The Greatest Raid


Between 1700 – 1875, Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Caddo, Bidai, Karankawa, Eastern Pueblo, and Apache Indians dominated a massive swath of land in the area of present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  The Indians called it Comancheria — it was the unchallenged domain of the fiercest society of warriors that ever existed on the backs of horses.  They called themselves Numunuu — everyone else called them Comanche … a word meaning “enemy.”  The Comanche was everyone’s enemy.  How violent were these people?  The reputation of the Comanche warrior was terrifying enough to keep Spaniards from settling in Coahuila y Tejas for nearly 300 years.

In 1836, a Comanche and Kiowa war party numbering around 300 braves attacked the Parker settlement (known as Fort Parker) near present-day Mexia, Texas.  At the time of the assault, John Parker and most of the settlement’s able-bodied men worked in adjoining fields.  Unfamiliar with the Comanche, these men went to work without firearms.  The war party slaughtered the men and kidnapped several women and children, including Cynthia Ann Parker and Rachel Plummer.  While in captivity, Rachel gave birth to a half-cast child.  When the child was six months old, an Indian brave took the child from its mother and murdered it by dragging it behind a horse.  Cynthia became the wife of the Comanche war chief Peta Nocona and mother of Comanche war chief Quanah Parker.[1]

In 1838, Comanches kidnapped 14-year-old Matilda Lockhart and four children of Mitchell Putnam from a field surrounding the settlement.  Two expeditions attempted to locate Mattie and the Putnam children, but both ended in frustration.  During the year of her captivity, Matilda continually suffered physical and mental abuse.  Indian men raped her, and Indian women tormented her and burned her body, including burning off a portion of her nose, and the bottoms of her feet.[2]

On 10 January 1840, three Comanche emissaries surprised everyone in San Antonio by walking into the city and announcing that they wanted to arrange peace with the whites.  These emissaries met with Colonel Henry W. Karnes, who previously served as Sam Houston’s spymaster.  Karnes was 28 years old.[3]

As a demonstration of good faith, the emissaries released one of their white hostages to Karnes, a young teenage boy.  He was one of the Putnam children.  The Indians informed Karnes that they would return in 23 days to negotiate peace with the Texians.  Karnes listened to what these emissaries had to say and agreed to meet again at the prescribed time — and sternly informed these Indians that no lasting peace would be possible until the Comanche returned all of their white captives.  Karnes believed that the Comanche held between 13 – 16 other white prisoners.

After his meeting with the Indians, Colonel Karnes notified the Texas Secretary of War, 37-year-old Albert Sidney Johnson, of the impending negotiation.  Johnson ordered Karnes to proceed as follows: once the Indians returned, detain them until the Comanche returned all white hostages to their families.

On 19 March 1840, Comanche chieftain Muguara (Muk-wah-rah) led 65 Indians (including 33 other chiefs) and their families into San Antonio.  The Indians expected to bargain with the Texians for an exchange of their hostages for goods (blankets, muskets, gunpowder, food) and for Texian recognition of the Comancheria as the sovereign land of the Comanche.[4]

Under the terms of the January agreement, Muguara returned to the Texians in San Antonio the 15-year-old hostage named Matilda (Mattie) Lockhart.  Mattie was turned over to the care of Mary Ann Adams-Maverick, the wife of Samuel A. Maverick, who resided in San Antonio near the council house.  Mrs. Maverick recorded in her journal that Mattie was in a terrible physical condition and mental state.  Maverick bathed Mattie and dressed her in the clothing worn by Texian females at the time.  Maverick recorded that Mattie had been badly tortured and was utterly degraded as a human being.  She could not hold up her head.  Her head, arms, and face were full of bruises and sores.  Her nose was burned off to the bone with the fleshy end of her nose gone entirely and a great scab formed on the end of the bone.  Both of Mattie’s nostrils were wide open and denuded of flesh.

Maverick recorded Mattie’s story — a piteous story of how dreadfully the Comanche had beaten her, how they would awaken her by sticking a chuck of fire into her flesh.  Her body contained many scars to validate the charges.  During her captivity, Mattie had learned to understand some of the Comanche languages.  She informed Texian authorities that the Indians still held 13 other captives and that they planned to bring them in one by one and bargain for each in exchange for ammunition, blankets, and other supplies.[5]  By the time Colonel Karnes and armed rangers met with the Indians at the Council House, no one was in the mood to show the Comanche any courtesy whatsoever.

The day following the Council House Fight, Texians released one of the Comanche female prisoners to carry a verbal message back to her band.  The Texians demanded that the Comanche release their 13 remaining hostages in exchange for the safe return of the Indian women and children in their custody.  A prisoner exchange was not what the Comanche had in mind, however.  They opted for revenge, instead.  The Comanche skinned alive all remaining white hostages and then roasted them to death over a fire.  Mattie’s sister was one of them.[6]

The Indian depredations were only the beginning.  According to long-held Indian traditions, “council” meetings were nearly sacrosanct.  Council was an opportunity for adversaries to meet in peace to discuss terms for ending hostilities.  No one violated council protocols without significant repercussions.  To avenge what the Comanche viewed as a bitter betrayal by the Texans, Buffalo Hump raised a massive war party of many Comanche bands.

Buffalo Hump was the Penateka Tribe’s First War Chief.  He had no intention to moan about the Texian’s betrayal.  With the participation of other Comanche bands, Buffalo Hump began planning what became the largest Indian war party in U.S. history — well over 1,000 Indians.  At the beginning of the summer, a war party consisting of between 400 – 500 warriors raided white settlements between Bastrop and San Antonio.  In mid-July, Comanche from the Nokoni, Kotsoteka, Yamparika,  and Kwahadi bands joined the marauders.  The raid, known in history as The Great Raid of 1840, began in West Texas and made its way to the Gulf of Mexico — to Victoria and Linnville.

On 6 August, even though Texas Rangers were shadowing the war party, a large group of Indians split off and headed for Victoria before the Rangers could warn the settlement of approaching danger.  The Indian onslaught commenced without warning; Indians rode through the town’s streets killing indiscriminately.  Terrified citizens hid inside buildings.  When armed citizens began shooting back, the Indians concentrated more on looting the town and stealing horses.  After the assault on Victoria, the Comanche camped for the night along Spring Creek.

The next day, the war party continued toward Lavaca Bay, camping that night along Placido Creek, 12 miles from Linnville.[7]  Early in the morning of 8 August, the Indians surrounded the small port settlement (then the second largest port in the Texas Republic).  Knowing that the plains Indians had no experience on the sea, terrified citizens prudently boarded boats and rowed offshore beyond the range of arrows and musket fire.  When the Indians finished looting businesses and private homes, they set fire to the entire settlement.  The settlement that was once located only 1.3 miles from present-day Port Lavaca ceased to exist on 8 August 1840.

One witness to the Linnville raid was the store owner named James Robinson, who noted in his diary, “Those the Indians made free with, and went dashing about the blazing village, amid their screeching squaws and `little Injuns,’ like demons in a drunken saturnalia, with Robinson’s hats on their heads and Robinson’s umbrellas bobbing about on every side like tipsy young balloons.”  The Indians retreated from the smoldering remains of Linnville in the late afternoon.

The word spread throughout East Texas and eventually, Texians began to flock toward the Texas Ranger companies.  Enough was enough.  Volunteers mustered from Gonzalez under Mathew Caldwell,[8] and from Bastrop under Ed Burleson.[9]  Ranger companies from east and central Texas combined to intercept the Indians.

They all came together at Plum Creek, near the town of Lockhart on 12 August 1840.  The Comanche, normally a fast and deadly light cavalry, were overburdened by their human captives and hundreds of pounds of plunder.  Contending with dozens of mules loaded with loot, many prisoners, and driving between 2,000 and 3,000 stolen horses, the Comanche had turned back toward the Comancheria.  Sated in their lust for blood and white man’s goods, particularly the horses, Comanche warriors rode for the high plateau.  They were in no position to resist a Texian assault.

Not far behind them, dusty riders pounded through the coastal prairie — every able-bodied man turned out, from Lavaca, Gonzalez, Victoria, and Cuero —  and a hundred widely dispersed independent farms all across East Texas.  Their captains were such men as Jack John J. Tumlinson, Ben McCulloch, Mathew Caldwell, and Edward Burleson.

One company of rangers pressed the Indians hard from the rear of their formation, firing into them at times, but they lacked the personnel strength, and firepower to close with or engage the Indians in sustained combat.  But the Indians ignored them for as long as possible.  While this was going on, other Texans rode toward the Colorado River settlements seeking additional volunteers.  The plan was for all volunteer defenders to gather at Plum Creek, two miles outside Lockhart, Texas.

On 12 August, Edward Burleson and a hundred men under Henry Jones, William A. Wallace, William P. Hardeman, Adam Zumwalt, and Clark Owen rode into Plum Creek.  They were the Bastrop militia.  Tonkawa scouts under Chief Placido kept the Texas Rangers informed of the Comanche’s positions.  They were moving slowly toward the Big Prairie and would cross over it near Plum Creek.[10]

As the Indian column began to pass by Plum Creek, the old Indian fighters, Caldwell, Burleson, and McCulloch, wanted to press their attack, but the less experienced General Felix Huston hesitated.  One hundred dismounted Texians concealed themselves in the dense brush along the creek and waited for their commander’s orders.  Finally, as the Indian cavalcade moved into the plain, General Huston, Colonel Burleson, and Captain Caldwell rode out from the bush, bringing with them two long lines of Texian horsed rangers.

One of the Bastrop men was John H. Jenkins.  He later described the feints and challenges displayed by the Indian warriors as a prelude to blood-chilling combat: “They arrayed in all the splendor of savage warriors and finely mounted, bounded over the space between the hostile lines, exhibiting feats of horsemanship and daring none but a Comanche could perform.”

Mr. Jenkins described it as a marvelous spectacle — so many mounted horsemen preening before a fight.  He was no doubt impressed, but the seasoned Texians were not.  They watched the Comanche with angry, determined, skeptical eyes.  Both Burleson and Caldwell knew what the Indians were doing: trying to delay the fight until they had moved their stolen herds ahead of them.  Even more important than the horses, however, was the stolen loot.  The horses, while highly prized by the Comanche, became a barrier to rapid egress; the horses forced the Indians to stay on the trail back to the Comancheria.

Finally, a Comanche war chief in magnificent attire rode out to challenge the Texians.  He shouted at them, dared, and taunted them.  Within a few moments, a Texian sharpshooter sent him into the promised land.  Caldwell urged — charge them, General!

When Huston gave his order, Texian cavalry spurred their horses into the Comanche flank, stampeded the massive herd, and dispersed the Comanche into disarray.  Horses and mules bunched up in a boggy stretch, trapping Indian horsemen and making the field a confusing mess.  Caldwell led his men around the left flank and began methodically killing every Indian in his path.

The fight started and went on, as a running battle, for nearly twenty miles.  The combat was close and cruel — more massacre than a battle.  The Comanche killed one Texan.  The Texans killed eighty Comanche.  Texian captives of the Indians were not as fortunate.  Several females were tied to trees and used as a sport for Comanche braves — their bodies were later found pierced with several arrows.  One prisoner, the wife of the slain customs inspector was shot as well, but her whalebone corset saved her life.

After the battle, Texians recovered great quantities of silver, bolts of cloth, jugs of whiskey, cuts of tobacco, and many horses.  The Battle of Plum Creek punished the Penateka severely and afterward, no Comanche ever attacked a Texas settlement within the coastal plain.  The raid, while understandable from the Indian’s point of view, made it less likely that any Texian would greet them in friendship — and the Texians remained deeply angry for many years.  As an illustration of these dark feelings, President Lamar dispatched Colonel John Moore and 110 men into the Comanche territory.  Within a month, Moore’s rangers located a Comanche village and set upon them.  When the shooting was done, thirty minutes later, 125 Indians lay dead.


  1. Bial, R.  Lifeways: The Comanche.  Benchmarks books, 2000.
  2. Brice, D. E.  The Great Comanche Raid: Boldest Indian Attack on the Texas Republic.  McGowan Books, 1987.
  3. Cox, M.  Texas Ranger Tales: Stories that need telling.  Republic of Texas Press, 1997.
  4. Fehrenbach, T. R.  The Comanches: The Destruction of a People. Knopf Books, 1974.
  5. Fehrenbach, T. R.  Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.  Open Road Books, 2000,
  6. Frazier, I.  Great Plains.  Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1989.
  7.   Wallace, E., and E. A. Hoebel.  The Comanches: Lords of the Southern Plains.  University of Oklahoma Press, 1952.


[1] Cynthia Parker was re-captured in 1860.  She passed away in 1871. 

[2] Mattie Lockhart (1825 – 1841) was the daughter of Andrew Lockhart who immigrated to Texas with her family from Illinois.  They settled in the DeWitt Colony on the Guadalupe River.  While in captivity, Mattie suffered so much abuse that she was utterly destroyed as a human being.  She died within a year of her return to San Antonio.

[3] Karnes’s youth was an issue; he was a 28-year-old colonel who was fuller of beans than brains.  He did not know enough about the Comanche to enter into a successful negotiation.  He did not know, for example, that the Comanche bands were independent entities that owed no allegiance to any other Comanche band.  Karnes’ demand that Muguara return white hostages that he did not control was ludicrous.  

[4] Importantly, a couple of high-ranking Comanche chiefs refused to attend the meeting: Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna.  They would not attend the council because they did not trust the white man.

[5] Mattie Lockhart did not survive her ordeal.  She died in 1841, very likely the result of her no longer having the will to live her life as a Comanche-damaged freak. 

[6] I do not know what the Texians did with their remaining Comanche hostages after the Council House Fight.

[7] Named for John J. Linn (1798 – 1885), a merchant, statesman, soldier, and historian.  In 1822, he set up his own goods store in New Orleans and became interested in Texas during a business trip to Mexico.  In 1829, he migrated to Victoria where he maintained his residence and business outlet.  In 1831, he established a small settlement along Lavaca Bay, naming it New Port, where he constructed a wharf and warehouse.  New Port later changed its name to Linnville in John’s honor.  Linn was fluent in Spanish and became an important liaison between Mexican and Irish colonists.   

[8] Caldwell (1798 – 1842) was a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence and a soldier in the Texian Army.  Known also as “Old Paint,” President Lamar appointed Caldwell a Texas Ranger Captain —

[9] Edward Burleson (1798 – 1851) was an experienced combat officer, a veteran of the War of 1812, and of Missouri and Texas militias.  He served as major general of Texas volunteers in 1835, and colonel of Texas regulars of the First Volunteer Infantry.  During the Battle of Plum Creek, then-Senator Burleson helped to coordinate the Texian response force.

[10] A branch of the San Marcos River.

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, Comanche, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Texas | 1 Comment

The Case of Tom Horn


Old West history books are filled with stories about large cattle ranches, the cattlemen that ran them, the long and dangerous trail drives that took months to complete, and the conflicts between cattle barons and small farmers and ranchers.  The reason for so many stories is that frontier ranching was an industry like no other in U.S. history.  As with most stories, there were main characters, a supporting cast, heroes, anti-heroes, victims, and people caught in the middle of what became, in several areas, a series of murderous confrontations.  Some of these lasted for decades.

We generally do not know about heroes until someone tells their story.  In the post-Civil War period, some storytellers were dime novelists who churned out one story after another about old west characters.  The stories were highly embellished, of course — or, as some might say, an absurd demonstration of poetic license.  But there is little doubt that the reading public had an appetite for such stories.  In 1875, a dime was more or less equivalent to $2.50 today.  That doesn’t seem like much to pay for an exciting (albeit fictionalized) old west tale, but in 1875, back-breaking work only paid around $0.75 per day; ten cents was a lot of money.[1]

The hero of the cattle industry story (as decided by dime novelists) was the American cowboy.  Of course, the cowboy was the obvious choice because he was the fellow who spent his days in the saddle, doing back-breaking work, suffering the effects of stifling heat and frigid cold, who confronted swollen creeks and rivers, and who faced down hostile Indians and cattle rustlers.

There were several choices for the anti-hero role (depending upon what part of the country a novelist was writing about).  It might be the cowboy’s employer (the cattle rancher) or corrupt lawmen, judges, politicians, or townie businessmen — the people who could be bought for a few pieces of silver.  The victims of the drama were small-time ranchers and sodbusters — people who were always in the way of cattle barons.

Cattle barons had their champions — the so-called range detectives who were shootists and assassins.   And the victims of the drama had their defenders, as well: they were vigilantes, cattle rustlers, and horse thieves who thought of themselves as redistributors of wealth.   The stories occurred in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming, the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas.

Conflict over land was a common occurrence in the old west, but it was particularly prevalent in the late 19th century when wealthy cattle barons seized public land for selfish purposes and attempted to deny migrating families access to the land for farms and small ranches.  A loose association of cattlemen controlled this land for many years.   They didn’t own it, had no legitimate claim to it, and never paid taxes on it — but they did defend it in bloody confrontations.

Enter Tom Horn

One of the cowboys who played a notable role in this story was Thomas Horn, Jr.  Tom was born on 21 November 1860 in Scotland County, Missouri — the fifth of 13 children —  162 years ago today.   Tom’s abusive father guaranteed him a miserable childhood.  In 1876, Tom left home and traveled to the American Southwest, where the U.S. Army hired him as a scout.

In his life, Horn was an army scout, stockman, soldier, range detective, Pinkerton detective, and a shootist — believed to have murdered seventeen men on behalf of his employers — various cattlemen.  Tom’s life came crashing down when he was accused of the murder of Willie Nickell, a fourteen-year-old boy.

The Soldier

Tom signed on as a scout when he accepted employment with the U.S. Cavalry.  His immediate supervisor was the battle-tested Albert Sieber, a German-born Army scout, and guide who became Chief of Scouts under George Stoneman.  When Horn wasn’t scouting, he was a packer and an interpreter of Indian languages.  Tom had a sophisticated and much-appreciated work ethic, and within a short time, he earned the respect and appreciation of his troop.  Not long after joining the Army Scouts, Horn demonstrated his courage while under hostile fire.

On this first occasion, Horn’s troop was in the process of crossing Cibecue Creek when hostile Apache ambushed the soldiers from the high ground.  Enemy fire killed the officer commanding, Captain Edmund Hentig, which left his men penned down under overwhelming rifle fire.  In desperation, Chief Scout Sieber ordered Horn and fellow scout Mickey Free to break away, relocate, and fire on the Apache from a different position.   Horn and Free managed to break up the Indian assault without further casualties among the men.

Tom also worked for Sieber during the Battle of Big Dry Wash.  Horn became a hero when he and Lieutenant George H. Morgan slipped through the Apache line and provided devastating fire against the Indians, killing several hostile warriors.

From every account, we know that Tom Horn was a dependable scout and fearless in executing his duties.  He often conducted reconnaissance missions alone and was instrumental in tracking down Geronimo’s primary stronghold.  Horn became Chief Scout at Fort Bowie in 1885 — assigned to work for Captain Emmet Crawford.  During one operation (which took Crawford’s troop into Mexico in search of Geronimo), Mexican militia mistakenly attacked the Army camp killing Crawford and wounding Horn.  In September 1886, Horn was present at Geronimo’s final surrender to First Lieutenant Charles B. Gatewood.

Tom Horn left Army service after an incident that resulted in the death of a Mexican army lieutenant.  Horn and the lieutenant, both drinking to excess, got into an argument over a prostitute.   The lieutenant challenged Horn to a duel, which Horn accepted, and as it happened, Tom Horn was faster on the draw.

Going Dark

After leaving the army, Horn used his savings to build up his own cattle ranch in Arizona.   e had around 100 head of cattle and 26 horses and filed a claim for the Deer Creek Mining District.   t was a short-lived investment because cattle thieves relieved him of his herd, helped themselves to his horses, and stormed his homestead in the middle of the night, running him into the fields for safety.   The financial loss drove him into bankruptcy and became the reason for his hatred for thieves.   Afterward, he became a range detective, allowing him to shoot thieves wherever he found them.

Horn initially spent his time prospecting, working on a ranch, entering rodeos, and finally accepting employment as a shootist.  A shootist was a hired gun paid to watch over his employer’s cattle and arrest and detain anyone suspected of rustling cattle.   The terms “arrest and detain” would appear self-evident — but more often than not, the detainee was shot while trying to escape.

Tom Horn never regretted shooting a thief, and his reputation as a no-nonsense shootist gave him a tremendous presence on the range.  People obsessed with felonious thinking gave Tom Horn a wide birth — and he used this reputation to his advantage.  One rancher on the North Laramie River, a man named Fergie Mitchell, said of Horn, “I saw Horn ride by.  He didn’t stop but just went straight up the creek so everyone could see him.   Well, he wanted to be seen; his reputation was so great that his presence had the desired effect.  Within a week, three settlers in the neighborhood sold their stock and moved out.   And that was the end of cattle rustling on the North Laramie.”

The Pleasant Valley War was a dustup that lasted for ten years in the area of Pleasant Valley, Arizona.  The trouble began as early as 1858 but became more serious when one family introduced sheep into a traditional cattle ranching region.  The cattlemen countered by hiring gunslingers to sort things out.  Tom was one of those shootists.   No one today can say which side of the fight he was on — both sides suffered several killings, and no one was ever arrested or charged with any of those killings.   By “several,” I mean between 35-70 killings.  Some scholars insist that the Pleasant Valley War had the highest number of fatalities of any other range war in U.S. history — while other fights claim to be the bloodiest.  I’m not sure I understand that.

Tom Horn worked for a ranch owner named Robert Bowen.  While working for Bowen, Horn became a prime suspect in the disappearance of Mart Blevins (1887).  Horn always claimed he was a mediator in the conflict — always trying to prevent injury.  He even served as a deputy sheriff under Bucky O’Neill, Glenn Reynolds, and Perry Owen — all famous Arizona lawmen.  Horn was present when Reynolds hanged three “suspected” rustlers in August 1888.

Horn’s service as a deputy sheriff brought him to the attention of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.  Pinkerton hired him as a tracker in cases investigated in the Rocky Mountain region of Colorado and Wyoming.  Horn was one of those people who always remained calm under pressure.  If anything ever flummoxed him, he kept it to himself.  Reputation-wise, Horn always found his prey, and no varmint wanted to find out that Tom Horn was on his trail.

During the Johnson County War, Tom Horn worked for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and for Pinkerton, who assigned him to work undercover in the county using the alias Tom Hale.  Scholars claim that Tom Horn is the likely shooter of Nate Champion on 9 April 1892 and the “prime suspect” of the killings of small-time ranchers John Tisdale and Orley “Ranger” Jones.

Eventually, Pinkerton forced Horn to resign from his position in 1894.  According to famed lawman Charlie Siringo, Pinkerton was convinced that Horn was guilty of murder.  It was a matter of good business; Pinkerton could not allow Horn to go to prison while employed at the agency.  In any case, according to Siringo, Pinkerton felt that there was something “wicked” about Horn.[2]

In 1895, Tom Horn was accused (and exonerated) of the murders of William Lewis and Fred Powell, which took place within six weeks of each other near Iron Mountain, Wyoming.  In 1896, a rancher named Campbell (known to have a large stash of cash) disappeared after being last seen with Tom Horn.  Later that year, Horn applied for a position with the Marshal’s Office in Tucson, Arizona — there was a matter of getting rid of the rustler gang of William Christian.  An unknown assailant killed William in 1897 and his associate, Robert Christian, disappeared in the same year.  It was probably a coincidence, but one shouldn’t have hired Tom Horn for help in getting rid of outlaws if they didn’t intend to get rid of outlaws.

Although Tom’s official title was Range Detective, he was, in effect, a hired assassin.  By the mid-1890s, the cattle business was changing in Wyoming and Colorado.  The problem was a massive influx of homesteaders and small ranchers.  Established cattlemen referred to these people as “nesters” or “grangers” and hired people like Horn to “get rid of them.”  Nine trappers were mysteriously murdered in Big Dry Creek; unknown persons lynched Luther Mitchell, and someone set fire to Ami Ketchum’s cabin, and he was burned alive inside his home.  After these incidents, the Colorado Range War began in earnest — lasting well into the 20th century.

Over in Brown’s Park

Tom Horn began working as a range detective for the Swan Land and Cattle Company in northwest Colorado.  His first assignment was to investigate the Brown’s Park Cattle Association’s leader, a cowboy named Matt Rash.  Horn began his investigation as Tom Hicks, and Mr. Rash was the target of Horn’s inquiries.  As one of Rash’s stockmen, Horn pieced together evidence that Rash was a rustler.  Horn placed a letter on Rash’s door warning him to leave the county within sixty days.

Matt Rash was two things: stubborn and stupid, as evidenced by his defiance to remain on his ranch.   When Horn’s employers gave him the “go ahead,” Tom Horn assassinated Matt Rash.  Now, is this information a known fact?   No.  Scholars claim that Horn was smart enough to remove all evidence of his involvement.  Ann Bassett, a neighbor, fingered “Hicks” as the murderer — but then, Ms. Bassett was also a known cattle rustler.

Tales of rustling, murder, and chaos on the range are legion today, so it is nearly impossible to separate fact from folklore.  It is probably safe to conclude that there is at least some truth in every old west fairy tale.  But the fact remains that while many old west characters rejected violence as a means of conflict resolution, others were highly independent small-time ranchers who subscribed to traditional notions of family loyalty, Old Testament justice, and immediate retribution of grievances.  Rustling, especially of stock belonging to outsiders, was generally accepted because they had no business settling down on land belonging to someone else, even if it didn’t.  Hardly anyone ate their own beef, yet nearly everyone rejected cold-blooded murder.

At about the time of Matt Rash’s mysterious demise, Tom Horn began to suspect another cowboy of cattle rustling — a fellow named Isom Dart.  Dart was of African descent and previously known to the world as Ned Huddleston — an employee of Tip Gault.  Gault was the so-called sagebrush king of Bitter Creek who led a gang of stock thieves in Utah.

Gault’s scheme involved cattle stealing and a con game.  Gault’s Hispanic lieutenant, a man named Terresa, kept a close watch on the immigrant trails for likely victims (waggoneers moving large numbers of cattle across the country).  During the night, Terresa and his cohorts would run the best animals off, and when the owners of these missing cattle went looking for them, Gault befriended the pioneers and offered to help them search for the missing animals.  The stolen animals were never found, of course.  And because time was of the essence — travelers had to get over those western mountains before the snow season.  Gault would offer to purchase the missing cattle, usually for pennies on the dollar, saying he would try to find the animals later.  In this way, Gault obtained legal title to the missing stock, which he later sold to miners or travelers.

Gault’s luck finally ran out when he crossed the trail with a hardnosed cattleman named Hawley.  Cattleman Hawley and his boys tracked down the missing cattle and found them in Gault’s possession.  It didn’t take long for gunfire to erupt — probably seconds because Hawley wasn’t interested in explanations.  Gault and Terresa were among the first to fall.  Gault gang-member Ned Huddleston jumped into an open pit and played dead until he could slip away in the night to become Isom Dart.  As Dart, Isom managed three indictments for rustling in Sweetwater County, Wyoming.  Horn started a rumor that Isom Dart was the likely murderer of Matt Rash.  The talk forced Dart to “disappear,” which he did by taking refuge in Rash’s cabin, where he intended to remain until the rumors died.  However, Horn tracked Dart to the place and learned that he was hiding with two other well-armed cowboys.

Horn set up a hillside ambush position hidden in a clump of trees.  When Dart and his friends came out of the cabin, Horn shot and killed Dart.  The next day, county lawmen discovered two .30-30 casings at the base of a tree where the assassin likely laid in wait.  The effect of Rash and Dart’s murders put fear into other area rustlers, and they began to scatter.  One story is that Horn pinned Rash’s sliced-off ear to a tree — as a warning to homesteaders and grangers.  There is no evidence that this actually happened.

The Short War

A short time later, Tom Horn also disappeared — he re-joined the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War and became Chief Packer (involving the transportation of supplies) within the Army’s Fifth Corps.  Horn and his men were not infantry or cavalry troop, but they were targets of Spanish infantry and exposed to great personal danger — not only from Spanish bullets but also from Yellow Fever.  Horn became bedridden toward the end of the conflict, but whether his problem was related to Yellow Fever, we don’t know.  Consequently, Horn was returned to the United States and discharged from further military service.

Back in Wyoming

Early in the morning of 2 June 1899, near Wilcox, Wyoming, a Union-Pacific train was flagged down before crossing a wooden bridge.  Armed men forced the train crew to separate the locomotive from the train carriages and move it across the bridge.  Once this was accomplished, the robbers destroyed the bridge with dynamite and helped themselves to the contents of the safe and other valuables on the train.  Union-Pacific reported the loss at around $36,000.

Following the train robbery, Tom Horn obtained information from Bill Speck suggesting that the murderer of Sheriff Josiah Hazen was either George Curry or Harvey Logan of the Wild Bunch Gang, both members of Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.  Horn passed this information along to his former Pinkerton colleague Charlie Siringo, who was working on the investigation for Pinkerton. 

Willie Nickell

On 15 July 1901, while working (again) near Iron Mountain, Wyoming, Tom Horn visited cattle ranchers Jim and Dora Miller.[3]  Miller and his neighbor Kels Nickell had not been on the best terms.  Whether true or not, Miller claimed that Nickell frequently grazed his sheep on Miller’s cattle land.[4]

While visiting the Millers, Horn was introduced to Miss Glendolene Kimmell, a young teacher at the Iron Mountain School.  Since both the Miller and Nickell families had numerous school-aged children (and whose children were the only students at the school), both families financially supported Miss Kimmell and the Iron Mountain School.  Miss Kimmell boarded with the Miller family.[5]

Young and impressionable, Kimmell was taken with Tom Horn, who regaled her with his adventurous stories.  Later in the day, Horn and several male members of the Miller family went fishing.  While fishing, Victor Miller and Tom Horn engaged in some target practice; both men used .30-30 Winchester rifles.

Three days later, Willie Nickell — the 14-year-old son of Kels and Mary Nickell, was found dead near their homestead property gateway.  A coroner’s inquest opened an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Willie’s death.  Meanwhile, more violent acts occurred during the inquiry — these were added to the inquest.

On 4 August, someone shot and wounded Kels Nickell, and some 60 to 80 of his sheep were found shot or clubbed to death.  Two of the Nickell children reported seeing two men leaving on horses, one a bay and one gray — which matched the description of two of Jim Miller’s horses.  On 6 August, Sheriff’s Deputy Pete Warlaumont and Texas-born U.S. Deputy Marshal Joe LeFors arrested Jim Miller and his sons Victor and Gus on suspicion of shooting Kels Nickell.[6]  Having posted a bond, the court ordered the release of the three men on 7 August. 

In January 1902, while pretending to talk to Horn about employment, LeFors began to ask him questions about the murder of Willie Nickell.  Horn, hung-over from the previous night, gave LeFors what the lawman believed was a confession of the shooting.  What gave LeFors that impression was Horn’s boast that “… it was the best shot I ever made and the dirtiest trick I ever done.”[7]

County Sheriff E. J. Smalley arrested Horn the following day.  The prosecutor assigned to the case was Mr. Walter Stoll — who announced that the case would be tried as a capital offense.  The trial was handed to Judge Richard H. Scott, who was running for re-election.

For his part, Tom Horn enjoyed the support of his long-time employer, Mr. John C. Coble. Coble’s money allowed him to create a defense team that involved former Judge John W. Lacey, T. F. Burke, Roderick N. Matson, Edward T. Clark, and T. Blake Kennedy.  Interestingly, in 1902, the men who benefitted most from Tom Horn’s range detective activities saw him as a threat to their long-term interests.  None of these men wanted to see Horn acquitted.  He knew too much.

Horn’s trial began on 10 October in Cheyenne.  The courtroom was packed with onlookers attracted by the notoriety of Horn.  The Rocky Mountain News noted the carnival atmosphere and great interest from the public for a conviction.  Even if Horn had not confessed, the people of Wyoming were convinced that he was capable of such an odious crime.  And, of course, Stoll introduced Horn’s confession almost immediately.  It didn’t matter that all other evidence was circumstantial.  Victor Miller testified that he and Horn had purchased .30-30 ammunition on the same day from the same merchant.  Otto Plaga testified that at the time of the shooting, Horn was twenty miles away.

The sticking point was Horn’s confession.  If that’s what it was.  Kimmell, who never testified during the trial, did testify during the Coroner’s Inquest — suggesting that both families were responsible for the feud.  She left Laramie County in 1901 and was not heard from again until after Horn’s conviction.

Thirteen days after the trial started, it went to the jury.  They considered the evidence and announced a verdict on 24 October: Guilty.  A few days later, a separate hearing sentenced Horn to death by hanging. Horn’s legal team immediately filed an appeal, and Tom Horn began writing his autobiography.  Horn had little to say in his writing about the trial or his part in the murder of Willie Nickell.

The Wyoming Supreme Court denied Horn a new trial, but convinced of Horn’s innocence, Miss Kimmell sent an affidavit to Governor Fenimore Chatterton insisting that it was Victor Miller who killed Willie Nickell.  Chatterton acknowledged receiving the affidavit, but he refused to act on it.  And in any case, the document “disappeared.” No one with more than $10,000 in their bank account wanted to see Horn released from jail or his sentence. Horn’s execution date was 20 November 1903 (the day before his 43rd birthday).

After Horn’s execution, John Coble paid for his coffin and a headstone.  Suddenly, people came out of the woodwork, claiming that there was simply “no way” Tom Horn would have killed that boy.  First, he made his statement while drunk, making it inadmissible even in Wyoming.  Even the Apache warrior Geronimo discounted Horn’s guilt.

During a mock trial in 1993, a Cheyenne jury acquitted Horn.  Well, it came ninety years too late — but that’s what happens to a defendant when everyone fears him. The debate continues.


  1. Ball, L. D.  Tom Horn in Life and Legend.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2014.
  2. Carlson, C.  Tom Horn: Blood on the Moon – Dark History of the Murderous Cattle Detective.  Glendo Press, 2001.
  3. Gatewood, C. B.  LT. Charles Gatewood & His Apache Wars Memoir.  University of Nebraska Press, 2005.
  4. Horn, T. and John C. Coble.  Life of Tom Horn: Government Scout and Interpreter.  Smith-Brooks Publishing, 1904.
  5. Krakel, D.  The Saga of Tom Horn: The Story of a Cattleman’s War.  Powder River Publishing, 1954.
  6. Nickell, P. G.  The Family Tom Horn Destroyed.  Real West, December 1986.


[1] In 1870, the annual base salary for a lawman was $200.00.  He made his money (up to $4,000.00 a year) by collecting a percentage of the fees assessed for such things as subpoenas, warrants, making arrests, serving court papers, issuing licenses and permits, and collecting taxes. 

[2] Charles Angelo Siringo (1855 – 1928) was a Texas-born stockman, lawman, detective, and bounty hunter who worked with Tom Horn in the Denver office of Pinkerton.  Charlie admired Horn but was always wary of the fact that Tom Horn had a worrisome dark soul.  Siringo is best known for infiltrating the outlaw gang known as Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch.  Charlie said of Cassidy, “He was the shrewdest and most daring outlaw of the present age.”

[3] This Jim Miller was no relation to the famed assassin of the same name.

[4] Whether true or not, it was not unusual for cattlemen to make accusations against sheep ranchers.  This same issue was what started the Pleasant Valley War.

[5] Miss Kimmell was aware of the feud between the Miller and Nickell families — and that some of this animosity played out among the Miller-Nickell children.

[6] Joe LeFors also played a role in the Wilcox Train Robbery investigation.

[7] To my knowledge, LeFors never had Horn make a written statement or sign any confession so that in the courtroom, it amounted to oral testimony by a lawman without the corroboration of Horn’s signature attesting to what LeFors said that he said.  There is also a question about the admissibility of a statement taken while under the influence of alcohol.  Noted lawman/investigator Charlie Siringo opined that LeFors was at best incompetent, and at worst, criminally so.  LeFors may have been as competent as James Comey in 2019.   

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Military, American Southwest, Apache Indians, Arizona Territory, Cheyenne, Colorado, Corruption, Gunfights and such, History, Indian Territory, Indian War, Montana, Nevada, Northwest Territory, Oklahoma, Outlaws, Pioneers, Politicians, Range War, Texas, Utah, Wyoming | 4 Comments

Looking Back at Cordell Hull

I first heard the name Cordell Hull in the World War II film Tora, Tora, Tora.  Hull, of course, was the Secretary of State during the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt.  In the film, Cordell Hull was played by actor George Macready, Jr.  The two men even looked similar.

Secretary Hull

Hull is an interesting character.  No other Secretary of State served as long as he did — nearly twelve years in office.  Politically, he was known as a killer.  He would destroy anyone who got in his way and not give it a second thought.

Born in 1871, Cordell Hull was part of a family with a long history of Tennessee politics.  For most of Tennessee’s history, feuding was commonplace.  During one of these feuds, during the American Civil War, someone shot Cordell’s father, William Paschal Hull, in the face.  William survived the assassination attempt.  After the war, William Hull tracked down the assailant and killed him.  This is the man most responsible for how Cordell Hull (and his four brothers were raised).

Hull, like his brothers, was born in a log cabin in Olympus, Tennessee.  It was a common occurrence in 1871.  Nearly everyone lived in a log cabin.  Hull’s mother was a descendant of Isaac Riley, who was granted two hundred acres of land in Pickett County in recognition for his Revolutionary War service, and also ancestor Samuel Wood, an Englishman from Leicestershire who fought on the side of the American cause.

Cordell attended college for a year (1889-1890), afterward serving as the chairman of the Democratic Party in Clay County, Tennessee, and then passed the Tennessee State Bar after graduating from the Cumberland School of Law.  Hull was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1893, serving until 1897.  During the Spanish-American War, he served as a captain in the Tennessee volunteer infantry.  From 1903 – 1907, Hull served as a local judge until he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served for a total of twenty-two years.  During that time, he became an influential member of the Ways and Means Committee and claimed responsibility for the federal income tax law (1913) and the Inheritance Tax (1916).

After Hull’s defeat in the election of 1920, he served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and was one of several presidential candidates in 1928.  Hull and Albert Gore, Sr., the father of former Vice President Al Gore, Jr., formed a close political relationship in the 1930s.  Historians give Hull credit for the election of Al Gore, Sr., to the U.S. Congress in 1938.

Cordell Hull was elected to the Senate in 1930 but resigned in 1933 to accept Franklin Roosevelt’s nomination as U.S. Secretary of State.  Hull’s primary focus as Secretary of State was to increase foreign trade and lower tariffs.   President Roosevelt personally handled the matter of the United States’ role in World War II by passing Hull and dealing directly with Hull’s under-secretary, B. Sumner Welles.  Threatened by Welles’ relationship with the president, Hull effectively destroyed Welles’ career by threatening to expose him as a homosexual.[1]

During Hull’s tenure as Secretary of State, there were several minor “flaps” that dragged him and his office into the public eye, including a shouting match between New York Mayor La Guardia and the government of Adolf Hitler, which quickly turned anti-Semitic, and another terse exchange of messages when the German government referred to American women as prostitutes.

Hull also engaged in a famous dialog with Eduardo Hay, Mexico’s foreign minister, over the issue of Mexico’s nationalization of farms in Mexico, through which certain Americans lost their land in Mexico without compensation.  What evolved was the so-called “Hull Formula,” which even today remains controversial (particularly within Latin American countries).  Most such countries subscribe to the Calvo Doctrine.[2]

Historians give much credit to Franklin Roosevelt for his so-called Good Neighbor Policy, but the adoption of improved relations with Latin American countries actually began in the Hoover administration.  Under Roosevelt, Cordell Hull took Hoover’s work, expanded on it, and FDR took credit for it.  In any case, contemporary scholars credit the Good Neighbor Policy as having prevented Nazi subterfuge in Latin America during World War II (excepting Argentina, of course).  Additionally, Secretary Hull and President Roosevelt strived to maintain relations with the Vichy government, which Hull credited with allowing French forces under General Henri Giraud to join allied forces in the North African and subsequent campaigns in Germany and Italy.

Roosevelt also preferred that Cordell Hull handle formal statements with foreign governments, notably with the Imperial Japanese government, before and after Japan’s Pearl Harbor attack.  Notably, Hull received news of the attack outside his office.  When Hull returned to his office, he found the Japanese Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura and special envoy Saburo Kurusu waiting to see him.  They had a fourteen-part message that officially notified the U.S. government of a breakdown in negotiations.  But the U.S. military had broken the Japanese codes, and Hull already knew the message’s content.  Hull famously exploded, saying … In all my fifty years of public service, I have never seen such a document that was more crowded with infamous falsehood and distortion.

But Cordell Hull was controversial in his own right.  He made no effort to hide his contempt for Charles De Gaulle, and he assumed an antisemitic position toward European Jews in late 1939.  Hull strenuously advised Roosevelt to prevent the S.S. St. Louis from reaching port in the United States, thereby preventing just under a thousand Jewish passengers from requesting political asylum in the United States.  As a result, some academics argue, Nazis ultimately murdered 254 of the Jewish passengers Hull sent back to Europe.

Hull’s position, stated most emphatically to Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, was that the passengers could not legally be issued tourist visas because they had no home addresses in their country of origin.  Moreover, Hull insisted that the U.S. had no role in resolving this Jewish problem.  Whether Hull realized it (or not), Morgenthau spoke for his long-time friend, Franklin Roosevelt.

Later, in the fall of 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt attempted to bypass Hull’s refusal vis-à-vis Jewish refugees aboard a Portuguese ship, S.S. Quanza, to obtain U.S. visas.  Eleanor Roosevelt’s efforts permitted around 100 (of 327 passengers) to enter the United States.

In another incident, when American Jews attempted to raise money to prevent the murder of Romanian Jews, the State Department stepped in to block all such efforts.  According to Ruth Gruber, “In wartime, to send money out of the United States, two government agencies had to sign a simple release: the Treasury Department under Henry Morgenthau, and the State Department under Secretary Cordell Hull.  Morgenthau signed immediately.  The State Department delayed, delayed, and delayed, as more Jews died in the Transnistria camps.”[3]

In 1940, Jewish representatives in the U.S.A. lodged an official complaint against the discriminatory policies of the Hull State Department.  The result of these protests was fatal because Secretary Hull gave orders to every American Consulate (worldwide) forbidding the issuance of visas to any Jews.  When Jewish members of congress petitioned President Roosevelt directly, asking him to permit the admission of 20,000 European Jewish children into the United States, Roosevelt refused to respond.

In 1945, Cordell Hull was the architect and underlying force behind the creation of the United Nations Organization.  For these efforts, he was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace.  In 2004, former Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold published Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos.  Gold was highly critical of the UN’s moral relativism in the face of occasional support of genocide and terrorism.  He contends that the UN has become diluted to the point where only 75 of its 184 member states were “free democracies.”

Gold emphasizes that the UN today, as a whole, is more amenable to the requirements of fascist dictatorships.  As an illustration of this hijacking, critics of the UN point to the fact that the UN General Assembly held a moment of silence in honor of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-Il following his death in 2011 — but failed to offer similar recognition for Vaclav Havel, an important anti-fascist dissident in the Czech Republic.

Today, there is much doubt that Cordell Hull warrants any recognition for the monster he helped create in 1945 and an equal number of questions about whether he deserves any accolades as one of the pilots of America’s ship of state.

Due to his failing health, Cordell Hull resigned from his post on 30 November 1944.   Upon Hull’s departure from the State Department, Roosevelt said he was “the one person in all the world who has done his most to make this great peace plan (the United Nations) an effective fact.”  Right.  I’m sure the millions of people murdered in their beds throughout the fourth world nations of Africa fail to see the value of Hull’s efforts.

Cordell Hull died on 23 July 1955 at his home in Washington, D.C.  He was 83 years old.


  1. Hull, C.  The Papers of Cordell Hull.  Two volumes.  Hodder & Stoughton, 1948.
  2. Dalleck, R.  Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932 – 1945.  Oxford University Press, 1979.
  3. Pratt, J. W.  Cordell Hull, 1933 – 44.  U.S. Congress, 1964.
  4. Gellman, I. F.  Secret Affairs: FDR, Cordell Hull, and Sumner Welles.  Enigma Books, 2002.


[1] Welles had a long and distinguished career as a diplomat beginning in 1914 under the administration of Woodrow Wilson.  Welles specialized in Latin American affairs and served in several diplomatic posts until pushed out of service by Calvin Coolidge, who believed that Welles’ homosexuality would not best serve the interests of the United States.  Franklin Roosevelt gave Welles another chance.  After attending a funeral in Huntsville, Alabama, and returning to Washington, D.C., Welles solicited sex from two Negro porters.  Information of this incident reached Hull, who made sure that the information was presented to certain members of the U.S. Senate and the Director, FBI — J. Edgar Hoover … himself a closet homosexual.  Although Hoover maintain file cabinets of information on Welles (and others), he never released any of that information to the American public.

[2] The Calvo Doctrine is a foreign policy principle that holds that jurisdiction in international investment disputes lies with the country in which the investment is located.  The Calvo Doctrine stood in contrast to historical rules governing foreign investment which held that foreign investors could appeal expropriation decisions by a foreign government in their home country.  The Calvo Doctrine proposed to prohibit diplomatic protection or armed intervention before local resources were exhausted. 

[3] Ruth Gruber, Inside of Time: My Journey from Alaska to Israel.  Open Road Media, 2010. 

Posted in Depression Era, History, Holocaust, Jews, Latin America, Politicians, Tennessee, World War II | 2 Comments

The Council House Fight


Between 1700-1875, the Comanche, Kiowa, Wichita, Caddo, Bidai, Karankawa, Eastern Pueblo, and Apache Indians dominated a massive swath of land in the area of present-day Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  It was called the Comancheria.  It was also the unchallenged domain of the fiercest society of warriors that ever existed on the backs of horses.  They called themselves Numunuu; everyone else called them Comanche (enemy).  How violent were these people?  Their reputation was enough to terrify Spaniards from wanting to settle in Coahuila y Tejas for nearly 300 years.

Following the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Spanish authorities in New Spain realized that the Spanish Crown could not legitimately claim lands they did not control through human settlements.  Land that the Spanish did not populate was land “for the taking” by the French or British.  France’s agreement to sell Louisiana to the Americans in 1803 did not reduce tensions within the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

In 1819, the United States and Spain signed the Adams-Onis Treaty, which ceded Florida to the United States in exchange for the U.S. recognition of Spanish boundaries.  The treaty also allowed the Spanish Crown to focus on the independence movements throughout Latin America.

Late in 1820, a failed American businessman named Moses Austin seized upon an idea of a free trade arrangement with the government of New Spain.  He traveled to San Antonio to begin negotiations in an enterprise that might improve his economic situation.  Austin’s primary intention was to create a trading venture on the coast of Texas to allow the United States to trade with New Spain.  He submitted a formal petition to Governor Antonio Maria Martinez, seeking permission to bring 300 families to a port in Texas.  Austin assured the governor these settlers would be former subjects of Spain (from Missouri) and would be willing to defend Tejas against foreign enemies.

Much transpired in Texas between 1820 and 1840: Mexico achieved its independence from New Spain and then embarked on the complicated process of sorting out political differences to establish a new Republic.  But that wasn’t the only thing going on in Mexico and Texas.

In 1833, Josiah Walbarger rode with five others near the present site of Austin, Texas, when they came under heavy attack by Comanche Indians.  Walbarger’s companions were murdered, and their bodies mutilated; Josiah was scalped while still alive and left for dead.  According to Josiah’s brother, this incident was the first incident between Texians and Comanches; it was the beginning of the bloodiest era of the American Southwest.

In 1836, a Comanche and Kiowa war party numbering around 300 braves attacked the Parker community (near present-day Mexia, Texas).  John Parker and most of the men, lacking sufficient knowledge of the Comanche, worked in the adjoining field unprotected.  The Indians slaughtered the men, kidnapped Cynthia Ann Parker, and Rachel Plummer (and five others), and destroyed the fortification.  While in captivity, Rachel gave birth to a half-cast child.  When the child was six months old, an Indian brave took the child from its mother and murdered it by dragging it behind a horse.

Also, in 1836, those loyal Spanish settlers, known as Texians, declared their Independence from Mexico — which began a permanent disconnect between Texas and the people of Mexico.

In 1838, Comanches kidnapped Matilda Lockhart and four Putnam children from a field surrounding the settlement.  During the year of her captivity, Matilda continually suffered physical (burning her body and the bottom of her feet with hot irons) and sexual abuse.  When she finally returned to her family a year later, Matilda was a physical and mental wreck.  She died within two years of her release.

In that same year, a ten-man survey party began their work near New Braunfels.  One of the men, an experienced frontiersman, disgusted that the party had become too careless of their safety, left the group.  He later found the entire survey group murdered.  One man named Beatty had managed to carve his name into the base of a tree before he died.



Neolithic people banded together in support groups, but all such groups were sized to facilitate the group’s survival.  In most cases, the size of these human groups was between 40-60 people.  Above that number, people were encouraged to leave the band to form a new group.  There was no one leader of tribes and bands; it was a shared responsibility between elders, shamans, hunters, and war leaders.  But the Comanche (as with most Indian groups) were independent-minded people.  No chief could force anyone to do anything they didn’t want to do.  The only consequence of refusing to abide by an elder’s wishes was an exile from the tribe or band.

Although bound together in various cultural and political ways, Comanche bands were not responsible for any formalized unified authority.  Texians didn’t understand this about the Comanche.  In their minds, a chief was a supreme leader, a chief spoke for all Comanche.  Nothing was further from the truth.  There were at least 12 divisions of the Comanche, with as many as 50 independent roaming bands.  In the absence of a centralized authority, no Comanche chief could guarantee the safe return of a white hostage held by another band.

For ten or so years, the Comanche fought against their enemy, the Apache.  They raided Mexican haciendas and Texian settlements.  They suffered the effects of warriors lost in battle and from debilitating European disease.  It was enough to want to start talks with the white eyes.

Seeking Peace

On 10 January 1840, three Comanche emissaries surprised everyone in San Antonio by walking into the city and announcing that they wanted to arrange peace with the whites.  These emissaries met with Colonel Henry W. Karnes, who had served during the Texas War of Independence as Sam Houston’s spymaster.  Karnes was 28 years old.

The emissaries released one white boy to Karnes — a measure of good faith.  He was the Putnam lad.  The Indians informed Karnes that they would return in 23 days to negotiate peace with the Texians.  Karnes listened to what they had to say and agreed to meet again at the prescribed time, but he also admonished these men that no lasting peace would be possible until the Comanche returned their white captives.  Karnes estimated that the Comanche held 13-16 white prisoners.

Karnes promptly notified Secretary War, 37-year old Albert Sidney Johnson, of the impending negotiation.  Johnson ordered Karnes to detain the Indians once they arrived and retain them in custody until the Comanche returned all white people to their families.

The Fight

On 19 March, the powerful Eastern Comanche Chief Muguara (also: Mukwooru) (translation, Spirit Talker) led 65 people into San Antonio, including 12 other chiefs, their women and children, and warriors.  The Indians were dressed in their finest clothing to present their best appearance.  Chief Muguara wanted most Texian recognition of the Comancheria as the Indian’s dominion.[1]

The Comanche brought along a captive female, 16-year old Matilda Lockhart, taken in 1838.  Matilda had been sold to several Indian men.  Mary Maverick, the wife of Sam Maverick, cared for Matilda once Muguara turned her over.  Maverick testified that the Indians burned off Matilda’s nose in addition to other disgusting abuses.  The girl was an absolute mess.

Muguara was upset because the Texians did not offer him guns and ammunition for Miss Lockhart; he needed provisions to continue raiding.  Karnes wasn’t buying it, and he was none too happy about the condition of Matilda Lockhart.

Colonel Hugh McLeod questioned Matilda about what she knew of the thirteen kidnapped whites that Muguara promised to trade for provisions — as part of the peace negotiations.  Matilda informed the Texians that she knew of the existence of Mrs. Dolly Wester, her children, Booker and Patsy, Thomas Pierce, a child named Lyons, and the three remaining Putnam children.

When it was clear that Muguara was stalling, Karnes and McLeod believed that the Comanche negotiated in bad faith.  Karnes had made it clear that the Comanche must release all abducted whites before the council meeting.  The Comanche, however, had a different view.  Comanche, who held those captives, had never agreed to anything of the sort — and especially not to meet with Texians.

When the Indian delegation failed to produce the expected number of captives, Texians escorted its members to the jailhouse and retained them there until the meeting began at the Council House.  The Council House was a one-story stone building adjoining the jail at Main Plaza and Calabosa (Market) Street.[2]  Karnes, armed with the knowledge of Matilda Lockhart’s testimony that she had seen 15 other white captives at the Comanche’s main camp a few days earlier.  She reported that the Indians wanted to see how high a price they could get for their hostages.  The Indian plan was to bring in the remaining captives one or two at a time to maximize their value.

The Texians demanded to know where the other captives were.  Chief Muguara, the Comanche spokesman, informed the Texians that various bands held the other prisoners.  He assured Karnes that he was confident that the other captives would be released in time, in exchange for a significant amount of supplies, of course — including rifles, ammunition, and blankets.

Chief Muguara was undoubtedly fluent in Spanish but less fluent in English.  When he was finished speaking his terms in Spanish, which was translated into English, he finally spoke in English, saying to the Texians, “Now how do you like that answer?”  Neither Karnes nor any other leading Texian liked it at all.  Texian militia, summoned to enter the Council House, stationed themselves at intervals along the walls.  When the Comanche could not or would not promise to return the remaining captives forthwith, Karnes announced that the Texians would hold these chiefs as hostages until the Comanche returned all remaining white prisoners.

The interpreter hesitated before relaying this message.  He warned Karnes that the Comanche would attempt to escape by fighting if he delivered this message.  Karnes ordered him to relay the message.  When the interpreter had given the notice, he quickly left the room.

As soon as the Comanche understood the Texian’s words, they arose and began attacking the militia and fighting their way out of the Council House.  Texian militia opened fire at point-blank range, killing both Indians and whites.  Upon hearing the commotion inside the Council House, Comanche women and children waiting outdoors began shooting arrows indiscriminately at white people.  At least one Texian spectator was killed.

When a small number of warriors managed to escape from the Council House, all of the Comanche began to flee.  Texian militia in pursuit opened fire, also haphazardly, also killing and wounding both Comanche and Texians.  Armed civilians joined the battle.  Every Comanche Indian joined the fight, including women and children.  Gunsmoke created a haze on the streets and near buildings.  Everyone was getting shot.

Inside the Council House, all of the Indians drew their concealed weapons.  Militia Lieutenant Dunnington drew his pistol to fire but was shot by an arrow from the principal squaw, who dressed similar to a warrior.  Her pull was so strong the arrow passed through his body.  Dunnington stumbled backward but managed to get a shot off before dying.  His bullet passed through her forehead and her brains splattered against the walls.  He then fell over and expired twenty minutes later.  Dunnington’s last words were, “I killed him, but I believe he has killed me too.”  Dunnington never knew a woman had killed him.

Colonel McLeod’s report, prepared on 20 March 1840, claimed that of the 65 members of the Comanche delegation, 35 died violently (30 adult males, three women, and two children), and 29 were taken captive (27 women and children and two elderly men).  One renegade escaped, and five unaccounted for, presumed to have escaped.  Seven Texians died, including a judge, a sheriff, and Dunnington, and ten more received severe wounds, including Old Paint Caldwell.


The day after the fight, a single Comanche woman was released to return to her camp and report that the Comanche prisoners would be released if the Comanche released the 15 Americans and several Mexicans who were known to be captives.  The Texians gave the Comanche 12 days to return the captives.

On 26 March, Mrs. John Webster walked into San Antonio with her three-year-old.  She had been a Comanche captive for 19 months and had just escaped, leaving her 12-year-old son with the Indians.  Two days later, a band of Indians arrived on the outskirts of San Antonio.  Leaving the bulk of his warriors outside the city, Chief Howling Wolf and one other man rode into San Antonio and yelled insults at the white citizens, who told him to go and find soldiers if he wanted a fight.  Howling Wolf thereafter left town and did not return.

To suggest that the Comanche were incensed by the Council House fight would be a gross understatement.  Of the sixteen or so hostages the Texians seemed determined to recover, the Comanche tortured to death 13, including Matilda Lockhart’s six-year-old sister, who they roasted to death.  The Comanche spared only three whites — and only because they adopted them into the tribe.  These murders were the Comanche’s answer to the Texian ultimatum.

On 3 April, another Comanche band appeared in San Antonio.  They brought Booker Webster, a five-year-old girl, and a Mexican boy.  From Booker Webster, the Texians learned of the murder of 13 white hostages.  These were the three adopted whites whom the Comanche spared.

The Comanche were both shocked and incensed by the perfidy of the Texians at the Council House.  Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna organized what became known as the Great Raid of 1840.  Nearly a thousand Comanche descended upon the Texian settlements, destroying the colonies, taking horses and cattle, everything the Indians could carry, killing 25-30 white settlers, and taking additional white hostages.  One of those was Mrs. Crosby, a granddaughter of Daniel Boone.  Her captors later murdered Crosby.

Buffalo Hump’s assault on East Texas culminated in the Battle of Plum Creek.


In 1890, author J. W. Walbarger published an account of more than 250 Indian attacks between 1821-1875.  Responding to criticism of eastern writers who censored Texans for their treatment of the Indians, Walbarger wrote, “Such writers probably never saw a wild Indian in their lives — never had their fathers, mothers, brothers, or sisters butchered by them in cold blood; never had their little sons and daughters carried away by them into captivity, to be brought up as savages, and taught to believe that robbery was meritorious, and cold-blooded murder a praiseworthy act, and certainly they never themselves had their own limbs beaten, bruised, burnt, and tortured with fiendish ingenuity by ‘ye gentle salvages,’ nor their scalps ruthlessly torn from their bleeding heads, for if the latter experience had been theirs, and they had survived the pleasant operations (as some have done in Texas) we are inclined to think the exposure of their naked skulls to the influences of wind and weather might have so softened them as to permit the entrance of a little common sense.”


  1. Anderson, G. C.  The Conquest of Texas: Ethnic Cleansing in the Promised Land.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2005.
  2. Brice, D. E.  The Great Comanche Raid: Boldest Indian Attack of the Texas Republic.  Eaken Press, 1987.
  3. Noyes, S.  Los Comanches: The Horse People, 1751-1845.  University of New Mexico Press, 1993.
  4. Wilbarger, J. W.  Indian Depredations in Texas: Reliable Accounts of Battles, Wars, Adventures, Forays, Murders, Massacres, etc., etc., Together with Biographical Sketches of many of the most noted Indian fighters and frontiersmen of Texas.  Available online as a PDF, 1890.


[1] Three Comanche chiefs did not attend: Buffalo Hump, Yellow Wolf, and Santa Anna — the fiercest war chiefs.

[2] All Indian tribes had their own cultural traditions, but one that appears consistent across several Indian cultures involved protocols for holding council meetings.  Men might raise their voices and storm out of the meeting, but under no circumstance would Indians who attended council in peace resort to violence while in council.  To do so was a supreme affront to “civilized” behavior. 

Posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Comanche, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Indian War, Mexican Revolution, Politicians, Texas, Texas Rangers | 6 Comments

Origins of the American Revolution


What most Americans know about their own country’s history is scarily nescient — although, to be fair, the fault for this lies at the feet of dismally educated teachers who offer their students the pablum of historical reinvention — and citizens who are too lazy to find out for themselves the truth of actual events.

Some texts suggest that the problems between American colonists and the British government began in the 1770s, surrounded by a popular refrain, “no taxation without representation.”  The facts tell us another story.  American colonists were represented in parliament — through colonial legislatures and governors.  The facts also tell us that the “trouble” began in the early 1760s, following the French and Indian Wars when the British government began taxing the colonists to help pay a fair share of the war debt in the colonies.

We can say without fear of contradiction that the British were very poor parents.  Through their salutary neglect, British policy toward the American colonies (from early to mid-18th century) under which trade regulations for the colonies were laxly enforced and colonial affairs largely ignored — and remained so for as long as the colonies remained loyal to the British government and contributed to the economic profitability of the homeland.  But when the British began to exert a tighter grasp on the colonies out of economic necessity, their petulant children started “acting out.”

The disloyal opposition

These spoiled children began dressing up as if they were anti-heroes from Marvel Comics and calling themselves The Sons of Liberty.  It is only partly true, though.  Actually, the first dissidents of British tax policy referred to themselves as The Loyal Nine.  This group of men included John Avery, Henry Bass (cousin of Sam Adams), Thomas Chase, Steven Cleverly, Thomas Crafts, Benjamin Edes, Joseph Field, John Smith, and George Trott.  These men were business owners and tradesmen.  Joseph Field was a ship’s captain.

The Loyal Nine periodically met with other (unaffiliated) Boston citizens such as Samuel Adams, John Adams, Chase Avery, Benjamin Church (a British spy), William Cooper, John Hancock, James Otis, Paul Revere, and Henry Wells.  Since none of these men were clever enough to devise a name for their treasonous organization, Isaac Barré (an accomplished military officer, a member of parliament, and a staunch supporter of the American colonists) did it for them.  But whether Barré was pro-colonist or someone who derived great pleasure from tweaking the nose of Prime Minister William Pitt (the younger), we cannot say.[1]  We know that Barré first coined the term Sons of Liberty, and in time, chapters developed throughout the northeast — in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

Parliament had little direct involvement in the American colonies because most of the colonies had royal origins, either through chartered trading companies (i.e., the Virginia Company) or direct royal control.  But the colonies had legislative assemblies, governors, courts, and through these three entities, a conduit to the Parliament in England.  Granted, it may not have been an ideal arrangement, but the interests of British colonists were nevertheless adequately represented.  One begins to suspect that the issue of British taxation without representation was little more than a convenient excuse for revolutionary thuggery — designed more to protect a robust smuggling syndicate than to achieve the blessings of liberty.  Some have suggested that if these men were seeking freedom, it was the liberty to commit crimes against lawful authority.

The irony of this situation is that when the United States government was fully formed, it established laws, policies, and enforcement mechanisms nearly identical to those imposed by British parliamentary tradition.  Paradoxically, Americans found no better representation in Congress than they did in Parliament.

Patriots or Psychopaths

The Boston chapter of The Sons of Liberty met under cover of darkness — as all thieves must do, often beneath that auguste Liberty Tree — the stately Elm in Hanover Square.  On the night of 14 January 1766, John Adams unobtrusively stepped into a tiny room in a Boston distillery to meet several members of a radical secret society.  He recorded the event in his own hand: Spent the evening with the sons of liberty at their apartment in Hanover Square near the tree of liberty.

Scholars say that John Adams and The Sons of Liberty shared punch and biscuits with cheese and some tobacco as they discussed their opposition to The Stamp Act.  The colonists were furious about the tax — even though they benefitted most from the protections afforded them by the British Army against the French and their heathen allies.  The legal scholar Adams resisted the tax by circulating petitions, offering speeches, and writing essays.

The Sons of Liberty had no hesitation in threatening the life of the King’s stamp man — threats of violence seconded only by actual violence is the ultimate denial of a man’s liberty.  No doubt, the Sons of Liberty were only interested in their freedom, not to be confused with their neighbor’s rights.  John Adams reconciled himself to a combination of high-minded arguments and threats of intimidation, even threats of death or serious injury, to achieve the aims of those sons.  Adams gave us his written assurances — he … heard no plots, no machinations from The Loyal Nine.  “Just gentlemanly chat.”

Long before any armed revolt, the Liberty Tree became Massachusetts’ most potent symbol of revolutionary esprit.  Of course, in those days, christening trees as liberty trees became quite fashionable in the colonies.  But as for the original, no one has seen it lately.  British soldiers chopped it down in 1775.

The American Revolution, however, was a building process.  It took time to transform colonial America into a battleground, but The Loyal Nine and The Sons of Liberty were dedicated to that task.  The self-described patriots would war with Parliamentarians, they would war with their enforcers (the Red Coats), and they would war against those whose loyalty to the British crown remained true.  Skirmishes between colonists and soldiers — and between patriots and loyal colonists — were increasingly common.  Some claim that the revolution was the first time, but not the last time that Americans went to war with one another.  Others argue that Americans have always been at war with each other.

In 1770, the city of Boston was the capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay — a vital shipping town and the center of resistance to unpopular acts of taxation by the British Parliament.  It had been going on since the 1760s, with the colonists claiming that acts of Parliament violated their natural rights, their charter, and the constitutional rights of British subjects in the foreign colonies.  In 1768, the Massachusetts House of Representatives began a campaign against the British acts.  They did this by sending a petition to King George III asking for the repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act.  The House also sent The Massachusetts Circular Letter to other colonial assemblies asking them to join the resistance movement, calling for a boycott of any merchant importing affected goods.

Massachusetts’ Colonial Secretary, Lord Hillsborough, was thunderstruck by the assembly’s actions.  He dispatched a communiqué to all other colonial governors instructing them, for their own good, to dissolve any colonial assemblies responding to the circular.  He also directed the Governor of Massachusetts, Francis Bernard, to order the Massachusetts House to rescind their letter.  The House refused.

Boston’s chief customs officer, Charles Paxton, wrote to Hillsborough asking for military support; he had much to fear because the gangsters calling themselves The Sons of Liberty would not hesitate to kill him if they thought they could get away with it.  Hillsborough dispatched Commodore Samuel Hood with a 50-gun warship, HMS Romney.  On 10 June, customs officials seized the merchant ship Liberty (owned by John Hancock), alleging that the ship was heavily involved in smuggling operations.  This was undoubtedly true, but it didn’t stop Bostonians from rioting.  There were other grievances, as well.  Customs officials wisely fled to Castle William (later, Fort Independence).  Then, Lord Hillsborough instructed General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief of North America, to “send such forces as you think necessary to Boston.”  The first of four regiments came ashore on 1 October 1768.[2]

Scurrilous Acts

Physical altercations between colonists and Boston customs officials were frequent.  Customs officials were only doing their jobs — local citizens hated them for it — and created opportunities at every turn for more clashes.  One such opportunity occurred on 22 February 1770 when The Sons of Liberty arranged a demonstration outside a store owned by Theophilus Lillie, a loyalist.  The store was next to the home of Customs Official Ebenezer Richardson (in Boston’s north end).  One young lad, Christopher Seider (b. 1758), went to watch the demonstration.  The crowd began throwing rocks, one or more of which broke a window of Richardson’s house and struck and injured Mrs. Richardson.  This was when Ebenezer fired his weapon into the crowd, the munition striking Christopher Seider in the chest and arm.  Christopher, 11 years old, died that night.[3]

Sam Adams, who had arranged for the demonstration, further arranged for Christopher’s funeral, ensuring that more than 2,000 people in Boston attended the interment.  Seider’s death roused the local population, and it was timed perfectly in advance of the Boston Massacre eleven days later.

On the snowy and frigid evening of 5 March 1770, British Private Hugh White was detailed to guard the Custom House on King’s Street.  He was a lone soldier, standing guard outside a building on a cold night.  White was a veteran of eleven years of service.  He was thirty years old.  Around 8 p.m., a crowd gathered outside the Customs House and began harassing Private White.  They insulted him and threatened him with violence. 

At some point, when these civilians invaded Private White’s space, the soldier swung his heavy rifle, striking Edward Garrick on the side of his head.  The crowd claimed that the soldier had attacked a peaceful civilian without provocation; the mob was immediately energized.  Word spread through the streets like wildfire.  More people appeared to join in harassing and insulting Private White.  With people gathering and voices growing louder, the soldier climbed the steps toward the front entrance of the Customs House and loaded his weapon.  Private White warned the crowd he would fire if attacked.  The mob responded by throwing snowballs and chunks of ice at the soldier.  White called out for assistance.  Bells ringing throughout the town — usually a warning of fire — sent male citizens into the streets.

In response to White’s plea and fearing mass riots and the loss of the King’s money, the Guard Officer, Captain Thomas Preston, arrived on the scene with several soldiers and took a defensive position in front of the Custom House.  Worried that bloodshed was inevitable, some colonists reportedly pleaded with the soldiers to hold their fire as others dared them to shoot.  Preston later reported that a colonist warned him that the protestors planned to “carry off [White] from his post and probably murder him.”

The violence escalated when colonists began striking the soldiers with clubs and sticks.  Reports of what happened differ, but after someone supposedly shouted the word “fire,” a soldier fired his gun.  It was (and remains) unclear whether the discharge was intentional — I suspect it was not.

Once the first shot rang out, other soldiers fired, killing five colonists — including Crispus Attucks, a mixed-race dock worker — and wounding six others.  British officials placed Captain Preston and his guard force under arrest within a few hours.  By then, the colonial propaganda machine was in full swing.  John Hancock and Samuel Adams wasted no time publishing their version of “what happened.”  As tensions rose, British officers demonstrated restraint by withdrawing British troops from the city to Castle William.

It took seven months to arraign Captain Preston and his guard for the murder and injury of townspeople.  The problem was that no attorney in Boston was interested in defending the soldiers — save one.  Under British law, the soldiers were entitled to the presumption of innocence and legal representation.  American patriot John Adams was the one attorney who decided to risk his reputation by providing that defense.

Adams’s first strategy was to convince the judge that the soldiers could never receive a fair trial with Bostonians on the jury.  The judge agreed.  Non-Bostonians would hear the case.  During Captain Preston’s trial, Adams argued that confusion was rampant on the night of 5 March.  He proved that eyewitnesses provided contradictory evidence on whether Captain Preston had ordered his men to open fire.  Conflicting testimony means reasonable doubt, and the jury acquitted Preston of all charges.  As to the remaining soldiers, all claimed the right of “self-defense” and were acquitted of murder, but two soldiers — Hugh Montgomery and Matthew Kilroy—were found guilty of manslaughter.  Officials branded their thumbs as first offenders per English law.  To Adams and the jury’s credit, the British soldiers received a fair trial despite the vitriol felt towards them and their country.

The Boston Massacre significantly impacted relations between the United Kingdom and its American colonies.  The British government was beginning to tire of the kerfuffle, and the colonists were growing weary of British rule.  At some point in the chain of circumstances, taxation without representation was no longer a significant issue.

Captain Preston later wrote about the incident: “None of them was a hero.  The victims were troublemakers who got more than they deserved.  The soldiers were professionals who shouldn’t have panicked.  The whole thing shouldn’t have happened.”


  1. Allison, R.J.  The Boston Massacre.  Applewood Books, 2006.
  2. Archer, R.  As if an Enemy’s Country: The British Occupation of Boston and the Origins of Revolution.  Oxford University Press, 2010.
  3. Middlekauff, R.  The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789.  Oxford University Press, 2007.
  4. Thompson, B.  Guts & Glory: The American Revolution.  Little, Brown & Company, 2017.


[1] Barré later became an adherent of Pitt’s policies but maintained close friendships with colonial merchants and shippers because they were the money-makers.

[2] All such events were duly reported throughout the colonies in the Journal of Occurrences. The authors may have been Sam Adams (then serving as Clerk of the House of Representatives) and William Cooper, Boston City’s clerk.

[3] Some scholars claim that eleven-year-old Christopher Seider was the first casualty of the American Revolution.

Posted in Antiquity, British Colonies, Colonial America, Corruption, Founding Fathers, History, Massachusetts, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Revolution | 6 Comments

José Cosme de Urrea y Elías González


There are several definitions for the word filibuster.  In the modern sense, a filibuster is a prolonged speech that obstructs progress in a legislative assembly while not technically contravening the required procedure.  In its historical context, a filibuster is someone engaging in unauthorized warfare against a foreign country.  It is derived from the Dutch word “vrijbuiter” (freebooter), a pillaging and plundering pirate or lawless adventurer.  The word for a freebooter, particularly an American pillager who mounted private military campaigns against the lawful authority of the Spanish Crown or the Mexican Republic, was “pirate.”

The penalty for piracy was death, often handed down with “no quarter.”


The “penal laws” of Ireland, enacted over several years beginning in 1695 with the Education Act, were intended to force Irish Catholics and dissenter protestants (planters and Quakers) to accept the authority of the Church of Ireland by restricting their political, religious, and commercial rights.  They included the Banishment Act of 1697, the Registration Act of 1704, the Popery Acts of 1704 and 1709, and the Disenfranchising Act of 1728.  The government removed most of these restrictions between 1778-1793, with a few remaining until 1829.

The force and effect of these restrictions compelled one notable Irishman to leave his homeland and move to Spain.  Hugh O’Conor was born in Dublin in 1732. He was a descendant of Toirdhealbhach Mór Ua Conchobhair (anglicized as Turlough Mór O’Conor), King of Connacht (1106-1156), and High King of Ireland (1120-1156). O’Conor became a citizen of Aragon and an officer in the Spanish Royal Army.  The Crown sent O’Conor to Cuba and later, to Mexico (New Spain) where he distinguished himself as a strategist and military commander.  Spain appointed O’Conor as captain-general and inspector for the Northern Territory and later as governor of Tejas.  He was the first governor to respond to Indian hostilities in and around San Antonio de Béxar.

In 1771, O’Conor became the military commander of Chihuahua and inspector-general of New Spain’s presidios.  Within a few years, he initiated a campaign against the murderous Apache.  As part of this campaign, O’Conor established the Presidio San Agustin del Tucsón in 1775, the first western protective structure in Tucsón, Arizona.

José Urrea

One of Tucsón’s more famous citizens was José Cosme de Urrea y Elias González, more commonly known as José Urrea, born on 19 March 1797 at the presidio in Tucsón, Province of Nuevo Navarre.  Despite his birth in the far northern frontier, Urrea had strong family ties to the Mexican state of Durango.  At ten years of age, Urrea entered Spanish military service as a cadet under the presidial company of San Rafael Buenavista.  Upon graduation in 1816, the Crown commissioned him a lieutenant.  His first taste of war occurred during the fighting at Jalisco and Michoacán during the Mexican War of Independence.

Mexico’s War of Independence was a troubling time for everyone.  It was a period when military officers changed their loyalties almost as often as they changed their socks, and even after having achieved their independence, not even the so-called intellectuals of Mexico were sure about what course to follow.  In 1821, Urrea supported the Plan of Iguala of Agustin de Iturbide, which announced that Mexico would become a constitutional monarchy, embrace Catholicism, and grant equality among Peninsulares and Creoles.[1]  In 1823, Urrea shifted his allegiance to Vicente Ramon Guerrero Saldaña, Iturbide’s executioner.

The government of Mexico promoted Urrea to captain in 1824, but he soon after resigned from the army and entered private life.  The next time we heard from Urrea was in 1829 when Guerrero became President of Mexico.  Urrea rejoined the army as a major and helped liberate the city of Durango, this time aligning himself with Antonio López de Santa Anna.[2]  During this fight, he sufficiently distinguished himself for another promotion to Colonel — and it probably helped somewhat that he had a keen sense of which way the political winds were blowing.  However, in 1835, when the state of Zacatecas rebelled against the centralist regime of Santa Anna, Urrea only reluctantly took part in the subjugation of that rebellion.[3]  Nevertheless, Urrea did accept El Presidenté Santa Anna’s promotion to brigadier general.

Mexican Rebellion

Having secured Urrea’s loyalty, Santa Anna sent him to Texas to deal with that rebellion.  General Urrea led 1,500 men into Matamoros, rested and resupplied them, and then continued toward San Patricio on 13 February 1836.  El Presidenté Santa Anna led his army across the Rio Bravo on 16 February.[4]  Urrea led his force across the Rio Bravo on 17 February.

On 21 February, Santa Anna arrived at the Medina River located southwest of San Antonio.  He intended to send General Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma’s cavalry across the river on the next day to begin a series of sorties against the Texians in San Antonio, but heavy rains converted the river into a torrent, making it impassable.  Santa Anna crossed the Medina on 23 February, entered San Antonio, and began the siege of the Alamo.

General Urrea arrived on the outskirts of San Patricio on 27 February.  Standing in his way was a small Texian force of 43 men under Frank W. Johnson.  Urrea attacked the Texians in the early morning hours, killing all but six men.  General Urrea lost five men: one killed, four wounded.  On 2 March, Urrea confronted the small force of Dr. James Grant at Agua Dulce, killing around 15 Texians and capturing six (of 53 total men).

Santa Anna’s orders to Urrea were to lead his troops along the Atascocita Road toward Goliad to protect Santa Anna’s southern flank, clear the Gulf Coast of all rebels, and control all ports.  Urrea achieved his objectives, but his support of Santa Anna was limited by time, distance, and enemy activity — notably, the Goliad Campaign.

At Goliad, also known as the Presidio La Bahia, Texian Colonel James Walker Fannin[5] worked with his volunteers to improve the presidio.  On 7 March, Fannin learned from Lewis Ayers that in the previous week, a group of Tejanos calling themselves the Victoriana Guards ransacked the town of Refugio (located 25 miles south of Goliad).  This activity was ostensibly a reaction to Mexico’s cancellation of the Constitution of 1824, but it may have also been thugs taking advantage of unsettling times.  Mr. Ayers’ wife, who lived in Refugio, was afraid to stay in the settlement owing to the approach of the Mexican Army and equally in fear of the thuggish behavior of the Victoriana Guards.  Fannin agreed to send troops to Refugio to help evacuate the settlers as soon as oxen and carts could become available.

On 11 March, Fannin dispatched Captain Amon B. King and 28 men to evacuate the Texians from Refugio.  They arrived in Refugio that night and camped at Mission Nuestra Senora del Refugio, where some Texian families had taken sanctuary.  The following morning, King led his troops to the ranch of Esteban Lopez, where the family of Lewis Ayers was staying.  King arrested six Tejanos he had heard were ransacking abandoned homes.  After he learned that other Tejanos were plundering homes about 8 miles south, King took half of his men on an unauthorized mission to pursue them.  They rode into an ambush staged by Captain de la Garza’s men and allied Karankawa Indians.  The Texians extricated themselves from the fight and returned to the Lopez ranch.  King escorted all of the families gathered there to the mission in Refugio.

General Urrea’s advance cavalry arrived in Refugio shortly after King and the families returned to the mission.  Riding with Urrea’s men were some of the Victoriana Guards — totaling around 100 men, who quickly surrounded the mission.  King dispatched a rider to Fannin, asking for reinforcements.  This was the same day that Fannin learned that the Alamo had fallen with the loss of all its defenders.

On 13 March, Fannin dispatched Lieutenant Colonel William Ward with 148 men (each man armed with 36 rounds of ammunition each) to Refugio.  Ward arrived on the same day, discovered the mission surrounded by Mexicans, and sent warning shots.  The Mexicans withdrew, but then Amon King refused to relinquish overall command to Colonel Ward.  Ward suggested that King assemble his men to help with the evacuation of the Texian families.  King refused and departed Refugio with his men to pursue the Mexican gangsters.  Ultimately, however, Urrea’s army forced King’s surrender, after which Urrea had him executed.

General Urrea then began to maneuver his force against Ward’s mission defense.  While casualty estimates vary, Colonel Ward’s men killed or wounded between 200-600 of Urrea’s men, suffering only five casualties to his men.  During a heavy rainstorm during the night of the 14th, Ward and most of his men abandoned the mission and passed through Mexican lines undetected.  When Urrea learned that the Texians had left the mission, he sent his army out looking for the escapees.  Ward and his men struggled through swamps and swollen creeks for several days.  Ultimately, Urrea’s Mexicans surrounded most of these men and marched them under guard to Goliad.

Colonel Fannin’s garrison at Goliad numbered 445 men (with nine artillery pieces).  On 19 March, Fannin led his men on a leisurely retreat from the presidio.  At Coleto Creek, Urrea’s forces under Lieutenant Colonel Portillo surrounded the Texians before they could reach a defensible position along the wooded creek.  Fannin formed a square with wagons placed in defensive positions.  Despite three separate attacks, Portillo’s men could not penetrate Fannin’s position, but Mexican sharpshooters began taking their toll.  Fannin was out of water and had no way to relieve the suffering of his wounded men.  This situation prompted Fannin to surrender his men early the following day.

The Journals

At this point, I must defer to General Urrea’s accounting of what then transpired.  In keeping with Spanish tradition, high-ranking Mexican officers maintained detailed diaries of their adventures.  Urrea was no exception.  According to what is purported to be General Urrea’s diary/journal, translated into the English language by historians associated with the “Sons of De Witt Colony,” this is how General Urrea recorded the execution of Colonel Fannin and his Texian garrison:


I returned to Victoria with the prisoners taken with Ward and received news at this place that eighty-two men had surrendered … with all their arms and munitions.  I sent scouts to Lavaca Lake and the stream bearing the same name as well as to that of La Navidad.  I dictated ten orders for the security of … the prisoners at Goliad, the establishment of hospitals, and the rebuilding of the fort there by the prisoners, excusing from this work only those who were officers.  I gave instructions also for all the forces with which I was to continue the campaign to join me, bringing [with them] the artillery and corresponding munitions.  Among the instructions given on this day, I ordered that a thorough investigation be undertaken to determine the views and principal aims that moved the officers who are our prisoners to take up arms.  The findings of this investigation are among my papers.

I spent the 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th in organizing my forces, equipment, and ammunition, and in drawing up many instructions for the security of the military posts that I was leaving on our rear, as well as for the better care of the wounded who have been up to now in the hands of a bad surgeon.  As among the prisoners, there were men skilled in all trades, I secured surgeons from among them who were very useful to us as well as the sick in the hospitals at Béxar, where I sent those that were needed.

On the 25th, I sent Ward and his companions to Goliad.  On the 27th, between nine and ten in the morning, I received a communication from Lieutenant Colonel Portilla, military commandant of that point, telling me that he had received orders from His Excellency, the general-in-chief, to shoot all prisoners and that he was making preparations to fulfill that order.

This order was received by Portilla at seven in the evening of the 26th, and although he notified me of the fact on the same date,  his communication did not reach me until after the execution had been carried out.  All the members of my division were distressed to hear this news, and I no less, being as sensitive as my companions who will bear testimony of my excessive grief.  Let a single one of them deny this fact!  More than 150 prisoners were with me escaped this terrible fate; also, those who surrendered … and the surgeons and hospital attendants were spared.  Those which I kept were very useful to me as sappers.

I have come to an incident that has attracted the attention of foreigners and nationals more than any other and for which there have not been lacking those who would hold me responsible, although my conduct in the affair was straightforward and unequivocal.  The orders of the general-in-chief with regard to fate decreed for prisoners were very emphatic.[6]

These orders always seemed to me harsh, but they were the inevitable result of the barbarous and inhuman decree which declared outlaws those whom it wished to convert into citizens of the Republic.  Strange inconsistency in keeping with the confusion that characterized the times!  I wished to elude these orders as far as possible without compromising my personal responsibility; and, with this object view, I issued several orders to Lieutenant Colonel Portilla, instructing him to use the prisoners for the rebuilding of Goliad.  From time on, I decided to increase the number of the prisoners there in the hope that their very number would save them, for I never thought the horrible spectacle of that massacre could take place in cold blood and without immediate urgency, a deed prescribed by the laws of war and condemned by the civilization of our country.

It was painful to me, also, that so many brave men should thus be sacrificed, particularly the much esteemed and fearless Fannin.  They doubtlessly surrendered, confident that Mexican generosity would not make their surrender useless, for, under any other circumstances, they would have sold their lives dearly, fighting to the last.  I had due regard for the motives that induced them to surrender, and for this reason, I used my influence with the general-in-chief to save them, if possible, from being butchered, particularly Fannin.

I received from His Excellency only a severe reply, repeating his previous order [see the previous footnote], doubtlessly dictated by cruel necessity.  Fearing, no doubt, that I might compromise him with my disobedience and expose him to accusations of his enemies, he transmitted his instructions directly to the commandant of Goliad, inserting a copy of the order to me.  What was done by the commandant is told in his diary.  Here, as well as in his communications, are seen the motives that made him act and the anguish which the situation caused him.  Even after this lamentable event, I still received a letter from the general-in-chief dated the 26th saying, “I say nothing regarding the prisoners, for I have already stated what their fate shall be when taken with arms in their hands.”

In view of the facts presented, and keeping in mind that while that tragic scene was being enacted in Goliad, I was in Guadalupe Victoria, where I received news of it several hours after the execution, what could I do to prevent it, especially if the orders were transmitted directly to that place?  This is to demand the impossible, and had I been in a position to disregard the order, it would have been a violent act of insubordination.  If they wish to argue that it was in my hand to have guaranteed the lives of those unfortunates by granting them a capitulation when they surrendered at Perdido, I will reply that it was not in my power to do it, that it was not honorable, either to arms of the nation or to myself, to have done so.  Had I granted them terms, I would have laid myself open to trial by a council of war, for my force being superior to that of the enemy on the 20th and my position more advantageous, I could not admit any proposals except a surrender at discretion, my duty being to continue fighting leaving the outcome to fate.  I believe that I acted in accordance with my duty, and I could not do otherwise.  Those who assert that I offered guarantees to those who surrendered speak without knowledge of the facts.


The separate testimony of Colonel Portillo, the commandant at Goliad, and the officer who carried out Santa Anna’s order appears to reinforce General Urrea’s journal.


March 26.  At seven in the evening, I received orders from General Santa Anna by special messenger, instructing me to execute at once all prisoners taken by force of arms agreeable to the general orders on the subject.  (I have the original order in my possession).  I kept the matter secret, and no one knew of it except Colonel Garay, to whom I communicated the order.  At eight o’clock, on the same night, I received a communication from General Urrea by special messenger in which among other things, he says, “Treat the prisoners well, especially Fannin.  Keep them busy rebuilding the town and erecting the fort.  Feed them with the cattle you will receive from Refugio.” What a cruel contrast in these opposite instructions!  I spent a restless night.

March 27.  At daybreak, I decided the carry out the orders of the general-in-chief because I considered them superior.  I assembled the whole garrison and ordered the prisoners, who were sleeping, to be awakened.  There were 445.  (The eighty that had been taken … and had, consequently, not borne arms against the government, were set aside).  The prisoners were divided into three groups, and each was placed in charge of an adequate guard, the first under Agustin Alcerrica, the second under Captain Luis Balderas, and the third under Captain Antonio Ramirez.  I gave instructions to these officers to carry out the orders of the supreme government and the general-in-chief.  This was immediately done.  There was a great contrast in the feelings of the officers and men.  Silence prevailed.  Sad at heart, I wrote to Gen. Urrea expressing my regret at having been concerned in so painful an affair.  I also sent an official account of what I had done to the general-in-chief. 


The Unraveling

Subsequently, Santa Anna decided to personally supervise the destruction of the Anglo-Texians — a decision taken, historians argue, because Urrea, the recipient of favorable press in Mexico City, had become a political threat.

Earlier in the year, Santa Anna appointed General Vicente Filisola as his Deputy Commander for the Texas Campaign.  Santa Anna relegated Filisola to command the second army group and the supply train moving in trace of the main army.  The logistics train included heavy military equipment (artillery), supply wagons, and a thousand head of cattle.  Abysmal weather in Texas in 1836 made this task exceedingly difficult.  The supply wagons and cattle became mired in rain-soaked land and flooded crossings.

While Santa Anna quickly advanced toward the Colorado River, Filisola and his rearguard became mired in mud, low on food, short on supplies, and physical exhaustion.  Filisola continually reported his situation and progress to Santa Anna, but Texian scouts intercepted his communique and delivered them instead to General Sam Houston.

Santa Anna instructed Filisola to await the convergence of the forces of Generals Antonio Gaona, Joaquin Ramirez y Sesma, Martin Perfecto de Cos, Manuel Castrillón, and colonels Juan Almonte, Agustin Amat, Francisco Duque, and Manuel Romero.  Once Filisola mustered these elements, Santa Anna instructed him to discover a viable crossing, establish an encampment, and send General Cos forward with 500 men to locate and attack the Texians.  Afterward, General Filisola, with 1,000 remaining troops, moved to a position between San Felipe and Fort Bend, where he remained during and after Houston’s capture of Santa Anna on 22 April 1836.

On 23 April, Captain Miguel Aguirre of the Tampico Regiment, a wounded officer of Santa Anna’s guard, struggled into Filisola’s camp on the Brazos and made his report: total destruction of the Mexican army at San Jacinto.  It was a fantastic story, and General Filisola didn’t believe a word of it — until more stragglers entered the camp and confirmed Aguirre’s story. As word spread of Santa Anna’s defeat, morale among Filisola’s troops sagged. No one knew whether Santa Anna was alive, and Filisola was unsure of what to do. The general also worried about what the Texians might do to their prisoners should Filisola make another assault.  He deduced that his only viable option was to retreat and request instructions from Mexico City.

General Filisola sent a message to Urrea to join him at Fort Bend.  General Urrea arrived pm 25 April.  As the senior officer, Filisola held a council of war.  Several officers, led by Urrea, urged Filisola to mount an aggressive attack on the Texians.  It was not an unreasonable recommendation because the Mexican force at Fort Bend numbered well over 2,500 men.  An additional 1,200 soldiers were at Goliad and San Antonio.  In total, Filisola’s nearly 4,000 troops constituted an overwhelming force if quickly directed against Houston’s 900 Texians.

While the generals consulted, a Mexican soldier arrived from the Texian camp bearing a message from General Santa Anna: he ordered Filisola to withdraw all Mexican forces from Texas.  Urrea was astounded and incensed, even more so when Filisola decided to comply with Santa Anna’s order.

On May 24, General Filisola ordered Colonel Juan José Andrade to destroy the fortifications of the Alamo and, when accomplished, evacuate his 1,200 troops from San Antonio.  He also “ratified” the Treaties of Fort Velasco, signed by Santa Anna on 14 May, and the interim president of Texas, David G. Burnet.[7]  General Filisola moved his force from the Brazos southeast toward Goliad, where he joined Andrade’s force.  At Goliad, General Filisola received unambiguous orders from the central government: do not retreat.

However, as Filisola judged his force exhausted and incapable of further combat, he continued to withdraw his men from Texas.  On 15 June, General Filisola resigned his commission and turned his command over to Colonel Andrade.[8]  General Urrea assumed command of the Mexican army at Matamoros and, within a few months, had mustered 6,000 troops.  Urrea desired to reinvade Texas, but Congress never authorized such an operation.

In 1837, after Santa Anna returned to Mexico from the United States, General Urrea turned against his former commander and fought against him at the Battle of Mazatlán in 1838.  The uprising resulted in Urrea’s arrest and imprisonment at Perote Prison, but the Mexican government restored his military career during the Pastry War (1838-39).  During the Mexican-American War (1846-48), General Urrea led a cavalry division against invading American troops.  Urrea died in the following year, stricken down by cholera.  He was 52 years old.


In ancient times, the conduct of war was not subject to any controls or parameters other than those exercised by the combatants themselves, and any limitations (or lack of them) were governed by military necessity rather than any separate notion about protecting noncombatants or safeguarding prisoners of war.  What changed, over time, was a shared belief among nations that limitations on the means and methods of warfare were appropriate and worthy of acknowledgment.  It was the precepts of Christianity that first provided guidelines to combatants, and, to my knowledge, the thesis by the Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius (On the Law of War and Peace) was the first to explore the principles of humanitarian treatment of participants and captive populations.  One of these changes was the general agreement (among Christian nations) that uniforms should distinguish combatants.

In the modern-day, beginning in the 20th century, the international community distinguished “just” wars from those they considered “unjust” and identified legal vs. illegal behaviors on the battlefield.  Illegal behaviors or war crimes include targeting civilian populations, mistreating prisoners, and using “excessive” munitions.  No American military person can compel another to obey an “illegal order,” which is to say, violate the law of war.

In the case of the Texas Revolution, the government of Mexico quite correctly regarded that rebellion as an “illegal act” and responded accordingly.  Mexico’s harsh reaction to the states in rebellion (fifteen of nineteen Mexican states) was identical.[9]  Anyone taking up arms against the government of Mexico was treated as a pirate, which carried the death penalty.  General Santa Ana directed “no quarter” to anyone in armed rebellion in Texas.  The execution of the survivors of the Battle of the Alamo and the 445 men of Colonel Fannin’s Goliad command, while exceedingly harsh in modern terms, was the standard in the 1800s.  Santa Anna’s authority to mete out such punishments came from the Mexican congress.  General Urrea and Colonel Portillo’s refusal to obey such an order would subject them to court-martial and undoubtedly result in their conviction (and likely execution).

In any case, the Mexicans in open rebellion knew what they were doing and what their punishments would be should their revolution prove unsuccessful.  Of the fifteen states in rebellion, only one was successful — Texas — but not without a tremendous cost to the rebels.


  1. Anna, T. E.  Forging Mexico, 1821-1835.  University of Nebraska Press, 1998.
  2. Barr, A.  Texians in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835.  University of Texas Press, 1990.
  3. Blake, R. B.  Hugo O’Conor.  Handbook of Texas online, 2008.
  4. Castañeda, C. E.  The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution.  P. L. Turner Publishing, 1928.
  5. Hardin, S. L.  Texas Iliad — A Military History of the Texas Revolution.  University of Texas Press, 1994.
  6. Johnson, J. T.  Just War Tradition and the Restraint of War: A Moral and Historical Inquiry.  Princeton University Press, 1988.
  7. Ohlendorf, S. M.  Urrea, José de.  Handbook of Texas, online.  2007.
  8. Stuart, J.  Slaughter at Goliad: The Mexican Massacre of 400 Texas Volunteers.  Naval Institute Press, 2008.


[1] Agustin Cosme Damian de Iturbide y Aramburu was a Mexican general and politician who seized control of Mexico in the latter days of the War of Independence.  After serving as president of the regency in 1821, he proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico in 1822.  He was not a popular emperor, however, and those aligned against him forced him into exile in 1823.  In the following year, Iturbide unwisely returned to Mexico, where he was soon executed.  

[2] Santa Anna was elected president of the United States of Mexico on 1 April 1833.  He desired the title but had little interest in the duties of the president.  The individual most responsible for governing during this period was Vice President Valentin Gómez Farías.  Internal upheaval pushed Santa Anna back into an active role in 1834.  In 1835, Santa Anna replaced the Constitution of 1824 with the new document known as The Seven Laws.  When several states openly rebelled, Santa Anna absented himself once more from the presidential palace and assumed the position as Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican Army.

[3] Texas was not the only Mexican state in rebellion in 1835. 

[4] In Mexico, the river is called Rio Bravo; in Texas, it’s called the Rio Grande.

[5] In 1836, Colonel Fannin was 31 years old.

[6] Reference is made to correspondence from Santa Anna in Béxar to Urrea on 3 March 1836, Santa Anna to Urrea on 23 March 1836, and Santa Anna to Urrea on the same date.

[7] There were two documents, one intended for public consumption and the other a private agreement.  The government of Mexico recognized neither of them because, at the time Santa Anna signed them, he was a prisoner of war and, therefore, under duress. 

[8] During the Mexican-American War, General Filisola commanded one of Santa Anna’s three infantry divisions.  He died of cholera in Mexico City in 1850.

[9] States or provinces in rebellion: Alta California, Nuevo Mexico, Tabasco, Sonora, Coahuila y Tejas, San Luis Potosi, Queretaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas, and Zacatecas. 

Posted in Arizona Territory, History, Mexican American War, Mexican Border War, New Mexico, Pioneers, Revolution, Texas | 6 Comments

The California War (1846 – 1848)


Anytime someone mentions the Mexican-American War (1846 – 1848), what comes to mind to most people are the battles that took place inside Mexico.  Everyone is thinking, “Mexico.”  They don’t think about California — but California was a province of Mexico, and everyone living in Mexico in 1846 was either a citizen of Mexico, a visitor, or perhaps even an illegal alien.

I suspect that no Mexican official was surprised when the United States annexed the Republic of Texas in December 1845.  Mexican officials had suspected the Americans of perfidy before Mexico’s War of Independence (1810 – 1821).  A warning flag went up when the United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France (1803), who had assured Spain that France would not sell the territory to the Americans.  Mexican officials weren’t duped, however.  They knew, as well as anyone, that Mexico’s northern territories were an unmitigated disaster (and had been for three hundred years), and they knew that their decision to populate the territories of the north with Anglo settlers was — at best — a hazardous venture.

Still, the Texas Revolution was avoidable even in 1835.  The majority of Mexico’s state and territorial governors supported the Constitution of 1824 — as did the Anglo citizens of Texas y Coahuila.  It wasn’t until President Antonio de López de Santa Anna suspended the Constitution of 1824 that the dirt hit the fan.  Nor was Texas the only state or province in rebellion.  Although it would be less than honest in this discussion to ignore Texians who were not only hoping for an independence movement, but there were others, too, who (always) wanted Texas for the United States — notably, Texian General Sam Houston (a former Governor of Tennessee), and U.S. President James K. Polk (also a former governor of Tennessee).

The word is — untrustworthy

Mexican officials also knew that the Americans had designs on California.  President Polk made no qualms about his expansionist policies, and few in the Congress of the United States were ready to believe Polk’s explanation for his request for a declaration of war against Mexico.  Two prominent members of Congress who thought President Polk guilty of lying were former President John Quincy Adams and a freshman representative from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.  But Polk had his supporters, too — far more support than dissent.  In 1846, Walt Whitman said, “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico — with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many — what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race?  Be it ours to achieve that mission!”

Noted historian and author Theodore R. Fehrenbach (d. 2013) insisted that the Mexican War was a presidential war of dominant administration policies, carried out for strategic reasons against the wishes of a considerable anti-war opinion.  The Mexican War, he insists, was “tremendously successful” for two reasons.  First, American arms were surprisingly and quickly victorious, and the seemingly immense goals were limited to acquiring (useless or under-utilized) Mexican territory.  Plus, the American army was withdrawn before the citizens could rise against it.

The fact is that the United States never wanted to own or control Mexico.  It intended to subordinate Mexico to the United States.  The war permanently removed Mexico as a rival for the North American continent.  In this sense, 1848 was remarkable because it was the first time the United States was strategically secure.[1]  

In any case, President Polk had previously dispatched Captain John C. Fremont to California, ostensibly to survey the Great Basin watershed in 1845, and wasted no time ordering General Stephen W. Kearney to seize New Mexico.  For his part, American Consul (Monterrey) Thomas O. Larkin worked hard to avoid conflict in California with General José Castro, Mexico’s senior-most official.[2]

Word of the United States’ declaration of war reached California by August 1846.  Larkin’s primary task was to avoid bloodshed between Americans in California and the Mexican military garrison.  Mexican General José Castro was not a happy man in the summer of 1846.  At the time of the outbreak of war, Captain Fremont (and his party) were at Klamath Lake (Oregon Territory) — he wasted no time relocating his expedition of map-makers to Sacramento.

Defending the homeland

Meanwhile, the government of Mexico proclaimed that all unnaturalized foreigners were no longer permitted to own land in California and were subject to expulsion.  The announcement generated rumors that Castro was massing an army to expel all American settlers in the Sacramento Valley.  The settlers banded together to meet that threat.  On 14 June, 34 Americans seized control of the undefended Mexican (government) outpost at Sonoma.  They did it to “forestall” General Castro’s plans.  One settler created the Bear Flag and raised it over Sonoma Plaza.  Within a week, 70 more volunteers joined the rebel force, which before July 1846, had grown to a strength of 300 men.  The leader of this “Bear Flag Revolt) was William B. Ide.[3]

On 25 June, Fremont and his party arrived to assist in any military confrontation.  The Bear Flag group “occupied” Yerba Buena (San Francisco) on 2 July, and a few days later, Fremont organized his “California Battalion” by organizing the American settlers (the rebels).

U.S. Navy Commodore John D. Sloat, commanding the Pacific Squadron, was positioned off Mazatlán, Mexico, when he received orders to seize San Francisco Bay and blockade Californian ports once he was “positive that war had begun.”[4]  Mindful that the British also had designs on California, Commodore Sloat wasted no time setting sail for Monterey, arriving on 1 July.  Upon learning of the events in Sonoma, and Fremont’s involvement, Sloat erroneously believed that Fremont was acting on orders from Washington.  On 7 July, Sloat ordered his Marines to prepare to land and seize the Mexican Customs House at Monterey.  The landing occurred on 9 July, and the U.S. flag was raised to signify America’s seizure of California.  On Sloat’s orders, Captain Fremont brought 160 volunteers and the so-called California Battalion to Monterey to reinforce his Marines and naval infantry.  On 15 July, Sloat relinquished his command to Commodore Robert F. Stockton, U. S. Navy 

For the next twenty-two days, Sloat served as military governor of California, later relinquishing his office to Commodore Robert F. Stockton, U. S. Navy.  Sloat’s relief from command resulted from his illness, which made him lethargic.  Stockton, a more aggressive officer, mustered willing members of the California Battalion into military service, appointing Captain Fremont as the battalion commander.  He ordered Fremont to San Diego to prepare for operations in Los Angeles.  At the same time Fremont’s battalion landed in San Pedro (a coastal region of Los Angeles), Stockton’s 360-man force also landed.  Mexican governor Pico Pio and General Castro wrote farewells to their constituents and fled to Sonora, Mexico.

Commodore Stockton entered Los Angeles unopposed on 13 August.  He sent a report to the U.S. Secretary of State reporting that California was free from Mexican Dominion.  His message was premature, for in leaving a small force behind, he invited the intervention of insurrectionists known as Californios.  One such man was José Maria Flores, who forced the withdrawal of American garrisons in San Diego and Santa Barbara.  When Captain William Mervine landed 350 Marines and sailors at San Pedro on 7 October, José Flores ambushed and repulsed them.[5]

Having little knowledge of the enemy, Mervine embarked upon a poorly planned force march into Los Angeles.  The operation began inauspiciously with the death of a cabin boy by friendly fire.  His troops were armed with various weapons, requiring different munitions and a wide selection of cutlasses and pikes.  They brought no horses, wagons, or field cannons.  The initial march was a six-hour slog over dusty roads without access to fresh water.  Moreover, Forces under José Flores harassed them through intermittent gunfire.

Mervine and his men reached the abandoned Dominguez Ranch and camped for the night.  Gunfire throughout the night had little effect other than to deny Mervine’s force of a good night’s sleep.

As Americans occupied Los Angeles the previous August, Mexican residents had hidden some weapons by burying them.  General José Flores was also poorly equipped at the time, but he had access to a cannon.  It was an old brass four-pounder used in the Los Angeles Plaza for ceremonial purposes.  The gun was one of the weapons buried by Clara Cota de Reyes (aided by her daughters).

Flores dug up the cannon, mounted it on a horse-drawn limber, and placed it on the narrow trail the Americans would use in their approach.  The simple tactics proved effective.  Californio horsemen deployed at a safe distance from the path on the American’s flanks.  When the Americans came within 360 meters, the cannon was fired and quickly pulled back into the brush, followed by musket fire from the horsemen on the American’s flanks.  Realizing they could not reach Los Angeles, Captain Mervine had little choice except retreat.  The main battle lasted less than one hour; five hours later, Mervine’s force was back aboard ship in San Pedro Bay.  The Mexicans called this dustup the Battle of the Old Woman’s Gun.

Meanwhile, General Kearney (at the head of 115 men) completed a grueling march across the Sonoran Desert and crossed the Colorado River in late November 1846.  Stockton sent a 35-man patrol from San Diego to meet the Kearney group.  On 7 December, General Andres Pico (brother of California’s last Mexican governor), with 100 mounted lancers, lay in wait near San Pasqual.  Kearney lost three officers and 22 men in a fight lasting 30 minutes.  Kearney pushed on to Mule Hill, where he formed a defensive perimeter and waited out a siege lasting four days.

Fremont, leading 428 men, traveled to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.  By 28 December, Kearney (now leading a force of around 600 men, began a 150-mile march to Los Angeles.  Flores decided to assault Kearney by moving his ill-equipped 500-man force to a bluff above the San Gabriel River.  The Americans defeated Flores in a battle lasting two hours.  Another battle followed the next day, 9 January 1847, at La Mesa.  The U.S. Army entered Los Angeles on 10 January with no opposition.  Armed resistance in California ended on 12 January when Fremont and two of General Pico’s officers agreed to terms of surrender.

The Pacific Coast Campaign

In the fall of 1847, United States warships Independence, Congress, and Cyane entered the Gulf of California to seize La Paz.  The ships afterward burned the small Mexican fleet of vessels at Guaymas and, within a month, cleared the gulf of hostile ships, destroying or capturing thirty ships.  Later, sailors and Marines captured Mazatlán, and once upper California was secure, most of the squadron proceeded down the California coast, capturing Baja California and capturing or destroying nearly all Mexican vessels operating in the Gulf of California.

It is clear that the Americans had their designs on Baja California — and would have seized it as well, were it not for the efforts of an Army officer named Manuel Pineda Muñoz.  We do not know this officer’s military rank, but we credit him with organizing a campaign of resistance that prevented Baja California from falling into the hands of President Polk and his California forces.  Muñoz retook several ports captured by the Americans, which he ultimately lost again.  Still, because of the timing of this conflict, the issue of Baja California as a territorial acquisition never made it into discussions leading to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.  When the war was over, many Mexicans who aligned with the American cause traveled to Upper California, where they settled permanently.


  1. Eisenhower, J.  So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico.  Random House, 1989.
  2. Fehrenbach, T.R.  Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans.  Open Road Publishing, 2014.
  3. Fowler, W.  Santa Anna of Mexico.  Bison Books, 2009.
  4. Haas, L.  Conquests and Historical Identities in California, 1769-1936.  University of California Press, 1995.
  5. McCaffrey, J. M.  Army of Manifest Destiny: The American Soldier in the Mexican War: 1846-1848.  NYU Press, 1994.


[1] The last great surge of Jacksonian Democrats occurred between 1844-1848; the Democratic Party was soon after destroyed by sectionalism — and its supporters (Polk, Houston, Benton) were destroyed with it.  Jacksonian Democrats had their own point of view, of course.  They saw themselves as westerners who were suspicious of easterners, but above all that they had a somewhat mystical view of the growth of the United States: it was a country grown so great that even fools could not destroy it.  To Jacksonians, slavery was only a tool used to solidify their political base — and nothing was as important to them as territorial expansion.

[2] The Great Basin is the largest area of contiguous endorheic watersheds in North America, spanning nearly all of Nevada, much of Utah, and portions of California, Idaho, Oregon, Wyoming, and Baja California.

[3] Ide was born and raised in Massachusetts.  He was a carpenter by trade and at one time served as a representative in the Vermont legislature.  He and his wife began their “westward” movement around 1830 with stops in Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois.

[4] The Navy appointed Sloat to command the Pacific Squadron in 1844.  As tensions increased with Mexico in 1845, the Navy instructed him to land in Alta California, and, should war break out, claim California in the name of the United States. 

[5] In 1847, William Mervine (ultimately a Rear Admiral) commanded USS Savannah.  In this capacity, he commanded a force of 203 Marines and 147 U.S. sailors, and a number of civilian volunteers in the invasion of Los Angeles.   

Posted in American Frontier, American Military, American Southwest, California, History, Mexican American War, Mexican Revolution, New Mexico, Texas | 1 Comment

The Texas Navy — Part 2

(Continued from Last Week)

The Second Texas Navy

In mid-1837, all Texas’ ships were either wrecked, captured, or seized by creditors — making Texas vulnerable to another Mexican invasion. Mexico’s effective blockade of the Texas coastline made any ship attempting to enter these waters subject to seizure.  Both immigration and shipping slowed to a trickle; even shippers willing to take the risk to get into Texas found they could not get insurance for their cargos.  Only the privateer Thomas Toby provided any meaningful harassment of Mexican vessels.

Fortunately for Texas, Mexico had its troubles during this period.  A dispute with France led to an incident called the “Pastry War,” in which the French seized Veracruz. Mexico’s effort to re-take the port city resulted in the Mexican army being thoroughly routed, the navy captured or destroyed, and General Santa Anna being severely wounded (losing a leg).  Soon after, Texans in Galveston gave French admiral Charles Baudin a hero’s welcome.

Meanwhile, the Congress of Texas authorized an expenditure of $280,000 (with plans to borrow an additional five million dollars) to buy new ships.  Congress appointed Samuel M. Williams as its agent to procure the new ships from Baltimore.  After arriving, he discovered that the loan had fallen through, but with the help of several benefactors (and congressional approval of issuing $500,000 in bonds), Williams was able to contract for the purchase of the side-wheel steamer Charleston (renamed Zavala) and arrange for the construction of one sloop of war, two brigs, and three schooners.  After Williams returned to Texas, Captain John G. Tod, a former U.S. Navy officer, replaced him in Baltimore.

The three schooners, San JacintoSan Antonio, and San Bernard, were all delivered in the summer of 1839; the brig Colorado (later renamed the Wharton) was delivered in October 1839.  The sloop and flagship of the line Austin sailed into Galveston in December 1839.  Finally, the brig Archer was delivered in April 1840.  Texas had a navy again.  And with Mexico still on the ropes after the Pastry War, Texas was poised to take command of the Gulf.

The Yucatán Rebellion

After his defeat at San Jacinto, Antonio López de Santa Anna retired from public life for a short time.  He re-emerged in 1838 to offer his leg to the French during the Pastry War.  For some reason, Mexican army officers regarded Santa Anna as a true hero of the Mexican Republic.  These officers may have shared Santa Anna’s view about the people of Mexico when in response to criticism, he said, “Say to Mr. Poinsett that it is very true that I threw up my cap for liberty with great ardor, and perfect sincerity, but very soon found the folly of it.  A hundred years to come, my people will not be fit for liberty.  They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of Catholic clergy, a despotism is a proper government for them — but there is no reason why it should not be a wise and virtuous one.”

In any case, Santa Anna consolidated his hold on the army after the Pastry War was settled and used it to make himself president of Mexico again.  Several Mexican states were deeply resentful of the dictatorial methods of the central government.  In May 1838, an insurrection began in Yucatán, and in 1840 the local assembly approved a declaration of independence for the state.  Santa Anna’s representative, Andrés Quintana Roo, negotiated a treaty to keep Yucatán in the Mexican union, but Santa Anna soon violated the treaty.  In response, the Yucatecan governor ordered all Mexican flags hauled down and replaced with the flag of the new Republic of Yucatán.  The assembly drafted a new constitution based on the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which had also been a rallying point for the Texas revolution.

The Yucatecans allied with Texas to fight against the Mexican naval blockade of Yucatán’s ports, though the embargo still severely impacted Yucatán’s economy.  In 1843, Yucatecans defeated the Mexican army when it tried to reimpose central rule.  They took this opportunity to negotiate a return to the Mexican union under the conditions that they could retain their self-rule and constitution.  Once again, Santa Anna violated the agreement, and Yucatán declared its independence again in 1846, remaining neutral during the U.S.-Mexican War.

In 1847, the Mayan Indian people launched a significant uprising against Hispanic rule in Yucatán.  The so-called Caste War drove all Hispanic Yucatecans off the peninsula except for a couple of walled compounds.  The Yucatecans appealed for international help in putting down the uprising.  Eventually, Mexico came to the rescue, and Yucatán again became part of Mexico in 1848.  The Mayan uprising continued in earnest for more than 50 years, with skirmishes into the 1930s.

The Tabasco Incident

The U.S. Navy of 1838 was small, technologically out-of-date, and offered dismally slow promotions. In 1838, a squadron of United States warships, including the sloop-of-war Boston, put into Galveston.  Aboard Boston was Lieutenant Edwin Ward Moore, a stocky, congenial 28-year-old fluent in English and Spanish. Lieutenant Moore, who had a brother living in Texas, was captivated by Texas’ efforts to start a new navy from scratch.  Moore decided to take a risk and offer his services to the Republic of Texas.  So, in 1839 he resigned from the U.S. Navy to accept an appointment as commodore of the new Texas fleet.   Moore wasn’t the only officer to abandon the American navy.  In total, 90 officers of the new Texas Navy also migrated from the U.S. Navy.

The first job for Moore and his officers was to obtain sailors and marines to man the new ships.  Moore traveled to New York, where he recruited at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, promising adventure, and prize money for all who joined the Texan cause.  With some drill, these men would be ready to fight Mexico and take command of the Gulf.

In Texas in the spring of 1840, Moore found that the Navy had been caught up in a political battle between President Mirabeau B. Lamar and his arch-enemy, former president Sam Houston, now serving in the Texas Congress.  Lamar was an anti-Indian expansionist, while Houston was an Indian lover who was happy with Texas the way it was.  Houston and his followers in the Texas legislature had already engineered severe cutbacks in the Texas army and were then setting their sights on the Navy.  Moore knew that Texas had already spent almost a million dollars on its new navy (at the time, an astronomical fortune).  From his reception in Galveston, Moore judged that the Navy and its proposed mission to Mexico was popular among most Texans.  He misjudged Houston’s effectiveness as a politician, however.

In June 1840, Commodore Moore led the flagship Austin, Zavala, and three schooners to Mexico to support secret peace negotiations between Texas and Mexico.  Moore, who had little faith in the negotiating process, became eager to deal the Mexican government a blow that would force them to recognize Texas independence and renounce their claims.  He began blockading the Mexican coastline off Tampico, stopping all seaborne communications.

By the time fall arrived in 1840, Moore had two choices: fish or cut bait.  As he predicted, Tex-Mex peace negotiations had fallen apart, but by then, the Texas Navy was low on food and fuel.  San Jacinto had run aground and was in immediate need of salvage.  Moore needed cash to address these problems.  As a man of action, he sailed Austin, Zavala, and San Bernard 90 miles up the Tabasco River to San Juan Bautista.  Moore made a common cause with Yucatán rebels fighting the Mexican government there.  Moore agreed to help the rebels capture the town in exchange for a payment of $25,000.  The town surrendered without a shot, but Moore had to seize two Yucatecan vessels and hold them for ransom before getting his money.  The Texan Navy then hosted a dance for the city, then departed for home in January 1841.

The Yucatán Alliance

During Moore’s absence, Texas had achieved hard-won recognition from Great Britain.  Moore wanted to repair and recruit quickly in New Orleans and then continue to press Mexico by sea.  But President Lamar decided instead to pull back and allow Britain to try to negotiate a settlement between Texas and Mexico.  President Lamar ordered Moore to put most of his ships “in ordinary” in Galveston (lay them up for repairs and discharge most seamen).

Commodore Moore’s next senior officer was Commander John G. Tod, who commanded the naval facility in Galveston.  He was also the officer who had taken over the supervision of shipbuilding in Baltimore and was quite proud of his achievements.  So, it is understandable that Tod deeply resented Moore’s criticism of weak anchor chains, rotting masts, awkward rigging, and other evidence of shoddy workmanship.  Commander Tod thus became an enemy of Commodore Moore and, perhaps, for this reason, supported Lamar’s decision to mothball the Texas Navy.

Commodore Moore did persuade President Lamar to lay up only the steamship Zavala and allow him to keep the rest of the Navy busy with a survey of the Texas coast.  During his visit with Lamar, Moore secured over $100,000 in promissory notes and government bonds to pay his crews.  Since Texas had no money, the bonds were little more than IOUs, and as soon as Moore was back in Galveston, he received a letter asking him to return the notes.  Moore declined, replying that he had already used them to persuade the sailors to sign for more duty.  To Moore’s credit, the work accomplished by the Texas Navy that spring resulted in the first accurate navigation charts of the Gulf of Mexico.  As a result, shipping losses plummeted, and insurance rates for ships going to Texas dropped.  It was a much-needed boost to the Texas economy.

In the meantime, President Mirabeau B. Lamar and his secretary of state, Samuel A. Roberts, had become disillusioned with any prospect of peace with Santa Anna’s government.  Mexico had rebuffed Texas, and the British negotiators had become corrupt in attempting to purchase two Mexican warships.  At the same time that Lamar was launching the ill-fated Santa Fe expedition (see also: Texas Treasures), he entered secret negotiations with Colonel Martin F. Peraza of Yucatán to ally against Mexico.  As long as Yucatán remained in rebellion, Mexico would be unable to mount a fresh invasion of Texas.

In September 1841, Lamar and Peraza struck a deal, announced at a grand ball at the Capitol in Austin.  Yucatán would pay Texas $8,000 a month for the services of three ships to defend its coast against Mexican raiding, and the two upstart republics would split the proceeds from any prizes seized.

Commodore Moore was placed in command of the operation.  His orders were to capture Mexican towns and compel ransom payments.  To force the inhabitants to make the payments, he was authorized to destroy public works and seize public property.  But for the operation to work, time was of the essence.  Sam Houston had just been elected to another term as president, and Lamar and Moore feared he would rescind the deal as soon as he took office.  On 13 December 1841, the day Houston was sworn in as president, the AustinSan Antonio, and San Bernard sailed for Sisal, Yucatán.  As expected, Houston issued an order recalling, but it was too late.  For the moment, the navy was gone and beyond the president’s reach.  Moore knew his mission was flying in the face of Houston’s disapproval.  He wrote bitterly to his friend, General Albert Sidney Johnston, that he expected to be recalled and subjected to vicious political attacks.

When Moore arrived in Yucatán, he found the Yucatecans were negotiating with Mexico to end the rebellion.  Moore recognized that peace between the two would re-introduce the threat of a Mexican invasion of South Texas.  He persuaded the Yucatecans to keep their commitment to Texas until they could ensure that Mexico and Santa Anna were sincere about wanting peace.  He sent  San Antonio back to Texas with a full report on the situation for President Houston.  He requested that Houston authorize the repair of the steamship Zavala and ordered south to shore up Texan control of the coast.  Houston never sent the ship because, at that time, steamship technology was dangerous, and the Texas Navy had no one qualified to serve as the ship’s engineer.  Even though Yucatán offered to pay for the repairs, Houston refused.  President Houston preferred that Zavala instead be allowed to rot — which it did.  Ever spiteful, Houston declined to sell Zavala’s engines to help raise money for the rest of the fleet.

Meanwhile, Commodore Moore remained active in the Gulf of Mexico, capturing several Mexican ships to keep his navy afloat.  It was at this time that Moore received word of several disasters that, to him, confirmed that a more active course was needed.  First, he received news of the appalling mistreatment of the prisoners of the Santa Fe Expedition.  Second, Mexico had launched a land assault into Texas, temporarily recapturing San Antonio.  Although Moore didn’t know it, Houston had approved a Texas blockade of the Mexican coast — but Moore was doing that anyway.  Moore continued to wreak havoc on Mexican shipping near Veracruz until April 1842, when he ran low on money and provisions.  These conditions occurred at about the same time his crews’ enlistments were getting ready to expire.


After delivering Commodore Moore’s report to the President of Texas, San Antonio proceeded to New Orleans for repair work.  On February 11, 1842, with San Antonio’s principal officers on shore leave, several seamen got into a drunken argument with Lieutenant Charles Fuller.  Fearing disorderly conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline, Lieutenant Fuller ordered his marine guard to arms.  Unhappily, the sergeant of marines agreed with the sailors and turned on Fuller with a tomahawk.  After being seriously wounded, marines and sailors shot him to death and mutilated his body.  The mutineers escaped the ship but were soon apprehended and jailed in New Orleans.  Placing these men in jail did nothing for Lieutenant Fuller, however. 

Blood Feud

In the spring of 1842, while Moore was in New Orleans attending to the repairs of his ships, he received orders to return to the Gulf.  Moore met with President Sam Houston and Secretary of War Hockley in Galveston in May.  By then, the naval station was in shambles.  For example, there was no fence to keep cattle and horses out of the naval property, the powder magazine was defective, and local citizens looted the facility of tools, lumber, and other hardware.  It had become a graveyard for rotting ships.

The term “toxic environment” wasn’t used in those days, but that’s what it was, especially after Commodore Moore learned that President Houston would not release $20,000 in discretionary money allocated to the Navy by the Texas Congress.  Houston was publicly calling for volunteers to avenge the mistreatment of the men of the Santa Fe Expedition and for sacking San Antonio, but Moore simply could not understand Sam Houston.  Houston rescinded his order to blockade the Gulf Coast of Mexico just nineteen days after issuing it.  After telling Moore to lead an invasion into Tampico, he failed to call Congress into session to approve it.  It is also notable that by this time, Moore and his officers had been serving Texas for two years and had yet to receive their first paycheck or commission.  Under Sam Houston, the Texas Navy had two serious problems: rotting ships and deserting sailors. 

It may be an understatement to suggest that Commodore Moore despised Houston.  In July 1842, Moore personally assaulted Houston, accusing him of “humbug.” Moore considered resigning in utter disgust of Houston and his cabal in the legislature.  Later, Moore explained that he did not resign because he still had hope for the enterprise.  In preparation for the Tampico expedition, Moore used his money and credit to provision Austin, San Antonio, San Bernard, and Wharton.  Moore was counting on the hope of prize money and further assistance from Yucatán as a funding source for the Texas Navy.

Meanwhile, Commodore Moore was in New Orleans without funds or crews for his remaining ships in the Texas Navy.  Houston ordered Moore to proceed to Mexico and prey upon Mexican warships.  It would be a neat trick without crews or vessels, but Houston also informed Moore that if he could not find funding, he was to return Texas’ ships to Galveston.  Without crews, that too would be a neat trick.  Moore was running out of time, and everyone knew it.  At the same time, Houston sent a secret message to the Speaker of the Texas House denouncing Moore and accusing him of misconduct with funds authorized by Congress to fund the Texas Navy.

However, this is not how the Texas Navy’s fate would play out.  San Bernard and Archer became storm-wrecked, San Antonio was lost while off the coast of Yucatán, and Merchant sank.  In the meantime, a Mexican force had once again sacked San Antonio.  Great Britain made another insincere offer to broker peace between Texas and Mexico.  It was insincere because the British had become full partners with the Mexican Navy — including assigning British seamen to Mexican warships.  What the British wanted more than peace was domination over regional trade, increased influence in Central America, and keeping Texas from joining the United States.  President Houston, however, accepted the British offer — playing the British against the United States.  More than anything else, Houston wanted the United States to annex Texas.

When Commodore learned of Houston’s treachery, he was outraged.  He had already accrued $35,000 in personal debt to keep the Texas Navy afloat.  Nevertheless, Moore dispatched a pilot boat and a schooner to Yucatán in another attempt to find aid there.  This time, the message got through.  The Yucatecans were interested and sent Colonel Peraza to agree, similar to the one they had with President Lamar two years earlier.  Again, for $8,000 a month, Moore and the Texas Navy would break the Mexican blockade of Yucatán and continue to patrol Yucatecan waters until Mexican forces left the area.

With his funding crisis resolved, at least for the time being, Moore planned to sail for Yucatán in February 1843.  Stores and food were quickly loaded onto the ships. Moore’s crew members were a dangerous lot, however, but he was desperate.  Just as Moore was about to sail, two of Houston’s commissioners arrived to inform him that (a) Moore was fired and (b) Houston wanted the remaining ships sold immediately.

No other person in history may be more steadfast in his devotion to Texas than Edwin Moore.  He informed Houston’s commissioners that (a) he would not be dismissed and (b) they couldn’t have the ships.  He showed the commissioners that his ships were in good repair and ready for action.  He told them that he was under an obligation to Yucatán to render the promised assistance and that the men would doubtless riot and burn the ships if they were told that they would not receive any pay and prize money.  Moore then offered the commissioners a bargain: Moore would accept their authority if they would first allow him to go to Galveston and answer Sam Houston’s charges in person.  The commissioners agreed.  Commodore Moore sailed for Galveston on 15 April 1843. 

The story winds down

Sam Houston, born in 1793, was one of those early Americans who objected to the idea of a standing military or naval organization.  He felt that citizen militias were preferable to professional sailors and soldiers.  Rather than maintain a standing navy, Houston wanted shore batters manned by civilians who could just as easily repel any amphibious invasion from Mexico.  In the 1830s and 1840s, Houston’s ideas were in the mainstream.  In contrast, Edwin Moore was ahead of his time.

But Houston had no love for the naval service, either.  As a professional politician and a Washington insider, he shared the view of many that the United States (and later, Texas) did not need to maintain an expensive naval establishment.  Worse, though, Houston opposed the Texas Navy because he hated Mirabeau B. Lamar with a passion seldom seen in rational men.

More to the point of the Texas Navy, however, is that Sam Houston wanted Texas to become part of the United States more than he wished for the Texas Republic.  His dream of annexation played the greatest role in destroying the Texas Navy.  His behavior in this regard made many Texans wonder if Sam Houston was sane.  Certainly, Edwin Moore must have questioned Houston’s sanity — with justification.  But it was more than the naval issue.  Houston stopped the Texas army from pursuing the Mexican military after sacking San Antonio.  He made no move to replenish the army’s supply of weapons and munitions after the Santa Fe disaster.  He seemed not to care what happened to the people of Texas.  He only wanted annexation.

Some will argue that there was a method to Houston’s madness.  Public opinion in the southern United States favored Texas annexation — northern politicians opposed it.  Scholars say that Houston was playing a dangerous game by deliberately placing Texas in jeopardy so that the American public would demand intervention to save Texas and put Texas firmly on the road to annexation.  As an early but staunch Democrat, Houston believed in the principle of creating a crisis as the first step in solving it.

In essence, Houston feared that if Edwin Moore were allowed to defeat Mexico, thus avoiding a crisis inside Texas, the chances of annexation to the United States would decrease.  By pitting Britain and the United States against each other in secret diplomacy, even as Mexico prepared to launch a major invasion of Texas, Houston was about to get the crisis he needed to provoke the United States into making a move.  The crisis did arrive a bit late.  Historians would later refer to it as the Mexican-American War.

Yucatán Revisited

Near the mouth of the Mississippi, Commodore Moore encountered the American schooner Rosario, which had recently departed from Yucatán and was full of news.  The war between Mexico and Yucatán had taken a turn in favor of the Yucatecans, and Mexico was about to agree to a peaceful withdrawal.  If that happened, Mexican warships would be free to launch an assault against Galveston. Moore’s choices were these: (a) proceed to Yucatán and fight the Mexican navy (with the help of Yucatán gunboats) or (b) return to Galveston with Morgan and wait to be attacked.

Houston’s naval commissioners, Colonel James Morgan (formerly Commandant of Galveston) and William Bryan (Texas Consul to New Orleans), both ultimately agreed with Commodore Moore (against Houston, who appointed them).  With their backing, Moore changed course and headed directly for Yucatan.[1]

On the morning of 30 April,  Austin and Wharton engaged six Mexican vessels off the coast of Lerma, Mexico.  Two Yucatecan ships plus five small gunboats joined the Texans.  The two sides exchange one broadside after another for the entire morning with no victory discernible.  Finally, the Mexican fleet withdrew, and, in pursuit, Austin ran aground (floated free at high tide).  Colonel James Morgan, a witness to the fight, gave high marks to Moore, his officers, and crew.

Later in the day, nearing Campêche, Moore rejoined the battle with two Mexican steamers.  Two sailors were killed and three wounded aboard Wharton, but the Mexicans lost twenty-one killed and thirty wounded.  Despite their losses, the Texans were exhilarated by their performance.  They spent the next two weeks stalking the wounded Mexican ships, hoping to finish them off.

Two weeks later, on 16 May 1843, Commodore Moore reengaged three Mexican warships (GuadalupeEagle, and Moctezuma).  At one point in the battle, Moore took the Austin directly between the Moctezuma and the Guadalupe, attempting to close with them. Moore’s bravery in this instance significantly damaged Austin, with three men killed and twenty-one wounded.  Wharton escaped damage but lost two men in a gun mishap.  The Mexicans had the worst of it, losing 183 men killed.  Some scholars argue that this series of battles is the only example of the victory of sail over steam.

After Colonel Morgan went ashore at Campêche, he received instructions from Houston to have Moore placed into irons, if possible.  On 6 May, Houston issued a public proclamation in Texas denouncing Moore for mutiny, treason, and piracy.  In the declaration, Houston charged Moore with disobeying Texas law.  Houston ordered Morgan to suspend Moore from duty and return him to Texas for court-martial.  By this time, Morgan had become an ally of Edwin Moore.  The two men decided to return to Texas and hold Houston to his word.  Moore would insist on a public trial.

The Court-martial

Commodore Moore began his return to Texas on 25 June 1843.  He arrived in Galveston on 14 July, receiving a hero’s welcome.  Moore had defended Texas from a possible disaster, and the people loved him for it.  Texans had far less regard for Sam Houston, whom they burned in effigy.  At this stage, Moore was exhausted and deeply angry — he displayed no outward joy in celebrating his successes.

For his part, Houston remained unmoved by the outpouring of public support.  The seamen were dismissed, Colonel Morgan was fired as commissioner, and Commodore Moore received a dishonorable discharge from the Texas Navy. Commander John Lothrop, commanding Wharton, received a similar discharge along with one of Moore’s lieutenants. Houston’s dismissal letter repeated the charges of disobedience and piracy and added a charge of murder for executing the San Antonio mutineers.

Edwin Moore publicly repudiated Houston’s letter and demanded a judicial hearing.  Houston ignored these demands.  Finally, a congressional investigation cleared Moore of all charges and ordered that such a trial be held.  All but three Texas naval officers resigned in protest of Moore’s treatment.  Since no naval officers existed to hear the case, the court, when convened, consisted of army officers, with Major General Sidney Sherman serving as the senior officer.  

Moore’s trial began on 21 August 1844.  He was charged with willful neglect of duty, misapplication of money, embezzlement of public property, fraud, disobedience to orders, contempt for and defiance of the laws of Texas, treason, and murder.

The Sherman court quickly acquitted Snow and dropped the charges against Lothrop (who died a few days later from a yellow fever epidemic in Galveston).   The trial of Edwin Moore lasted seventy-two days.  In the end, the court convicted Moore on four minor counts of disobedience.  Houston and the rest of Texas considered the final verdict a complete victory for Moore.  Ever the vindictive cuss, Sam Houston vetoed the findings of the court.

The Texas Navy’s ships were kept in repairs for two additional years.  After Texas’ annexation to the United States in late 1845, the remaining vessels — AustinWhartonArcher, and San Bernard — were all transferred to the United States Navy.

Despite repeated applications, none of the Texas Navy officers were granted commissions in the United States Navy.  In 1857, the surviving officers were given five years’ back pay to demonstrate the State of Texas’ appreciation of their service.  Commodore Moore moved to New York and pursued a claim for reimbursement for the debts he incurred while in the service of the Republic of Texas.  Eventually, Texas settled with him for $44,655.


[1] Before leaving New Orleans, Moore brought on board Austin eight of the mutineers from San Antonio and court-martialed them.  The court acquitted one man, pardoned another, sentenced two men to 100 lashes, and found four men guilty in the murder of Lieutenant Fuller.  They were hung and their bodies thrown into the sea. 





Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Mexican Revolution, New Spain, Revolution, Texas | 2 Comments

The Texas Navy — Part 1


The Mexican Independence Era (1808-1829) was part of a much larger political movement in the Americas.  It was a time when the Hispanic people of North America, Central America, and South America (and far distant Asian countries) threw off the shackles of Spanish suzerainty to establish their own countries.  Independence movements were momentous and unanticipated events that upended 300 years of Spanish colonial rule over a vast area of the world.

Spanish Mexico went from rule by a legitimate monarch and his appointed viceroy to an illegitimate monarch and a ruler put in place through a coup d’état.  The net effect of this was a political disaster for Mexico — one that lasted many years.  Pro-monarchist Mexicans battled republicans, switched sides, supported, and then opposed insurrectionists.  It seemed as if everyone was seeking advantages for themselves.  And, of course, they were.

No sooner had Mexico announced its independence from Spain in 1821, leaders of the new republic began to argue about how the new nation should conduct its internal affairs.  Initially, Mexico created an empire lasting two years (1821-1823).  In 1824, Mexican officials proclaimed a federal republic, calling it Estados Unidos Mexicanos (with its constitution partly modeled on the U.S. Constitution).

The Constitution of 1824 established 19 states, four territories, and a federal city to serve as the national capital.  Within this framework, two political groups emerged: centralists, favoring a strong central government in the viceregal tradition of New Spain, and federalists, who favored limited central government and semi-autonomous states.  Political influence shifted back and forth between these two groups — too frequently the result of armed insurrection.  Mexican officials were always wary of the aims of Americans in their northernmost territories, including the American immigrants whom Mexican officials permitted to settle in the Mexican Province of Coahuila y Tejas.  The secret was out: the United States was hungry for more territory.

In 1830, wary of the rapid increase in Anglo populations from the United States, Mexican officials legislated against further settlement.  Mexican officials also reimposed tariffs on persons and goods entering Texas to clarify their intentions.  From that point forward, the conflict between Mexican officials and residents of Texas increased, particularly given the resentment among Texians toward Mexican military officials sent to force compliance with Mexico’s new laws — which the Texians believed were violations of the Mexican Constitution of 1824.  These deeply held beliefs prompted the Texians to convene provisional government bodies to consider and help decide courses of action toward Texian independence from Mexico.

Topic Introduction

Looking at a typical map, one might ask — “Texas Navy?  Really?” Well, sure enough, partner.  The Texas Gulf Coast extends 350 miles from the Texas Border with Louisiana to its border with Mexico. It’s a lot of coastline to defend — or monitor for collecting customs duties.

Most early Texas settlers arrived by sea from New Orleans or Mobile.  They disembarked in Galveston, Matagorda Bay, or the Brazos’ mouth at Freeport.  One might also say that the Gulf of Mexico became a lifeline to Texans (then and now) for exchanging such necessary products as lumber, wool, cotton, and manufactured goods — from weaponry and ammunition to cloth and heavy equipment for sawmills and cotton gins.  In the early days, Mexican officials waived customs duties on travelers and imports to encourage economic development.

In addition to its importance to Anglo settlers, the Texas coast was also politically vital to Mexican officials seeking to exert control over the province of Coahuila y Tejas from Mexico’s capital city.[1]  In 1824, the trip to San Antonio to San Antonio took 40 days over harsh terrain regularly patrolled by hostile Indians.  The journey from Matamoros to San Antonio took 12 days.  Most military commanders thought such an undertaking was unnecessarily risky — especially when ships were faster, safer, and more efficient.

Mexico’s ban on American emigration and its imposition of tariffs in 1830 would have had no effect without the government’s ability to impose its will on the people living in Texas.  Mexican officials established army garrisons at Velasco, Brazoria, Anahuac, and Galveston to achieve that.  The effect of these policies in Texas was more than Mexican officials bargained for — because the Texians were not pleased.  Some folks simply ignored the law.  Other Texians took the initiative to intimidate or overpower the customs officials.

The fact was that Mexico’s thinly staffed military garrisons were no match for angry Texians.[2]  Several Texians, well-known to us today, first came to notice by their participation in the disturbances at Anahuac between 1831-1832.  One of those troublemakers was William Barrett Travis.

At Velasco, Texians assaulted the Mexican garrison, taking possession of two cannons.  Ten Texians and five Mexicans lost their lives in the melee before the Mexican garrison ran out of ammunition and surrendered.  After this incident, Mexican authorities (perhaps realizing that the Texians vastly outnumbered republican forces) relaxed their efforts to collect customs duties for several years.

First Revolutionary Shots

Throughout the first half of 1835, severe disturbances broke out between Texians and Mexican officials.  The centralist government of President Antonio López de Santa Anna implemented new policies of tighter controls over Mexican Texas, starting with a new garrison at Anahuac to support new customs houses there, at Galveston and Brazoria.

On 7 May 1835, the Mexican warship Montezuma de Mexico (under the command of Lieutenant Juan Calvi) seized the American flagged schooner Martha for “customs violations.”  Because the ship’s passengers did not have legitimate passports, Lieutenant Calvi arrested passengers and crew and placed them in confinement.  Ten days later, Lieutenant Calvi seized the Texas ship Columbia for similar infractions.

Both incidents sparked anger in Texas, prompting a debate about whether the seizures were legal.  Smuggling in Texas had become prevalent by 1835, primarily due to the nasty habit of the Yankees in New England before, during, and after the American Revolution.  Smuggling is one of the things the Yankees took with them to Texas, and it is a fact that most American and Texas ships were involved in smuggling operations in Mexico.

When Montezuma seized Martha, Mexican officials came into possession of milling equipment consigned to Robert Wilson.  Outraged, Wilson contacted a 25-year-old attorney named William B. Travis (also a high-ranking Texian militia officer).  On 7 July, Mr. Travis advised Wilson by letter that the United States had dispatched a revenue cutter, Ingham, to respond to Mexican depredations.[3]  Both Texas and the United States viewed the Mexican seizures as a legal act, but the seizures became a matter of national prestige.  President Andrew Jackson urged the “unofficial” use of force to curtail Mexico’s activities.

The revenue cutter Ingham was under the operational control of Customs Agent James Breedlove.  As it happened, Ingham was the only armed American vessel operating in the western Gulf of Mexico.  The ship’s commanding officer was Captain Ezekiel Jones of the United States Revenue Service.  Due to an incident in Havana, Cuba (involving the smuggling of slaves), Breedlove wanted to establish a permanent American naval force in the western Gulf — however, the Secretary of the Navy wouldn’t have it.  It was President Jackson’s extra-legal urgings that led to a naval battle.

According to the official record, Captain Jones, commanding Ingham, deployed on a 25-day anti-slavery patrol.  The unofficial diary reflects that Jones’ orders were to liberate ships seized by the Mexican Navy and liberate American citizens.  Jones crossed into Mexican waters disguised as a merchant ship.  Poor weather forced him back into Texas coastal waters.  On 3 June, a pilot informed Jones that Montezuma had committed several acts of piracy.  Jones sent an investigator ashore to determine the facts of the matter.  The investigator uncovered no illegalities.  Back at sea, Jones boarded two ships and, likewise, found no improprieties.  Jones nevertheless continued searching for Montezuma and seeking confirmation of allegations associated with the Martha affair.  Captain Jones searched for two additional weeks without locating the Mexican ship.

On 13 June, Ingham passed the bar at Paso Cabello, where she ran aground several times, so a pilot was hired to take the ship to Brazos Santiago, arriving the next day.  While six miles offshore, Jones cautiously proceeded by having all hands man their battle stations.  At 5:00 p.m., Jones tacked toward shore, and a lookout sighted a vessel anchored off Brazos Santiago.  An hour later, the vessel was identified as a schooner, and a few moments later, the vessel hoisted sails and “bore down” on Ingham.

At 7:40 p.m., the Mexican ship commenced hostilities with one shot and raised her ensign, revealing the ship as a combatant.  Captain Jones returned fire, causing Montezuma to withdraw with Ingham in pursuit, initiating an occasional salvo.  Lieutenant Calvi fired again, causing Jones to believe the battle was joined.  Captain Jones positioned Ingham for a broadside.  Calvi disengaged, headed to shore, and jettisoned his weapons and other gear to lighten the ship’s weight, increase her speed, and shorten the ship’s draft to cross the bar of the Rio Grande.  Eventually, Lieutenant Calvi destroyed Montezuma by running his ship across the breakers.[4]

In August 1835, in the act of deliberate provocation, Texian merchant Thomas F. McKinney sent his schooner San Felipe from New Orleans to Brazoria, heavily armed and loaded with munitions intended for Texas revolutionaries.  Also on board was Stephen F. Austin, recently released from his imprisonment in Mexico City.  His presence aboard San Felipe was no coincidence because his ordeal in Mexico City had convinced him that subservience to centralized authority in Mexico simply would not do in Texas.  By this time, Stephen Austin was committed to Revolution in Texas.

As the Texas revolution heated up, the Republic’s provisional authority developed three objectives for a Texian Navy.  First, defend the Texas coastline from a Mexican amphibious assault.  Second, they served as armed escorts for Texas (rebel) commercial ships back and forth between Texas and the United States, Texas’ was the primary source of volunteer soldiers and supplies.  The third objective was to inflict casualties on the Mexicans to force them to recognize the independence of Texas.  The problem, of course, was that, at the time, Texas had no navy.

Meanwhile, Mexican naval forces intended just the opposite: blockade the Texas coastline (an impossible task given the length of the Texas coastline and the paucity of Mexican ships of war).  Consequently, Mexico’s blockade remained largely ineffective throughout the revolutionary period.  This allowed the Texans to import much of their war material by sea.

On September 1, Austin, his fellow passengers, and most of the ship’s cargo were transferred to the steamship Laura.  When the Mexican warship Correo de Mexico approached San Felipe, both captains had made clear their intentions to board and capture the other.  They exchanged heavy cannon and rifle fire for about an hour, with the Correo getting the worst of it.  The following day, aggressively pursued by both San Felipe and LauraCorreo struck her colors.

Captain William A. Hurd of San Filipe placed the Commanding Officer of Correo, Captain Thomas M. Thompson, and his crew under arrest on piracy charges and took them back to New Orleans in chains.[5] The trial in January 1836 was a farce that climaxed with Thompson’s lawyers and the United States prosecutors in a shouting match and throwing inkstands and law books at one another.  A disgusted judge declared a mistrial and set Thompson and his men free.

Thompson’s trial may have been farcical, but the result of the San Felipe incident was not.  For a time, the San Felipe’s victory cleared the Texas coast of the Mexican naval presence, thus allowing arms and volunteers from the United States to move unimpeded into Texas.

The Texas Privateers

As the name suggests, privateers are private persons or ship owners who engage in maritime warfare under a commission of war (called a letter of marque) that empowers its holder to employ all forms of hostile action at sea.

Revolution broke out in earnest in Texas in October 1835 at Gonzales and the siege of Béxar.  As these events unfolded, the Consultation (the first revolutionary assembly of Texas) came together in San Felipe on 3 November 1835.  One of the Consultation’s first acts was to consider the protection of the Texas coastal region.  It was, at the time, impossible to establish a viable naval service, so members of the Consultation adopted the practice of issuing letters of marque and reprisal to privateers.  These privately owned ships would protect the coast, harass Mexican shipping, and bring in prizes that could be auctioned, with part of the proceeds going into the public treasury.

Texas issued six letters of marque to privateers, including the San Felipe, the William Robbins, the Terrible, the Thomas Toby, the Flash, and the Ocean.  Flying the “1824” Texas Revolutionary flag, these ships not only patrolled the Gulf but also pursued Mexican shipping on the high seas.  The Thomas Toby was the outstanding privateer of the group, capturing several Mexican vessels and bringing them to port for adjudication and sale of their cargoes.  Overall, however, Texas privateering was disappointing because Mexican shipping, as a source of revenue, was meager.

Organization of the First Texas Navy

In his short life, Charles E. Hawkins (1802 – 1837)[6] served in three navies totaling eleven years of sea service.  Despite this relative lack of experience, the Republic of Texas appointed Hawkins its first commodore.    For whatever reason, Texas Governor Henry Smith became impressed with Hawkins, first offering him a commission as a navy captain and placing him in command of Independence.  On 12 March, Hawkins was advanced to Commodore and put in charge of the Texas Navy.  Today, some claim Hawkins was Texas’ first “fleet commander.” A commander he may have been, but it wasn’t much more than a squadron of ships — and in any case, the number of vessels on the roles of the Texas Navy was far from being a “fleet.”

In 1835, the General Council proposed a navy consisting of two 12-gun and two six-gun schooners.  In January and February 1836, Texas purchased the schooners LibertyInvincibleIndependence, and Brutus.  This decision led to a clash between the provisional governor, Henry Smith, and the General Council of Texas.  The squabble ended with the impeachment of Governor Smith and pushed Texas officials into creating a more stable (permanent) government.

Thus, on 1 March 1836, the General Convention replaced the Council and took up the work of putting the Texas government on a more organized footing — including the creation of the Texas Navy and granting to congress the right to issue letters of marque and reprisal, and the creation of maritime courts.  A naval affairs committee was created, which commissioned officers in the new Texas Navy.

War with Mexico

As soon as he heard about the siege of Bexar, Antonio López de Santa Anna, President of Mexico, and Commander-in-Chief of the Mexican armed forces, began to organize his troops to march on Texas.[7]  Some of his subordinates (the smart ones) urged the general to wait until spring and then make an amphibious landing in Texas.  Santa Anna refused, insisting on marching his army overland instead.[8]  As a result, by the time the army reached Béxar, the men were exhausted and suffering greatly from exposure to an unusually frigid winter, frostbite, malnutrition, thirst, and disease.  The state of this army (and Santa Anna’s mind-boggling incompetence) helps to explain how the Texian rabble could defeat them so easily in February – March 1836.

At the same time Santa Anna’s army began its march, General José de Urrea from Matamoros launched a parallel invasion.  Unlike Santa Anna, Urrea’s army was shadowed by supply ships that would re-provision the troops at the nearest points along the coast. Urrea’s army quickly routed the Texas fighters at San Patricio and Goliad.[9]

But even as the Texians were faltering on land, the tiny Texas Navy was taking the fight to the enemy.  Liberty was the former McKinney & Williams privateer known as William Robbins.  In March 1836, Liberty battled and captured the Mexican trading schooner Pelícano, gaining 300 kegs of gunpowder (concealed in barrels of flour), apples, and potatoes.  A few weeks later, Liberty captured more war supplies when it made a prize of the Mexican brig Durango.

Next, it was the turn of Invincible, also a Thomas McKinney vessel.  In April 1836, Invincible battled the Mexican warship Bravo and captured the cargo ship Pocket, which it seized and took to Galveston as a prize.

American insurance companies pressured the U.S. Navy to seize Invincible and deliver it to the port in New Orleans on the charge of piracy, but the court released the ship and its crew when McKinney’s lawyers demonstrated that Pocket was carrying contraband bound for Mexico.

The privateer Flash played perhaps the most exciting role in the climax of the Revolution.  Two six-pound cannons (dubbed the twin sisters), forged in Cincinnati by citizens who wanted to aid the Texan cause, had been delivered to Galveston in March 1836.  The desperately needed armaments were loaded on Flash, which was ordered to proceed to the Brazos to pick up refugees from the Runaway Scrape fleeing Santa Anna’s advancing army.  Flash completed that mission and then moved to Morgan’s Point, where on 11 April, it delivered the cannons and picked up more refugees, including three Texas cabinet officers, the family of President Burnet, and Vice-President Lorenzo de Zavala and his family.  The rescue was successful, and the armaments Flash delivered became legendary.  The following week, in the Battle of San Jacinto, the Twin Sisters shattered the Mexican lines, significantly contributing to the Texian victory.

After San Jacinto

Several ships of the Texas Navy played essential roles in the aftermath of San Jacinto.  The flagship of the Texas fleet, Independence, carried Texas commissioners to New Orleans to begin their negotiations for recognition by the U.S.  Liberty also went to New Orleans as an escort for Flora, which carried the wounded Sam Houston on board.  In New Orleans, Liberty was sold to pay for its repairs.

Following its court proceeding in New Orleans, Invincible was instructed to stand by to transport President Santa Anna to Veracruz, but this was canceled by order of Texas Brigadier General Thomas Jefferson Green.

No one in Mexico or Texas liked the treaty signed by Santa Ana after the Battle of San Jacinto.  Texas President Burnet sought to punish Mexico for its petulance by blockading Matamoros — and while this worked for a short while, Texian ships were in disrepair, and the government lacked the funds needed for costly repairs.  The departure of these ships for refitting opened the Texas coast to Mexican blockades.

In April 1837, the Independence returned to the Texas coastline from New Orleans, where it encountered two Mexican blockaders within view of Velasco.  After battling the Mexican navy for six hours, Independence struck its colors and was taken as a prize by the Mexicans.  The ship’s crew later escaped confinement, but Independence then served the Mexican navy.

In June 1837, determined to do something about the Mexican blockade, Texas Secretary of War S. Rhoads Fisher and his commodore, Henry L. Thompson, left Texas on a cruise with the two remaining vessels, Invincible and Brutus.  In doing so, both men defied the instructions of Texas President Sam Houston.  The voyage became quite an adventure because, over several months, Invincible and Brutus bombarded the Mexican town of Sisal, seized (and lost) several prizes, seized several Mexican islands, including Cozumel, and captured the British merchantman Eliza Russell and sent the vessel to Galveston as a prize.  Upon returning to Galveston, the ships battled two Mexican brigs hunting a Texas merchantman.  Invincible and Brutus, both ships ran aground in Galveston Harbor and were wrecked by storms before they could be salvaged.

A furious President Houston forced Fisher’s resignation; Commodore Thompson died before he could appear at his court-martial.  At this point, the Texas Navy only consisted of unpaid bills.(Continued next week)


[1] The Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas is generally regarded as a period in history known as Mexican Texas.

[2] The people who lived in Coahuila y Tejas in the early 1800s were classified either as Mexicans, Tejanos, or Texians.  Texian is also what Texans called themselves during the Texas Republic period.  Once Texas became a state, the people living in Texas began calling themselves Texans. 

[3] The frequency with which Texians used the word “depredation” has always fascinated me.

[4] This remarkable act may explain why there does not appear to be much of a record of Lieutenant Juan Calvi today.

[5] Thomas Mexico Thompson was a British-born sailing master who became a U.S. citizen in the early 1830s.  He was a tavern owner, commercial sea captain, and an officer in the Mexican Navy.  In 1835 his Mexican Navy rank was lieutenant. 

[6] Hawkins died of smallpox in 1837 while in New Orleans overseeing the refit of Independence.

[7] Santa Anna fancied himself as the Napoleon of the Americas.

[8] Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was personable, charismatic, and socially charming — but he was no genius. 

[9] Lending weight to the argument that had any of Santa Anna’s subordinates commanded the Mexican army, rather than Santa Anna, the Texas Revolution would have turned out much differently.



Posted in American Frontier, American Southwest, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Mexican Revolution, New Spain, Texas | 1 Comment

The Wrath of God


“Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

Many people attribute this quotation to a Chinese man named Confucius.  Except, there was never anyone named Confucius.  His name was Kong Fuzi.  Non-Chinese speakers often anglicize Asian words, so Kong Fuzi, transliterated, becomes Confucius. 

Confucius lived around 500 years B.C.  He was a philosopher — one of the more important persons in the ancient world.  If the above quote is properly attributed to Confucius, he is no doubt attempting to impart wisdom — about the lack of wisdom in seeking revenge.

It is in the nature of people to seek revenge whenever they feel wronged, and if there is one clear indication of the punishing nature of man, it is that man demands justice.  Some argue that justice should be swift.  Others say that justice is sweetest when delayed.

Justice is what the Israelis were looking for following the massacre of Jewish athletes in Munich in 1972.  This particular act of revenge was known as Operation Wrath of God and Operation Bayonet.  What made these events extraordinary was that the operation lasted more than twenty years and, scholars believe, involved “getting even” with between 35 – 40 Palestinians.  Spoiler: mission accomplished.

Black September Organization

People who develop an intense dislike of other people hold on to that contempt as if it were a gold nugget.  They won’t let it go for anything.  There are a few such instances.  Japanese vs. Koreans, for example — and Vietnamese vs. Chinese.  Syrians, Jordanians, Saudis, Egyptians, Iraqis, Yemenites, and Turks vs. Palestinians.  Almost no one — of any Arab culture — has any regard for people who call themselves Palestinians.  In the opinions of those other people, they are the worst of the worst.  Worse, even, than the Jews — because all those other people can at least respect the Jews.

Experts tell us that Palestine is a modern word derived from the much older Philistine.  In accounts from the Hebrew Bible, the Philistine appears mostly as a villainous enemy.  They are the ones who sent Delilah to cut the hair of the Israelite leader Samson and thus stripped him of his power.  Goliath, the giant, slain by David, was a Philistine.  The reputation of Philistines is still that of a hostile, war-mongering, hedonistic tribe, which became so pervasive that “philistine” is still an insult, meaning a crass or uncultured person.

Ancient cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod, and Ekron were mentioned as Philistine strongholds in the Bible.  In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars finally started to piece together a distinct archaeological record of Philistine culture.  Excavations revealed that these cities saw the emergence of new architecture and artifacts at the beginning of the Iron Age, around 1200 B.C., signaling the arrival of the Philistines.  For example, pottery found at Philistine archaeological sites appeared to have been made locally but looked strikingly similar to the wares created by Aegean cultures — such as the Mycenaeans.  They built their civilization in what is now mainland Greece.  The Bible mentions “Caphtor,” or Crete, as the place of origin of the Philistines.  Some scholars wonder if the Philistines were the descendants of another people of this region: Phoenicians.

Historians also know that around the time these changes occurred in the archaeological record, civilizations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean collapsed. The Philistines are written about in Egyptian hieroglyphs, where they are referred to as the Peleset — among the tribes of “Sea Peoples” said to have battled against Pharaoh Ramses III around 1180 B.C.  But other scholars suggest that the Philistines were a local people or those from present-day Turkey or Syria.

In any case, the ancient Philistines are present-day Palestinians.  When the Romans showed up, the Philistines became Syrian-Palestina.  Subsequently, Palestine became an Arabic-language description of the region during the invention of Islam.  After the Romans went home, Palestine “disappeared” until after World War I — when it became a political mandate assigned to Great Britain.

The modern debate about Palestine is that it cannot be a proper country because it has no precise borders.  It is a place where people live, and if you ask any Lebanese, Hashemite, or Egyptian about a Palestinian, you may as well be talking about lepers.  It stands to reason that people (such as the Philistines — now Palestinians), so long discriminated against by almost everyone in the Middle East — there must evolve bad feelings.  Left unaddressed or untreated, bad feelings lead to deep-seated anger.  In the case of the Palestinians, it led to such lethal organizations as Black September.

Black September was a breakaway faction of the Palestine Organization Fatah.  The group was formed in 1971 to seek retribution on the King of Jordan for “turning on” the Palestine people.  Of course, that is only one side of the story, but among Arabs, half of the history (the story) is all one is likely to receive.

In 1949, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordon, and Syria agreed to end the Arab-Israeli War of 1948.  The United Nations Organization (U.N.) established supervising agencies to monitor the ceasefire.  Additionally, the United States, United Kingdom, and France agreed to “take action outside of (and beyond) the U.N.” to prevent any violation of the frontier or armistice zones — to foster peace and stability in the region.

On 24 April 1950, the Kingdom of Jordan annexed the “West Bank” territory when the U.N. earmarked trans-Jordan territory (previously part of the British Mandate Palestine) as an area for a soon-to-be-announced independent Arab state: Palestine.  Jordan took possession of this region during the 1948 war.  Jordan intended not to return this land; they wanted to keep it out of the hand of the Palestinians.  Trans-Jordan included the cities of Jericho, Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, and Eastern Jerusalem (Old Jerusalem).  Trans-Jordan became known as the “West Bank.”

Many Palestinians accepted Jordanian rule and the King of Jordan as their sovereign.  Most didn’t care.  A few took it personally.  Following the Six Day War (1967) (which only lasted five days), Jordan lost control of the West Bank and its one million Palestinian population.  Israel promptly expelled 300,000 of these trouble-makers, and they moved to Jordan.  Most remained in their homes and traditional territories — but they were a de facto people without a country.  No one wanted them, and no one was looking out for them (one of the U.N.’s worst mistakes), so they began looking out for themselves.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) was formed in 1964 to create Arab unity throughout the former Mandate region — mainly in political opposition to Israel — and because the U.N. and every other Arab nation/culture had ignored the Philistines for nearly 19 years.  By the time of the creation of the P.L.O., 4.6 million Philistines were living in the former Mandate region and the Gaza Strip.  Of these, roughly 60,000 were Philistine Christians.  The dominating faction of the P.L.O. was (and remains) Fatah.  It is a nationalist political party and the largest faction of the multi-party P.L.O.  There are several militant groups within Fatah, each struggling to assert dominance — usually by demonstrating ruthlessness.

On 16 September 1967, a civil war broke out when 250 Syrian tanks (with P.L.O. markings) invaded the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  The clash pitted Jordan’s King Hussein against Yasser Arafat of the P.L.O.  It was an eleven-day war (16 – 27 September 1967) with additional severe conflicts lasting through July 1971. After Jordan lost control of the West Bank (1967), P.L.O. fighters (fedayeen) moved their base of operations to Jordan and stepped up their attacks on Israel and the occupied territories.

The P.L.O.’s fedayeen tried to assassinate King Hussein on two occasions, leading to King Hussein declaring martial law and confronting the P.L.O. in June 1970.  Initially, Hussein held off attacking the fedayeen (fearing injury to non-involved civilian populations), but the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked three airliners and blew them up full of international passengers.  It was Hussein’s last straw.

On 17 September, the Jordanian Army surrounded P.L.O. occupied cities, including Amman and Irbid, and launched massive artillery attacks.  On 18 September, Syrian forces disguised as P.L.O. reinforced the fedayeen fighters.  On 22 September, U.S., U.K., and Israeli ground and air forces joined with the Jordanians in a substantial assault, inflicting heavy losses on both P.L.O. and Syrian troops.[1]  Between then and late January 1971, Jordanian forces attacked, defeated, and drove out all Fedayeen forces.  Whoever wasn’t killed became a prisoner of the Jordanian prisoners — around 2,000 — most of whom may have rather died.

Philistine dissidents within the Fatah organization formed Black September — naming it after the month in which the Jordanian Civil War erupted — likely in retribution for starting a fight and then blaming the other guy.  After the Jordanians killed the initial leader of the B.S.O. (Abu Ali Iyad), the organization embarked on a program of propagandized denial and disinformation.  Black September was not a terrorist organization; it was only a resistance movement.  No relationship existed between B.S.O. and Fatah, or the P.L.O.  Abu Daoud (also known as Mohammed Daoud Oudeh) testified to Jordanian police that no such organization as B.S.O. existed.

Nevertheless, eight members of Black September (the organization that never existed) killed two Israeli Olympic athletes and kidnapped nine others in Munich, Germany.  It was the perfect place for an assault on Israelis — killing Jews is a German pastime.  West German Neo-Nazis provided Black September with much-needed logistical support during the standoff.  What B.S.O. wanted to accomplish was the release of 234 Philistine prisoners of war sitting inside Israeli jails.

B.S.O. operatives murdered the remaining nine Israelis on 6 September 1972.  Two days later, Israel retaliated by bombing ten P.L.O. bases in Syria and Lebanon.  Prime Minister Golda Meir established Committee X, a small group of government officials and operatives tasked with formulating an Israeli response — including Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, General Sharon Yariv to advise on counterterrorism matters, and the Director of Mossad, Zvi Zamir.[2]

The Wrath of God

Israel’s Committee X concluded that to deter future Palestinian violence, the Israelis must terminate everyone responsible for the Munich massacre.  The more dramatic their deaths, the better.  Prime Minister Meir was under tremendous pressure from the Israeli intelligence departments (and public opinion) to make the right decision.  However, reluctantly, Golda Meir authorized the assassination of any and every member of the P.L.O. connected to the Munich massacre.  Germany’s complicity in the P.L.O. killings appeared obvious when West German authorities released the three surviving Arab perpetrators in October — in compliance with the demands of the hijackers of Lufthansa Flight 615.[3]

Committee X’s first task was for Israel to draw up a list of targets — a hit list of people involved in the operation, in whatever capacity.  Israeli agents were aided in this process by members of the P.L.O. who were working for Mossad.  This information was independently vetted and validated by intelligence agencies of European intelligence agencies — information that was never unclassified for release to the public.  Scholars believe the number of “hits” was between 35 – 40 Philistines.

At the outset of planning for the operation was the dictum: the Mossad must always maintain plausible deniability and strive to achieve the impossibility of anyone making a direct connection between any assassinations and the state of Israel.  High on the list of Israeli priorities was causing P.L.O. militants a great deal of indigestion.  David Kimche, an assistant director for Mossad, later claimed, “The aim was not as much revenge as to fright them [P.L.O. terrorists].”

British author Simon Reeve reported that the Mossad team(s) consisted of squads named and organized according to the Hebrew alphabet.  Five squads (Aleph), two trained killers (Bet), two guards to follow the targets (Het), two agents to establish cover for the rest of the team (Ayin) — all together, six to eight teams, including communications technicians (Qoph).

There is conflicting information, however.  Victor Ostrovsky names the assassination team The Kidon, a claim supported by British investigative journalist Gordon Thomas.  Thomas somehow obtained copies of debriefing reports submitted by Kidon’s 80-member backup team involved in the operation.  Israeli author Aaron Klein claimed that the assassination teams were named Caesarea — but re-named at periodic intervals.

One embarrassing incident occurred on 21 July 1973 when Israeli agents mistook a Moroccan waiter (and the brother of a professional musician named Chico Bouchikhi) as a P.L.O. terrorist named Ali Hassan Salameh.  After the killing of Ahmed Bouchikhi, Norwegian police arrested six of the fifteen Mossad agents.  A Norwegian court convicted five of those agents of complicity in the murder.  Norwegian authorities also issued an arrest warrant for Mossad team leader Michael Harari, who managed to escape.  After 12 months, the warrant was canceled.

One psychological ploy used by the assassination squad was that several hours before each assassination, the target’s family received flowers with a condolence card reading, A reminder we do not forget or forgive.


The first assassination occurred on 16 October 1972.  P.L.O. member Wael Zwaiter met his end in Rome, Italy — as he returned from having dinner.  Mossad agents stepped up behind him and shot him to death.  Police found 12 slugs in his body.  Zwaiter was the P.L.O. Representative in Italy.  In the aftermath of his death, the P.L.O. publicly announced that Mr. Zwaiter was a caring, loving man with no evil bone in his body.  Had the detestable Israelis not assassinated Zwaiter, he may have received a Nobel Prize one day.

Target number two was Mahmoud Hamshari, the P.L.O.’s Representative in France.  A Mossad agent posing as a journalist lured Hamshari from his apartment so that an explosives team could place a bomb below his telephone instrument.  The agent posing as a journalist telephoned Hamshari on 8 December 1972.  Hamshari died, of course, but not before he could make a statement to police investigators.

Hussein al Bashir was a Jordanian and a member of Fatah in Cyprus.  When he turned out the light in his hotel room in Nicosia, a bomb planted under his bed detonated.  As it turned out, Bashir was later identified as having ties with the U.S.S.R. Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (also, K.G.B.).

On 6 April 1973, law professor Basil al-Kubaissi (from the American University, Beirut) was linked to Black September as their logistics guru.  He was shot to death in Paris while returning to his home from a dinner engagement.  Again, 12 shots, 12 hits.  Two might have been enough.  Tap, Tap.  But all 12-rounds were in tight groups.

Three Israeli targets lived in heavily guarded villas in Lebanon, which initially placed them beyond the reach of assassins — but Mossad reorganized the teams to find a different approach.  This particular operation was designated Operation Spring of Youth.  The targets were Muhammed Youssef al-Najjar (Black September Operations Officer), Kamal Adwan (Chief Operations Officer), and Kamal Nasser (P.L.O. Executive Committee Member and Chief Spokesman).

During the hours of darkness on 9 April 1973, Israeli special operations came ashore at Lebanese beaches where they met Mossad operatives, who drove them to their target addresses and then returned them to the beach for extraction later.  Israeli military operators killed all three targets.  Additional casualties involved P.L.O. security officers, al-Najjar’s wife, and an Italian next-door neighbor who was gawking out of a second-story window while holding something that closely resembles a weapon.

Israeli soldiers also assaulted the six-story building that served as the PFLP headquarters. The building was heavily defended, but the Israelis managed to destroy the building and everyone in it, losing two of their own in the process. Naval commandos also raided a P.L.O. arms-manufacturing facility and fuel dump. In total, Israelis killed between 20 and 100 of their Philistine enemies.

The P.L.O. replaced Bashir with Zaiad Muchasi, whom Mossad killed on 11 April 1973.  The bomb, placed underneath an automobile, also injured two minor Black September operatives.

At about this time, Mossad agents began surveilling Algerian-born Mohammad Boudia, who served as Black September’s Director of Operations (France). Boudia was known for wearing disguises, including cross-dressing as a woman, and for womanizing. Boudia met his end in Paris on 28 June 1973 when he activated a canister packed with explosives and metal objects Israeli agents placed under the seat of his car.

Mossad caught up with Ali Salem Ahmed and Ibrahim Abdul Aziz in Cyprus on 15 December 1979. Both men were shot to death with suppressed weapons at point-blank range. On 17 June 1982, two senior P.L.O. members were killed in Italy in separate attacks. Nazeyh Mayer, a leading figure in the P.L.O.’s Rome office, was shot to death outside his home. Kamal Husain, Mayer’s deputy, was killed by shrapnel from a bomb placed in his car, detonated as he drove home from work. On 23 July 1982, Fadl Dani, P.L.O. director in Paris, was also blown up. A year later, a P.L.O. official in Athens named Mamoun Meraish was killed in his car by two assailants riding a motorcycle.

On 10 June 1986, Khaled Ahmed Nazal, serving as Secretary General of the P.L.O.’s Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), was gunned down outside a hotel in Athens.[4]  Nazal received four taps to the head.  In October, Munzer Abu Ghazala, a member of the Palestinian National Council, was bombed to death in Athens.

On 14 February 1988, a car bomb in Limassol, Cyprus, killed Abu Al Hassan Qasim and Hamdi AdwanMarwan Kanafami was seriously wounded.

The Story of Ali Hassan Salameh

For years, Mossad agents searched for Ali Hassan Salameh.  Israelis referred to him as the Red Prince.  He was the head of “Force 17” and the Black September agent believed to be the mastermind behind the Munich massacre.[5]  P.L.O. leadership challenges Mossad’s claim.  Yes, he was involved in many murders in his miserable life, but he never had anything to do with Black September.

Some scholars believe that Salameh was skilled in manipulating Mossad agents and informants. After a year of searching, a Mossad informant (perhaps intentionally) directed Israeli agents to the small town of Lillehammer, Norway, telling them that Ahmed Bouchikhi was Salameh.  Two of the six agents arrested were women.  Five of the six were eventually convicted of the killing (known as the Lillehammer Affair) and imprisoned.  In 1975, Norwegian officials released the agents and returned them to Israel.

In January 1974, Mossad agents covertly deployed to Switzerland after receiving information that Salameh would meet P.L.O. leaders inside a church on 12th January.  Two assassins entered the church at the time of the meeting and encountered three Arab men.  One of these men went for his weapon; the Israelis killed all three men.  The assassins continued inside the church, searching for Salameh, but he was not found.  Michael Harari, the lead Israeli, decided to abort the mission.  His team, however, disregarded his order and tried one more time to kill Salameh.  Intelligence placed Salameh’s location at a house in Tarifa, Spain.  The second attempt was aborted when an Arab security guard approached the men with an AK-47.

Mossad was compromised throughout Europe.  Revelations by the agents on trial compromised safe houses, other agents, and operating methods. The international outrage about the Lillehammer Affair prompted Prime Minister Meir to suspend Operation Wrath of God. The operation was re-started under Prime Minister Menachem Begin — his order simple enough: find those on the list who are still at large.

In November 1978, Mossad began tracking Salameh once more.  A Mossad agent operating under the name of Erika Chambers, traveling with a British Passport, entered Lebanon and rented an apartment on Rue Verdun — a street frequently used by Salameh.  Two additional agents arrived using the names Peter Scriver and Roland Kolberg.  They traveled with British and Canadian passports.  Shortly after their arrival, a Volkswagen packed with explosives was parked along Rue Verdun, within view of Chambers’ rented apartment.  At 15:35 on 22 January 1979, Salameh and four bodyguards drove down the street in a Chevrolet station wagon.  The Volkswagen was detonated remotely from Chambers’ apartment.  Everyone in the Chevrolet was killed.  Finally, Salameh was dead.  Unfortunately, so too were four innocent bystanders — including a British student and a German Nun.  Eighteen others received severe injuries.  Chambers, Scriver, and Kolberg disappeared.

The Hostage Takers

Only three of the eight P.L.O. terrorists that carried out the Munich massacre survived the botched German rescue attempt on 6 September 1972.  The survivors were Jamal Al-Gashey, Adnan Al-Gashey, and Mohammed Safady.  On 29 October, German officials exchanged these men for the hostages on Lufthansa Flight 615.  They traveled to Libya and went into hiding.

For many years, it was thought that Mossad agents killed Adnan and Mohammed.  “Not so fast,” claimed journalist Aaron Klein.  He reported that Adnan died of heart failure in the 1970s, and Lebanese Christians killed Mohammed in the early 1980s.  But in 2005, former P.L.O. official Tawfiq Tirawi informed Klein that Safady, his close friend, was still alive.  He also reported that Jamal, who gave a press interview in 1999, now resides in Tunisia.

Justice delayed is justice denied.  —Magna Carta, clause 40: “To no one will we sell — to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice.”

Search and Destroy

Mossad didn’t confine itself to tracking down murderers and their associates.  To deter such events in the future, Mossad began a campaign of sending letter bombs to Palestinian officials all across Europe.  Most injuries caused by such bombs were non-fatal.

They also engaged in psychological operations designed to mess with the minds of the enemy.  They would run obituaries of still-living militants.  They would write notes to certain militants giving them detailed information as a demonstration that Mossad knew all about them.

Over the years, assassinations (or attempts) have been attributed to Mossad’s post-Munich campaign of retribution — but many of these could just as quickly be the work of breakaway P.L.O. factions.  In early January 1978, Said Hammami, U.K.’s P.L.O. representative, was shot and killed in London.  Experts claim the murder was likely the work of either Mossad or Abu Nidal.[6]  

On 3 August 1978, Ezzedine Kalak (P.L.O. Bureau Chief, Paris) and his deputy Hamad Adnan were killed at their offices in the Arab League building.  Three other members of the Arab League and P.L.O. staff were wounded.  The attack was either the work of Mossad or the Abu Nidal Organization — both denied involvement.

A year later, Zuheir Mohsen, head of P.L.O. military operations, was murdered as he exited a gambling casino in Cannes, France.  The assassination was blamed on Mossad, Abu Nidal, and Egypt’s state security.

On 1 June 1981, Naim Khader, P.L.O. Representative to Belgium, was shot and killed in Brussels.  The P.L.O. blamed Israel.  Two months later, Abu Daoud, a Black September militant commander (who openly bragged about his role in planning Munich), was shot multiple times in Warsaw while having lunch.  Daoud survived the attack, blaming Israel and a P.L.O. double agent.


Recall in the Book of Genesis the story of Abraham, his wife Sarah, and their concubine Hagar (also Agar).  It is one of the more disturbing stories of the Old Testament.  The account tells us that Abraham and his wife failed to trust God’s word and promises.  The story evolves into human slavery, sexual depravity, perfidy, and attempted murder.  Murder?  Yes — because it was intended to be their death sentence when Abraham and Sarah sent Hagar and her young son Ishmael out into the desert with no more than a loaf of bread and a skin of water.

Since then, Hebrews (Abraham’s main line) and Arabs (the line descended from Hagar) have deeply hated one another.  We are now discussing a problem lasting 4,000 years — around 200 generations.  Hatred learned, encouraged, and reinforced over so many generations produces a deep-seated conflict that simply cannot be concluded.

This is the story of the relationship (or lack of one) between Hebrews and Philistines (now Israelis and Palestinians).  But modern scholars want to simplify our understanding of this complex association, so they began their explanation of the violence in Israel and Palestine in the 20th century.  The past 122 years are probably “enough” time to get the big picture.  This problem has existed for 4,000 years — and no one with a lick of sense believes it’s going away any time soon.  Arabs hate the Jews.  Europeans seem to side with the Arabs and ignore that they helped to create this mess in the modern period.  As for the Jews — probably no one on the face of the earth holds Jews in more contempt than other Jews.

There is plenty of poison and no shortage of people to spread it.  People who feel they have been denied justice will seek it through any means at their disposal.  Arabs and Jews have been engaged in this search for a long time.  Neither has found it.  And neither is likely to find it.  It’s complicated.  It involves Arab vs. Jews, Moslems vs. Jews, and every Arab culture in the Middle East vs. the Philistines — the present-day Palestinian people, who have become the redheaded step-child of earth’s great sandbox.

Despicable behavior begets despicable behavior.  This is a story of pettiness.  It has nothing to do with God or His wrath.

Here endeth the lesson.


  1. Blumenau, B.  The United Nations and Terrorism.  Basingstoke, 2014.
  2. Calahan, A.B.  The Israeli Response to the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre.  Thesis, 1995.
  3. Cooley, J. K.  Green March, Black September: The Story of Palestinian Arabs.  London, 1973.
  4. Daoud, A.  Palestine: A History of the Resistance Movement by the Sole Survivor of Black September.  New York, 2002.
  5. Klein, A. J.  Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Massacre and Israel’s Deadly Response.  Random House, 2005.


[1] Jordan negotiated secretly with Israel despite voting at the Arab summit in August 1967: No to peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with Israel.  While Jordan would not sign an official accord with the Israelis, the two countries regularly worked together against the Philistines.

[2] Mossad is an organization within Israel’s national intelligence agency, along with Aman and Shin Bet (military and internal security).  Mossad collects intelligence, plans, and conducts covert operations, and supervises all activities relating to counterterrorism.  The director Mossad answers directly to (and only to) the Prime Minister.  None of Mossad’s purposes, objectives, roles, missions, powers, or budgets have been defined in any law.

[3] Scholars and journalists have argued that Germany was behind the hijacking from its inception.  The aircraft’s passenger capacity was 130; there were nine people on board.  They say it was a scam so that Germany could get rid of the three assassins in custody from the Munich attack, reduce the risks of future attacks, and secure for themselves lucrative business opportunities in the Arab States. 

[4] The DFLP is a PLO member organization that maintains a paramilitary terrorist construct called the National Resistance Brigade, which proudly claimed responsibility for the 1974 kidnapping of 115 Israelis and subsequent massacre by automatic weapons fire of 25 schoolchildren and a teacher. 

[5] Force 17 was the designation of the criminals who lived at No. 17 Al-Fakhani Street in Beirut. 

[6] Abu Nidal is a common name for the PLO Fatah (Revolutionary Council) militant group, a U.N. designated terrorist group.

Posted in Antiquity, British Mandate, History, Islam, Judaism, Justice, Middle East, New Testament, Old Testament, Vengeance | 3 Comments