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by Luke Warm

"…..at a table for two - there was four of us;
Me, your big feet and you". - Fats Waller
Big Foot Wallace portrait
Portrait of "Bigfoot" Wallace
Courtesy Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, Texas
The Name

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.
* * * * *
The Stories

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 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.
* * * * *
Wallace 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".
Big Foot Wallace grave
Wallace's Tombstone at the Texas State Cemetery
Photo by John Troesser, 6-02
Big Foot Wallace tombstone
Wallace's Tombstone (detail)
Photo by John Troesser, 6-02
The community renamed itself in honor of their resident celebrity (See Bigfoot, Texas).

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.

© John Troesser
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

"Bigfoot" Wallace Related Articles

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    Forum - 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: BigFoot Wallace
    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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