The Mier Expedition; Incident of the Black Bean

 November 13th, 2012 – 2:00 pm
 File:The Drawing of the Black Bean.jpg
Peace between Mexico and the Republic of Texas was fairly short-lived following Santa Ana’s defeat by the Texans at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836. Santa Ana resumed power in Mexico in 1841 and soon thereafter ordered several nuisance raids into Texas. In two of these raids San Antonio was briefly occupied by Mexican troops. The “War Hawks” in the Texas Congress demanded that President Sam Houston take military action against Mexico. Reluctantly, Houston ordered General Alexander Somervell to take charge a group of volunteers who were gathering at San Antonio to avenge the Mexican attacks.
In his first action in March, 1842, Somervell proved to be an ineffectual commander and his command basically fell apart and the Texans returned to their homes. Following the second occupation of San Antonio, a group of 300 men under the command of William Fisher left Somervell’s command, crossed the Rio Grande and occupied the Mexican town of Mier. On Christmas Day, 1842, the Texans were surrounded by Mexican troops. The Texans battled all day long inflicting terrible losses upon the Mexicans. By the end of the day the Texans were out of food, water and ammunition and 200 of them surrendered to the Mexicans. During their forced march to a prison in Mexico City, most of them managed to escape but were soon recaptured.
Santa Ana ordered that all of the recaptured prisoners be executed. Francisco Mexia, Governor of Coahuila, interceded and asked that the lives of the captives be spared. Santa Ana relented, and ordered that the Texans be decimated. That is to say that every 10th man should be shot. The prisoners were ordered to pick a bean from a jar that contained 159 white beans and 17 black beans. Those drawing the black bean were summarily shot. The remainder were put to work on a road gang and then marched off to captivity in Vera Cruz.
I’ve recently been working in LaGrange, Texas which is the county seat of Fayette County. There are several monuments on the Courthouse lawn which commemorate the heroism of the men of the Mier Expedition and the massacre of Dawson’s men. Out of curiosity about this episode of Texas history, I read further on the subject and found that there are 2 schools of thought on the Mier Expedition. The traditional account tells of the heroic exploits of the brave men who went to Mexico to protect The Republic and exact justice for Mexican depredations against the city of San Antonio. A more recent study of the Meir Expedition portrays the Texans as a criminal mob bent on rape and pillage. This link offers several variations to an interesting episode in Texas History.
 The voluntary force that turned south on November 25 put even some ranger units to shame for its ugly element.  A few of the men were legitimate farmers or ranchers, but most were not….A few of the officers, such as Captain William S. Fisher (prominent in destroying the Cherokees), had led troops in several early battles.  Anyone who agreed to serve with Fisher would, he said, be rewarded by the richness of the land and the fatness thereof.”  Then there was Ewen Cameron, known as the “Attila of Texas,” a huge man who ran a large gang of horse thieves out of Goliad.  What made Cameron unusual was that among the three hundred to four hundred criminals in his party, he stuck out.  The gangs saw the Somervell expedition as a chance to expand their stealing operations.
The placid Somervell had little chance of controlling this mob.  But with his men swept up in the war hysteria, he had to either lead the army south or watch it leave on its own…The Texas volunteers pushed south to Laredo….Somervell placed the Texas flag in the town square and ordered his army to camp in a nearby ravine.
Early that evening…small groups of Texans left camp…and returned to Laredo.  Their numbers soon approached two hundred.  They looted the commissary stores first but found little in them.  Then they turned to the remaining townsfolk, almost all women.  They used logs to break down doors of private residences, herded the occupants out, and forced them to turn over all their valuables.  Many of the Mexican women were disrobed, some in public.  Others were attacked inside residences…Thomas Jefferson Green, one of the most flagrant violators, was overheard on several occasions saying: “Rake them down, boys; rake them down.” [This author assumed this referred to rape.]
Some troops, disgusted with this activity, left for home.  Others helped Somervell confiscate at least part of the loot; most of it was clothing, stacked to the height of a good-sized house.
The army was slowly breaking up as a result of the disorder and looting.  The 500 who remained followed Somvervell south to Guerrero, where more pillaging occurred.  Here a mutiny erupted in which 189 men followed Fisher, Cameron, and Green into the Mexican town of Mier.  These were the most desperate of men, led by the most depraved officers.  They ignored Somervell when he tried to stop their depredations.  Fortunately, Mexican general Pedro de Ampudia ended the rapine and violence by forcing the Texans to surrender after a vicious fight in the center of town that began on the morning of Christmas Day and lasted into the afternoon hours.  After the forces briefly escaped and were recaptured, Santa Anna ordered a peculiar but perhaps appropriate “trial”; the 170-odd prisoners were ordered to select beans from a pot.  The 17 who drew a black bean were promptly shot.