"Battle of Salado Creek"

Gen. Adrian Woll

  On September 17, 1842, six years after the Texan victory at San Jacinto, General Adrian Woll, a French born officer fighting for Mexico, once again entered Texas and captured San Antonio.  The district court was in session, and the members were taken as prisoners.  The news flew down the country and spread from settlement to settlement, and again, the call to arms was sounded to repel another Mexican invasion.

This call was promptly obeyed by the brave pioneers of the Guadalupe, San Marcos, and Colorado valleys.  And as they had before, Captain Jack Hays, Mathew (Old Paint) Caldwell and others, rallied their chosen scouts and rangers around them.

Caldwell was in command of the force, which amounted to about 200 men.  They rode to a point around seven miles northeast of San Antonio, where they stopped and took a position behind a bank along Salado creek.

Jack Hays
Mathew Caldwell
Henry McCulloch
Ben McCulloch

Jack Hays and his first lieutenant Henry McCulloch, along with his brother Ben McCulloch, took about fifty men into San Antonio to draw the Mexicans out.  When they came within half a mile of the Alamo, their plan initiated and some Mexican cavalry began chasing them back towards Salado Creek and Caldwell's awaiting Texan force.  Henry had selected ten men to cover the retreat.  The Mexicans made a desperate effort to cut Hays off by passing up on his right flank, but McCulloch kept between them and the Mexicans until they safely reached the trees.  

The entire Mexican army then came out from San Antonio, and crossing the creek, took up a position on the hillside, east of Caldwell's position.  The time was 1:45 PM when the Mexicans set up cannons and opened fire on the Texans.  Caldwell's men were protected from the cannon fire by the embankment.  The only immediate danger was from the shattering pecan trees and large limbs coming down on them from overhead.  Seeing that he couldn't dislodge them with artillery, the Mexican commander ordered a charge.  Up to this point, the Texans hadn’t fired a single shot.  The cannons ceased, bugles sounded, and the rush of tramping feet was heard in the flat as the Mexicans charged.

(Location today in San Antonio is just N of Rittman Rd. on Holbrook Rd. (Note that this map is looking West.)

The embankment where the Texan army was positioned below the Prescot House.
Looking NE up the ravine.
Cordova was killed on the hillside to the right.

Vicente Cordova was a well known Spaniard who organized Indians against the Texans.  He ordered a group of Indians to move up the creek behind the Texan line.  A Texan named Simon Cockerell had been sent to watch the creek, and was riding his horse through the trees along the bank.  The Indians rose up and shot him, breaking his arm.  His horse reared and spun around, and Simon narrowly escaped capture as they dashed towards him, and after rounding a bend just out of their sight, he dropped out of his saddle and into the creek.  With his remaining good arm, he pushed himself under the water beneath a tree that was leaning over the creek, leaving only his nose and mouth barely above the water.  The Indians went right by him.  (He did make it back to the main group later, covered with mud, wet and wounded).

Caldwell formed his men into two ranks and gave orders to alternate firing.  Half of the men were to reserve their fire, while those in front would fire and then step back to reload.  "Old Parson Carroll," a Methodist preacher, would step up on the bank, fire, and follow it by shouting "God take your souls!" He would then step back, reload, and repeat the shout after each time he stepped up and fired.  

Caldwell also sent some men down each direction of the creek to make sure that the enemy wasn't attempting to surround them.  

Salado Creek, behind the Texan position

The Mexicans came up to within forty yards of the line, but the Texans held firm behind the bank. General Cordova was advancing with another group of Indians along the south side of the ravine that intersected the creek. He was taking cover behind a mesquite tree, but as he moved out from behind it to race to another tree, he was shot and instantly killed.  

The Texans now began hearing muskets and cannon fire from a short distance away, but couldn't understand what was happening.  Boom after boom came ringing across the prairie, and they hoped it was more Texan reinforcements on their way to help.  Only later did they learn that it was the Dawson Company from LaGrange attempting to reach them and had come up on the rear of the Mexican army, who ended up turning their cannons on them and killing all but two of them.

The Mexicans had to advance very close before they could see the Texans, and then firing their Spanish escopete muskets, they would fall back with the deadly fire of the Texan rifles.  A loud, keen yell went up from the Texans as the Mexicans broke and dashed back in disordered squads out of range, leaving quite a number killed and wounded behind them.  The Texans as yet, had not lost a man, but did have a few wounded.  One of the Texans that was wounded was a very large, very hungry man.  Earlier, just as Hays and McCulloch had come riding back into their position with the Mexican cavalry hot on their heels, he had just started to cook some raw beef over a fire.  Hearing the call to arms, he began eating large chunks of the meat as fast as he could.  He was running with his rifle and still had a large piece of meat dangling from his mouth when he was hit in the stomach by a Mexican ball.  This resulted in the beef coming back up...violently!  His comrades who witnessed the scene thought he was dying a "...strange and most hideous death."  But as it turned out, the bullet didn't kill him.  After the doctor examined him, and being unable to find the bullet, said it was the most fortunate shot he'd ever seen.  "If it had not been for the beef" he said, "the bullet would have killed him, and if it had not been for the bullet, the beef would have killed him."

Before leaving San Antonio to march to the site of the battle, a group of Mexicans soldiers had been given all the mescal alcohol they wanted.  Now being completely under the influence during the battle, they apparently lost their fear of the Texans rifles.  Throwing away their hats, they came racing down the hill "bareheaded and yelling like Indians." They didn't stop when fired upon, but “came on like demons.” For a few moments, the cracking of rifles and the yells of the combatants rose like a fireworks finale’. But drunk or sober, they couldn't stand the deadly Texan fire at short range, and they again turned and ran back, followed by scattering shots and loud yells.

It seems somewhat surprising that Caldwell's 200 men could defeat such a large force of Mexicans numbering nearly a thousand men, but their superior marksmanship and previous fighting experience made them a force to be reckoned with. They had all seen service before, some having been with Bowie at Mission Concepcion and the storming of San Antonio; some in the charge at San Jacinto and Plum Creek, and nearly all had fought Indians and were splendid marksmen.  And there were no better commanders than Caldwell, Hays, and the McCullochs.

At around 2:30 PM, or 45 minutes after the battle started, the firing ceased on the prairie.  The Texans held their position next to the creek until a scout came in and reported that the Mexican army had gone back to San Antonio. Another small party was sent out to see what had been causing the firing that they heard on the prairie east of them, and upon finding the bodies of the Dawson Company they returned with the sad news.  Rufus Perry* and two other men came into the Texan camp with them. They had witnessed the attack from a hill to the  north of Dawson's position.   ​

Z.N. Morrell, a Baptist preacher from La Grange with the Texan force, knew that any men with Dawson would have come from his neighborhood.  Fear suddenly struck him as he realized that his son Allen, whom he’d left at home, might have joined in with them when Dawson came through looking for volunteers.  He quickly mounted his horse and set out for the scene of the massacre to see if his boy was there.  He searched among the dead, and to his relief, could not find his son.  But all around him were the faces of his neighbors whom, only a few days before he had left at their homes in good health, and with a prospect of long life before them, and now "they were stark and stiff on the battlefield."  As it turned out, Allen Morrell HAD joined in with the Dawson Company, but had been wounded and taken prisoner.  A mexican woman who was a friend of the Texans ran up to Pastor Morrell when the company rode back into San Antonio and she said, "Oh, Mr. Morrell...I stood here on the sidewalk and looked at the prisoners as they marched them up the street, and your son was with them; he had his coat off, and was all bloody."

Site of the Dawson Company massacre

General Woll didn’t stop in San Antonio for long.  He left with his troops and soon put the Rio Grande between them and the infuriated Texans.  The prisoners from the Dawson's massacre were taken to Mexico and confined in the dungeons of Perote prison.  

 

Two years passed before the young Allen Morrell came limping back home and was once again reunited with his father.

Paraphrased and edited from “Rangers and Pioneers of Texas” by A.J. Sowell 1884

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