For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 12
THE MARCH ON SAN ANTONIO.
The Mexicans had been routed, and for over a week matters went along quietly in the vicinity of Gonzales; that is, there was no further righting. Meetings there were without number, and young and old began to drill and to talk of nothing but military matters.
"Will you join the army, father?" asked Dan, when, two days after the fight, he and his parent returned to the ranch home.
"I do not see how I can avoid it," answered Mr. Radbury. "Many of the neighbours are going, and it might appear cowardly to hang back. Besides, I must say that, after long thought, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing for us to do but to fight for our rights."
"Hurrah! I knew you would say that," cried Dan. "We must be free by all means, and then perhaps some day we'll become joined to the United States."
"That is for after consideration," smiled Mr. Radbury, but the thought had often crossed his own mind.
Ralph and the negro were anxious to hear the particulars of what had occurred, and the boy listened to his brother's tale in open-mouthed amazement.
"A real battle! Oh, Dan, how I wish I had been there!"
"Well, to tell the truth, it was rather one-sided. The Mexicans did not stand up in front of us long."
"And what are they going to do next?"
"Nobody knows. But there will be war, beyond a doubt."
"Oh, yes, I suppose General Santa Anna will be as mad as a hornet when he hears of the affair. And all over an old brass cannon, too!" And Ralph gave a laugh.
Matters were going along smoothly at the ranch, for Pompey was a faithful worker and had dropped into the routine without an effort. Mr. Radbury was glad that he had come, for he felt that he wanted a man around, in case the coming war carried him a distance from home.
As intimated, the fight at Gonzales became the talk of all Texas, and, the day after the contest, the committee organised at San Felipe issued a statement and called upon each man in Texas to decide for himself whether or not he would submit to the destruction of his rights and liberties by the central government of Mexico, and stating that the war had begun.
While meetings were going on in a dozen places or more, and frontiersmen and settlers were hurrying to the scene of action, a force of about forty men, under the leadership of Captain Collingsworth, gathered for the purpose of capturing Goliad, a small town on the lower San Antonio River. The river was gained on the night of October 9th, and while scouts were out reconnoitring, the brave little band was joined by Colonel Ben Milam, an old Texan empresario, who had been confined for political reasons in the jail at Mon terey. Of this gallant man we will hear more later.
Finding the coast clear, the band entered the town, and silently made their way to the quarters of Lieutenant-Colonel Sandoval, the commandant. They were less than a hundred feet from the garrison when a sentry discovered them and gave the alarm. The sentry was shot down on the spot, and then the door was splintered to kindling-wood with axes, and the Texans poured into the building, and the commandant was made a prisoner. There was great surprise for several minutes, but the Mexican soldiers had been taken off their guard, and could offer little resistance. Twenty-five were captured, and the rest escaped in the darkness. By this quick movement the Texans gained a quantity of valuable army stores, horses, three pieces of artillery, and five hundred guns and pistols.
As Gonzales had been the starting-point of the war, it now became the general centre for the gathering Texan army, and by the middle of October there were gathered there between three and four hundred men who were willing and anxious to serve their country. By common consent Austin was appointed chief in command, with the title of general. The volunteers, as they were called, were formed into a regiment, with John H. Moore as colonel. Old Colonel Milam, who had just arrived from Goliad, was made chief of a band of scouts,—men who did valiant service from the beginning to the end of the war.
It was to this regiment that Mr. Radbury became attached, and Dan and Ralph rode down to Gonzales to see their parent join. As Mr. Radbury was a veteran of the war of 1812, he was given the position of a lieutenant. Drilling went on constantly, and the little regiment was gotten into the best condition that the means at hand afforded. In the meantime other volunteers poured in daily.
At first the Texans had thought to act only on the defensive, but, as the days slipped by, the war spirit grew on the settlers, and they said they wanted the thing "over and done with," that they might return to their homes and prepare for the winter. It was then decided to march toward San Antonio, to see if the Mexicans would come out of the stronghold to do them battle.
"Good-bye, boys," said Mr. Radbury, when the order was passed around to prepare for the march. "It may be some time before I see you again."
"I wish I could go," answered Dan, pleadingly.
"Your time may come, Dan. But for the present I think we have enough men for this expedition. I think you and Ralph will have enough to do around the ranch, with me absent."
"But if I hear you are in trouble, father, I shall come on at once," went on Dan, and from this decision his parent could not dissuade him.
The troops were soon on the way, Dan and Ralph riding several miles with their parent. Then, at the top of the hill, they separated. But the boys remained on the hill until the soldiers were lost to sight in the distance on the dusty plain below.
"Good-bye, and may success go with them!" cried Ralph, half sadly. "I do hope father comes back safe and sound."
"If he doesn't, I shall take his place in the ranks," replied Dan, quickly. "But come, we must be getting home now, or Pompey will be anxious about us."
"Here comes a horseman, riding like the wind," came from the younger Radbury, a moment later. "I declare, it's Poke Stover!"
"Hullo, boys!" cried the old frontiersman, as he came up. "What are ye a-doin here?"
"We just saw the troops off for San Antonio," answered Dan.
"Gone this way?"
"An hour ago. See that black line over yonder? That's our army."
"Whoopee! I was afraid I'd be too late. Good bye. We are bound to bring them greasers to terms this trip!" And, with a wave of his sombrero, Poke Stover rode off as rapidly as he had come.
"He'll be a whole company in himself," was Ralph's comment. "He doesn't think any more of a Mexican soldier than he does of a fly, to bother him."
They were soon on the way to Gonzales, where they loaded their ponies with stores for the ranch. This accomplished, they set on up the river, hoping to reach the ranch home by night.
In those days the banks of the Guadalupe River were altogether different from to-day. Where numerous settlements now exist were then immense belts of timber, with here and there a burn, or a stretch of thorns and entangling vines. In some spots the banks were steep and rocky as to-day, and these rocks were the homes of numerous wild animals, including the fierce Texan wolf, the puma, the jaguar, the wild cat, and the black bear. The stream was full of fish, the best of which was the black bass, which, I believe, still holds its own in many Texan waters.
As the boys passed along the narrow wagon trail, which their father and other pioneers had blazed for themselves, they kept their eyes on the alert for any wild beasts that might appear, having no desire to let a fierce and hungry wolf pounce down suddenly upon themselves or their steeds, or a black bear stalk out to embrace them. Their packs lay behind them, and they held their guns on the saddle in front.
They were thus passing through the largest of the timber belts when the howl of a wolf reached their ears. It was immediately answered by a similar howl from another wolf. Both came from directly in front.
"Hullo! a wolf—two wolves!" cried Ralph, as he brought his pony to a halt. "I don't like that much."
"Is your gun all right?" came quickly from his brother.
The two lads remained motionless in the saddle for several minutes, listening. No other howl reached their ears, and the only sounds were that of the rushing stream as it tumbled over some rocks, and the cries of the night birds and the humming of the insects.
"Let us set up a yell," suggested Dan. "That may scare them off."
They called out at the top of their lungs several times. One distant howl answered them, then all became as silent as before.
"We may as well go on," said the older brother. "We'll be as safe moving as standing still. But keep your eyes peeled, Ralph."
They moved on slowly, with eyes turned to the right and the left, and keeping as far as possible from the brushwood and the low-hanging boughs of the trees. The mustangs seemed to realise that all was not right, and pricked up their ears and smelled the air.