by Luke Warm
"…..at a table for two - there was four of us;
Me, your big feet and you". - Fats Waller
of "Bigfoot" Wallace
Courtesy Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, Texas
A name as long as William Alexander Anderson Wallace demands
a nickname. The reason for Mr. Wallace's particular nickname is easy
to explain. The guy simply had big feet. The name has been spelled
Big Foot, Bigfoot and Big-Foot. Wallace wasn't bothered by the name
at all - in fact he once said he prefered it over "Lying Wallace"
or "Thieving Wallace".
Naturally, the reader should be curious by now just how large Mr.
Wallace's pedal extremities were. It took some research to find out
- but they measured 11 and 3/4 inches. This doesn't seem so large
today, but Wallace at 6' 2" and 240 pounds was considered quite large
by early 19th century standards.
There are at least two stories on the origin of his nickname. Wallace
(who was likely never to repeat the same story twice) said that in
Austin around 1839, his
footprints were confused with those of a well known (and presumably
easy to track) Indian who went by the name Big Foot.
The other story had its origin when he was a prisoner in Mexico.
Being issued prison clothing - al the other prisoners received sandals
except for Wallace who, because of his big feet, had to have his footwear
made on the spot. But we're getting ahead of our story…..
Wallace was of Scottish heritage and was a descendant of the
William Wallace that the movie Braveheart
was based on. (See Readers'
Comments.) In fact, the reason he came to Texas
(from Lexington, Virginia) was to avenge the deaths of a cousin and
brother who had served with Fannin and were killed at Goliad.
In another account Wallace said it was two brothers and a cousin.
| The Mier
He arrived in Texas in 1837 and joined a Ranger Company under the
Captaincy of John
Coffee Hays. Hays and his men attacked the rear-guard of the Mexican
General Adrian Woll after his hit-and-run invasion of San Antonio
in the Spring of 1842. Later that year Wallace joined the Somervell
Expedition. This was a punitive foray to even the score and
there was also the added incentive of plunder.
The party turned back when they discovered there was nothing on Mexico's
border to pillage. But a splinter group mutinied and continued into
Mexico, determined to make it worth their time and trouble. This was
later called the Mier
Expedition after the town in Mexico
where they were surrounded and captured by a force ten times their
After being moved into the interior of Mexico
the group escaped, but their freedom was brief. They were rounded
up and made to participate in what has become known as the "Black
Bean Incident". This was a lottery in which 159 white and 17 black
beans were drawn from a crock to determine which men (one in ten)
would be executed. A black bean meant execution; a white bean meant
prison. Wallace, always a non-conformist, drew a gray bean. The Mexican
Officer in charge determined the bean to be white and he was thereby
He survived an 800-mile march to Perote prison in the state
of Vera Cruz and was eventually released by a petition signed
by several United States Congressmen.
Since the captives were allowed free access to quills and ink - many
letters and memoirs were published about their captivity and it remains
one of the most written-about incidents (by the participants) in Texas
history. Surprisingly, Wallace is hardly mentioned in the many accounts
of the group's imprisonment. It seems he spent his time taking mental
notes and didn't call much attention to himself.
Once he went without water for 6 days and then drank an entire gallon
at once. His fellow prisoners attempted to stop him, but he fought
them off. He collapsed in sleep and everyone, including his captors,
never expected him to awaken. He awoke the next day refreshed and
famished for the remainder of the mule meat he had been living on.
On another occasion he ate 27eggs at one time (after another prolonged
fast) and then walked into town for a full breakfast. These are typical
of the stories told about Wallace - unusual and extraordinary, but
also served in the Mexican War as a Texas Ranger and
later commanded a ranger company of his own in the 1850s.
He once took a job carrying mail between San
Antonio and El
Paso. In those days mail routes were adventures that required
more skills than filling out change of address cards or dealing with
barking dogs. Over the years his willingness to recount his adventures
insured he would become a genuine Texas legend. He never told a story
he couldn't later improve upon.The last years of Wallace's life were
spent in a small town in Frio County. As Wallace told biographer James
Day: "I now reside on San Miguel Creek in Frio County and I
live on prickly
pear and red pepper. I follow my own cow with a dog for a living".
Photo by John Troesser, 6-02
The community renamed itself in honor of their resident celebrity
In 1870 The Adventures of Big Foot Wallace, The Texas Ranger
was published and later went into multiple printings - becoming, perhaps,
the first best-selling book on a Texas personality.
When Wallace died in 1899, the State of Texas had his body
brought to Austin to
be buried in The
Texas State Cemetery.
June 2001 Feature
The Handbook of Texas Online
Soldiers of Misfortune: The Somervell and Mier Expeditions by Sam
W. Haynes, UT Press, 1990
Black Beans and Goose Quills: Literature on the Mier Expedition by
James M. Day, Texian Press, 1970
After reading your article today about my ancestor, William "Bigfoot"
Wallace, I was somewhat appalled at the reader's comment at the
bottom of the page. Bigfoot was a Great-Great-Great Uncle of mine!
I have grown up hearing the stories about him! We ARE descended
from Sir William Wallace of Scotland(Braveheart). Thank you.
Sincerely, Terry Smith, June 12, 2006
I was looking through your well done and entertaining website when
I noticed that your historical article on "Big Foot" Wallace lists
him as a direct descendent of William Wallace of Scotland ("Braveheart).
William Wallace died without legitimate issue or any known or claimed
illegitimate issue. There are no direct descendenta of William Wallace,
Big Foot or otherwise. - Lynn & the Rowdy Dogs of Malinois d'Utile,
December 10, 2004
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