the limbs of which were above water. This he succeeded in reaching, and, climbing upon a limb which bent under his weight, he hung on for dear life. The river was rising fast and the current caused the tree to sway and tremble and almost start from its anchor. Every now and then a wave would submerge the limb on which the old fellow had taken refuge. The canoe was gone and the situation becoming critical.
"Bear a hand there!" he shouted frantically, "Bring me a hawser. Don't you see the river is rising?" We procured a rope and one of the boys swam in with it, making one end fast to the tree and the other to the shore. The sailor was all right then, he had a rope in his hands. We then swam in and got the canoe and succeeded in getting all our wagons across.
When it was definitely ascertained that the Mexican army had retired beyond the Rio Grande, there seeming to be no further need of their services, the citizens were anxious to return to their homes and we were accordingly ordered down to Columbia (where congress was then sitting) to be mustered out. Passing through Matagorda, en route, my acquaintances, who had seen me leave there a year before in company with Dr. Field, gazed on me as one risen from the dead, believing that I had fallen with Fannin, a fate from which Dr. Field's profession saved him.
No man in Texas was oftener called upon, nor in more capacities, to serve his adopted country, than Thomas Jefferson Rusk: First, and that within a year after his arrival, as a delegate to the first revolutionary convention - 1835 - and again to the convention that promulgated the declaration of Texas independence, which convention conferred upon him the office of Secretary of War; leaving this office to take care of itself, joined Houston at the front and as a member of the general's staff participated in the battle of San Jacinto, taking the command after Houston was wounded; when the constitutional government was established, was again chosen Secretary of War; afterwards conducted several campaigns against the Indians; served as a member of the Texas congress; was chief justice of the supreme court of the republic; president of the convention that consummated the annexation of Texas to the United States, and, with Houston, first represented the new state in the national senate, a position to which he was twice re-elected, being at the time of his death - 1856 - president pro tem. of that body. As chairman of the committee on postoffices and postroads, he took an active interest in the establishment of the overland mail route to California.
General Rusk's military education had progressed no farther than Captain Erath's, but he had the esteem and confidence of his men to such an extent that an attempt to replace him with General Lamar stirred up such a spirit of mutiny that Lamar was constrained to withdraw. The only complaint against Rusk (having its origin among the upstart subs who wanted to set up a military aristocracy) was his easy familiarity with the privates. Meagre as was the honor attaching to the office of commander of the Texas army, it must have been that which brought forward so many aspirants for the position, which was by no means lucrative, and fraught with difficulty, often mortification - the army going on the principle that "the majority should rule."
But whatever the inducement, it was sufficient to engender bitter animosity between the rival candidates, which in one notable instance culminated in a duel, the parties to which were Generals A. Sidney Johnston and Felix Huston.
Johnston was appointed by President Lamar to supersede Huston. Feeling aggrieved over his displacement, Huston visited his displeasure on Johnston, whom ostensibly, on account of discourtesy on the part of the latter, he challenged. Johnston was seriously wounded, but he held the place.
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