Remarkable Story of a Very Old Man - Amasa Clark
Amasa Clark, who in the ruggedness of young manhood penetrated the onetime wilderness where Bandera now stands, is the living proof that fourscore and ten and even more years are not always a handicap to activities late in life. For almost three-quarters of a century he has been living near Bandera. His advent there had all of the thrills of pioneering in a savage-infested country, devoid of even crude comforts except those that hardy souls might create in the strenuous struggle of hewing a path for civilization.
A word painter, with vision enough to grasp history in the making, could weave a wonderful story of the life of this grand old man, Amasa Clark, who looks serenely back upon almost a hundred years of the greatest changes the world has ever known. Men have looked with awe upon some inanimate object—a tree or a towering peak—that has stood immutable amid the great changes of the years. Amasa Clark has watched changes as great, and more, he can tell of them. His memory is fresh and he tells the story with interest and spirit.
Born on Socharrie Creek, in Socharrie County, New York, September 3, 1828, only a few years after Old Hickory whipped the British at New Orleans, and before the Alamo and San Jacinto field were baptized into immortality by the blood of Texas heroes, he has passed through five wars on the soil of the United States. Thus he faced all the dangers, hardships and privations that were the lot of those who went ahead to soften the wilderness for the tender feet of civilization.
From the time when armies were contending with muzzleloading muskets,and wooden frigates sailed the seas, he has watched the science of warfare develop into a systematic slaughter by aerial monsters hurled by a tremendous force of explosives a thousand times more powerful than the gunpowder that prostrated the American Indians with awe at the coming of the first white men. He has lived from the time when solid shot was the greatest weapon at the command of the armies to the day of the explosive shell which sweeps all things living from vast areas.
He has watched the trail of wild things through the wilderness metamorphosed into teeming paths of commerce. He has seen the primeval water, which formerly stirred only at the thrust of the savage canoe, ripple proudly before the bow of the river steamer. He has seen the place of the ox drawn vehicle taken by the high powered automobile and the giant airplanes contending for the supremacy of the air. Amasa Clark has seen much, and it is his earnest hope that he may live to see society and its foster father, Civilization, triumph at last in the realization of universal peace.
When Amasa Clark came into this world Texas was a province, the home of wild beasts and savage men; a province whose rivers, mountains and plains were unexplored, and whose future found Amasa Clark outline only in the ambitious plans of a Burr, a Wilkinson, or a Blannerhassett. When but a lad he left his native State, New York, and enlisted in the army, and valiantly fought his way from Vera Cruz to Chapultepec with Gen. Scott,and when victory had crowned the American arms there, he came to Texas. Here he cast his lot to blaze the way for oncoming generations. He has seen the signal fires of the savage gleam from a thousand peaks and has followed their encrimsoned trail across a thousand hills and plains along the vast extent of our Texas border. Sitting upon the the pedestal of years, he can now look down upon an Empire State where savage invasion is only a memory; where homes, towns and cities dot the land, where a million boys and girls go to school, and with lofty and exultant pride may well this venerated father exclaim: "I was an humble factor in this wonderful achievement!"
Like most men of his advanced age, the period of second childhood has succeeded that of vigorous manhood, but the memory fraught with the record of three generations is not bedimmed by the frailties of extreme age, and he has a ready recollection of events and incidents of early days that is, to say the least remarkable. Just a question or a suggestion is all that is needed to awaken his memory and he unfolds narrative after narrative of thrilling events of the distant past. Incidents of his early childhood days are clearly remembered by him, and he relates them to his grandchildren and great grandchildren today.
He claims his age is 96, and has records to prove it. He is still a well preserved man, and quite active in mind and body. He has never used tobacco or liquor and is proud of it. His eyesight is not good, and besides using spectacles he is compelled to use also a magnifying glass when reading fine print. His hearing is somewhat impaired, yet he can hear when addressed in loud tones. Mr. Clark is today drawing a pension of $50 per month from the Government for his service in the Mexican War, and expressed the confidence recently that this pension would soon be increased to $72 per month. Mr. Clark manages his own farm, looks after his business affairs with the same ability he has always displayed. He gets about without the aid of a cane, his step is sprightly, and his extreme age is indicated only by his stooped shoulders and white hair. In appearance he would easily pass for a man about 68 or 70 years.
Mr. Clark is the father of 19 children, several of whom are now old men and women. All of his children are living except two. He has been married twice. His present wife, one son and wife constitute the family at the old homestead today. He has a beautiful farm four miles southwest of Bandera. Here he has spent many years. Many years ago he was successfully engaged in the fruit and nursery business on this place, but he has long since abandoned the nursery, and devotes his attention now to his pear orchard. He determined many years ago to demonstrate that Bandera County was a fruit country, and his only regret is he did not commence sooner.
At the close of the Mexican War, Mr.Clark was discharged from the service at San Elizario, near El Paso. He then went to San Antonio from there to the Fredericksburg Crossing on the Guadalupe, and soon after came to the present site of Bandera, in 1852. At that time there were but three families living in tents, and all were engaged in making shingles from the cypress timber. The names of the men then in camp were Judge Saner, later of Boerne, and Milstead and Odom. The latter gentleman was afterwards a member of the State Legislature. At that time Bandera County was unorganized, but was attached to Bexar County. Castroville, about 35miles below, had been settled only a few years before by French and German colonists. Game of all kinds was abundant.
Shortly after Mr. Clark arrived in this region some Mormon families came and established a settlement, and later 16 families of Polish colonists arrived from the old country and located here, and the town of Bandera had a beginning. Mr. Clark remembers nearly all of these early settlers and when he meets their descendants today he greets them in the usual familiar way and calls them by name. Only a few days ago I asked him if he knew a certain man, who is past 70 years old, and Mr. Clark promptly answered, "Oh, yes, I knew him when he was a little boy, tied to his momma's apron strings."
He recounts many interesting events of the early times, tragedies that have taken place, weddings of early citizens, and is authority on anything of a historical character that concerns this region. His reminiscences would fill a volume, if he recited only the things that he has witnessed in Bandera County. He has never aspired to public office. He was once elected Sheriff of this county, but declined the office. He has materially assisted in the organization of the country, and in developing its resources. He attributes his long life to the climatic conditions, to the good water, and to clean habits. He says this is the best country on earth.
Mr. Clark narrowly missed death a few years after he came to Bandera. Himself, Dr. Thompson and a Mr. Kindla, went to San Antonio in a wagon and on their return trip camped on the road five miles from that town. The weather was cold and they slept on pallets on the ground near the campfire. Robbers had followed them from San Antonio, and stealing upon them while they slept, struck the three men on the head, robbed them and pillaged the wagon. Dr. Thompson was killed where he lay, and the other two, Mr.Clark and Mr. Kindla, were rendered insensible. Some time near morning Mr. Clark regained consciousness, and realizing that something was wrong he crawled to where Dr. Thompson lay, and found him dead. He then crawled to Mr. Kindla and found him still unconscious. About sunup he managed to hitch the oxen to the wagon, and by almost superhuman effort succeeded in getting Kindla aboard, and started for Mr. Milstead's house, a few miles away, arriving there in a dazed condition. The alarm was raised and a party repaired to the scene of the tragedy.
An old rusty escopete barrel was found lying in the camp the weapon which was used by the robbers in doing murderous work. Mr. Clark left a trail of blood wherever he went while getting the oxen and hitching them to the wagon. Very little money was secured by the robbers, as these three men had invested what few dollars they possessed in supplies while in, town but most of these supplies were taken from the wagon and carried off. The body of Dr. Thompson was taken to San Antonio and buried. A vigilance committee was organized and took the trail of the robbers. Two desperadoes, named Augustine and Hart, were suspected of this crime, and when the vigilance committee came upon Hart in San Antonio a desperate battle ensued, which resulted in the death of Hart, Bill Stroupe, the city marshal was killed by Hart in this fight. He had 18 bullets in his body when he fell. Augustine made his escape.
Mr. Clark and Mr. Kindla remained under treatment in San Antonio until able to return home, but Kindla never entirely recovered, and died two years later from the effects of his wounds. He has a son, E. F. Kindla, living in Bandera still. Mr. Clark recovered completely, but two or three sunken places on his head plainly show where he was struck by the gun barrel over 60 years ago. He often tells his visitors about the time when he was "murdered by robbers," and says the reason he did not know anything about it at the time was because he was sound asleep.
He relates his experiences in the Mexican War as follows:
"On the 9th day of March 1847, Gen. Scott landed his army of 12,000 men from a fleet of one hundred and sixty-three transports, just below Vera Cruz. Ten days later, having placed his batteries in position, he demanded the surrender of the city, and when his demand was met with refusal heavy bombardment was begun from shore and from the ships in the harbor. Vera Cruz withstood the siege for eight days but the terrific fire of shot and shell compelled its capitulation, and on the 26th of March, Scott's army marched in and took possession. During the bombardment over a thousand lives were lost. San Juan de Ulua, a strong fortress, which stood on an island in the harbor was captured with the city.
"On account of the sickly locality, and pestilential consequences, Gen. Scott did not remain long in the captured city, but almost immediately left the coast and moved forward to the highlands, preparatory to commencing his march on the City of Mexico, the ancient capital of the Aztecs, which over three hundred years before had been taken by Cortez, the Spanish conqueror. By the middle of April we reached the hills, leaving the unhealthy tierra callientas behind us, where the table lands abruptly end above the hot plains, where a river forces itself through deep chasms, and here our road wound through a narrow defile, hewn out of the mountain sides. As we wended our way through this defile, the great mass of troops slowly proceeding on the march, we found our progress obstructed.
"The Mexicans had fortified Cerro Gordo a naturally strong position by erecting breastworks and planting batteries which commanded every point. The top of Cerro Gordo bristled with cannon which could sweep our whole army into a deep ravine if we approached nearer. But Gen. Scott managed to flank the battery, while demonstrations were being made on either side, and our division, under Gen. Twiggs, stormed and carried the center of Cerro Gordo completely routing the Mexicans and turned their own fortification guns upon them. The slaughter was awful, more than a thousand of the enemy being killed and three thousand prisoners being taken. Our army lost about four hundred men. Gen. Santa Anna was in command but he escaped, leaving his wooden leg on the field in his haste to get out of reach of the fury of the Americans. I think, if my memory serves correctly, that Gen. Scott's whole force amounted to about eight thousand men at this time.
ENJOYING THIS STORY?
"Gen. Patterson was on the sick list just before the Cerro Gordo fight, and when the order came for us to prepare to advance against the fortifications, as directed by Gen. Twiggs, the word reached Gen. Patterson, who rising from his sick bed, commanded that all operations against the enemy should cease until Gen. Scott came up with his forces. And a wise decision it was, for if Gen. Twigg's order had been carried out on that occasion it would have meant the complete annihilation of our division. As soon as Gen. Scott arrived and learned the situation he at once began a reconnoitering movement, with the result that he got the enemy's exact location and was enabled to flank them.
"We immediately pushed on, flushed with the victory we had gained, and occupied Jalapa, taking the Castle of Perote, where we captured a great amount of arms and ammunition.
"A portion of our army under General Worth went forward and captured Puebla, a city of 80,000 inhabitants, and it was here that we tarried while Gen. Scott sent emissaries to negotiate peace terms, but without success. Puebla was taken on the 22nd day of May, and on the 7th of August, 1847, we pushed on towards the City of Mexico, ten thousand strong, and every one enthusiastic and confident that we would surmount the mountain barriers that hemmed the beautiful valley of Mexico, and ere long gaze upon the city, we intended to conquer. Three centuries before Cortez had followed this same route.
"On the 10th of August we beheld the extensive valley of Mexico before us. Lakes, plains, cities and snowcapped mountains burst upon our gaze. Away in the distance we saw the great city of the Montezumas, with its lofty dove sand towers. But between that city and our army were strong fortifications and a Mexican army of thirty thousand men under Santa Anna to overcome. On our route stood the hill, El Pinon, which bristled with cannon from base to summit. We took that hill and routed the enemy. I distinctly remember the bloody struggle we had there. From here we marched on and entered the town of San Augustine on the 18th of August. We knew we were in a perilous situation, for we were but a mere ten thousand men almost surrounded by thirty thousand soldiers fighting the invaders of their country, but we were confident and hopeful. I recall the frantic zeal that was apparent on the part of the enemy's leaders. Church bells were cast into cannon, military and religious leaders using every endeavor to arouse patriotism in behalf of their country.
"On August 20 we carried the Mexican camp of Contereras by assault, and on the same day we captured the strong fortress of San Antonio and gained a signal victory at Churubusco. Santa Anna's army, demoralized, fled to the capital, leaving over 4,000 dead on the field and 3,000 prisoners in our hands.
"Within the walls of the convent of Churubusco were gathered the flower of the Mexican defenders, the national guard, besides a band of renegade Irishmen who had deserted from the American ranks and now fought against their own troops. These wretches formed a battalion called St. Patrick's, and as soon as the convent was taken Gen. Twigg dealt with them summarily. The ringleaders were hung and 16 of their followers were unmercifully flogged. Sixteen hundred prisoners were taken at San Antonio, but I do not recall the number of Mexicans killed
"A temporary halt in our onward march was called, to prepare for the assault against the walls of the City of Mexico, and while Gen. Scott was making his preparations the enemy requested an armistice, which was granted, but when Gen. Scott learned that the Mexican general was improving the time by strengthening the defenses of the capital, he declared the armistice at the end of the 7th day of September, 1817.
"We took by storm the strong position of Molino del Rey (King's Mill) on September 8, and the demoralized troops fled toward Chapultepec, where we had a bloody struggle. Chapultepec Castle, now the home of the president of Mexico, was a stronghold that stood on a high eminence overlooking the surrounding country. The walls of this castle were almost impregnable, and it was a difficult undertaking to ascend the steep hillside to scale the walls, but our men knew no such word as failure, and we began the assault with a determination to do or die. We approached with a rush, going from tree to tree, from pillars of the old aqueduct to anything that offered the least protection, and many times having to take open ground and meet the withering fire of the Mexicans, but we kept right on until we went over the walls, and the castle was ours. From its tower our flag soon floated and cheer after cheer rent the air. We had fought all day in taking this fort, and when Old Glory waved proudly from that tower we felt that we had each one performed a soldier's full duty that day.
"That was September 13, 1847, over three score and ten years ago, but as I look back upon that scene and recall the heroism and devotion of my brave comrades in that bloody struggle, I am still proud of our achievement. I understand that that battle ground is today one of the beauty spots of the Mexican Capital, and that a marble monument bearing the names of my comrades who fell there, stands in a beautiful park just a short distance from the castle.
"On September 14 our army, with Gen. Scott at the head, entered the Mexican capital in triumph, and we saw the Stars and Stripes hoisted over the National Palace. Santa Anna and his generals had fled.
"I remained in the City of Mexico nine months, and when the treaty between that country and the United States had been ratified, our troops were withdrawn. During the time I was there I had many thrilling experiences. I remember my first earthquake shock very distinctly. I am not a user of strong drink and never have cared for liquor, but one day I was offered a drink of Mexican brandy, and took a big swallow. When I stepped out on the street a few moments later my head began to spin, my feet became wobbly, and the buildings about me seemed to be swaying. I decided that I was drunk for the first time in my life, but in a few seconds people began to pour out of their house sand run pell melt down the street, some falling on their knees and praying to the saints to protect them, and some screaming that the end of time had come. I could not understand all the commotion, and thought if one drink of that Mexican brandy produced that sort of sensation, what would two drinks produce? It turned out to be a severe earthquake, however, and I was not drunk at all.
"When orders came to leave there, I was anxious to get back to my native land, and went to Vera Cruz, where we took a boat for New Orleans. Reaching New Orleans, we went up the Mississippi River to Bayou Gould. That fall I came to Texas and for a while was stationed at San Elizario, near El Paso.
"When I enlisted it was only for the term of the war, but somehow they got me down for five years. I wrote my father in New York and told him they had me enlisted for five years, and he got an investigation started in the War Department in Washington, with the result that it was found that a mistake had been made, so in a short time my discharge was forthcoming. At the time I was in Company I, Third Infantry,and one day I was called up and told that I was discharged. Lieut. McFerrin informed me that I could remain there and draw rations as long as I wanted to, but I went to El Paso and remained there until Lieut. Meeklin came to that place. Here I met Polly Rodriguez, who was in Meeklin's company, and he informed me that they were soon to start to San Antonio, so I decided to go with them.
"It was a long, tiresome trip, through an uninhabited and desert region, and I was glad to fall in with his company. This was in 1850. Polly Rodriguez afterwards settled in Bandera County, and lived here until he died in 1914. I intended to go back to New York, but had no funds. I met O. B. Miles in San Antonio, and we worked together, going to the Guadalupe River and making shingles which we sold in San Antonio at $5 per thousand. I came to Bandera i n 1852 with Rufus Brown, who lived on Bandera Creek, and have been here ever since."