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Peter Ellis Bean 1783-1846 | Correspondence


Peter Ellis Bean ca. 1817Memoir of Colonel Ellis P. Bean
Written about the Year 1816

[Transcribed from A Comprehensive History of Texas 1685 to 1897 by Dudley G. Wooten, 1898.  Unless otherwise indicated, editorial notes are those of Wooten.   Headings and some notes are added by current editor-Wallace L. McKeehan (WLM)]

Note. In publishing this memoir, it is proper to state that Colonel Bean was but poorly educated, and his long residence in Mexico had caused him almost to forget his own language. Hence it his become necessary to correct his manuscript, and to rewrite it. In doing this, great care has been taken to preserve, as far as possible, his style and language. [See 1826 letter from Bean to Stephen F. Austin and other correspondence for an example of Bean's writing style about which Wooten is probably referring--WLM]

As fortune has now favored me, insomuch that I have returned to my native country, where all men rejoice in freedom and union protected by the just laws of liberty, I shall let my countrymen know what has been my life since the year 1800.

Early years between Tennessee and Natchez--Joining Phillip Nolan.  I was born in the state of Tennessee, in the year 1783.---I had a common education given me, and such as a frontier country could afford. At the age of seventeen years, I had a great desire to travel and see other parts of the world. To see some foreign country was all my desire. My father said I was too young, and would not consent. But as the town of Natchez had fallen to the United States, and was a. good market for the produce of Tennessee, he consented that I might bring to that country a boat-load of whiskey and flour; all of which being made ready in a few days, I started in company with a young man-from the same place, by the name of John Word, who had some lading with me. About three hundred miles below Knoxville, in a place called the Muscle-shoals, I broke my boat in pieces on a rock, and lost all my cargo. I only saved a small trunk of clothes. My companion concluded then that he would return; but I would not, for I wished to see that country. I knew that I had some relations in Natchez, and, although I had lost my cargo, I could get some money from them to return to my country again. So I resolved to continue my journey. Having at that time but five dollars in my pocket, I bid adieu to my companion, and got into a family boat that was coming to Natchez. After some days' travel, I landed at Natchez, where I at first saw no person that I knew. I was walking on the sand-beach, when a small boy came and asked me if that boat was from Tennessee. I told him it was. He then asked me if there was any man on board by the name of Bean. I told him that was my name. He said his mistress had told him that if there was any one on the boat of that name he must come to the house with him. But I did not go with him; so in about half an hour, came down an old lady, with her daughter. When I began to converse with her, I found her to be my aunt. She then told me she was very happy in seeing me, and that I must go and live with her. I went that night to her house. The next morning I wrote to an uncle of mine, that lived within twelve miles, to send for me. He sent me a horse and saddle, and I went to see him. I liked much better this place; but in about fifteen days I fell sick; and, after suffering very severely for a month, I began to get better.

In this time I got acquainted with a man by the name of Nolan, that had been for some years before trading with the Spaniards in San Antonio. He told me that he was going to make another voyage to that country in October, and entreated me to go along with him. I readily agreed to go, and stated it to my uncle. But he would not hear, to it, and said that I should not go. A few days afterward my uncle and aunt were absent from home, and Nolan came by, with some young men, then on his voyage. I immediately saddled my horse and started, to make a voyage for three months; and when my relation came home in the evening, I was gone. We crossed the Mississippi at a place called the Walnut Hills, taking a west course for the Washita. Before we left Natchez, Governor Sargent and Judge Bruin had called a court on the complaint of the Spanish consul Vidal; but, finding our passport, that we had from the commandant-general, Don Pedro de Nava, to be good, it was agreed by the court that Nolan should go. This Vidal wrote to the Spaniards at Washita to stop us; but it seems that cowardice prevented them from fighting.

Steering a west course, through the Mississippi swamp, for the Washita, we were about forty miles from the river, when we met about fifty Spaniards, mounted on horseback, and well armed. They had been sent by the commandant at Washita to stop us; but though our number was only twenty-one, they were afraid to attack us. We asked them their business. They told us they were in pursuit of some Choctaw Indians that had stolen some horses. This was false, for they were hunting for our party, though they were afraid to own it. They then passed us, and in a short time returned and passed us again, and went back to Washita, whore they put themselves on guard that night, thinking we would go by that place. They had their cannons mounted to receive us; but we left the town to the south of us, and continued our journey still westwardly for the Red River, through a fine- country. But there were no roads or inhabitants. Crossing the Washita river the next morning, and finding a large, piece of rising ground, we encamped to kill some provisions, as deer were very plenty.

The Nolan Expedition into Spanish Texas.  We then set out on our voyage, and prosecuted the same for Red River, but, before reaching it, Mordecai Richards, John Adams, and John King, got lost from our party while out hunting. We stopped and hunted for them several days, but could not find them. We supposed they would return to Natchez, which was a fact. There being now but eighteen of us, seven of whom were Spaniards, we continued our journey, and, after five days, came to Red river at the old Caddo town, where we built a raft and crossed, swimming our horses. In about four miles we came to some large prairies, where we found a large quantity of buffalo-meat and some Indians. These were called Twowokanaes. They were very friendly to us, and sold us some fresh horses, of which they had very fine ones.

In about six days' journey we came to Trinity river, and, crossing it, we found the big, open prairies of that country. We passed through the plains till we reached a spring, which we called the Painted spring, because a rock at the head of it was painted by the Camanche and Pawnee nations in a peace that was made there by these two nations. - In the vast prairie there was no wood, or any other fuel than buffalo-dung, which lay dry in great quantities. But we found that the buffalo had removed, and were getting so scarce, that, in three days after passing the spring, we were forced, in order to sustain life, to eat the flesh of wild horses, which we found in great quantities. For about nine days, we were compelled to eat horseflesh, when we arrived at a river called the Brasos. Here we found elk and deer plenty, some buffalo, and wild horses by thousands.

We built a pen, and caught about three hundred of those wild horses. After some days, the Camanche nation came to see us. They were a party of about two hundred men, women, and children. We went with them to the south fork of Red River, to see their chief, by the name of Nicoroco, where we stayed with them a month. A number of them had arrows pointed some with stone, and others with copper. This last they procure in its virgin state in some mountains that run from the river Missouri across the continent to the Gulf of Mexico.

During our stay with this chief, four or five nations that were at peace with him came to see us, and we were great friends. We then thought of returning to our old camp, where we had caught our horses, and taking some more; for a great many of those we had taken had died, for want of being well taken care of [unreadable]. In about five days we arrived at our old camp. Those Indians stayed with us but a few days, and then went on in search of buffalo. These red men have no towns, but roam over these immense plains, carrying with them their tents and clothing made of buffalo-skins. They raise no corn, but depend alone on the chase. Once a year they meet with their head chief on the Salt fork of the Colorado river, where he causes all the fire to be extinguished, and then makes new fire for the new year; and the bands also severally change their hunting-grounds. This meeting takes place in the new moon in June. At the place where they meet are lakes of salt water, so covered with salt, that they can break up any quantity they want.

When they left, a party of them stole from us eleven head of horses. They were our gentle horses, and all we had for running wild horses; so that we were left unable to do anything. We concluded to pursue the robbers; but this was to be done on foot. Philip Nolan, Robert Ashley, Joseph Reed, David Fero, a negro man called Cesar, and myself, were the volunteers of our small party. We pursued them nine days, and came upon them, encamped on a small creek. They did not see us till we were in fifty yards of them, when we went up in a friendly manner. There were but four men, and some women and children: the rest had gone out to kill buffalo. They were twelve men, in number. I saw four of our horses close by, feeding. I pointed to them, and told them we had come for them, and that they must bring the others they had stolen to us. An old man said the one who had stolen them had taken the others out hunting; that he would be in that evening; and that the rogue who stole them had but one eye, by which we could know him when, he came. They gave us meat, of which they had a large quantity drying; and then we were glad to he down and rest.   In the evening, as the old man said, One-Eye came up with our horses. We took him and tied him, the others saying nothing, and kept him tied till morning. His wife then gave us all our- horses; and we took from the thief all the meat we could conveniently carry. We then told them all that there were but few of us, but we could whip twice their number, and they were of the same opinion.[sdct]

Death of Nolan and capture by royal Spanish forces.   We then returned safely to our camp, and found all in readiness to run horses and the pen in good repair. But we concluded to let our horses rest a few days before we began to run them, as we had traveled to our camp in four days.  In four days more it was our misfortune to be attacked by a hundred and fifty Spaniards sent by the commandant at Chihuahua. He was general-commandant of the five northeastern internal provinces, and called Don Nimesio de Salcedo. The troops that came were piloted by Indians from Nacogdoches that came with them. They surrounded our camp about one o'clock in the morning, on the 22d of March, 1801. They took the five Spaniards and one American that were guarding our horses, leaving but twelve of us, including Cesar. We were all alarmed by the tramping of their horses; and, as day broke, without speaking a word, they commenced their fire. After about ten minutes our gallant leader Nolan was slain by a musket-ball which hit him in the head. In a few minutes after they began to fire grape-shot at us; they had brought a small swivel on a mule. We had a pen that we had built of logs, to prevent the Indians from stealing from us. From this pen we returned their fire until about nine o'clock. We then had two men wounded and one killed. I told my companions we ought to charge on the cannon and take it. Two or three of them agreed to it, but the rest appeared unwilling. I told them it was at most but death; and if we stood still, all would doubtless be killed; that we must take the cannon, or retreat. It was agreed that we should retreat. Our number was eleven, of which two were wounded. The powder that we could not put in our horns was given to Cesar to carry, while the rest were to make use of their arms. So we set out through a prairie, and shortly crossed a small creek. While we were defending ourselves, Cesar stopped at the creek and surrendered himself with the ammunition to the enemy. Of the two wounded men, one stopped and gave himself up, the other came on with us. There were then nine of us that stood the fire of the enemy, on both sides of us, for a march of half a mile. We were so fortunate, that not a man of us got hurt, though the balls played around us like hail.

In our march we came to a deep ravine. Here we took refuge, and stopped some time. They then began to come too close to us, when we commenced firing afresh. They then retreated; and about three o'clock in the afternoon they hoisted a white flag, and (through an American that was with them) told us that the commander wanted us to return to our own country, and not remain there with the Indians. We quickly agreed to go as companions with them, but not to give up our guns. It was granted, and we went back and buried our gallant leader Nolan. The next day we started in company with the Spanish soldiers for Nacogdoches. In our journey we had to cross the Trinity which we found running over its banks. My companions and I, in a short time, made a small canoe out of a dry cottonwood, which answered very well to carry the soldiers all over. Their arms and their commander were still on the west side. I told my companions that we had it in our power to throw all their guns in the river, take what ammunition we wanted, and return. Some of them were willing; others said it would be very wrong now we were to be sent home. These last were unfortunate men who put confidence in Spanish promises. These are a people in whom you should put no trust or confidence whatever.

Imprisonment in Mexico, the hatter business and continuous plans for escape.  In some days after we arrived at Nacogdoches, the commandant told us he was waiting for orders from Chihuahua, to set us at liberty and send us home, we waited in this hope for about a month, when, instead of our liberty, we were seized and put in irons, and sent off under a strong guard to San Antonio. Here we lay in prison three months. Then we were started to Mexico, but were stopped at San Luis Potosi, where we were confined in prison one year and four months. By this time we were getting bare of clothes. I told them I was a shoemaker, and would be very thankful if they would permit me, in the daytime, to sit at the door of my prison, and work at my trade. This was granted to me, and also to young Charles King. We made some money; but in a short time afterward, orders came that we should be sent to Chihuahua. This order was quickly obeyed; and we started on horseback, with heavy irons. Yet it was cheering to think that we were going to change our prisons, hoping that in some change we might be able, some day or other, to escape.  We came to a town called Saltillo, where we were delivered over to another officer, whose duty it was to conduct us to Chihuahua. This man treated us with more humanity than had been shown us before. He took off our irons, and let us ride all the way foot-loose, a distance of four hundred miles. And along the road, and at all the towns, we could look at places, and walk about and see the inhabitants. And we noticed that everywhere they were mixed with Indian, but of a kind and friendly disposition. They were all exceedingly kind to us presenting us with fruits, clothes, and money; so that, by the, time we reached Chihuahua, we began to think we would soon regain our liberty.

At our arrival in town we were put in prison, and, in five or six days, were tried. Then our irons were taken off, and we had the limits of the town to walk in during the day, and at night we had to come and sleep in the soldiers' barracks. During this time we received a quarter of a dollar a day for our provisions; but, as for clothing, there was no way provided to get any. Some of my companions got leave of the general to go to other towns to live, but I thought I would find out some way of making something. I gave myself out as a hatter. There was a gentleman who trusted me for whatever was necessary to carry on that business. I employed two Spanish hatters to work with me, for, in fact, I was no hatter at all. In about six months I had so raised my name, that no one would purchase hats except of the American. By this means I got a number of journeymen to work with me. I was clear of debt, and making from fifty to sixty dollars per week. I began to lay up money, with which to try to make my escape at a future day. I had gained the good will of all the principal men in that town, as well as the surrounding villages. I continued in this situation about four years, when I thought it was time to try to reach my native country.

I left my shop in the hands of a foreman, and obtained leave to visit another town forty miles distant [San Carlos where David Fero and Solomon Cooley were residing-WLM], that I might better make my arrangements. When I arrived there, I purchased, through others, four horses, three guns, and as many braces of pistols. Here I was advised by my friends to join the catholic church, and to marry in the country---as they did not expect the general would ever agree to send us home, as we had come so far into the country, I put them off by promises, but was still making my arrangements to start for the United States; for it was not possible that I should forget my country to live under a tyranny after or resign my having enjoyed the liberty of only native land. [It is believed that Bean filed a petition to be baptized in the Catholic faith.   Although not mentioned by Bean, according to author Bennett Lay, Bean had his first affair with the daughter of a Spanish officer, refused the offer to marry and was imprisoned in San Geronimo as a consequence--WLM]  My companions appeared to me to be reconciled and happy; excepting, however, one of them, by, the name of Thomas House. He, like myself, was determined to see his native country, if possible. As I thought he was the only one I could get to go with me, I wrote to him. He answered me, saying he would meet me when called on, at any place appointed. A week after, having all things ready, and two Spanish soldiers, who agreed to desert and go with me, I wrote to my friend a second letter, to meet me on a certain day at an old church, from which we would set out on our journey for the United States. [Archival evidence suggests that both Fero and Cooley were in contact with House and were just as active in desire and laying plans for escape.  Fero and Cooley apparently did no discuss the issue so extensively with Bean.  It is thought that Fero and Cooley, and House as well, distrusted Bean because of his freedom of movement and relative trust shown by his captors--WLM]

Betrayal by Tony Waters.  But, to my misfortune my letter fell into the hands of another companion of mine, named Tony Waters, who was from Winchester, Virginia.  As soon as he got it, he broke it open and read it, and immediately reported it to the commanding officer of Chihuahua; thinking thus to ingratiate himself by selling his countrymen and companions. This was no sooner known, than orders came to the town where I was to put me in close confinement, which was done without any delay. After I was in the dungeon, I was put in the stocks for that day. The next day I was ironed with two pairs of strong irons. The third day I was taken out of, my prison, and led to the governor, who asked me if I knew why I was imprisoned. I told him I did not. He then showed me my letter, and asked me if I had written it. I told him I had. He asked me if any of my companions were going. I said, no. He asked if the one to whom I had wrote had agreed to go. I said, no; but I wrote to invite him, and had received no answer, nor did I expect any, as the letter did not reach him. He asked me if I had arms. I told him that I had none for my horses, arms, and other things, were kept at a different place from where I lived, and search had been made, and nothing found, as I had previously been informed.

I was returned to prison, and next morning orders came that I should not talk with any one. I then thought that my undertaking was at an end, inasmuch as I was forbidden to see or talk to any one. But, about twelve o'clock the next day, they brought into my prison one of my companions, who was at the point of death. As I before remarked, my companions had gone to different towns. He was taken sick at a place some distance off, and requested that be, might see me before he died. As the catholic religion obliges them to comply in such cases, he was brought to me. But my poor, unfortunate countryman did not expect to find me ironed and in close confinement. When the prison door was opened, he saw me, came in and sat down, and said to me, I never thought to see you in this place; but though it is a prison, I shall not leave you until I die, which I expect will be in a few days. Yet I shall die in the company of a countryman. He then laid himself down. The distress of my friend afflicted me more than ever, but I could not help either him or myself. I had yet a little money; with it I sent and got some wine; and, after a little while, a lady sent me some dinner and I got him up, and he ate some. This young man was named Joel Pearce from North Carolina. Sometime after, I asked him if he had not been told, before he came, that I was in prison. He said be knew nothing about it until he came to the town; and that the commandant told him I was a bad man, and was going to ran away, for which reason I was put in prison. He said also that it was better for my companion to go to some house in the town, and not come to stay with me; for as he had done nothing, he could stay where he pleased. My companion said, "No, I will go and stay with him." I told him also it would be better to go to a house of some of my friends, where he would be well treated, and, I hoped, recover. He said, no, he would die there, for he had no hope of recovering. He continued with me for five or six days in this situation, and, I perceived, was daily growing weaker. During this time, I forgot my prison, and thought only of my sick friend. By this time he was able to converse with me but little. In the height of our affliction, the justice of the town, sent into our jail a big Indian, charged with murder. He brought with him a jew's harp, and played on it all the time. This so distracted the head of my poor countryman, that I requested him, in a friendly manner, not to make that noise. He answered me that the harp was his own, and he would play when he pleased. There was no great difference between us, for he had on one pair of irons, and I had two. I went up to him and snatched the jew's harp from him, and broke the tongue out. He rose immediately, and we engaged; but in a few blows, I was conqueror, and he fell down very quiet. My sick companion, when we began, tried to rise, but was so weak, that he fell back on his mat. He was full of joy, however, when he saw I had gained the victory. In three days after, he died, and was carried away to be buried. Then I was more distressed in mind than ever, thinking it would soon be my time to suffer the same fate. In this situation I continued for three months, without any communication with the world. At the end of this time I was surprised to see my prison-door thrown open, my irons taken off, and myself turned loose to walk about the town as I before had done. I heard that my friend Thomas House, to whom I wrote the letter, was very ill. So I requested of the commandant permission to go to Chihuahua, where he was, to. see him, which was granted. I saw that he was not in a situation to travel; and he told me to make my escape, as it was impossible that he should ever go.

In this town was my good friend Waters, who had broken open my letter. I had it in my power to have taken his life, and in a manner that would not be discovered; but, though he was, a man of such meanness, I thought it not right to take his life without giving him a chance. I challenged him to fight me with equal arms, but he refused, and would not see me. I knew of a house to which he frequently resorted. I went there one day, having provided myself with a good stick. I met him there, and told him I must have some satisfaction. He began to beg off, but I gave him no time to excuse himself. I fell on him with my stick, and beat him severely, and left him with two women of the same house [the women of Mexico are angels of mercy to those in distress-Ed]. The next day he was able to crawl to the authorities and lodge his complaint; but the justice was my friend, and he did not succeed so well as he expected. The justice told him he might return thanks to God that I had left life in him, and to go from his presence. He insisted that he was not doing him justice, as I would, perhaps, at some other time, take his life. The justice sent him to jail for a month, because he said he did not treat him with justice.

Permission to travel to New Mexico.  There was nothing said to me about it. I passed away my time for about a week, and then asked leave of the general to let me go to New Mexico. I thought if I could get there, I could make my escape with the Camanche Indians by way of the Illinois. My request was granted, and I started. I must inform my reader that we had passed five years, in all, in Mexico; that our cases in this time had gone to Spain; and had also been sent to the United States, and laid before Mr. Jefferson, at that time president who said he knew nothing of it, and that we should be tried according to the Spanish laws. This showed little humanity or feeling, thus to give us up to a nation more barbarous to her prisoners than the Algerines. But what can a poor prisoner expect, when the leading men of his country fail to see justice done him? If I had been brought to my country, I could have been happy under the severest punishment my crimes deserved. But I suppose that Mr. Jefferson was a great friend to the prince of Peace, who at that time commanded all Spain through the favor of his beloved queen. She first raised him from a soldier to a prince. But where there is love, favor may be, expected by queens and commanders. As Mr. Jefferson did not know us, and had no expectation of being benefited by us, it was less trouble to say, "Hang them!" But as the Spaniards have no feeling for our distress, it would be better to hang us---which is a momentary pain---than to keep us in prison during our lives.

Back to prison in Chihuahua, throwing of the dice and execution of Ephraim Blackburn.  But I will return to my journey. I left my companion, and departed. Four days after I had set out, an express was sent after me, and I was again brought back and put in irons. The day after I arrived in Chihuahua, our companions began to come in, and were put in the same room with me, and ironed. They said this had all probably happened on account of my journey to New Mexico. I told them that all would be known in a few days; and, if it was on my account, I wanted to suffer, and not them. In seven or eight days, while we were thinking what could be the cause of our being brought together, our door began to rattle, and two priests came in and asked us, in a friendly manner, how we all were. My companions answered very quickly, and asked them what was going to be done with us. During this time I pretended to be asleep. The parsons made answer that they did not know, but they had come for us to confess, if we wished our sins to be forgiven. Some of my companions were frightened, and said we would all be put to death. I then pretended to wake up, and asked them what was the news. They said that, from what those men had told them, we would all be put to death, and they thought the priests were sent to prepare us for it. I said they might prepare if they wished; but, as for myself, I wanted no priest to show me how to die, as I would do that without them: and perhaps it would be best for us, as we would then be at the end of our suffering. Some of them replied that I spoke at random; I said I only spoke for myself. So I lay down again: and some of them told the priests to come the next day. All our conversation that night was in view of our being put to death. I told them that we should trust to fate, and not fret ourselves about what we could not remedy. One of them said the bravest would be cast down to see his open grave before him. "But," said I, "if you find no way to escape that grave, is it not better to march up to it like a man, than to be dragged to it like one dead? It is enough for them to drag me to it when life is gone. The most cowardly, where under sentence of death, have marched up with great bravery. And, as for myself, if I must die, I mean not to disgrace my country." The reason I talked so was that I did not believe they would put us to death.

Soon the next morning the priests returned, and David Fero asked them if we were to be put to death. They said they did not know---perhaps some might be. I then began to conclude it would be me, and all my companions thought the same thing. I, however, said nothing; for, as I had before talked of valor in such cases, it became necessary for me to support that character. The priests said we must confess all our sins to them, and we should be forgiven. As for myself, I had been taught that God knew all my crimes and it was not worth while to relate them to the parsons. But some of my companions began to confess, and had their sins forgiven. When they asked me, I told them I must have four or five days to recollect all my sins---that they were so many, it was doubtful whether I could ever remember them all. The parsons advised me to begin, and God would enlighten me, and help me to remember them. I told them I could not that day, but perhaps by the next day I could remember some things. They then left us. All that day the talk among us was as to who it would be. I told them. I supposed, as I was the worst, it would be me; and, as my friend Tony Waters had been put in with us to share our fate, I thought, as he had broken open my letter, that if the thing went according to justice, and they hung the worst man, it must be him, for he was, without doubt, the greatest villain and ought to have been dead some years ago. Waters sighed, but said nothing. The next day the parsons came again, and brought with them a colonel, who read to us the king's order---which was, that every fifth man was to be hung, for firing on the king's troops. But, as some were dead, there were but nine of us, and, out of the nine, but one had to die. This was to be decided by throwing dice on the head of a drum. Whoever threw lowest, was to be executed. It was then agreed that the oldest must throw first. I was the youngest, and had to throw fast. The first was blindfolded, and two dice put in a glass tumbler. He was led to the drum which was put in the room, and there cast the dice on the head of the drum. And so we went up, one by one, to cast the awful throw of life or death. All of my companions, except one, threw high: he threw four. As I was the last, all his hopes were that I should throw lower than he. As for my part, I was indifferent about it, for I had resigned myself to fortune. I took the glass in my hand, and gained the prize of life, for I threw five. My poor companion, who threw four, was led away from us, surrounded by the clergy, to be executed the next day. This was done in the presence of many sorrowful hearts that beheld it. [Colonel Bean does not inform us who was executed---perhaps for a good reason. The nine that cast lots were---E. P. Bean, David Fero, Tony Waters, Thomas House, Charles King, Robert Ashley, Joseph Reed, Cesar, and one whose name is not given.-ED.]   [Ephraim Blackburn was executed, other sources indicate that Robert Ashley escaped from prison in Nacogdoches and was unlikely among the prisoners in Chihuahua, see Phillip Nolan Expedition--WLM]

Removal south to Acapulco---Offer by Maria Baldonada.   The rest of us were returned back to prison, without any other notice; and we so remained three or four days, when orders came that some of us were to be, sent away, and I was one of them. The next day the governor came and told us that I and four of my companions were to be sent to the South sea, to a place called Acapulco, and that we had first to go to Mexico. The next morning horses were brought, and we started with a guard of twenty-five men, to guard five poor Americans, with two pairs of irons on each. The rest of our companions were set at liberty. Our journey to Mexico was nine hundred miles from Chihuahua. The officer commanding our guard favored us in giving us easy-going horses. The people, at every town through which we passed, would flock to see us, for they had never before seen an American so far in the interior. Of those that came to see us, some gave us money, and others sent us provisions. They were all mixed with Indian, and showed us real friendship, and seemed to have humanity in their hearts. The Spaniards were hard-hearted and barbarous, and seemed to have no other feeling than to make us as miserable as possible. sdct

About two hundred miles from Mexico we came to a small town called Salamanca where a number of people came flocking to see us. The place in which we stopped was a large square enclosed by houses and walls, so that we could either stay in our rooms, or walk about as we pleased. The stonewalls were so high that we were considered safe. Among those who came to see us was a lady, who directed her conversation to me. She asked me slyly if I wished to make my escape. I answered her that it was a thing impossible, and I had resigned myself to my fate. She said she would free me from those irons I wore, and immediately left me. By this time night had come on us. I asked a man, who did not sit far from me the name of that young lady. He told me her name was Maria Baldonada; that she was the wife of a very rich man; that he was very old, and had not long been married to her. This brought me to study what she meant by telling me that she would free me. But this soon left my mind, and I moved to my mat and blanket and lay down to rest myself. But crowds of people kept coming and going. In a short time after I had laid down, I saw this woman, returning, in company with a man who had on a cloak. She went to where I had sat down, and asked another lady where the American was who had sat there. Hearing her make these inquiries, I raised up and spoke to her. She came and sat by me on my mat, and told me the man with the cloak on had brought files for cutting off my irons; that I must walk out in the square to a horse-stable, and be would cut them off: and then there was a man on the wall who would drop me a rope and pull me Lip to the top of the wall; that the same man would conduct me to where I should see her, and then I would be safe. I could speak the Spanish language very well. I answered her that if I made my escape, my poor companions would perhaps suffer worse on my account, and it would be ungenerous in me to leave them. She said it would not be possible to get all out, but one she could; that she had a regard for me as soon as she saw me.

"And" said she, "if I can be the cause of liberating you from your chains and confinement, I hope it will be the means of making you happy; for I am sure it will make me happy to think that I have been the means of setting you free." "Madam," I answered, "it is very true I should be happy in being thus freed, but unhappy in thinking that my companions would still suffer." She said "You must take care of yourself, and let God take care of all." "But, madam," said I, "reckon when I reach Mexico, I shall get my liberty, and be sent home by way of Vera Cruz."---"You may think so," was her answer, "and not find it so; and when you think of this chance, you will, perhaps, remember me." "But, madam," said I, "if I were to be turned loose here in the center of your country, I could not escape without being taken again, and then my sufferings would be increased." She said, "I have horses and money, and you can have anything without exposing yourself to be retaken. I have several haciendas, in any of which you can stay without its being known."  By this time supper was ready, and I was called, to eat. She said to me, "Now it is too late to do anything; but in the morning you can get your horse saddled, and come with a soldier to my house, which is three doors from this place."

Then I parted with the lady; but during all that night my mind was so much occupied with what I would have done had I been by myself, that I could not sleep. I thought of all that, my companions might suffer if I were to take such a step. I also reflected that the lady was married; and if her husband should find out that she was the means of getting me, away, it might make them unhappy, and he the cause of my being retaken. In thoughts of this description I passed the night; and, as soon as day broke, I went and asked the officer to let a soldier saddle my horse, and go with me to a store, that I might buy a handkerchief. He ordered it to be done. Instead of going to the store, I went where the lady had directed me the night before. I found her sitting by an open window. I alighted from my horse by placing my foot on the window-sill; and gave the soldier a dollar, and told him to go and buy some bitters---that I would wait for him.

So soon as the soldier left me, she said: "Now is the time for your freedom. I will send my servant to the end of the town with your horse; and when the soldier comes, I will tell him you mounted your horse, and took such a street. So, if he follows, he will find your horse, and not you, and be afraid to show himself again to his officer, but will desert. And I have a safe place to hide you, and will give the soldier money to make him desert, and you must know that I can do it, for they all love money, and have none."   I answered her, and said: "Madam, you are a married lady, and I should be a most unhappy man to receive such favors from one of your rank, and then be compelled to leave you without any hope of seeing you again. But if, by the king's order, I should get free, I could then come and spend my days in this town, where I should have the happiness of seeing you, and perhaps be sometimes in your company, if admissible."

"Sir," said she, "you need not think, because I am married, I am bound. I do not so consider it. About a year since, I was married to a man fifty-five years old, in order not to displease my father and mother. He is a man of great property; but I can venture to tell you I do not love him. He is not now in town, but is at some silver-mines he is working, and will be absent two weeks. Before he comes, I promise you to go with you to your country, and spend my days with you. Although you are a stranger, I have formed too good an opinion of you to suppose that, after leaving all to go with you to your country, you would then abandon me for any other lady, however fair. Though I am mixed with Indian blood, I would trust to your honor not to cast me off."

These words made a deep impression on my mind. Yet I was uneasy, as I expected every moment to see the soldier return. I told her I was sure of my freedom when I reached Mexico; that my friends had informed me they would write in my behalf, which raised my hopes; and that I could not leave my companions. For the next three years I repented that I did not take this lady's advice, as the reader will see further on in this book. I waited some time for the soldier to come; and would not agree that my horse should be taken away, as she had desired. When she saw that I would not agree to it, she brought me a heavy package and a letter, and directed me to put them in my pocket, and not look at them till the end of that day's journey. While she was saying this, the soldier came up, and asked if it were not time for us to go. I told her if I was set at liberty, as I expected, in Mexico, I would return to that town without delay. The soldier then helped me on my horse, and I bid adieu to the lovely Maria Baldonada. When I reached my company, all things were in readiness for our march, and we set out on our journey. We stopped that night at a place called Arcos; and as soon as we halted, being impatient to look into my package and letter, I sat down to examine them before the people of the village should crowd on us. In the package I found three, Joes, in small gold pieces. The letter as follows:

"About three days since, the news reached this town that some Americans were coming on as prisoners. I was very desirous to see them; but it has been an unhappy time for me since I first saw you. I hope you will obtain your freedom in a short time, and not forget one who is not ashamed to own that the love she has for you is more than she can bear. Sir, perhaps you may ask how this can be, when you are bound in irons: you may think a woman crazy who could love one in that situation. Perhaps so; but when I first saw you, I was touched with compassion; then I found in heart distressed; and, when I came to examine myself, I found it to be in love. I can write no more. If you leave Mexico, you will let me know where you go, as it will give me some satisfaction. In this letter is a ring from my finger. I hope you will keep it in remembrance of your love. MARIA BALDONADA.

Solitary confinement in Acapulco Prison and the white quija (lizard) companion.  After reading the letter, I went into the room where my companions were; but I was unhappy, and could not pass off the time as usual. The next morning we set out, and in a few days arrived in Mexico. Here I was cast into a prison-yard, in which there were about three hundred others, some of whom were negroes and Indians. I remained here but a week, when I was taken to Acapulco. This is a seaport town, where vessels come once a year from the East Indies. It has a strong fortification. The castle is built of stone, and has about a hundred guns of the largest caliber. The walls of the fort are twelve feet thick. When I arrived at this place, they called over our names; and, when I answered to mine, they told me to step to the front. I did so. They then directed me to follow an officer, which I also did, but slowly, as I had on two pairs of irons. The officer took me to the side of the castle, and, opening a small door told me to go in. I did so; and, when the door was shut, I found myself between two stone walls, about three feet apart, and in a room seven feet long. At the far end of the room I could just discern light through a small opening in the twelve-feet wall, which was grated with iron bars. In the door was another opening of three inches square, also grated. Looking through this last opening, I saw that there was a soldier at the door. I asked him what he had done with my companions. He said they were all put together in a large room. In the evening the officer came and, opened the door, and brought me some old clothes I had left with my companions; also a mat for my bed, and some beef and bread, and a pot of water. I asked him why I was separated from my companions. He said it was because something was written from Chihuahua, to the effect that great care should be taken of me; but he could not tell why. The next day, about nine o'clock, when the relief-guard came round, my prison-door was opened, and my irons searched. I then asked the officer if it was possible that I could be put with my companions. He said I could not, as the governor of that place had ordered that I should be kept by myself. I tried to content myself as well as I could, though there was but little happiness to be found here.

I remembered that Baron Trenck, when he was moved from his first prison to the second, thought how he should escape. So I began to think I should get free; but seeing the strength of the walls, and having nothing to work with, I concluded it was impossible for me ever to escape; and, should I succeed, I would have to travel three thousand miles through their country to get to the nearest part of the United States. As for the distance, I cared nothing about it, if I could only break through those walls. In about ten days after I was put in there, a soldier on guard spoke very friendly to me. I asked him if be would sell me a small knife, He said be would give me one that night. Accordingly, at night, he slipped through the bole in the door the blade of a knife, for which I paid him a dollar. I began to work on the wall, but found it of stones of such large size, that I could do nothing. Still my spirits did not fail me, and I had a hope that I would make my escape in some way or other, though I could form no idea in what way it was to be done.

For about three months I was in this situation. Every day they gave me a pot of water, and some beef and bread. But I was not allowed to have any conversation with others. This place is in sixteen degrees of north latitude, and is very warm. There is here a lizard--which the Spaniards call quija---which is about nine or ten inches long and about three inches thick. It is as white as snow, and, if you hold it between you and the light, you may see the bones in its limbs and body. One day, as I was lying on my mat, I saw one of them, for the first time, on the wall. Watching him, I saw that he was trying to catch the flies that had come into the prison when the door was opened, to get out of the sun. I did not know whether he was poisonous or not, but I determined to feed him. So I caught some flies, lured put them on the end of a straw I had pulled out of my mat; these I slipped up the wall to him, and found he would take them off the straw. This was my amusement for some days, when he became so gentle, that he would take the flies off my hand. Every morning., as he came down the wall, he would sing like a frog, by which means I had notice that he was coming. In about a week he was so gentle, that he did not leave me at night, but stayed with me all the time. Every day, when they would open the door to come and examine my irons, he would get frightened, and hide himself under my blanket. When the door was again shut, he would come out and stay with me. I found that he was sincerely my friend, in fact, he was my only companion and amusement.

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Peter Ellis Bean 1783-1846 | Correspondence
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