“Big Foot” Wallace: Noted Ranger On The Texan Frontier

About the year 1839, a Waco Indian chieftain lived in the State of Texas, whose feet were of such giant proportions that he was called “Big Foot.” He was a bold and daring fellow. Often, when darkness hid his movement, he would sneak into the frontier town of Austin, would kill whom he could, and would carry off horses and other property. In vain the settlers tried to dispatch him, for he was a veritable scourge to the settlements.

The fellow was a physical giant, being six feet seven inches in height, of muscular build, and weighing about three hundred pounds. His tracks measured fourteen inches, from heel to toe, so you can readily see that the name that was applied to him was not ill chosen. Often these footprints would be seen in the sandy soil, after he had committed one of his thieving expeditions, and the settlers used to cry out:

“Good-by to our horses! Old ‘Big Foot’ is around again. Good-by!”

One evening the big Indian came into Austin, and, after prowling around for a time, committed some theft upon the property of a settler named Gravis. He then went to the cabin occupied by a huge, lanky ranger called Wallace. Next morning Gravis trailed the Indian to the doorstep of the pioneer, and, without trying to trace it any further, aroused the owner of the cabin.

“See here, Wallace,” said he, “you’ve been stealing from my place and I intend to get even with you. No one has as big feet as you have around here, and I have found your tracks leading from my hut to your very door.”

The accused man grew angry and prepared to whip the other.

“Look here,” said Gravis, at this juncture, “if you prove to me that these are not your footprints you can go clear and I will apologize.”

He stepped aside, as he spoke, and Wallace immediately went to the Indian’s track. He placed his foot in it, exclaiming:

“By Gravy, Gravis, this is old ‘Big Foot,’ the Injin’s, track. Can’t you see that it’s mor’n two inches longer than my own!”

The first speaker bent over the marks with an exclamation of astonishment.

“You’re right,” said he. “Wallace, old man, I beg your pardon.” And, shaking him warmly by the hand, he walked away.

While this was going on, a man named Fox came to the doorway of Wallace’s hut. He had been spending the night there, for he was a business partner of the frontiersman. As his friend turned towards the cabin, he cried out gleefully:

“Well, well, old scout. When ‘Big Foot’—the Indian—is not around we will all call you ‘Big Foot.’ Ha! Ha! That’s a good one, I swan. ‘Big Foot’ you’ll be from henceforth.”

And that is the way that William Alexander Anderson Wallace came to be called “Big Foot” Wallace.

Born in Lexington, Virginia, in 1817, this intrepid frontiersman came of good, old Scottish stock, and stock that was of fighting spirit, for two of his uncles were killed in the battle of Guilford Court House. The Wallaces were all of powerful build, and the hero of our sketch was six feet two inches in height (in his moccasins) and weighed two hundred and forty pounds. He had long arms, large hands, and thick, curly, black hair. One of his uncles was nearly seven feet tall and his brother was six feet five inches in height.

As a young fellow, “Big Foot” Wallace had little of the excitement which was to come to him in later years. When about twenty years of age war commenced between the American colonists and Mexicans for the possession of Texas. Many young men went from Virginia to assist the Texans in driving out the soldiers under Santa Anna, among them Samuel Wallace, the older brother of William with the big feet. Samuel was killed in the massacre of Colonel Fannin’s men at Goliad, which has been described in “Famous Scouts,” and with him were also dispatched three cousins of our hero. When the news of this affair reached Lexington, Virginia, great was the grief among the relatives of these brave and valiant frontiersmen, and William was much upset by it.

“I am going to Texas,” he cried out. “And I intend to spend my life in killing Mexicans. Those men who could massacre my brother after he had surrendered and had been disarmed, can expect no quarter from me. I intend to have revenge!”

He had splendid opportunities in later years to make good this threat.

Taking ship from New Orleans to Galveston, William soon set foot on Texan soil. The war was over. Santa Anna had been defeated and captured the year before, at the famous battle of San Jacinto, and Texas was now an independent republic. So the young ranger drifted to Colorado, where he was soon surrounded by a large party of Indians and was captured. They carried him to their camp, but he only remained there a week, before he slipped away, eluded his pursuers, and got back to the settlement of San Antonio. His restless spirit could not be confined to the streets of a city and he soon went far to the southwest, where he camped and hunted along the Medina River. Finally he built a cabin there and lived the life of a lone huntsman and trapper in a region which was infested by Indians, horse-thieves, and fugitives from justice.

“Big Foot” Wallace had not been long in the country before he realized that something had to be done in order to keep law and order in this unsettled land. Besides the numerous raids of hostile bands of Indians—who roamed at will from New Mexico to the coast region of Texas—desperadoes and gamblers swarmed around all the border towns, and more particularly around San Antonio. No one was safe who opposed these wild fellows, and it was almost impossible to keep horses. The thieves would even dig through the adobe walls of the stables in order to steal them. A strong hand was needed to awe these desperate men and keep the Indians in check. There was one man in western Texas at this time who was quite equal to the emergency. His name was “Captain” Jack Hays.

The Governor of Texas sent for him.

“I hereby commission you to raise a company of Rangers,” said he to the gallant Captain Jack. “You will make San Antonio your headquarters and you must hold both Indians and horse-thieves in check. You can follow the redskins anywhere that you wish, and, if necessary, you can shoot any horse-thief upon the spot.”

“Big Foot” Wallace soon heard of the Rangers, and applied for admission at once. He was accepted, for he was strong, fearless, a good rider, and an excellent shot. Captain Hays was very particular as to the kind of men that he enlisted, and that is why he had the best set of Indian fighters that Texas ever produced. Each man had to have a good horse, valued at one hundred dollars, and also a rifle of the best make. The desperadoes and horse-thieves soon began to disappear from the neighborhood of San Antonio.

In the numerous affrays which now took place “Big Foot” Wallace had a prominent part. Several battles were fought with the Indians. In 1842 the Mexicans made a sudden descent from Mexico and captured San Antonio. At the quarters used by the Texan Rangers they found a pair of pantaloons belonging to “Big Foot” Wallace, and this they appropriated as their own.

“By the eternal prophet,” shouted the scout, when he heard of the theft. “I will sure get even with the Greasers for this, and I will kill a Señor and get another pair of breeches, or bust.”

Not long afterwards Jack Hays and his men rode near the town and gave the Mexicans such “a dare” that their whole force of cavalry and infantry came out to chase them. There were four hundred Mexicans and but a small squad of Rangers, yet the Texans kept up a stiff firing and retreated slowly across the plains. During the battle, “Big Foot” Wallace was continually upon the lookout to kill a big Mexican and get another pair of trousers to replace his own. He had not long to wait.

The Mexicans soon charged, and in the mix-up that ensued one daring fellow approached Wallace, and pointing his carbine at him, cried out: “Take that, you accursed cow-thief!” Whereupon he discharged his piece in his face. The large ounce ball from the clumsy musket just grazed the nose of the scout and nearly blinded him with smoke. “Big Foot” fired his own piece, but missed. As this occurred, another Ranger cried out: “My, my, what awful bad shooting,” and—aiming his rifle—quickly sent a ball through the Mexican’s body. The man from the south of the Rio Grande fell against a mesquite tree and soon died.

“Big Foot” breathed more easily, and during the next charge heard one of his companions call out:

“’Big Foot,’ yonder is a Mexican who has on a pair of pants large enough to fit you. Go get ’em, boy! Go get ’em!”

The Mexican in question was assisting some of the wounded back to the rear. Wallace kept his eye on him and said:

“If I can get him, I will. But th’ critter moves about so fast that I can’t draw a bead on him.”

As he spoke, he attracted the attention of General Caldwell, who commanded some infantrymen who had come to the assistance of the Rangers. The dress of the giant Texan, his massive frame, and his actions, were sufficient to mark him as a man born to leadership.

“What command do you hold, sir?” inquired Caldwell, as he rode up to the fighting Ranger.

“None,” answered “Big Foot,” saluting. “I am one of Jack Hays’ Rangers and I want that fellow’s breeches over there, as the Greasers have stolen mine from me.” He pointed, as he spoke, to his intended victim.

The general laughed and rode on, determined to advance “Big Foot” to a Lieutenancy, if the opportunity presented itself. The Ranger, meanwhile, crept nearer to the fellow with the big pantaloons, and before many moments laid him low by a well directed shot. Making a dash for the fallen man, he seized him by the shoulders, dragged him into the American lines, and soon was wearing a new pair of yellow trousers.

“Hurrah for ‘Big Foot,’” shouted his companions. “He has, at last, made good his threat of vengeance. Hurrah for ‘Big Foot!’”

The Mexicans were defeated, driven from San Antonio, and were followed by Captain Jack Hays and his Rangers as far as the Hondo River, where the rear guard was attacked by a detachment under “Big Foot,” and some cannon were captured. The mule which the leader was riding was slightly wounded, but this was the only mishap to the Americans. The Mexicans withdrew in safety to their own territory.

The blood of the Texans was now up. “Revenge for the taking of San Antonio!” was heard on every side. “Vengeance upon the Mexicans! Revenge!”

Thus, in retaliation for the invasion of Texas under Wall, an expedition started for Mexico in 1843, commanded by General Somervell. Captain Jack Hays was there with his Rangers, but the expedition went to pieces on the Rio Grande and most of the men came back, among them Captain Jack and many of his followers. Five captains, however, determined to go on, in the invasion of Mexico,—that is, if they could get men enough. Three hundred Texans immediately decided to fight: among this number, “Big Foot” Wallace and several other Rangers. Electing a certain Captain Fisher to the chief command, they crossed the Rio Grande and encamped opposite the town of Mier. Its streets were soon to run red with blood.

The chief man of a Mexican town is called an alcade, and, on the following morning, the Americans marched into the town and told the alcade that he must furnish them with provisions and with clothing.

“Yes, yes, Señors,” said the Mexican official, bowing. “To-morrow the articles will be delivered to you, two miles below your camp.”

But the Texans did not believe in taking any chances. They brought the alcade along with them when they went back to their camp, so as to be sure that the provisions would really be delivered. They waited two full days and no goods were to be seen. They grew anxious and soon their spies made them more so, for these reported that General Ampudia had arrived in Mier with a large force of Mexican troops.

“We will proceed to the town and give them battle!” cried out the Texan commander.

By four o’clock in the afternoon the Americans had all crossed and were on their way to the little Mexican post. The spies were in front and first met the Mexicans as they sallied out from Mier. But the Rangers knew how to shoot and Ampudia retreated before the Texan bullets. At dark the Mexicans again entered their stronghold and barricaded themselves.

The Texans had their fighting blood up, and, in spite of the darkness, advanced to Alcantra Creek, east of the little town, where they halted for some time. The stream ran rapidly, so that it was difficult to find a crossing, but at last they all got over. As they scrambled up the bank, they were met by a hot fire, and the Mexican cavalry advanced against them. Five of the Rangers were cut off and captured. Others made narrow escapes, for the Mexicans now came in close enough for hand to hand fighting, and surrounded many of the more daring. Several of the invaders were compelled to abandon their horses and make a run for it across fences and ditches. A Ranger called Sam Walker was caught by a powerful Mexican and was held down, while others tied him. One man named McMullins was seized by the legs as he was getting over a fence, but his boots pulled off and he made his escape. This was fortunate.

“Big Foot” Wallace was not among those first over the creek, and advanced with the main body, which now came on, driving the Mexicans into the town. The troops soon entered Mier and passed down a street leading to the public square, where the Mexicans had planted cannon. While advancing rapidly, they were repeatedly fired upon, and a Ranger named Jones was killed. As he fell, he lurched against “Big Foot” Wallace, who had felt the wind from the bullet that laid him low. The Texans pressed on and soon arrived at a point near the cannon, where they received a charge of grape-shot, which made them seek shelter behind some buildings. It was now dark. It was also Christmas evening, but there were no peaceful revels in Mier that winter’s day.

The Texans had but one way to advance: by opening a passageway through the buildings so that they could get in the rear of the deadly cannon. They worked all night in digging a hole through the adobe walls. When daylight came, they were within fifty yards of the death-dealing artillery.

“Big Foot” Wallace was among those in the very forefront of battle. While engaged in tunnelling through the building he discovered a Mexican baby which had been abandoned during the hasty retreat of the occupants of the house upon the approach of the Texans. It set up a terrific squalling when the Americans approached it, so “Big Foot” carefully took it up, and, advancing to a wall enclosing a yard, climbed up and dropped it over. At the same time, he shouted out in Spanish:

“Come and get the muchacho. Quick!”

He soon heard a woman’s voice and supposed that the poor infant was being taken care of.

Daylight dawned upon a scene of great activity. Port-holes had been opened in the various rooms into which the men had clambered, and the deadly crack of the rifles was soon heard, as the Texans began to fire at the artillerymen. The cannon were quickly silenced, for it was death for a Mexican to venture near them. Three attempts were made by the “Greasers” to storm and carry the Texan position, but each failed with fearful loss. The Mexicans, in fact, came on so thickly packed together that it was impossible to miss them. The bravest of all were the town guards, who wore black hats with white bands around them. They were nearly all killed.

The Texans were fighting gamely and the Mexicans were soon forced to abandon all of their artillery. Ropes were thrown around these instruments of war, from the corners of buildings, and the men from the South succeeded in dragging some of them away. “Big Foot” Wallace was doing a great deal of shooting. He says that he loaded and fired his rifle fifteen times, always waited for a good chance, and had a bead upon a Mexican every time that he pulled the trigger.

During the battle bugles sounded constantly, and it was reported that the Mexicans were being largely reinforced. The Texans, however, were undismayed at this report, and continued to load and fire their rifles with such deadly effect that great confusion prevailed among their foes, who continually uttered cries of rage and pain, amidst a constant blast of bugles. They occupied the house tops, where they kept their bodies well hid, and fired from the gutters and from behind the chimneys. The American leader, himself, was severely wounded, while many of the gallant Texans lay bleeding in the narrow streets of the quaint, little Mexican town.

A small guard had been left by the Rangers upon the other side of the creek. Just after daylight, upon the twenty-sixth of December, these attacked about sixty of the Mexican cavalry and routed them, but, seeing a large reinforcement approaching, they desperately endeavored to join their comrades in the little town. Out of the nine men who made this desperate charge, two succeeded; four were killed; and three were captured.

The fortune of war was apparently going badly with the Mexicans, but a sudden turn of events placed victory in their very hands. Captain Cameron had fortified himself and his men in the rear of a building occupied by Fisher and his support, where he had been exposed to a fearful fire. Upon the morning after Christmas day he entered the room occupied by his superior officer.

“Send me reinforcements,” he said, “for the bugles are blowing the charge and I am afraid that I will be annihilated.”

“I have no reinforcements,” Fisher replied. “You will have to fight on as you are.”

As he ceased speaking a white flag was seen approaching from the Mexican lines. With it was a Doctor Sinnickson—a Texan who had been recently captured by the Mexican troops. He had been ordered to tell the Rangers that there were one thousand seven hundred Mexican troops in the city, and that three hundred more were approaching from Monterey.

“Ampudia says that it will be useless for you to resist,” said the Doctor. “If you surrender, you will be treated like prisoners of war. If you resist, no quarter will be given!”

The Texan leader looked gloomily before him. He was on foreign soil. He was hemmed in on every side by his enemies. His men were nearly all worn out. The streets of Mier had run red with Mexican blood; and there was no chance to win. He was in favor of an honorable surrender. But some thought that they could make a sally from their barricaded position, and, by keeping together, could fight their way out of town and to the borders of the Rio Grande. These gathered around Cameron and begged him to take command; to make a rush; and to fight a way out. Great confusion prevailed. Some began to leave their positions and give their guns up to their enemies. Every few moments barricades would be torn away and men would march out and surrender.

Cameron held on to his position until many had given themselves up. Then he saw that all hope was gone, and therefore turned to his men.

“Boys,” said he, “it is useless for us to continue the fight any longer. They are all gone except ourselves.”

His followers stood for a few moments watching the crowds of Mexicans, who were making a great demonstration. Their cavalry was charging up and down the streets, while many were carrying away the guns of the Texans who were collected upon the plaza. The citizens of the town were cheering for victory.

“I’ll never give up,” said “Big Foot” Wallace. “My relatives were massacred after they had surrendered at Goliad, and that is what the Mexicans will do to us.”

But Cameron wished to save the lives of his men and so took the lead. As he marched towards the Mexican line, his soldiers followed. When they emerged from their position into the street they were met by a strong detachment of Mexicans. The painful work of surrendering their arms now commenced. “Big Foot” Wallace was the last man to give up his gun, his knife, and his pistol.

The bloody battle of Mier was over. The Mexican loss had been heavy. With two thousand in the field, five hundred had been killed. The Texans had two hundred and sixty in the town, sixteen of whom were killed and thirty of whom were wounded. The Mexicans lost forty artillerymen. The bodies of the slain Texans were dragged through the streets by the cavalry, and were followed by crowds of yelling townsfolk. Four rows of dead Mexicans were laid out upon the plaza, where the priests said mass among them. It had been a fierce little battle.

Now the troubles of the Texan Rangers really commenced. The wounded were left at the blood-bespattered Mier in charge of the good Doctor Sinnickson, while the able-bodied Americans were marched towards Mexico City, in charge of General Ampudia. Everywhere they were met by jubilant Mexicans, who made grand demonstrations as they passed through the towns, blowing bugles, hallooing, and charging around upon their horses. The Texans were so starved that they became thin and haggard, while their shoes were worn completely through. The Mexican women pitied the half-fed Americans, some of whom were mere boys. At Monterrey they came in with provisions and fed them. “Big Foot” Wallace—still wearing the trousers which he had captured—was thin but game. “Just give me a chance to escape,” he muttered to a companion.” Then,—watch me go!”

Finally the Texans were placed in prison at the Hacienda Salado. Their numbers were increased by a few ranchers who had been captured in other raids. All were anxious to make the attempt to escape, and a plan was set on foot to rush the guards at sunrise on the eleventh day of February, 1843. At Monterrey a similar plot had been hatched, but one of the Texan officers had disclosed it to the Mexicans, so the attempt had not been made.

All was soon ready for the struggle for freedom. Captain Cameron gave the signal by throwing up his hat, and two scouts named Lyons and Brennan led the charge upon the guards. The Mexicans were taken completely by surprise, were disarmed at the door of the prison, and saw the Texans dash into the outer court of the building where about one hundred and fifty infantrymen were guarding the arms and boxes of cartridges. The Texans numbered two hundred.

The frontiersmen rushed immediately upon the regular soldiers, who levelled their muskets at them and fired in their very faces. The Texans were not armed, but they pressed onward, received the fire, and closed in upon the yellow-skinned custodians of the jail. It was too bold a dash for the Mexicans. They surrendered or fled after the first fire, but the Texans had other soldiers to face.

A second company of infantry was stationed at the gate and a force of cavalry was outside. The gallant Texans did not hesitate for an instant. The desperate fellows rushed upon them, and a terrible fight ensued. Most of them had secured guns by now, and, when the second hand-to-hand fight took place, they were better prepared to force their way. “Big Foot” Wallace did not have a gun, so he rushed at a Mexican who had discharged his piece, and tried to disarm him. The fellow had a bayonet upon the end of his musket. He made a vicious thrust at the gaunt and lanky man from Texas.

“Big Foot” seized the bayonet with his bare hands, and a hard struggle took place for the possession of it. As they bent to and fro, an unarmed prisoner came up behind, and, seizing the gun in the centre, wrested it from the Mexican. The soldier fell upon his knees, held up his hands, and called out loudly: “Señors, have mercy! Have mercy!”

“You can go,” shouted “Big Foot” Wallace.

The fight was now raging fiercely and the scout went into the thick of it, brandishing the musket which he had just captured, and doing awful execution with the bayonet. The Texans were getting nearer and nearer to the gate which opened upon the streets of the town. The Mexicans were uttering screams and yells of terror and surprise. The Rangers were among them with clubbed guns and were delivering blows to the right and left. The cavalry became terror-stricken and fled. The infantrymen at the gate began to throw down their arms and try to surrender.

One Mexican lieutenant showed extraordinary bravery. His name was Barragan,—a son of the commander of the Mexican force. Backing against a wall, he brandished his sword aloft, and refused to surrender except to an officer. Six Texans surrounded him and thrust bayonets at his breast, but he kept his arm in motion and successfully parried every thrust. His sabre was moved about with such rapidity that it could hardly be seen.

At this time “Big Foot” Wallace came up. “Here,” cried a Texan, “you shoot this fellow, ‘Big Foot.’ He deserves death.”

But the lanky Texan shook his head. “No,” said he. “This man deserves better treatment, for he is a brave soldier. I refuse to shoot him.”

“Let me see your Captain,” cried the Mexican. “To him I will surrender my sword.”

Captain Cameron came up at once and the blade was turned over to him. With a proud look the Mexican stepped back and folded his arms.

“You are a brave man,” said Cameron. “You must be our prisoner, but you will not be injured.”

The Texans were now masters of the situation. They dictated terms to their enemies, one of which was that the wounded should be well taken care of. Meanwhile they prepared for instant flight, for they knew that a large force would soon be on their trail. Some of the Mexicans had tied their horses near by, and these were at once seized.

By ten o’clock in the morning the Texans were all mounted and set out for the Rio Grande. It was touch and go with them. The chances for their getting away were very slight, for they did not know the country.

“Big Foot” Wallace had secured a fine dun-colored mule which had belonged to a Mexican officer. The other Texans had good mounts, and by midnight were fifty miles from the scene of their battle. A short halt was made and the horses were fed. The men slept two hours, and, early in the morning, left the main road so as to go around the city of Saltillo. They soon abandoned the road for the mountains. This was a fatal mistake, for it was a barren waste with no water and no food.

For six days the gallant Texans pressed onward. They were soon perishing with thirst and starvation. So hungry were they that horses were killed and eaten. The Texans drank the blood of their mounts, and, leaving the remains of their slaughtered beasts for the coyotes and buzzards, they plunged into the arid, brown mountains in a vain endeavor to reach the Rio Grande. Many were on foot. Some became delirious and wandered away to die in lonely ravines. The party became badly scattered. “Big Foot” Wallace dried some mule meat in the sun and carried it along in a haversack. The frontiersmen toiled onward in the direction of the Rio Grande, but the Mexican cavalry was hot upon their trail.

Finally the yellow-skinned soldiers of the country began to come up with the half-dead Texans and to capture them. The majority of the invaders formed a hollow square and refused to surrender unless they could do so as prisoners of war. They were hollow-cheeked, sunken-eyed and half alive, yet they cried out that they would fight unless granted an honorable surrender. The Mexicans were well mounted and well fed. They had the Rangers at their mercy, yet they granted them what they asked for. Of one hundred and ninety-three Texans who had made their escape, five died of thirst and starvation, four got through to Texas, and three were never heard of again.

The Texans were tied together with ropes and were marched in a single line to Saltillo. When they were brought into the city an order was received from Santa Anna to have them shot. The Mexican officer in charge of the prisoners refused to comply, and said that he would resign his commission before he would do so. The British consul also interfered, so the poor Texans were allowed to go on to Salado, where they had had their fierce battle for freedom. They were placed in irons. As they reached the town an order came from Santa Anna to have every tenth man shot.

When the prisoners arrived at the jail from which they had so gloriously escaped, some Mexicans were seen digging a ditch. “Big Foot” Wallace nudged a companion. “That ditch is for us!” said he. He was quite right.

The Mexican officers now decided to let the prisoners draw lots in order to see who should, and who should not be, shot. A large jar was filled with beans: as many beans as Texans. White and black beans were there. The white ones meant life; the black,—death. There were nine white beans to one black.

The Texans were now marched out from their jail and were formed in a long line. An officer soon approached with the jar in his hand, in which were one hundred and fifty-nine white beans and seventeen black ones. The poor Texans were to pass through a fearful ordeal, but they were all gamblers with life, so they took it philosophically. Soldiers will rush to almost certain death in the excitement of battle, but to stand and decide one’s fate by the drawing of a bean is worse than charging upon a spitting cannon.

The Mexican officers were very anxious to kill Captain Cameron, the gallant leader of the gaunt and half-starved Texans. They were therefore in great hopes that he would draw a black bean, and, for this reason, placed black beans on top, within the jar. He was also requested to draw first.

But one of the captives—a fellow named “Bill” Wilson—saw the trick, and, as Cameron placed his hand in the jar, the Ranger called out: “Dip deep, Captain! Dip deep!”

Cameron followed his advice, ran his fingers to the bottom, and pulled out a white bean. A look of satisfaction passed over the faces of the Texans, for they all loved the brave and unselfish Captain. The Mexicans scowled as the drawing went rapidly on.

All “dipped deep” and it was thus some time before a black bean was pulled forth. The Texans knew that some of them would be compelled to draw the black beans, but they grinned with delight as friend after friend extracted a white bean from the fateful jar. Most of the scouts showed the utmost coolness. One noted gambler from Austin, Texas, stepped up to the jar with a smile, saying: “Boys, this is the largest stake that I ever played for!” When he drew out his hand a black bean was between thumb and forefinger. Without changing the smile on his face, he muttered: “Just my luck! Good-by to dear, old Texas!”

One young fellow, almost a boy, drew a black bean, and giving one appealing look at his comrades, cried out:

“Boys, avenge my death on these hounds!”

As the drawing progressed, some of the petty Mexican officers did all in their power to annoy the prisoners. When one would draw a black bean they would express great sorrow, and would say: “Cheer up! Better luck next time!” although they knew that this was the last chance which the poor fellow would ever have.

One witty Texan cried out, when his time came to draw:

“Boys, I had rather draw for a Spanish horse and lose him!” He drew a white bean.

The time approached for “Big Foot” Wallace to have his turn, for the men drew in alphabetical order, and W was well down upon the list. The boys were “dipping deep” and nearly all of the white beans had been dipped out. As “Big Foot” reached into the jar there were about an equal number of black beans and white. His hand was so large that he had difficulty in squeezing it down to the beans.

The wily Ranger was under the impression that the black beans were a little larger than the white ones, so he scooped up two against the side of the vessel, and, getting them between his fingers, felt them with great care. The Mexicans were watching him very closely. “Hurry up!” cried one. “If you pull out two beans and one of them is a black one, you will have to take the black.”

“Big Foot” paid no attention to this remark. Life was now at stake. He deliberately felt the beans for some time and one seemed to be larger than the other. He let it go, drew out his hand, and breathed easier. He had drawn out a white bean. The next two men drew black.

The black beans had now all been extracted, and the last three Texans did not draw. An officer turned up the jar and three white beans fell to the ground. The condemned men were then placed in a row and the firing squad was detailed and counted off.

The irons were now taken from the unfortunate Texans and they were led away to execution, bidding their more fortunate companions good-by, as they moved off. Tears were running down the cheeks of the emaciated Texans as they bade their comrades a last adieu. A man named Whaling asked not to be blindfolded, saying that he wished to look the man in the face that shot him, and show them how a Texan could die. His request was refused.

The bold and intrepid Texan Rangers were now ready for execution. All were blindfolded, a sharp order rang out, and the crash of muskets woke the echoes of the high adobe walls of the quaint, rambling prison. Without a sound the condemned Texans fell to the ground, all of them dead save one. This man—a fellow named Shepherd—was wounded in the shoulder, although a Mexican musket was within a few feet of him when it had been fired. He feigned death, so that he was able to crawl off and escape to the mountains after the Mexicans had gone away. But the men of the south discovered that one of their victims had disappeared when they came to remove the bodies to the ditch which had been prepared for them. Scouts were sent out in every direction to hunt for the missing corpse. In ten days the Ranger was retaken and was shot.

The survivors—in irons—were started on foot for the City of Mexico. They were half starved. They were derided, hooted at, and beaten by the populace. “Big Foot” Wallace suffered terribly, for the shackles were too small and cut deep into the flesh. His arms became badly swollen.

When the poor prisoners arrived at San Louis Potosi, the Governor’s wife came to look at the half-fed men and particularly noted the condition of Wallace. Her sympathies were at once aroused and she ordered the chains to be taken off. The officer who commanded the Mexican troops refused to do so, saying that only the Governor had authority to give such an order.

“I am the Governor’s wife,” replied the woman. “I command you—in his name—to take off these terrible bands.”

To this the soldier consented. Sending for a blacksmith, he had the shackles removed. The Governor’s wife bathed the swollen arms of “Big Foot” Wallace with her own hands.

“You should be President of Mexico,” said the half-dead Ranger.

The prisoners were marched onward and soon arrived at an Indian village about eighteen miles from the City of Mexico. Here an order came from Santa Anna to shoot Captain Ewing Cameron. He had drawn a white bean, but the Mexican leader did not respect his former decision. The order was kept a secret from the balance of the prisoners out of fear that they would make a demonstration. That night Cameron was put in a room alone, with a separate guard. The rest of the prisoners suspected some treachery and were fearful of the fate of their brave leader.

Next morning, when they were all marched out, each Texan filled his shirt full of rocks, determined to die for their captain if need be.

“Why are you getting those rocks?” asked the guards.

“It is for ballast,” replied “Big Foot” Wallace. “We want to walk better.”

The Mexican soldiers made no attempt to take the stones away. They were probably afraid to do so, as they saw a desperate look upon the faces of the Rangers. As they marched on, the prisoners frequently inquired about Cameron and wanted to know if he were going to be shot.

“No! No!” replied the Mexicans. “Go on! Your Captain will soon be with you!”

Somewhat reassured, the Rangers went forward, but, when they were about a mile from the town, they heard a platoon of soldiers fire their muskets in their rear. Some one cried out: “Brave Cameron has been massacred, boys! A finer man never breathed!”

It was only too true. The patriotic Texan had met his death unflinchingly,—a victim of the treachery of the wily Santa Anna.

Texas was then an independent Republic, for it had not yet been admitted into the Union. The United States had nothing to do with protecting the citizens of Texas, and the young Republic did not have forces enough to invade Mexico with an army, so as to rescue these unfortunate men. The British consul, however, had a good deal to say about the killing of Cameron, and had a personal interview with Santa Anna regarding it. He severely condemned this cruel procedure.

The Rangers were now closely confined in a miserable dungeon. Many went insane and died. Twenty-four succeeded in digging their way out, underneath the wall. Four scaled over the high enclosure and made their way back to Texas in safety. “Big Foot” Wallace, himself, had a fit of temporary insanity, but he recovered and managed to live through the months of terrible imprisonment. The Texans were so badly fed that they caught the rats which ran across the dungeon floor and ate them. Meanwhile Santa Anna’s wife was continually pleading with her husband to liberate the miserable men. The stern dictator was greatly attached to her, and would grant almost anything that she asked.

Friends of the Texans were using their best endeavors to have the prisoners released. Through the influence of his father and Governor McDowell of Virginia, “Big Foot” Wallace was finally set free. Upon the fifth day of August, 1844, he and four others were allowed to go, after an imprisonment of twenty-two months. Upon the same day the good wife of Santa Anna died,—regretted and beloved by every Texan who had worn the chains of Mexico. Soon afterwards an order came to set free the remainder of the Texans, for Santa Anna had promised his wife—on her death-bed—that he would release them. To his honor be it said that he kept his promise.

The intrepid “Big Foot” was, of course, delighted with his freedom. Taking ship at Vera Cruz, he soon reached New Orleans, and from there found his way back to his old cabin upon the Medina River. Many settlers had taken up ranches near by, so he was no longer alone. Still the Indians were very thick, and there were frequent brushes with the wild riders of the plains.

One day—near Fort Inge—the pioneer discovered the track of the famous Big Foot Indian, where he and six followers had crossed the road. The old fellow’s footprint was fourteen inches in length, and, as he had seen it several times before, the plainsman knew that there was trouble in the wind. When he reached the fort, he found a friend of his named Westfall.

“That Big Foot redskin is around,” said he. “This means horse stealing. If the old cuss does get your stock, just let me know and I will join you in a little Injun round-up.”

“All right,” Westfall replied. “If I need you, I will let you know.”

As Wallace expected, in three or four days a Ranger came after him with the information that all of Westfall’s horses had been stolen and that he was needed—very badly needed—to assist in their recapture. The Indians had ridden up the Nueces Canyon to its source, and then had crossed over to the headwaters of the South Llano, where they had gone into camp in a dense cedar grove. They thought that they had captured all of the white men’s horses, and so would not be followed. As they had shot a small bear, they proceeded to cook it over a glowing fire.

But the redskins did not remember that the white settlers had some very good mules, which they had not captured. On these the Texans followed the Indian trail, and soon located the redskin encampment by the smoke from the fire. Westfall rested, but did not cook anything. He was waiting for morning, before making the attack.

As day dawned, the plainsman crept towards the Indian camp; accompanied by a youth named Preston Polly. The other men—four in number—were told to come on when they heard his gun. At first the two whites descended into the bed of a gorge to a point opposite the camp of the famous Big Foot Indian. When nearing the smoke from the fire, a trail was discovered, which led down the hill to a pool of water fed by two deep springs. Below the pool was some rank, coarse grass. Westfall and the boy halted in this.

Suddenly, as he peered beneath some bushes, Westfall saw an Indian coming towards the pool of water. He was mounted upon a pie-bald pony, and was a tall, well-formed brave. The plainsman lay still, scarcely daring to breathe. Silently he cocked his rifle and kept his eyes upon the savage.

In a few moments the Indian came into full view. The heart of the plainsman beat quickly, for before him was the terrible Big Foot: his face all daubed up with vermilion paint, and eagle feathers in his scalp-lock. Motioning to the boy to remain absolutely quiet, Westfall slowly raised his rifle. At this moment the horse discovered the ambushed marksman and snorted. Big Foot turned quickly in order to see what was the matter and was for a moment stationary. Bang! The burly chieftain—the scourge and terror of the border—pitched forward upon his face. He had been shot clean through the heart.

True to their orders to approach when they heard the discharge of a rifle, the other men came up quickly, on the run. They charged up the hill, past the body of the dead chief, and into the camp of the red men. The Indians had gone, but the stolen horses were all in camp, except those ridden away by the redskins. The pioneers ate a good portion of the bear meat, which was fat, juicy, and well roasted.

When they examined the big chief, they found that he was indeed the giant of a man, for he was seven feet tall and weighed about three hundred pounds. His hand clutched the bridle-reins so firmly that his pony was unable to pull away from him. His hair was fully a yard in length and he had strong arms and legs. Upon his right knee was the mark of a bullet where he had been wounded some years before. The white men took his moccasins in order to prove that it was the real Big Foot; rounded up their horses; and were soon travelling back to their ranches. The great chief was buried without ceremony.

“Big Foot” Wallace was shortly afterwards commissioned by the Governor of Texas to raise a company of Rangers for frontier defense. He was made Captain and appointed his friend Westfall a Lieutenant. They were soon to see plenty of stiff fighting.

The hardest battle which they engaged in was on Todos Santos (All Saints) Creek, at a place called the Black Hills, sixteen miles from the town of Cotulla. Eighty redskins were near this spot, and had camped near a waterhole, which the whites wished to get to, as they had been three days without water. The plainsmen had come through prickly pear and cat-claw bushes only to find the Indians in their path. A stiff fight ensued. The Rangers circled around the savages for over an hour, and, after they had wounded a good many, charged the remainder. There was hand-to-hand fighting, but the red men were finally driven away, leaving twenty-two of their number dead upon the ground, among whom was their chief. “Big Foot” Wallace had dispatched him with a rifle, which had been presented to him by Colonel James Bowie, from whom the bowie knife took its name.

The redoubtable Wallace was one of the first to enlist in the Mexican War of 1846, and served under the famous Texan Jack Hays. The war, as you know, was brought on by a dispute over the boundary-line between Mexico and the United States, and, as many of the Rangers had old scores to settle with the Mexicans, they did good service in the campaign which ended in the capture of the City of Mexico. “Big Foot” Wallace was a second Lieutenant and acquitted himself nobly, particularly in the storming of Monterey, where he captured the very officer who had held the fatal bean-pot when the Texans were drawing for their lives at Solado. To his credit be it said that he let the fellow go.

The famous plainsman never married, although he was once engaged to a belle of Austin, Texas. He was taken ill, shortly after pledging his troth, and had the misfortune to lose all of his hair. As soon as he was able to travel, he left town and hid himself in a cave in the mountains. Here he resided until his hair grew out again. Meanwhile his sweetheart had grown tired of waiting for him and had married another man. As she turned out to be a terrible scold, he was lucky.

The old scout was the proud possessor of four dogs—half-bred specimens—which he prized very highly. He called them Rock, Ring, Speck and Blas, and was particularly fond of Rock, who was so well trained that he could follow an Indian by his scent. Wallace could always tell by the dog’s actions when Indians were around, and, when night came, would feel perfectly secure when his pets were on guard near by. The faithful animals would lie near him and would make no noise unless some wild man, or still wilder animal, approached.

One morning Rock gave unmistakable signs that Indians were near by, so the scout took his gun in order to watch for the redskins. As none put in an appearance, he told his dogs to “go on and find.” They rushed forward, yelping, and he soon heard them baying loudly. Coming to the spot, he saw an Indian down in a gully with the dogs around him. They were endeavoring to bite him, but he kept them from seizing him by throwing his blanket over their heads. Wallace raised his gun to fire, but, seeing that the poor redskin was afraid, he lowered his piece. Then, calling his pets to his side, he made signs to the Indian to come towards him.

When the redskin approached, “Big Foot” saw that he was unarmed, save for a small knife which he held in his right hand. This was broken in two.

“I have been a captive among the Comanches,” said the red man. “I have had nothing to kill game with and am nearly starved. Pray give me something to eat, Señor. I broke my knife while trying to open a terrapin.”

The old scout’s heart was touched by the sad spectacle before him. He took pity on the poor savage, and, leading him to his cabin, there gave him all that he could eat. He then turned him over to the Indian agent at San Antonio. This shows that, although keen in pursuing hostile redskins, the famous Ranger could be also kind and gentle to the unfortunate.

The fame of “Big Foot” Wallace was great among the pioneers of Texas; so great, in fact, that when he appeared at the Dallas fair in 1898, hundreds crowded around him in order to take his hand and talk with the famous scout. All had heard of the giant plainsman and wanted to see him. Shortly after Christmas, of this year, he caught a heavy cold, and died on the seventh of January, 1899, in his eighty-third year. To the very end his eyesight was so keen that he had no need of glasses, and he was apparently hale and hearty up to the last. Thus peacefully closed the career of one of the most adventurous men who ever hunted, fished, and fought the red men and Mexicans upon the wide plains of Texas.

Although buried in Medina County, where he had built his first log cabin, shortly after his death, a bill was passed in the legislature, so that his remains were taken up and were deposited in the State cemetery at Austin. This was a city which he had helped to build. He had also assisted in the construction of the first well which had been sunk there. He had been among those who had killed the last herd of buffalo on the plains near by.

Here—in the peace of the rolling plain—lies the last of the Great Captains of those gallant Rangers of the Texan prairie. His spirit slumbers where the coyote and Indian once followed the dun-colored herds of buffalo, and where—in the blue azure of the cloudless sky—the wheeling vulture watched the canvas-covered wagons of the emigrant trains, which brought a people who were to construct great and populous cities, where was then only dust and desolation.


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