spring thunderstorm boomed in the distance like the 1812 Overture,
the lightning crashes growing increasingly loud.
Oblivious to nature's artillery, on the night of May 5, 1837, two
officers of the Republic of Texas' army lay asleep in their tent
at Camp Bowie on the east side of the Navidad River in Jackson
County. Only one of them would wake up.
G. Cooke had served as acting Secretary of War before being commissioned
by President Sam
Houston that February as the Army's inspector general. The Virginian
had come to Texas in 1835, actively
participating in the revolution against Mexico, including the Battle
of San Jacinto.
On the cot across from Cooke lay Major Henry Teal, a regimental
commander. An adventurer tough enough to survive time in a Mexican
prison, Teal, too, had helped Texas
win its independence. But Teal had another side. In his 1938 book
"Cavalcade of Jackson County," author Ira T. Taylor called the major
"a half-instructed martinet" lacking in the "tact and discrimination
so essential for the command of soldiers."
Sometime during the night, as the squall line blew toward the camp,
someone approached the tent shared by the two officers. Waiting
until he saw a flash of light foretelling of another rolling concussion
from the heavens, the man pressed the barrel of his gun against
the tent canvas. In a scene that would have done Shakespeare credit,
he pulled the trigger and faded into the darkness.
If anyone heard the shot, no one stirred, not even one of the men
in the tent.
Sometime the following morning, Cooke awakened from a solid night's
sleep. Swinging his legs off his cot, he saw his fellow officer
lying in a pool of coagulated blood. Cooke yelled for the guard
and the surgeon, but the doctor could do nothing other than declare
that Teal had died of a contact gunshot wound.
Soon soldiers and other officers, including camp commander Col.
Joseph H.D. Rogers, crowded around the tent to take one last look
at Teal. The killer likely stood among them, but if anyone knew
who had assassinated the major, no one talked and no charges preferred.
army, under the command of Gen. Felix Huston, had been camped in
since December 1836. By that time, most of the men who had fought
and won the revolution had left the army. The majority of the remaining
1,200 soldiers were recent arrivals from the United States, more
interested in the prospect of free land than keeping Texas free
from Mexico. Most of them liked to drink and were not particularly
impressed with military discipline. Even Huston and Gen. Albert
Sidney Johnston had fought a duel.
Boys will be boys, but the situation was getting out of hand. At
one of the nearby camps, someone not impressed with Capt. Adam Clendennin's
leadership style placed an artillery shell under his cot. When the
shell did not explode, soldiers trained a loaded cannon on his quarters,
opening up with rifle fire.
Clendennin managed to restore order, succeeding in getting the mutineers
under arrest. In the court-martial that followed, a military panel
found the men guilty. But for trying to kill an officer, their only
punishment was dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of pay and loss
of their military service land bounty.
next mutinous action, Teal's cold-blooded murder, indicated the
Texas Army was virtually out of control. The slaying of an officer,
no matter how unpopular, convinced Houston that the Texas Army had
become more dangerous to Texas than
May 19, he signed an order furloughing two-thirds of the men.
That cut the Army of the new republic to less than 600 men, who
Secretary of War William S. Fisher sent to garrison San
Antonio and Galveston.
The furloughed scattered across the republic.
eight years later, three men rode from Gonzales
where two of them intended to take a boat to New Orleans. James
Matthew Jett, a former Texas Ranger, and Simeon Bateman, one of
Texas' earliest colonists, intended to buy slaves. John G. Schultz,
a German who had served in the republic's army, went along to return
their horses to Gonzales
after the other two men boarded the steamer.
But while they were asleep at Virginia Point, not far from their
Texas destination, Schultz shot them
and stole their money. Schultz thought he had killed both men, and
he had, but Bateman survived long enough to make a dying declaration
Ten years went by before Schultz' arrest. Once he was in custody,
however, the criminal justice system moved rapidly. A Galveston
County jury convicted him of murder and assessed his penalty
as death. The case went to the Texas Supreme Court, which upheld
The killer went to the gallows on Galveston Island on June 29, 1855.
Before the noose broke his neck, Schultz said he wanted to get something
off his chest. He was the one who killed Teal that stormy night
in Jackson County,
17 years earlier.
© Mike Cox
- April 3 , 2004 column, Republished June
19, 2014 column
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