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Authors: Don Worcester

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BOOK: Gone to Texas
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“We've got to capture the cannon or make a run for it,” Ellis gasped. “If we don't, we'll be killed for sure.

“We'll make a run for it,” Fero shouted. “Don't all fire at once or the lancers will get us. If we can only make it to some trees....”

Ellis and the others hastily filled their powder horns and bullet pouches, then Fero gave the rest of their supply to Caesar to carry. Hands trembling and mouth dry, Ellis wondered if his legs would hold up. Running out the back of the fort toward the small stream, they stopped to fire and load in turns to keep the deadly lancers at a distance. Bullets whistled about them and plucked at their clothing; miraculously, no one was hit.

They splashed through the creek, not daring to stop for a drink of water. They fired and reloaded in turns as the lancers closed in behind them. Ellis glanced back toward the creek and saw one of the men wounded by grapeshot sink to the ground, too weak to continue.

“Oh God, look!” Ellis cried. Caesar had dropped the powder bag and was holding up his hands. Now all the Spaniards had to do was wait until their quarry ran out of powder, then pick them off one at a time.

Ellis and his comrades retreated slowly through waist-high grass toward the Brazos, their long rifles keeping the Spaniards out of accurate range of their muskets and carbines. The sun rose high over their heads. Ellis' throat was parched. Finally they came to a ravine and clambered into it. Ellis' mouth was so dry he couldn't swallow, and his heart was pounding. I don't want to die, he thought, but we've gone as far as we can.

They had no water and their powder was getting low. By early afternoon the Spaniards had brought up their little cannon and showered the ravine with grapeshot. Joel Pierce cried out and held his hand to his cheek. When he took it away, blood ran down his chin from a jagged gash. “Hold your handkerchief over it till it stops bleeding,” Blackburn urged.

“I got to have water! ” the other wounded man panted. He laid down his gun and crawled out of the ravine to surrender and beg for water.

Ellis looked around at the others. Most were fearless men, but their situation was hopeless. There was a look of resignation on their faces.

The wounded man soon returned, wiping water from his chin. “The captain says that since Nolan is dead, he'll send us home if we surrender,” he told them. Duncan and Ellis looked at each other and shrugged. The stocky William Barr, carrying a white flag, approached the ravine.

“Surrender now and you'll be sent to Nachitoches,” he assured them in his Irish accent. Ellis stared at him to see if he appeared to be telling the truth, if he really believed what he told them.

Ellis doubted it, but that made little difference. They could surrender and take their chances, or they could stay there and be killed. David Fero crawled out of the ravine, walked up to where Músquiz sat on his horse, and handed him his pistol and hunting knife. Since he was Nolan's second-in-command, there was nothing for the others to do but follow him.

The troops herded them back to the fort. When Ellis stepped in a hole and nearly fell, a soldier jabbed him in the back with his own rifle. Robert and Caesar dug a grave for their former master, while the soldiers buried their dead. Just before they lowered Nolan's body, Músquiz spoke to a soldier and handed him Fero's knife. The soldier knelt by Nolan's side while Ellis held his breath, horrified at the thought of having to watch him cut off the dead man's head. But the soldier cut off Nolan's ears and handed them to Barr. Seeing Ellis' expression, Barr explained, “That's just proof to the governor that he's dead. I'm taking them to San Antonio.” He pocketed the grisly trophies. Ellis shuddered.

In the morning the Indians rode away, while the troops, militia, prisoners, and wounded men began the long ride eastward across the flower-covered prairies. Mustang bands galloped out of their way, then stopped to watch them from a safe distance. Ellis gazed at them without really seeing them.

On April 3, they reached the village of Nacogdoches, set on a knoll among tall pines. The cavalry stopped by a large, two-story stone building that looked out of place among the log houses. A middle-aged, portly American with neatly trimmed hair and beard emerged from a nearby building. He was well-dressed and appeared to be prosperous.

“I'm Samuel Davenport,” he told them. “That's my trading post yonder.” He nodded toward it. ‘‘This is the Old Stone Fort; it's where you'll be stayin' for awhile.”

Joel Pierce touched his swollen cheek, his eyes glittering feverishly. “I hope they let us go soon,” he said in a choking voice. “I wrote my wife we'd be gone only three months and I'd have some horses of my own. Now all I want is to see her again.”

“I hope all of us will soon be with our loved ones,” Ephraim Blackburn said. Davenport shook his head, a bit sadly, Ellis thought.

“How come you're here?” Ellis asked him. “You're an American, aren't you?”

Davenport took a cigar from his pocket, smelled it, and put it in his mouth. “I was,” he replied. “Came here from Pennsylvania a while back and liked it. They let me stay, and now I'm a Spanish citizen and Indian agent for East Texas.”

Blackburn put his hand on Joel Pierce's forehead. “He's burning up” he told Davenport. “Have you anything for a fever?”

Davenport looked at the ugly wound and winced. “I'll send the
curandera,"
he replied. “She can bring it down pretty quick and dress the wound.”

A few days later, Musquiz and Davenport came to the fort. Through Davenport, Fero asked Musquiz when they'd be sent home.

“I'm waiting for orders to release you from the commandant in Chihuahua,” Musquiz replied. “In the meantime, you are free to do what you want in the daytime as long as you return to the fort at night.”

“Chihuahua is a long ride, more than six hundred miles,” Davenport added. “It'll be awhile before the reply comes. I advise you to be patient.”

“We surrendered on his promise to send us back to the States,” Fero growled. “He doesn't need an order to keep his promise.”

Davenport grimaced. “You don't know the Spanish army,” he said. “They don't do anything like that without written orders. I know he'd like to release you, but he might be cashiered if he did. I think they'll set you free in time if no one does anything to rile them. My advice is to sit tight and wait it out, even if it takes a year or two.” Fero groaned.

“How'd he know where to find us?” he asked.

“Some of your men told the commander at Concordia, and he sent word to Captain Músquiz. He also warned him that you were all well armed and would fight. That's why he took every available man.” Fero scowled at news of their betrayal.

Although the taciturn scout Luciano had always appeared unapproachable, as if he preferred silence to conversation, Ellis and Duncan hesitantly spoke to him one day, figuring he understood Spaniards. “Why did they attack us?” Ellis asked, wondering if Luciano would deign to reply. “Mr. Nolan had a passport, didn't he?”

Suprised, Luciano looked them over, as if seeing them for the first time. “Yes,” he replied, “but maybe they learned something about his plans, or someone said bad things about him.
Señor
Nolan was a fine man and my good
amigo.
He saved my life once. I wish I could have saved his.”

“Were you with him when he came here before?” Ellis asked. Luciano nodded again.

“Twice. You should have seen the herd we brought out last time—thirteen hundred head. That's a lot of mustangs.” He looked at them for a moment in consideration.“Since we have nothing to do and may be here for a long time, I could teach you to speak Spanish. That is, if you want me to. Who knows? It might come in handy one day.”

Both eagerly accepted, and met with him every day after that, glad to have something to occupy their time. Before long, both were able to ask simple questions and to understand the answers.

“That Luciano is a wise old owl,” Ellis told Duncan. “Hike him. I guess he was just waitin' for someone to talk to him.”

“Reckon we should steal a couple of horses and make a run for it?” Duncan asked one day as they wandered around waiting for Luciano.

“Make it three horses we can slip away with early some morning and take Luciano with us,” Ellis replied. “ If we can get even half a day's head start, we can make it for sure with Luciano along. He knows the country.”

Later that day, they were at Davenport's trading post looking at the goods on the shelves when Fero walked in. Ignoring Ellis and Duncan, he approached Davenport. “How long are they going to keep us here?” he growled. “Some of the men have families.”

“All I can tell you is what I said before,”Davenport replied. “I think eventually they'll release you, if no one does anything to anger them.”

“Like what?”

“Like trying to escape,” Davenport replied." That would be a disaster. This affair has caused a lot of excitement, and it'll take a while for it to die down. But if anyone leaves, or even tries to, it'll be much worse than before. The others might not be freed for years. Maybe never.” Fero cursed.

Duncan and Ellis left the post. “It was sure tempting, and I know we could have made it, “Ellis said. “But after what Davenport told Fero, it wouldn't be fair to the others. They might never be released, and that would be a high price for them to pay for our freedom. We'd better be patient, like Davenport said, but it won't be easy.”

Six weeks passed, and still no order came from Chihuahua. “Damn them,” Robert Ashley said. “I wish we could lay our hands on our rifles and fight our way out of here. I'd as soon be killed trying as rot here.” Others agreed.

“We must do as they say” Blackburn warned. “As long as there's life there's hope. Let's pray we won't have to wait much longer.” Ashley scowled.

The next evening when they returned to the fort, Fero counted heads as usual, then cursed. “Someone's missing,” he exclaimed. “In fact, four are.”

Ellis quickly scanned the faces of those in the fort. Ashley, Nolan's slave Robert, and two others were absent. He thought of what Davenport had said and felt a knot in his stomach.

“Has anyone seen them?” Fero asked sharply. “If any of you know where they're hiding, we must bring them back whether they want to come or not. Otherwise, the rest of us may be in for it.” No one had seen the men since morning. They had fled without telling anyone of their plans. Ellis felt like throwing up.

Músquiz angrily confined them again in the stone fort and increased the number of guards, ordering them to shoot anyone who tried to flee. “Damn them,” Fero growled.“No telling what will happen to us now.”

Chapter Two

For the next few weeks, the prisoners huddled under guard in the old fort, gloomily waiting for the orders from Chihuahua. “I wish we had something to do,” Ellis said. “Anything. Choppin' firewood would be better than this. We've got too much time to think.” The others gazed at him and nodded their heads.

“I hope they're not goin' to let us rot here for another six months,” Tom House said. He stood up, stretched, and began to pace up and down. “It was bad enough before those men escaped. Damn them to hell.”

“That honest woman I married must be worried sick,” freckled Joel Pierce said to Ephraim Blackburn. “She probably imagines that all sorts of awful things have happened to me. She knows I'd never desert her. I wonder if I'll ever see her again.” His voice quavered and he buried his scarred face in his hands, stifling his sobs. Embarrassed, the others turned their backs. Blackburn patted his shoulder.

“Have faith,” he said. “Surely we'll see our loved ones again.”

One morning, they heard the hoofbeats of many horses. It sounded like a cavalry troop, and the prisoners expectantly rose to their feet. The big wooden door swung open and Captain Músquiz entered, with a letter in his hand and Samuel Davenport by his side. The prisoners glanced at one another, wondering what this meant. Musquiz frowned and Davenport appeared worried. It was clear they wouldn't be sent home. Ellis suddenly felt chilled.

“This is from the
comandante
at Béxar,” Músquiz said, holding up the letter while Davenport translated. “He is furious at me for trusting you and letting some of you escape. He doesn't intend for that to happen again. He orders me to send the rest of you to Bexar in chains. You leave immediately.”

“I'm sorry, men,” Davenport told them. “It's not fair to punish you for what others did. But....”He shrugged and left.

“Those men who escaped sure played hell with the rest of us,” Ellis said. “Maybe we should have made a run for it while we had the chance. The farther we get from Natchez, the harder it'll be.”

A blacksmith riveted rough, iron shackles connected by short, heavy chains around their wrists. The edges of the iron bands hadn't been smoothed, and when Ellis raised his hands, he winced as the rough iron sawed into his skin. He mounted a horse with difficulty, cutting his wrists until they bled.

When all were mounted, twenty cavalrymen herded them onto the Camino Real for the long ride to San Antonio. For a day they rode through pine woods before coming to the open prairies. The Royal Road was nothing but a trail traveled by pack trains, couriers, and occasionally by two-wheeled Mexican carts drawn by oxen.

A week later, they forded the San Antonio River and stopped at the Presidio of Bexar, a large stone building in San Antonio's Military Plaza. Towering over the village of stone and adobe houses was San Fernando church. The prisoners were ordered into the guardhouse for the night. Ellis heard the heavy bolt slam shut, barring the door.

They were allowed to lounge around the plaza during the day, but were locked up at night. Ellis and Duncan walked slowly around the plaza, kicking at dried horse droppings and trying to keep the flies out of the wounds on their wrists. They passed Ephraim Blackburn and Joel Pierce sitting disconsolately on a bench. “I'd be willing to stay here five years if they'd let those two go,” Ellis said. He looked at his raw wrists. “That is, if they'd take these shackles off.”

BOOK: Gone to Texas
10.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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