The Ringtail Panther

Martin Van Buren Palmer (later, Parmer) (1778-1850) was born in Charlotte County, Virginia.  In 1798, he moved to Tennessee, settling in Dickson County where he superintended the Montgomery-Bell Iron Works.  During the War of 1812, Parmer served as a commissioned officer in the Tennessee State Militia.

Note:  Originally, the Missouri Territory was known as the Louisiana Territory.  Congress renamed it because they wanted to avoid confusion with the new state of Louisiana, admitted to the United States on 30 April 1812.  The Missouri Territory was massive, taking up the entire center section of the present-day United States.  There was, of course, no shortage of stout-hearted men to tame the territory, but they’d have to do that over the dead bodies of the Indians who already lived there.  After Missouri became a state, the remaining portions of the territory (Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas, Wyoming, Montana, parts of Colorado, Minnesota, and New Mexico) became unorganized territories of the United States.

In 1816, Martin Parmer moved on to Missouri.  Four years later, citizens elected him to a two-year term in the Missouri General Assembly.  While serving in this capacity, Martin became a delegate to the Missouri Constitutional Convention of 1821.  Three years later, Parmer represented Clay County in the Missouri State Senate (1824-25) and was selected to serve as a colonel in the Missouri State militia where, after 1821, he led four companies of infantry against hostile Indians.

In this “unorganized” territory, Martin Parmer became known as the “ring-tail panther.”  Parmer began calling himself the Ringtail Panther in Missouri.  There is no animal so named to the best of my knowledge; however, a cat-sized carnivore resembling a small fox with a long raccoon-like tail, called Ringtail (Bassariscus astutus) found in the southern portion of the United States and northern Mexico.  I cannot say whether this is the creature favored by Martin Parmer.  But in any case, that’s what people called Martin Parmer, and judging from his portrait, no one with common sense would dispute the claim.  When Missouri became a state, Martin served as a representative in the first general assembly.  He was later elected a state senator to the third general assembly and appointed an Indian agent by the famed explorer William Rogers Clark.  Major General James R. Slack of Indiana described Martin Parmer as shown in the text box below:

In 1825, Martin traveled to Texas as part of Haden Edward’s colony.  It was said by those who knew him in Missouri that Martin Parmer took French leave and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas.  French leave suggests someone who quits his post.  Parmer’s Texas migration took him to Mound Prairie (Cherokee County).  It has only been four short years before when Mexico won its independence from Spain and established a new nation consisting of several states.

The area known as Mexican Texas became part of the border state Coahuila y Tejas.  To assist in governing such a large area, the state organization included several smaller departments.  Texas was known as the Department of Béxar, consisting of several municipalities governed by an alcalde (mayor).  A large portion of East Texas (from the Sabine River to the Trinity River and from the Gulf Coast to the Red River) became part of the municipality of Nacogdoches.

Most people living in Nacogdoches were Spanish-speaking families who had occupied their land for several generations.  After 1821, many Americans illegally migrated to Nacogdoches during the Mexican War of Independence.  More than a few of these people were adventurers who had accompanied filibusters — whom Mexican officials regarded as pirates.

As the government of Mexico worked to establish control over its border with the United States, Mexican officials established a series of laws governing colonization and immigration in Texas.  Under federal law, each state could develop its own immigration rules.  On 24 March 1825, Coahuila y Tejas granted land to impresarios, each of whom would recruit settlers for their own colony.  For every 100 families an impresario settled in Texas, he would receive 23,000 acres of land to cultivate and settle.[1]

Among these impresarios was Haden Edwards, a very wealthy American land speculator known for having a quick temper and rude deportment toward others.  The government of Mexico authorized Edwards to establish 800 families in East Texas.  The contractual language required Edwards to recognize all pre-existing Spanish and Mexican land titles in his grant area, raise a militia to protect the settlers, and submit all land deeds to a state commissioner for certification.  The Edwards grant included land from the Navasota River to a point twenty leagues west of the Sabine River and twenty additional leagues north of the Gulf of Mexico to fifteen leagues north of Nacogdoches.  Note: one league in Mexico/Texas was 4,428.4 acres or roughly 3 square miles.  To the north and west of this colony were several Native tribes.  The southern boundary of the Edwards colony abutted that of Stephen F. Austin, whom Edwards detested.

Shortly after Edwards arrived in Texas, he initiated an illegal process of validating existing land claims, within which he demanded that residents provide proof of land ownership or forfeit their land at auction.  The plain truth was that Edwards didn’t like Mexicans, and he wanted their land.  However, few of the English-speaking residents had valid titles to the land, many of whom were duped by fraudulent land speculators.

Nacogdoches Alcalde Luis Procela and clerk of court José Antonio Sepulveda anticipated a problem with the new impresario, so they validated Spanish and Mexican land titles.  Edwards accused these two officials of forging deeds (ostensibly because they were Mexicans), further angered residents.  By December 1825, Edwards had successfully recruited fifty families, and — pursuant to his duty as an impresario, he organized a militia.

As it was a long-held tradition that militias elected their own company-grade officers, the men elected Sepulveda as their captain.  Edwards would not have it; he nullified the vote and named himself militia commander.  Edwards also called for elections to name a new mayor.  The two nominees were Chichester Chaplin (Martin Parmer’s son-in-law) and Samuel Norris, an early resident of Nacogdoches.  To no one’s surprise, Chaplin won the election.

Chaplin’s victory led many residents to allege vote stacking, and they appealed the election results to Juan Antonio Saucedo, the political chief of the Department of Béxar.  Saucedo overturned the election and proclaimed Norris the winner.  Edwards refused to recognize Norris as alcalde but soon left Nacogdoches for another settler recruiting campaign — leaving his brother, Benjamin, in charge of the colony.  Benjamin, however, wasn’t very good at maintaining stability.  A vigilante group formed from among the earlier settlers, and they began harassing the new immigrants.  Benjamin Edwards whined to state authorities, who soon tired of the drama and canceled the Edwards contract.  More than that, Mexican officials ordered the Edwards brothers to leave Mexico.  Mexican officials undoubtedly believed rumors that Haden had returned to the United States to raise an army.  Despite the deportation order, the Edwards brothers continued their land schemes in Nacogdoches.

Alcalde Norris evicted immigrants in October and November because they illegally settled land belonging to existing settlers.   On this occasion, Colonel Martin Parmer of the Texian militia led a force of men into Nacogdoches and arrested every official and had them court-martialed.  With Parmer sitting as the tribunal, each official was found guilty of — it is supposed — treasonous offenses and sentenced to death.  Parmer commuted the sentences on the condition that the guilty leave Texas and never return.  Following the trial, Parmer appointed Joseph Durst as Alcalde in Nacogdoches.  Parmer led the Fredonian Rebellion for one month, declaring the area around Nacogdoches the independent Republic of Fredonia with himself as its president.  The Republic lasted one month — from 21 December 1826 to 23 January 1827.  Its collapse sent Parmer scrambling ahead of the arrival of the Mexican Army into Louisiana, where he wisely remained until 1831.

The Bowie Connection

After recovering from the infamous sandbar fight in 1828, Jim Bowie decided to take his bubbling personality to Texas.  The Constitution of 1824 banned any religion other than Roman Catholic and gave preferences to faithful citizens.  Bowie liked what he saw in Texas and decided to stay.  To do that, Bowie had to convert to the Catholic faith.  With San Antonio mayor Juan Martin Veramendi, Bowie was baptized in late April of that year.  For the next 18 months, Bowie traveled through Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi but spent most of his time in New Orleans, where he specialized in human vice.  In 1829, he became engaged to Miss Cecilia Wells of Alexandria, Louisiana.  Unfortunately, Miss Wells passed away two weeks before their scheduled marriage ceremony.

In 1830, Bowie returned to Texas to receive his allotment of land from Stephen F. Austin.  Bowie’s letter of introduction, attesting to his good character and standing as a citizen of the United States, failed to mention that he was involved in land fraud schemes, but of course, there was no internet back then, so it would have been difficult for Austin to verify any such letter.  Having taken his oath of allegiance to the Republic of Mexico, Austin commissioned Bowie as a Colonel of the Texas Rangers.

Jim Bowie was fluent in the Spanish language, which offered him ready access to Mexican society in San Antonio.  He used this access to establish business and personal relationships with Mayor Veramendi — including his engagement to the beautiful 19-year old Maria Ursula Veramendi, Juan Martin’s daughter, whom he married in 1831.

According to Frank Johnson, a leader of the Texas Revolution, when Jim Bowie returned to Texas, he had with him Martin Parmer, whom Johnson acknowledged as “prominent in the Fredonian Affair.”  Parmer’s reputation preceded him to San Antonio, which caused no minor difficulty for Bowie.  Bowie was popular within Mexican society — Parmer far less so.[2]

Parmer had no use for Mexicans, nor they for him, and it was not long before certain individuals asked Mayor Veramendi to arrest Parmer, which Juan Martin felt obligated to do.  The arrest warrant was issued and delivered to deputy sheriff Captain Francis Adams, a friend of Martin Parmer.  While pretending to search Parmer, Adams warned him to skedaddle.  Frank Johnson’s entire point in telling this story was to highlight that there were no good feelings between Mexicans and Texians with only a few exceptions (such as Jim Bowie).[3]

Five years later, as things began to heat up between Mexican citizens supporting the Constitution of 1824 and those who supported the centralist regime of Antonio López de Santa Anna, Parmer served as a delegate from the District of Tenaha to the Consultation at San Felipe.  As part of the Consultation, Parmer submitted Henry Smith’s name to serve as governor of Texas.  Ultimately, Smith was chosen to serve as governor of Texas, the first U.S.-born individual to serve in such a capacity.

In March 1836, Parmer served as a delegate from San Augustine to the convention at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Parmer seconded Sam Houston’s suggestion that the Texians adopt the Texas Declaration of Independence.  The Convention unanimously approved the declaration; Martin Parmer was one of the signers and served as the committee chairman appointed to draft the Texas Constitution.  According to Charles B. Stewart, who knew Parmer personally, he was a man without any fear whatsoever, had the knack of telling amusing stories, and had nothing but disdain for any Mexican.  Stephen Blount described Parmer as a man of nervous temperament, stubbornness, and impatience with unnecessary delays.  Blount described him as having the best impulses: honesty, bravery, courage, and a man who could tell a good tale.

In 1839, Martin Parmer became the Chief Justice of Jasper County — where he remained until he died in 1850.  In 1876, the Texas Legislature named a county in his honor.  On the 100th anniversary of the War of Texas Independence, Texas officials relocated Parmer’s remains to the Texas State Cemetery, where he was reinterred thirty feet from Stephen F. Austin — the man who vigorously opposed Parmer’s first attempt to declare Texian Independence.

Sources:

  1. Davis, W. C.  Three Roads to the Alamo.  Harper Collins, 1998.
  2. Dixon, S. H.  The Men Who Made Texas Free: The Signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence.  Texas History Company, 1924.
  3. Parmer, T.  Fifty-Five Years Ago in the Wilderness.  Dallas Commercial Books, 1874 (Note: Tom Parmer was Martin’s son).
  4. History of Texas Online: Martin Parmer.

Endnotes:

[1] This is not a drawing or representation of Martin Parmer; rather, it is a representation of how a Missourian frontiersman would dress in the 1820s.  Visual provided by George Catlin from A History of Missouri published in 1908.

[2] The picture shown at the right is of Martin Parmer (The Ringtail Panther) is an original work based on preliminary sketches by Charles Berkeley Normann in 1936.  The painting is on display in the Star of the Republic Museum, Washington, Texas.

[3] A generalization by Johnson, or perhaps reflective of his own personal biases.  In point of fact, 25 Mexicans died with their Anglo brothers inside the Alamo on 6 March 1836.


About Mustang

Retired Marine, historian, writer.
This entry was posted in American Frontier, American Indians, American Southwest, Feuds & Rivalries, History, Justice, Missouri, Pioneers, Politicians, Revolution, Society, Texas, Texas Rangers. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Ringtail Panther

  1. Excellent reading and a wonderful distraction for me this morning. I never heard this story in any of my school years from youth onward. I never heard of him until today – Martin Parmer. It always astounds me of the little justice they do to history in American schools. Private schools do a better job, speaking from personal experience being in both, but still so many loopholes and missing events such as this. Yes, it is a tale, but it is at the very least part of American History. Thanks for the read Mustang.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Of course. Your site is noteworthy. I learn much on your site, both of them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Andy says:

    An interesting account of the early days of Texas.

    I had never heard of Parker before, so I found this a particularly interesting bio.

    Be well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good stuff as usual.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Robin Dickson says:

    Thank you for this! Martin Parmer (aka Ringtail Panther) is my 4th great grandfather! I grew up hearing tales of my colorful ancestor and you have verified them here!

    Like

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