Dr. Grant and His Matamoros Expedition Starts Trouble
ca. January 1836. But the pleasures of home life, in this instance, were destined to be brief. Santa Anna with a large army had crossed the Rio Grande at Laredo and was approaching San Antonio. General Urrea with a strong force was advancing on Goliad from Matamoros. Orders came from Colonel Fannin for all troops to rendezvous at San Patricio on or before the twenty-seventh of January. I was among the first to respond to this call. At San Patricio I found about one hundred men under Dr. Grant, whose aim was the invasion of Mexico. After a few days rest I was sent as a courier with dispatches for the commanding officer at Goliad who, in turn, sent me with important messages to General Houston who was then at Refugio. From this until a short time before the fall of the Alamo, March 6, I was kept on detached duty either as a scout or courier until the burning of Gonzales.
On the first of March I and my brothers received orders to join Colonel Niell at Gonzales. We reported at once and found about four hundred Texans, as brave men as ever shouldered a rifle, every one of whom had a record as a Mexican or Indian fighter. Most of them had been at Conception, Bexar, and the Grass Fight, and they were in high glee over the prospect of an early opportunity for a fight with the Mexicans. Travis was hemmed up in the Alamo and, as we all believed we were to go to his relief. Those of us who, under Ben Milam, had smoked old Cos and his convict soldiers out of Bexar the previous December, knew that we could clean up old Santa and his whole outfit of cutthroat "greasers" if given a chance. That was the only theme of conversation among the boys around the campfires. On the third of March, General Houston received Travis appeal for help at the Alamo. Fannin had been ordered to leave Goliad and join his force to ours on the Cibolo. All these facts were known to us in camp the boys and we were all hopeful of a great victory over Santa Anna at Bexar. Every man wanted to push on at once to the relief of Travis. We could have reached him easily in two days - by the fifth of March at the utmost; but no, we must await dilatory orders from hesitating authorities - and so the Alamo won a place in history at the price of the best blood ever poured out upon the altar of liberty.
The filibustering spirit was rife in America during the first half of the nineteenth century, and many adventurers and soldiers of fortune stalked across the pages of history. It was the era of frontier expansion in the United States; and it was a period of unstable conditions in Mexico-the two republics were neighbors, and the great Southwest was the breeding-ground and clearing-house of unrest. The scene of action shifted to Texas during the revolution. The Texan revolt and declaration of war for independence attracted much attention and brought many brave and adventurous young spirits to the scene of action from every part of the American Union and especially from the bordering southwestern states-men of physical courage, daredevils of restless spirit, ever ready and always anxious to hazard their lives in any enterprise or expedition that offered excitement and adventure; and, perchance, gain of treasure as well as added laurels of valor.
To descend upon the wealthy border city of Matamoros and capture and loot the place, seemed easy to accomplish and soon became the favorite theme, with many willing listeners and ready volunteers. But in the end, as the sequel shows, the attempt of this enterprise proved to be the mother of the greatest misfortunes that ever came upon the colonists of Texas. The wild idea first originated with Dr. James Grant, erstwhile wealthy, but aggrieved ranchero of Parras, Mexico---posing as a Texas patriot---who, without the shadow of authority, marched away from Bexar with 200 volunteers, after having despoiled the handful of men left under Colonel Niell of ammunition, blankets, medical stores, and everything else worth taking, and proceeded to San Patricio, where be expected to be joined by Colonel Fannin, Frank Johnson, and others. This was early in January, 1836. Dr. Grant was a Scotchman who had lived several years in Mexico and owned large properties in the Mexican Republic. Just when and why be came to Texas and enlisted in the struggle for independence I am unable to say, but I was told that for the stand be took against Santa Anna in the Zacatecas affair, be was forced to fly for his life, and hence came to Texas and joined the colonial army. Grant was a shrewd schemer, and adept in the school of intrigue, and withal, a visionary. If he had any of the qualities of a fighter, they were not known to the Texans, and besides he was not popular with the officers and men.
For two weeks after the fall of Bexar the soldiers who garrisoned the town enjoyed a season of almost utter abandon. They were mostly volunteers from the "states"---nearly all of the Texans having gone to their homes---and being disappointed in not having their promised rewards, they soon learned to regard the property belonging to Mexican citizens as lawful prey and so acted accordingly. Each day a detail was sent out to round up beeves and fat cows for food for the garrison, and when a Mexican appeared in town with a good horse, ownership to the animal was promptly transferred to a needy Americano. Reliable Mexican citizens have told me of many of the practices of the volunteers while in San Antonio, all of which were a shame and a disgrace to the American name. Meanwhile Dr. Grant was busy perfecting his cherished scheme the capture of Matamoros. In glowing terms he related to the boys the possibilities of the contemplated expedition. Matamoros was an opulent city. It was the port of entry for a vast territory embracing a quarter part of Old Mexico and all of New Mexico. Merchants and mine owners from Santa Fe, Taos, El Paso del Norte, Monclova, Monterrey and Chihuahua thronged this great maritime mart, while Spanish hidalgos and Mexican dons reveled in oriental splendor. Matamoros was but a few hundred miles from Bexar. The country was level; grass, game and wild cattle and horses abounded, and the march to the Rio Grande would not be difficult, but rather a journey of pleasure. With a force of five hundred men---two hundred from Bexar join and three hundred Texans whom he expected to meet him on the Nueces--he could defy any force the Mexican government might be able to throw behind the walls of the coveted city. He dwelt upon the present condition of the troops; their inactivity; their want of supplies; the glowing prospect for pay, and the utter inability of the provisional government to render their condition any better. The taking of Matamoros would remedy all these evils. Its wealth and treasures awaited their coming and would more than compensate for all the toil, time and expense of the present and past campaign. Moreover, Matamoros once in the bands of the Texans, their ranks would soon be swelled by thousands of patriotic Mexicans who would hail the Americans as deliverers from the tyranny of Santa Anna, and it would only be a question of time when Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and New Mexico, would unite with Texas and form a new republic with Matamoros as its seat of government.
These glowing representations had the desired effect. The minds of these young men from the "states" became inflamed with a desire for conquest, military glory, and loot. They were penniless, clad in rags, and had about exhausted the resources of the scant population of Bexar. It was a long stretch from San Antonio back to the "states" and no particular blame can be attached to the course they took. On the thirtieth of December, Dr. Grant left San Antonio for Goliad, accompanied by 200 of these misguided young men. Colonel Niell, a patriot and a brave soldierly gentleman who was in command at Bexar, was powerless to thwart the schemes of Dr. Grant who took all the arms, munitions, clothing, and horses, that came within his reach. The medicines, which rightly belonged to the sick and wounded in the hospital, were taken and the unfortunate sufferers left to their fate.
While Dr. Grant was employing his art of persuasion with the men at Bexar, he was bringing all his influence upon members of the Council at Washington and succeeded in winning a majority of that body over to his view touching the Matamoros campaign. And not only a majority of the Council, but many of the most influential men of the period. Fannin, and Frank Johnson favored his plans. Houston denounced the proposed expedition, and declared that if undertaken, it would in the end, prove fatal to every interest at stake. Governor Smith appointed Houston commander--in---chief of all Texan forces. The Council commissioned Colonel Fannin to the same office and gave him authority to appoint others. Houston, finding his authority in a measure superseded by others, retired for a season. Then began a long series of misfortunes sufficient to cause every patriot to lose all hope for ultimate success. And these misfortunes---the breach between the council and the governor, the disasters at San Patricio, Refugio, Goliad, and San Antonio, may be traced and accredited directly to Dr. Grant and his wild scheme for the capture of Matamoros.
On the fourth of January, Dr. Grant and his men reached Goliad where they remained until the twelfth waiting for Col. Frank Johnson. From Goliad they marched to San Patricio where they established a general rendezvous for all who wished to join the "Federal Arm" (as Dr. Grant styled it), for the expedition against Matamoros. But the expected recruits came in slowly, and the promised supplies for the maintenance of the army failed to arrive. The winter had been unusually severe on stock and the army found itself in great need of mounts. In the valley of the Rio Grande on the Texas side roamed vast caballadas of horses, the property of Mexican citizens in Matamoros. Grant determined to secure a sufficient number of these animals to supply his army, and to that end set out in February with fortyfive picked men for the Rio Grande, Col. Frank Johnson accompanying the expedition as second in command. They crossed the Arroyo Colorado and approached within eight or ten miles of Matamoros. They soon secured all the horses they wanted---the tactics of the Comanches being largely employed in the hasty round-up and swift retreat northward. When they bad crossed the Arroyo Colorado, a furious "norther" accompanied by rain and sleet beat down upon them, and during the night two of the men and a number of the horses died from the effects of the extreme cold. Grant reached San Patricio on the twelfth of February with only about one hundred animals, having lost a large number along the route. On the sixteenth, with fifty well-mounted men, be started on another expedition to, procure horses. His operations on this raid were confined to the region several leagues above Matamoros.
On the thirty-first of January, 1836, General Urrea arrived with his forces at Matamoros. Spies and emissaries informed him of the raid into the Rio Grande Valley and the position and the numbers of the Texans at San Patricio. On the seventeenth of February, he crossed the river to the Texas side with six hundred men and one cannon. The country he traversed being a wilderness waste affording shelter for neither man nor beast the march was necessarily slow. When within twenty miles of San Patricio, General Urrea received notice that a company of Texans were in camp a few miles out of town guarding about one hundred and fifty horses which were being held for pasturage. Thirty men under Captain Pretalio were sent forward with all haste for the purpose of surprising this post. At the same time the main body under General Urrea pushed forward and at three o'clock in the morning reached the town and began the action which was of short duration and before sunrise the Mexican army was in full possession, the Texans having been taken by surprise. Eleven of the latter had been killed in the brief conflict, five were wounded, while many escaped, and quite a number remained as prisoners. One banner and a quantity of arms of every description fell into the bands of the Mexicans.
Captain Pretalio attacked the camp of horse guards about the same time Urrea's men charged into the village of San Patricio, and captured the entire caballada, killing several of the Texans, wounding and capturing others. His loss was one dragoon killed and two wounded. Much has been written about the death of Dr. Grant, be who offered his life upon the altar of a misguided ambition. Yoakum says that he was captured by forces under General Urrea on the Agua Dulce, taken to San Patricio badly wounded, and three weeks later was bound to the tail and bind feet of a wild horse which was turned loose, leaving behind him at a short distance the mangled remains of poor Grant. Our good historian Yoakum made many statements which later writers could find no one to verify. I met and associated with several of those who were at San Patricio before and after its capture by Urrea and have heard their versions of the occupation of the place by the Mexicans, and the events connected therewith and I never heard the story of Dr. Grant's death as related by Yoakum until after I had enlisted in General Taylor's army at Corpus Christi. I think it was while on the march to the Rio Grande, opposite Matamoros, where Fort Brown was built later, that I heard the story told around the campfire, by one of the soldiers from the "states." I took occasion then, as did every Texan present, to challenge the story and to denounce it as utterly false. Col. Frank Johnson told me that Dr. Grant was killed on the Agua Dulce creek at a point not far from the present site of Banqueta, in Nueces County, and Colonel Johnson was certainly in a position to know. The Mexican account of Grant's death seems to me the most reasonable statement on record. It accords with Col. Frank Johnson's account, as related to me and others shortly after the sad occurance.
I quote from Filisola:
When General Cos surrendered his army to the Texans in December, 1835, one of the stipulations was to the effect that those of his troops who desired to abandon the Mexican service were at liberty to remain in Texas. Quite a number availed themselves of this proviso, among others being one whose right name was Jesus Cuellar. Those not familiar with the Mexican language could not give Jesus the proper pronunciation and he was known among the boys as "Ka Soos." Jesus was a rare genius. He was a shrewd man and, intellectually far above the average Mexican. He was of a jovial turn, obliging, and a model of politeness. He had acquired some knowledge of the English language and in the course of a few months could make himself fairly well understood when discussing ordinary topics. Other Mexicans who abandoned Cos called Jesus "Comanche," for the reason that he had been a captive among the Indians of that tribe for several years. Jesus professed great admiration for the Texans, was a staunch Republican, and held Santa Anna in great abhorrence on account of some injury the latter had inflicted upon one of Jesus' brothers who had taken part in the resistance offered the dictator at Zacatecas. Jesus was easily won over to the side of Dr. Grant and for a time was greatly enthused over the plan for the capture of Matamoros, and when the Doctor and his followers set out for Goliad, Jesus was one of the number who lead the van.
Rodriguez, Col. Juan N. Seguin, and a few other influential Texas-Mexicans were avowedly opposed to Grant's Matamoros scheme and when the Doctor reached Goliad, Jesus began to change his views but remained for a short time and later returned to Goliad and joined Colonel Fannin. When General Urrea reached San Patricio, by some means or other, Jesus learned that his brother, Don Salvador Cuellar, was with the invading army and with the cunning peculiar to his race, he soon devised a plan for the defeat and capture of Urrea's entire army. He laid the matter before Colonel Fannin who readily saw the feasibility of the plans and cordially commended the wily Jesus for his astuteness. All the details were arranged---the utmost secrecy being observed, and Don Jesus disappeared from the Texan camp. The day following there was rejoicing at Herrera's headquarters in San Patricio and Don Salvador was overcome with delight in having once more met his brother whom he had mourned as dead. Don Salvador Cuellar was a member of General Urrea's staff and was held in great esteem by that official and this confidence in the brother gave Don Jesus easy access to the General's credulous ear. When asked why he deserted General Cos at Bexar, he readily replied that he did so in order that he might more effectually serve his country; "fue con el objecto de mejor servir los intereses de mi patrio." He had carefully noted the condition of the Texan army and also gave their strength, knew the spirit that animated the people, and also gave a greatly exaggerated account of the forces then en route from the east to join Fannin at Goliad. He further stated that Fannin with 500 men was at the moment marching to attack Urrea at San Patricio, that on that very night they would march to a point within a league of the place and attack the town at early dawn. He knew the route the Texans would travel and if the General would put his columns in motion just at dark he would pilot them to a point in the dense chaparral where Fannin's men were sure to pass and General Urrea could form an ambuscade from which the Texans, taken unawares, could be completely annihilated.
Having the utmost confidence in Don Salvador, brother of the scheming Don Jesus, General Urrea called him aside and took council as to the reliability of the newcomer and, receiving every assurance of his honor and fidelity, the General decided to pursue the course outlined by the Texano-Mexican, and immediately set out with 200 infantry, 150 cavalry, lead as pilot and when about fifteen miles out from San Patricio, he lead them into a pass hemmed in on each side with dense chaparral and there he disappeared. Suspecting treachery when his guide could not be found and finding himself in a trap, General Urrea ordered a retreat and it was said among old Texans who passed through those perilous times that he went back to San Patricio much faster than he came out.
Two hundred of Fannin's men lay in wait but the darkness of the night and the lack of a clear knowledge of the country caused Don Jesus to lead the Mexican force at least two miles south of the point of ambush as agreed upon and designated before leaving Fannin at Goliad. Don Jesus remained with Fannin until Urrea's army reached Refugio and was the third messenger sent by Colonel Fannin in an effort to reach Colonel Ward at Refugio, and reached him as he was crossing the San Antonio River on the morning of the ninteenth. Ward, having been forced back from Refugio, and finding himself cut off from Goliad by Urrea's cavalry, was endeavoring to make his way to Victoria. Jesus showed his pluck in the action on the twentieth, when Ward was attacked by four or five hundred of the enemy, but the lack of ammunition forced him to fall back in the river bottom. That night Don Jesus deserted Ward and made his way to Victoria and from that point he hastened to join Houston on the Brazos. He gave as his reason for leaving Ward, that the men were without ammunition, and that by remaining together, capture was inevitable, and so stated to Ward, advising him at the same time that by adopting the tactics of the Comanches when closely hemmed in, and scattering out, every man for himself, some would have a chance to escape, while if they remained together all would be taken. Ward gave no heed to his advice, so he decided to take his chances and quietly, in the darkness, left and was lucky enough to get away.
When Jesus reached Houston's little army, he joined his old friend, Capt. Juan N. Seguin, and at San Jacinto fought with dauntless courage. He claimed to have fired the shot, during the charge, that killed the brave General Castrillon. When Santa Anna was brought in a prisoner, Don Jesus was one of the most clamorous for the captive's blood. The day following the capture he pleaded with General Houston for permission to talk with Santa Anna and when the latter was asked if an interview would be agreeable, be slowly repeated the words, "Cuellar! Cuellar! Jesus Cuellar! No I do not wish to talk to him." Evidently the fallen tyrant remembered the name, the bare mention of which forcibly recalled some of the bloody atrocities he had committed at Zacatecas. Don Jesus remained a loyal citizen of Texas and died at Goliad in 1841.