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".
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.
Mier Expedition |
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 size.
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 spared death.
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 entirely possible.
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".
Tombstone (detail) |
Photo by John Troesser, 6-02
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
- Bigfoot Wallace:
Subject: Bigfoot Wallace
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 Subject:
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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