The Mier Expedition
Shooting the Decimated Texians. On March 25, 1843, seventeen prisoners were executed at Hacienda del Salado as punishment for the Texans' escape from the hacienda six weeks earlier.
traditionally portrayed the Mier Expedition as a glorious, but disastrous
episode during the days of the
What follows below are two interpretations of the Mier Expedition. The first one (in this blue font) represents a summary of traditional accounts. The basic source was the journal Thomas Jefferson Green, a member of the expedition. The second version (in this green font), stripped of its cultural bias, draws from recorded statements and reports filed with the Texas and Mexican governments as well as from letters and other primary sources.
For further study. Following the second account (in this violet font) are excerpts from Sam W. Haynes’ introduction to a recent reissue of Green’s journal. Haynes is professor of history at the University of Texas at Arlington, and author of Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990).
MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842. Because of
On September 11, 1842, Gen. Adrián Woll,
with a force of 1,200 Mexicans, captured
Jack W. Gunn
Handbook of Texas Online, "MEXICAN INVASIONS OF 1842," http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/MM/qem2.html
DAWSON MASSACRE. After the capture of San Antonio on September 11, 1842, by Brig. Gen. Adrián Woll in the second of the Mexican invasions of 1842, Texan forces gathered on Salado Creek under Col. Mathew Caldwell to repel the raiders. While Texas arms were succeeding at the battle of Salado Creek on September 18, 1842, a calamity was occurring only a mile and a half away. In response to Caldwell's call for volunteers, Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson had raised a fifty-three-man company, mostly from Fayette County, and marched down from La Grange. Believing Caldwell's forces to be in grave danger, Dawson's men chose not to wait for Capt. Jesse Billingsley's company, which was following them, but to disregard the threat posed by numerous heavy Mexican cavalry patrols and to fight their way to the Salado. Near Caldwell's embattled line, between 3 and 4 P.M. on the eighteenth, the company was intercepted by a column of 500 irregular Mexican cavalry commanded by colonels Cayetano Montero, José María Carrasco, and Pedro Rangel and supported by a battery of two field pieces. According to the accounts of several survivors, the Mexican column was commanded by Juan Seguín, but they were no doubt in error. Dawson dismounted his men in a mesquite thicket where Fort Sam Houston now stands and threatened to "shoot the first man who runs." The Texans were quickly surrounded but repulsed a spirited cavalry charge and inflicted a number of casualties on the enemy. The Mexicans then fell back out of rifle range and opened fire on the Texans with their artillery. Billingsley's company, which arrived while the fight was in progress, was too weak to go to Dawson's aid, and Caldwell's men on Salado Creek were heavily engaged throughout the afternoon. Montero once more ordered his cavalry, then dismounted, to charge. After a vigorous but futile resistance, the severely wounded Dawson sought to surrender. The Mexicans continued to fire, however, striking Dawson several more times. Seeing surrender to be impossible, he gasped out his dying words, "Let victory be purchased with blood." Alsey S. Miller took up the white mackinaw that Dawson had waved in token of surrender and rode with it toward the Mexican lines, only to be fired upon in his turn. Miller then galloped through the enemy toward the town of Seguin. Henry Gonzalvo Woods, after witnessing the death of his father and the mortal wounding of his brother Norman, also escaped. Some of the Texans continued to resist while others laid down their arms. Heroic in the fight was Griffin, a slave of Sam Maverick, who, his rifle shattered, fought on with the limb of a mesquite tree until he was killed. By 5 P.M. the fight was over. Thirty-six Texans died on the field, fifteen were taken prisoner, and two escaped. The prisoners were marched away to Perote Prison in Mexico. Of these men, only nine survived to return to Texas. Thirty Mexicans were estimated to have been killed and between sixty and seventy wounded. Two days later the Mexican army retreated toward the Rio Grande, and the Dawson men were buried in shallow graves in the mesquite thicket where they fell.
Thomas W. Cutrer
Handbook of Texas Online, "DAWSON MASSACRE," http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/DD/qfd1.html
1840s, the tensions between the
recruited about 700 volunteers, most of whom had no regular military training.
The expedition raided the border towns of
Mier Expedition Descending the
December 23, 1842, Fisher and most of the men crossed the
Texian Charge Upon the Guards… "It was the work of an instant," Green wrote, to take "possession of the outer court, where the arms and cartridge boxes were guarded by one hundred and fifty infantry."
as the Mexicans were concerned, the Texans were privateers on an unauthorized
raid and entitled to no consideration as military prisoners of war. They were
initially sentenced to death, then ordered on a forced march to
Texians Killing Their Horses in the Mountains for Sustenance. Most of the escaped Texans would be recaptured after days of wandering aimlessly in search of food and water.
heard about the breakout, President Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered
that the recaptured prisoners, some 176 men, be put to death immediately. The governor
of the state of Coahuila, Francisco Mexía, refused to carry out the
order and pleaded with foreign ministers in
What happened next became known as the "Black Bean Episode," one of the most notorious atrocities of Santa Anna's career. He promised the foreign ministers that he would show mercy, and then modified his decree to order the decimation of the Mier prisoners; in other words, the execution of every tenth man. On March 25, 1843, the prisoners were forced to draw from a jar containing 159 white beans and 17 black beans. At dusk that day, those unlucky enough to draw a black bean were shot to death, as was Cameron as the leader of the escapees.
Texians Drawing the Black Beans at
remaining prisoners were put to work on a road gang. Then, most were thrown
into the notorious Perote Prison in Vera Cruz, though a few were separated from
the group and scattered into other prisons around
Separation After Escape. Eight of the prisoners who escaped from
Perote on July 2nd were soon recaptured. Green and seven others succeeded in
making their way back to
the bodies of the men executed in the Black Bean Episode were returned from
~ by Gary Anderson
General Santa Anna, back in power, ordered a brief nuisance raid on San Antonio; seven hundred mostly mounted Mexican troops under General Rafael Vasquez seized the town for several days in early March, 1842.
The “War Hawks” in the Texas
Congress forced [President Sam]
The voluntary force that turned south on November 25 put even some ranger units to shame for its ugly element. A few of the men were legitimate farmers or ranchers, but most were not….A few of the officers, such as Captain William S. Fisher (prominent in destroying the Cherokees), had led troops in several early battles. Anyone who agreed to serve with Fisher would, he said, be rewarded by the richness of the land and the fatness thereof.” Then there was Ewen Cameron, known as the “Attila of Texas,” a huge man who ran a large gang of horse thieves out of Goliad. What made Cameron unusual was that among the three hundred to four hundred criminals in his party, he stuck out. The gangs saw the Somervell expedition as a chance to expand their stealing operations.
The placid Somervell had little chance of controlling this mob. But with his men swept up in the war hysteria, he had to either lead the army south or watch it leave on its own…The Texas volunteers pushed south to Laredo….Somervell placed the Texas flag in the town square and ordered his army to camp in a nearby ravine.
Early that evening…small groups of
Texans left camp…and returned to
Some troops, disgusted with this activity, left for home. Others helped Somervell confiscate at least part of the loot; most of it was clothing, stacked to the height of a good-sized house.
The army was slowly breaking up as a result
of the disorder and looting. The 500
who remained followed Somvervell south to Guerrero, where more pillaging
occurred. Here a mutiny erupted in
which 189 men followed Fisher, Cameron, and Green into the Mexican town of
Thomas Jefferson Green is not generally
regarded as one of the principal figures in the history of
[I]t was the failure of the Texas
Railroad, Navigation and Banking Company, of which Green was a major
stockholder, that seems to have been the principal source of the animosity
between Green and Sam Houston, sparking a bitter feud that would span the next
twenty-five years. In December, Congress authorized the company to build an
internal improvements network of canals and railroads linking the Sabine River
President Houston signed the bill into law,
but the following year, in the wake of the Panic of 1837, which brought about
the virtual collapse of the banking industry in the
With the power to issue bank notes as
currency, manipulate land prices, and set transportation rates, the company
would have exercised virtual control over the financial and economic affairs of
the young republic. Faced with rising opposition to the scheme, Houston and
With the elevation of Sam Houston to the
presidency in December 1841, Green returned to the public spotlight as a member
of the opposition. He was particularly strident on the subject of renewing war
In 1842, Green was one of the most zealous
of the "war hawks" who championed the cause of an offensive campaign
When a second Mexican invasion, under
General Adrian Woll, captured San Antonio again six months later, the Houston administration
bowed, albeit reluctantly, to the war hawks' demand for reprisal. It was only
natural that Green, who had yet to do battle with either Mexicans or Indians -
a prerequisite for any politically ambitious Anglo-Texan - would be eager to
participate in a foray into northern
Despite his enthusiasm for an invasion of
He was possessed with that degree of vanity that prompted him rather to rashness than cool, determined valour. He might be termed, by some, a man of tallent[sic], which he did to some degree possess, but they were of an order that I would believe quite ordinary. Vain, bombastic, fond of praise, and withall, ambitious of military glory, he could well be called darring[sic], even fearless; but he was unfit to command an army....
For his part,
From the very outset the campaign proved to
be a combination of high camp and tragedy. For several weeks General Alexander
Somervell kept his soldiers bivouacked outside
The newly reorganized expedition did not get
far. On Christmas Day, one week after abandoning Somervell on the banks of the
The Santa Anna regime decreed that one out
of every ten men should be executed as punishment for the escape. At the ranch
where they had made their bid for freedom, 176 prisoners drew from a pot containing
white and black beans in what would become known in
The book that grew out of Green's experiences on the Somervell and Mier expeditions is not without its shortcomings. Although Green made every effort to provide a complete account, it is important to remember that his travails in Mexico were by no means representative of those of the men who laid down their arms at the Battle of Mier. While the conditions of his captivity left much to be desired, they were substantially better than those endured by the men under his command. As officers, Green and Fisher generally fared better than the rank and file, and during the course of their long march into Mexico, they were usually housed in posadas, rather than the muddy cowpens to which the others quickly became accustomed. Moreover, their circumstances were ameliorated by their access to financial resources unavailable to most prisoners. The U.S. consul in Matamoros advanced Green a total of $700, while his counterpart in Veracruz also loaned him money for his passage back to Texas. He received additional funds from friends in the United States, which he used to purchase food and liquor and to effect his release from Perote. By contrast, those prisoners unable to rely upon the largesse of friends and family at home subsisted largely on the meager rations provided by the Mexican army, unable to pay for the various amenities that made prison life more comfortable. Wrote one Perote prisoner: "I have not got a single shirt to my back nor scarcely anything in the shape of pantaloons. Nor have I any prospect of getting things. Those who received money from friends in the States can get along verry[sic] well but those that have none suffer."
In addition to receiving better treatment, Green was fortunate to have been spared some of the more grueling experiences of the main body of prisoners during the course of its march into Mexico. Separated from the rank and file at Matamoros, Green saw his men again only once, at the Hacienda del Salado on the eve of the Texans' bid for freedom. By the time they arrived at Perote in the fall of 1843, Green had already made his escape from the fortress and returned to Texas. Thus, his account of the most celebrated events of the expedition - the battle at the Hacienda del Salado, the Texans' escape into the mountains, and the "black bean episode" - was culled from other sources. For this part of his narrative, Green was fortunate to meet in Texas in 1843 another Mier prisoner who had managed to escape from a Mexican prison, Samuel H. Walker. Although Walker, a man of few words, lacked Green's talents as an author and raconteur, he had kept a diary of his experiences in Mexico, describing in a straightforward manner the hardships of the main body of prisoners. Walker gave the diary to Green, providing him with much of the material he needed to chronicle the all-important events that followed his departure from the Hacienda del Salado.
Characteristically, Green failed to mention Walker's contribution to the book, underscoring another problem of his Journal: his overbearing ego and his tendency to ignore or denigrate the role of others. As an eyewitness account of a military campaign, the book ranks in terms of its excessive use of the first person alongside Theodore Roosevelt's chronicle of the Spanish-American War (which, one humorist quipped, should have been titled "Alone in Cuba"). Green failed to do justice to the much maligned William S. Fisher, who led the filibuster expedition and whom many Texans blamed for their defeat at Mier. A1though Green did not accuse Fisher of outright cowardice, as some did, he consigned him to an undeservedly minor part in the battle, arguing that a hand wound had left him dazed, nauseated, and unfit to command in the crucial stages of the fighting. Exaggerating the extent of Fisher's injury allowed the author to emphasize his own leadership role. Fisher did not receive much better consideration in the narrative that follows. Although the two men shared the privations of captivity in Mexico for six months, Green referred to his commanding officer only briefly, and Fisher remains, regrettably, something of an enigmatic figure in the literature of the expedition.
Finally, Green's all-consuming hatred of Sam Houston intrudes upon the narrative at every turn, so much so, that at times he seems less interested in recounting the story of the Mier Expedition than in discrediting Sam Houston for his role in the affair. It would, of course, be unreasonable to expect dispassionate objectivity from one so intimately involved with these events. Nonetheless, Green went to extreme and even absurd lengths to indict Houston, blaming him for all the misfortunes that befell the Mier prisoners, and indeed for all the many crises that the Republic suffered during this period.
Despite these flaws, the book has endured; it remains one of the most compelling and illuminating eyewitness accounts of the Republic period. It is also one of the most readable. Although Green is not at his best when waxing splenetic on such topics as Sam Houston and his Mexican captors, on the whole the book is written in a fast-paced and engaging style. No doubt intending to capitalize on public interest in the expedition, Green provided an account that is rich in drama and demonstrates both a keen eye for anecdotal detail and an appreciation for some of the lighter moments of his imprisonment in Mexico. The illustrations, drawn by Charles McLaughlin, himself a Mier prisoner, are a particularly valuable addition to the text.
But Green's Journal is more than a chronicle of one of the more remarkable chapters in Texas history. The author's cultural and racial biases, however unpalatable they may be to present-day sensibilities, tell us much about the way mid-nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans saw themselves and their southern neighbors. In this regard, the final chapter, in which Green offers a lengthy discourse on the inevitability of U.S. expansionism, is of particular significance. Although at first glance a somewhat tedious digression from the narrative, the last chapter constitutes a fitting postscript: a logical denouement of the author's contempt for Mexican sovereignty, his deep-seated conviction that Anglo-American arms would prevail over a degraded and benighted culture. Beyond its merits as a history of an ill-fated military campaign, Green's Journal stands as an important work in the literature of the Manifest Destiny. At the time of its release, the book was considered such a valuable source of information on Texas and Mexico that some of the first copies were delivered to President James K. Polk and members of his cabinet.
Thomas Jefferson Green is best known in Texas as an agitator and firebrand, as a man who seemed to embody the independent, nonconformist attitude that at times made the Republic a nation bordering on anarchic dissolution. The contempt many Texans displayed toward their institutions of governance during these turbulent years has often been attributed to a spirit of frontier individualism. This may be true, but Thomas Jefferson Green, whose basic instincts were more commercial than primordial, furnishes no evidence of it. Although he spent much of his adult life on the fringes of western settlement, it was profit, not adventure, that lured him to the frontier. Moreover, his brash, impetuous, and often insubordinate behavior cannot be attributed to a backwoods cultural ethos, but stemmed rather from his intense desire to establish himself as a member of a new society's political and entrepreneurial elite. Green's reputation as a trouble maker was well deserved, but he was not disrespectful of authority per se. In fact, he was an ardent supporter of strong government, so long as it could be employed in the pursuit of his own aggrandizement. His obsessive hatred of Sam Houston, who often stood in the way of his career goals, can only be understood in this context. The collapse of Green's business ventures, the setbacks he suffered in his quest for political office and patronage, even his lengthy incarceration after defeat on the battlefield - all these misfortunes, Green believed, could be traced to Sam Houston. Green pursued many avenues in his quest for fame and fortune, but his feelings toward Houston remained constant, serving as the measure of his thwarted ambition….Beneath his overweening bravado, however, was an unflappable self-confidence, an inexhaustible reservoir of enthusiasm for every endeavor. Whatever else may be said of him, Green was flamboyant in failure.