For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 11
THE OPENING OF THE WAR.
To get so many men across the river by boat would have taxed the resources of Gonzales to the utmost, so the majority of the Texans went around by way of the ford, only a few going over in the ferry with the four-pounder.
The trip was made during the night of October first, and every man was cautioned to be as silent as possible.
"We'll give them a surprise," said Dan to one of the young men, a ranchero named Henry Parker. He had known Henry Parker for over a year, and the two were warm friends.
"Or get a surprise," was the answer. "They may be watching us just as hard as we are watching them."
"Pooh! I am not afraid of a greaser!"
"Neither am I. But it will pay to be careful."
They had passed the ford, and now in the utter darkness the little band made its way through the brush toward the spot where the Mexican command had been in camp before the fog settled down.
Coming closer, the Texans were spread out in a sort of skirmish line, with the four-pounder in the centre. Dan and his friend were on the extreme right, down by the water's edge.
Here there was more than one little inlet to cross, and while Dan's horse was picking his steps the youth fancied he detected a sudden movement among the bushes overhanging the water's edge.
"Hold on," he cried to Henry Parker. "Something is in that bush."
"Man or beast?" whispered Henry, and placed his hand to the trigger of his gun.
"I can't say. Wait till I investigate."
Leaving his mustang in his friend's care, Dan leaped to the ground and ran close to the bushes. As he did this, he stumbled into a hole and fell. He picked himself up, and while doing so heard a splash and saw some dark object disappear beneath the river's surface.
"Come here! Something is up!" he called to Henry, and at once his friend complied, and both ran down to the water's edge and strained their eyes to pierce the gloom and the fog.
"What did you see?"
"Something slipped into the water, and I am half of the opinion it was a man."
"Then it must have been a Mexican!"
"'HOLD ON! HE CRIED TO HENRY PARKER. 'SOME THING IS IN THAT BUSH!'"
Dan had hardly spoken when he espied a head coming up but thirty or forty feet away. It was the head of a Mexican soldier, evidently a spy.
"Halt there!" cried Dan. "Come back here, or I'll fire!"
It is doubtful if he would have fired on the swimmer, having no desire to open the war in person, but his threat had considerable effect.
"No shoota me!" cried the Mexican. "No shoota!" And then he continued to talk in Spanish, which Dan and his friend understood, but imperfectly.
"I want you to come back here," went on the youth, and he pointed his gun.
At this the Mexican dove out of sight, not to come up for a distance of a rod or more.
"Shoot him—you have the right," urged Henry. "Or else I'll do it."
"Don't, Henry, it might be murder. Besides, we were ordered not to discharge any firearms until we received orders. A shot down here would alarm the whole Mexican camp."
"But we don't want that rascal to escape, Dan."
"I have it." Dan looked around and soon found several fair-sized stones. "Come back at once!" he ordered, and, taking aim, he let drive with one of the stones.
Dan had always been good at that sort of thing, and the stone landed, as intended, on the Mexican's back. He let out a howl of pain, so loud that several Texans at once rode up to the vicinity to learn what was the matter.
"Yes, he's got to come ashore," declared one of the men. "He may be a spy who has been over to Gonzales, and carries some kind of a message." He raised his voice in Spanish. "Come ashore, or we'll shoot you; do you hear?"
"Si, capitan" ("Yes, captain"), was the answer, and without further ado the Mexican turned and came back to the river bank. As he crawled out, wet and muddy, he looked the picture of despair.
"It's Pietro the gambler, from Bastrop," said one of the Texans, after a close scrutiny. "I'll wager he was going to give us away to the greasers in camp."
"No, no, me watch fight, dat's all, señor," said the Mexican, who was noted not only for his skill at cards but also for his skill at cheating. "Pietro fight for Texans when fight't all."
"That don't go down, you card-sharp!" cried an other of the men. "I know him well, and he would cheat his own grandmother if he could. Let us make him a prisoner, at least until this business we are on is over."
So it was agreed, and despite the gamblers' protests he was bound hands and feet and tied up to a near-by tree. Had he not been captured, the fight so close at hand would probably not have come off.
On went the Texans, until a point was gained overlooking the camping spot of the Mexicans. The advance guard reported that Captain Castinado was still at the place with his dragoons.
"Then we'll wait until daybreak and open up on them," said the Texans, and went into temporary camp. It is doubtful if any of the number closed his eyes for the balance of that never-to-be-forgotten night. To them this contest was to be like that of Concord and Lexington to the patriots of 1775,—it was to mark the dawn of Texan liberty.
The Mexicans had located at a spot called DeWitt's mound; while the Texans occupied a position farther down the valley and close to the river. As soon as it began to grow light, the four-pounder was placed in position, and the rough but rugged little army was drawn up in battle array. Only here and there was there a man in uniform, and the weapons were of all sorts and sizes. Leaders and privates had come over, some on horseback, some on ponies, and others on foot.
"Give it to them!" came the sharp order, when it was light enough to locate the Mexicans with certainty, and the brass four-pounder belched forth its contents, and the battle was opened at last.
"Forward!" was the cry down the line, and away swept the Texans, in two long lines, Mr. Radbury well to the front, and Dan not very far behind.
The Mexicans had been taken completely by surprise and for the moment knew not what to do. But they quickly organised and returned the fire, and then the Texans swept closer, and the constant crack, crack, of the musketry could be heard upon every side.
"Gracious, this is war, sure!" cried Dan, as he discharged his gun and proceeded to reload with all speed, while still riding forward. "It looks as if we were going to have a hand-to-hand encounter."
"Forward, for the liberty of Texas!" shouted one of the leaders, and a score of voices took up the cry. "For the liberty of Texas! For the liberty of Texas!" It was a battle-cry fit to inspire any body of men.
The Mexicans could not withstand such an onslaught, and, having fired several rounds, they broke and began to retreat before the Texans could get within two hundred yards of them. Away they went for the road leading to San Antonio, the Texans following them for some distance and then giving up the chase.
The first fight for Texan independence had been fought and won, and a mighty cheer went up, which was several times repeated. It was found that four of the Mexicans had been killed and several wounded, while the Texans had suffered little or nothing.
"Father, we have gained the day!" exclaimed Dan, as he rode up to his parent. Somehow, he had never felt so proud before in his life.
"Yes, we have gained the day," answered Mr. Radbury. "The question is, what next? You may be sure the government will not let this go by unnoticed."
"The government! What government?" put in one old settler. "I acknowledge no government but that of the independent State of Texas!" And a cheer went up.
"Let us hope it will be so, neighbour Johnson," went on Mr. Radbury. "But what if Santa Anna send out a large army to crush us?"
"He can't do it!" came from a dozen voices. "Let him come, and we'll show him what real American blood and backbone can do."
"We must organise, and without further delay," said one of the leaders. "We must have a regularly formed Texan army inside of thirty days, or else we'll have to pay the piper, and that means with Santa Anna that we'll either get a dose of lead or else dance on nothing," meaning they would all be shot or hung. This may seem an extravagant statement, but in view of what followed it was far from being so.