Redlands, Red State: A True Story of the Creation of Texas, Part 2
March 4, 2013 § Leave a comment
Cowboys and Texas are synonymous in the minds of most people, and the “Cow Boy” was born of the Texas Revolution and independence from Mexico in 1836. Not well known, but not surprising, is the fact that in those days and for decades thereafter, “cow-boys” were held in the same regard by “decent” folk as “gangstas” are these days.
Early in 1836, it was reported that in Matagorda County an “organized desperate set” had “formed a league to assist each other and give protection under all circumstances right or wrong. The group was accused of being a “murdering, plundering lawless Band.”
After San Jacinto, loyal Mexican citizens were ordered to evacuate to below the Rio Grande. Those who failed to do so risked being tried as traitors. As the ranchers of Mexican descent moved south, they left their herds of cattle and horses. Mexican General Vicente Filisola ordered his men to drive south all the cattle found on the army’s line of retreat, but huge herds were left behind. The Texas army needed meat. Soldiers were sent into the abandoned area to drive cattle east to feed the army. The practice spread and soon there were bands of men rounding up the cattle left behind by the departed Mexican ranchers. Some of the bands did more than round up stock.
As J. Frank Dobie explained, until the Republic of Texas was established in 1836, the word “cowboy” was unknown in the sense and esteem in which it is held now. That spring, “bold, adventurous and not at all squeamish-stomached Texians began raiding Mexican-held ranges. The raiders were nearly all young men, mostly out of that nondescript, un-uniformed, undisciplined, self-willed, ready-to-die aggregation of game-spirited recruits from the States and from home-defending settlers making up the Texas army.
“Many of these first cowboys thought no more of killing a Mexican than of ‘upping’ an Indian or using the double of a rope on a rattlesnake. Some of them allied with Mexican filibusters in making a pronunciamiento for the ‘Republic of the Rio Grande.’ A few were out strictly for gain. Certain of their associates, like the brave ranger and gentleman Ben McCulloch, would have no part in driving off the Mexican cattle because the business too patently violated the Ten Commandments.”
These “cow-boys” raided into the Nueces Strip – the no man’s land between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande – for cattle and horses, first, then plunder. Many of these “cow-boys” were, pure and simple, bandits and killers.
For years the word, “cow boys,” which was a very old word given a new meaning, was, when printed, enclosed in quotation marks, and the initial odium attached to it took many decades to fade.
Rip Ford was more charitable than Dobie in his estimation of the cow-boys: The horses and cattle abandoned by the Mexicans when they were ordered to evacuate the country between the Nueces and Rio Grande “invited the raids the Texians made upon this territory during the period of the Republic. The men thus engaged acquired the name of ‘cow-boys.’ It was not meant as a term of reproach. War existed between Mexico and Texas at the time, and the operations of the ‘cow-boys’ were considered legitimate. The debatable land was the scene of many hostile meetings between the Mexicans and Texians. The cow-boys’ great hunting grounds were between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande, but they also found thousands of cattle along the Guadalupe and San Antonio rivers, some of them belonging to Mexicans who had fought loyally on the Texas side. But to the raiders all Mexicans were the same.”
“They even crossed the Rio Bravo and chased back to this side cattle that harrying Indians and Indianized vaqueros had for generations been developing into race stock. Generally timing their forays with moonlight, a band of 10 to 15 cowboys would rush several hundred cattle together and head them northeast in a long run, which they would keep up for 24 hours, after that merely walking or trotting. The country was then mostly open and they knew how to get over it. The swift raiders, called ‘Cow Boys,’ took only the more manageable horses and cattle, leaving the others to run wilder than ever. Perhaps the largest concentration of wild horses in north America was in the area known as the Mustang desert between the Nueces and Rio Grande,” Dobie wrote.
They drove some of the cattle to New Orleans but most were used to stock to the upper coastal ranges, centering around Goliad.
Noah Smithwick, who was there when it all started, later wrote:
When the Texas army, under General Rusk, moved up from San Jacinto to Victoria in the wake of the retreating Mexicans, the rangers were detailed to guard the baggage. The country being deserted, we helped ourselves to anything in the way of provisions we found lying around loose; but, the Mexican army having marched and countermarched through that section, there was little, except livestock, left to forage on.
Arriving at Victoria, we erected a lot of cowhide sheds, which we dignified by the name of barracks, a mile or so above town. General Rusk then issued an order for all the smiths and wagon-workers to form an armorers’ corps and go into town to work. My trade put me in the corps, having for my assistant a stalwart son of the Blue Grass state, Lang by name. General Rusk, had he been inclined to enforce strict military discipline, knew too well the disposition of the men to attempt it, so we were given, or took, the largest liberty possible to any kind of regulations. One order, however, it was necessary to enforce, that those dealing in intoxicating liquors should not sell their goods to the men except in the presence of an officer. The boys naturally resented any such infraction on a time honored custom, and laid their heads together to devise some plan to circumvent the general. One day a little Frenchman came up with several goatskins filled with vina mescal, for which he charged the exorbitant price of fifty cents a wineglass – five dollars a bottle. Half dollars were scarce, but we determined to test the virtues of the Frenchman’s wares, officer or no officer.
There was an old sailor in the crowd who had served in the navy, and it was said was one of Lafitte’s men. Be that as it may, he was up to all the tricks to outwit officers. He devised a plan whereby we might get the better of the commandant and the grasping Frenchman also. Among the plunder taken at San Jacinto was a captain’s uniform. Into this we inducted Lang and commissioned him captain. He looked every inch of it. After rehearsing his part we staked him with fifty cents, and after dark he sauntered into the Frenchman’s shanty. Swaggering-around with an air of importance, he called for a glass of liquor, for which he threw down the half dollar. Directly the boys began to drop in, each one saluting “Captain” Lang. When the initiated had all got in, Lang looked around patronizingly.
“Well, boys,” said he, “if I had known I was going to meet so many of my company here I’d have put some money in my pocket to treat you.”
The Frenchman’s face fairly shone with delight.
“Ah, monsieur Captain, zat is no matter; suppose you like for treat ze men, never mind ze money; you pay me to-morrow.”
“All right,” said Lang. “Step up, boys.”
We obeyed the order with alacrity, emptying our glasses with military precision, first to Captain Lang and then to the smiling vendor of the villainous liquid. By that time the stock was exhausted and we didn’t tarry.
“Come around to my quarters to-morrow,” said Lang, as we departed.
Returning to camp, we court martialed Lang and broke him of his commission. Bright and early next mornings the Frenchman was on hand inquiring for Captain Lang’s headquarters. Up and down he went, but, it is needless to state, he never found them.
The complex character of the army rendered the position of commanding officer an extremely difficult one to fill. The citizens had taken up arms in self-defense; another class had come through sympathy with their struggling countrymen; others from love of adventure, and there were some who seemed to be actuated by no higher principle than prospective plunder, and in the pursuit of their object were no respecters of persons. The latter, so far as I know, were not engaged in any of the battle, and acknowledged no authority, either military or civil. At Victoria they did not even camp with the army; still General Rusk was held responsible for their misdeeds.
They foraged the country round, gathering up horse and mules, ostensibly preying on the unfriendly Mexicans, but I knew of their taking a pair of mules from the widow of Martin De Leon, whose family were always friendly to the Texans. Her son complained to General Rusk, who went with him to the captain of the thievish band, but that worthy refused to surrender them, and Rusk was not in a position to force their release, inasmuch as the men were not regularly enlisted and a conflict with them was not advisable. They did not tarry long after that, but, gathering up everything of value they could lay their hands on, left for their stronghold.
Smithwick fails to mention it, but in addition to stealing De Leon family livestock, De Leon family tradition says that Mabry “Mustang” Gray killed Agapito, the youngest of Empresario Martin De Leon’s sons, that year. Agapito, with two peasants, had gone to look after their stock, when they caught Mustang Gray and his gang rustling their cattle.” Agapito pointed to the cattle brand, but was told by “Mustang” Gray that he had fought for Texas and therefore all that was in Texas belonged to him. After more words were exchanged, Agapito was fatally shot. Agapito was only 28. The murder of Agapito by Mabry “Mustang” Gray was never prosecuted and Gray was enshrined and recorded as one of the Texas heroes on the San Jacinto monument.
Meanwhile, the De León family suffered one tragedy after another at the hands of the Texans. The mother, Madam Doña Patricia De León, had hardly gone into mourning over the death of Agapito, when another son, Fernando, came home wounded by another one of the cow boy newcomers, named Brantly. Silvestre was ambushed and robbed on a return trip to New Orleans to sell stock. These outlaws were not brought to justice either. Rather than fight back, the De León family gathered their most personal effects and left for Louisiana.
Don Martín de León had been the first victim of the 1833 Cholera Epidemic. Two years later, the De León family, led by Fernando, bought $35,000 worth of supplies and ammunitions to fight against Santa Anna. They supplied men to fight in the war, including all the De León men and all the husbands of the De León women. Fernando who had been appointed Aide-de-Camp during the revolution, served with honor and distinction.
Felix De León, like his brothers, became a commissioner of the colony and had much to do with the administration and affairs of his father’s government in his capital city of Victoria. He was also one of the family members who traded heavily in horses, mules and cattle in New Orleans. He was a rancher of international prominence and held the respect of all business people and the colonists, who knew him. Like the rest of the De Leóns and the colonists, he was a skilled Indian fighter and a Texas patriot, serving on the side of the Texans during the Revolution. Later, during the Revolution, Don Felix had many harrowing experiences nearly costing him his life, while on the side of the Texans.
Immediately following the Battle of San Jacinto, the position of the De León family changed overnight. No longer could the colonists look to the De León family for protection, as did Don Juan Linn, when he took his family to the home of Don Fernando De León after the Mexican Army under General Urrea, started marching through Victoria. They too, had become victims of bigotry, prejudice and abuse. The newcomers took over the government of the town, and although many were good honest people, in with them came the adventurers, who unfortunately gave Texas an unsavory name in its early days. It was this barbarian element that made life for the De Leóns, as well as all the colonists with Spanish names, absolutely insufferable. The De León family was robbed of its dignity and all of their lands. They did not even have money to pay for tombstones for their dead.
The De Leons did not suffer alone.
The anonymous author of Texas 1837 wrote that on the evening of May 29, 1837, he had camped on the banks of Brays Bayou where he and his group found a number of soldiers just discharged from the army, some of them intending to return home to the U.S. When they arose in the morning, the soldiers had left, and upon examining his baggage, one of his companions found missing a fine brace of pistols, which had doubtless been taken by one of the soldiers.
This was a serious loss, “inasmuch as the dangers of the country through which we had to pass required that the traveler should have about his person every weapon of defense which it was convenient or possible for him to carry.”
Later that evening, at a settler’s cabin on the Brazos, “I here heard the complaints of robbery which the people make against each other during the general flight from the enemy, which I had often heard before and almost as often heard afterwards, as I went into the house of a Texian. Indeed, there can be no doubt but that the citizens of Texas suffered more from their depredations upon each other in the hour of general calamity than from the vindictive and desolating spirit of Santa Anna himself. It seemed no crime to those who found the habitations of their countrymen deserted, after appropriating to themselves such articles as tempted their avarice or pleased their fancy, to make a general destruction of the remainder. Such houses as escaped pillage in the flight of the people from the country were plundered, at least a great many of them, by those who came in advance of the owners after the battle of the 21st of April.
“This is a serious charge to make against a people, and I should hesitate to make it were I not convinced of its truth by the many times that I have heard persons attribute the naked and destitute condition of their houses, in furniture and household conveniences of all kinds, to the rapacity of their countrymen.”
No sooner was the ball of revolution seen to move in Texas, “than hundreds from the United States and other countries rushed to Texas, impelled by motives as different as can govern the conduct of men. Some were men of desperate fortunes; some were cast off by the society in which they lived; some came to seek a theater for their ambition, some from a love of adventure, and some from genuine sympathy to relieve the sufferings of the oppressed. It was from these adventurers that the army of Texas was principally supplied, and they in a short time took upon themselves the management of the whole affairs of the nation.
“It has been charged against Texas that her population contains many fugitives from justice and that a large portion of those who have distinguished themselves in the field and in council were only notorious in other countries for their superiority in crime. It would be folly to deny a charge of this kind, when the fact is so incontrovertible.”
Shortly after arriving at Victoria, in late May and June 1836, most of the Texans who had fought at San Jacinto began going home. Among them was young William Zuber, who completed his three-month term of enlistment on June 1. On June 3, he started with five comrades for home. They had to walk and several of them were so weakened by the harsh conditions of their service that they could not travel very fast. Zuber and the fitter ones waited for them and it took Zuber two weeks to walk the ___ miles from Victoria to his family home in Grimes County.
Upon their return home from the Runaway Scrape, the Zubers found their corncrib empty and their flock of 300 chickens reduced to four or five. But their fine herd of hogs was undisturbed and they had a plenteous corn harvest that summer.
Zuber remembered, “Out of the army of San Jacinto and from volunteers who came to the country after the battle, a standing army was created, which amounted, in the summer of 1837, to six or seven hundred men. As many of them men and some of the officers were not actuated by the most honorable motives, either in coming to the country or in joining the army, mutiny, insubordination, and difficulties of all kinds among one another were the natural consequences. The storm which had been gathering among such discordant elements broke out during the summer. An officer, high in command, who was esteemed for his courage and the services he had rendered the country but who by a rigid adherence to military discipline had incurred the displeasure of the soldiery, was assassinated by some unknown hand while asleep in his tent.”
Smithwick elaborated: “Captain H______, [Colonel Henry Teal-ed.] the only officer who ever had the temerity to try to enforce strict military discipline, paid for his folly with his life. There came up a violent thunderstorm one night, and when it was over the poor fellow, whose only offense was a little youthful vanity, was found in his tent with his brains blown out.”
“Anonymous letters were thrown the way of the Commander-in-Chief directing him to leave the encampment immediately and which contained threats against his life in case of refusal,” continued Zuber, who went on to say:
“When greater danger was to be apprehended from the army of Texas than from Mexico herself, the executive commenced reducing it gradually by furlough until the whole force of the country did not exceed two hundred men. The time has gone by for Texas to expect volunteers from the United States. Of those who had gone already, many died and nearly all were disappointed. Those who went from motives of gain found their bounty land of little or no value and the government scrip little better than trash.”
Noah Smithwick agreed with Zuber: “For our service in the ranging companies we were given 1,280 acres of land, or rather certificates for that amount, for each twelve months’ service. I got three certificates for a trifle over two years’ service, both the men whose terms I served out giving me the full amount. No one cared anything for land those days. I gave one of my certificates for 1280 acres for a horse which the Indians relieved me of in less than a week. I never located any of them, nor the headright to which, under the Mexican colonization law, I was entitled.”
The San Jacinto veterans’ places in the ranks were taken by hundreds of fresh and healthy volunteers recently arrived from the United States, most of them from the South, a bold and impetuous band moved by emotions at one noble and sordid. True soldiers of liberty mingled with adventurers seeking only the spoils and glory of conquest. About June or July 1836, the army moved from its camp on the Coleto River to a new one on Lavaca Bay. On Feb. 4, 1837, Johnston, now brigadier general, reached army HQ at camp Independence on the Lavaca River. He found men and officers in a mood of ominous suspense, with General Felix Huston at the center of the unrest. Huston had raised a company of volunteers with $40,000 loaned and arrived in Texas in early July 1836, burning to smite the Mexicans at Matamoros and establish a military colony along the Rio Grande, with him as its head. He challenged Johnston to a duel and wounded him, but then accepted Johnston as commander. By early spring 1837, the army had grown to 2000 men with the arrival of recruits from New Orleans. But in March and April, the troops were suffering from insufficient rations, pay, and other supplies. They grew restless and unruly. They started drinking, despite army rules. In early April, Johnston jailed some men caught bringing whiskey into camp. A group of about 100 troops freed the prisoners one night. Johnston formed a main guard and arrested the uprising’s leaders. A few weeks later, Col. Teal was murdered in his sleep. Johnston turned over command to Col. Rogers on May 7, 1837, and shortly thereafter, Houston started furloughing the soldiers.
After San Jacinto, Anglo-American Volunteers from the United States were quick to file on the most desirable tracts in the Goliad, Victoria, and Refugio area. Almost immediately Victoria was completely changed from a quiet Mexican town to a wild Anglo-American town, dominated by an army and many newcomers that distrusted and hated the Mexicans. During the War, when the Mexican Army had remained in Victoria, Don Fernando De León, the eldest son had been forced by the Mexican officers to point out corn, beeves, horses and other property that was required by the army. At another time at gunpoint, he was forced by a Mexican officer to lead the way to a place where the Mexicans seized their goods they required for the invading army. Because of this, which in no way reflected upon their loyalty and what they were doing for the Texans, they were in turn hated and distrusted by many of the new citizens.
Victoria was no longer safe for them. With a heavy heart, Madam De León under the protection of her son-in-law, Placido Benavides and his family, left the Republic of Texas for Louisiana. Placido Benavides died at Opeloosas, Louisiana. Accompanied by the Carvajal family they proceeded to New Orleans, where for three years they all lived in abject poverty. The only money that this proud and aristocratic family was able to earn was by doing fine sewing and other manual labor. The family decided that it was best to return to Mexico, and after enduring great hardships they finally arrived in Soto la Marina, the community and childhood home of Madam De León. Their dream of returning home was immediately shattered. Everything was changed. It was no longer home and shortly after their arrival in Soto la Marina, Augustina De León Benavides, died, just five years after her husband’s death.
Madam De León longed to return to Texas. Finally in 1844, accompanied by her grandchildren of the Benavides family, she was able to return to Texas, and to Victoria. It was indeed a sad homecoming for Madam De León, as all of the tremendous herds of horses, cattle and mules were gone. Most all of the property, their homes, furnishings and other accessories had been seized by the newcomers for one reason or another, but still it was the place she longed to be. She continued to devote much of her time to the Church, where in better days, she and her husband, Don Martín De León, had given the valuable golden altar vessels. Her life was now entirely different with her vast herds of cattle, horses and property in the hands of thieves and some honest people, who thought the cattle and horses were really wild herds, regardless of the De León brand. Her children and other relatives had all been ostracized from the land of their adoption and birth, because of their supposed Mexican sympathy. This of course, was not true. Five years after Doña Patricia De León returned to her native Victoria, she died in 1849. At the time of her death, it was indeed a much different place than the years spent with her husband in the happy, prosperous colony which she and her children had carved out of a wilderness.
In 1936, the State of Texas finally erected a monument in memory of Don Martín De León in Victoria’s Evergreen Cemetery. In 1883, Victor Rose, author of the History of Victoria had some very choice words to say: “The thieving activities of the “Band of Brothers” and other killer gangs led to a climate of fear and bloody retaliation that would last for decades in the Wild Horse Desert region of South Texas.
Mabry “Mustang” Gray was one of those land-grabbing opportunists, snagging a tract five miles north of Ingleside in San Patricio County.
Gray was born in Spartanburg County, South Carolina, in 1817. When he applied for land in Austin’s Fifth Colony he stated that he was 21 years old and had arrived in Texas in January 1835. He enlisted in the army on March 6, 1836. He was in the company of Capt. William W. Hill and participated in the battle of San Jacinto. He received title to a quarter-league of land in Washington County.
During the Republic of Texas era he was granted land five miles north of Ingleside in San Patricio County.
On May 22, 1838, he was issued Donation Certificate No. 179 for having participated in the Battle of San Jacinto. The land was surveyed in Navarro County in 1845. He received a Headright Certificate from the Harrisburg County Board of Land Commissioners in 1838 for one-twelfth of a league of land, representing the difference between the one-fourth of a league he had previously received and the one-third of a league he was entitled to receive after a revision of the law. His certificate was lost and another was issued to his heirs October 10, 1857. The land was surveyed in Harris County between Buffalo Bayou and Bray’s Bayou in 1857.
By 1839, a “cow-boy” outfit the “Band of Brothers” was stealing cattle from Mexicans and Anglos in the Victoria-Goliad area.
In September, 1839, this group, according to a Texas army report, “took from a party of Mexican traders all their property and killed eight of them.”
About September 21, 1839, Dr. James H. Starr arrived at Wood’s Fort, at Wood’s Prairie west of La Grange. There he saw “a Company of the Texas Cowboys,” who he wrote “had stolen hundreds of cattle, horses and mules from the “inoffensive inhabitants of Chihuahua.”
Hobart Huson in Refugio wrote that in 1839 there were many bloody battles between “cow-boys” and citizens of Mexican descent and bloody and horrible was their retaliation on each other.”
W.J. Cairns led a “volunteer” company operating in the Corpus Christi that was organized to break up the small marauding parties. A group of Mexican traders visited Kinney’s trading post and stayed until Christmas Day, 1839. When the merchants left, they were followed and attacked by Cairns’ outfit.
The term “cow-boy” was originally (Feb. 1840) used by Texas Rangers to signify a cattle thief or “rustler” (worker), which changed its meaning after the Civil War. Before “rustler” acquired its illicit implications, the term for a marauding thief or outlaw was “reaver”, which is also used for vigilantes and “night rider” terrorists. Before COWBOY, the respectable term for someone who works with cattle was “buckaroo”; being an Anglicized variant of “vaquero”, which derives from the Spanish word (vaca) for cow.]
During the days of the Republic, several outlaw bands in South Texas were called “cow-boys.” They saw the region between the Nueces and Rio Grande as a no-man’s land. They considered all Mexicans bitter enemies. They plundered, raided, and stole the cattle of Tejano ranchers. The “Band of Brothers” It operated out of Victoria; another group operated out of Kinney’s Rancho, as Corpus Christi was called then.
A lieutenant in the regular Texas Army was sent to Victoria to find out what was happening. He reported that he found a lawless bunch called the Band of Brothers. He said they were in the cow-stealing business, and that while they pretended to steal only from the enemy, they stole from Texians and native Hispanics. He named a man named Wells as one leader, and Mustang Gray as another. He listed some of their victims. One whose cattle was stolen by the Brothers was Juan Seguin, survivor of the Alamo.
In an effort to try to bring law and order to the Nueces Strip, “volunteer” companies were established in 1841. One company of 30 men in the Corpus Christi area was under the command of John Yerby. This group was as bad as the “cow-boy” outfits they were supposed to control. Eugenia Reynolds Briscoe, in her history of Corpus Christi, wrote that Corpus Christi’s founder, H. L. Kinney, called them “robber Texians” and tried to dissuade them from robbing Mexican merchants, but to no avail.
The band attacked a trade caravan on its way to Corpus Christi and captured goods, cash, and horses. Although there was no resistance on the part of the traders, Briscoe wrote, “eight men were murdered by Yerby’s ‘volunteers.’” The thieves had a falling out over the division of the spoils and split up. Seventeen of the group left to follow James Ornsby while nine stayed with Yerby. (A member of the group who elected to go with Ornsby was Ewen Cameron, the big Scot who was executed in Mexico after the Mier expedition; Cameron County is named for him.)
After that attack, a unit of Mexican troops arrived and trailed Yerby and his band to 30 miles south of Corpus Christi. The Mexican force struck at dawn and all of Yerby’s gang (except for a guide) was killed. Ornsby’s “volunteers” tried another line of work; they signed on to become part of Kinney’s private army.
Mustang Gray is perhaps most notorious for a murder recounted by J.J. Linn in his book, Fifty Years in Texas:
During the year 1842 seven Mexicans came from Camargo, on the Rio Grande, to the mission of Refugio, from which place they dispatched a messenger to Mayor Wiginton, of Victoria asking permission to visit Mr. Ydisore Benavides at his ranch on the Chocolate. The mayor readily complying with their wishes, the party proceeded to their destination. One of the number was a brother to Mrs. Benavides, and he brought her some money to which she was entitled from her father’s estate. They also had some fine Mexican blankets and other articles of Mexican manufacture, which they purposed bartering for tobacco and other articles of necessity in their families. In Victoria at that time was a company of organized bandits and cut-throats called the “Cow Boys”, whose leader was one Wells. Among the number was the cold-blooded assassin, Mabry Gray, whose fiendish atrocities furnished the imagination of Hon. Jesse Clements of Alabama the material for the mock heroic fiction known once, but now happily scarce, as “Mustang Gray.”
The party of seven Mexicans completed the period of their visit and departed with some bales of tobacco, dry goods, etc., for their homes. The “Cow Boys”, or more properly “Men Slayers” followed them, instigated by the craving of a consuming cupidity, to their camp a few miles beyond the town of Goliad, where they accepted the hospitalities of their intended victims and ate at their camp fire. “Mustang Gray,” that moral monstrosity, announced their fate to the doomed men. Doubtless Mustang felt an exquisite thrill of pleasure pervade his brutal soul at this refinement of demoniacal cruelty, as the cat does in torturing the terrorized mouse before feasting upon it. The “doomed seven” were tied together and (was it in mockery or through respect for the Diety?) informed that they would be allowed a few minutes in which to offer up their prayers. This last sad duty performed, the victims announced with heroic resignation that they were prepared to receive the messengers of death. Whereupon the “Cow Boys” emptied the contents of their guns into their persons and the paltry plunder was all their own. To the victors belong the spoils!
One of the Mexicans, as if Providence specially interposed to save him, was not hit, though the handkerchief with which his eyes were bandaged was perforated by buckshot and rifle balls. He fell, however, and feigned death. The ghouls stripped him and the others to the drawers and undershirt, and departed, their hearts elated by victory and proud of their prowess at arms! The survivor, Manuel Escobedo, found friends to administer to his wants and eventually came to Victoria. The officers heard his narrative of the horrible affair. Good people were horror stricken at the outrage but no attempt was made to bring the criminals to justice.
Another massacre occurred in Zarco Creek, nine miles west of Goliad in 1843; the victims were nine in number, only the names of José M. Barrera and his brother, Manuel Barrera, and Don Regalado Moreno, brother of Don Ysidro’s wife, being now remembered. They had been on a visit to the family of the latter, and were returning home, in Mier, Mexico, with a small quantity of tobacco and other goods for the Mexican trade. They were pursued by a party of “cowboys,” led by “Mustang” Grey; overtaken, disarmed through professions of friendship, and executed in a ghastly heap; the paltry spoil furnished the sole motive for this act of supreme atrocity. Strange to relate that though the thugs fired upon their victims from the very muzzle of their guns, one of the number, José M. Barrera, was not killed, though grievously wounded in the face. Mr. John Fagan, some time after found him wandering about in the vicinity of Carlos Ranch, and had him conveyed to the home of Don Ysidro Benavides, on the Chocolate Creek. When able to travel, Mr. Benavides conveyed him to Mier, where he died of the effects of the wound two years afterward. Not the least strange is the statement that the perpetrators not only were never made to suffer the penalty of their crime, but no steps, that we have any knowledge of, were ever taken to bring them to the bar of justice. In the light of which, and kindred facts, it is not strange that Texas achieved a most unsavory reputation among the more moral and law abiding citizens of the older states, and we of the present day have more cause to rejoice that the desperado, robber and murderer has gone, than that the savage Comanche has sounded his war whoop long since for the last time in the beautiful valley of our own Guadalupe.
While Mustang Gray was pilloried by one side, he was celebrated in song by his many supporters. A ballad arose about Mustang Gray and his adventures, and was sometimes used as a lullaby. It was recorded in Andrew Jackson Sowell’s Rangers and Pioneers of Texas (1884)”
There was a noble ranger,
They called him Mustang Gray;
He left his home when but a youth,
Went ranging far away.
But he’ll go no more a-ranging
The savage to affright;
He’s beard his last war whoop
And fought his last fight.
He ne’er would sleep within a tent
No comforts would he know;
But like a brave old Tex-i-an
A-ranging he would go.
When Texas was invaded
By a mighty tyrant foe,
He mounted his noble war horse
And a-ranging he did go.
Once he was taken prisoner,
Bound in chains upon the way;
He wore the yoke of bondage
Through the streets of Monterey.
A senorita loved him
And followed by his side;
She opened the gates and gave to him
Her father’s steed to ride.
God bless the senorita,
The belle of Monterey;
She opened wide the prison door
And let him ride away.
And when this veteran’s life was spent,
It was his last command,
To bury him on Texas soil
On the banks of the Rio Grande.
And there the lonely traveler,
When passing by his grave,
Will shed a farewell tear
O’er the bravest of the brave.
Now he’ll go no more a-ranging,
The savage to affright;
He’s heard his last war whoop
and fought his last fight.
Gray was in command of the Corpus Christi Texas Rangers during the Mexican War. His company included Andrew Jackson Walker, Reuben Holbein, David B. Hatch, Pat Quinn, and William Clark, all of whom were fellow mythic figures of the time.
Stories abound of Gray’s exploits, such as how he received the nickname “Mustang.” Once, while hunting buffalo, he was separated from his group and thrown from his horse. He is said to have killed a longhorn (some sources say a bison) and then used the hide to form a lariat, which he dropped over a mustang from the limb of a tree. He was able with care to tame the wild horse sufficiently to ride back to a settlement, and he was ever afterwards known as Mustang Gray.
Another of Mustang Gray’s feats that consisted of dribbling gunpowder from a powder keg he held in his hand, igniting the stream of powder, and hurling the 25-pound keg into the air. When the train of fire reached the gunpowder keg, it exploded. He apparently accomplished this feat several times, and each success increased the awe in which he was held.
Dr. S. Compton Smith, however, was not impressed by Gray or the Texas Rangers. In Chile Con Carne, or The Camp and the Field (1857), he wrote “Texas Rangers…were mostly made up of adventurers and vagabonds….The gang of miscreants under the leadership of Mustang Gray were of this description. This party, in cold-blood, murdered almost the entire male population of the rancho of Guadalupe, where not a single weapon, offensive or defensive, could be found! Their only object was plunder!”
Dr. Smith was outraged by an incident near Matamoros involving Gray’s rangers. Some members of the Corpus Christi Rangers learned of an attack on the Patterson Rogers freight train at Arroyo Colorado. Only William Long Rogers survived, though his throat had been cut. Gray’s rangers determined that the culprits were from La Mesa Ranch, about 45 miles upriver from Matamoros on the Mexican side. Part of the company rode for La Mesa, and the remainder stayed in camp. Those who stayed behind made a particular point of showing themselves frequently in Matamoros wearing distinctive jackets.
The other rangers attacked the ranch, burned many houses, and killed numerous men. They then rushed back to camp, exchanged jackets with those who had remained behind, and visited Matamoros. Dr. Smith’s indignation was heaped upon Gen. Zachary Taylor, who was unable to identify the participants in the raid because the few witnesses who came forward recognized only the jackets and not the men.
Gray is believed to have been captured during the assault on Monterrey during the Mexican War and may have gained his release by an escape engineered by a Mexican woman, but only legends attest the story. If Gray had been captured at Monterrey, he would have been among the prisoners released under the capitulation terms negotiated by General Taylor. Many other stories about him are incorporated in a book by Rev. Jeremiah Clemens. The Corpus Christi Rangers were mustered out of service July 21, 1847, at Camargo. Gray died of cholera or yellow fever in Camargo, probably in 1848. Judge James O. Luby identified the unmarked grave of Mustang Gray at Rio Grande City during the 1860s, but the exact site is not now known.
The Adjutant General of the army furnished the following information regarding Mr. Gray on December 4, 1933: “The records on file in this office show that one M.B. Gray, 1st Lieutenant, Captain Bell’s Company, Texas Mounted Volunteers, was mustered into the service near Corpus Christi, Texas, for three months, September 10, 1845. Service was continued for another three months, and for a third period of three months, and he was finally mustered out with the company at Matamoras, Mexico, July 6, 1846. The records also show that one Mayberry B. Gray, Captain of a Company of Texas Mounted Volunteers, was mustered into the service at Matamoras, Mexico, for twelve months, July 21, 1846, and was mustered out with the company and honorably discharged at Camargo, Mexico, July 17, 1847. No further record of him has been found.” In Baker’s Scrap Book, it is stated that Captain Gray died in 1848.
Colonel John S. (Rip) Ford in the San Antonio Express, August 31, 1897, is quoted as saying: “Just after peace had been declared, Captain Mustang Gray died at Camargo. He had achieved a great notoriety. He made a lady cousin his heir, Mrs. Clements.”
The Woll and Aznar raids of 1842 seem to have been the last armed raids upon old La Bahia. Depredations of ex-U.S. soldiers after their discharge in Texas and the so-called “Victoria Cowboys” plundering and molesting the inhabitants and desecrating the Church about completed the destruction of the old Presidio. The town was virtually deserted, and Anglo American squatters living in the Chapel made useless Bishop Odin’s efforts to restore religion there.