first president of the Republic of Texas, Sam
Houston, spent much of his term of office promoting the annexation of Texas
by the United States and striving to maintain peaceful relations with Mexico.
The Republic’s second President, Mirabeau Lamar, had a much bolder vision for
the Republic; one that was in direct conflict with the views of Sam
Lamar sought freedom from United States influence and, more importantly, eventual
expansion of the Republic of Texas all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Lamar
also refused to shy away from conflict with Mexico
in order to achieve his goals. In his 1838 inaugural address the second president
of the Republic made it clear where he stood as far as relations with Mexico
were concerned when he warned, “If peace can be obtained only by the sword,
let the sword do its work.” |
of Velasco, one open to public scrutiny and the other kept secret, were signed
by Santa Anna after the Battle
of San Jacinto. In the public treaty the Mexican dictator recognized Texas
independence, but in the secret treaty, which he later denied, Santa Anna agreed
to accept the Rio Grande River as the boundary between Texas
not the Nueces River as Mexico
had long claimed. Lamar interpreted this controversial treaty provision to include
the entire length of the Rio Grande; from the Gulf of Mexico to
the river’s headwaters in the far northern foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
this view, the long established town of Santa Fe and half the province of New
Mexico would fall within the boundary of
Establishing sovereignty over New Mexico would promote Lamar’s goal of westward
expansion, but even more important, it would give the Republic of Texas a new
source of revenue. A thriving system of trade had developed between the United
States and Mexico ever since the Santa Fe Trail opened in 1821, after Mexico gained
its independence from Spain. President Lamar, desperate for a new source of income
for the nearly destitute Republic, wanted
to take control of this profitable enterprise. |
1841, President Lamar sought Congressional approval to send an expedition to New
Mexico. However, when the Texas Congress wisely refused his request, Lamar proposed
to send the expedition on his own initiative; ostensibly to establish a trade
route across northern Texas to Santa Fe, and to offer the citizens of New Mexico
an opportunity to voluntarily join the Republic. Of course it was rumored that
should the Mexicans refuse such a generous offer, force could always be applied
if and when the opportunity presented itself.
A call for volunteers was
issued, and men gathered from all parts of the Republic, eager to harvest the
gold and silver that was said to be lying in the streets of Santa Fe for the taking.
In addition, any merchant who was willing to ship his goods to Santa Fe was promised
both transportation and protection for his merchandise.
The 270 volunteers
designated to protect the trade caravan, and perhaps act as an invasion force
if the situation called for it, were commanded by General Hugh McCleod and organized
into five infantry companies and an artillery company. The captain of one of the
companies was well-known Indian fighter Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell. Supplies
for the expedition and the merchants’ trade goods were carried in twenty-one ox-drawn
The expedition, or what Andrew Jackson referred to as "the wild
goose campaign to Santa Fe," set out on June 19, 1841, from a site on Brushy
Creek fifteen miles north of Austin.
Slowly rolling north, the Texans took nearly a month to ford the Brazos River
and enter the Cross Timbers in the area of present-day Parker County,
and that was only the beginning of the agony. Cutting their way through the thickets
and underbrush of the Cross Timbers and hauling the wagons across numerous
gullies and dry washes was backbreaking labor, and the men constantly suffered
from the intense heat and lack of water.
The wagons headed northwest when
they finally cleared the timber and soon reached the present day site of Wichita
Falls. Receiving little help from their Mexican guides, the Texans mistakenly
believed they had reached the Red River and followed the course of the Wichita
for nearly two weeks before finally taking note of their error. By then the practically
useless Mexican guides had deserted the expedition, and McCleod was forced to
send a company of men north to search for the Red River. They returned to lead
the wagons there on August 20.
harassed by the hit and run raids of small parties of Comanche and Kiowa warriors
and suffering from a lack of adequate provisions and a scarcity of water, the
expedition plodded slowly to the northwest until finally reaching the Cap Rock,
a tall abrupt escarpment rising nearly two hundred feet from the rolling plains
of north central Texas. Above the escarpment stretched the dreaded Llano Estacado,
the infamous “Staked Plains”, so named nearly three hundred years before
during Francisco Coronado’s search for the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold.” |
to locate a route by which the wagons could ascend the Cap Rock, McCleod
sent a mounted party out to seek the settlements of New Mexico while he and the
remainder of the expedition waited below the escarpment. After suffering numerous
hardships, the advance party finally met up with some Mexican traders on September
12, and sent a guide back to lead the wagons to the top of the Cap Rock
and across the desolate high plains. The brutal journey, however, was far from
Estacado Caprock at Sunrise|
by hundreds of deep arroyos and bone dry washes, the rugged terrain of the Staked
Plains slowed the movement of the expedition’s wagons to a crawl. Water was
so scarce along the route that the Texans were constantly thirsty, and the expedition
repeatedly wandered off course because not one man in the entire outfit was familiar
enough with the vast treeless plains to realize when the Mexican guide was making
a mistake. |
after suffering for nearly thirteen hundred miles since their departure from Austin,
the Texans staggered into New Mexico; their spirits broken, their bodies lean
from hunger, and practically dying of thirst. The volunteers had naively expected
to be welcomed with open arms by the citizens of New Mexico, but instead the ill-fated
expedition was met at the border by a force of 1500 Mexican dragoons under the
command of the governor of New Mexico, Manuel Armijo, a Santa Anna appointee.
Manuel Armijo, portrait by Alfred S. Waugh ca 1840|
Governor offered the Texans fair treatment and clemency if they would agree to
surrender their weapons. After the arduous journey from Austin,
the volunteers were in no condition to fight a force that outnumbered them so
heavily, so with little choice, they surrendered. Of course, once he had possession
of the Texans’ weapons, Armijo promptly reneged on his promise, and the Texans
were immediately bound hand and foot.
That evening Governor Armijo called
for a conference of the Mexican officers to determine whether the prisoners would
be executed immediately or sent to Mexico City. After a long discussion with much
heated debate on both sides of the issue, a vote was taken. The volunteers' lives
were spared by a scant majority of one vote. The expedition’s wagons and trade
goods were confiscated, and the Governor ordered the Texans marched in chains
the entire 2000 miles to Mexico City.
During the brutal and tortuous journey,
many of the men, already weakened from their terrible ordeal, died of thirst,
hunger, and exhaustion, or the occasional musket or pistol ball to the back of
the head. Those who were fortunate enough to survive the death march arrived in
Mexico City on December 26, and were immediately put to work repairing roads.
Like most Texans taken prisoner by the Mexicans, the unlucky members of Lamar's
"Wild Goose Campaign" eventually found their way into the dank dungeons of Perote
Prison in Vera Cruz.
When word of the debacle reached Texas,
people were furious, and most of them rightfully put the blame squarely on the
shoulders of Lamar. A letter in an Austin newspaper in January 1842, most likely
written by Anson Jones,
an enemy of Lamar and a future President of the Republic, proposed that President
Lamar be exchanged for the prisoners. Of course, Lamar avoided this fate, and
the prisoners continued to languish in Perote prison until diplomatic efforts
of the United States secured their release in April 1842.
The Santa Fe
debacle was the political Waterloo for President Lamar. Hope for continued peace
had practically vanished, the currency had fallen to three cents on the dollar,
and public debt had risen to more than six million dollars. Sam
soon returned to the Presidency of the Republic with a plethora of problems to
solve, not the least of which was a series of incursions across the Rio Grande
by Mexican soldiers in retaliation for Lamar’s ill-fated Santa Fe expedition.
"'A Glimpse of Texas Past"'
February 9, 2011 Column
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