Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Mier Expedition: In the words of Capt. Claudius Buster

My next experience was in the spring of 1842.  I was in the Vasquez and Woll campaigns, and then in the Somerville campaign and the Mier Expedition.
Mier Expedition descending the Rio Grande

This brings us to the subject less understood of any other portion of Texas history.  I mean the motives and conduct of those men who participated in what is called the Mier Expedition.

The Mier prisoner is not today appreciated by the people of Texas as he was by his compeers, who knew all the facts.  For instance, a few years since the legislature of Texas passed an act granting 1280 acres of land to old veterans, the Mier prisoner was not mentioned in the act.  

We will pass over our history from Dec. 26, 1842, the day in which the battle of Mier commenced- a battle which terminated in our being made prisoners of war.  Although we lost the victory after fighting 18 hours, no one who participated in it is ashamed of it.  

After our capture, we were taken to Matamoras, thence to Monterrey, on to Saltillo and thence to Salado, arriving on Feb. 10 1843.  While at Matamoras, we made it up the rise on the guard the first favorable opportunity.  On two occasions we thought to make the effort- once before we reach to Monterrey and again between there Salado.  Each time were were balked by untoward circumstances.  At Salado, however, we were enabled to carry our determination into effect.  Here on Feb. 11, 1843, was fought “the Battle of the Rescue.” 

Our guard, under the command of Gen. Baragan, consisted of infantry & cavalry in about equal numbers- outnumbering us about 2 to 1.  We were guarded in an inclosed corner of the courtyard of about 50 yards square.  Our quarters were inclosed on 3 sides by high walls, the fourth side by a wall about as high as a man’s shoulders on the outside of which and at the yard gate or door which led into the courtyard mentioned were placed sentinels on duty.  The balance of the infantry not on immediate duty had stacked their arms near the center of this courtyard, and in full view of our men as they rushed out of our small inclosure through the small door of this yard.  The men who first got out ran and seized these arms and distributed them among the men as the came out of the door.  

The infantry was taken by surprize and made but feeble resistance.  At the outer or larger gate was stationed a stronger guard and they had time to prepare for resistance.  They succeeded in firing only one volley before we were upon them.  They gave way at once and about one-half of the cavalry mounted and scampered off.  We secured about 90 head of their horses.  We lost 4 or 5 men in battle, and they about the same number. Our men had been instructed not to kill anyone unnecessarily, as we were compelled to leave in their hands 15 or 20 men- some wounded, some sick, and few unwilling to risk the chances of escape.  All we wanted was liberty, including their arms, horses and such other things as were deemed needful in our efforts to get home.  A small amount of money fell out of hands, every man claimed a horse he saddled.  I found a little “burro”, the smartest I had every scene under the saddle.  This I mounted and a better little traveling animal would be hard to find.

The money part of our spoils was placed in my hands.  This being silver, was soon found to be too heavy for me.  We would ride and tie and rest each other on the march, so that my little “jinny” also had a rider.  As soon as possible I made a distribution of our funds, amounting $500 or $600 each.  When all were served I had near two shares left, not being able to make the exact change.  

We left the ranch Salado about 10 to 12 o’clock and our first stop was at San Salvador, about fifty miles.  We then traveled on 12 or 13 miles and stopped to rest.  The men dropped down in line and in 10 minutes all were asleep.  

Feb. 12 we resumed march at daylight leaving the Saltillo road about 10 o’clock, bearing to the left for the Zacatecas road, which we struck in about 10 miles, hence turning to the left for the purpose of obtaining water at a hacienda which was in sight.  We found the water tank near the house, guarded by a few regular [Mexican] soldiers, who hoisted a red flag and summoned firing at a distance of about 200 yards.  Not wishing to be detained we marched on, pretending not to see them.  The only harm their firing did us was the wounding of the one horse and the bursting of one man’s stirrup.

William "Big Foot" Wallace c.1872. He was a part
of the Mier Expedition & POW in Perote with
Claudius Buster
Our course led us in a northern direction, along a trail over a mountain, after crossing which we found sufficient water for us all to take a good drink, the first we had enjoyed in about twenty hours.  Six miles further we came to water at another ranch, where we found men in arms, but did not stop to molest them.  Continuing our course, northwest, we crossed over a mountain into a deep valley.   Here we stopped to rest and sleep.  In descending this mountain, I lost my famous jinny.  I loaned her to a big nearsighted Dutchman.  Going down the steep mountain side the burro had failed and rolled from under him.  The night was a very dark one and he could not find her.  

On Feb. 13 we struck the Monclova road, leading from Saltillo- about 35 or 40 miles from that place.  This day an Englishman or an American citizen came to us and gave us good advice how to get out of the country.  If we had heeded his [advice] all would have been well, but for some reason we did not.  We had with us a few of Jordan’s men, who had been with him in the federation who some two or three part before, and who after his betrayal by his supposed Mexican friends, had made escape through these mountains.  These men induced Captain Cameron, whom we had chosen for our leader, to follow Jordan’s example. At the time Jordan went through there was plenty of water, but at this time there was none.  They succeeded getting through safe, while we failed for want of water.  

On Feb. 14, after leaving the road which we had been advised to keep, we struck off through the mountains, so steep and rough that our horses made but slow progress.  We found no water and at night we camped in a deep ravine.  On Feb. 15 some of the men found some water a mile or two from camp.  Here we decided to kill our horses, barbecue the meat, and all take it afoot.   

Here was presented a scene which I can never forget, and which could have been performed by our men only under circumstances of direst necessity. While some of the men were killing and butchering our faithful animals, others were building fires and scaffolds for cooking.  Our saddle wallets, by cutting them in two, were converted into haversacks.  About 3 o’clock we left camp and that night at 10 o’clock camped in a deep ravine without water.

On Feb. 16 our course was still north.  This day our real agony increased for several of our men were left on the trail exhausted, and here, unfortunately, we commenced the use of the palmetto juice.

Mexican military
Feb. 17 we discovered immediately on our course some Mexican spies in the valley.  This was about 12 o’clock.  We changed our course a little to the east, hoping to find water.  Alas, no signal came from any of our water hunters.  On this day a halt was made and some of our men pulled and tried to eat the prickly leaves.  John Toops, a member of my company, and myself left the main party and struck off west in search of water.  After an hour’s walk my comrade, John Toops, became so faint that he was compelled to lie down under the shade of the bush.  I would not leave him.  But when even came and the sun sank behind a high mountain, Toops revived.  We immediately made our way back to the trail.  Fancy our feelings when we found a company of Mexican cavalry was on the trail.  Consequently we were cut off from our main body of men.  So, instead of trying to rejoin them, we took the back track.  Toops in his weak state threw away his gun and cartridges, also his meat.  I held on to my gun and part of my ammunition. Mine was a scape taken from cavalryman, and was much lighter than his, a common musket. In two more days we come into a hole in a rock which contained about one barrel of water.  This water Toops had found 5 or 6 days before while straggling off from the main party.  At which time, after drinking what he wanted, he brought me a gourdful, which, after taking a mouthful, I divided out among the famishing men as far as it would go.  Notwithstanding Toops gave out first, and I had to wait on him, when we got back to this water he was in better condition than I was.

My tongue was swollen so that I could not talk and could walk only with great difficulty.  He went ahead and when he came to the water, which was about a quarter of a mile from the trail, he went back and hollered for me, and I hurried on with him to his little hole of water.  It was now about the 8th day since I had enjoyed a good drink.  It is impossible to describe one’s feelings while thus suffering.  When we would come to a bed of dry sand in a hollow, where there had been water in wet seasons, we would scratch holes in it and lie in it as you have seen hogs do to cool themselves.  Now that we have found water it became necessary to exercise prudence and not drink too much.  We had a tin cup and my first drink of half a pint felt very cool in my stomach, but unnatural.  It was more like a dream of drinking than reality.  I think the stomach was coated so that the water did not circulate nor nourish the system.  He then built a fire, and in our cups of water we put a small portion of meat and a little lump of sugar.  We had one palonca and a piece of horse meat the size of one’s hand. Thus we made stew and ate.  Very soon after eating this we were all right and enjoyed the delicious luxury of drinking all the water we wanted without injury.

We remained at this place about 24 hours.  We filled our water gourds- we had two, but one of them leaked.  Leaving, we went down the ravine in an eastern direction between two very high mountains.  We soon emptied the leaky gourd the first day and that night the other. Our progress was very slow for we were entirely too feeble to travel fast.  The second night after leaving our water hole, we came to a beautiful running creek.  I did not take time to dip it up in the cup, but lay down to it and drank until I was satisfied.  I think I never enjoyed anything so much.  Just before we came to the creek we crossed a big road leading when or where we knew not.  After leaving the creek we went up the side of the mountain about one-half mile and lay down and slept until daylight.  When we rose we were in full view a of lard ranch.  We could see soldiers and horseback and men traveling on the road we had crossed in the night.  We lost no time getting further back into the brush and out of sight.  We soon got into a trail or small road leading east between two mountains.  This we followed until 10 or 11 o’clock, when we lay down by the side of the road to rest for we were still very feeble.

While thus resting 15 feet of the road a Mexican came by driving a packed burro.  He passed on and never saw us, of if so, he never turned his head.  He appeared to be in a great hurry, going in the direction of the ranch, near which we had slept.  We left the road to our left, still traveling east, came into a large valley or plain, in which we found a tank, around which were a good many signs of stock.  We were now getting very hungry.  While we were without water we could not eat, and now our little store was exhausted.  Very soon we saw an ox coming through the bushes.  I hid myself behind some brush, and when he came near enough I shot him down.  He commenced scuffling as if he might get up.  I dropped my gun, ran and caught him by the tail, held him down until Toops loaded the gun and shot him in the head, I still holding him by the tail.  We now caught our cup full of blood which ran from the bullet hole from his head, made a fire, cooked and ate that first.  How to get any other benefit from him was now a problem, for we had no knife with which to skin and cut the flesh.  All at once I thought of my gun, which had a flint and steel lock.  The corner of the fling was sharp.  With this flint we commenced operations by persistent scratching on the side of the ox.  I never saw a thicker hide on any animal.  We finally cut thru the skin- a cut about a foot long.  Then we cut at right angles about the same length.  Now we peeled up the hide and got to the entrails.  The flesh was entirely too tough to cut with the flint, but we succeeded in getting his liver.  This we could manage very well, so without bread or salt we had a feast.  We remained here for about 24 hours, when the buzzards began to collect, and we thought it best to leave.  We now changed course northeast.

We soon came to a herder’s camp- one man who appeared to be much alarmed at first, but by making signs of friendship we soon quieted his fears.  From him we bought bread, milk and cheese.  It was already late in the evening, but we went a few miles further, then camped for the night.  Next day we crossed another road running east and west, on which we saw several Mexicans traveling.  We kept hid from them, which made us go in a north direction, crossing a very high mountain.  On the north side of this mountain, we came to a distillery where mescal was made from the maguay plant.  A cold rain was falling and we stayed here half a day and night, and here we bought provisions.  So isolated was this place that people did not seem to know or care who we were.  Five or six men with their families lived here.  One man, a Mexican, did not live here at this place, but was there for a short time.  He manifested great interest in us.  He went with us for several miles to show us how to get through a pass in the mountains and avoid the soldiers.  After getting through a pass in the night as he directed, just before day we lay down to sleep.  Next morning we found ourselves in sight of two towns.  Candelia was one and I have forgotten the name of the other. We made haste to get out of sight.  

This day we killed another beef, and having bought a knife, we had less trouble getting something to eat.  Next we encountered a sheep herder, with whom we spent the night, and from whom we bought a kid.  This was another feast, but the last, for we found nothing in the crossing in the plain or valley between the mountains and Rio Grande.  We were 3 or 4 days- we kept no journal and had lost time.  When we came to the San Juan river, a stream nearly as wide as the Rio Grande, there was a ranch in our course and we lay till dark.  Then we stealthily approached the ranch, found a canoe, crossed over and turned it adrift without seeing anyone.  There are no settlements between the San Juan and Rio Grande, and now, when our appetite have become ravenous, we could get nothing.  I shot a deer down, and before I could get to it it got up and ran off.  Again I shot a cow and then a mustang but failed to get either of them.  

When we got to the road on the west bank of the river, about 30 or 40 miles up Laredo, we walked down the road a few miles and came to an old deserted ranch, where soldiers had encamped, leaving pieces of raw hide and been bones.  These were were roasting and eating, when suddenly about 10 Mexicans suddenly rode unto us.  I had set my gun down inside of an old walled house without a roof, from which we were hopelessly cut off.  A surrender was inevitable.  This occurred in the evening. That night was the most uncomfortable I ever spent.  We were tired hands and feet, placed on our backs and then tied together.  Sentinels were placed over us with orders to shoot us if we moved.  Next day we were taken to General Woll’s headquarters on the west bank of the river, opposite of Laredo.  Here we were kept a few days, then sent to Guerrero, but there some 8 to 10 days, then sent to Monterrey and onto Saltillo where we were kept about three months.  

On our arrival at Saltillo we were first guarded in soldier quarters, but in a few days we moved to the state prison.  We were first put into a room appropriated to those who had committed minor offenses.  This room was so much crowded that I felt smothering.  I called to the jailer and told him I could not stand in it.  He took us out and placed us another with high walls and not cover.  This was a great improvement, for here we could at least get our breath.  But at night we were crowded into the room again, and this time with the felons, murderers, robbers and those who had committed the most heinous offenses.   Here we remained some two weeks, let out into the daytime in the open court.  

Vintage devil
About this time a new governor came into Saltillo, General Biscinia, whom I made a friend in a peculiar way.  One of the Mexican prisoners had painted what he had conceived to be a picture of the devil…  It was an ugly thing.  I borrowed his paint and brush and painted a chain and stake, fastening one end of the chain to the stake and the other end of the chain to the devil’s leg.  Then I wrote under the hideous picture: “Chained for a 1000 years”.  Soon after the governor’s arrival, on visiting the prison, this picture attracted his attention.  He inquired: “Who chained the devil and put the writing there?”  I was pointed out to him.  He sent at once for an interpreter and I had a good, long interview with him, in which I protested the treatment I was receiving.  I claimed that I was a prisoner of war and not a felon; that I was incarcerated with and treated as one.  He had Toops and myself taken out at once and guarded in soldier’s quarters, and my treatment as long as we remained in that state was as kind as I could have expected.  The soldiers and all the officers thought he was going to liberate me, but an order came from General Santa Anna to send all prisoners to Mexico City.  He furnished me a horse to ride as far as his state extended.  Thus I parted with the best friend I found in Mexico.  

After the sergeant took my horse back if I got to ride if I had my own horse or burro to hire, which at times I could not do.  At San Luis Potosi we found Norman Woods and 3 or 4 others who had been left at this place sick.  There were also sent on with me to the city.  He we joined our comrades at Zuca bayou, working on the street of Santa Anna’s place.  In about 3 months we were all sent to the castle of Perote, where we remained until our final liberation.

I left home in October 1842 and got back in November 1844.  Of the general treatment of the prisoners it was unnecessary for me speak for that has long since gone into history.  Returning to my personal history, I will state that soon after my return home, I was given a deputy clerkship in the county clerk’s office, where I remained until a daughter of Rev. Hosoa Garrett.  Was twice elected chief justice of Washington County, engaged in farming, accumulated some property, commanded a company in the Civil War, had 30 negros set free, have two sons and one daughter, all doing well.  My wife and I have means enough to last as long as we live, with God’s continued blessing.

After our return home, our government paid for that service $605 to each Mier prisoner. Subsequently a pension was granted to each amounting $970.  In addition to this, and better than all, after our return our fellow citizens many of us to positions of honor and trust. Col. Fisher, our leader, was appointed collector of customs at Galveston; some 2 or 3 were elected to congress and others to county offices- some of them doubtless in recognition of their services on that expedition.

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