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Texas | Columns | "Texas Tales"

Mutiny, Murder
and
a Gallows Confession

by Mike Cox
Mike Cox

A 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.

William 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.


Texas' army, under the command of Gen. Felix Huston, had been camped in Jackson County 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.


The 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 Mexico. On 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.


Nearly eight years later, three men rode from Gonzales for Galveston, 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 identifying Schultz.

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 conviction.

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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