"The men of Texas deserved much credit, but more was due the women. Armed men facing a foe could not but be brave; but the women, with their little children around them, without means of defense or power to resist, faced danger and death with unflinching courage."
Gen. Thomas J. Rusk
Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11 and calling the men together at DeWitt's Tavern, he delivered a short speech of the dangers that was facing the Republic, and closing with an appeal to every Texan to be loyal and true in that hour of need. He described this little army as being "half-fed, half-clad and half-armed."
A short time later, two Tejanos rode into Gonzales with news that the Alamo had fallen and all of the defenders had been killed. Houston immediately had both men arrested and held until he could find out if their news was true, as well as keeping this news from starting a panic among the settlers. He sent out Erastus "Deaf" Smith and Henry Karnes to ride the road between Gonzales and San Antonio. Houston then sent a message to Fannin at Goliad with orders to gather his army, as well as all of the women and children there, blow up the fort, and leave towards Victoria with whatever artillery they could take, and to move quickly.
The news from San Antonio came back in quickly. Henry Karnes came galloping into town with news from Deaf Smith stating that they had met Susanna Dickinson with her daughter on the road confirming the fate of the Alamo. There were many citizens of Gonzales who had gone to help defend the Alamo, and perished in the slaughter. John Jenkins remembered most distinctly the "...shrieks of despair with which the soldiers' wives received the news of the death of their husbands."
"The Runaway Scrape"
Mesquite wood with flower petal inlay from the field at Peach Creek
The men of the Texian army were in despair as well, and then they got mad. There were heated debates over what route the army should take. Many wanted to stand and fight; and some spoke for retreat. A large number of men immediately deserted and left with their families, fearing for their welfare. Houston was visibly upset as well, and stated that they should retreat, and help the women and children east to evacuate the country. He gave his men orders to prepare to march, and lacking horses, they burned many tents and provisions that they couldn't carry or didn't want the Mexican army to have. They left on the road heading east out of Gonzales just before midnight. He also gave orders to burn Gonzales behind them so as to not leave anything that the Mexican army could use.
Earlier, picket guards had been sent out a few miles west of Gonzales, and now, the town evacuated so quickly that they forgot to notify them as to what was happening, so riders had to be sent back for them.
Thus started the "Runaway Scrape" as the news spread across the countryside. Houston's army and the remaining citizens of Gonzales headed towards Peach Creek and the house of Bartlett and Sara McClure, which they reached about an hour before daylight. The order was given to halt in the field surrounding a large oak tree in front of the house. "Never was an order more promptly obeyed. Many of the men didn't even take time to spread their blankets, but just laid down on the bare ground with their knapsacks under their heads, and were almost instantly asleep." This tree at McClure's became known as the "Runaway Speech Oak" and the "Sam Houston Oak." Santa Anna is said to have later stayed in this same location as he followed them east.
Bartlett & Sarah McClure's House at Peach Creek- The Houston Oak is the farthest to the right.
Houston had sent messengers out to warn the settlers to head east and get out of the country as fast as they could. False rumors of Gonzales being burned by the Mexican army and all the women and children killed fueled the panic even more. The settlers grabbed what they could and ran. Houses were left standing open, beds unmade, and breakfast things still on the tables. Being early spring, the range stock were in a weakened condition and there was a shortage of animals to pull wagons. They were in poor condition for such a trip. If they did have a horse or oxen, small carts were filled with whatever they could grab and they left. And then there was the terrible traveling conditions brought on by heavy rains. After a long drought throughout Texas in 1835, the skies opened up and sent torrential rains down upon the fleeing settlers, making the roads a quagmire and filling the rivers from bank to bank. The refugees repeatedly found themselves struggling for miles over bad roads only to be met at the riverbanks with uncross-able fords and crowded ferries. There were broken-down wagons and household goods scattered all along the roads. Many women and children who had no animals walked and carried what they could.
Creed Taylor described it as, "Old men, frail women, and little children, all trudging along. Delicate women trudged alongside their pack horses, carts, or sleds, from day to day until their shoes were literally worn out, then continued the journey with bare feet, lacerated and bleeding at almost every step. Their clothes were scant, and with no means of shelter from the frequent drenching rains and bitter winds, they traveled on through the long days in wet and bedraggled apparel, finding even at night little relief from their suffering, since the wet earth and angry sky offered no relief."
A widow with four little children whose father had perished in the Alamo was among the refugees. Just after crossing the Colorado, the unfortunate woman became a mother for the fifth time. A family having a rickety open wagon drawn by two lean ponies, gave the helpless mother a bed and transportation by throwing part of their belongings from the wagon to make room for this women whom they had never met before. And whether the chilling storms came during the day or night, willing volunteers held blankets over the mother and her baby to protect them from the downpours.
It was no uncommon sight to see women and children without shoes, and otherwise thinly clad, wading in mud and chilling water almost to their knees. Almost hourly, a cart or wagon would become mired in the mud, and without calling out for help, those nearby would join together to help them get going again. But in proportion, the men were few, and so the women and children were those who performed most of the labor.
"If there was sickness, help was extended, and no morsel of food was withheld from the hungry."
They had to live on wild game, and without any bread. "We ate it dried, fried, boiled, broiled, stewed, baked and roasted, but we had to live on it so long that we became tired of it."
Stephen Sparks told about an incident that happened along the trail. A man, along with his wife and three young children, were making their way along with around ten or twelve head of cattle and a pony. The husband was driving the cattle, and his wife was riding the pony with their youngest child seated behind her. Before they got to Washington, some people passed them and told them to go as fast as they could as the Mexicans were close behind. This was more than the heroic man could stand. He told his wife that it would be better for one of them to escape, than for all to be killed. So he reached up and took his wife and child down off of the horse, and left them standing in the road as he galloped off towards the river crossing. His wife quietly stood there as he rode away, and a few moments later, she calmly gathered her children together and explained to them what they needed to do. She carried what belongings she could, and the children drove the cows.
In an hour or so, they had their chance to cross the river, and she found her husband sitting under a tree. She walked straight up to him and said, "Now YOU...go get behind that breast-work and fight!"
He replied, "No, I won't do it. Everybody that stays and fights will surely be killed."
She yelled back at him, "Well I will...if I can get a gun!! I'll be damned if I don't go and fight with those men." Sparks and his comrade, Howard Bailey, were sitting behind the breast-works watching this exchange between the couple. Bailey had an old musket leaning up next to him which he pointed to and said, "Madam, here is a gun."
She quickly walked over, snatched the gun up, and proceeded to take a position next to the men. She stayed over half the night behind the breast-works helping to guard the river crossing before being ordered to leave and move her children to a safer location farther east.
One night, a body of armed men rode in and camped. They were volunteers from Tennessee led by Captain Crockett, a nephew of Davy Crockett en route to the Alamo. They had not yet heard of the fall of the fortress. Among the refugees was a Mrs. Moss and her invalid husband in an ox-drawn wagon. The volunteers needed more pack animals, and decided that they would take the Moss' yoke of oxen. As they were inspecting them, Mrs. Moss stepped forward, and raised her pistol saying, "I will kill the first man that attempts to take my oxen." One of the men made a step forward, and she leveled her pistol at him and said, "Take another step and you die," and she meant it. Captain Crockett ordered his men back and said to leave the Moss' oxen as they were.
While this same group of refugees were later stopped near San Augustine, they were startled by the firing of cannons coming from the town. A few minutes later, some men came galloping in at full speed, shouting at the top of their voices, "Hurrah for Texas, Houston has taken Santa Anna and his army prisoners." The entire group wept for joy and embraced each other.
Towards sunset at a different camp of refugees farther east near Liberty, a woman standing on a small hill on the outskirts of the camp began to clap her hands and started jumping and shouting 'Hallelujah! Hallelujah!' Those watching her started wondering if she had lost her mind, but then a few moments later, a rider came over the hill galloping fast towards the camp, his horse covered with foam, and he was waving his hat and shouting, 'San Jacinto! San Jacinto! The Mexicans are whipped and Santa Anna a prisoner!'?
Of the hundreds of groups of refugees thad made the torturous journey, many stories of tragedy and sorrow followed the trails of the Runaway Scrape. And as they began to return to their homes, many found that they had been ransacked, looted, and the property that they'd left behind destroyed. This could have been done by Mexican soldiers, or even Texians that needed to find provisions to be able to continue on. Others came home to find everything just as they had left it, with the plates of their dinner still on the tables which they had jumped up from when they heard the news to flee.
Dilue Rose Harris, who was 11 years old at the time, described a sad story of the King family as they were attempting to return home. They had to cross a rain-swollen bayou, and as Mr. King had safely gotten his family across, he was swimming back to get his horses. As he was nearing the opposite bank, a large alligator surfaced. The man's wife first saw it and screamed, and as his family looked on, the alligator struck Mr. King with its tail, and he went under. Several men fired their guns at it, but it did no good.
Compiled paraphrased and edited from online resources, including;
The Handbook of Texas online
Texas A&M- Sons of Dewitt Colony