The historian is familar with the character and history of Vicente Cordova, a Mexican who lived at the Mexican settlement at Nacogdoches, Texas, and of his insurrectionary movements prior to the date of the happening of events which we are about to relate; but in order to prepare the reader for a full understanding of the importance and significance attached to the battles fought 1839 by the Texans with Cordova and Flores, we deem it best to introduce the subject by quoting from Yoakum, who wrote with all the necessary data from the war department before him. Commencing on page 257, volume 2, he says:
From the above we readily see the object of the visit of Flores and Cordova to Mexico', and the reader is now prepared to follow the movements of these two men, who had entered into a conspiracy with the officials of Mexico upon one hand and the Indians of Texas on the other, to urge an exterminating war upon the Texans. With this object in view Cordova, in the early part of the spring of 1839, started on his way westward with a party of Mexicans, Indians and negroes, numbering about sixty or eighty, all told, with the intention of crossing a few miles above the city of Austin and thus avoid the Hornsby settlement, some ten or twelve miles below, which, at that time was the largest in that section of country, but it seems lie missed his bearings and struck the vicinity of the settlement before he was aware of his whereabouts. He then changed his course up the Colorado river, in the direction of the mountains. This was about the twenty-fifth of March, 1839. It so happened that George Davis and Reuben Hornsby, who were riding out on the prairie that day, came across this trail, and supposing that it had been made by the Indians, at once spread the news among the settlers, who collected immediately and set out in pursuit of their unknown enemy. The Texans rendezvoused at Austin and organized in the afternoon of the twenty-fifth, with Colonel Burleson as commander, Captains Billingsley and Andrews each being in charge of a company under Burleson. The entire force now consisted of about one hundred men, and the spies who had been sent out to reconnoiter for the enemy having returned late in the afternoon, reported that the trail crossed the Colorado river between the falls and Austin and leading in the direction of Seguin. Colonel Burleson at once took up the line of march and camped that night on Bears creek, about ten miles southwest of Austin. Early the next morning, before leaving camp, a runner came from the Hornsby settlement, saying a large Indian trail had been discovered in the neighborhood and that the men were wanted to protect the families. This information caused the party to abandon the trail and the whole force proceeded with as much dispatch as possible on the back track to protect their families, whom they had left the day before. Arriving at the settlement it was soon discovered that a false alarm, had been given, and that the trail which had been found, was the identical trail Burleson and his men had been following. This caused a good deal of dissatisfaction among some of the men and several declined to return and take up the trail again, so that when Burleson reached the spot where lie had camped the night previous, he found himself with a force not exceeding seventy or seven ty-five men. Night having come on by this time, Burleson pitched his camp at the same place where he had bivouacked the night before.
About ten o'clock that night Tom Moore, known generally as "Black Torn," and Roberson arrived at Burleson's camp, and made known to them for the first time what character of enemy they were pursuing. It seems that Roberson, who had started out with Cordova on his journey to Mexico, had for some reason fallen under the displeasure of his superior, whereupon Roberson was court martialed, sentenced to death, and was to have been shot the next day, being the same day on which lie arrived at Burleson's camp; but while Cordova's party was crossing Onion creek Roberson made his escape, made his way down the creek bottom, succeeded in reaching the house of Moore, whereupon they both immediately set out to notify Burleson of Cordova's mission to Mexico. This man Roberson was an American, and had evidently enlisted under Cordova, expecting to receive a good share of the spoils should Cordova be successful in his undertaking, but becoming somewhat conscience stricken on account of his treachery toward his own race, and having shown some weakening on the way, became a fit subject for suspicion among his allies, and no doubt the fear of being betrayed by Roberson more than any other cause, was the real secret of Cordova's displeasure to him and the cause of the court martial. Be this as it may, it was certainly a most fortunate incident for Texas, as the reader will soon learn. Roberson freely stated to General Burleson that Cordova was on his way to Mexico to obtain munitions Of war with which to equip the Indians for the purpose of making a well directed warfare upon the Texans, and that he would return to Texas so soon as he had accomplished the object of his mission. It will be remembered that Burleson and his command had lost one day by reason of the false alarm which had been given, and it was afterward learned that Cordova's party had likewise lost a day in hunting for Roberson, so that in fact the Texans had neither lost nor gained any on the enemy since starting in pursuit.
Early the next morning Burleson started out with his command and in the pursuit of the enemy, but failed to overtake them that day. In the following afternoon, however, about one hour and a half by sun, the spies who had been sent on in advance came in sight of Cordova's party, who had halted for a rest, and the men were lying around carelessly on. the grass while their horses were grazing around them with their saddles on. The enemy, it seems, had halted for another purpose than rest, as it was ascertained atterward from prisoners taken by the Texans that Cordova had sent spies on ahead for the purpose of spying out the situation of Seguin with the view of sacking the town that night. As soon as Burleson's spies had returned and made their report, he puslied forward rapidly with his forces and was soon within sight of the enemy, who, unaware of the Texans, were ensconced within a few miles of Seguin in the open post oaks, through which ran a little ravine. Colonel Burleson, before making an attack, divided his command into two divisions, Captain Andrews commanding the right wing and Captain Billingsly the left, and when these two divisions had taken their respective positions, their line of battle assumed the form of an inverted V, and with one more company to have closed up the rear a complete triangle would have been formed, thus rendering escape impossible for the enemy without cutting their way through; but only two companies being present to participate in the battle, and their positions having been taken as above stated, left one side open as a means of escape for the enemy. Burleson gave the command to charge and open fire, and at the first volley fired by the Texans the enemy took to flight in the direction from which Burleson approached them, when a running fight of five or six miles took place. The exact number of Mexicans, Indians and negroes killed in this battle is not known, but the number killed, as near as could be ascertained by actual count, was about eighteen, a considerable number were wounded, aniong whom was their leader, Vicente Cordova, and some three or four were taken prisoners. The Texans sustained no losses in this fight.
There were one or two rather amusing incidents which occurred, one during and the other after the fight, and it may not be out of place to mention them here. During the chase one of the Indians becanie unhorsed, whereupou he immediatelv ran back to a little mesquite tree with his gun presented, and came up face to face with about a half dozen of the Texans, who were following in close pursuit. Doctor Ventress [Fentress], who happened to be one of the party dismounted raised his gun, but gave the Indian the first fire, which fortunately missed him, where upon the doctor immediately fired, and at the crack of his gun the Indian fell dead. Doctor Ventress, in after years, when alluding to this incident, always spoke of it as his duel with the Indian. In the fight some three or four prisoners were taken, among them there was a big French negro weighing about two hundred pounds. Colonel Burleson turned him over for safe keeping to Tom McKennon, an Irishman who was along with the Texans.
When Burleson returned to the place he had left them, he found that Tom had crossed tied the negro's hands behind his back and had tied the end of his horse's stake rope to the Indian's hands, thus thus using the captive as a stake for his horse rope; and as Burleson rode up, Tom cried out: "Faith and bejasus, Colonel, I've got him fast." This negro claimed to have always been free, but would not acknowledge any allegiance to the Texan government, on the contrary, clainied to have always maintained a hostile attitude toward the Texans, and as he still manifested a disposition, which was very distasteful to them, he was accordingly court martialed and sentenced to be shot the next day. There were six men detailed to execute the sentence, and they were to shoot by threes, James O. Rice, who was along with Burleson on this expedition, seemed exceedingly anxious to shoot the negro, and offered five dollars to any one of the men who had been detailed, for his place, and one of the three men who were to fire first, not having any special fondness for such sport, accepted the proposition, whereupon Rice, elated at his good luck, as he consideried it, took his position in the first file, and at the command "fire!" only two guns fired. Rice's gun, it seems, from some cause had failed to fire, and feeling disgusted and crestfallen, he said: "There, by G-d, my gun has snapped, for the first time in my life." From the fact that Rice had manifested so much anxiety to shoot the negro, the failure of his gun to fire amused some of the boys very much. Thus ended the Cordova fight which occurred about the twenty-eighth of March, 1839.
Cordova, though pretty severely wounded, finally made his way to Mexico with the balance of his followers. Flores, it seems, was with Cordova at the time, but made good his escape. The Rev. A. J. Adkisson and General William P. Hardeman, both citizens of Austin, Texas, are among the few surviving Texans who participated in the Cordova fight. But few there are of the present day who stop to think for a moment when these two silvery haired old veterans are seen passing along the streets of Austin, of the valuable services they have rendered Texas on numerous occasions, both as a Republic and as a State.
We have never seen in print a full and complete account of the Cordova fight, which we have just given, nor of the Flores fight, which we are about to narrate. Mr. Yoakum, in his History of Texas, briefly refers to both, but he reverses the order in which they should come; and while he attaches considerable importance to them, as has been seen in our extract from his work, which appears in our account of the Cordova 1839 fight, he has not entered into a detailed account of either. In view of the inestimable value to Texas of the information obtained from the Mexicans when these two battles were fought, insignificant as they may seem to some, we have concluded to give a minute or detailed account of each while there yet survive a few a mere handful of those worthy pioneers who participated in both engagements, and who can vouch for the accuracy of our statements; for it was from them that we obtained the information that enables us to write intelligently upon the subject.
After the return of Colonel Burleson's forces from the Cordova fight,
in the latter part of March, 1839, it was deemed prudent by the citizens settled along the
Colorado river to organize for the protection of their families. The Indians were not only
extremely troublesome to the whites, but it became evident now, from the information
obtained from the man Roberson, who escaped from Cordova, an account of which has been
given in our sketch of the Cordova fight, that the Mexican government had entered into a
conspiracy with the Indians to make an incessant warfare upon the whites, lay bare their
homes and their fields, and drive them from the country. Austin at that time had not
arisen to the dignity of a town-much less a city-and was just beginning to build up. The
largest settlement in the vicinity of Austin then was down the river some ten miles, and
was known as the "Hornsby settlement." The reader can judge from the above how
much exposed this section of country was to the ravages of the Indians and marauding
Mexicans at that day. Consequently, in order to protect themselves and their families, a
ranging company was organized, consisting of about twenty men, with Mike Andrews as
captain, and James O. Rice, lieutenant, and it was while this company were out scopting on
Onion creek, south of Austin, on or about the fifteenth of May, 1839, and about where the
San Antonio road crosses the creek, that Flores and his party were discovered, as they
were returning from Mexico, making their way back to eastern Texas, to carry out the
enterprise inaugurated by Cordova, Flores and others, as previously related. Captain
Andrews's company, as stated, only consisted of about twenty men, but on this occasion six
civilians, as they were called, had joined him. While out on Onion creek, and
reconnoitering, Lieutenant Rice and Castleberry, on the evening mentioned, had ridden over
the hill south of the, creek to kill a deer for supper. They had only been gone a short
time when they came galloping back, apparently somewhat excited, and reported that they
had seen in the distance a large caballada of horses, but owing to the distance they were
from them, and it being very late in the afternoon, about dusk, they could not tell
definitely whether the horses were mounted or not, but they were satisfied some of them
were, from tll(-,'fact that some of the animals were white, and there appeared to be dark
looking spo-s on their backs.
This little speech had a telling effect upon those who had been
wavering, and the captain seemed also to be considerably impressed with the force of the
remark, and ordered a retreat. While this parleying was going on, the enemy moved off into
the heart of the cedar brake. The Texans now turned their course homeward; but there was
great dissatisfaction among most of the men at the conduct of the captain, and they did
not hesitate to express their disapprobation in unmistakable language-some of which will
not do to repeat here. After riding about three miles in the direction of home, and
discussing the matter pro and con, a portion of the company grew very indignant and
considerable feeling was being engendered, when one of the party, A. J. Adkisson known
then as "Ad," but now as the Rev. A. J. Adkisson told the boys to hold up a
little and he would ride ahead and ask permission of Captain Andrews who at that time was
some little distance in advance of the company to give those who desired it, permission to
return and follow the enemy, for it was now known beyond a doubt who they were. To this
proposition the boys consented; whereupon Adkisson rode up to the captain, informed him of
the sentiment of the men, and asked him if he would give those who desired to do so,
permission to return and continue pursuit of the enemy; that they did not wish him to
assume any of the responsibility, and all they asked was simply permission to return. The
captain hesitated a moment and then, with an oath, replied: "Yes; and I'll go
back, too." This was joyful news to all of the party except six of the men, who
continued their course homeward, and who, no doubt, about that time felt like the poor
private soldier during the late civil war when he was found by his colonel in the rear of
his command, crying like his heart would break, and was asked "what he was doing
there crying like a baby, that he ought to be ashamed of himself;" whereupon the
poor fellow said, as he wiped away the tears which were trickling down his cheeks: "I
wish I was a baby, and gal baby at that."
It is but fair to say, however, that those who turned back were not all civilians, for it was one of this class who did the most effective fighting that was done when finally the enemy were overhauled. The little band of Texans now only numbered twenty, and instead of returning to the place where they had left the Mexicans, they cut across the country in a westerly direction with the intention of intercepting them as they came out of the cedar brake, but when they arrived at the point where they expected to intercept them, the enemy had passed out some little time in advance of them. It was about nine o'clock in the morning, and the Texans put out in a brisk gallop, but they had not gone far before learning that the enemy were also traveling at a rapid gait. The trail was followed all that day without overtaking the Mexicans, and night coming on the Texans camped on a spur of the mountains on the north side of the Colorado river, and within about a mile of the same until the next morning. During the night a heavy rain fell rendering it very difficult to follow the trail the following morning. At this point Captain Andrews's horse being quite lame and he being a large man, weighing at that time about two hundred pounds, it became necessary for him to return home, and accordingly two men whose horses were the lamest, were detailed to go back with him. This left us a force of only seventeen men, with Lieutenant Rice in command, and notwithstanding many of the horses were quite lame, some of which were scarcely able to travel with their bruised and bleeding feet, caused from climbing the rough and rugged mounuiaills the previous day, this gallant little band of Texans pushed on in pursuit of the enemy. By traveling slowly and examining closely every sign, they succeeded in following the trail through the mountains out into the prairie on the waters of the San Gabriel where the Mexicans had camped the night previous. Here the sign was fresh and plain, and could easily be followed in a gallop, and the horses of the, rangers, which, up to that time had shown signs of being much fatigued, now seemed to take on new life and vigor, and spurted off at a lively gait without being urged on much by their riders. After following the trail until about two o'clock in the afternoon the south fork of the San Gabriel was reached at a point where is situated a celebrated spring, not far from where the residence of "Uncle" Billy Johnson now stands. At this point Flores and his party had nooned and cut down a bee tree, and when the Texans arrived the bees had not yet settled, and the camp fires, four in number, left by Flores, were still burning. There being only four camp fires, was another point of circumstantial evidence going to show that the force of the enemy could not be large. The Texans, knowing from these signs that they were on a hot trail, did not halt, but pushed on with renewed zeal and enthusiasm.
After going about a mile further, the Texans were signaled by their spies, Felix McClusky and Castleberry, who were about a quarter of a mile in advance of the party, to bold up, dismount and cut switches. To the average reader it may seem strange that the latter signal was understood; but it was, and just as clearly as the other, and both signals were obeyed. It becomes necessary for frontiersman to go by signals a great deal of the time, and they become very expert in interpreting them. The party having provided themselves with switches, were then signaled by the spies to advance, which was done, and on coming up with them, they were informed that the enemy had just passed over the hill. The Texans then started off in a steady gallop, and within another quarter of a mile were within sight of the eneiny which they had been following for two days and nights. Flores would make a stand occassionally as if he intended to make battle, but, the Texans never checked their speed for a moment, but on the contrary, would push fotward more rapidly, raise the Texan yell, whereupon the Mexicans would turn and retreat. Flores kept up this character of maneuvering for some little time, and in these temporary halts made by him, be could be seen riding up and down in front of his men with sword in band apparently counting our force. The Texans kept up the charge, however, until they had driven the enemy on to a steep bluff on the banks of the North San Gabriel, which was so steep that it was impossible for the enemy to descend. At this crisis, Flores, evidently for the purpose of giving his men an opportunity of finding a crossing, rallied a few of his companions and made a charge upon the Texans, who discovered him just in time to take advantage of a live oak grove near by Flores with sorne eight or ten men, charged up within fifteen or twenty paces of the Texans, and fired a volley at them, but without effect. The Texans, who had just dismounted, did not have their horses hitched, and were, therefore, not prepared to properly receive the enemy; but William Wallace (heretofore mentioned as having participated in the Brushy creek tight), who happened to be a little quicker than the balance, had gotten in position ready for action, and just as Flores was in the act of wheeling his horse to retreat, Wallace took good aim, fired, and at the crack of his gun, Flores rolled off of his horse upon the ground, shot through the heart.
Upon the death of their commander, the little party who had accompanied him in the charge immediately fled and joined their comrades who in the meantime had succeeded in finding a crossing, but leaving behind them all their horses, mules, baggage, munitions of war, etc. The last seen of the enemy, they were making their way as rapidly as possible to the mountains beyond the Gabriel. The Texans then gathered up the horses and mules, numbering one hundred and fifty-six or seven, several hundred pounds of powder and lead, seventeen dollars in Mexican silver dollars, besides a good deal of Mexican luggage, all of which had been abandoned by the enemy in their fight. Everything having been collected together, and the Texans being in high glee over their victory, they struck out for home, arriving at the spring on South San Gabriel, just in time to camp at the same spot where the Mexicans had camped the night previous. The Flores fight occurred on the seventeenth day of May, 1839.
While on their way, however, between the battle ground and South Gabriel, the Texans were met by Captain Owen in command of about thirty six-months rangers, well provided with a bountiful supply of provisions, and going out to the relief of the heroic band of seventeen. It may be well to state here that upon the return to the settlement of those who had originally started out in pursuit of the enemy, but from causes previously stated abandoned the pursuit, had circulated the report up and down the river that Rice with only sixteen men was in hot pursuit of a large body of Mexicans, and that if he should overtake them it was highly probable that the entire party of Texans would be slain. This report is what caused Owen as well as Burleson and others to start out to the relief of Rice's party. When Captain Owen first discovered the Texans returning with a large caballada of horses, and observing that some of the men were wearing Mexican sombreros, the Texans having captured a few from the enemy and were wearing them when the two parties met, he mistook them for Mexicans, and ordered his men to dismount and fire, but was finally prevailed upon by one of his men, who strongly suspected that they were Texans, to countermand the order. Rice's party having come up within a short time, and, the usual salutations having been exchanged, some of Owen's company began talking about a division of the spoils, one fellow laying claim to one horse, another to that one, and so on, until finally the gallant little band of seventeen, began to think that they were in earnest about the matter, which up to this time had been looked upon as a mere joke.
Perceiving that Owen's men were serious in their claims, Rice's party told them that they had fought the Mexicans for the property, and before dividing it out they would fight again for it. This very much offended the Owen party, and perceiving that they were not to share in the division of the spoils, refused to divide even a crust of bread with Rice's party, notwithstanding they had been without anything to eat for three days and nights. That was not all. The little band of seventeen, who had been on the go ever since they had struck the trail of the enemy, tired and worn out as they were with fatigue, were denied the privilege of camping with those who came out to their relief, and they were thus forced, tired and hungry as they were, to stand guard all night long to protect their horses. The next morning early Rice's party pulled out for Austin, and after traveling some distance, and just as they were ascending Pilot Knob, on Brushy, they met up with Colonel Ed Burleson, in command of a party going out to their relief, who generously furnished them with all the provisions they needed. After eating dinner, Burleson and Rice's forces came on back to Austin, and after reaching there Colonel Burleson, Sam Highsmith and one other gentleman whose name we have forgotten were selected as arbitrators to determine upon the division of the spoils, over which there had arisen a controversy with Owen's company. They were out but a little while before they decided that "to the victors belong the spoils." Rice's party then proceeded on down to Hornsby's Bend, and after reaching there the horses captured from the enemy were all put in a corral and divided off into seventeen different bunches by disinterested parties, and each drew lots for choice. This division having been made among the men, they then proceeded to open a lot of leather sacks which they had captured from the enemy. One of these sacks contained the correspondence between Cordova and the Mexican officials, and several official communications from the latter addressed to quite a number of Indian chiefs, perhaps a dozen in all. One of the communications was addressed to Bowles, chief of the Cherokees, and one to Big Mush, another Indian chief. There happened to be a Mexican on the place---Francisco, who was possessed of some education, and by means of his translation the Texans were advised of the importance of the docuinents they had captured.
This is the correspondence referred to by Mr. Yoakum, and to which we have made frequent mention heretofore in our account of the Cordova fight. The summer previous this, Cordova headed an insurrectionary movement in the Nacogdoches settlement against the whites, and, being subdued, he sought refuge, it was supposed, among the Indians, and while there no doubt sent emissaries to Mexico, offering his services to co-operate in hostile movements against the whites. This correspondence revealed beyond the cavil of a doubt the Cordova-Flores plot, and verified the statement of the man Roberson who escaped from Cordova on Onion creek and came to Burleson's camp with Tom Moore. This valuable information was at once transmitted to the Texan government, then located at Houston, Texas. President Lamar sent out commissioners to effect, if possible, a peaceable removal of the Indians, but nothing satisfactory being accomplished, he ordered out troops against them under the command of Rusk, Burleson and Douglas. The only survivors today of Rice's party are Jonathan Davis, who resides in Milam county, Texas, the Rev. A. J. Adkisson, a resident of Austin, and Harness, who is a resident of Burnet county. While Texas has remembered her veterans and confederate soldiers by granting pensions and land donations, this handful of hardy pioneers who accomplished so much for the republic have not only been neglected, but, with the exception of their gallant lieutenant, their names have never even been mentioned by the historian. At this late day, when we contemplate the ruin and destruction to property and the loss of life to the Texans, which might have resulted had Flores not been killed and this valuable correspondence captured, we can not but think that the fight on the San Gabriel was second only in importance to Texas to the battle of San Jacinto. Can it be that Texas has grown so populous, wealthy and so arrogant as to be unmindful of the heroic acts of her humble private citizens while she boasts of her gallant leaders of the past in both war and peace? Surely the statesman of '39, who guided the ship of State and shaped the destiny of the infant republic, were he present today shaping and controlling the legislation of our empire State would not withhold from the few survivors of this little Spartan band that just recognition which their heroic conduct merits. Then let the sons of Texas today, especially those who delight in perpetuating the memory and heroic valor of those worthy Texans who risked their lives and their property in the defense of their country, when next they assemble within those spacious granite walls to legislate upon the different questions of the hour, remember that had it not been for Rice and his brave followers thay might not today be enjoying the blessings of American government upon Texas soil, much less the honor of a seat in our magnificent capitol structure. Let them not, ere it is too late, delay in honoring these surviving veterans, whose heads are fast whitening for the grave.
CÓRDOVA TO NACOGDOCHES
ALCALDE 23 May 1835
CÓRDOVA TO MILITIA 31 Aug 1835. An address on military affairs to the Militia Company of Nacogdoches.
RUEG TO NACOGDOCHES ALCALDE 20
CÓRDOVA TO ALCALDE 23
CÓRDOVA TO FLORES 19 Jul 1838
J.M. HENRIE TO M.B. LAMAR 17 Aug
IN LETTER M.B. LAMAR TO COLONEL
BOWL AND OTHER CHEROKEES 26 May 1839