For the Liberty of Texas/Chapter 31
SOMETHING ABOUT GENERAL SAM HOUSTON.
The Alamo had fallen, and now it was necessary to figure up results. As said before, all of the Texans, about one hundred and eighty in number, had been slaughtered, while the loss to the Mexicans was variously estimated at from three to five hundred. The sights about the mission were truly horrible, and never forgotten by those who witnessed them.
It must be said, in all frankness, that the defence of the Alamo was a mistake, for those gallant men must have known that they could not hold out against the overwhelming forces of Santa Anna. And they did not remain there because all escape was cut off, for they could have gotten away just as easily as the reinforcements from Gonzales got in. It was not until the final days of the siege that the Mexicans drew around them closely.
Why, then, did they remain?
The answer is one that every American boy and man ought to remember with pride. They remained because of the principle involved. They had staked their lives for liberty or death, and they waged the contest to the bitter end.
The slaughter of the Alamo garrison thrilled the hearts of the Texans as they had never been thrilled before. Those who had been doubtful before were now doubtful no longer. "We must be independent," they said, "absolutely independent. We must raise a regular army. We must not be divided into factions, but must fight as one man, and under one leader." And then they prepared to strike one grand blow from which Santa Anna should never be able to recover.
But of none of these things did Dan or Poke Stover think as they rested in the dark passageway just beyond the reach of the water from the river. Both were cold and hungry and almost exhausted, yet there was nothing at hand to eat, and rest seemed out of the question.
"We must try to escape, as soon as it grows dark," said the old frontiersman, and all through that long, weary day they waited and watched for the light to disappear up the passageway. At last it was gone, and they swam again to the river, making as little noise as possible.
At the opening were a number of bushes, and, as they emerged among these, they heard the footsteps of a Mexican sentinel not a dozen feet off. At a distance was the camp, with several fires burning brightly.
Suddenly Stover caught Dan by the arm, and pointed to a tree overhanging the stream. Under the tree was a long canoe with the paddle lying at the bottom.
"We'll set the canoe adrift, and float down the stream with it," whispered Stover, so softly that Dan could scarcely hear him. "It's our one chance."
They waited until the sentinel had turned to walk to the other end of his station, then slipped down and swam over to the canoe. It was drawn partly up over some marsh-grass, and they easily dislodged it. Then they turned it down the stream and kept along with it as it floated, their heads up, on the side opposite to the Mexican camp.
They expected that the Mexican sentinel would discover the floating canoe, but such was not the fact until they were twenty yards from the mouth of the passageway. Then the Mexican turned and stared stupidly.
"The canoe has drifted off," he murmured to himself, in Spanish. "Well, it is not mine, so why should I care? Let the owner take care of his property." And he resumed his walk.
As soon as they were out of the range of the light from the camp-fires, Poke Stover crawled into the canoe and took up the paddle.
"Stay where you are, Dan," he said. "They needn't have but one of us to shoot at," and while Dan clung fast to the rear of the craft, Stover paddled with all the vigour at his command, which was considerable, considering his condition.
In ten minutes they were out of rifle-range, and safe, and then the frontiersman sent the craft ashore, and he and Dan climbed to the river bank. "Thank God, we are out of that!" exclaimed Stover, fervidly, and Dan uttered a hearty Amen.
"I think the fust thing we want to do is to git sumthin' to eat," remarked Stover, after they had rested for a bit. "I'm that hungry I could eat most anything."
"I don't know this location at all, Poke. Where are we?"
"Not many miles from the Gonzales road, lad. About a mile back is Nat Woodver's cabin. I reckon as how we'll git a warm welcome there, if Nat is able to give it to us."
They set out in the darkness, and reached the cabin half an hour later. They found that the settler was away, to join the army; but his wife and daughters were home, and they speedily did all they could for our friends, giving them a hot supper, and dressing the wounds as skilfully as trained nurses. They had heard of the fall of the Alamo, but had not imagined that all of the garrison were slaughtered.
His awful experience had driven Carlos Martine entirely out of Dan's head, and all the youth thought of now was to rejoin his father and his brother.
"They will worry about us, Poke," he said. "More than likely they will think us dead, for they must know that all of the Texans in and about San Antonio went to the Alamo when Santa Anna appeared."
"You are right, lad; we'll steer for the ranch the first thing in the morning," answered Stover, and this they did, riding two ponies that Mrs. Woodver loaned them.
When the pair reached Gonzales they found the town wild with excitement. The news of the disaster of the Alamo had just come in, and by the deaths of the thirty-two men from Gonzales who had entered the mission shortly before it fell, twenty women were left widows and twice as many children fatherless. One woman went crazy, and rushed about the streets crying for the Mexicans to come and kill her, too. It is needless to add that the Parkers were deeply affected over the loss of Henry.
As Dan and Stover were about to start for the trail leading up the Guadalupe, they met Amos Radbury riding post-haste into Gonzales.
"My son!" cried the father, joyfully. "And Poke, too! I was afraid you were dead!"
"We came close enough to it, father," answered Dan. And then he and the frontiersman told their stories in detail.
"I would have gone with the men from Gonzales," said Lieutenant Radbury, "but I hated to leave Ralph home with nobody but Pompey. These are certainly terrible times. I wonder what Santa Anna will do next?"
"Perhaps he'll march on Gonzales," said the youth. "It looks as if he meant to wipe out everybody in Texas."
"The whole State is aroused now. It must and will be a fight to the finish. If the Texans are whipped, every ranch will go up in flames, and every man will be butchered."
The party returned to Gonzales, for Amos Radbury did not want to return to the ranch, now he knew that Dan was safe.
While the siege of the Alamo was in progress, the General Convention of Texas, which had been called, met at Washington, and a declaration of independence was adopted, and General Sam Houston was unanimously reëlected commander-in-chief, with absolute authority over all army forces, regular and volunteer. Heretofore, Houston had been little more than commander in name; now it was felt upon all sides that he must be given the absolute authority that the situation demanded. All other appointments which had been made in a haphazard, irregular way were abolished.
For the work that was ahead no better selection of a leader than that of General Sam Houston could have been made. Houston was born in Virginia, in 1793, and at the age of nineteen he enlisted for the war of 1812, becoming an ensign, and fought with such courage that he and General Jackson became warm friends. At thirty years of age he became a member of Congress, and five years later he was made governor of Tennessee, and was one of the most popular men in the West. He was up for reëlection, when some unfortunate domestic difficulties overtook him, and he resigned his position and plunged into the wilderness, taking up his abode, later on, with some friendly Indians with whom he had hunted years before. These Indians elected him one of their great chiefs, and in return for this, Houston went to Washington for them and exposed a number of Indian agents who had been defrauding the red men out of the allowances made to them by the government. For this these Indians swore undying friendship, and they called Houston their best-beloved brother to the day of his death. Because of his life among the red men Houston frequently attired himself in an Indian blanket and stuck in his hair the feathers of a chief, a custom that was often followed by other mighty hunters of this portion of our country.
Besides being governor of Tennessee, Houston had been a lawyer of well-known reputation, and as such had closely studied legal affairs relating to the United States, Texas, and Mexico. He saw, long before war was declared, that Texas must one day strike for freedom, and he resolved, after leaving the Indians, to throw in his fortunes with the Texans, or Texians, as some have called them. As soon as he arrived he took hold, in his own peculiar way, of certain public affairs, and at a meeting at Nacognoches he was elected commander of the forces of eastern Texas. This was directly after the opening of hostilities at Gonzales.
Had Houston been allowed to act as he wished from the start, it is possible that the slaughter at the Alamo might have been avoided, but, as mentioned before, matters, politically, were very much mixed, and there were frequent clashes of authority. Some secondary leaders took the liberty to do about as they saw fit, and at one time it looked as if Houston's command would fall to pieces. In the midst of this came trouble with the Indians, but this was patched up by the man who had lived so long among them and who understood them thoroughly.
As the Convention which had reëlected Houston commander-in-chief of the army was in session, the President was handed a letter from Lieutenant-Colonel Travis, making a last appeal for help. As the letter was read there was wild excitement, and then it was moved that the meeting adjourn and the members march in a body to the relief of the Alamo.
But Houston would not have this. "Your place is here, gentlemen," he said. "Here, to pass laws and make our State an assured fact. I will take the field and organise a relief force, and I give you my word that no enemy shall come near you." The Convention settled down, and inside of an hour Houston, accompanied by several of his staff, was riding like the wind for Gonzales.