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The Texan Scouts - Chapter XIV

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THE TEXAN SCOUTS

A Story of the Alamo and Goliad

by Joseph A. Altsheler


CHAPTER XIV

THE NEWS OF THE FALL

Five days before the fall of the Alamo a little group of men began to gather at the village of Washington, on the Brazos river in Texas. The name of the little town indicated well whence its people had come. All the houses were new, mostly of unpainted wood, and they contained some of the furniture of necessity, none of luxury. The first and most important article was the rifle which the Texans never needed more than they did now.

But this new and little Washington was seething with excitement and suspense, and its population was now more than triple the normal. News had come that the Alamo was beleaguered by a force many times as numerous as its defenders, and that Crockett, Bowie, Travis and other famous men were inside. They had heard also that Santa Anna had hoisted the red flag of no quarter, and that Texans everywhere, if taken, would be slaughtered as traitors. The people of Washington had full cause for their excitement and suspense.

The little town also had the unique distinction of being a capital for a day or two. The Texans felt, with the news that Santa Anna had enveloped the Alamo, that they must take decisive action. They believed that the Mexicans had broken every promise to the Texans. They knew that not only their liberty and property, but their lives, also, were in peril. Despite the great disparity of numbers it must be a fight to the death between Texas and Mexico. The Texans were now gathering at Washington.

One man who inspired courage wherever he went had come already. Sam Houston had ridden into town, calm, confident and talking only of victory. He was dressed with a neatness and care unusual on the border, wearing a fine black suit, while his face was shaded by the wide brim of a white sombrero. The famous scouts, "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes, and young Zavala, whom Ned had known in Mexico, were there also.

Fifty-eight delegates representing Texas gathered in the largest room of a frame building. "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes came in and sat with their rifles across their knees. While some of the delegates were talking Houston signaled to the two, and they went outside.

"What do you hear from the Alamo, Smith?" asked Houston.

"Travis has fought off all the attacks of the Mexicans," replied the great borderer, "but when Santa Anna brings up his whole force an' makes a resolute assault it's bound to go under. The mission is too big an' scattered to be held by Travis an' his men against forty or fifty times their number."

"I fear so. I fear so," said Houston sadly, "and we can't get together enough men for its relief. All this quarreling and temporizing are our ruin. Heavens, what a time for disagreements!"

"There couldn't be a worse time, general," said Henry Karnes. "Me an' 'Deaf' would like mighty well to march to the Alamo. A lot of our friends are in there an' I reckon we've seen them for the last time."

The fine face of Houston grew dark with melancholy.

"Have you been anywhere near San Antonio?" he asked Smith.

"Not nearer than thirty miles," replied Smith, "but over at Goliad I saw a force under Colonel Fannin that was gettin' ready to start to the relief of Travis. With it were some friends of mine. There was Palmer, him they call the Panther, the biggest and strongest man in Texas; Obed White, a New Englander, an' a boy, Will Allen. I've knowed 'em well for some time, and there was another that belonged to their little band. But he's in the Alamo now, an' they was wild to rescue him."

"Do you think Fannin will get through?" asked Houston.

"I don't," replied Smith decidedly, "an' if he did it would just mean the loss of more good men for us. What do you think about it, Hank?"

"The same that you do," replied Karnes.

Houston pondered over their words a long time. He knew that they were thoroughly acquainted with Texas and the temper of its people, and he relied greatly on their judgment. When he went back in the room which was used as a convention hall Smith and Karnes remained outside.

Smith sat down on the grass, lighted a pipe and began to smoke deliberately. Karnes also sat down on the grass, lighted his own pipe and smoked with equal deliberation. Each man rested his rifle across his knees.

"Looks bad," said Smith.

"Powerful bad."

"Almighty bad."

"Talkin's no good when the enemy's shootin'."

"Reckon there's nothin' left for us but this," tapping the barrel of his rifle significantly.

"Only tool that's left for us to use."

"Reckon we'll soon have as many chances as we want to use it, an' more."

"Reckon you're Almighty right."

"An' we'll be there every time."

The two men reached over and shook hands deliberately. Houston by and by came out again, and saw them sitting there smoking, two images of patience and quiet.

"Boys," he said, "you're not taking much part in the proceedings."

"Not much, just yet, Colonel Sam," replied Smith, "but we're waitin'. I reckon that to-morrow you'll declare Texas free an' independent, a great an' good republic. An' as there ain't sixty of you to declare it, mebbe you'll need the help of some fellows like Hank an' me to make them resolutions come true."

"We will," said Houston, "and we know that we can rely upon you."

He was about to pass on, but he changed his mind and sat down with the men. Houston was a singular character. He had been governor of an important state, and he had lived as a savage among savages. He could adapt himself to any company.

"Boys," he said, "you know a merchant, John Roylston, who has headquarters in New Orleans, and also offices in St. Louis and Cincinnati?"

"We do," said Smith, "an' we've seen him, too, more than once. He's been in these parts not so long ago."

"He's in New Orleans now," said Houston. "He's the biggest trader along the coast. Has dealings with Santa Anna himself, but he's a friend of Texas, a powerful one. Boys, I've in my pocket now an order from him good for a hundred thousand dollars. It's to be spent buying arms and ammunition for us. And when the time comes there's more coming from the same place. We've got friends, but keep this to yourselves."

He walked on and the two took a long and meditative pull at their pipes.

"I reckon Roylston may not shoot as straight as we can," said Smith, "but mebbe at as long range as New Orleans he can do more harm to the Mexicans than we can."

"Looks like it. I ain't much of a hand at money, but I like the looks of that man Roylston, an' I reckon the more rifles and the more ammunition we have the fewer Mexicans will be left."

The two scouts, having smoked as long as they wished, went to their quarters and slept soundly through the night. But Houston and the leading Texans with him hardly slept at all. There was but one course to choose, and they were fully aware of its gravity, Houston perhaps more so than the rest, as he had seen more of the world. They worked nearly all night in the bare room, and when Houston sought his room he was exhausted.

Houston's room was a bare little place, lighted by a tallow candle, and although it was not long until day he sat there a while before lying down. A man of wide experience, he alone, with the exception of Roylston, knew how desperate was the situation of the Texans. In truth, it was the money of Roylston sent from New Orleans that had caused him to hazard the chance. He knew, too, that, in time, more help would arrive from the same source, and he believed there would be a chance against the Mexicans, a fighting chance, it is true, but men who were willing to die for a cause seldom failed to win. He blew out the candle, got in bed and slept soundly.

"Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes were up early—they seldom slept late—and saw the sun rise out of the prairie. They were in a house which had a small porch, looking toward the Brazos. After breakfast they lighted their cob pipes again, smoked and meditated.

"Reckon somethin' was done by our leadin' statesmen last night," said Smith.

"Reckon there was," said Karnes.

"Reckon I can guess what it was."

"Reckon I can, too."

"Reckon I'll wait to hear it offish-ul-ly before I speak."

"Reckon I will, too. Lots of time wasted talkin'."

"Reckon you're right."

They sat in silence for a full two hours. They smoked the first hour, and they passed the second in their chairs without moving. They had mastered the borderer's art of doing nothing thoroughly, when nothing was to be done. Then a man came upon the porch and spoke to them. His name was Burnet, David G. Burnet.

"Good mornin'. How is the new republic?" said "Deaf" Smith.

"So you know," said Burnet.

"We don't know, but we've guessed, Hank an' me. We saw things as they was comin'."

"I reckon, too," said Karnes, "that we ain't a part of Mexico any more."

"No, we're a free an' independent republic. It was so decided last night, and we've got nothing more to do now but to whip a nation of eight millions, the fifty thousand of us."

"Well," said Smith philosophically, "it's a tough job, but it might be did. I've heard tell that them old Greeks whipped the Persians when the odds were powerful high against them."

"That is true," said Burnet, "and we can at least try. We give the reason for declaring our independence. We assert to the world that the Mexican republic has become a military despotism, that our agents carrying petitions have been thrown in dungeons in the City of Mexico, that we have been ordered to give up the arms necessary for our defence against the savages, and that we have been deprived of every right guaranteed to us when we settled here."

"We're glad it's done, although we knew it would be done," said Smith. "We ain't much on talkin', Mr. President, Hank an' me, but we can shoot pretty straight, an' we're at your call."

"I know that, God bless you both," said Burnet. "The talking is over. It's rifles that we need and plenty of them. Now I've to see Houston. We're to talk over ways and means."

He hurried away, and the two, settling back into their chairs on the porch, relighted their pipes and smoked calmly.

"Reckon there'll be nothin' doin' for a day or two, Hank," said Smith.

"Reckon not, but we'll have to be doin' a powerful lot later, or be hoofin' it for the tall timber a thousand miles north."

"You always was full of sense, Hank. Now there goes Sam Houston. Queer stories about his leavin' Tennessee and his life in the Indian Territory."

"That's so, but he's an honest man, looks far ahead, an' 'tween you an' me, 'Deaf,' it's a thousand to one that he's to lead us in the war."

"Reckon you're guessin' good."

Houston, who had just awakened and dressed, was walking across the grass and weeds to meet Burnet. Not even he, when he looked at the tiny village and the wilderness spreading about it, foresaw how mighty a state was to rise from beginnings so humble and so small. He and Burnet went back into the convention hall, and he wrote a fiery appeal to the people. He said that the Alamo was beleaguered and "the citizens of Texas must rally to the aid of our army or it will perish."

Smith and Karnes remained while the convention continued its work. They did little ostensibly but smoke their cob pipes, but they observed everything and thought deeply. On Sunday morning, five days after the men had gathered at Washington, as they stood at the edge of the little town they saw a man galloping over the prairie. Neither spoke, but watched him for a while, as the unknown came on, lashing a tired horse.

"'Pears to be in a hurry," said Smith.

"An' to be in a hurry generally means somethin' in these parts," said Karnes.

"I'm makin' 'a guess."

"So am I, an' yours is the same as mine. He comes from the Alamo."

Others now saw the man, and there was a rush toward him. His horse fell at the edge of the town, but the rider sprang to his feet and came toward the group, which included both Houston and Burnet. He was a wild figure, face and clothing covered with dust. But he recognized Houston and turned to him at once.

"You're General Houston, and I'm from the Alamo," he said. "I bring a message from Colonel Travis."

There was a sudden and heavy intake of breath in the whole group.

"Then the Alamo has not fallen?" said Houston.

"Not when I left, but that was three days ago. Here is the letter."

It was the last letter of Travis, concluding with the words: "God and Texas; victory or death." But when the messenger put the letter into the hands of Houston the Alamo had fallen two hours before.

The letter was laid before the convention, and the excitement was great and irrepressible. The feelings of these stern men were moved deeply. Many wished to adjourn at once and march to the relief of the Alamo, but the eloquence of Houston, who had been reelected Commander-in-chief, prevailed against the suggestion. Then, with two or three men, he departed for Gonzales to raise a force, while the others elected Burnet President of the new Texas, and departed for Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou.

"Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes did not go just then with Houston. They were scouts, hunters and rough riders, and they could do as they pleased. They notified General Sam Houston, commander-in-chief of the Texan armies, that they would come on later, and he was content.

When the Texan government and the Texan army, numbering combined about a hundred men, followed by most of the population, numbering fifty or sixty more, filed off for Gonzales, the two sat once more on the same porch, smoking their cob pipes. They were not ordinary men. They were not ordinary scouts and borderers. One from the north and one from the south, they were much alike in their mental processes, their faculties of keen observation and deep reasoning. Both were now stirred to the core, but neither showed a trace of it on his face. They watched the little file pass away over the prairie until it was lost to sight behind the swells, and then Smith spoke:

"I reckon you an' me, Hank, will ride toward the Alamo."

"I reckon we will, Deaf, and that right away."

Inside of five minutes they were on the road, armed and provisioned, the best two borderers, with the single exception of the Panther, in all the southwest. They were mounted on powerful mustangs, which, with proper handling and judicious rests, could go on forever. But they pushed them a little that afternoon, stopped for two hours after sundown, and then went on again. They crossed the Colorado River in the night, swimming their horses, and about a mile further on stopped in dense chaparral. They tethered the mustangs near them, and spread out their blankets.

"If anything comes the horses will wake us," said Smith.

"I reckon they will," said Karnes.

Both were fast asleep in a few minutes, but they awoke shortly after sunrise. They made a frugal breakfast, while the mustangs had cropped short grass in the night. Both horses and men, as tough and wiry as they ever become, were again as fresh as the dawn, and, with not more than a dozen words spoken, the two mounted and rode anew on their quest. Always chary of speech, they became almost silence itself as they drew nearer to San Antonio de Bexar. In the heart of each was a knowledge of the great tragedy, not surmise, but the certainty that acute intelligence deduces from facts.

They rode on until, by a simultaneous impulse, the two reined their horses back into a cypress thicket and waited. They had seen three horsemen on the sky line, coming, in the main, in their direction. Their trained eyes noticed at once that the strangers were of varying figure. The foremost, even at the distance, seemed to be gigantic, the second was very long and thin, and the third was normal. Smith and Karnes watched them a little while, and then Karnes spoke in words of true conviction.

"It would be hard, Deaf, for even a bad eye to mistake the foremost."

"Right you are, Hank. You might comb Texas with a fine-tooth comb an' you'd never rake out such another."

"If that ain't Mart Palmer, the Ring Tailed Panther, I'll go straight to Santa Anna an' ask him to shoot me as a fool."

"You won't have to go to Santa Anna."

Smith rode from the covert, put his curved hand to his mouth, and uttered a long piercing cry. The three horsemen stopped at once, and the giant in the lead gave back the signal in the same fashion. Then the two little parties rode rapidly toward each other. While they were yet fifty yards apart they uttered words of hail and good fellowship, and when they met they shook hands with the friendship that has been sealed by common hardships and dangers.

"You're goin' toward the Alamo?" said Smith.

"Yes," replied the Panther. "We started that way several days ago, but we've been delayed. We had a brush with one little party of Mexicans, and we had to dodge another that was too big for us. I take it that you ride for the same place."

"We do. Were you with Fannin?"

The dark face of the Panther grew darker.

"We were," he replied. "He started to the relief of the Alamo, but the ammunition wagon broke down, an' they couldn't get the cannon across the San Antonio River. So me an' Obed White an' Will Allen here have come on alone."

"News for news," said Smith dryly. "Texas has just been made a free an' independent republic, an' Sam Houston has been made commander-in-chief of all its mighty armies, horse, foot an' cannon. We saw all them things done back there at Washington settlement, an' we, bein' a part of the army, are ridin' to the relief of the Alamo."

"We j'in you, then," said the Panther, "an' Texas raises two armies of the strength of three an' two to one of five. Oh, if only all the Texans had come what a roarin' an' rippin' an' t'arin' and chawin' there would have been when we struck Santa Anna's army, no matter how big it might be."

"But they didn't come," said Smith grimly, "an' as far as I know we five are all the Texans that are ridin' toward San Antonio de Bexar an' the Alamo."

"But bein' only five won't keep us from ridin' on," said the Panther.

"And things are not always as bad as they look," said Obed White, after he had heard of the messenger who had come to Houston and Unmet. "It's never too late to hope."

The five rode fast the remainder of the day. They passed through a silent and desolate land. They saw a few cabins, but every one was abandoned. The deep sense of tragedy was over them all, even over young Will Allen. They rarely spoke, and they rode along in silence, save for the beat of their horses' hoofs. Shortly before night they met a lone buffalo hunter whom the Panther knew.

"Have you been close to San Antonio, Simpson?" asked the Panther, after the greeting.

"I've been three or four days hangin' 'roun' the neighborhood," replied the hunter. "I came down from the northwest when I heard that Santa Anna was advancing an' once I thought I'd make a break an' try to get into the Alamo, but the Mexican lines was drawed too thick an' close."

"Have you heard anything about the men inside?" asked the Panther eagerly.

"Not a thing. But I've noticed this. A mornin' an' evenin' gun was fired from the fortress every day until yesterday, Sunday, an' since then—nothin'."

The silence in the little band was as ominous as the silence of the morning and evening gun. Simpson shook his head sadly.

"Boys," he said, "I'm goin' to ride for Gonzales an' join Houston. I don't think it's any use for me to be hangin' aroun' San Antonio de Bexar any longer. I wish you luck in whatever you're tryin' to do."

He rode away, but the five friends continued their course toward the Alamo, without hope now, but resolved to see for themselves. Deep in the night, which fortunately for their purpose was dark, heavy clouds shutting out the moon and stars, they approached San Antonio from the east. They saw lights, which they knew were those of the town, but there was darkness only where they knew the Alamo stood.

They tethered their horses in some bushes and crept closer, until they could see the dim bulk of the Alamo. No light shone there. They listened long and intently, but not a single sound came from the great hecatomb. Again they crept nearer. There were no Mexican guards anywhere. A little further and they stood by the low northern wall.

"Boys," said the Panther, "I can't stand it any longer. Queer feelin's are runnin' all over me. No, I'm goin' to take the risk, if there is any, all alone. You wait for me here, an' if I don't come back in an hour then you can hunt for me."

The Panther climbed over the wall and disappeared. The others remained in the deepest shadow waiting and silent. They were oppressed by the heavy gloom that hung over the Alamo. It was terrifying to young Will Allen, not the terror that is caused by the fear of men, but the terror that comes from some tragic mystery that is more than half guessed.

Nearly an hour passed, when a great figure leaped lightly from the wall and joined them. The swarthy face of the Panther was as white as chalk, and he was shivering.

"Boys," he whispered, "I've seen what I never want to see ag'in. I've seen red, red everywhere. I've been through the rooms of the Alamo, an' they're red, splashed with the red blood of men. The water in the ditch was stained with red, an' the earth all about was soaked with it. Somethin' awful must have happened in the Alamo. There must have been a terrible fight, an' I'm thinkin' that most of our fellows must have died before it was took. But it's give me the creeps, boys, an' I think we'd better get away."

"We can't leave any too quick to please me," said Will Alien. "I'm seeing ghosts all the time."

"Now that we know for sure the Alamo has fallen," said Smith, "nothin' is to be gained by stayin' here. It's for Sam Houston to lead us to revenge, and the more men he has the better. I vote we ride for Gonzales."

"Seein' what we can see as we go," said Karnes. "The more information we can pick up on the way about the march of the Mexicans the better it will be for Houston."

"No doubt of that," said the Panther. "When we go to roarin' an' rippin' an' t'arin' we must know what we're about. But come on, boys, all that red in the Alamo gives me conniption fits."

They rode toward the east for a long time until they thought they were beyond the reach of Mexican skirmishing parties, and then they slept in a cypress thicket, Smith and Karnes standing guard by turns. As everybody needed rest they did not resume their journey the next day until nearly noon, and they spent most of the afternoon watching for Mexican scouts, although they saw none. They had a full rest that night and the next day they rode slowly toward Gonzales.

About the middle of the afternoon, as they reached the crest of a swell, Will Allen uttered an exclamation, and pointed toward the eastern horizon. There they saw a single figure on horseback, and another walking beside it. The afternoon sun was very bright, casting a glow over the distant figures, and, shading their eyes with their hands, they gazed at them a long time.

"It's a woman that's ridin'," said Smith at last, "an' she's carryin' some sort of a bundle before her."

"You're shorely right, Deaf," said Karnes, "an' I think the one walkin' is a black fellow. Looks like it from here."

"I'm your way of thinkin'," said the Panther, "an' the woman on the horse is American, or I'm mightily fooled in my guess. S'pose we ride ahead faster an' see for shore."

They increased the speed of their mustangs to a gallop and rapidly overhauled the little party. They saw the woman trying to urge her horse to greater speed. But the poor beast, evidently exhausted, made no response. The woman, turning in the saddle, looked back at her pursuers.

"By all that's wonderful!" exclaimed Obed White, "the bundle that she's carrying is a baby!"

"It's so," said Smith, "an' you can see well enough now that she's one of our own people. We must show her that she's got nothin' to fear from us."

He shouted through his arched hands in tremendous tones that they were Texans and friends. The woman stopped, and as they galloped up she would have fallen from her horse had not Obed White promptly seized her and, dismounting, lifted her and the baby tenderly to the ground. The colored boy who had been walking stood by and did not say anything aloud, but muttered rapidly: "Thank the Lord! Thank the Lord!"

Three of the five were veteran hunters, but they had never before found such a singular party on the prairie. The woman sat down on the ground, still holding the baby tightly in her arms, and shivered all over. The Texans regarded her in pitying silence for a few minutes, and then Obed White said in gentle tones:

"We are friends, ready to take you to safety. Tell us who you are."

"I am Mrs. Dickinson," she replied.

"Deaf" Smith looked startled.

"There was a Lieutenant Dickinson in the Alamo," he said.

"I am his wife," she replied, "and this is our child."

"And where is——" Smith stopped suddenly, knowing what the answer must be.

"He is dead," she replied. "He fell in the defence of the Alamo."

"Might he not be among the prisoners?" suggested Obed White gently.

"Prisoners!" she replied. "There were no prisoners. They fought to the last. Every man who was in the Alamo died in its defence."

The five stared at her in amazement, and for a little while none spoke.

"Do you mean to say," asked Obed White, "that none of the Texans survived the fall of the Alamo?"

"None," she replied.

"How do you know?"

Her pale face filled with color. It seemed that she, too, at that moment felt some of the glow that the fall of the Alamo was to suffuse through Texas.

"Because I saw," she replied. "I was in one of the arched rooms of the church, where they made the last stand. I saw Crockett fall and I saw the death of Bowie, too. I saw Santa Anna exult, but many, many Mexicans fell also. It was a terrible struggle. I shall see it again every day of my life, even if I live to be a hundred."

She covered her face with her hands, as if she would cut out the sight of that last inferno in the church. The others were silent, stunned for the time.

"All gone," said Obed White, at last. "When the news is spread that every man stood firm to the last I think it will light such a fire in Texas that Santa Anna and all his armies cannot put it out."

"Did you see a boy called Ned Fulton in the Alamo, a tall, handsome fellow with brown hair and gray eyes?" asked Obed White.

"Often," replied Mrs. Dickinson. "He was with Crockett and Bowie a great deal."

"And none escaped?" said Will Allen.

"Not one," she repeated, "I did not see him in the church in the final assault. He doubtless fell in the hospital or in the convent yard. Ah, he was a friend of yours! I am sorry."

"Yes, he was a friend of ours," said the Panther. "He was more than that to me. I loved that boy like a son, an' me an' my comrades here mean to see that the Mexicans pay a high price for his death. An' may I ask, ma'am, how you come to be here?"

She told him how Santa Anna had provided her with the horse, and had sent her alone with the proclamation to the Texans. At the Salado Creek she had come upon the negro servant of Travis, who had escaped from San Antonio, and he was helping her on the way.

"An' now, ma'am," said "Deaf" Smith, "we'll guard you the rest of the way to Gonzales."

The two little groups, now fused into one, resumed their journey over the prairie.

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