By Anna Kathryn Lanier
At the beginning of 1836, General Santa Anna and his Mexican troops of 4,000 men and artillery crossed the Rio Grande River. As news of this invasion spread from San Patricio, Refugio and San Antonio, panic also increased and families fled. When the Alamo fell on March 6, 1836, full-fledged terror set in. Sam Houston, commander of the Texas Army, was in Gonzalez at the time. Thirty-two of the town’s men were killed at the Alamo, so everyone was related to or knew of someone who died. Expecting Santa Anna to continue his march across Texas, Houston ordered the evacuation of and the burning of the Gonzalez to prevent the Mexican army any provisions. Thus began the largest exodus to take place in the United States as thousands of Texans made their way east toward the Louisiana border (and the United States).
People packed and left so fast that it is said one household left a dinner of fried chicken, coffee and a fresh pitcher of milk on the table. Families quickly hauled clothes, bedding, provisions onto sleighs, wagons, handcarts and often, their backs. Recently widowed women gathered up children and babes in arms and made for safety in America. The travel, however, was anything but swift and sure.
Recent and continuing rains made the wagon trails boggy and muddy. People slogged along in the sucking muck. Rivers were raging waters that made each crossing a horrifying event. Horse thieves, claiming to be with Army, would steal the animals. Indian war parties struck families that fled, as well as those who stayed behind, kidnapping women and children.
Conrad Juergans and his very pregnant wife Mary stayed behind, thinking Santa Anna’s army would pass north of them, which they did. Shortly afterward, though, a party of Indian braves attacked the cabin. Conrad was injured, but managed to escape to the woods. Mary and her two young sons, however were taken captive and forced to trek toward the Red River valley. Three months later, Mary appeared at a trading post within Indian Territory. Her family arrived and paid the $300 bounty for her release. She had given birth to a daughter while in captivity (am not sure if she had her daughter with her or not). The fate of her two sons is unknown.
One excellent source of the Runaway Scrape was documented by Dr. Pleasant W. Rose, who lived with his family near Stafford Point. In 1900, his daughter, Dilue Rose Harris published an account of the Runaway Scrape in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association. While recalling her own memories as an eleven-year-old at the time of the Scrape, Dilue relied heavily on her father’s journal, which by 1900 had been lost for some time, but that she had read it multiple times before its disappeared. The events of the Rose family were typical of other fleeing families.
Dilue recalled that the family quickly put belongings into a sleigh and traveled eastward with several other local families. The family’s hardship began at the Trinity River. Though the family made it across the treacherous river, the last trip made by the ferry boat, it swamped badly, leaving them stranded for several hours in the middle of the river. Finally they were rescued, but their river ordeal was only one of many faced by the evacuees.
W.G. Dewees recalled another river crossing. “There were about seventy-five wagons in the company and on arriving at the river we found no way to cross; the river was up to the top of the banks and there was no ferry.” Eventually, two large pine trees were cut down “so their length might be sufficient to reach across the river…that we might place the wagons on them and pull them across…with a rope.”
At Cedar Bayou, Emily Bryan Perry took charge of a situation when the cart of a woman and two small girls became stuck in the middle of the stream, efficiently blocking everyone else’s progress. Emily handed off her new born baby, climbed down from her wagon and waded out to the woman. She spoke softly but firmly to the woman, encouraging her to try again. “Up Buck! Up Ball! Do your duty!” the woman yelled as she cracked the whip over the oxen’s head. The oxen strained hard, and managed to pull the cart free.
Dilue Rose reported seeing “children falling from the wagons which still kept on leaving the children behind, till another wagon came along and picked them up. Mothers in this manner have been separated from their children for days, and some for weeks, as the wagons would often take a different course.” William Fairfax Gary relayed seeing a family that had found a small, unattended infant. The family now had the care of the child, which they and others took turns carrying.
After a very difficult trip in mud and muck, the Roses finally arrived in Liberty. It was there that Dilue’s little sister died. The rigors of the escape proved hard, illnesses ran rampant through the groups heading toward Louisiana, and infants, small children and the elderly were particularly vulnerable. Many families lost a loved one to such diseases as cholera.
The Roses stayed in Liberty for several weeks and one day heard what they thought was distant thunder. Instead, it was the sound of cannon fire. Sam Houston and his troops had caught up with Santa Anna and his troops. The Battle of San Jacinto could be heard thirty-five miles away. On April 21, 1836, in less than fifteen minutes, Sam Houston overtook the Mexican Army and forced their surrender. Texas had won the war.
When word of the defeat of Santa Anna’s army reached the evacuees, they made their way back homes. Some were burned to the ground, others had been ransacked, while others were found to be as they’d been left. The Roses returned home to find the hogs running wild. Her father’s bookcase had been toppled and his medical books and supplies scattered on the ground, the hogs sleeping on them. Emily Perry’s plantation near Peach Point didn’t fare any better. Although the house was not robbed, it was in disarray. “The hens had taken possession of beds, closet, bureaus,” Emily’s cousin wrote. On the upside, there was an abundant supply of eggs.
In Women and the Texas Revolution, edited by Mary L Scheer, it says “The Runaway Scrape occurred in several stages. It began as an evacuation, starting South of San Antonio in February before it spread eastward to Gonzalez and Victoria early in the following month, culminating in civilian flight from the Colorado and Brazos valleys in mid- to late March.” (pp 159). Thousands, mostly women and children joined the flight away from the Mexican Army. It was an event that would define their life and the memories outlasted most of the hardships.
In Women and the Texas Revolution, edited by Mary L Scheer ISBN 978-57441-469-1
Texas Monthly - http://www.texasmonthly.com/content/texas-primer-runaway-scrape
Anna Kathryn Lanier
Romance Author, A GIFT BEYOND ALL MEASURE
Romance Author, A GIFT BEYOND ALL MEASURE
Never let your memories be greater than your dreams. ~Doug Ivester