Primary Source Adventures
Learners will observe Wallace’s reaction to captivity, the escape attempt, and the infamous black bean episode.
To explore the Mier Expedition, excerpts from Duval’s book are introduced to examine events pertaining to the failed Mier Expedition. As a direct participant in these events, Wallace’s account brings them into stark reality.
Worksheet questions stem from a variety of learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to shine. Teachers may also modify and easily incorporate these worksheets into their predesigned lesson plans.
The web links provided will help each instructor prepare, research, and present interesting reputable sites during lectures.
The Mier Expedition
by Vale Fitzpatrick
John C. Duval was the biographer for his friend William Alexander Anderson “Big-Foot” Wallace. Duval was a frontiersman himself and as such had “a rather limited education,” which sadly shaped his work in style and composition. Duval stated that the work has one merit: that it is a plain unvarnished story of the Adventures of Big–Foot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter, written with notes furnished by him and told as well “as my memory serves me, in his own language.”1 Duval published his work in the fall of 1870, some twenty-eight years after the events of the Mier Expedition. It remains one of the few contemporary sources written about this incident and the only one to detail the life of “Big-Foot” Wallace. Wallace’s recollections of his time during the Somervell and Mier expeditions are particularly noteworthy, bringing a very human and personal level to this disaster. The writing is rough in places, but this may serve to maintain the character of the individual in question.
He journeyed to Texas in 1836 for the purpose of avenging his brother and cousin, who had both been killed in the Goliad Massacre. The year 1842 was marked by several border incursions by Mexican forces and Texan counter attacks. When a Mexican army under the command of General Adrián Woll invaded in 1842 and captured San Antonio, Wallace joined in the defense of Texas. He was present at the battle of Salado in the fall of 1842, which halted the Mexican advance. After General Woll withdrew to Mexico, “Big-Foot” Wallace volunteered for the Somervell Expedition, a force of around 700 Texans, under the command of Alexander Somervell, who were to attack along the Mexican border as retribution for General Woll’s capture of San Antonio. The expedition moved cautiously and captured Laredo and Guerrero. Somervell, hearing rumors of Mexican approaching, recognized the danger and considered his expedition a failure. He therefore ordered a return to Texas. Most of his however, refused the order as they were driven by a desire for vengeance and emboldened by their previous success. Only 189 officers and men obeyed Somervell. Some 308 men and five captains under the command of William S. Fisher elected to continue. They became what would be remembered as the Mier Expedition.
A small group of Texas Rangers under Ben McCulloch operated on the west bank of the Rio Grande and served as scouts for the Mier Expedition. They withdrew when they found Mexican troops assembling across the river around the town of Mier but, contrary to McCulloch’s advice, Fisher crossed the river. His men initially occupied Mier and demanded supplies, then withdrew across the Rio Grande. That evening a Mexican army under General Pedro de Ampudia arrived and fortified the town. The Texans needed supplies and decided to force a crossing. Their attack resulted in a battle lasting through the night and into the next morning. The Texans fought against a force ten times their size, inflicting terrible casualties. Mexican losses were 600 killed and 200 wounded, while the Texans lost thirty killed and wounded. However, the Texans were running out of ammunition and water. General Ampudia raised a white flag and under negotiations convinced the Texans commanders to surrender. Wallace lamented that whenever the Mexicans “hoisted the white flag and succeeded in persuading the Americans into a ‘parley,’ they invariably got the better of them in some way or other [sic].” Wallace recalled “never shall I forget the humiliation of my feelings, when we were stripped of all our arms and equipments, and led off ignominiously”2 Thus began a long march to Perote Prison for the Texans. They, however, were not content to accept captivity. Throughout the march, guards paraded the Texans through towns they stopped in, drawing a “hooting mob” who cursed them and pelted them with rocks, dirt clods, and stale eggs. Wallace remembered it made him “quite proud” that they were the cause of all this noise and excitement.3 Wallace, however, gratefully remembered that some Mexican inhabitants gave them drinks and tortillas. During the march, supplies ran short and sometimes not even tortillas could be had, and the Texans spent many evenings shivering around meager campfires exposed to cold winds and rain. Conditions such as these quickly convinced the Texans that they had to escape.
On 11 February 1843, thirty miles from Saltillo, their chance came. The Texans led by Captain Ewen Cameron overwhelmed their guards, captured weapons, horses, and supplies and quickly departed. Initially following the road during their escape, the Texans left it and turned into the mountains to evade any possible pursuit. Food and water could not be found in that barren country. He recalled “all night long I could hear the men moaning . . . and crying out for water! water!” While most of the men followed Captain Cameron onward, some men wandered away, searching for water.4 The debilitated Texas were easily recaptured by Mexican cavalry.
The recaptured Texans were put under close guard and marched back to Saltillo, where the infamous black bean episode occurred. In response to the escape attempt, President Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered every tenth man shot. To determine who of the remaining 176 Texans would be shot, an earthen pot was filled with 159 white beans and seventeen black beans. Those unfortunates who drew the black bean were executed.5 Wallace and the surviving Texans were marched to Perote Prison, where many died due to starvation, disease, and wounds. A few were occasionally released upon requests from United States, British, or French officials. The last of the Mier prisoners were released by Santa Anna on 16 September 1844, finally bringing this ignoble chapter of Texas history to a close. “Big-Foot” Wallace never forgot the treatment that he suffered as a prisoner and after his release was quick to join the Texas Rangers under John Coffee (Jack) Hays with whom he served throughout the United States war with Mexico.
Duval’s Adventures of Big–Foot Wallace gives learners a ‘you are there’ understanding of the events surrounding the Meir Expedition. Larger concepts that can be drawn from this PSA are the ill will that the black bean episode generated among Texans toward Mexico. Many Texans like Wallace saw the Mexican-American war as the time to take their revenge.
1John C. Duval. The Adventures of Big-Foot Wallace: The Texas Ranger and Hunter. (J.W. Burke & CO. 1870), vii.
5Randolph B. Campbell, Gone To Texas: A History of the Lone Star State. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 181.