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Wagons West: Texas Freedom!
By Dana Fuller Ross
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Book Creations, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMedina River, Texas—Sunday, February 21, 1836
Twenty-four-year-old Captain Paul Nelson lay on his belly on a flat rock on the banks of the Medina River. Opening up his telescope, he perused the Mexican encampment on the other side of the river. There had to be two thousand or more soldiers gathered there.
One of the men, resplendent in a colorful and medal-bedecked uniform, was standing off by himself, holding a riding quirt in his right hand, slapping it casually against his left. Focusing his spyglass on the face, Paul was able to confirm his suspicion. This was General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Paul was positive of that, because he had once met the Mexican leader.
Paul hurried back to his horse, mounted, then started toward San Antonio de Bexar. By pushing it, he could make the twenty-five miles in about two and one half hours. He knew that an army that large would take at least two days to reach San Antonio de Bexar if they left right now.
Horse and rider were tired when they rode into San Antonio late that afternoon. To Paul's surprise, rather than preparing for Santa Anna's advancing army, citizens and soldiers alike were enjoying a great fiesta. Music was playing, men and women were dancing, children were running about, and the air was redolent with the aromas of cooking meat.
Smelling the food intensified Paul's hunger because he had not eaten a thing except a couple of pieces of deer jerky since yesterday morning. Dismounting near one of the outdoor cooking pits, he scooped some beans and spicy beef onto a tortilla and carried it around with him, eating, as he searched for Colonel Travis. He found Travis drinking coffee at a table in front of the Mariposa Cantina.
"Captain Nelson," Travis said. "It is good to see you back. Have a seat." Travis pushed out a chair with his foot and Paul joined him at his table. "Did you see them?"
"I saw them," Paul said. "They are camped on the Medina."
"That's pretty close," Travis replied. "How many are there?"
"Two thousand, maybe as many as twenty-five hundred. They are spread out quite a way up and down the riverbank."
The two men had to raise their voices in order to be heard because the celebration was so loud. Once, when there was a woman's quick scream, followed by the laughter of men and women, Paul looked toward the sound and saw that Jim Bowie was at the center of the festivities. Though it wasn't intentional, he must have had a look of disapproval on his face, and Colonel Travis saw it.
"Yes, it is our esteemed Colonel Bowie," Travis said. He slurred the word colonel.
"I know there have been some differences of opinion between the two of you," Paul said. "Colonel, I speak not as a partisan for either side, but don't you think we would all be better served if the two of you could work out your differences?"
"There is nothing I would like more, Captain, believe me," Travis said. "But it has been impossible to find Bowie sober long enough to have a serious conversation."
"Con este cuchillo, les quitaré el corazón de Santa Anna!" Bowie shouted, slashing at the air with his broadbladed knife.
His comment was greeted by laughter and cheers.
"What did he say?" Travis asked, obviously irritated by Bowie's drunken and boisterous behavior.
"He said, 'With this knife I will remove the heart of Santa Anna,' " Paul interpreted.
Travis stroked his chin and nodded. "That is the most difficult of all," he said. "It isn't bragging if you can actually do what you boast. And Bowie's past history would certainly prove that he could do just that."
Travis reached into the inside pocket of his tunic and pulled out two sheets of paper. He handed both of them to Paul.
"In your absence, Captain, I wrote two letters," he said. "I have kept copies, and I would like for you to read them, for I greatly value your opinion."
Paul took the two letters, and, as the celebration continued around him, began to read.
His Excellency, General Sam'l Houston:
You have no doubt already received information by express from La Bahia that tremendous preparations are in the making on the Rio Grande and elsewhere in the interior for the invasion of Texas. Santa Anna, by the last accounts, was at Saltillo, with a force of two thousand five hundred men and guns. Sesma was at the Rio Grande with about two thousand men, and he has issued his proclamation announcing vengeance against the people of Texas, threatening to exterminate every white man within its limits.
As this is the frontier post nearest the Rio Grande, we will, no doubt, be the first to be attacked. We are ill-prepared for their reception as we have not more than one hundred and fifty men here and they are in a very disorganized state. Yet we are determined to sustain the garrison for as long as there is a man left; because we consider death preferable to disgrace, which would be the result of giving up a post which has been so dearly won, and thus opening up the door for the invaders to enter the sacred territory of the colonies.
We hope our countrymen will open their eyes to the present danger, and wake up from their false security. I hope that all party dissensions will subside, that your fellow citizens will unite in the common cause and fly to the defense of the frontier.
I fear that it is useless to waste arguments upon them. It will take the thunder of the enemy's cannon, the pollution of their wives and daughters, the cries of their famished children and the smoke of their burning dwellings to arouse them. I regret that the government has so long neglected a draft of the militia, which is the only measure that will ever again bring the citizens of Texas to the frontiers.
Money, clothing, and provisions are greatly needed at this post for the use of the soldiers.
I hope Your Excellency will send up a portion of the money which has been received from the U.S. as it cannot be better applied, indeed we cannot get along any longer without money, and with it we can do everything.
For God's sake, and the sake of our country, send us reinforcements. I hope you will send to this post at least two companies of regular troops.
In consequence of the sickness of his family, Lt. Col. Neill has left this post to visit home for a short time and has requested me to take the command of the post. In consequence of which, I feel myself delicately and awkwardly situated. I therefore hope that Your Excellency will give me some definite orders and that immediately.
The troops here, to a man, recognize you as their legitimate governor, and they expect your fatherly care and protection.
In conclusion let me assure Your Excellency, that with two hundred more men I believe this place can be maintained, and I hope they will be sent us as soon as possible. Yet should we receive no reinforcement, I am determined to defend it to the last, and should Bexar fall, your friend will be buried beneath its ruins.
Sincerely, William B. Travis Commanding San Antonio de Bexar
"That is a wonderful letter, Colonel Travis," Paul said, as he handed the missive back.
"Please, read the other one, then we will talk," Travis said.
Nodding in the affirmative, Paul began reading the second of the two letters.
His Excellency, General Sam'l Houston:
I wrote you an official letter last night as commandant of this post in the absence of Col. Neill, and if you had taken the trouble to answer my letter from Burnam's, I should not now have been under the necessity of troubling you.
My situation is truly awkward and delicate. Colonel Neill left me in the command, but wishing to give satisfaction to the volunteers and not wishing to assume any command over them I issued an order for the election of an officer to command them with the exception of one company of volunteers that were previously engaged to serve under me.
Bowie was elected by two small companies, and since his election he has been roaring drunk all the time; has assumed all command, and is proceeding in a most disorderly and irregular manner, interfering with private property, releasing prisoners sentenced by court-martial and by the civil court and turning everything topsy-turvy. If I did not feel my honor and that of my country compromised I would leave here instantly for some other point with the troops under my immediate command, as I am unwilling to be responsible for the drunken irregularities of any man.
I hope you will immediately order some regular troops to this place, as it is more important to occupy the post than I imagined when I last saw you. It is the key of Texas from the interior. Without a footing here the enemy can do nothing against us in the colonies now that our coast is being guarded by armed vessels. I do not solicit the command of this post but Col. Neill has applied to the commander-in-chief to be relieved and is anxious for me to take the command. I will do it, if it be your order, for a time until an artillery officer can be sent here. The citizens here have every confidence in me, as they can communicate with me, and they have shown every disposition to aid me with all they have. We need money. Can you not send us some? I read your letter to the troops and they received it with acclamation. Our spies have just returned from the Rio Grande. The enemy is there one thousand strong and is making every preparation to invade us. By the 15th of March I think Texas will be invaded and every preparation should be made to receive them.
In conclusion, allow me to beg that you will give me definite orders immediately.
William B. Travis Commanding San Antonio de Bexar
"When did you send these letters, Colonel?" Paul asked, returning the two to Travis.
"I sent them two weeks previous," Travis replied as he folded the letters and put them back in his pocket.
"Even if Houston had all intentions to send replacements to our relief, he would not be able to do so now," Paul said. "Santa Anna is too close."
"He wouldn't send them if he could," another man said, and looking over a couple of tables beyond, Paul saw Davy Crockett sitting in the shadows. He was eating a piece of fried bread, spread with butter and jam.
"Why do you say that, Colonel?" Paul asked.
Crockett held up his hand, palm out. "I told you, I'm not a colonel. I'm what you might call a high private. But you can call me Davy."
"All right, Davy, why do you say that Houston wouldn't send us reinforcements?"
"Because he is a Jackson man," Crockett said. "An Andrew Jackson man."
"I take it that you don't like Andrew Jackson?"
"I wouldn't be here if I had any regard for that polecat," Crockett said. He chuckled. "When I left, I told him, I said, 'You can go to hell and I am going to Texas.' Yes, sir, that's what I told him," Crockett said, laughing at his own story.
"Did you hear what Captain Nelson just reported about Santa Anna and his army?" Travis asked.
"I heard. He's on the Medina River. That's not too far from here, I take it?"
"It's not far at all. It means two days, at the most," Travis said.
"Are we goin' to pull out, Billy? Or are we goin' to stay here and fight?" Crockett asked.
"You can do what you want with your Tennesseans, but I'm not leaving," Travis said.
"Oh, I reckon we'll stay and see this little fracas through with you," Crockett said.
"John," Travis called, seeing Captain John Hubbard Forsythe walking by. "Come join us."
Smiling, Forsythe came over to sit at the table with Paul and Travis.
"Colonel," he said, then turning to Paul. "You just get back from your scout?"
"A few minutes ago," Paul said.
"They are on the Medina River," Travis said. "I expect they'll be here in about two more days."
"Two more days?"
"Maybe sooner," Paul said.
Forsythe drummed his fingers on the table for a moment. "We aren't going to get any reinforcements, are we, Colonel?"
"No," Travis said.
"How many did you see?"
"At least two thousand," Paul replied. "Maybe more."
"And that's not the entire army," Travis said. "From the reports I received earlier, there are more than five thousand in Santa Anna's invasion force. I expect there will be at least that many when they attack us."
"Five thousand against less than two hundred," Forsythe said.
"Are you having second thoughts about being here, John?" Travis asked.
"For me? No. But I'm damn glad Gordon is with General Houston," Forsythe said, speaking of his brother. "One Forsythe in here is enough."
San Antonio de Bexar—Tuesday, February 23, 1836
"Captain Nelson," Travis said when Paul answered a summons to report to him. "No doubt you have noticed that the last of the civilian residents of San Antonio left early this morning."
"Yes, sir, I couldn't help but notice. Wagons, carts, and horses started passing by my quarters even before dawn."
"I would like for you to post a lookout somewhere so we could get an early warning of their arrival."
"If you don't mind, I'll be the lookout," Paul said. "I've already picked my observation post."
"I'm going to climb up to the top of the bell tower of the San Fernando church. That is the highest place in town, and it has a panoramic view, so no matter which direction they use for their approach, I will be able to see them."
"Good idea," Travis said. "How is Bowie? Drunk again?"
"No, sir. He is ill. Very ill."
"I know he has been ill. And I have been harsh on him because of his drinking. Perhaps he has had an excuse for his drinking."
"You had every right to be upset, Colonel," Paul said. "He should have relinquished co-command and turned the entire garrison over to you, especially seeing as he is too ill to command."
"Yes, well, at this point it no longer matters, does it? The Mexicans are here, our reinforcements are not."
"When will we withdraw to the fort?" Paul asked.
Travis snorted. "Fort," he said. "I would hardly call it a fort. We have taken an abandoned mission and done all that we could to fortify it. Its only advantage is that it is a walled mission, but the grounds are much too expansive to be defended by the few men that we have. Major Jameson has done a good job of modifying it as far as he can, but there are no loopholes in the wall through which we can fire, and there are areas of the wall that can be easily breached. If you want my honest opinion, Paul, not one of us will survive this battle."
Paul extended his hand. "Colonel, regardless of the outcome of this battle, it has been a privilege to serve with you."
After shaking hands with his commander, Paul hurried to the bell tower of the church. The only steps going to the top were a set of ladder rungs that had been set into the inside wall. Paul clambered to the top, then stepped out onto the very narrow ledge and looked toward the west. There was no need to use his telescope. The Mexicans were no more than one and a half miles outside the town. And that meant there was no need to stay here any longer.
Paul climbed back down as quickly as he could, then hurried back to give his report to Travis.
"Colonel, they are upon us!" he said. "They will be in the town by noon!"
"I'm glad all the civilians have left. Spread the word, Captain," Travis said. "We will withdraw to the Alamo Mission now."
The Texians who had been quartered in the town now began moving into the mission. Paul saw Captain Almaron Dickinson ride up to the front of his house.
"Susanna!" he called.
Susanna came outside, carrying their young daughter, Angelina.
"Give me the baby, climb up onto the horse behind me, and ask me no questions," Dickinson said in short, anxious words.
Excerpted from Wagons West: Texas Freedom! by Dana Fuller Ross Copyright © 2012 by Book Creations, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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