For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 17
THE GRASS FIGHT, AND WHAT FOLLOWED.
The victory at Concepcion, as was natural, greatly strengthened the cause of the Texans, and immediately afterward the number of volunteers in the army increased. Seeing this, Austin moved his command still closer, and settled into a regular siege of San Antonio. The scouts, under Colonel Bowie, surrounded the town, to give warning of the approach of any reinforcements for General Cos, who remained within, still barricading the streets and wondering how soon the revolutionists would attack him.
In the meantime, a general meeting of citizens and political leaders was held at San Felipe, and at this convention, as it was termed, Austin was elected as a commissioner to seek aid in the United States. This left Austin's place in the army vacant, and General Edward Burleson, an old Indian fighter, was selected to fill the position.
General Cos was boxed up in San Antonio with a force estimated at from twelve hundred to sixteen hundred men. Many of his soldiers belonged to mounted companies, and it became a problem, not only how to feed the men, but also how to feed so many animals. There were rations to hold out for some time, but little forage. To make the matter still more difficult for the Mexican commander, Bowie and others ordered all the grass in the immediate vicinity of San Antonio burnt. This caused one or two small fires among the huts on the outskirts of the town, and came near to starting a panic.
At last General Cos felt that he must either have forage for his soldiers' horses, or else slaughter them, and he hired bodies of the Mexican farmers to go out, during the night, to gather such grass as could be gotten within a reasonable distance of the town. These bodies of men invariably went out under the protection of one or more companies of cavalry.
The expeditions after forage brought on what was called the Grass Fight. Among Bowie's scouts was an old frontiersman called Deaf Smith, and one day when Smith was out he discovered a body of farmers and cavalry, about a hundred strong. The panniers of the horses and mules were stuffed with grass, but as the body was a long way off, Smith mistook them for some troops come to reinforce General Cos, and supposed the stuffed panniers to be filled with silver to pay off the Bexar garrison.
Without waiting to make certain about his discovery, Deaf Smith rode pell-mell into the camp of the Texans. "The reinforcements are coming!" he shouted. "Ugartchea is here!"
"Ugartchea! Ugartchea!" was the cry taken up on all sides, and it was not long before Colonel Bowie set off with a hundred of the best Texan horsemen to intercept the supposed newcomers.
The Mexicans saw them approach, but it was too late to get back into San Antonio, and while a few of the farmers managed to escape, the Mexican cavalry took up a position in the bed of a dry creek. The plight of those outside of the city was seen by those within, and General Cos instantly despatched more cavalry to the relief, and also two pieces of artillery.
The creek, which was in reality a deep gully, was overgrown on either side with tall brush, and Bowie had some difficulty in bringing up his command to a firing position. But some of the scouts could not be held back, and rushing up they speedily laid several of the Mexicans low.
"Now then, fire on them!" shouted Bowie, when the proper range was obtained; but the Texans had scarcely opened up, when the relief guard of the Mexicans swung into position behind the Texans, and they found themselves caught between two fires. They wheeled about, and charged those behind them, who speedily scattered in every direction, leaving their dead and dying behind them.
In the meantime, the main body of the Texan army was coming up, and, arriving at the gully, they drove out the cavalry, killing a dozen or more of them, and capturing many mules and horses, and a large quantity of grass, the so-called "silver" which was supposed to fill the panniers, and which caused many a laugh for long afterward. The loss to the Texans was small.
In the midst of the conflict one of the offi cers dashed up to Amos Radbury. "Lieutenant, several Mexicans are escaping in yonder direction," he said, pointing with his sword. "You will take a detachment of twelve men, and go after them."
"I will, major," answered the lieutenant, and saluted. He was soon on the way, with Poke Stover, and eleven others, for Poke happened to be near him when the order was given. The Mexicans they had been sent to capture were four in number, and one of them looked like an officer of considerable rank.
"I think we can ride them down, Poke," observed Lieutenant Radbury, as he dashed over the prairies at the full speed of his mustang.
"Well, we kin give 'em a putty tough ride fer it, anyhow," drawled the frontiersman.
"We must catch them, if possible, before they gain yonder timber land."
"Thet's so. If we don't, it won't be no easy work to locate 'em in the brush."
The party of thirteen were all fair riders, but for once the number seemed fated to be really unlucky. Less than quarter of a mile had been covered when one of the mustangs, going at full speed, stepped into the hole of some wild animal, and pitched headlong with a broken leg. The rider behind the one to go down, pitched in on top of him, and in a thrice there lay on the prairie a mustang so badly injured that he had to be shot, and two men so bruised that further pursuit for them of the Mexicans was out of the question.
"Halt!" cried Lieutenant Radbury, and brought the balance of his command to a stand still. "Are you much hurt, Readwell?"
"I—I reckon not," was the answer, but when Readwell attempted to stand up he found his foot and back badly strained.
"And you, Alton?"
"My left arm is bruised,—I don't know but what it is broken."
"The mustang is done fer," put in Poke Stover, after examining Readwell's steed. "Might as well shoot him, and put him out of his misery."
This was ordered by the lieutenant, and the command carried out on the spot. The second mustang was slightly injured, but could still be ridden.
"Both of you had better go back, on the one mustang," said Amos Radbury. "And, Glenwood, you can go back with them, for fear they may have trouble with other Mexicans who may be wandering about."
So it was arranged, and this brought the lieutenant's force down to ten men. The two parties separated without delay, and those in pursuit of the flying Mexicans went on as fast as before.
But the delay had given the enemy an advantage, and before the Texans could come within good firing distance the four Mexicans reached the timber. At the edge they came to a halt.
"They are going to fire on us, leftenant!" cried Stover.
"Down!" cried Amos Radbury, and the Texans had scarcely time to drop to the sheltered sides of the steeds, a favourite trick with old frontiersmen, when a volley sounded out, and the bullets whistled over their heads. Another volley followed; then, as the Texans swept closer, and fired in return, the Mexicans disappeared into the timber.
Ordinary soldiers would have hesitated about following the Mexicans into the forest, but all of the Texans were expert in woodcraft, and thought they could keep out of an ambuscade as well in the woods as out of it.
"Stover, supposing you and Bilberry go ahead and reconnoitre," suggested the lieutenant. "I know I can trust you to keep out of trouble."
"Certainly, I'll go ahead, if ye want me to," answered Poke Stover, in his free and easy manner, and rode on with the other soldier mentioned. As soon as they got into the thickets of the timber, they dismounted, tied their steeds to a tree, and advanced on foot. In the meantime, Amos Radbury spread out the balance of his party into a line fifty yards long, extending from a deep ravine on the right to a steep hill on the left. He felt that the Mexicans could not climb the hill very well, for it was covered with large and loose stones, and to take their ponies down into the ravine would be equally difficult.
The advance of Stover and his companion was necessarily slow, for they had no desire to be picked off by some Mexican concealed behind a tree. Yet they kept on for a dozen rods before finding any trace of the enemy.
"The trail goes toward the ravine," said Stover, presently. "They are following an old Comanche path."
"Right ye air," answered the other frontiersman. "Years ago, them air Comanches had a village in this ravine, erbout four miles from hyer."
"I've heard tell on it, Bilberry, though I never sot eyes on it myself. It war the home o' thet Bison Head, the wust of 'em as ain't dead yet."
Having made certain that the Mexicans had gone straight on for a goodly distance, the two scouts so reported, and the entire party set off along the ravine, which at some points was broad and shallow and at others narrow and deep.
Suddenly the report of a gun rang out, coming from a point where the ravine made an abrupt turn to the north. Several other reports followed.
"They must be shooting at something," said Lieutenant Radbury. "But they are not aiming at us, for no bullets have come this way, so far as I can ascertain."
"Perhaps they are having a brush with some Indians," suggested another of the party. "They may— Hello, what's this coming along the trail? A white mustang, I declare, with a black blaze on his forehead. None o' those greasers rode that animal, I'm certain on it."
"A white mustang!" cried Amos Radbury, and then, as the animal came closer, he gave a start. "It's the same, I declare!"
"The same?" queried Poke Stover. "What do ye mean, leftenant?"
"That mustang belongs to me. I was trying to break him in when the call to arms came. He must have gotten away from my boys. But what is he doing away out here?"
That question could not be answered just then, and in another moment the white mustang was out of sight. Then, as the firing ahead had ceased, the movement forward was continued.