PEROTE PRISON. Perote Castle (originally the Castle of San Carlos), located in the Mexican state of Vera Cruz, was built over a seven-year period in the 1770s by the Spanish authorities in Mexico to guard one of their main trade routes and to serve as a depository for treasure awaiting shipment to Spain. The stone fortress, covering an estimated twenty-six acres and surrounded by a moat, was used by the Mexican government as a prison.
In the dungeons of Perote most of the Texas prisoners captured by Mexico in the days of the Republic of Texas were incarcerated. Texans imprisoned there were chiefly from three groups: the Texan Santa Fe expedition prisoners, the Nicholas Dawson prisoners, and the prisoners captured on the Mier expedition. Some of the 300-odd members of the Texan Santa Fe expedition were confined at Perote during the winter of 1841–42. Most of them were released at the general emancipation of the Santa Fe prisoners in June 1842. In December 1842 about fifty men captured in San Antonio by Adrián Woll were placed in Perote, and a few months later various detachments of the Mier prisoners, about 200 in all, were also incarcerated there.
|President John Tyler|
Despite the fact that they had surrendered as prisoners of war, the men were forced to perform common labor. They were, however, allowed to communicate with friends, to receive money and gifts, and to purchase supplies outside Perote Castle. Their plight aroused sympathy in Texas and in the United States, and in April 1843 President John Tyler instructed Waddy Thompson, United States minister in Mexico, to negotiate for release of the Texas prisoners and demand the release of any imprisoned citizens of the United States. The Texas Congress made appropriations for the relief of the men at Perote, but the money never reached the prisoners, many of whom came to feel that their country was forsaking them and that President Sam Houston was not making any effort to secure their release.
Groups of the Perote prisoners were released from time to time through the influence of Thompson and the British minister, Lord Packenham. On July 2, 1843, sixteen Texans escaped through a hole bored in the walls; eight were recaptured. On March 25, 1844, sixteen other men effected an escape through a tunnel; of these, seven were recaptured. On March 23, 1844, two days before, the Bexar prisoners had been released. On September 16, 1844, the remaining Texas prisoners, about 105, were released. Accurate records on the number who escaped, who were released through influence of friends, who died from disease, starvation, or exposure, and who were killed by Mexican guards are not available.
Capt. Claudius Buster
My Dear brother,
Were I writing to any other than one of the family I would have few materials out of which to compose a letter, being confined within prison walls, without change of scene, or of treatment. But to you and the rest of our family I could write almost continually. I feel an inexpressible concern for you all, but for you and Freeman, who are, as it were, just entering into the world, I feel more than an ordinary desire to render you that assistance and advice that an older brother of some experience is calculated to give, and which you so much need.
By speaking thus I do not mean to undervaluate the counsel of our dear and loving father and mother. On the contrary, I would advise you to give the most particular heed to their counsel, and to be obedient to their every judgement. But still there are offices which none but a senior brother can fill, than which nothing would give me more pleasure.
I am sorry that it is not within my power to flatter you with the hope of seeing you all soon, for all that I know we may be liberated in a very short time. The prospects, I must confess, looks very gloomy. We see in the latest accounts from Texas that a bill was before the Congress authorizing the Major General to raise a volunteer army to invade the Rio Grande country, the design which is good, but I must think the effort a very lame one. I am pretty well satisfied that an army will not be raised, but should it be the case, my advise to you is that you should stay home at present.
My absence is as much as Mother should have to lament, and there are other weighty considerations which should prevent you from going on any campaign at your age in life. I speak from knowledge of the evil results.
I received on the 21st of last month a letter written by Mr. Hughes, dated Nov. 28th, a part of which bearing my Mother’s name. It is impossible to imagine the emotions of my heart, on opening the letter, and seeing the name of a Strange being mailed at Mt. Vernon, having heard of much sickness in Texas, and having for upward of twelve months labored under serious apprehensions for the health of my parents, I looked again before I dared read and saw my mother’s name. Oh, thought I, It is my father who is dead… What feelings when I read and saw Father’s name as one living! My relief was inexpressible. In a moment there flew into the mind of the charge of a depending family; on whom this charge developed, and on whom should the mind turn by yourself, Brother? It is an awful reflection, but a reasonable one. This life with all its allurements is transient and fluctuating. Prepare yourself for such an event, but we hope and pray that our parents may live to see all their children reared and settled in life.
I regret most seriously that it has been my ill-fortune to render my poor Father and Mother as much unhappiness as I have, but if I am permitted to get home, I think I shall never render the same unhappiness again.
Tell Reuben and Jane that I am pleased at their reunion, and I hope that each will perform the office of the strictest propriety of husband and wife, and my prayer is offered up for their happiness.
I wonder if you suppose that I do not want to hear Polly and Elizabeth and their families. Elizabeth’s name was mentioned, but Poly’s was not. Mr. Hughes and my warmest thanks for his favors and friendly promises, and I hope that he will never have reason to regret any advances he may make in my favor. It is needless to say that we are almost destitute for clothing. We get at this time enough to eat, but of very coarse diet; and very little alteration of our treatment since Mr. Bradley and J. Hill left; they can give a particular account. Tell Mother that I have no chains on, but by no means a stranger to them. I also have to work a little, which does not hurt anything by my feelings. The idea of being a servant to so degraded a people is as much as I can bear. But comparatively speaking, I have been much favored. I also have great reason to be thankful for my good health, amid the much sufferings which we have experienced.
I have the unpleasant task to state that Campbell Davis died on the 18th day of February last. He became much reduced in flesh and strength from a long spell of dysentery. He became despondent and finally took laudanum, which took him off. Campbell and Burrass I believe are all your acquaintance who have died here. Twenty-two have been buried in this castle. The health of the prisoners here better at this time than it has been since we have been here. John Toops, Chas Hensley, James Armstrong, Edward and Richard Keene, Thomas L. Smith, G.W. Bush, and L.D.F. Edwards are in good health. Also Col. William S. Fisher, Jos. McCutcheon, Dr. McMath, W.D.F. Harrison, and P. Lusk.
I was much hurt to hear the deaths of our neighbors. I assume that James Calvert died in the mountains. I have not yet heard from him. Major Pierson is in Mexico- well, the last account.
The following is a list of the men who were killed at Meir.
William H. Hannon, Lockermon, Jackson, Hopson, Bassett, Dickson, and John E. Jones of my company. Dr. Towers and A. White of Cameron County; M. Cronigen, Jas. Berry and James Austin, of Reeces Company; Dr. Brenham, D. Rice, John Lyons, Fitzpatrick and Hagendon at the Baxor prisoners were killed at Salado, in the break of the guard.
The following are the names of those shot, or murdered, at the Salado March 25, 1843. James M. Ogden, McThomson, Henry Whaling, James Turnbull, Robert Dunham, James Torrey, Wm. Rowan, Thos. L. Jones, Robert Harris, Christopher Roberts, John Cash, Capt. Wm. Eastland, Patrick Mahan, W.C. Wing, L.D. Cook, J.L. Shepherd.
The names of all who died would require too much space.
Tell little Billy and Tempie that I want to see them very much, to be good children and learn their books. Tell Margaret and Sally that I want to see them advance in learning and grace, as I know they must be in size. Tell Frances that if is convenient I would like that she didn’t make any engagements till I return, unless a very worthy object presents itself.
Sometimes I almost forget the features of the children. Father will still do the best he can with my little affairs. I still hope to get home sometime before….
Bid Mother to be of good cheer. The God that has protected my so far will, I hope, conduct me home to you, and my constant prayer is to spare all of our lives so that we may meet again.
I have thought hard that you did not write to me sooner, but I know that it was not for want of feeling. Do not be ashamed of your diction, nor Father of his clumsy writing. I would rather have a letter from you than from Sam Houston, John Taylor or any king on earth!
As Mr. Hughes appears to be familiar in the neighborhood another letter at present to him is unnecessary. I highly appreciate his favor of writing to me, and wish him to continue. Give him my respects… My best wishes are tendered to all the neighbors and friends, Mrs. Cash, Mrs. Harrison, Mrs. Davis, Mrs. Shannon, and friends generally. I close for the present… Heaven protect you all…
To John V. Buster,
P.S. James Armstrong wants you to go to Mr. Rogers, and give him his respects. Tell him he will be there as soon as God will permit. G.W. Bush wishes to be remembered to all the friends. G.B. Brush, of whom Mr. Hughes writes, is in tolerable health.