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EVOLUTION OF A STATE
District court was in session in Bastrop when the news came that the bill for the annexation of Texas had passed the United States congress and received the approval of President Polk. Judge Robert E. B. Baylor, who was presiding, in announcing the glad tidings, quoted Chief Justice Marshall as saying that "No man should be considered drunk on Independence day, so long as he could pronounce the word 'Epsom,'" and added that in his opinion the same rule should apply to that occasion; and he therefore adjourned court till 10 o'clock the next morning, that we might celebrate, and celebrate we did with a will.
In the absence of cannon we brought out all the anvils the town could muster, and talking up a collection to pay for powder proceeded to get all the noise possible out of them. Had there been any Indians anywhere in hearing they would probably have gotten away from that vicinity in short order. We felt something like the children of Israel probably did, when Jehovah flung the Red sea betwixt them and their foes. Judge Baylor, Baptist preacher though he was, made a full hand with the boys.
My recollection of the details is not quite clear, therefore I will not undertake to say whether we stopped at Epsom or not, but we were all on hand at ten next morning.
Honest, earnest Robert E. B. Baylor! Of him might well be said, as Daniel Webster said of John Jay: "The spotless ermine of the judicial robe, when it fell on his shoulders, touched nothing not as spotless as itself." Whether as lawyer, preacher or judge, the same humanity and sense of justice guided his course, and never did a breath of reproach tarnish the name which was bestowed upon one of the oldest institutions of learning in the state, first located at Independence and later removed to Waco, where it still seems to flourish.
The first and most difficult step in our route toward statehood had been achieved, but the end was still a long way off. President Polk signed the bill on March 1, 1845. On the 5th of May following, President Jones called a convention to meet in Austin on the 4th of July to consider the proposition, which was submitted to the people on October 13, and being almost unanimously indorsed, then went back to the United States congress for final action, receiving the approval of President Polk on the 29th of December. The state constitution had been promulgated, the first governor elected and it was only needed to set the new machinery in motion, to touch the button, as it were. The first legislature met on the 16th of February, 1846, and three days later the curtain fell on the last, and in many respects, the most touching scene in the brief drama of the republic, when Anson Jones, its last president, standing on the steps of the old capitol, lowered the old flag from the mast and reverently furling it, announced amidst breathless silence, "The republic of Texas is no more." Many a head was bowed, many a broad chest heaved, and many a manly cheek was wet with tears when that broad field of blue in the center of which, like a signal light, glowed the lone star, emblem of the sovereignty of Texas, was furled and laid away among the relics of the dead republic. But we were most of us natives of the United States, and when the stars and stripes, the flag of our fathers, was run up and catching the breeze unrolled its heaven born colors to the light, cheer after cheer rent the air. Methinks the star in the lower left hand corner should have been especially dedicated to Texas.
As was anticipated, the annexation of Texas again involved us in a war with Mexico, but how different from those that had preceded it! Instead of a few hundred poorly armed men, there was General Taylor, "Old Rough and Ready," who "never surrendered," and stern old General Winfield Scott, who won his first honors at Lundy's Lane thirty-five years before, and with them Grant and Lee and many others who developed into able commanders during the civil war, together with their thousands of soldiers equipped with all the latest appliances of war, and above this imposing array, not one lone, lonely star, but a glittering constellation of twenty-eight flashed defiance to all foes.
But Texas did not stand aloof while the United States fought her battles. The requisition made upon her for troops was promptly responded to, many being bitterly disappointed because the ranks were filled before they got in. Governor Henderson, assisted by Jack Hays, Ben McCulloch and Walter P. Lane, all of whom subsequently rose to distinction, took the field at the head of two regiments of cavalry and two of infantry, joining General Taylor, who had been ordered to Corpus Christi immediately after the passage of the annexation act, Mexico having previously warned the United States that such an act would be considered casus belli. Captain Ad Gillespie, killed in the storming of the fortifications on El Obispado, led the scaling party up the almost perpendicular steep and was the first man to mount the parapet surrounding the bishop's castle which crowned the summit, receiving his death wound in the act. Captain Samuel Walker was killed at Huamantla.
Active hostilities commenced with the battle of Palo Alto in May, 1846, and ended with the conquest of the Mexican capital in September, 1847. Thus was the old ambitious dream of the revolutionary army of '35 at last realized, though few, if any of them, were there to see it. But one regiment of Texas volunteers - Hays' - was in General Scott's division, and, I think, they were probably later additions to the fighting force of Texas. The Texas rangers were of invaluable service in the war, winning high encomiums from both Scott and Taylor, the latter designating them "the eyes of the army."
The halls of the Montezumas were occupied by the hated Texans, who, if not themselves dictating terms of peace to the crestfallen Santa Anna, were at least on hand to see it done and rejoice over his humiliation. And hard terms they were, those wrung from old Mexico for her temerity in flying into the face of our revered Uncle! The surrender, not only of all territory to which Texas laid claim, but also that now embraced in the states of California, Nevada, Utah, three-fourths of Arizona, nearly half of Colorado and New Mexico, with a triangular block in the southwest corner of Wyoming, the only compensation being a paltry $15,000,000, with the assumption of an additional $3,000,000 which was due citizens of Texas by those of Mexico, aggregating $18,000,000.
How contemptible and disproportionate the sum when compared with the $10,000,000 paid a few years later for the Gadsden purchase, that strip of Arizona and New Mexico lying south of the Gila river, three-fourths of which is desert; and the $10,000,000 paid Texas for that portion of New Mexico lying east of the Rio Grande, and to which the claim of Texas had never been recognized either by the United States or Mexico; no attempt having ever been made by the republic of Texas to extend jurisdiction over it, it remained under Mexican control, inhabited only by Mexicans and Indians. The only Texans who ever entered Santa Fe, the capital, went there in chains. The semiofficial Santa Fe expedition was not authorized to do more than hold out inducements to the inhabitants to throw off the yoke of Mexico. Between the disputed territory and the outposts of the republic stretched six hundred miles of unexplored territory, inhabited only by savages. When General Sibley retired from the Rio Grande in disgust, after having tried in vain to oust Canby, he reported to the authorities at Richmond that "the whole territory was not worth the blood and treasure wasted on it."
General Scott having "conquered a peace," we were relieved from all further apprehensions of a Mexican invasion, but the Indians were still on the warpath, killing and driving off stock, and when a good opportunity offered, killing people. To check their depredations military posts were established at suitable points along the frontier and General Harney placed in command of the department, with headquarters at Austin.
Many of the old residents doubtless remember General Harney. He was then past middle age, with a fine, soldierly bearing. He had spent many years in the service and it was a cause of regret amounting almost to mortification that he had "not a single scar to show for it."
General Harney was an officer of the old school, a strict disciplinarian, admitting of no hesitancy about the carrying out of instructions. A story was told of him when he was on his way to Mexico; he engaged teams to transport the baggage, placing an independent Texan - Carter - in charge as wagonmaster. The streams were all up and Carter had a good deal of trouble, but whenever he demurred to the general's orders he was cut short with the admonition that all he had to do was to "obey orders." They camped one night near the Nueces river and Carter ascertained that it was impassable, but said nothing to the general on the subject. The next morning Harney gave the order to move on. Carter without a word started on with the train, but only proceeded as far as the river, where he halted till the general came blustering up to see what was the matter.
Perceiving the situation he turned to Carter.
"Didn't you know that the river was up?" he demanded.
"Yes, sir," meekly replied the wagonmaster.
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"You didn't ask me, sir. You said my business was to obey orders. You ordered me to hitch up and move on, and I did it."
"You did right, sir. Turn around and drive back to camp."
Carter used to tell the story, but always gave General Harney credit for being consistent, at any rate.
With the garrison at Austin were Major Fontleroy and Captain Beeal, both of whom had families. Beeal was a jovial son of Mars and a constant devotee of Bacchus, with whom he had many a bout, but generally came out best, the capacity of his stomach being inadequate to the quantity of intoxicants necessary to overcome his head. He was a great story-teller and always had a crowd of interested listeners.
Major Fontleroy, on the contrary, was rather retiring; though his appearance bespoke him every inch a soldier. In the course of a few years they all drifted away from Austin in the wake of the retreating savages and the places that once knew them knew them no more forever.
General Harney entered the army at eighteen, his first service being in the Seminole war; after which he participated in the Blackhawk war and then the Mexican war. From Texas he went to the Platte to subdue the Sioux, and from thence to Oregon, returning to the East in '61. While en route to Washington he was arrested by the Confederates at Harper's Ferry and taken to Richmond. Meeting General Lee, with whom he had fought in Mexico, Harney expressed regret at meeting him under such changed conditions. "General Harney," Lee replied, "I had no idea of taking any part in this matter. I wanted to stay at Arlington and raise potatoes for my family, but my friends forced me into it." Gen. Jo Johnston, another old comrade, expressed himself in the same way. General Harney was retired in '63 and in '65 brevetted major-general for long and faithful services. He died in 1889, being then in his ninetieth year. Major Fontleroy began his military career in the war of 1812, serving through the Mexican and Seminole wars, following the Indians on into Arizona and defeating the Apaches in 1855. When the late war broke out he entered the Confederate service. He died in '83, aged eighty-seven. Captain Beeal, like General Harney, won his first spurs in the Seminole war. After the close of the Mexican war, he sojourned for a time in Texas and then moved on westward; building all the forts from the Rio Grande to California. He was commissioned Colonel of Dragoons in '61 and retired in '62; dying a year later. Colonel Beeal had two sons in the Union army and one in the Confederate.
Among the first subjects that arose to vex the souls of those who had undertaken to guide the destinies of the new state was that of the public debt, which amounted to about $12,000,000, face value; but the legislature decided to pay the holders of securities only what they were worth at the time the holder became possessed of them, thus scaling the amount down to about $7,000,000. Still there was no feasible plan for raising even that amount, the United States having absorbed all customs duties. In this emergency they fell back on the public domain, which it was proposed to sell to the United States. Said sale, however, never took place, as the boundary dispute soon arose and in the settlement of that the $10,000,000 spoken of above was paid over to Texas, the sum being more than sufficient to discharge the debts of the old republic as adjudicated by the legislature. These questions being satisfactorily adjusted, in 1853, the state entered on a new era.
In the meantime they had begun to "crowd" me in Webber's prairie and there being no further danger from Indians, I moved out on Brushy creek, where I could get elbow room, and went into the stock business.
The country was wild, and infested with predatory beasts, the most troublesome of which were the big gray wolves - lobos - the Mexicans called them. Many of them stood three feet high, measuring six or seven feet from tip to tip, with powerful jaws, which enabled them to drag down a grown cow single-handed if they could separate it from the band. Their endurance and speed were such that one could run down a deer.
Between my house and the timber belt of the Colorado, stretched a prairie about a mile across. One evening near sundown, myself being away from home, my wife, looking across the prairie, saw the milk cows coming on a run and behind them two big wolves. One cow, falling a little behind the band, was seized by the foremost of the wolves, but her calls for help caused the other cattle to turn and fight the fierce brutes back. The cows then started again for home, but the wounded one again fell behind and again was seized, but she managed to tear herself loose. By this time the chase had reached half across the prairie, and my wife, unable to stand and see one of her favorites torn to pieces by their ferocious pursuers, calling to the dogs, started to the rescue. The dogs, seeing the on-coming chase, dashed away and my wife after them, an unsafe thing, as the lobo had been known to make a stand and whip off dogs, and being intent on their victim, whose blood had already whetted their appetites, it would not have been surprising if they had refused to be vanquished. The dogs, encouraged by the presence and voice of their mistress, sped away on their mission of rescue, and, though wary of attacking the enemy, checked their advance, giving their torn and bleeding victim a chance to escape, till the wolves, catching sight of my wife, turned and made off to the timber. The cow was frightfully torn and died from the effects. After losing several cows and a number of calves, many of the latter being killed within a few hundred yards of the house, I began to treat the lobo family with strychnine, which noticeably decreased the loss of my cattle.
These wolves were a distinct species, having long, shaggy hair about the neck and shoulders, something like a lion's mane; they did not hunt in packs, like the northern wolf, but rather in pairs. Wild cattle when attacked by them would form a ring around their calves, and presenting a line of horns fight them off; but gentle cattle were wont to break for home when frightened, as if understanding that they should be safe there, and woe to the unfortunate that fell behind. Milk cows lived on the range and were only separated from their calves during the intervals between milkings, the calves being kept up during the day while the cows went out to feed, and the cows kept in at night to give the calves the benefit of pasture; so that the little bovines were at the mercy of the prowling lobos, who, under cover of darkness, ventured quite near to the house; and sometimes before we had gone to bed we would be startled by a piteous bleating, followed by an answering bellow from the cows, which would break from the inclosure and rush to the rescue, together with dogs and men; but though the wolf was cheated of his prey, he had inflicted fatal injuries, not one of the victims ever recovering.
I tracked the marauders to the timber and set bits of fresh meat containing strychnine along the trails, sometimes finding them dead within a short distance. I kept it up vigorously until they were pretty well subdued.
There were many wild cattle along the river, descendants of the old Spanish cattle brought to the old mission San Gabriel away back in the eighteenth century. Some of these cattle were very handsome brutes, coal black and clean limbed, their white horns glistening as if polished. A couple of the bulls took up with my cattle and became quite domesticated, though they were as a rule very wild.
My nearest neighbor on Brushy was Jimmie Standefer, who lived three miles below me on the creek, his house being a kind of a wayside inn for many years for travelers between Austin and points north and west. The old man came there with a large family and small means, and had a hard time for several years. He was very devout, but didn't allow that to interfere with business. One of his sons used to tell a story on the old man that will bear repetition. Jimmie had domesticated a number of hives of bees, the increase of which he was anxious to save. Bee-keeping then was not the science it is to-day; instead of separating the bees, they were allowed to take their own way and time for moving. This they did by swarming in the spring. Having noticed an unusual activity among his bees, Jimmie left some of his children to watch them while he went to breakfast. Before the rather long "grace" was finished his ear caught a suspicious buzzing, which caused him to hurry up the ceremony, but it had to be finished according to custom, though his impatience caused the introduction of a sentence not down in the ritual. Casting an anxious glance through the door as the concluding sentence fell from his lips, he called to the children: "Children, ain't them bees a swarmin'? Amen."
And while on the subject of bees, I will take the liberty of correcting a typographical error in a former article of mine. I had occasion to speak of "bee bait," which, perhaps being unintelligible to the compositor, he changed to "fish bait." As it made no material difference in the connection in which the word was used, I only recur to it for the purpose of enlightening those who are not versed in the primitive methods of obtaining honey. When we went out in search of a "bee tree" we took along a vessel containing honey; this we placed in a situation to attract the attention of any bee that might be passing that way, usually at their watering places, and watching till they had filled their pouches and started for home, took note of the direction taken, and it being a well established fact that a laden bee flies in a "bee line," an expert had no difficulty in following them to their hive, which was usually in a hollow tree. This was called "coursing."
When left to settle their domestic affairs the young brood of bees, on arriving at maturity, are turned out by the heads of the hive to hustle for themselves. This creates quite a commotion. After being ejected the youngsters buzz around at a great rate and finally settle down on some convenient limb to hold a council, perhaps to dispatch agents to look up new quarters. At any rate, if not captured, they will, after remaining all clustered up in a ball for a short time, break up and all take wing for their future home. To prevent their escape we used to throw water on them to prevent their flying and beat on tin pans and raise a general hullabaloo; and when we wanted to take honey from the hive, usually a section of a hollow tree with a board nailed on the top end, we pried off the board and smoked the bees out with burning rags, a process which did not tend to improve the flavor of the honey, but we were not fastidious in small matters, and fortunate indeed was the robber who escaped without stings.
But to return to my old friend and neighbor, Jimmie Standefer. Having a disagreement with one of his neighbors, Jim Lewis, Lewis was relating his grievance to me. "Yes," said he, "I suppose he thinks he'll go to heaven with his long graces; but if his sort can go in at the gate, if I don't scale the wall d----n my soul."
After delving along there for years, himself and family working diligently, Standefer got forehanded enough to buy slaves, investing all his savings thus, only a short time before the war, which, of course, again left him stranded. He and his good wife have gone to their rest, several of their children being now in this state, California.
Lewis was a character. He came up to me one day on the race course at Georgetown. "Lend me $5," said he. I gave him the required amount in silver. He dropped it into his pocket and swaggered around loudly challenging a bet.
"Put up your property," said an accommodating sport.
"Property be d----d! If you bet with me you've got to fork up the dough." And Jim fetched his pocket a slap that set the half dollars jingling at a rate that bluffed the other fellow.
By and by he found some one with "dough," and by dint of much jingling, arranged a bet which he won; seeing which, parties who had advanced him loans gathered around for a divy.
Jim dramatically warred them away with the adjuration: "Depart from me ye workers of iniquity; I never knew ye."
Again, watching the fire in my forge, glowing at white heat under the influence of the bellows, he remarked that it was a hot place.
"O," said I, "that's nothing to what you will have when you get to hell, and you'll have to stand it forever." "That's all a lie. If hell's half as hot as that a dead man wouldn't last a minute," he retorted.
Lewis also came to California, where he took up the practice of medicine, and, settling on King's river, where the ague will shake a man out of his boots, dealt out calomel and quinine with remarkable success. He long since passed from earth. Whether or not he succeeded in scaling the walls of heaven deponent saith not.
In '52 Isaac Harris, an old San Jacinto veteran, caught the California fever and struck out across the plains, among the first to make the venture, bringing with him a large drove of cattle, as most of the early emigrants did. He came up to my place on Brushy and struck camp to wait for me to fit him out in wagons, etc. It was like going out of the world then to "go to Californy," but there was a great exodus that year, all of whom succeeded in running the gauntlet of Comanches in Texas, Apaches in Arizona, and lack of water; the large droves of cattle making a heavy draught on the scant water supply on their route. Yet gold, in its primitive sense, did not appear to be the object of their quest, most of them locating in Southern California where there were then no mines of importance. Their cattle, though, turned loose on the seemingly inexhaustible range of the sparsely settled country, brought them rich returns, securing for them the title of "cattle kings." With the influx of emigrants the pasture lands became farms and the glory of the "kings" departed. Their descendants are with us, but, like the old Mexican land barons, are practically wanderers on the face of the earth where they once reigned. The Spaniard despoiled the Indian, the American the Spaniard, and the "tenderfeet" the pioneer American. So it has been in Texas; so it is everywhere; so it must always be. It is the restlessness of the pioneer that impels him to seek fresh fields, seldom remaining to reap the reward of his toil and danger, or, if he does, he fails to take advantage of his opportunities, and old age often finds him without a place to lay his head.
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