Houston, taking into account the two occupations of San Antonio in recent years, and the fact the Comanches were still a threat, wanted to pull the capitol city of Texas back from the frontier. The Texas Congress already recognized the problem. They moved the govenrment to temporary quarters at Washington-on-the-Brazos. Houston was unable to get the legislature to permanently change the capitol. Failing to accomplish this, he then tried to remove the public records. Knowing the citizens of Austin would be sensitive to such a move, Houston arranged for the deed to be done late at night.
Fearing Houston's attempts to move the capitol, the citizens of Austin were alert. They knew if the records were removed from the capitol, all the attendant elements of Texas government and the future growth of their city might also leave. The word went out when a signal cannon was fired by Angelina Peyton Eberly, and the wagons containing the records were intercepted at Kenny's Fort near what is today Roundrock, Texas and brought back by force to Austin. Angelina's mother was a Hamilton and a grandmother a Guffey.
Angelina Peyton as she appeared in a painting above and as depicted firing the cannon to the left.
Angelina was the manager of Irishman Richard Bullock's hotel. The incident has become known as the Archives War, and is the only war Houston ever lost.
Meanwhile, Texans and U.S. immigrants spoiling for a fight with Mexico were pouring into San Antonio. Sam Houston sent General Alexander Somervell to assume command of these volunteers. Somervell's mother was a Magruder. Somervell's orders included a section saying if he thought he could advance with success into the enemy's territory, he had authorization to do it. Some of the officers on Somervell's staff included; John Shelby McNeill, John Reagan Baker, William Ryon, William Barrett, M. G. McGuffin, Cornelius McAnelly, Jerome Roberts, Jesse McCrocklin, Jack Hays, Henry McCulloch, Ewen Cameron, E. Sterling Robertson, William McQueen, Ephriam McLean, and William Bryan. Among General Sommervell's men was Joseph D. McCutchan, who kept a journal. That journal was a resource for this portion of the story.
Meanwhile men were pouring into San Antonio, feelings were high. Public and political opinion demanded a military response to Woll's invasion. Houston dusted off the plan to attack towns on the Rio Grande. The first target was Laredo, though it was on the Texan side of the Rio Grande, it had remained in Mexican hands. On December 8, 1842, Somervell's volunteers under the command of Colonel James Cook entered the town without resistance.
In fact, the Texans were enthusiaticaly welcomed. General Somervell and the others followed. Some of the Texans behaved terribly, raping and pillaging all before them. This action so disgusted many Texans they left the army right then. Some Texans, overcome with remorse at what happened actually joined theMexican side, so barbaric was the Texas tirade. Two such men were; Major Henry Clay Davis, The Texan Commissary officer, and a McBeth.
Joseph D. McCutchan described in his diary what it was like:
Here was a town, on soil claimed by Texas, its inhabitants, claiming to be Texian, had opened their doors to us, as to friends - had received the soldiers of Texas as deliverers; and yet, those inhabitants were not safe in the possession of their private property. Suffice to say, Texas must wear a stain for the conduct of a few disorderly volunteers...
No battle having been fought, and the Rio Grande not yet crossed, the Texans who remained began to become discontent. General Somervell sensing a problem called for a parade of the men by unit. After all were assembled, Somervell asked for volunteers to cross the Rio Grande. 550 men stepped forward, the remainder about 187 men were put in the command of Colonel Jesse McCrocklin. McCrocklin was given orders to march the men back to Gonzales and dismiss them from service. On the 12 of December the Texas Army paraded again at Laredo, and then divided and left. McCrocklin leading his group to Gonzales, and Somervell leading the rest to Guerrero.
Guerrero was a small town about thirty miles south of Laredo. During the march south, the Texans became aware of a calvary unit about two miles away on the other side of the river. They crossed the Rio Grande but never made contact with the Mexican calvary. On the 16th of December, 1842, Somervell halted his men 1 mile from Guerrero and made camp. The next day he ordered the men to recross the Rio Grande as there were no military in Guerrero. It appeared he was attempting to spare the civilians the outrages that occurred at Laredo. There was much muttering among the men, a delegation was sent to Somervell asking for 300 of the men to go south into Mexico for "needed supplies". This request was denied. The men who asked for the assignment refused to cross and stayed on the Mexican side while Somervell and the rest crossed back into Texas.
Somervell took his group back to Gonzales for dismissal. Captain William S. Fisher assumed the command of the Texans still in Mexico. He was at Gonzales in '35, and at the siege of Béxar and other fights right up to and including San Jacinto. More recently he was a commander of troops at the Council House Fight, and was with Canales and Jordan in the Federalist War. Fisher's second in command was First Lieutenant Claudius Buster. Lieutenant Buster's mother was the former Margaret Vaughn.
On the 20th, Fisher's men came across a small band of Karankawas. They had in their possession a Union Jack.
On the morning of the 23rd of December, Fisher's high spirited men entered the town of Mier, Mexico, the next town down the Rio Grande from Guerrero. Almost immediately they learned General Antonio Canales who had fought with and against Jordan in the Federalist War, and had attacked Lipantitlan only to be beaten off by Ewen Cameron and others, was in the area with a 700 man ranchero calvary unit. Irishman Captain John Reagan Baker and Scotchman Ewen Cameron led an armed reconnaissance of the area outside Mier. Both these men were in the Federalist War with Jordan. Baker was Sheriff of Refugio County. He had served with Cameron's scouts keeping tabs on the Vasquez raid into Texas. Fisher demanded the town of Mier supply certain food items. He then took the Alcalde as hostage and moved his unit down river at a designated location for the exchange.
On the 25th some scouts were missing, those that did come back told Fisher that General Pedro de Ampudia with 350 soldiers were in the town of Mier with two pieces of artillery. Canales' cavalry was also known to be moving toward Mier. Fisher gathered the men and told them; "Well, boys, as the enemy have made preparations to give us powder and lead, instead of coffee and sugar, we will attend the summons and draw our rations."
Captain Baker was sent forward with ten to twelve men to scout, and a small group was left to guard the baggage and the sick. The rest, about 261 men, started to move back to Mier. That night, Christmas Night, the Texans arrived at a tributary of the Rio Grande called the Rio Alcantro across from Mier. In scouting for a crossing one of the Texans fell and broke his thigh. This man was placed in a deserted hut with a Doctor Sinnickson and a squad of seven to eight men. One of these men was Irish born Thomas "Walking" Davis, another was Irish born A. (first name not known) Jackson. The main body of Texans began the crossing to Mier. The battle was joined just after the crossing and the men in the hut were forgotten in the heat of the battle. During the battle, a Mexican cavalry unit of about 300 men tried to flush the men from the hut. The Mexicans were met with a shower of lead and decided to call up one of the artillery pieces. As the Mexicans prepared to fire the cannon, all but the doctor and his patient decided to abandon the position. The charge those few made out of the adobe shack was witnessed by the main body of Texans. Most of the Texans had double barrel guns, and they put them to full use as they tried to provide cover for the escaping Texans. Six against hundreds. Most were killed or captured, but so valiant was their charge no one who saw it would forget it. "Walking" Davis and John Bates Berry, somehow, were able to make good their escape. They crossed the river and joined the main unit. The Texans were in a furious battle against 2,000 Mexican Infantry soldiers, 1000 calvary, the Mier citizens, and local rancheros.
The fight lasted until 1PM the next day, 18 hours. The Texans knew they were doing well against a superior force. About 800 Mexicans were already dead, and hundreds wounded. The Mexican commanders prepared to pull out. Provisions were packed and horses saddled. General Canales, unwilling to face Santa Anna with a negative report, convinced the officers to try a ruse that worked before for him when dealing with gringos. Canales sent a flag of truce forward, with it was Doctor Sinnickson. At first the Texans thought the Mexicans might be asking for terms, they were surprised to see an American representing the other side. It was decided to hear what the doctor had to say. The doctor carried Canales' message and gave other information he believed to be true from what he had learned while in General Canales' headquarters. Actually the good doctor was allowed to hear the information because it was false and a part of the scheme. The doctor told the Texans; 1200 Mexican troops were rapidly approaching the area, and that another 800 were enroute behind those. Canales offered the Texans more favorable surrender terms than would be possible when the other units arrived. Canales promised, the doctor relayed, the Texans would be treated as prisoners of war, no harsh measures would me metted out for any among them, as for example recaptured Santa Fe veterans. As prisoners they would be kept in the border area and not sent into the interior of Mexico awaiting actions of the two governments.
Knowing there were, indeed, Mexican units in Matamoros and other areas that could be coming to join the Mexican force that already surrounded the Texans, some of the men accepted the offer. The Mexicans asked that those surrendering walk to the town plaza in the center of Mier, stack their arms and then stand aside in a group. As more and more Texans walked past Texans in forward positions, the Texans in the forward positions realized they were being forced into a precarious predicament. Men like Ewen Cameron and Thomas Green soon found they had no choice but to surrender and join the others.
One man who was able to escape was named McMullins. His escape was so close that a Mexican soldier grabbed for McMullins as he was climbing over a fence and was left with McMullins' boots. The last man to stack his arms was Big Foot Wallace. The last to surrender was young John Christopher Columbus Hill. He was thirteen years old. John C.C. Hill promised his family if they would let him go on the expedition, he would not let the gun which had been in the family for a number of years, fall into enemy hands. Now while all the Mier Men were assembled in the Plaza, and with the Mexicans looking on, the small boy, rather than stack the family rifle, smashed it on the pavement until it broke into several pieces. Then he took a place beside his father, Asa Hill who served at San Jacinto, and an older brother, Jeffry B. Hill. The Hills were of Scottish ancestry.
The men left behind to guard the baggage learned what happened and skedaddled back to Texas. Those captured at Mier with a Celtic heritage are listed in Appendix V.
Not long after they were captured, the Texans realized they were duped. Those Texans captured earlier, as well as other prisoners, told the Texans how close to winning they were when they surrendered. When three days passed with no other Mexican troops entering the city, the Texans knew the surrender terms would be as fictitious as the phantom reinforcements which caused them to capitulate. 261 Texans with ten killed and 23 wounded, fought the larger Mexican force of more than 2000. They killed over 800 and wounded hundreds more. But for the lie, Texans would remember the Battle of Mier more proudly.
The captured Mier prisoners were put on the road to Matamoros. In Matamoros the Mier prisoners were joined with Dimmitt and those captured with him. The prisoners were then put on the road for Mexico City via Monterey and Saltillo. The sick, including McCutchen, were left behind when the Mier prisoners were moved to Saltillo. After McCutchen and four others recovered from their illnesses, they were sent by sea to Tampico. At Tampico they were put on the road for Mexico City. On the road they passed through the mining community of Real Del Monte. There were many Irish miners in this community. The night before they left for the prison in Mexico City they were hosted to a dinner by a Mr. Lynch.
The main group of prisoners on the road to Mexico City were moved in two sections escorted by Mexican troops. They began a journey from Mier that would eventually cover 1500 miles. Through all the small villages they were paraded and derided. When the group with Philip Dimmitt and his men arrived at Aqua Nuevo where a change of guard was to take place, they decided to escape. The Texans knew they were being marched to a long or short life of imprisonment. The men agreed on a plan to pool what money they had to buy some Mescal, a Mexican liqueur. Their plan was to give the spirits to their guards after they had drugged the bottles with some morphine from the kit of Doctor Sinnickson. Unexpectedly Dimmitt was removed from the other prisoners. The escape went as planned. Three Mexican guards were killed, and most of the seventeen prisoners got away. One or two of the prisoners elected to stay, citing illness. The Mexicans were soon on the trail of the escapees. They sent a messenger ahead to them saying if they did not return Dimmitt would be killed. Dimmitt learned of this and resolved to extricate his men from their dilemma. He believed if any of the men returned they would still be shot by the Mexicans. Dimmitt found the morphine and drank what was left. He wrote a letter to his wife and then went to sleep, a sleep from which he knew he would never wake.
The prisoners found out about Dimmitt's death and continued their escape. Most got away. Some of them were recaptured and combined with those that stayed behind and brought to Rancho Salado Saltillo. This was the same rancho where Jordan received his courier message. Dimmitt's men thus brought to Rancho Salado were: E. M. McGowan, John Jameson, Francis McCafferty, James Boyd, and W. McDonald. These men were joined with the main group of prisoners from Mier. Also at the rancho were some of the Santa Fe prisoners who were not released, as well as the men Woll captured in San antonio, and the few Dawson men who survived the massacre.
At Rancho Salado, Ewen Cameron led a barefisted attack on the guards in an escape attempt. 193 Texans escaped. They took many of the guards with them, including their commander, Colonel Barrigan. During the escape itself many Texans and Mexicans were killed. On the Texan side were: John Lyons, John Higgerson, Lorenzo Rice and Archibald Fitzgerald. George Washington Trahern was wounded. The escapees found horses and headed for the Rio Grande, but they never found it. The group became lost. Thirsty, hungry, and some dying of exposure, they were recaptured by a unit led by General Francisco Mexia, the Governor of Coahuila, and brought back to Salado. Of those not brought back to Salado; five of the Texans died of exposure, four did make it to the Rio Grande and Texas, and three were never heard from again. The rest, 176, were brought back to the others who did not go on the escape at Salado. Santa Anna was advised of the escape and recapture of the Texans. He sent word for all of the escapees to be shot.
General Mexia and his officers refused to obey the order. The order was changed for every tenth Texan to be shot, the remainder to be marched to Mexico City for imprisonment. General Mexia argued against this order as well. Mexia and his unit were replaced (he was later shot for opposing Santa Anna). The method chosen to determine who among the Texans would be shot and who would be spared, was by luck of the draw. In a large jar were placed 159 white beans. Seventeen black beans were then mixed in with the white ones. Each man would draw in turn; those drawing a black bean would be shot. They told Ewen Cameron to draw first. Cameron noted that the Mexicans had counted out the necessary white beans and then put in the black beans. The jar was not shaken or stirred before it was placed on a low stone wall with a heavy cloth over the top of it. A Mexican officer then told Cameron to draw first. It was an effort to insure Cameron and the other officers were among those to be shot, they felt by placing all the black beans on top and having the officers draw first, most of them would pick a black bean. Cameron dug deep and came up with a white bean.
Mier Expedition - Drawing of the Black Bean by Frederick Remington
Can you imagine the emotion as each man, 176 of them, reached into that jar and drew a bean. According to eyewitnesses no emotion was shown. The first to draw a black bean was Irishman William Mosby Eastland. Eastland County is named for this veteran of San Jacinto and Mier. Also drawing a black bean were Celts: Patrick Mahan, Henry Whalen, and J. N. McThompson. Whalen asked for something to eat, saying he did not wish to starve and be shot too. The Mexicans gave him double rations to eat. While Whalen was eating, the firing squad assembled. Those who drew a black bean were taken out and shot. Their bodies were thrown into a hastily dug, shallow trench.
The rest of the prisoners were marched on to Mexico City. When General Canales heard that Cameron was not shot at Salado, he ordered him taken out and immediately shot. On April 25, 1843 at Huchuctoca, on the road to Mexico City, Cameron was separated from the rest of the men and placed in front of a firing squad. When asked if he wanted a blindfold, he refused. Turning to the firing squad he ripped open his shirt and gave the order to fire.
A contemprorary drawing of the execution of Ewan Cameron
The trip on to Mexico City was then continued. In Mexico City the Texans were not put into prison. They were put to work building a road connecting Santa Anna's residence to the small town of Tacubaya, about four miles south of Mexico City. When that was done they were marched to Perote Castle near Vera Cruz and placed in the dungeon. The next morning they were shackled by twos. "Putting on their jewelry" they called it.
At Perote Castle they found 50 men captured by Woll in San Antonio. The castle was over 100 years old. Its walls were 60 feet high and eight feet thick. It was built of stone so thick, that the toughest steel hardly affected it. Outside the walls was a moat two hundred feet wide and twenty feet deep. On the other side of the moat was another stone wall, fifty feet farther was a wooden palisade built of squared cedar twelve feet long. There was another ditch after the palisade. Eighty pieces of artillery were on the castle walls.
The floor and ceiling of the Texan cells were solid stone. Each cell had one, four by twelve inch, door. There was no window, no sunshine, only damp, dark, dismal stone. Foul odors were everywhere, they came from the food, the dead, the dying, and those in the cells and those who preeded them.
Many men died on the road from Mier to Mexico City. Many of those who survived that ordeal only lived to die of ague, diarrhea, or pneumonia in Perote. This disheartened the survivors.
In January 1843, James W. Robinson, the former Acting Governor and one of the prisoners, sent a note to Santa Anna asking for an interview. In his note Robinson outlined a plan whereby Santa Anna would release him and others to go to Texas on a mission to work towards bringing Texas back into the Mexican confederacy. Santa Anna sent Robinson to Texas. Henderson K. Yoakum in his History of Texas 1685-1846 which was published in 1856, says this was the "first diplomatic movement, in which Mexico was a party, for termination of the war". Robinson was seen by some Texans as a traitor and by others as a "Brer Rabbit" who was placed right where he wanted to be, out of prison and in Texas.
< James W. Robinson
The other prisoners of Perote Castle continued their dismal existence. In July 1843, several men succeeded in escaping from Perote Castle. Using carpenter's chisels and long, many hours, and nights they managed to carve a hole in the stone leaving just a veneer shell of stone to the outside. On July 2, 1843, sixteen Texans climbed down the wall of the prison on ropes they had made. Among these escapees was Irishman John Twohig who left Vasquez a keg or two but was captured by Woll. Davis, Young, Allen, and Cornegay were among the group escaping with Thomas Green. Later Gleason, Edward Kean, William Moore, and John Tanney were able to escape using the same route. Some of them were recaptured, most of them made it to Texas.
During his stay in Perote, Irishman and Texas Ranger, Samuel Walker buried a dime under a flagpole he was told to help construct. He vowed he would live to see the day when he would come back and recover the dime.
As in the case of the Santa Fe prisoners, Texas immediately attempted to negotiate the release of the men. The Mier men were taken Christmas of 1842, Dawson's men were captured in September of that same year, Dimmitt and those with him, as well as the remaining Santa Fe prisoners had been in Mexican hands since July of 1841. The release of most of the Santa Fe prisoners was a precedent that Texans felt gave hope for the other prisoners. Texas argued that the Mier prisoners, like the Santa Fe men, acted as individuals and not under orders from their government. Sam Houston hoped it would do as well for the Mier men. It did not, at least not for a while. It took the intercession of a lot of important people to get any thing done.
Henry Kinney visited the captured Mier men in Mexico City. He left money for some of them to bribe or buy an escape. Seven did escape this way. Kinney was later arrested on subsequent trip to Mexico for his complicity. He escaped from Mexico in June of 1843.
Wilson Shannon, one time Governor of Ohio, was, in 1843, appointed the United States envoy to mediate for U.S. citizens among the prisoners. Shannon got involved initially in the effort because of William Preston Stapp captured at Mier. Stapp's mother was Nancy Shannon.
Andrew Jackson was said to have been involved in seeking the release of Patrick Lusk.
James C. Wilson was a British citizen (he could have been Irish or Scottish, at this time England claimed both as a part of the Great Britain). The British Consul protested plans to shoot the prisoners. When the Mexicans told him he could not speak on behalf of the prisoners, the British Consul focused his attention on Wilson. Wilson told him he would refuse if offered freedom. He was a Texan, and would die with his fellow Texans if necessary.
In the end it was said the pleas of Santa Ann's dying wife had the greatest effect on obtaining the release of the prisoners. There was another person who played a part. Young John Christopher Columbus Hill so impressed the Mexicans with his obvious disgust at the surrender that they asked questions about him. They learned during the battle at Mier, Hill was among a group of Texans called the "Fire Eaters." General Green placed these young men, about six or seven of them, in a position to fire on a Mexican artillery battery. So accurate was the fire of the "Fire Eaters", the artillery battery ceased to be operational. Young Hill was credited with killing seventeen of the Mexican artillerymen, most of them with a shot in the head. General Pedro de Ampudia became so impressed with the stories of this young man that he informally adopted him.
John C. C. Hill only agreed to it if his father and brother were given special care. Young Hill came to the attention of Santa Anna who ordered General Ampudia to send him to him. Hill became a resident of the Presidential Palace when he was not attending school. Hill's family consented to the strange turn of events in order for him to get the education Santa Anna agreed to pay for so long as John never had to become a Mexican citizen, and Santa Anna provided care for Asa and Jeffrey Hill. Free to move about the city, John C. C. Hill went to the American Consul and anyone else who would listen, to speak on behalf of the Mier men. It is known he was personally responsible for obtaining the release for at least five of the men, including his father and brother.
All the prisoners, still alive, were released in October of 1844 as part of a political move by Mexico to dissuade Texas from joining the United States.