THE RUNAWAY SCRAPE
Related by H. Greenwood. Written by Mrs. A. D. Gentry, Ft. Stockton, Texas
From Hunter’s Frontier Times, March, 1927
AT THIS TIME, April, 1836, Santa Anna's army was still in pursuit of Houston's army and Houston being fearful of what might befall the families of the settler, had ordered them to cross the Sabine river and get into Louisiana to claim the protection of the U. S. A.
My father, Garrison Greenwood, being in command of the frontier forts which included Fort Houston and Fort Brown, advised the people to make ready to flee. This they proceeded to do with all possible dispatch, taking with them only the things they had in great haste assembled. My father led the retreat and if only a picture could have been made of that array of people fleeing for their lives with their household goods piled on wagons drawn by horses and oxen, many walking and driving their milk cows.
We knew that it meant our salvation to get across the Sabine river as that was considered the deadline, so with all eager to insure their safety they needed no urging to hurry.
Small wonder that we hurried when the Mexican army was pressing us from the rear with fire and sword and the Indians were embodied to the front of us. To make matters worse when we reached the Neches river we found that instead of the quiet little stream it was under ordinary conditions it had now become a wild turbulent torrent spread out over two miles of the bank, owing to recent heavy rains. We had no boat and to cross without one was impossible. Refugees had continued to pour in until there were now more than three-hundred families waiting to find their way across the stream, and the Mexican army in hot pursuit. To our minds this was a far more trying time than when Moses led the children of Israel across the Red Sea for unlike them, we had no inspired leader to call on the Lord to part the waters for us. To add to the distress of the timorous, all manner of alarming reports were coming in concerning the danger of our position. We were undoubtedly in a very hazardous position, with the Mexican army advancing on us from the rear and six-hundred Indians encamped just across the river from us, it was certain death to remain and extremely perilous to cross. We held a council of war and decided to attempt to make a treaty with the Indians. In our party we had a man by the name of Brooks Williams who was on friendly terms with the Indians, having married a Cherokee wife. We felt that his advances lo them would be met in a friendly spirit. He felt no hesitancy in taking the mission upon himself and crossed the river feeling confident that he would succeed, but alas he had no sooner shown himself and made known to them his errand when they fell upon him and butchered and scalped him. Two friendly Indians spies in the camp apprised us afterward of what took place. There was nothing to do but go ahead with our preparations for crossing for it was out of the question to turn back. We figured that with plenty of arms and ammunition, we could at least have a chance with the Indians while it would have been certain suicide to have turned back to meet Santa Anna's army. We now fell to work with vigor and determination, the women taking a hand and assisting all they could with the building of the boats. There was no danger of hunger assailing us as the woods abounded in game and there had been many well-filled smoke houses along our route. We made our plans and preparations to cross the river at a point about seven or eight miles below where the Indians were embodied and went ahead with our boat building as though there was nothing to impede our progress. At last the boats were in readiness and the order was given to send over fifty picked men, tried and true, well armed and pledged to hold their post to the last man if necessary. The work then began of shipping over the women and children. This occupied us until night and we found that it would take at least two days to get all over. The boat could only go from one bank to the other, the rest of the distance having to be waded, the water being in most places two or three feet deep. This was quite an undertaking when you consider the distance was more than two miles. It was a sight long to be remembered by all present. To see fifty or more families wading through the mud and water, the men leading the way with the wagons and the mothers following, leading and directing the children. Often their progress was interspersed with screams as someone fell into holes four or five feet deep. Many lost their shoes, my mother lost hers, but they struggled bravely on in spite of difficulties. All were thoroughly wet from head to feet. and everything in the wagons was wet except those things that were in waterproof trunks. I was one of the first to cross the river and we spent that night around log fires drying out our clothes and keeping out a heavy guard for protection.
Next day the shipping over began with redoubled energy. This did not seem either the time or the place for hesitation on the part of anyone, still there were present a number of ladies who belonged to the luxury-loving class, who demanded an easy time and the best things in life without effort on their part, and who retarded the progress of the crossing materially. They refused to humble themselves and soil their skirts by wading in the filthy mud and water. Their husbands, fathers, and brothers argued with them in vain; they refused to listen to reason. Finally they were informed by those in authority that if they did not get out of the boats they would be forcibly ejected. They then began to strike the water like turtles from a log, every time one stepped in she gave a loud "Whoooo!" With their long fine silk skirts floating out on the muddy water they were indeed a sight. Every little bit one of them would step into a sinkhole and she would bellow like a cow. This was a bitter experience, but it worked like a charm and made most of them fine self-reliant women.
We succeeded in getting all of the families over before another night and left a strong guard on the other side to take care of the stock.
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While crossing another amusing incident happened which I cannot refrain from telling. There was a family among the refugees by the name of Moss. Mr. Moss, being an Invalid, his wife had to act as head of the family, and that role seemed to suit her exceedingly well for she was a woman of a great deal of character and a natural leader. Everyone in camp soon knew Mrs. Moss. Now Mrs. Moss had a favorite dog whose name was Rule. Rule was soon a noted dog in camp and when it came her time to cross she was very much concerned lest she should loose her dog. As she went on board she called "Here Rule, Here Rule," but Rule failed to come and as the boat was about to push off she sprang back to shore and grabbing Rule up in her arms sprang for the boat, which she missed and fell into the water, the dog slipping through her arms as she went down. She made a frantic grab for Rule and succeeded in catching him by the tail to which she clung for dear life. Finally both were rescued and safe in the boat. Mrs. Moss sniffed the water from her nose. wiped her face with her apron and taking a firm hold on the dog's collar, she preceded to plunge him overboard, ducking him again and again, exclaiming as she did so, "I'll larn you, sir, to be afraid of water in time of war."
The following day we crossed our stock, the horses and cattle, all except teams, had to swim the river. We had a small bunch of stock horses that had to be crossed but we could not make them take the water, so I took the leader of the gang and eying a small rope around her neck mounted her bareback and plunged into the river, the current carrying her across. The rest of them followed without any more trouble. The cattle and horses were then forced into the river till it looked like a solid floating mass of live stock. The current floated most of them downstream, landing all the way for two miles. Some of them never landed, some went back but most were gotten safely over. They were scattered all over the river bottom where ever they could find a place to stand with their heads above water. They would stand right there and low to each other, remaining there all day and night, but by noon of the next day most of them had crossed
Gathering up what we could, this army of refugees was ordered to move on. With a strong guard to the front and to the rear and on each side we moved on to the Angelina river. The Indians were watching our every movement, and only awaiting an opportunity to attack us. However, we kept so well guarded that they knew they would have to wade through blood to get to those women and children. Their victory would have been over the bodies of two hundred brave men, and then the women would have fought them as long as there was one left. Many of the women were as proficient with firearms as the men.
Reaching the west bank of the Angelina we encamped for the night. We had just turned our horses loose when our spies came galloping up and reported a heavy body of men advancing from the opposite side of the river. We could not tell whether they were friends or enemies. In fifteen minutes all was ready for battle and a scout of six men was sent to the front to meet them. They soon returned with the joyful intelligence that they were friends. They approached our camp telling us that they were volunteers from Tennessee and Georgia on their way to reinforce Travis and Davy Crockett. They were under command of Capt. Crockett, a nephew of Davy Crockett. News traveled slow at that time and they had not heard of the fall of the Alamo. They went into camp just inside our lines and next morning we were busy making preparations to continue our retreat to the Sabine river and they to proceed on their way.
They were short of teams to carry their baggage wagons and made a demand on us for teams. We could scarcely manage with what we had, a great many being forced to walk. So we told them it was not in our power to assist them.
Right here the courage of the brave Mrs. Moss was put to the test. She had as fine a pair of oxen as I ever saw. They were well matched, large and tractable. She drove them herself and was as fond of them as of her dog Rule. Capt. Crockett and his men fancied them and informed us that if we did not furnish them with teams they would impress the oxen. This of course placed things in a very awkward position. They were friends and had come a long way to help us out in our struggle for liberty. It would have been a great pleasure to have supplied their needs but we did not have any horses that were broke to driving except what we were bound to have to carry the women and children to safety. They were asking the impossible of us, but we well knew the courage and pluck of Mrs. Moss. Naturally we wished to avoid any trouble of any kind with them so we were indeed in a dilemma. Mrs. Moss now advanced and taking hold of one of the oxen with one hand she raised a pistol with the other and said, "I will kill the first man who attempts to take my oxen." One of the men made a step forward, she presented her pistol and said, "If you take another step you die." From her looks she evidently meant what she said. My father being in command now stepped forward and told them to leave her alone, that she was practically a widow. He then turned to Capt. Crockett and said, "'Captain, we are all friends and do not wish any trouble. We are in need of teams ourselves and have all of these women and children to escort to safety. We are under orders from General Houston to do this and you must not interfere with our progress. We would gladly assist you if possible. You can find teams at any ranch on your route. Let us have no difficulty." The captain conceded the point and went on his way.
We too proceeded on our route and when we had passed Nacogdoches we felt that we had run the gauntlet and were out of danger. We then scattered out, every fellow to himself, or in bunches. Some never stopped till they had crossed the Sabine river. We stopped near San Augustine in some small log cabins which had been deserted by the owners who had left in the general stampede. Refugees were scattered all along from there to Nacogdoches. We had been there but a few days when we heard the deafening roar of cannons in San Augustine, a terrific cannonade being kept up for about two hours. It was about six miles distant from us and we were all listening, and trying to figure out what it could mean when we saw some men coming down the read with their teams in full run shouting at the top of their voices, "Hurrah for Texas, Houston has taken Santa Anna and his whole army prisoner!" It seemed too good to be true, and yet it was. This made every man a hero and every woman an angel. People wept for joy and embraced each other. Many prayers of thanksgiving were offered up.
We were now inspired with the hope that we might now return to our homes with a government. of our own which would deal justly with all.