An old town (by this state's standards) honors heroes from the days of the short-lived Republic of Texas.
Monument Hill-Kreische Brewery State Historic Site in La Grange, Texas hosts a yearly tribute to Texian patriots who gave their lives in two separate, but related, incidents: The Dawson Massacre of 1842 and the executions following the infamous Black Bean Drawing of the Mier Expedition, 1843.
Obviously, no one alive today remembers these historic events, but re-enactment is the next best thing. (Better actually, with cannon fire, uniforms, drums and the life-or-death lottery, minus the death part.)
Nicholas Dawson’s men were slain responding to a Mexican invasion of the Republic of Texas six years after its independence. The Mexican force had entered Texas twice that year and taken San Antonio. On their second foray, they captured members of a San Antonio court in session, the captives including Samuel Maverick (the original, before there was James Garner or John McCain). Several militia and ranging companies (precursors of the Texas Rangers) from various parts of the Republic converged on the city.
A small group of 54 men under Dawson’s command had ridden hell for leather from Fayette County to assist. While resting themselves and their horses in a muskeet (sic) grove on the edge of San Antonio they were ambushed by a larger Mexican force. A fierce battle ensued with 36 of the men being killed and 15 captured — three of Dawson’s company escaped. The dead Fayette County men were left where they fell on the Salado Creek bank. They were later buried by family and friends who arrived too late to help in the battle.
One of those killed was Joe Griffin, Samuel and Mary Maverick’s slave. Upon learning of Samuel’s capture in San Antonio, Mary who was living in Fayette County, immediately dispatched Griffin on a good mule with $300 and a Bowie knife to rescue her husband by bribery or whatever means possible. Griffin would not have been subject to close scrutiny as Mexico recognized blacks as free men and not part of the Texas revolution.
Dawson’s group caught up with Griffin on the San Antonio Road and he joined the ill-fated Fayette men. The Mexican commander later told Maverick that he observed Griffin fighting like a lion during the battle; when Griffin’s musket stock broke during the hand-to-hand combat, he ripped a branch off a tree and died swinging the branch at the Mexican soldiers.
Several months later a force of volunteers and fortune seekers formed an army to invade Mexico and rescue the captured fellow Texians. The Somervell Expedition, as it came to be called, made it to the Rio Grande, but the majority of the men returned home due to ill-preparedness, weather, returning clarity of thought, and political pressure from President Sam Houston.
However a small group of 180+ men crossed the river and occupied the town of Mier seeking supplies. A Mexican force surrounded the town and laid siege to the Texians. Suffering from dehydration, the men surrendered. While being marched to prison in central Mexico the rowdy men staged a mass escape, but most were soon recaptured. To teach the prisoners a lesson, President Santa Anna ordered that every tenth man be executed (a.k.a. decimation); 176 beans, one for each of the recaptured Texians, were put into a jar — 159 were white, 17 black. Each prisoner was forced to determine his fate by drawing a bean. Seventeen men were executed that day in Salado, Mexico, and later buried nearby by local townspeople.
Many interesting stories emerged from this expedition. The first fatality was the death of a 14-year-old boy accidentally shot by 15-year-old John Christopher Columbus Hill from Fayette County, Texas. After the battle of Mier, John C.C. Hill was adopted by President Santa Anna. Hill was college educated and went on to become an extremely successful mining engineer, living a colorful life in Mexico for decades.
During the Mexican-American War of 1846, a detachment of Texian rangers, including one of the survivors of the Black Bean episode, rode behind enemy lines and retrieved the bones of the executed men. The remains were returned to the United States and brought to La Grange, Texas, as the ranking officer executed was from this town. While preparing for a proper burial on a bluff overlooking the Colorado River bottom, the townspeople sent an expedition to San Antonio to retrieve the Dawson men’s remains. A large military funeral with much pomp was held on September 18th, 1848, entombing the heroes’ remains in a burial vault.
It’s this burial site, now a state park, where descendents, Texian heritage groups and living history actors perform a touching laying of wreaths on the mass grave every September, on the Saturday nearest the 18th.
Dennis Edd Smith, park
manager at Monument Hill, says that the first memorial took place in 1849, one year after the burial ceremony itself. “The tradition fell to the
wayside many years ago as the generational gap increased,” Smith said. “There had
been formal events such as this held in the past at special anniversary
years,” but since 2005 Texas Heroes Day has been an annual event. “The reenactors are
both a mixture of organized groups as well as interested individuals,” says Smith.
“It takes all types to help make an event like this special.”
For more information, contact Monument Hill-Kreische Brewery State Historical Site, La Grange, Texas.