For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 27
THE MEXICAN ARMY AT SAN ANTONIO.
The day was almost spent when, from a slight hill, they came in sight of San Antonio, the setting sun gilding the tops of the church steeples, and making the sluggish river appear like a stream of gold.
"No white mustang yet," said Dan. "I reckon we might as well give up the chase and go right into the city."
"Not yet!" cried Poke Stover, pointing with his hand to the northwestward. "Thar ye are, Dan!"
Dan looked in the direction, and in a patch of cottonwoods made out a white object, moving slowly along. It was the mustang they were after, so tired out that he could scarcely move from one spot to the next.
"We've got him now!" ejaculated the youth, enthusiastically. "And just as I was ready to give up, too! Come on!"
Away he swept, with all the quickness of which his own wearied steed was capable, and Poke Stover followed him. The white mustang saw them coming, and set off into the timber on a feeble run.
The course of the pursued creature was around the northern approach to San Antonio and then toward the Medina River. Many times they thought to give up the chase, but then the white mustang seemed so near and so ready to drop that they kept on until the river bank was gained. Here the mustang disappeared into a pine brake; and it may be as well to add, right here, that neither the Radburys nor Poke Stover ever saw him again.
"Where is he?" asked Dan, a few minutes after the animal had disappeared. "Do you think he leaped into the water?"
"I heard a splash," answered the old frontiersman. "There it goes again." He tried to pierce the darkness with his eyes. "There is something over yonder, that—Whoopee, Dan, look!"
There was no need for Poke Stover to call the boy's attention to what was on the other side of the Medina, for Dan was already looking, "with all eyes," as the saying is. He had made out a number of Mexican cavalrymen, moving up and down along the west bank, and now he noted two pieces of artillery, which the cannoneers were trying to run out on two rafts moored close at hand.
"The Mexican army, as sure as you are born!" cried Stover, in an excited whisper. "Lad, we have made an important discovery. They must be bound for Bexar!"
"Yes, and there are thousands of them," answered Dan. His heart was beating so rapidly that he could scarcely speak. "Poke, what had we best do?"
"Find out what their game is, first, and then ride back to Bexar as fast as our mustangs can make it. If the garrison isn't warned, there will surely be a great slaughter."
There was a stiff norther blowing, making the swollen stream rough and dangerous to cross, and the Mexicans were consulting among themselves as to how they should proceed. With bated breath, the boy and the old frontiersman watched every movement, and, at the same time, tried to figure up mentally how many Mexicans there were.
"At least a thousand," said Poke Stover, but, as we know, he was mistaken; the force of the enemy numbered nearly seven times that many, although, to be sure, they were not all in that immediate vicinity.
"We will cross the river and investigate," said one of the officers, presently, and a large flat-bottomed boat was brought around and a dozen soldiers leaped into it.
"We had better get out now," whispered Poke Stover, and turned his pony to ride away from the river bank.
"Halt! Who goes?" came the cry, in Spanish, from one of the Mexican guards.
"We are discovered," whispered Dan. "Come on!"
He turned away from the river bank and dove straight into the pine brake. Then came a shot of warning, but the Mexican fired high, not daring to take aim for fear of hitting a friend.
The shot caused a commotion, and soon Dan and Stover felt that they were being followed. They tried to make their mustangs move on a run, but the animals could not be urged farther.
"They will catch us, sure," gasped the boy, as the steps of the enemy sounded nearer and nearer. "What shall we do?"
"Move to the right, and we'll see if we can't throw them off the trail," answered Poke Stover.
To the right there was a slight hollow, filled with mesquite-trees and bushes, and beyond this was a sandy plain covered with cacti. But of the latter both were ignorant.
Down into the hollow they dove, their horses glad enough of the chance to get a drink at the pool among the bushes. Under the mesquite-trees they halted, and Stover went back to reconnoitre.
The scout was gone for fully quarter of an hour, and came back chuckling softly to himself.
"We threw 'em nicely," he said. "We are safe now, providin' we don't make too much noise."
"Then let us go on, Poke. We must carry the news to Bexar."
"It's funny there are no scouts around," was the old frontiersman's comment. "They ought to be on the watch." But none of the Texan soldiers were on guard, the greater portion of them being in attendance at a Mexican fandango in the town, never suspecting the attack so close at hand. Santa Anna heard of this fandango, and would have pushed forward to capture San Antonio at once, but could not get his army across the Medina River.
Leaving the pool, Dan and the frontiersman ascended to the plain, and presently found themselves among the cacti. This was anything but pleasant, and they had to pick their way with great care in the darkness, and even then their steeds often refused to budge, so prickly were the plants. It was almost morning when they arrived in sight of jacals, or huts, which dotted the outskirts of the city.
The pair at once sought out the commander of the garrison, Lieutenant-Colonel William B. Travis, who was still sleeping. Travis was a dashing young soldier of twenty-eight, a lawyer by profession, and a native of North Carolina. The commander was "red-hot" for independence, and one who never gave up, as we shall soon see.
"So you wish to see me," he said to Stover, whom he had met before. "It's rather an early visit."
"I have to report that a large body of Mexicans are approaching the town," answered the old frontiersman, saluting in true military style. "Young Radbury here and myself were down along the Medina, when we spotted them trying to bring a couple of cannon over on a raft."
"Mexican soldiers?" exclaimed the lieutenant-colonel. "You are certain of this?"
"How many of them do you think?"
"At least a thousand."
The commander knit his brows in perplexity. "It is odd none of my scouts have brought me word. But a fandango—" He broke off short, as another officer came in. "What is it, Chester?"
"It is reported that some Mexican dragoons are in the vicinity, colonel."
"These people here tell me a whole army is coming. Where did your report come from?"
"The church steeple. The dragoons are in the vicinity of Prospect Hill," went on the officer, mentioning a hill to the west of San Antonio.
"I must have the particulars of this without delay," said the commander, hurriedly; and while he questioned Stover and Dan he sent for several scouts, who were hurried off to verify the reports. When the scouts came back, they reported that Santa Anna's army was coming straight for San Antonio, several thousand strong.
The whole city was at once thrown into a commotion, and it was felt that the garrison could do little or nothing toward defending the place.
"We are but a hundred and forty odd strong," said Lieutenant A. M. Dickenson, one of the attachees of the garrison. "We cannot hold the plaza, no matter how hard we try. Let us retreat to the Alamo, until we can summon reinforcements."
The matter was hastily discussed, and it was decided to retreat to the Alamo without delay. Later on, express riders were sent off for help,—but help never came for those who fought so nobly and bitterly to the very last.
The retreat from the town to the mission was necessarily a rapid one, for Santa Anna was advancing with all possible speed. Few stores could be taken along, but as the garrison swept across the plain lying between the city and the mission, they came upon a herd of cattle, numbering thirty-six heads, and drove these before them into the mission's courtyard.
"Let us go with the soldiers!" cried Dan, who was as excited as anybody. "If there is a battle ahead it will be all foolishness to attempt to look for Carlos Martine."
"Well, lad, I'm willing," replied Stover. "But "I don't want to get you into trouble."
"I'll risk the trouble, Poke; come on," and on they went after the garrison. It was not long before they reached the soldiers, who were just rounding up the cattle mentioned, and in this operation the two assisted. It was felt that the soldiers might be besieged in the Alamo for quite some time, so as soon as the cattle were rounded up some of the men visited the near-by houses, and collected all the stores at hand, including a number of bushels of wheat and some dried fruits.
In the meantime Santa Anna's army had marched into San Antonio, and taken possession. This done, the general held a consultation with his leading officers, and sent out a flag of truce toward the mission.
"Flag of truce," announced one of the guards.
"Very well, we'll see what they demand," said Lieutenant-Colonel Travis, and despatched Major Morris and Captain Marten to hold the interview.
"General Santa Anna demands the immediate surrender of the mission," said the official sent out by the Mexican president.
"We will convey your message to our commander," replied the major of the Texans, and withdrew.
Travis received the message with all the quiet dignity for which he was noted.
"I will send him his answer at once," he replied, and ordered a cannon-shot to be fired over the heads of the Mexican army.
This threw the Mexicans into a rage, and they quickly hung a blood-red flag from the tower of the San Fernando Church in San Antonio. This flag meant "no quarter," and, as it went up, several cannon-shots were aimed at the Alamo; and thus was the battle begun.