Events Leading to and the Battle of Salado by Miles S. Bennet
(From a series of articles in the Cuero Star and Houston Post in 1898 constructed from the diary and notes of Miles Squier Bennet, a participant and son of Texian Quartermaster General and DeWitt Colonist, Major Valentine Bennet. Bennet also obviously used material from a description by close comrade James Ramsay in 1882 and probably from other eyewitness reports of his acquaintances. Headings are added by the current author and compiler)
Continued Mexican Centralist Invasions. In continuing to mention incidents occurring in Western Texan in our old war with Mexico, it will be seen that our difficulties did not end with the Battle of San Jacinto, but continued to call forth many more efforts from Texas ere our independence was consummated. Passing over notes of surveying excursions on the San Marcus with Ben and Henry E. McCulloch, then quite young men; also a few scouts with them after Indians, the loss of horses at Gonzales a few nights before the Indian fight at Plum Creek in August, 1840, and the enlisting of many of our frontier men in the Santa Fe Expedition in 1841, I will write of some of the incidents of 1842.
After the capture of the Santa Fe expedition much apprehension prevailed in Western Texas. Many of our citizens were prisoners in Mexico, the Indians were much more daring and troublesome, and added to which rumors of great preparations for another invasion of Texas by our enemy were rife through the land, especially at San Antonio, hindering emigration and paralyzing farming operations in a great degree. However, corn was planted to a considerable extent throughout the settlements on the Guadalupe by the close of February, about which time a sudden call came for men to move quickly to the defense of San Antonio, which was threatened by the advance of a Mexican force of from 500 to 700 soldiers under General Vasquez.
Defense efforts in Gonzales and San Antonio. At Gonzales some effort was made to establish a nucleus for defense. A committee of safety was appointed and the young men and those without families went to meet the enemy at Bexar; but his advance had been preceded by such a show of intended general invasion of Texas, that upon the arrival of the enemy on the 5th of march, 1842, he invested San Antonio without much fighting, as no adequate plan for its defense had been deemed feasible. Then were only about 100 Texans trying to defend the town. They, of course, had to fall back or be cut off by the enemy. There was but little time to remove valuables. John Twohig blew up his store, Ben McCulloch with his Gonzales men, with Captain D.B. Friar and the few men from the Cuero settlement brought off their small piece of cannon, passing out at the northeast corner of the place as the enemy entered on the opposite side. The few American families in Bexar escaped with barely such necessary household stores as could hastily be transported in the emergency. Some secured ox carts and moved comfortable, although they knew not how far they might have to travel. Couriers soon conveyed the news eastward that San Antonio was in possession of the Mexican army of invasion, and throughout the west every one expected war. The committee of safety having advised and authorized pressing into public service any horses suitable for cavalry. I append in this connection an incident characteristic of the times and people. Old Simeon Bateman was among the earliest colonists, living on a very exposed farm four miles west of the other settlements. He had always done good service for Texas, in the old army of 1835 he, with a trusty man servant, and especially in transporting the cannon. Now, as the country was about to be broken up again he had gotten his family and chattels on a wagon to move eastward. Young Mr. Swift knowing that the old man rode a good horse obtained an order for its impressment, and meeting the movers in the road demanded the animal, but a warm-hearted Irishman, a friend to both parties, knowing that the movers would be seriously inconvenienced by the loss of their horse, interfered, saying: "Arthur! Arthur! I love you, Arthur, but you can not take the old mans horse:" and he staid with the family until they had traveled out of the vicinity.
By the time the fugitives from Bexar had reached the Guadalupe nearly all the families from Seguin to Victoria were moving eastward as fast as possible, some of them having had bitter experience of a more disastrous "runaway scrape," as it was called, at the same season of the year in 1836. The appreciation of the people were also much heightened by positive statements that the Indians, too, were in large force close at hand ready to fall upon the retreating families and effect a junction with the Mexican troops. Indeed a party of savages had recently killed an estimable citizen and taken horses in the vicinity of Gonzales. Consequently, upon, a fresh warning, brought by one who had been out looking for his tea, that a war party were coming down the old Comanche trail, the western families upon arriving at Gonzales, together with the few who had not left this town, "forted," in close quarters, placing the teams and wagons as an additional means of defense, and kept watch all night. Thus the country was badly broken up, the women and children moving eastward, while the men in small squads and such scanty equipment as they could hurriedly provide gathered around San Antonio to hold the enemy in check temporarily. The Mexicans, however, not being supported from the interior, and finding the place would soon be too hot for them, decamped with all speed after robbing the town and adjacent territory. In a few days companies of well mounted men from the Colorado and other neighborhoods joined those already assembled near San Antonio and formed a military organization, conspicuous in which was the Spy company, under Captain John C. Hay. These remained several months in the vicinity awaiting future developments of the enemy, while they also defended the frontier from the Indians. Others having poor outfit for a long campaign returned to their neglected farms and gave them some attention, although constantly apprehending a continuation of Mexican frays.
Early in 1842 I was engaged in opening up a farm on the west side of the Guadalupe river; the country westward was in it primitive wilderness, abounding in mustangs, bear, deer and turkeys, and unoccupied except by an occasional party of friendly Indians whose brush lodge encampments were frequently met with. Two families were also beginning a settlement five miles above me on the river, and our county town and post office, Gonzales, was twenty miles off. My neighbors and I had agreed that we would not quit our farms, even if the Mexicans came on again; we would take to the timbered bottoms and remain in the neighborhood. But when the enemy invested San Antonio about the 5th of March and nearly all the settlers moved off, I was constrained to help my neighbor, Mr. [Joseph] Kent, who had been a tried soldier in the old army and a participant in the battle of San Jacinto, and now with wife and children had no way to move. I loaned him my two horse wagon and saw him well started on his retreat; then taking three yoke of oxen to Gonzales I hitched them onto a wagon to enable my sister and her husband, Mr. [Thomas J.] Pilgrim, to remove to Houston, and with one of my friends, Mr. Hendrick Arnold, we went to the front.
Finding that the enemy had fallen back from San Antonio and that Captain Hays with a few men were out in the country keeping guard I intended to join his command, but riding alone several days in search of his camp and my horse being jaded, I reluctantly returned to San Antonio. As the return of the enemy in more formidable force was confidently expected it was thought best to occupy the San Antonio frontier immediately, and a good company forming at Gonzales, at which place small parties form the Lavaca and Colorado had arrive, the line of march was taken up. Crossing the Guadalupe at the old Santa Anna ford, pursuing the trail by the forty-mile waterhole, penetrating to the Mission Concepcion, where a military camp was formed. General Ed Burleson being commander in chief; Captain Daniel B. Friar in command of the men from the Cuero settlement, the Gonzales company and the few reinforcements arriving from time to time. The volunteers, waiting thus two or three weeks, moving camp from place to place, subsisting on beef without even salt to season it, many became discouraged and returned home; the command was almost broken up, leaving this part of the country in a defenseless condition. Then an order came authorizing the enrolling of two companies to range on the frontier, promising rations, clothing, etc. One company was commanded by Captain John C. Hays; the other by Louis P. Cook; and thus the western country was scouted over and well guarded, the men subsisting principally upon such game as deer, turkeys, wild hogs and honey, with a little salt, coffee and cornmeal, replacing their worn-out clothing with dried deerskins and moccasins.
Capt. Cook having left for headquarters his company moved to San Antonio, and under the command of lieutenant John R. King (now of Stockdale) was detailed to guard government arms and ammunitions to Gonzales. Among these were about 150 muskets, two fine brass eight pound cannon with caissons and equipment complete. This company was disbanded about the middle of may, each man receiving a discharge calling for thirty-seven days pay, although they had been out from their homes more than two months. The citizens of San Antonio still sustained in the field Captain Hays and his company, among whom were several men from the Guadalupe, furnishing them clothing and rations. Thus that frontier was somewhat guarded during the summer and inroads from hostile Indians and robber Mexicans were prevented.
Release of the Santa Fe prisoners. In the summer [of 1842] the people of Texas were gladdened by the news of the release in Mexico of the Santa Fe prisoners, although they could but be solicitous about their health, as they were to embark in the hot, sickly weather at Vera Cruz, where the yellow fever was prevailing. Coming via new Orleans, Galveston and Houston, their immediate pressing wants were attended to and they were received with open doors and made comfortable while staying in and passing through these cities; yet many of the men, especially those from the west, were far from home on foot and unarmed. The writer of this article having a father associated with them [Major Valentine Bennet], went from the Guadalupe to meet them in Houston. While there the men of the expedition whose homes were in the west were all eager to inquire about its condition and means of defense, for they were confident that there would be another advance of enemies from Mexico, and although they well knew that if again captured with arms in their hands, they would receive no quarter, they were generally desirous to repair to the frontier and be in readiness of the expected strife. I knew many of these men and still recollect George W. Grover and Thomas W. Hunt, the latter of whom, with some of his companions, was sent to Houston by steamer by citizens of Galveston. Hunt walked to his home beyond Gonzales, arriving in time to rest up and join the volunteers and do good service in resisting the advance of the Mexicans at the battle of Salado. I found Major Bennet at Houston, comfortably cared for at the house of our Mr. Pilgrim, who with my sister, gave us a cordial welcome.
Return with Mathew "Old Paint" Caldwell. The citizens held a public meeting and made provision for the comfort of the Santa Fe men, furnished them with clothing, established an encampment at the [ ..] house and opened their doors generally for their entertainment. Providentially the pecan crop on the western streams was unusually promising and would, when matured, afford the means of subsistence to all who would gather them. There were a few men who really had no home and were attached to comrades with whom they had endured so much hardship and were eager to set off for the west to again breathe its pure air, drink of its streams and partake of the hospitality so general among it people. Considering themselves as yet soldiers of Texas, ready for duty, they prevailed upon their old quartermaster, Bennet, to apply at the war department, at that time in Houston, for a few muskets and ammunition, but were chagrined at the failure to supply them. However, many of them left the kind citizens of Houston in small squads to work their way by foot to the west. Finding among other of our townsmen Captain Matthew Caldwell and his son without transportation, Major Bennet and myself agreed to assist them home, all riding our two horses time about and walking by turns. Curtis Caldwell was a young lad, who accompanied his father in the Santa Fe expedition, and upon their arrival in the City of Mexico had been offered the guardianship and parentage of Santa Anna, but he preferred returning home with the officers. Captain Caldwell was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and had not failed to participate in her battles. He was a skillful frontiersman, a noted Indian fighter. Among other importation action he was efficiently engaged and severely wounded in a hand to hand encounter with the Comanche chieftains in the "Old Court House," a conflict celebrated in the history of San Antonio. His perceptions were so acute that while hunting with him his companions often declared they believed that "Old Paint" could smell Indians when in their vicinity; yet withal he was courteous and genial in his demeanor, and especially considerate to the young. The weather was hot and the road dusty, but upon our arrival near the Brazos, the captain was enable to barter some clothing for a pony, and at Columbus, Curtis also was similarly provided for by some of its citizens, who warmly expressed sympathy and their joy at our return. The first house that we came to on the Guadalupe below Gonzales was that of Judge William E. Jones, who was absent at the time holding his court at San Antonio. While we were there his family received a letter from him stating the rumor of an advance of Mexican troops, but coupled with the opinion that it was only a sensational report gotten up to prevent the convening of the court. Proceeding to Gonzales, we were all gladly received by our old neighbors, but had no time to rest or attend to our personal business, for couriers continued to bring news of the certain advance of the enemy and of their investment of San Antonio, they having cut out an entirely new road, and approached by a route on which they were undiscovered, even by the vigilant Hays and his scouts, who were on the lookout until they surprised the town.
Occupation of San Antonio by General Adrian Woll. Thus on September 11, San Antonio was again in possession of the enemy, fifty-three of its principal citizens, the district court and those in attendance all prisoners. As we knew the further advance of the Mexicans must, if possible, be immediately checked, the town of Seguin was named as the rendezvous, and the promptitude with which our men repaired to it was commendable. Henry E. McCulloch had great influence in rallying the men from the upper settlements; small companies gathered under the lead of such men as Captain James Bird, Lieutenant John R. King, Captain Callahan and others while the noted Ewan Cameron and his well tired followers came up from Victoria (See DeWitt Colony Militia Captains). As subsistence must be provided, Major Bennet, assisted by his old Santa Fe comrades, established a commissariat, obtaining from the citizens a little corn to be ground upon steel mills for bread, and a few beeves, which were carefully dressed and regularly issue; a portion being barbecued and reserved to eke out the scanty fare of late comers, who had no time to secure provisions. In consequence of the difficulties of the previous spring corn was scarce and valuable, but at Seguin the volunteers were invited to go into the farms and supply themselves with all they could grind on hand mills for bread. Constant communication was kept up with Captain John C. Hays and his spy company, who still scouted around San Antonio. The volunteers assembling at Seguin to check the advance of General Woll and his invading troops, immediately organized under the command of their old townsman, the now returned Santa Fe prisoner, Captain Mathew Caldwell, and having also with us the efficient orderly sergeant James Ramsay, who had served in the same capacity in the Vazquez campaign. We again took up the line of march for San Antonio. During the campaign that was now opening there were many little episodes that however uninteresting to the severely critical compiler of general history, may bear a partial mention in this connection, as they relate to citizens who at that day were active participants in those interesting scenes.
Luxury and entertainment on the march. Among those who went from Gonzales was a squad who formed one mess and pledged themselves to Texas and to each other to the end; these were B.B. Peck, who rode his gray mule that he had captured in the Plum Creek fight in 1840; John Cummings, a Santa Fe prisoner; Miles S. Bennet, Henry Girven and James Ramsay. In those times coffee was too scarce to be used in camp and other beverages were substituted; frequently a small wild herb called "lemon tea," but on one occasion one of these boys had the good fortune to secure two pounds of coffee as a present to be kept for sickness or other emergencies. However, but a few days passed before some friends found and appropriated it under laughable circumstances, but made the camp ring with the challenge of "Who took Miles coffee?" answered from the other side by the chorus: "Sim, Witt and Doc Adams." Although our command was comprised mostly of the young, light-hearted and buoyant, yet there were also many of more mature years among us. Encamping near a stream on a pleasant moonlit evening, our colonel with Dr. C.L. Brown, spread their blanket under a tree upon a little rising ground, overlooking the surroundings, and were joined by Rev. Z.N. Morrell, a Baptist, well known. Rev. Daniel Carl, a Methodist preacher of the circuit, and several others dropping in around, all reclining upon the grass. Among us was Davy [Ouhu, Quhu, Cuhu?], a Welshman, who had a wonderful capacity for ballad singing, composing, frequently as he sang. He had a good fund of Cambrian and English songs and gratified us by his readiness to sing. There were also others who had ballads which, however, becoming exhausted and giving place to songs not so select, our ministers began to feel uneasy and wished to retire, but the singing had gradually drawn most of the command to close proximity around so that those in the center of the reclining group could not readily remove without disturbing their comrades. Colonel Caldwell, observing the uneasiness of the preachers, quietly arose and reminding the boys that we certainly expected to fight the enemy in a day or two, and must move forward at an early hour, requested all to retire to their blankets and obtain all the sleep they could. This incident was long remembered and was in connection with the campaign made the subject of a ballad from the resourceful brain of our Welsh friend, Davy Quhu.
Capture of Mexican horses. Being in constant communication and acting in concert with Hays San Antonio spy company, we were soon started by the information that a strong force of the enemy had started in the direction of Gonzales, whereupon Henry E. McCulloch with a company was immediately dispatched to reconnoiter in that direction which, the enemy perceiving, probably fearing they would be cut off from their base, suddenly returned to San Antonio. They had, however, on their raid, captured and murdered old Dr. Smithers, one of those who had been in the fight at Velasco in 1832. Captain Hays, finding that the Mexican cavalry grazed their horses in an insecure place, conceived the plan of stampeding them, and thus setting our foes afoot, but Chris Acklin, one of the scouts, having a good chance to capture a few of the horses on his own account, brought away about twenty of them, thus unwisely warning the enemy to chose more secure grazing ground. This action of the spy was much censured, as no doubt if the Mexicans had been deprived of their horses they could have been detained until more volunteers would have mustered to our help and a very different result of this campaign might have ensued. We, however, utilized this small capture by inducing Acklin to place his horses in charge of the quartermaster, who guaranteed their value to the captor and I took them to my father at Seguin, where we soon had them mounted by good men, who having been afoot had not been able to go to the front. The commissary having two beeves on hand, sent them by us and with these new mounted men we rode rapidly back through a drenching rain to our command, which we found encamped in a little band of the Santa Clara creek. They received us with great cheer as we approached, and the beeves were soon slaughtered and issued to the hungry men who utilized all the parts, heads and hides.
The spy company was very active and some of them much exposed, a small detachment of them penetrating entirely to the rear of the invaders, observing their strength and the range of their horses narrowly escaped being intercepted and dodged around in a starving condition three or four days before they could rejoin their comrades. The names of two of them were Mike Chevallie and Fitzgerald. Colonel Caldwell being desirous to bring on a fight and not expecting reinforcements in time for the crisis, reorganized his little force more completely. Canan C. Colley was elected major; James Ramsay orderly sergeant. There were Captain Ewan Cameron and his lieutenant Anderson, both Scotchmen, with their company of about thirty experienced soldiers; Captain Dan B. Friar with about forty men from Cuero settlement; Captain Zumwalt and John Henry Brown with about twenty-five men from the Lavaca river settlement; Captain James Bird and Lieutenant John R. King; Captain Callahan and Lieutenant Cusaney with some of the men and boys from Gonzales and Seguin; Colonel J.C. Hays and Captain H.E. McCulloch with their spy companies were always in advance, and the scouts were principally from their companies. There were several very young lads among us, viz: Jesse Zumwalt, Alt Friar, R. Barnett, R. Clark and others. With Americans there were English, Scotch, Irish, French and Germans, in all 203. I like to mention the names of these frontiersmen, as the greater number of them have ended their earthly campaigns. (See also DeWitt Colony Militia Captains)
Engaging the enemy at the Salado. Late on Saturday evening the command took up the line of march, and during the bright moonlight moved to the Salado and occupied a good position on the east bank of that stream, about five miles east from San Antonio, quietly placing out the guard and pickets. The most of the men were soon asleep, but a remarkable stampede took place among the horses, which were so frightened that they ran through the encampment to the great danger of the sleeping men. Coming in off of guard duty in the morning I searched my provision wallet for something to eat, and found only a little coffee and a small piece of uncooked suet, but happening upon Comrade Van Vechte, who was trying to satisfy his hunger with some hard sundried beef, we mixed the fat with the lean and thus had our breakfast. Hays and McCulloch with a detachment of our best horsemen had been sent to reconnoiter near San Antonio while a foraging party brought in a few beeves and our hungry men speedily began to slaughter and cook and eat. Mr. John W. Smith and his Mexican servant, Manuel, came to us from the city with accurate information. The Mexican general Adrian Woll with twelve hundred regular troops having two pieces of artillery, besides two or three hundred rancheros, Indians and low Mexicans, were on their march from the city to attack us. This statement was soon corroborated by our scouts. The enemy soon made their appearance. Hays and McCulloch with their detachment having annoyed their advance by continued skirmishes. Creed Taylor of the scouts was thus wounded in the hand. He was much chagrined by his ill-fortune, but fastening his bridle rein above his elbow and with pistol in the other hand he continued in the saddle.
The enemy crossed the Salado above us and with bands of music marched out on the beautiful open prairie, which was interspersed with a few mesquite trees and took position about four hundred yards east of us, thus apparently cutting us off from our settlements and preventing any direct communication with reinforcements that might be coming to our help. Their field pieces, well masked, were planted within point blank range and close upon their left was a long hollow with mesquite trees in it, extending down to our line on the creek, affording an advantage to their Indians and rancheros on that part of the field. In order to deceive the enemy as to our fewness in numbers we were leisurely marched over some of the knolls in their view on our left, and on descending into the hollow out of sight we ran back at a double-quick step, falling again into ranks in the rear, thus keeping up a continuous line by showing the same men two or three times, and after thus maneuvering we fell into our position on the east side of the Salado. A war speech was here delivered by Caldwell, which was short, emphatic and to the point. The concluding sentence, "Fight for our families and homes," was greeted by loud buzzes and cheers from the men and the situation through serious was mixed with a little of the comic. The colonel was above the common height of men, slim built and wiry; past middle age, fair skin, dark hair, mixed with white patches, particularly upon the beard, giving him the sobriquet of "Old Paint." His sleeves rolled up, swinging his rifle with one hand and gesticulate with the other, the very personification of audacious courage. In this he was ably seconded by the cool bravery of Major Colly, standing as they both did, conspicuous marks for the enemy, who were already firing considerably.
Our picket being now driven in, our horses were secured at the creek in our rear. In forming our line of defense, one of the little knolls over which we had maneuvered as before mentioned was above us on our extreme left, and if the enemy could have occupied it with one of their field pieces they could have annoyed nearly our whole line, and we found it required some good fighting on our part to defend that point. We retained the place of our guard fire, the guard being in detail of two or three men form each company, posted at a commanding position on the extreme right, on the edge of a hollow that covered the enemys left, and this proved to be one of the hottest places of the battle ground. Captain Ewan Camerons company were also on the right; Birds company on the right center and the other companies occupying the ground to the left. I was in Birds company, and before the enemys cannon opened fire upon us I had a good opportunity to count their detachment under Colonel Cordova of eighty-five Cherokee Indians and renegade Nacogdoches Mexicans, who crawled in Indian fashion into the hollow on our right. Apprehending the capture of our horses by this force, Captain Callahan made a detail of fifteen men, of whom I was one, to guard against surprise in that quarter. While there and before the battle became very hot, two of our men, Steve Jouett, A San Jacinto solder, now a noted settler from the "old stone ranch" near the Medina, and Simon Kockerell of Gonzales, passed the guard going down the creek. I was personally acquainted with them, and upon challenging them they said they were "going to shoot some of them Indian on their own account" Nothing more was thought of it at the time, as we all soon had our attention fully occupied all along the front, but about the dusk of the evening Kockerell came in all wet and muddy with his arm broken. He stated that they found plenty of Indians in the brush below, some of whom chased Jouett in a westerly direction, while he himself, after receiving wounds, crawled into the creek under a leaning tree and narrowly escaped capture.
In front the enemys cannot were all masked by their infantry and cavalry, and opened fire at point blank range, which was followed by charges at first upon our center and left wing, while on our right the enemy poured down the hollow and tried to drive us from our guard fire. Among the Gonzales boys on guard here were Barney and Wilson Randall, William Lockhart and John V. Law, a rollicking Englishman; the efficient support afforded by Camerons company here secured successful resistance against the renegade Cordova, who, with many of his adherents, were slain on this part of the field. During the discharge of the artillery, Captain Birds order was "Lie low, boys, and be ready for the charge." The Mexican buglers well up in front sounded their clarines. Upon their approach Bird sprang up, shouting, "Now, boys, let them have it," and the firing became general, compelling the foe to fall back to their cannon, leaving the ground strewn with their dead and wounded, their bugles and even their muster rolls falling into our hands. These charges were repeated, and the fighting on our right was severe, the enemy there being strengthened by a body of Carrizo Indians. A portion of them, however, were drawn off in the pursuit of Jouett and Kockerel. The Mexicans would not remain close to us, but finding they could not drive us by their sudden charges, would rapidly fall back to their artillery, which would be repeated. Some of our men were soon wounded, Scotch Callahan severely; Ben Powers, R. Clark and Jesse Zumwalt, each in an arm. Among others, Sol Simmons, who in company with his friend, Nathan Burkitt [Burket], had joined us at Seguin, and, as they rode into camp, were noticeable for their homely, rawhide character of their equipment, showing their ability to do good service and sustain themselves on a long campaign, where every man had to rely upon himself without any hope of commissary supplies or government rations. As the beef came in late on the morning of the day of battle, our Simmons, a large, muscular man, having nothing else to breakfast upon consumed a large share of it, and now receiving in his abdomen a ball from a Mexican escopeta, became very sick and was quite despondent in view of his death, but the quiet manner of our good Dr. Brown as he in the evening carefully examine the wound, was worthy of praise, and his cheerful assurance that Simmons was out of danger, for the over gorge of beef would certainly have killed him unless he had received as an antidote an ounce of copper, which, it is true, would have dispatched him had he not been so fortified with beef. This remark called forth considerable mirth from the attendants and relieved our wounded friend also. Among others on our left center was our Methodist friend, Daniel Carl, who had been in the habit of carrying his musket on a part of his preaching circuit on account of Indians, and now having extra good use for it, he stood squarely up in the line, demurely ejaculating, as was said by his comrades, "The Lord have mercy on their souls," as he repeatedly discharged his musket into the charging columns of the enemy.
Woll's retreat and care of the wounded. As we all had plenty to do along our own line and our communication with the settlements cut off, we were not immediately aware of the approach of Captain Nicolas Dawsons command of fifty three men, mostly from LaGrange, who were on the march to reinforce us. They rode up within hearing of the conflict while the fighting was going on, but the smoke of the battle was so dense they could not see our position, and we having no couriers out on the road to warn any of our friends that might be coming to our help, before they were aware of their danger they were too near the Mexicans to effect a retreat and being unable to accomplish a junction with us were intercepted and surrounded by the enemys cavalry. Dawsons men, partially sheltered by a few mesquite saplings, kept the cavalry at bay for awhile with their rifles, but the Mexicans, withdrawing a piece of artillery from our side brought it to bear upon our friends and necessitated their surrender. As is well known they were nearly all massacred. However, two men escaped, one of whom was Alsey Miller of Gonzales, and Mr. Wood. Late in the afternoon, the enemy having been unable to drive us from our position, left us in possession of the field and moved off to San Antonio, taking with them several cart loads of dead and wounded, although they left many more lying too near our lines for them to gather up. These latter did not receive much attention until our own wounded were looked after. Just at twilight a captain with some twenty men from our settlements reached us, and being too late to participate in the battle and probably excited b a view as they passed by the mangle bodies of our Dawson comrades, this man seized one and ran him through, exultingly showing his bloody bayonet as he came back, exclaiming he had "saved one of the yellow skins." This cruel act was severely censured by those who were aware of it, and squads of our men soon conveyed water to the suffering wretches, and brought some of them to our camps, where their wounds could be dressed and their wants attended to. Another party with our reverend Baptist Morrill, who was intimately acquainted with the LaGrange company, among whom was one of his sons, went out to the place where the massacre occurred, carefully examined among the dead for relatives and friends and gave such attention as they could.
Being almost certain of the death by Indians of Steve Jouett, his brother, Matt, and friends instituted a search for him, and finding his poor mangled body stripped and scalped, brought it in, and taking garments for his grave clothes from the dead chieftain, Cordova, buried it on the bank of the Salado. These Jouett boys had been soldiers in the army of San Jacinto, and receiving land certificates for military service had located and established themselves near the Medina river, at that time unoccupied by white men. They were in constant danger from robber Mexicans and hostile Indians, and as early as 1838 they, with Arch Jones and William K. Hargis of Gonzales, withstood a memorable attack of the Comanches, who harassed them for several days, Matt Jouett, with old Captain Simeon Bateman of Gonzales, was murdered several years later while traveling near Virginia Point. Through John W. Smith, who at night visited his friends in San Antonio, we were soon apprised that the enemy in possession did not expect reinforcements and their actions indicated an immediate retreat. All night long hammers, saws and axes were heard as they sacked the town and boxed up their booty, while hurry and panic prevailed among some of the poorer Mexican families who had aided the enemy on their raid. We were much chagrined at hearing that the principal citizens, with the judge and those in attendance at court, had all been sent off to Mexico under a strong guard. We were also shocked at the recital of some of the incidents of the Dawson massacre and we resolved, few as we were in numbers to push on and harass the retreating mongrels.
Our wounded required some care and protection. They were Scotch Callahan, Simmons and John V. Law, severely; Taylor, Kockerel, Ben Powers, Roila Davis, R. Clark, Jesse Zumwalt and three others, nearly all from Gonzales. They, with a few attendants, were unfortunately placed in charge of the cruel captain, who bayoneted the unresisting Mexican (and who now had a strong desire to return home) with instructions to guard them to the town of Seguin. With no transportation but just their rough horses, with no comforts by the way, destitute of water on most of the journey, he hurried them on so rapidly that they suffered very much. Our poor Callahan of Camerons company, whose wounds were not necessarily mortal, and who with good treatment might have recovered, died of this exposure. Mr. Law and others of the most helpless, suffered severely from thirst and want of rest. The enemy lost considerably. There were about sixty killed outright, perhaps as many more crawled off wounded into the bushes and to the creek. Many wounded were hauled off and there were some buried at their different stopping places while on their retreat. The effect of this inroad of the enemy upon our western settlements and upon the country generally was disastrous, judging from the consequence which followed. The reports, which rapidly spread through the land of the advance of another invading force from Mexico of the capture of San Antonio and so many prominent citizens of Texas, the fighting at Salado, the massacre of Dawsons company, in rapid succession spread alarm through the land. The archives of the government were hastily removed from the capital, the militia were reorganized and preparations for war were made, culminating in the Somervell campaign and the trouble and loss which it entailed. However, the repulse which the enemy met with at the Salado was of immense importance to the Texans. The prompt gathering of the few settlers of the Guadalupe and their taking their position near San Antonio, arrested the intended raid on Gonzales, begun by John N. Seguin and his mercenaries, and the pluck of our men in thus throwing themselves between the vandals and the settlements prevented it which might have been disastrous.
Thus was fought the last pitched battle of the Republic in Texas settlements between hastily gathered American unequipped volunteers and regular Mexican troops and having about the same disparity of numbers as in the old time fights say one to six, the effect upon the Mexicans in promptly meeting and preventing their continuous raids upon our towns, in causing them to fall back with considerable loss of men and demoralization of their troops entitled the "Battle of the Salado" to honorable mention among the fight of the Republic. Its connection with the Dawson massacre, which brought mourning into so many households in the west; also the carrying off of so many prisoners from San Antonio, brings to vivid remembrance the insecurity of person and property in Western Texas, for so many that was similar to the times of the great "battle of San Antonio" in 1836. In his report from the battlefield Col. Caldwell earnestly called for reinforcements to enable him more effectual to chastise the enemy and if possible to capture them, estimating their now demoralized force at 1100. General Woll, with his mixed forces of regular Mexican troops, Indians and rancheros and burdened by Mexican families, who having joined him in his advance, were now constrained to flee with him, all evacuated San Antonio, taking up the line of march for the Rio Grande about the 20th of September by which time several parties from the Colorado settlements, having joined us, shared their home-prepared rations with us, and now numbering about 450 men moved on in pursuit of the retreating vandals.
Just as our command left our battle ground a small body of friendly Lipan Indians came in and were soon at work stripping the corpses on the field, bending or breaking the stiffened limbs to enable them to take off the garments. A shameful incident occurred while we were pursuit of the enemy, in finding by a scout of a Mexican boy and his servant, members of the family of the local priest. The lad was finely dressed (and mounted upon an excellent pony, silver mounted saddle and housings. They were brought in while we were on the move and before any examination was had a few men from the Lavaca took forcible possession of the fine horse and the principal parts of the lads outfit, leaving him almost naked. The two were then turned over to the guard, but were not seen among us the next day.
Pursuit of Woll's retreating army. At the settlements when the reports were heard of the Dawson defeat, and the surrounding of Caldwells 200 men by the Mexican army, every man that could be mounted started for the expected conflict. The commissary established by Major Bennet at Seguin was discontinued and he with all the men that could be raided came on and joined us about the 20th of September by which time several small parties from the Colorado settlements having joined us shared their home-prepared rations with us, and now numbering about 450 men moved on in pursuit of the retreating vandals. Our route lay above San Antonio, leaving to the south. However, a comrade went through a town in order to procure some provision if possible. There the condition was desolate: the squares, streets and yards were completely cut up, rain having made them muddy, and all the stock being kept in them in hasty preparation of the enemy for retreat. The houses had been pillaged; the Mexicans families that had affiliated with the enemy had robbed the citizens of all their property and taken their departure for Mexico. Frequently, broken down carts and ox teams wee overtaken in the road and some prisoners were captured; abandoned plunder trunks, boxes and household furniture were strewn by the wayside. A temporary halt at the Medina enabled our men to close up in better order. Colonel Mayfield and Colonel Jno. Moore from the Colorado had joined us and the latter gentleman was placed in command of the center. We now moved on as rapidly as possible; our advance guard under Colonel Hays close upon the rear of the enemy, frequent skirmishes occurring and occasionally a man being wounded. Among these was Mr. Lucky, whose fine horse ran with him leaping over the bushes and left lying on his back on the ground a considerable distance from our command. Fortunately, his friend went to him, and preventing him strangling from the inward loss of blood, was enabled by judicious treatment to save him from immediate death.
Rain having fallen and our march leading through a brushy country, frequently boggy, great prudence to guard against being attacked at a disadvantage was requisite. Suddenly in rounding a thicket our advance came up on a company of the enemys cannoniers endeavoring to extricate their artillery from a boggy piece of ground. The rear guard of the Mexicans was drawn up in good order near by for their support. The cannon was discharged in the face of our men, killing our best horses, wounding Mr. Arch Gipson of Gonzales and Mr. Kelley, an Irishman who had been furnished with an excellent horse for the campaign by Mr. Bateman here, had his animal killed, and others, being unhorsed, were glad to crawl off into the bushes. Owing to the character of the country here our scouts were unable to discern the movements of the main body of the Mexicans, and it being expected they would immediately charge upon us, as they had such great advantage in numbers and equipment, our force was halted and formed in line of battle to receive them. This consumed valuable time, which the enemy, masked as they were their rear guard, improved to increase the distance between us, and by this delay the ardor of our men was cooled and hunger and weariness made some discontented. There being evidently among the officers a difference of opinion as to the practicability of our successfully attacking the enemy here, a council of war was held and more time lost in discussing the situation. Captain McCulloch came to the front and called for volunteers to advance, and Judge John Hemphill urged with tearful earnestness the importance of an immediate forward movement, but a lethargy had fallen upon the command that effectually retarded further progress. This arrest of our advance was very unfortunate for Texas, as we soon were reliably informed that owing to the flooding of the western streams the enemy was delayed in their retreat, and our command by good management could have harassed them until we could have been strengthened by the daily arrival of squads of Texans coming to our help. Without considering that in all probability reinforcements would daily overtake us , and that we might still cripple the enemy on his retreat to Mexican settlements, it was concluded that we should return to San Antonio and organize a campaign that would effectually retaliate upon our foes. The command thus disorganized fell back in detached parties, being met on the way by many squads of fresh, well-mounted and equipped volunteers hurrying to our assistance who cheerfully divided their rations with us and regretted our retrograde movements. In caring for our wounded comrade, Gipson, his brother, old James Gipson, Major Bennet and myself brought in an abandoned ox cart and undertook to convey him and the other sick and wounded men to town, but this method was so painful to them that it was soon exchanged for horse litters, which answered the purpose better.
Muster and reorganization at San Antonio. Mustering at San Antonio the principal officers and men convened at the Alamo, and after speeches from General Ed Burleson and other distinguished men; it was resolved to enter into a more complete organization for the protection of the West and for offensive operations against Mexico. As this would require time, and there remaining no more subsistence around this part of the country, the greater number of the men returned to their homes, while others went into camp on the San Marcos and Guadalupe, where an abundant pecan crop was maturing. Merchants soon sent out such stacks of clothing and supplies as were needed and a brisk trade sprang up. Pecans were readily bartered at $1 per bushel for such articles as were most in demand, and would enable the men to fit themselves out for the contemplated campaign. Instructions from headquarters were soon received by Major V. Bennet, quartermaster, to concentrate at Gonzales all the corn, beef and substances that could be obtained form the citizens, many of whom, especially those living east of the Colorado, freely contributed cattle. These were driven to secure pastures on the San Marcos and economically issued in rations to those who were entering into this military organization; by the liberality of the people, small supplies of corn for bread was secured. After considerable delay at Gonzales, the different companies were organized into an army and began the march westward.
Death of Col. Caldwell and Major V. Bennet. The Guadalupe and San Marcos rivers were not fordable, but full of flood water and boats had to be constructed for the passage; a few of the largest finest cotton wood trees were contributed by the citizens and made into bateaux, at which work and in the labor of carrying the equipment the officers took part, notably among whom were Memucan Hunt, Thomas J. Green and others. The weather was wet and cold, and several of the men were sick. In the neighboring houses the sick were sheltered and nursed, notably among these being the large family of old James Gipson, who had acquired experience in nursing the father and brother and son-in-law, two of whom had been wounded in the "Plum creek fight," in this home of the soldier a Mr. Smith of Montgomery county, who was accidentally shot in camp, and a Mr. Stevens, a soldier and merchant of Houston, who was dangerously sick, were cared for nearly all winter. Our army now moved toward the Rio Grand making the march known as the "Somerville campaign," the history of which and the misfortunes attended it will not soon be forgotten by old Texans. Old Captain M. Caldwell had become too feeble to remain in the field; he died about Christmas day at Gonzales. Major V. Bennet, quartermaster and commissary, had been ordered to keep up his department at Gonzales, which he did until after the return of the Somervell troops and then gathering the few military stores on hand and employing Mr. Ambrose Tinney, an old soldier, who had a good wagon and ox team, the stores were safely packed in the wagon ready for removal to headquarters at Washington on the Brazos; but the trip was delayed by the sudden sickness and death of the Major, which occurred on the 21st of July 1843 closing an active service of more than seven years in the armies of Texas. I kept up his quartermaster work, dispatching Mr. Tinney to headquarters, taking receipts for the same.