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The Republic-Index | Battle of Salado

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The Battle of Salado
The Journal of James Wilson Nichols 1820-1887
[Spelling unedited, bracketed corrections from C.W. McDowell--Now You Hear My Horn and current Editor, Wallace L. McKeehan (WLM)]

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James W. Nichols FamilyIt had now been about six years sence the Mexican govemment had attempted an invasion of Texas with their army but still claimed ownership and had kept up a constant warfare through their Indian allies. In the spring, the 7th of March, Gen'l Vascos, then commanding the Mexican forces at Matamoras, made a decent on San Antonio with twelve hundred vetrian troops, led on by desineing men, two of whom I will mention, John N. Seguin, who had done signal service at the Battle of San Jacinto with a company of rancharoes in behalf of Texas and kept on doing good servises in watching the retreeting foe and reporteing their manuvers to head quarters. He was called on to inter the remaines of the fallen heroes of the Alamo which he responded to but who had turned traitor and had left Texas and all his larg posesions mostly land and taken a colonels comission in the Mexican army but who after many years sneaked back into Texas and claimed a pension under the law granting pensions to old Texas vetrens and had his name placed by the side of som of the men who he faught against at the Battle of Salado and continued to draw the pension until his death. The other was Antonio Periz, another noted Mexican leader, who commanded a company under Santa Anna and assisted in the massacree at the fall of the Alamo and who was left to garison the place by the dictator, but after the occurance he was concidred by som a friend to Texas and a good citizen. He remained with us and done som good Indian fighting until 1840 when he left Texas for the same purpose that Seguin did, a commission as Col. in the Mexican army.

These two men had large landed estates and thare was suits pending in the court at San Antonio to confiscate their lands, and suposeng that court was in session at that place, it being the time for the regular session, hence the raid by Gen'l Vascos, they swooped down on the town and unsuspecting citizens about dark when the town was an easy prey. On their arivel they learned that court was not in session owing to some unavoidable cause. They also learned that the court would not convein until the 11th of the following September, and haveing no other buisnes to transact after sacking and pillageing the town, takeing some goods and chattles as they chose, set out on their return. This news flew down the country almost with the swiftness of the wind and spread from one settlement to another and once more the call to arms was sounded a long the border to repell Mexican invasion. This call was as ever promply obeyed by the brave pioneers of the country and in about 14 hours there was about one hundred and forty men on the march for the seen of action with our old war horse Caldwell in command. We arived in San Antonio to find to our chargrin that the enemy had left the place. They had averperated into thin vapor and was being wafted on their course by the zepheries that faned the rich prairies and the soft cool evening breeze that waved the tall grass in their rear. They ware gone, Caldwell concluded. Their suden flight without accomplishing anything or doing any damage save the robing of the town, said he "This must all be a ruse and they are hidout some whare to await the coming of troops and then rush forth from their hideing place and make another Fanins defeat of us. So, boys, lets serch for them." Next morning we took up the line of march of their trail keeping out scouts on both sides but they war shure enough gone. We followed them to the Noeses; River and found that the had crossed that river full three days in advance of us, so we turned and retraced our steps back again. Thare ware all sorts of conjectures about the object of this raid but none could guess aright and finding the real object unfathemable, we returned hom and disbanded, every man going his way.

But for days thare war squads of men ariveing from diferent potions of the country. Thare was one company from Montgumrey County about thirty in nomber arived at Seguin before we had returned, but learning that the enemy had retreated and that Caldwell was in pursuit, and that their servises would not be neaded, they concluded to go in to camp and rest their horses before returning. They went into camp near whare I had one hundred and six bee gums and commenced to assault them. They had been robed later in the fall leaveing only honey enough for them to subsist on through the winter and at this time of yeare they had very little honey. They went in to 6 or 8 of them and heads off and they taken an ax and split the gums open but got very little honey for their trouble. When I returne the company had left for home and left me but six bee gum whole. While thare in camp they tried it seemed to do all the devilment that lay in their power to do. They pressed all the corn they cou[ld] use and would carry out corn in sacks, pour it down on a blanket for their horses to eat and sit off ten steps, and when our hogs came up to help the horses eat the corn the men would shoot them down. I had a large guinea sow and a great favorite, she had ten pigs in a bed near by. She came up near the horses and they shot her down leaving the pigs to starve being not over a week old. They kilt several beeves while thare in waste and therr they left they kilt a cow for the widow Smith that had a calf in the pen four days old taken four ribs out and left the balance at the gate to stink. I don't know which would have served worst, the Mexicans had they come on or these American. After we ware rid of the Mexican army and those braves thing seemed to lull down into a perfect forgitfulness. Vascos and the excitement he had created was soon forgotten. Had we the real object of this raid, while soft peace was pearched upon our standered we would have been makeing preparations and not been charmed into sleepy idleness by her warbling these lines.

Once more soft peace spread ore the land,
Her wide streached balmy wings,
And brings glad tiding in her hand
And thus in her low chant she sings:
Rest wariors, rest thy weary limbs
On the soil thy blood and deeds made free,
While the flaiming sword and cherubims,
Guide the portals after me:
Rest wariors, rest in slumbers charms.
Duty makes troubles you must forego
Eare long you may hear the call to arms
To repel the sons of Mexico.

Gen'l Vascos having been remooved from the command at Matamoras and Gen. Adrian Woll put in his stead, now accordinging to previous arangement made to the satisfaction of these two traitors, Seguin and Periz, accordingly on the 11th of September Gen'l Woll with eighteen hundred vetran troops and a battery of six pieces, two mortars, two sixes, and two long nines made a decent swooping down on the town of San Antonio. Headed by these two reinegades and in braod daylight about 11 o’clock in the morning, captured the town and with it the whole court, judge, lawyars and juryman with a few of the most prominent citizens agains whome those two traitors had a hatred, destroying all the papers in their cases and laying a contribution of the town for the suport of this victorious army and put out guards around the town with orders to shoot any man tempted to leave the town, but the ever watchfull and Erasmo, Deaf Smith, who was up to any emurgency, mad his escape and carried the news to the Texians at Seguin an Gonzales [this refers to John W. Smith, first mayor of San Antonio under the Republic of Texas, rather than Erastus Deaf Smith, the famous spy who died in 1837--WLM]. Again the news spread like wildfire and once more the gallent Caldwell, Hays, Callahan, the McCullochs, Fryer, Burd, and other, whoes gallentry has never been sullied, rallied their chosen and ever ready and willing but now idle scouts and rangers around them. The place of rendizvouse was at Seguin, Caldwell hastened to that place sending out men to recruit Archer, Arch Gipson, Isham Jones, Clem Hinds, Alsa Miller and others and all night long men ware buisy makeing prepor[ation] once more to meete the dusky sons of Mexico on the battlefield. All night long men ware comeing in and but few slept that night as cleaning up arms, moulding bullets, and cooking provisons was in order.

Horses ware scarce as but few had suplied themselves sin[ce] the last Indian raids, and two men, my father and Dave Runnels, fought over an old stray horse each wanting to ride him on this campaign such was the zeal of the fronteermen in those days. It was on this wise, while the Indians ware makeing raids in that vacinity, they abandoned an old paint horse which had given out and after lanceing him severly thingin he would die left him standing on their trail. The men following the trail thought him not worth takeing any trouble with but a weeke afterwards Father saw him, taken him home and doctored his wound and tamed him out again. He mended so rapidly that in a few weeks he refused to be caught. Runnels had caught him and rode him a while one day but now the old horse was wild, wooly, fat, and sassy. That evening Father says, "Jim, go and catch Old Paint for me. I want to go too." I got several of the boys to go with me and we roped him on the prairie, braught him in, and tied him to Fathers gate post, and Father commenced makeing prepareations to go, moulding bullets, etc. Runnels had been out hunting the horse at the same time but missed him. He came by in the evening, knew the old horse, he untied the rope, and was going to lead him off saying, "I am going to ride Old Paint myself." Father walked out and says, "If you do, you will have me to whip first," and jerked the rope out of his hand. Dave says, "I can do that dam quick." Father says, "You are a dam liar." They said a few words and went to quarling then hit a few licks and went to fighting. They fought near a half hour, and it seemed that neither was going to hollow. By this time thare was at least twenty men standing round, som hollowing, "Hurah!" for one, and som "Hurah," for the other. Milford Day stoo[d] over them with his pistol in hand saying, "If any man to[u]ched [them] he was his meat." Still neither hollowed. When it seemed they was both so exausted that neither could hollow Milford and I parted them. Father bit off two of Daves fingers and a scollop out of one of his ears. Dave scratched and gouged Fathers face and eyes so that they both looked like a chawed calf rope when the fight was over. The next day neither of them was able to go on the campaign and another man, H. L. Cronn, rode the horse.

Milford DayBy this time thare had collected near two hundred men. Caldwell knowing the mean deeds and outrages commited on the citizens the spring before by those men living farther east and did not want a repetition of such low degradeing acts so he apointed men all along the line of march to kill and barbycue beef for their benifit. Brother Solomon and old man Dunken at the bridg accross San Marcos, and he apointed Brother Thomas and Jim Alley at Col. Kings, Brother John and Milford Day (photo left) at Seguin with instructions to keep constantly on hand a good suply of barbycued beef so that when a squad of men came a long way they would have nothing to do but ride up to the scaffel, fill their wallets and go on. He also left instructions for all squads of men to ride rapidly without halting until they joined him, but one company of 26 men arived about three oclock in the evening, halted at the scaffel, helped themselves, turned off under some spreading liveoaks and went into camp. After the boys had delivered Caldwells message to hurry up one of the men said, "Caldwell be damed! If he can whip the Mexicans before we git thare itul be all right. If he cant he must wait ou[r] motion." They then demanded bread to go with beef saying, "We cant eat this fat beef without bread." The boys told them that bread stuff was scarce, and the women and children needed all they had. One man who seemed to be leader says, "Now, lookehere, if you have got a peck of meal and no more you had better bake it and throw it in sight before you suffer something worse." Johns wife went to bakeing bread for 26 hungry men. After they had received the bread they demanded milk and butter to go with their bread and beef. They stayed thare all night and demanded the same for breakfast. Consequently they never joined Caldwell until the dash of arms had been hushed and the smoke of the battle had been wafted fare away over the prairie by the evening breeze. Such I believe is found in every age.

Caldwell took command of all the forces and about one oclock we set out on the march. We advanced to the Cibola, we halted thare, and Caldwell sent Deaf Smith with two men to reconoiter and if posable find out whare the enemy had quartered and what kind of position he had, and the advantages if any could be taken, telling Smith at the same time that he would find him at the crossing of the Salado. Smith went on to the outskirts of town and posted his men saying, "I will be back to you in the morning one hour before day." It was then after midnight. He found a favorable oppertunity and passed the sentenels, went in to town changed his cloths and put on some Mexican citizens cloths and stalked down the row of tents talking with several of the subordenent officers that was already up. He asked to be shown to Gen'l Woll's headquarters, as soon as he could be admitted, stateing that he had some news to impart to the General privetly. The officer taken Smith by the arm, led him to the Gen'ls headquarters and called him up telling him thare was a citizen that had something of news to impart. The Gen'l rose, dressed himself but seemed an age at it, but received Smith very courtiously telling him to be seated and that he was ready to hear him.

Smith stated that the news had reached town that thare was a company of Texans on their way to attack him and that by noon today they would reach the Salado seven miles from town. While they ware talkeing Smith saw that day was breakeing and a cocinera or cook came in with coffee. While drinking their coffee Woll asked him if the nomber had been stated.

Smith said, "Yes, it was stated thare was about two hundred." "Two hundred!" echoed the General. "Why that would not make a breakefast for our boys." Continued he, "Are you afraid to go among them." Smith said, "No!" He says, "Then git you an interpeter," thinking Smith by his speech was a full blood Mexican, "and go and tell them they need not put themselves to the trouble to come any farther. Tell them to choose them a position, and I will come out thare tomorrow morning and bring them in myself. The dungeons of Perote are nearly empty, and I would like to fill them with this gang of coyotes. Tell them I will be thare at sunrise tomorrow morning. Now dont stop until you have fulfild my orders."

Smith made a low bow and left the Markee and doffed his Mexican suite and doned his own, went back to his comrades, they mounted and set out for the command. Caldwell remained on the Cibola that night thinking reinforsements would arive. After supper som of the boys had their blankets spread down and were playing cards. Others were in groops singing ware son[gs] and ditties. Others thare ware wrestling, running foot [races] or jumping. It was a fine moonlight night when [all at] once the bugle sounded for us to come togeather. [We] could not amageon what was up. We all geathered [round] the Captains fire.

Caldwell made us a short speech explai[ning] the call, then introduced Revrend Z. N. Morral who stat[ed] in a few brief remarks that himself and Parson Carroll [wan]ted to offer up their prays in behalf of the men before they i[nga]ged the Mexican army in deadly combat, for, said Carroll, his petition tomorrow night may be the last night on earth for som [of] us. Parson Carroll sang and prayed and Morral preached a short but very appropriate sermon. The guarde was chosen an[d] put under the command of Isham Jones as Sergent and the rest of us spread our blankets and the camp was soon rapped in that silent slumber so much injoyed by a tired soldier. Early the next morning we resumed our march for Salado. We halted for a few hours at noon on the Rocieal [Rosilla Creek between the Cibola and Salado Creeks]  in hope of sorn recruits would join us but in vain and reached the Salado about four oclock in the evening. Smith and his two companions ware already on the ground. We halted and Smith gave Caldwell the detailes of his reconitre in the enemys camp, as above written. Caldwell delivered the same in a short speech to the men. Smith, Caldwell, Hays, and the other officers set out up the creek to pick out a suitable position. After serching the creek on both sides they agreede on a position about two miles above the crossing on the east side of the Salado Creek. They returned and we mooved up and posted ourselves in position just as the sun was setting.

I will here discribe the ground for the better understanding of my readers. The creek itsself was a strong barier against invasion in our rear, being from thirty to forty feete wide and from 8 to 12 feete deep, extending from a half mile above our position to the same distance below with a steep bluff on the west side, the ground extending for probabley a mile in a low brushy ridge west, on the east side was a low bottom thickly set with large pecan and elm timbers and an emence groath of under brush and out at the edge of this bottom which was near forty yards wide was a narrow slip of prairie, say twenty yards wide, at the east side of this prairie was a bluff verying from seven to twelve feete high. On top of this bluff and eastwardly lay a high but leavel mesquit flat with hear and thare a large mesquite tree. The ground beyand rose graduly for half a mile to the top of the divide between the Salado and Salatrio which was a leavel hogwallow prairie with here and thare a mot of liveoakes or mesquite timber, otherwise open prairie. This discription will hold good for the whole length of our line. Thare was a deep brushy ravine ran into the creek above us and a deep wide ravin with but little brush but concidrable elm and mesquit timber on its banks. These two ravines headed up near the top of the devide something over 80 yards apart and spread out in their course to the creek and emptied about five hundred yards apart. As I before stated, we took our position just at sundown. We tied our horses in the timber in our rear and established our camp fires. The guard was drawn for the next day and night and the writer, as Sergent, given command of them.

Caldwell posted Hays with his spy company at a ravine and posted me with the guard, thirty men, at and above the mouth of the lower ravine and he taken the center with the main force. Thus our line extended about five hundred yards. The balance of the night was spent in cooking, eating, and gassing concerning what each would do on the morrow. That night Smith was sent back to town or rather went without orders to deliver the message to Gen'l Woll that the Texans had excepted his chalange and had taken a position and was in waiteing for his lordship to make the attact, but was back in camp soon after midnight with a message from Woll that we would not have to wait long for promply at sun up the next morning he would be prepared to take us in out of the weather. About two hours before day, fires were kindled all along the little strech of prairie against the imbankment and coffee made and beef roasted. Then could be heard the merry laugh and the greeting of each other as to how their puls beete. On the occaision I confess I was not in a very merry moode. I mused thus. I may be kilt or wounded today and not a single relative to console me. I had a father, three brothers, four brother-in-laws, and three step brothers, and not one of them in this expedition and I felt lonely. Its true I had plenty of friend that would do all in their power in case of need. It was not so at the battle of Plum Creek whare I was wounded. I had my father, two brothers and two brother-in-laws by my side, never all leaveing me alone for a single instant but now it was different. I was serounded by only friends.

I was thus museing when Parson Carroll walked up to the guarde fire said he, "Brother Morrel and I have agreed to offer up our petitions to him who holds the destines; of his people, and if you will call the guard togeather we will have prayr."

I done so and he prayed fervently for victory and a deliverance from the mighty host of the enemy who was soon to attack us. The most of the men seemed to pay strict attention.

John C. (Jack) HaysAbout an hour before day Caldwell ordered Hays with his spy company to town to draw the enemy out. Just as the gray eyed morning began to peepe, they heard the town all aliv with drums and fifes and soon they beheled 400 dragoons com dashing up the road towards them. Hays turned his eyes to his men and saw their faces all kindled up with the joy of battle. "Zowns!" said he, "Thare is quite an odds, 400 to 40, but let them come on." But they halted out of range to await the comeing of the infantry and battery. Hays led them on and crossed the creek half mile above Caldwells position whare thare was a shallow ford and on up to the top of the ridg. When Hays wheeled his mer under cover of the thick timber and took his position the Mex icans marched on to the crest of the hill, filed to the right marched to the opening between the heads of the two ravines displaying his whole force in full view of Caldwells men. They planted their battery, six pieces, two twelve inch morters, two long nines and two sixes. The sun had climed the farther side of the hill and was peeping over seemeingly to see what was going on between the combatents. The Mexicans opened fire on us with grape canister and round shot, cuting the limbs and brush from the timber at least thirty feete above our heads but to the great anoiance of our horses. The falling limbs, som of which was as large as a commons mans thigh, falling on and around them caused them to rear and plunge and som few broake loose.

They kept up this fucilade for near an hour, fireing each piece at the rate of five shots [a] minute, when they sceased for few minuts and was appearently holding a consultation, the opened fire again with new [v]igor, this time lowering their shots graduly until they commenced to cut the grass and even the dirt from our imbankment but still doing us no damage They kept this up for probely another hour. Seeing they could not dislodg us they mad a charge with their infentry as they saw they could do no good with their cavelry They charged down the slope into the flat som forty yards fron our imbankment, halted and formed their intire infentry, about twelve hundred, into platoons. Then formeing an oblong circul covering our intire line and traveled around that circul by platoons. As they would come round in nearest our lines, they would fire by platoons and keepe on in a run round the circul. When they would arive on the back line farthest from us they would reload, still traveling around the circul. We soon found out that they taken no aim from hearing their balls pass so fare above us. We would crawl to the top of the bank and fire and it was seldom a Texas rifle fired that thare was not one seen to bit the dust. The Texans was picking them of so fast at every round that they refused to charge round the circul. Then could be seen Seguin, Periz and other officers urgeing them on by slaping them with the flat side of their sabers. After carrying on this kind of warfair for an hour without doing us any damage except wounding one man, Jesse Zumalt, they withdrew with a los of twenty five kild dead and fifteen wounded so bad they was not taken off the field.

After parleying for half an hour, Woll dismounted all his cavelry, formed his intire force and marched down the slope in grand military stile, displaying about ten stand of colors with their drums beateing, their fifes, their bugles blowing a charge. It was a grand sight as every man could be planely seen as they marched down the hill, in all som over eighteen hundred. Seguin had command of the dismounted cavelry and was marching down the upper ravine but in line with the main force. The whole under command of Gen'l Woll himself. I did not dream of what was in store for me and my thirty one men, called the guard. Córdova, the man that had figured so conspickously around Nacogdoches and whom Burleson had given such a brushing on Mill Creek, had just arived and had joined Woll with about one hundred Boluxie Indians and Woll had assigned him to the lower ravine with instructions to march down the bed of the ravine and if posable gain the rear of the Texans. I mounted the bank and made the discovery of Córdova and his men on all fores creeping down to the bed of the ravine, and he motioned me, I went and saw the same. I emediately formed my men into four platoons, telling them not to all fire but take it in turns, always keeping some guns loaded. I formed my men in front of a gap in the bank, telling them as the enemy came in sight to fire which they did before discovered by the enemy. At the firs fire the Indians rose to their feete, yelling and faught like demons. We had the advantage of the ground as we could part of us be behind the bank. They charged to the top of the bank and sent a shower of arrows at us but was shot down so fast, came no more but fell back and tried to gain our rear and a despreate fight insued. They stood their ground and faught until their leader Córdova was shot down and then retreated to the brush below us on the creek and set up a howl like a lost dog and would never ralley anymore.

Their loss was thirty six dead and wounded including their leader Córdova still on the ground. With but one man, Calvin Turner, slightly wounded, the ball cuting the skin and som hair from his temple, we soon dispached the wounded Indians and turned our attention once more to the Mexicans. This time the Mexicans did not form a circul for their platoons but came within thirty yards of our imbankment and sent their platoons, about fifty in nomber, one after another in full run to the edge of the bank, fire and file to the left giveing place to another, all the time in a run, always over shooting us, but we could see them. Every platoon that fired thare would from five to ten be seen to fall until thare was so many of them kild that the dead and wounded obstructed their way, so that they could [not] run so close, consequently, thare was fewer kild. Each charge kept this up until about one oclock when they drew off, mounted their cavelray and sent them with the artilry out of sight on the flat, leaveing the infentry to hold us in position. They had not been gone but a short time before we heared a furious canonading on the flat. It was then that Dawsons mas[acre] was enacted. Dawson was in the open prairie and was makeing preperations to charge through the Mexican lines and try to gain Caldwells position when the Mexicans turned loose their artilry on them and was mowing them down like grain before a reaper. Dawson retreated to a small mot of mesquete trees which was literly tore into splinters by grape and canister and gun shot, killing over half of his men with no chance to fire a gun as the Mexicans kept out of rainge of their rifles. When the Mexicans thought they had kilt all but a few, the cavilry charg cam to finish up their work. Dawson raised a white flag in token of his serender and was instantly shot down. The rest [of] the men, seeing their leader shot down and the cavelry charg[ing] them, thought their time had come and stood still.

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© 1997-2001, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved