World War II,
German prisoners of war who had fought in North Africa under the
legendary Gen. Erwin Rommel – a.k.a. “The Desert Fox.”
More than a century earlier and only a short distance from the WWII
prison camp, Liberty
held Mexican soldiers who had fought under Gen. Santa Anna at San
In both cases, with the Germans in the 1940s and Mexicans in the
1830s, the people of Liberty
treated the prisoners humanely and with dignity.
Miriam Partlow, in her book on Liberty
County history, wrote that the German prisoners “received about
the same kind of friendly treatment that the Mexican prisoners of
1836-37 did when camped only three miles to the north on the land
of Judge William Hardin. In some ways Liberty
is an unusual city. Possibly some of its steady and healthy growth
is due to a friendly spirit among all races and creeds, including
Indians and captured prisoners."
Mexican Hill, where the Mexican prisoners stayed in Liberty,
is the name of the historical marker on the north edge of Highway
The inscription says, “Here Mexican soldiers captured at San
Jacinto were held from Aug. 28, 1836, to April 25, 1837, when
all were released. The kind treatment accorded them by the owners
of the plantation Judge and Mrs. William Hardin, induced many of
them to become citizens of Texas.”
The highest ranking Mexican officer imprisoned at Liberty
was Gen. Martin Perfecto de Cos, brother-in-law of Gen.
Santa Anna. A street in Liberty
is named for Cos and another for Santa Anna.
Cos and Judge Hardin became friends and Hardin allowed him and other
Mexican officers a lot of leeway in Liberty.
They were free to walk around the town, and if anyone mistreated
them or spoke out of line, they had to answer to Judge Hardin.
In April 1837
the people of Liberty
petitioned to the government requesting that the Mexican prisoners
be released – and they were.
Col. Pedro Delgado, in his book, “Mexican Account of the Fall
of San Jacinto,” had high praise for the Hardin family. “Oh,
virtuous family,” he wrote. “How great and how many your exertions
have been to relieve the degree of our sorrowful and destitute condition.
Oh William Hardin! Thy name and that of thy noble wife will be imperishable
in the hearts of the Mexican prisoners, who, victims of fate, suffered
the unexpected disaster of San
Jacinto. … I will never cease to proclaim and praise thy meritorious
and charitable conducted towards us.”
Carmody, when she attended Lee College, wrote a research paper on
the German POWs in Liberty
during World War
II. She said the typical prisoner was about 20 years old, tall
and handsome. Some of the prisoners were top officers in Rommel’s
L. Delaney of Liberty served as the prison camp physician and established
lifelong friendships among some of the prisoners.
Located at the site of the Trinity Valley Exposition fairgrounds,
the prison camp housed 500 men. Their main assignment was to help
harvest the abundant rice crops in the Liberty
area. Liberty County
Agent Gordon Hart served as the intermediary between the government
and the local rice farmers, making arrangements for when and where
German prisoners also worked for Elmer Gray, who owned a lumber
business in Baytown,
and they helped to build houses in the Morrell Park subdivision
Like others, Gray established lasting friendships among the prisoners,
admiring their work skills and their willingness to work.
“The Desert Fox” taught them well.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
September 1, 2012 column