The Irish Progenitors of Texas
WITHIN the narrow confines of San Patricio and Refugio Counties, which border the coast immediately north of the city of Corpus Christi, in the far gone days of yesteryears have been enacted some of the most thrilling events that adorn the pages of the yet untold history of Texas; events that tell a story of patriotism, perseverance and fortitude that finds no parallel in the annals of any nation--things that almost stagger credulity.
Texas boasts of a history which for its splendid achievements and noble examples has not yet been approached in any quarter of the world in ages past Her Alamo, her Goliad, and her San Jacinto will remain forever fresh and green in memory's book for generations yet unborn to conjure with. Men may come and men may go, but the sacred recollection of Texas heroes and their deeds will live forever. But as thrilling and as inspiring as were those achievements of Texas heroes which told in song and story, are as familiar to the student of history as Bunker Hill or Gettysburg, the half has never yet been told. For, there is a story of early Texas,days which though yet untold, challenges even the gruesome sacredness of the Alamo and the magnificent stories of San Jacinto. An astonishing declaration: Yes, so it is, but let the reader suspend judgment until he has heard the story. Let him first consider this: That there are worse things in life than death, that it is sometimes easier to die than to live and that death which rescues men from torture and sin is often a blessing in disguise.
Men will fight and die for a flag. Yea, for that emblem of home and motherland will they walk forth to the cannon's mouth, into the very jaws of death and when "all gashed and goy and stretched upon the cumbered plain," and their life's blood slowly ebbs its fitful course, smile and sing because the nation has been saved, What is it? It is what we call patriotism; it is that sublime emotion which, tuned and pitched on high by martial stir of fife and drum, drives men to death. When they die monuments are erected to their memories, they are called patriots.
But there was a day in Texas when no Hag unloosed its folds to the breeze when no martial music roused the souls of men, and yet there were men who fought and died end yet more lived, to preserve the homes they had built in a foreign land.
Listen to the story. It is a story of men who followed "the sign of the cross" into the wilderness, and under its protecting arms laid the foundation upon which civilization might erect her temple magnificent and where government might take her seat.
If there is one institution which more than any other has inspired men to great things in the world's history, that institution is religion. For government men will suffer, for home and land they will die, but for religion they will live lives of never-ending torture, when death would be as but a refuge for the weary soul. This unwritten story of Texas tells of men whose lives were a monument to a religion, men who followed "the sign of the cross" to a foreign land, and there lived and died beneath its shadows that their children's children might enjoy the exalted state of personal liberty and religious freedom which is vouchsafed to all mankind. in Texas today.
More than two hundred years ago, when the ownership of Texas was an undetermined question between France and Spain, the latter nation set herself to a plan whereby she hoped to indelibly stamp the likeness of herself and her institutions upon the disputed territory that its possession would drift to her as a matter of course. In that day and time, even as today, the supremest institution of authority and power in Spain was the Roman Catholic church. It was the life boll of the State no less than the vitalizing influence of its people. It looked to the Holy Church for the solution of its social and political problems. It was the foundation upon which the nation had been established, and it was likewise looked to for the means of extending the nation's power. The plan which Spain adopted to effectually and permanently establish her authority in Texas was, therefore, conceived in religion. Franciscan friars were sent from Spain and Mexico, then a Spanish province, into Texas, and by the close of the eighteenth century they had erected a chain of missions from the Sabine river on the east to the Rio Grande on the south. This era is commonly known in Texas history as the "Mission Period." In the year 1790, when the completion of the mission of "Our Lady of Refuge" at Refugio brought this period to a close, Texas, then spelled Tejas, was firmly annexed to Catholic Spain, both religiously and politically. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, aside from handful of soldiers of fortune, who had drifted to Texas in search of wealth and buried treasure there were, practically speaking, no white men in Texas. Meantime. Mexico grew, prospered and became powerful. Her people wearied of the rule of the mother country and longed for independence. In the year 1823 the power of Spain was overthrown and the Republic of Mexico was born.
Conscious of a new-found power and exalted even to the point of arrogance, the new republic forthwith began to cherish the dream of empire. There to the northward was that great wilderness called Tejas, with her marvelous resources and possibilities which, although now smoldering in dormancy. needed but the trade winds of colonization to fan them into consuming flame.
And that land Mexico decided should be the scene of the exploitation of her dream. She would hold out enticing inducements to such new-comers as might fit her fancy and fulfill the obligations she might impose, and she would hold them in safe subjection b compelling their obedience to stringent laws which would insure the supremacy of Mexico forever. In the prosecution of this colonization scheme the two fundamental conditions to which Colonists had to subscribe, and to which all other considerations were made secondary, were that. the colonists should (first) be of "the Catholic apostolic Roman religion " and (second) that they should swear allegiance to the Republic. As an inducement the government promised to each colonist who would meet these conditions a grant of hand. With a view of facilitating colonization, extravagant grants comprising thousands of acres were offered to a few individuals who would assume the role of "empressarios" (colonizers), and undertake the task of inducing others to take advantage of the government's offer.
Two or three years after the birth of the Mexican republic, four Irishmen came to Texas as agents for a number of Irish Catholic families who were dissatisfied with that condition of affairs at home which would not permit an adherent to tine Catholic faith to own land, with a view of looking over the situation and investigating the opportunities for home-building in Texas. These Irishmen were James McGloin, John McMullen, James Power and James Hewetton.
They were evidently pleased with the prospect, for they immediately proceeded to Saltillo, then the capital of the State known as Coahuila and Tejas, and made application to the governor for grants of land upon which they agreed to colonize several hundred Irish families who would, of course, be willing to subscribe to the conditions of the Mexican colonization laws.
McGloin and McMullen received a grant of land located on the north bank of the Nueces River, about fifteen miles from the mouth, in the county now known as San Patricio, and Power and Hewetton secured a similar grant surrounding the Mission of Refugio, at the present site of the town of Refugio, the capital of Refugio County.
Concerning the early history of the McGloin and McMullen colony, the sources of information are somewhat meager and obscured by the passing of years. Some old moth-eaten and timeworn records now on file in the county of San Patricio, however, indicate that a colony consisting of about forty families landed at a point called McGloins Bluff, now know)! as Ingleside, on Corpus Christi Bay, in about the year 1830.
The newcomers immediately set out on foot to the colony site, which was called San Patricio de Hibernia (Saint Patrick of Ireland), about twenty miles inland. Respecting the Power and Hewetson colony, the records are fortunately clearer. About ten years ago, a litigation involving the validity of the title to a large tract or land which was included in the original grant of the Mexican government to Power and Hewetson, brought forth an interesting statement Iron one or the then survivors of the original colony that, now preserved in the court records of the county, sheds a flood of light upon the time-dimmed mysteries of the early turbulent days when history was young in Texas.
The story is gleaned from the testimony of Mrs. Rosalie B. Priour, now deceased, who at the time the statement was made was 70 years old and who was, as 8- year-old Rosalie Hart, accompanied by her father to Texas with the colonists. Divested of the interrogatories and the repetition that usually infest statements, Mrs. Priour's story is as follows:
"I was born in County Wexford, Ireland. I do not remember the parish in which I was horn, but it joined the parish of Ballagarret. After waiting some time at Liverpool for our ship to start for America and after spending Christmas at Liverpool, we embarked upon our ship and started for America shortly after Christmas of the year 1833 or in the early part of 1834. My father's family and myself came to America as colonists from Ireland with Mr. James Power, Sr. "My father’s family, together with all the colonists who came over on the same vessel with me, settled in Refugio County, in tile town of Refugio, upon lots donated, to each head of the family. Mr. James Power held meetings at the house of his sister, Mrs. O'Brien, in Ireland, where he told his friends and acquaintances that gathered there about America and the advantages to be secured there by Colonists, and among other inducements told them that each family, or head of family, would receive a land grant of one league and one labor of land from the Mexican government, and that each single person would also receive a land grant, but of smaller quantity. Mrs. O'Brien, sister of Mr. James Power, also came to America as a member of the colony. "The only relations Mr. James Power had with whom I was acquainted in Ireland were his sister, Mrs. O'Brien, above mentioned, and leer husband and their children. I think Mrs. O'Brien had three or four boys and three girls. The only names of her children that I can now remember are those of her sons, Morgan O’Brien and John O'Brien, and her daughters, Agnes or Aggie, and Mrs. Bowers, whose Christian name I have forgotten.
"Farming was the occupation of Mr. O’Brien and his family, his son Morgan being about 23 years old, and his son John about 15 years old when they left Ireland, as well as I can remember. The family of Mr. O’ Brien, as well as all the rest of Ike colonists who came to America on the same vessel on which I came, were tenant farmers, none of them ever owning any land in Ireland. Their object in coming to America was to secure lands of their own, my recollection being that under the law in force in Ireland at that time; no Catholic was permitted to own land, with only a few exceptions.
"My father’s family started over to America in a ship containing about 350 persons, colonists.
"Those colonists embarked on one of the largest sailing vessels afloat in those days, starting from. Liverpool to America. "I was born August 1, 1826, and at the time of the departure of the shi p from Liverpool was about 8 years old. "I cannot say what arrangements were made between Mr. Power and other colonists, but I think it was the same as he made with my father. Mr. Power was to charter the ship and land us at Copano, Texas, for a certain sum of money, payable in Liverpool before we would embark. I have often heard my father and mother say that all the other colonists made the same arrangements and the same payments for their passage to America. Each head of a family provided himself and his family with provisions and supplies enough to last one year and brought it along on board the ship. including farming implements, etc., all of which was paid for by the colonists themselves. The colonists were all farmers, with the exception of four or five, who came out as hired men and servants.
"My recollection and understanding which we sailed from Ireland had three masts. I do not remember the dimensions of the ship, only that I often heard it alluded to by my parents and others as one of the largest ships going. "My recollection and understanding from my parents and others is that Mr. James Power, Sr., had made a personal canvass in various parts of Ireland in search of colonists who would come to Texas with him. and accept land grants offered them through hint by the government of Mexico. Texas being at that time a part of Mexico. The colonists assembled at various times in various ways in Liverpool, preparing to embark on the ship at the time fixed for sailing. I do not remember how long we had to wait in Liverpool for the sailing of the ship, only that it was during the Christmas holidays of 1833, for the vessel departed from Liverpool very soon after Christmas. Most of the colonists who came over with Mr. Power are long since dead. Among the few now living, so far as I know, are the following: Mrs. Peterson, now living in Corpus Christi; Mr. Wm. St. John of Refugio; Mr. Redman, in Refugio county between Refugio and St. Mary’s the O'Dochartys, two old maid sisters according to my understanding, still living at the Mission. (All of these survivors are now deceased.) "The voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans was in the main uneventful, except for a severe storm in the Bay of Biscay, when all the passengers were ordered below deck and hatches fastened down. My father having been a custom officer or "water guard" at Cork, Ireland, I was accustomed to the water was not afraid of the storm, so I concealed myself in one of the old hatches and remained on deck throughout the storm.
On the ocean I remember seeing a very large vessel following close to our vessel for several. days, and that the colonists were alarmed for fear we were being pursued by pirates, until finally the other vessel came in bidding distance and proved to be a friendly merchantman. Our ship was so crowded that all the available space was occupied by the colonists, who furnished their own bunks, or beds, and their own provisions, and did their own cooking and household ditties, the same as they did at home. I remember that on reaching the coast of Florida our captain was afraid to venture through Florida straits on account of the great size of the ship, and to avoid danger coasted around the island of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico. While passing out and owing to the great heat of the sun on the ship's deck, my little sister, Elizabeth Hart, then about 5 years old, received a sunstroke from which she soon died and was buried at sea, which occurrence I remember very distinctly. She was a great favorite with the officers and crew, and my parents were unable to prevent her from staying on deck in the hot sun.
"Our ship was sixty days out of sight of land and about two months and a
half in making the trip from Liverpool in New Orleans, but the voyage in the
main was a very pleasant one, and all of the passengers kept healthy. After reaching New Orleans all the passengers remained or had their headquarters on the big ship, where we had to wait, to the best of my recollection, two or three weeks, before we Were transferred to the two schooners that brought us to Aransas Pass. One of them, named the Wild Cat, made the trip in twenty-four hours. I cannot remember_ the name of the other schooner which my father's family came on, but it was about forty-eight hours, making the trip. On nearing Aransas Pass, we could see the schooner, the Wild Cat, and that it had run ashore.
"Col. Power ordered the captain in my hearing, at the paint of his pistol, to change his course and avoid running his vessel aground. But after casting his anchor for the night, the captain of our schooner weighed anchor and in the night also ran our schooner ashore. My understanding at the time of the grounding of the schooners was, and, has been ever since, that both of them were unseaworthy and heavily insured, and their owners had arranged with the ca p tains to wreck them in order to obtain the insurance money. Luckily, no lives were lost by the grounding of the two schooners, and the remainder of the colonists were transferred by lighter to Copano, where tile old Mexican custom house then stood. It was a small brick house near the shore of Copano Bay, but the building has since been destroyed. My impression is that this building stood near the south of the Mission River.
"After the grounding of the schooners off Aransas Pass, an epidemic of cholera, supposed to have been contracted in New Orleans, broke out among the colonists. My recollection is that, about 250 persons died and were buried at sea. A child of Mr. St. John’s brother of Mr. Wm. St. John, now at the mission, died, and though sympathy for the grief-stricken parents and their horror of burying their child at sea, I remember seeing my mother and Mr. Paul Keogh take the child in a little boat to St. Joseph's Island, where they buried it. After burying the child, Mr. Paul Keogh fell sick with the cholera and died on St. Joseph's Island and was buried there by my father. After an absence of about forty-eight Lours from the schooner my father returned. As soon as my mother and I saw him, we were frightened fly his gaunt and distressed appearance, and we could see that he had no nourishment except water, which he found by digging with his spade on St. Joseph's Island. After my mother and I had administered to my father's wants, he was taken suddenly ill and died about twenty-Tour hours afterwards, and one hour after our lauding from the lighter at Copano, where he was buried by my mother and a Mr. Hart (no relation to my parents), who was already living in Texas and happened to be at Copano. "I saw them wrap my father in a blanket and bury him. I was very sick and lying on a pallet with him when he died. I thought at first that he was only sleeping, hut when I tried to awaken him, I found he was dead. For some reason which I do not now remember, we had to remain about two or three weeks on the schooners after we were grounded, waiting for the lighters to transfer us to the landing at Copano. After landing Mere we were put under quarantine and guarded by Mexican soldiers about two weeks on account of the cholera epidemic, amid the greatest suffering and distress. Finally we were hauled on ox wagons from Copano to the Mission Refugio.
"Most of my information as to the support of the colonists after we reached the Mission was obtained from my mother and other members of the colony, but I remember seeing the colonists working their fields, planting their crops and making their living in various ways. At first most of them farmed. together in one large field, which they fenced together in the land of the river by way of convenience and economy. "If the colonists had not brought supplies with them it would have been impossible to have obtained even the necessities of life at that time in Texas, to say nothing of luxuries. The manner of life of people in Texas in those early days was very simple and very much the same in all the families of my acquaintance.
On our arrival at the Mission, a Mr. Quirk, had a lumber house of one room, which was for many years the only lumberhouse in the colony, as lumber could not be procured even to make coffins, and the dead were buried in blankets." The Irishmen who with their families had accompanied the empressarios to America had come bent upon building homes in a new land, where freedom was as free as the air they breathed and where no tyrannical hand was to wrest from them the right to own their own homes and worship the God of their choice according to the dictates of their own consciences and they immediately set to work to improve the opportunity.
The terrible trials and tribulations, the awful hardships they endured for more than a decade, no pen will ever picture, for those who suffered long and much have long since gone to the better land where no trouble is. Devastated first by shipwreck, then ravaged by pestilence, the few remaining colonists never daunted, entered upon an existence of torment and torture which was even worse than the horrible end of their friends.
Happily the colonists had brought with them a limited supply of actual necessities with which to stay the hand of starvation. They also brought with them a few implements with which to till the soil. These, with their courageous, never-failing hearts constituted their entire inventory of assets. Indians and marauding bands of lawless Mexicans far outnumbered law abiding men in Texas in those days. The colonists were hence compelled to live on the community plan. At San Patricio and Refugio, they cleared small plots of land and planted and harvested their crops together and divided the proceeds. Corn (Indian maize) and sweet potatoes were the principal crops. Other necessities, such as sugar and coffee, were procured from Mexican traders, who were willing to exchange for such commodities as the colonists produced. Except for occasional ox carts, a luxury enjoyed by only a few traders, there were neither vehicles nor means of motive power. But the land was over-run with great herds of wild mustangs, and with their help the Irish ingenuity of the colonists was not slow to solve the problem. Immense pens or stockades were made by implanting heavy branches of trees side by side upright in the ground. Reaching out in a diagonal direction from each side of an opening in the corral wings were constructed in a similar manner, sometimes extending for a distance of a mile or more. When this contrivance was completed, it had the appearance of an immense funnel with a catch basin at one end. A herd of wild mustangs that might be grazing in the vicinity would then be stampeded and rushed headlong into the funnel until the pen at the other end had been filled. The opening in the latter would be closed upon the captive animals. It was only rarely, however, that the colonists were able to successfully pacify their captives, and the general rule was to catch the youngest colts, feed them on cow’s milk which the kine would unselfishly dispense in the same manner as to their own offsprings, and then train them as they grew older. This was the origin of the modern Texas cow pony, which holds the distinguished position of being the toughest and often most refractory member of the genus equus.
Here we pass a few years and come to the time when Mexican oppression was becoming unbearable and when the colonists were getting out from under the yoke. When the Mission at Refugio was completed by the Franciscan Friars, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, they christened it "Our Lady of Refuge, "and well, indeed, was it named. Behind its ponderous walls of three-footed stone, the Mission colonists and the exiles from San Patricio sought refuge and found it. The Mexican army shortly arrived and readily appreciating the impossibility of a quick evacuation of the fortress, took up its position on a little knoll about two hundred yards east of the mission, a few hundred feet north of the point where the Gulf Coast Linebridge now spans the Mission River.
Under the cover of the night a courier left the Mission and started across the country to Goliad, a distance of about thirty-five miles, to convey the news of the invasion to the Texas patriots who were assembled at that point under Fannin. This emissary shortly returned with a company of soldiers under Captain Ward, whom Fannin delegated to protect the colonists at the Mission. In the meantime, however, the Mexicans had evacuated their position and Ward, presuming; that they had been effectually frightened and beat a retreat, proceeded down the Mission River to attack some Mexican ranches.
He had no sooner started, however, than the Mexican army reappeared and resumed its former position. This time it brought with it a four-pound cannon, which soon begs, to play havoc with the Mission, within which the soldiers were sheltered. The walls at first resisted the bombardment, but under its continued violence soon began to weaken and crumble. Fannin was again communicated with and implored for aid. Capt. Aaron B. King and a gallant band of twenty-eight men immediately set out to the Mission's rescue. Meanwhile, however, the four-pounder continued its unrelenting tattoo upon the Mission’s walls. One by one the great stones that stood implanted in the walls as though they had been there forever, crumbled to dust. If help should not. soon arrive, that magnificent structure would totter to the ground and all help, would be lost. Help did not come and there was only one alternative—to capture the four-pounder.
As the shades of the evening began to fall, six men, five dare-devil Irishmen and one German, the only foreigner among the refugees, kissed their wives and babies and stepped out under the golden sun of the dying day and gazed across the intervening space whither they were going to what seemed certain death. Grim, death-defying courage was written in their faces and a prayer was on their lips. Their lives and the honor of their loved ones were the prizes at stake.
The Mexican army was at its evening meal, with no thought of such a reckless move on the part of their enemies, whom they had already condemned to death.. Stealthily and silently the stalwart six stole to where the cannon stood. They had loosened it from its anchorage and were about to make their escape undetected, when the Mexicans, yelling like fiends possessed, were upon them.
Of that remarkable battle between six adopted sons of Texas and that army of 500 Mexican soldiers history gives no account, but if the story, as related by one who received it from her father, who was one of the dauntless six, can be relied upon, it must take its place in history as one of the most marvelous incidents in military annals. For half an hour the battle raged, and Mexican after Mexican bit the dust never to rise again. The people in the Mission, two hundred yards away, witnessed the combat from the narrow windows and prayed the God of their fathers, for the love of whom they had deserted their homes in their native land, to be merciful to them and to look with favor upon their contest.
History relates many instances of obvious divine intervention in warfare, but no story of ancient, mediaeval or modern times savors so much of the miraculous as does the story of that terrible struggle before the Mission Refugio early in the year of 1836. For the God of Nations heard the prayer that was lifted to His throne.
Suddenly the sound of the battle ceased. An awful silence reigned, broken only intermittently by the groans of the injured and the wild curses of the dying. The heavy doors of the Mission flung open on their rusty hinges, and through the hallowed portals walked, unharmed, the heroic six, dragging behind them the captured cannon. What a mighty cheer that must have been mingled with the long penned-up tears of joy, echoed and re-echoed through the vaulted interior of that sacred structure, like the song of that heavenly host in old Judea on the memorable morn twenty centuries ago.
Strange and incredible as it may seem, only one of the valiant six suffered so much as a scratch from the encounter, and his, a mere flesh wound in the face, soon healed.
The next morning the remnant of the Mexican army withdrew and the colon? sts went out to the scene of the conflict of the night before to bury the enemy’s dead. In a narrow ditch surrounding the crude fortifications the enemy had improvised, three hundred Mexicans were buried. Meanwhile, Capt. Aaron B. King and his band of twenty-eight were hurrying to the Mission’s succor. In the eager zeal of their battle against time, they plunged headlong into Melon creek, a few miles from Refugio, and when they emerged on the other side, they discovered, to their sorrow, that their entire supply of ammunition had been wet and was therefore useless. While they were deliberating upon the best course to pursue, a band of Mexican rancheros, faithful to the home government, and under the leadership of a wealthy Mexican ranchman by the name of Carlos de la Garza, appeared and, taking the helpless hand captive, set out to the Mission to deliver then into the hands of the Mexican troops. They had proceeded but a short distance when they were met at a point about four miles north of Refugio by the retreating Mexicans. Capt. King and his men were at once turned over to the blood-thirsty fiends, whom it did not take long to determine the fate of the prisoner. What form of ignominious torture was meted out to King and his unfortunate followers the world will probably never know. At all events, their lives were sacrificed at liberty's altar, and weeks later, when the battle of tiara Jacinto had been fought and the Mission refugees felt secure to desert their place of safety, the dry bones of King and his men, all that had been left by the beasts and fowls were brought to the Mission and laid to rest under its protecting walls. There was an elderly lady living at Refugio who more than sixty years ago, as a young lady, together with her sister, was captured by a band of Indians. In accordance with the custom of their race, the redskins at once proceeded to initiate their captives into the mysteries of their order by shaving their heads and divesting them of their clothing. Without a pretense of any more serious indignity, the prisoners were placed on horses, behind their captors, and a start was made in the direction of the camping. grounds. The lady who now lives at Refugio so persisted in slipping from her mount that she was finally left behind. She was fortunately rescued by her brother, who had missed her. and organized a searching party.
Her sister, however, was carried to an Indian trading post where, in due time, and in pursuance with the Indians commercial customs, she fell into the hands of a friendly trader, who saw to it that she was returned to her home. Excepting for the indecorous initiation, she was little the worse for her experience. Today? Well, today is about. the same as yesterday, only a little different. The dauntless men and women who braved the terrors of the wilderness to find a home and a religious freedom, are no longer there, but the same blood is there. Yes, it is there and, stalwart, and stern as the Spartans, it will probably remain there forever. Today the names that appear most conspicuous among the citizens of San Patricio and Refugio counties are the same as those which stood high on the roll of honor seventy-five years ago. The McGloins, the Powers, the O’Briens, the O'Connors, the Welders, the Gaffnoys, the Foxes, the Shellys, the Dorseys, the Lamberts, the Heards, and scores of other names as familiar half a century ago, are leading citizens of both counties.
For More on the early Irish Settlers of Texas, see:
The Refugio Colony And Texas Independence
Henry Scott Captured By Indians
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