Redlands, Red State: A True Story of the Creation of Texas, in Four Parts

March 2, 2013 § Leave a comment

Happy Texas Independence Day!

Pope Benedict XVI has stepped down from his gilded throne and thus his pontificating days are over. Not so with our esteemed governor.” As is his wont, the goobernator has been giving us a daily piece of his mind. Lately it’s been about the possibility of our Texas “tiger” changing its stripes from red to blue.

Recently, he was  interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

WSJ: To the question, “Could Texas become a blue state?”

Gov. Perry “emits a hearty guffaw.”

The University of Texas will change its colors to maroon and white before Texas goes purple, much less blue.”

The Wall Street Journal story went on to say, “Many political pollsters and demographers predict the state could get wobbly sooner than many Republicans think, possibly going blue by as early as 2020.

Gov. Perry rejects that notion with his own version of “Remember the Alamo.” Why?

It’s because of freedom,” he told the Journal. “People in Texas truly aspire to freedom. They don’t want government coming in and telling them how much of this or how much of that.”

At heart, he argues, there’s just something about Texas. “Democrats are about government getting bigger and bigger and government providing more and more,” he says. “Texans have never been for that, and Texans never will.”

Elsewhere, in response to the recently launched Battleground Texas campaign to turn Texas into a red, or at least purple, state, Goob pointed out that even when it was a Democratic state, Texas was conservative.

Texas is going to continue to be a conservative state, and I would suggest to you it has been since its creation, and people are drawn here because they are drawn to those conservative values of freedom from over-taxation, over-regulation, and over-litigation,” he declared.

Technically, Goob is correct about some people being drawn to Texas for “those conservative values of freedom from over-taxation, over-regulation, and over-litigation,” but in fact he is not only putting lipstick on the proverbial pig, he’s gussying her up like a Guy Town fille de joie. But a pig is still a pig – not that there’s anything wrong with that. I love pigs, especially barbecued.

The two years of Texas history that Texas students get before they drop out or graduate from middle school tell some of the basic historical facts, but they, as well as Perry, fail to acknowledge the prominent role of scalawags and scoundrels in creating the state we know and love (or loathe) today. And if there’s three things scoundrels and scalawags like, it’s “freedom from over-taxation, over-regulation, and over-litigation.”

As our historian cum state land commissioner likes to point out, our Texas was founded by illegal immigrants.

One of the biggest differences between Texas and Australia is that in Texas, the founding criminals came voluntarily, whereas in Australia they were forcibly shipped over by the crown.

White men began to steal into Texas in the early 1800s, concentrating in the Redlands of East Texas across the Sabine River from the Neutral Grounds of Louisiana that was mostly settled by outlaws. By 1830, the Redlands’ white settlers were nearly all immigrants from the Neutral Zone who were granted citizenship because they had joined the filibusters of 1812 who invaded Texas, ostensibly to help achieve Mexican independence.

Texas’ earliest and greatest braggart/con artist was the Baron de Bastrop, for whom the present bayou, town and county of Bastrop were named.

The Handbook of Texas tells the following, rather noble, story of Bastrop’s life:

Felipe Enrique Neri was born Philip Hendrik Nering Boegel in Dutch Guiana in 1759. He moved to Holland with his parents in 1764, and in 1779 enlisted in the cavalry of Holland and Upper Issel. He married Georgine Wolffeline

Francoise Lijcklama Nyeholt in 1782; they had five children. Boegel served as collector general of taxes for the province of Friesland. In 1793 he was accused of embezzlement of tax funds and fled the country before he could be brought to trial. The Court of Justice of Leeuwarden offered a reward of 1,000 gold ducats to anyone who brought him back.

By April 1795 he had arrived in Spanish Louisiana, where he represented himself as a Dutch nobleman, the Baron de Bastrop, who had fled Holland because of the French invasion. During the next decade he received permission from the Spanish government to establish a colony in the Ouachita valley and engaged in several business ventures in Louisiana and Kentucky. After Louisiana was sold to the United States in 1803, Bastrop moved to Spanish Texas and was given permission to establish a colony between Bexar and the Trinity River. In 1806 he settled in San Antonio, where he had a freighting business and gained influence with the inhabitants and officials. In 1810 he was appointed second alcalde, or vice-mayor, of ayuntamiento de Bexar (Bexar County, which at the time encompassed all of Central Texas).

One of his most significant contributions to Texas was his intercession with Governor Antonio Maria Martinez on behalf of Moses Austin in 1820, just before Mexico gained its independence. Because of Bastrop, Martinez approved Austin’s project to establish an Anglo-American colony in Texas. After Moses Austin’s death, Bastrop served as intermediary with the Mexican government for Stephen F. Austin, who would have encountered many more obstacles if not for Bastrop’s assistance. In July 1823 Bastrop was appointed commissioner of colonization for the Austin colony with authority to issue land titles.

In September 1823, the settlers elected Bastrop to the provincial deputation at Bexar, which in turn chose him as representative to the legislature of the new state of Coahuila and Texas in May 1824.

During his tenure as representative of Texas at the capital, Saltillo, Bastrop sought legislation favorable to the cause of immigration and to the interests of settlers, secured passage of the colonization act of 1825, and was instrumental in the passage of an act establishing a port at Galveston. His salary, according to the Mexican system, was paid by contributions from his constituents. The contributions were not generous; Bastrop did not leave enough money to pay his burial expenses when he died on February 23, 1827. His fellow legislators donated the money to pay for his funeral. Bastrop was buried in Saltillo.

While many of his peers doubted his claims of nobility, he earned respect as a diplomat and legislator. Bastrop, Texas, and Bastrop, Louisiana, as well as Bastrop County, Texas, were named in his honor.

Vito Alessio Robles, respected historian in the Mexican state of Coahuila, had a different story to tell of the Baron of Bastrop. And when you read my English translation of it, you will see a certain poetic justice in an impoverished death for Bastrop, when you consider the extent of the dastardly deeds he committed in life, not the least of which was his role as the Judas of the Mexican War on Independence.

Mexico’s fight for independence began on September 16, 1810, in the village of Dolores, near San Miguel de Allende, when Father Miguel Hidalgo urged his poor, Indian and mestizo parishioners to throw out the Spaniards. That night, a rebel army formed and began marching, overrunning the haciendas of the Spanish and capturing San Miguel, Celaya, Guanajuato, and Valladolid, under Hidalgo’s command. Other sympathetic uprisings occurred across Mexico, including Saltillo. Failing to capture Mexico City, the rebels moved on to Guadalajara. Defeated there by the Spanish Army in January 1811, the rebels headed for Saltillo. General Ignacio Allende now commanded what was left of the rebel army. Father Hidalgo, Allende, and the other rebel leaders decided to march to the United States, via San Antonio, in order to buy the arms that they couldn’t get in New Spain, so that they could continue the fight.

They also hoped to recruit land-hungry North Americans to fight with them, dangling before them the prospect of settling Texas’ vast lands in return for their services. In the first days of March, two men came to Allende who claimed to be fervently addicted to the cause of independence. They claimed to know well the road between San Antonio and Louisiana and offered their services as guides. From that point on, they had access to all of the leaders’ meetings.

One of them happened to be the Dutchman named Felipe Enrique Neri, baron de Bastrop. He had served as a soldier of fortune for Frederick the Great and then entered the Spanish Army, which sent him to Mexico with a special commission.

When Louisiana was ruled by Spain, he obtained a concession of lands between the Mississippi and Red rivers, and when France, and then the United States, obtained Louisiana, he went to Texas. The other guide was Sebastian Rodriguez. But Bastrop and Rodriguez were really spies for a royalist junta that had formed in Monclova. Unbeknownst to the rebels, the provincial capitals of San Antonio, Texas, and Monclova, Coahuila, had changed sides from rebel to royalist. The rebel commander in Monclova, Captain Elizondo, had been insulted by Allende’s refusal to make him a lieutenant general. So he turned coat again, back to the Spanish, determined to achieve generalcy one way or the other.

On March 17, 1811, the rebels, guided by Bastrop and Rodriguez, left Saltillo for the United States. That same day, the Royalists began assembling to ambush them. The rebels would have to march past Monclova on their way north, and Bastrop had suggested the water hole at Bajan as a good spot for an ambush. The rebel caravan, which stretched out more than 16 kilometers, proceeded slowly, disorderly, up the narrow valley toward Bajan and Monclova. On March 20, the rebels marched for 56 difficult kilometers without food or water. But there was the hope and expectation of meeting up with friendly troops at Bajan. So on the morning of March 21, the rebels picked up and continued the march north. Incredibly, General Allende had not sent out a recon patrol ahead of the main column.

At Bajan, the road makes a turn to go around a low hill now known as the Loma del Prendimiento, or Capture Hill. Here, hidden behind the hill waited the royalist forces. As the elements of the rebel caravan made the turn, they were apprehended, in turn. Father Hidalgo was in the fourth carriage, Allende and Jiminez in the fifth. Allende declared that he would die before he would surrender and fired a shot from his pistol before the royalists opened fire and killed him.

Bastrop and Rodriguez followed in another carriage. When a group of 600 rebel prisoners had been assembled, including Father Hidalgo, they were marched to captivity in Monclova, on the morning of March 22. From there, the leaders were taken to Chihuahua City, where Father Hidalgo was executed on July 30, 1811. An Indian was paid 20 pieces of silver to cut off his head, which was taken to Guanajuato and hung in an iron cage for all to see and abhor.

Skipping from 1811 to 1827, we see that Bastrop, in fact, profited greatly from his perfidy, and died nowhere near the state of poverty.

He died in Saltillo on Feb. 23, 1827, while serving as a deputy in the Congress of Coahuila Y Texas. According to his will, written in Saltillo a month before his death, he owned large tracts of land in the states of Virginia and Louisiana, as well as several properties in Texas.

Throughout the early 1800s ne’er do-wells like Bastrop drifted into the Texas Redlands, so named for the reddish soil that stretched west from the Sabine River to the Attoyac River, which includes present-day San Augustine County. It was here that Texas’ first horse thieves developed and refined a system that would serve them well, as well as the generations of thieves and rustlers who followed them.

“Here in the Redlands many people ignored their Creator,” saying that “there is no God in Texas,” explained William P. Zuber. “Horse racing and other gambling were extensively practiced, mostly on the Sabbath day. Homicides were so frequent that they attracted but little attention outside the families of the men who were killed, and manslayers were seldom or never prosecuted at law. The inhabitants of that section were called ‘Redlanders’, a name which implied the worst type of wickedness.

“One practice of these desperados was to steal horses, convey them into Louisiana, and sell them. They did not steal from one another, and, as a prudent measure, they respected the property of their honest near neighbors. Instead, they went a considerable distance from home to perpetuate their thefts. Then, by agreement, two of them would meet at some public place and, in the presence of witnesses, would swap their stolen horses, after which each would sell the horse he had received. Thus, when one of them was detected possessing or selling a stolen horse, he could prove that he had obtained it by honest exchange from another man, and he could not be punished by law.

“Sometimes two or three of them would collect a drove of fifteen or twenty horses and deliver them to some colleagues, who would drive them by night to others who would do likewise. The last drivers would sell the horses in Louisiana or Arkansas, and the money was divided among the original thieves and the drivers. Thus each relay of operators generally avoided detecting by being absent from home only a day or two at a time.

“Some of the Redlanders who had immigrated from the Neutral Ground engaged in manufacturing bogus money and operated what they called the ‘Owl Creek Bank.’ Of course there was no such bank, but they printed and signed fictitious names to papers which resembled bank bills, on each of which was a promise to pay to the bearer a certain sum when it should be presented at the bank. During a short time, they used those papers in the purchase of property and often offered them on sale at discount.”

Noah Smithwick moved to the Louisiana side of the Redlands in 1831 after being kicked out of San Felipe de Austin, the capital of Stephen F. Austin’s colony in Texas, and described his experiences there:

I suppose, on account of my having been banished from San Felipe, they looked upon me as a congenial spirit, and therefore took no pains to conceal their operations from me, even making overtures to me; but it was one thing with me to assist a friend to escape from prison, and quite another to become a bandit, counterfeiter, or land shark.

My first association was with a notorious counterfeiter, whom for the nonce we will call John Doe, in whose shop I worked, though not in his line of business. He offered me a partnership, proposing that we go over into Mexico and open up business. I never saw him manufacturing the “queer,” but I saw his outfit, of which he made no secret. There was nothing of the desperado about him. On the contrary, he was pleasant and peaceable and generally liked, and, so far from being looked upon as a malefactor, was considered a public benefactor, in that he furnished the only currency to which the people had access. The country could not be said to be on either a gold or silver basis, copper being the basis of Doe’s coinage, and, the supply failing, he sent out emissaries to rustle for the precious metal. Not finding any other available source of supply, they appropriated a copper still, which was converted into coin. His Mexican eagle dollars were as handsome coins as I ever saw, much finer in execution, in fact, than the genuine article, and passed current in the community until the plating began to wear off, when he gathered them in, and, treating them to a fresh coat, sent them out again.

Indian Bill, a Cherokee, was one day at a horse race, and, becoming thirsty, repaired to a booth where liquid refreshments were dispensed, and, calling for a drink, threw down a dollar. The proprietor picked up the coin, and, perceiving that the copper foundation was showing around the edges, handed it back to Bill with the remark:

“This is one of Doe’s dollars. Take it back to him and tell him to plate it over again.”

The Indian took him at his word, and, looking around among the crowd, espied the manufacturer of the rejected coin. Rushing up to him, Bill held out the dollar, saying:

“See here, Doe, this dollar no good; he no buy whisky. Take him, Doe, take him; skin him again, skin him again.”

The crowd set up a shout, amidst which Doe calmly pocketed the dollar, handing Bill a brand new one, with which he returned to the bar and discharged his whisky bill, though the proprietor doubtless recognized its character as quickly as he had that of the first tender.

Doe also coined doubloons which, though perceptibly thicker than the genuine coin of that denomination, was still a trifle light, but as there were no scales to test them as they passed unchallenged as long as the plating was intact. Doe’s currency furnishes a good example of the practical working of the populist idea: it was all right in domestic transactions, but when they attempted to discharge foreign obligations with it, it got them into trouble. Ambitious to extend his field of operations, Doe went over into Louisiana, where he was apprehended. The authorities failed to convict him, but his currency was depreciated to such an extent as to render the floating of it unprofitable. His die for dollars had a slight crack in it by which his coin soon came to be recognized, but his shrewdness turned it to account. Casting a pure silver dollar, he entrusted it to an accomplice, instructing him to go to a saloon and tender it in payment for drinks, and when it was refused, as it was sure to be, the mark being plainly visible, to feign indignation and offer to bet $500, which Doe supplied, that it was pure silver. The fellow did as instructed and had no trouble in placing his bet. The suspected coin was submitted to a jeweler, who, of course, pronounced it pure silver. By this coup Doe reimbursed himself for his losses on his venture and returned to the west side of the Sabine, where his efforts were more appreciated.

Another way in which Doe added materially to the wealth of the colonies was by restamping the old hammered dollars, a single blow of the hammer adding 25 cents to the value of each one. There were thousands of them thus rehabilitated. Indeed, it was a regular business collecting them.

A couple of years later his operations were thrown completely in the shade by what was known as the Owl creek money, counterfeit United States bank notes of different denominations, and so nearly a perfect reproduction of the genuine that they were even imposed on the banks. Paper and ink being cheaper even than copper, Doe’s currency was given the go-by. The country was soon flooded with the Owl creek paper, and as everybody in the Redlands had more or less of it, and they were all interested in maintaining it at par, it, too, continued to circulate even after its true character was recognized. That, too, was practical populism. I was approached by one of the promoters of the scheme, who offered me any amount of the counterfeit paper at fifty cents on the dollar if I would take it into Louisiana and float it. Realizing that such secrets are dangerous, I told him that I would take the proposition under consideration. Said he, looking me straight in the eye, “Remember, if you ‘cheep’ your life won’t be worth a snap.” I told him I understood that, and would “see him later.” I was alarmed lest some suspicion might attach to me, so I got away from there as fast as possible. Under such pressure it is not to be wondered at that the paper passed, there being, as previously stated, no public protection accorded the people of that section. The only semblance of government was the office of alcalde, presided over by old Ben Lindsey, a well-meaning old fellow, as ignorant of law as of grammar.

The only case, so far as known to the writer, that was ever tried before him was that of a man who was arraigned for shooting another man’s dog, the complainant demanding damages therefor. Mace Cole was employed by defendant to conduct his case. There were no statute books available, the only hook in court being the Bible on which the witnesses were sworn. Picking up the Bible, Cole asked the alcalde if, in the absence of other law, the old Mosaic code would be admissible. The alcalde, totally at a loss to know what to do with the case, consented to be governed by the primal statute. Turning to Deuteronomy xxiii, 18, Cole read: “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore or the price of a dog into the house of the Lord thy God, for even both these are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

This appearing to be plainly against the plaintiff, the case was dismissed, the plaintiff paying costs.

Another swindling scheme that was being worked on a gigantic scale, and which was productive of more lasting evil, it will be necessary to go back to 1829 to explain. In that year Don Padillo came on from Saltillo as commissioner of the land office, to survey and make title to the claims of bona fide settlers outside the regular colonies, being provided with blanks for the purpose, on which, were stamped the seal of the Republic of Mexico, lacking only the specifications and signature of the commissioner to complete them. Accompanied by T. Jefferson Chambers, surveyor general for the colonies, he established headquarters at Nacogdoches, but, unfortunately for the old don, he became enamored of the pretty young wife of one of his attaches, and to get the husband out of the way sent him on an errand from which he never returned alive. Suspicion at once fell on the commissioner and he was arrested as the instigator of the murder. He was thrown into prison and his papers all thrown into the hands of an unscrupulous gang, who at once proceeded to establish a land office of their own. Securing the services of an old Spaniard who had been a government clerk for years and was an expert penman, they had him forge the commissioner’s signature to the blanks, and thus equipped set up business on a large scale, issuing floating certificates to any amount of land for an insignificant consideration. Any good plug of a pony would buy an eleven-league grant. James Armstrong, afterward a member of the legislature, told me how they conducted business.

“I had just come to the country,” said he, “and, being broke, was looking around for a clerkship or other employment that might procure necessities. In this emergency I accepted a position in the office of the manager of the land-grabbers, and was set to work filling out the blanks. I worked a whole month, meanwhile running on ‘tick,’ and at the end of that time demanded my salary, which had been fixed at $50 a month. Imagine my disgust when, instead of cash, I was tendered a certificate for eleven leagues of land. The cool audacity of the thing fairly took my breath away. I told the boss that I preferred the money.

‘You are a fool,’ said he.

‘Maybe I am,’ I replied, ‘but if it were land I was after I could have filled out a certificate for any amount that would have been just as good as yours.'”

I was also offered any quantity of these bogus land certificates to dispose of in Louisiana on shares, and no doubt I could have done so to advantage among the wealthy planters, whose slaves were becoming too numerous for their plantations, thus creating a demand for increased acreage. Perhaps it was only because I lacked the courage necessary to the making of a rascal; at any rate, I rejected all these alluring offers for fortune, not caring to run my neck into a halter by being made a cat’s paw for these scoundrels. Of the effects of this wholesale land fraud I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. It was the foundation for all the land litigation that has vexed the souls of the settlers ever since.

Old Vicente Padilla was running a monte game in San Felipe. Money was too scarce to bet more than a quarter at a time, and quarters – dos reales – were not plenty, so in order to provide enough such change, they cut a dollar in four pieces. When Mexico established her independence, one of her first acts was to change the stamp of her coin, the eagle dollar taking the place of the Spanish milled dollar. The latter being defaced by hammering was then worth only seventy-five cents. These hammered dollars were often cut into five pieces by a little extra hammering and made to pass as quarters. Old Vicente was getting the best of the game of course and nobody had any scruples about beating him in any way. One of the “buckers” was in my shop one day and seeing a lot of little triangular bits of iron lying around was struck with an idea. Gathering up the bits, he polished them up till they bore quite a resemblance to the quarters cut from the hammered dollars. He departed with his prize and after dark repaired to the monte bank where the dim light of the tallow candles enabled him to pass off his iron chips on the dealer without detection.

Nacogdoches was the gambler’s heaven; that being the first town the newcomer struck after crossing the Sabine. Here there was a regular organization for roping in the greenhorn and relieving him of his cash. Several of its members afterward took an active part in the revolution, one at least being a signer of the Declaration of Independence. This brave patriot having spotted a stranger who seemed to have deep pockets, steered him into a game and went out to look for another sucker. When he returned the game was over and the clique dividing the spoils. The steerer demanded his share. “Why you wasn’t in the game,” they contended. “The h—-l I wasn’t; didn’t I find him first?” and backing his claim with a pistol he secured his share. So unscrupulous were they that they didn’t even wait till the victim was out of the room to divide. Taking in the situation, a fellow that had been thus robbed, said to them, “I think it’s a d—-d outrage for the government to send old John H. Murrill to the state’s prison and let such fellows as you go free.”

These early innovators in organized crime, frontier style, had developed a pattern of operation that would be emulated by succeeding generations of Texas thieves and rustlers until the early 1900s.

To Be Continued.

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