|The Drawing of the Black Beans
*General Alexander Somervell
*Major Jack Hays
*Big Foot Wallace
Narrator (should also read stage directions)
*All the starred characters are real.
Laredo, Texas 1840
Narrator: Since Texas won her independence from Mexico in 1836, the Mexicans were determined
to win back lost territory. In a surprise move, General Woll and 1200 Mexican soldiers
took over San Antonio. He remained only a short time, feeling that this was all he needed to reassert Mexican sovereignty. The legendary Jack Hays, of the Texas Rangers,
harassed Woll all the way back to the Rio Grande, to such an extent that Woll at one
point offered $500 in silver for the head of this 25-year-old. Sam Houston, then
President of the Republic, agreed to an expedition to show the Mexicans the Texans
force, and appointed General Alexander Somervell to lead the expedition, do to be
known as the Mier Expedition. The group left San Antonio on November 8, 1842, and
easily captured Laredo, but Somervell proved unable to retain order in his rag-tag army,
who soon had plundered the entire town without his orders.
Somerville: Major Hays! I have ordered the men to cease their robbing and plundering of the civilian
population of this town and it seems that it is impossible to restore order in the ranks. I
am ordering the entire army to return to San Antonio immediately.
Major Hays: We have done everything we can to restore the property stolen to the proper owners, but
a lot of the damage cannot be undone. Two hundred of your men have deserted entirely,
and another 500 are refusing to obey any of your orders.
Somerville: That is all you can expect from a volunteer army. Looting and plundering was probably
all they had in mind when they enlisted. Whatever they do, I am returning to San
Antonio immediately. Do you wish to go with me, Hays?
Major Hays: Yes, Ben McCulloch and I will return with you. I will check with the rest of the officers
and see what they have decided to do.
Somerville: I appreciate your loyalty, Jack. When you are ready to leave, I shall be ready. (He exits,
and Captains Ewen Cameron, Samuel Walker and Big Foot Wallace enter.)
Major Hays: Well, Cameron, what have you and the others decided to do? Go along with the looters?
Cameron: Of course not, Major Colonel Fisher has decided to pursue the Mexicans across the Rio
Grande, and about 300 of us have decided to go with them.
Big Foot: What’s the matter, Jack? Aren’t you going to stay around for the fun?
Major Hays: If you call an invasion of Mexico fun, I think you have all lost your minds. With no more
men and equipment that you have, you will be sure to run into more trouble than you can
Walker: You don’t sound like the old Indian fighter I once rode with, Jack! Have you lost your
Hays: No, but I think the rest of you have lost your minds. If any of you change your minds,
Major Somervell and I will be leaving this afternoon for San Antonio.
Narrator: The rag-tag army marched for Mier, an adobe town in Northern Mexico. Here they were
surrounded by a large Mexican force under General Ampudia. Since artillery commanded both streets in the little town, and the buildings were in solid rows, the Texan Army divided one group to the right side of the street, the other to the left. They smashed their way through one house after another with rocks, knives and crow-bars toward the direction of the Mexican cannon. Finally, when they were within range of the cannon in the square the Mexicans stormed the Texans’ position but were driven back. Fisher and many others of the Texan force were wounded. Then a strange incident occurred.
Big Foot: Look, Colonel Fisher! One of our men captured earlier, is headed this way with a white
flag. Shall I let him approach?
Fisher: Yes, let’s find out what he wants. Captain Cameron, let him in! (Cameron leads Texan
Captive: Colonel! They have sent me to you with a message. They said to tell you that your
forces are badly outnumber and that they will receive reinforcements soon. They
promise that, if you surrender, all of us will be treated as prisoners of war.
Big Foot: Colonel, you know that no Mexican promise is worth a hoot or a holler! Remember what
they did to the men at Goliad! I don’t aim to be the target for a Mexican firing squad. I
say we fight our way our out!
Cameron: I’m not sure we can, Big Foot. If what they say is true, we don’t have a chance of getting
out of here and saving out wounded. I say we should surrender.
Fisher: What do you say, Walker?
Walker: I agree with Captain Cameron, Colonel. I am inclined to agree that a Mexican promise is
worthless, but even you are wounded. Without strong leadership, I don’t think our army
would make it.
Fisher: I say we should hold an election. If the majority of the men agree that surrender is the
best course, that’s what we’ll do. Big Foot, get them all together.
Narrator: The majority of American volunteers insisted on laying down their arms, so the little
army was taken prisoner. It only added to their bitterness when they later learned that
the Mexicans had actually been whipped at Mier and they had been tricked into
surrendering. After spending five days in a cold, crowded room, they were marched for
miles through Mexican villages and towns, as if on display.
Cameron: We have to begin planning some kind of escape while most of the men still have the
strength to walk!
Walker: It would be best to storm the guards from this courtyard. Big Foot, what do you think?
Big Foot: Well, it’s my humble opinion that any Texan can whip ten of these Mexican soldiers with
his bare fists! It’s now or never!
Cameron: Good, then, it’s settled. We’ll use anything we can find—sticks, stones, our bare fists—
and we’ll surprise the infantry guarding the gate outside.
Walker: We’ll need a single to start the assault.
Cameron: When dawn comes, I’ll toss my hat in the air. At my signal, everyone storm the gates.
Once outside, it’s every man for himself, but the more we stay together, the better chance
we’ll have of defending ourselves.
Big Foot: You want for me to pass the word, Captain?
Cameron: I reckon so, big Foot. (He looks at Big Foot’s feet, and notices he has worn the soles off
his shoes.) Do you think you can walk through the desert and mountains without your
Big Foot: Well, I reckon at least I ain’t gonna die with my boots on—unless they can find a pair big
enough to fit me!
Narrator: The break was made the next morning. At the signal, the Texans swarmed into the courtyard and overpowered the Mexican guards. They had no choice but to leave their dead and wounded behind as they headed into the Mexican desert. They soon became lost in the unknown territory and wandered hopelessly, eating insects and digging feverishly in search of damp earth to wet their swollen tongues. The Mexicans followed them with cavalry and it was not long before all the escapees were ridden down—and this time they were put in irons to prevent a second escape. They were returned to the Salado River and were informed of their terrible fate.
March 25, 1843
Cameron: You might know that Santa Anna himself would be the one to issue such an inhuman order! There have been few changes made since the Revolution.
Big Foot: How did that polecat get back into office after losing so badly to General Houston? I don’t understand how they could re-elect him!
Walker: I don’t guess it was too democratic of an election. What do they intend to do with us? Have you heard for sure?
Cameron: The worst possible indignity. They say they will fill a pitcher with 159 white beans and 17 black ones. Anyone drawing a black bean will be shot, those drawing white ones will be spared.
Walker: That means that every tenth man will be shot! What will become of those who draw white beans? Will they be freed?
Big Foot: No such luck! The rest of the men will be sent to prison in Mexico City—a fate probably worse than death, if I know Mexican prisons.
Walker: When is all of this to take place?
Cameron: As soon as the executioner, Herrera is ready. The company in their army known as the “Red Cap” Company will serve as the firing squad.
Big Foot: I wish we had known what they were planning before we were all put in irons. I think I would have rather died in the desert than at the hands of their firing squad or rotting in one of their prisons!
Narrator: Those who survived the terrible ordeal had quite a tale to tell their grandchildren, the tales he told interested all who listened.
Matthew: Big Foot, tell us again about the drawing of the beans!
Big Foot: Don’t you kids ever get tired of that story?
Susan: Tell us again, Big Foot—right from the part where they didn’t stir the beans, because they wanted Captain Cameron to draw a black one.
Big Foot: Well, they put those beans, all of them, into a small earthen jar, like they make in those Mexican villages. They put the black ones on top, and hardly shook them at all, so we knew the black ones were sill on top. They made Captain Cameron draw first. He stepped up, with that calmness that he always showed, and said to us, “Well, boys, we have to draw, let’s be at it.” and then he put is hand in the jar and…
Matthew: Hurry up, Big Foot. What did he draw?
Big Foot: Same as last time, son! He drew out a white bean!
Susan: Who went next, Big Foot?
Big Foot: Colonel William F. Wilson went next, as he was chained to the Cap’n, then Cap’n Ryan and judge Goodson—all of them drew white beans, too. Captain Eastland drew the first black bean, and he took it just as manly as all the rest who had the same misfortune. Some of ‘em even joked about it. I remember one of them who always had a downright cool sense of humor said right out loud, “Well boys, this beats raffling all to pieces!”
Matthew: How could they joke at a time like that, Big Foot?
Big Foot: It warn’t easy boy, I tell you, it warn’t easy. One of them told us those was the highest stakes he ever gambled for! Poor old Major Cooke, when he drew his black bean, looked at the rest of us and said, “I told you boys—I never in my life failed to draw a prize!”
Susan: How did they shoot the ones with the black beans, Big Foot?
Big Foot: I’m getting to that, girlie! Well, they tied them all together with cords, with their backes to the firing squad. They all begged the officers to be shot in the front, like men instead of so many swine, but Herrera refused. Just to be more cruel, he fired at their backs from only a few feet away, and kept on firing for ten or twelve minutes, just to mangle the bodies as badly as possible.
Matthew: Where were the rest of you all this time?
Big Foot: They kept us separated from behind a high wall, but we could hear their begging and the shots very clearly. The next morning, as we were being taken to prison in Mexico City, they marched us past the bodies of our comrades, and they hadn’t even bothered to bury them!
Matthew: But Captain Cameron—you said he drew a white bean, but last time you told us that he was shot!
Big Foot: He was, boy, he was. That Mexican general Canales hated Cameron fro making such a fool of him when we escaped from Salada. He ordered Cameron shot anyway.
Susan: What happened to the rest of you then?
Big Foot: We were taken on to a Mexican prison and out into the filthiest dungeons you ever saw, and were forced to work at hard labor for Santa Anna. They put irons on our wrists and feet and guarded us night and day. Finally, we were sent to Perote, where the conditions were so horrible that forty of us got sick and died. As strong as I was, I got so delirious that I had to be tied to the floor!
Matthew: How long were you in prison in Mexico?
Big Foot: Twenty-two months, as I reckoned it.
Susan: What made them finally release you?
Big Foot: Oh, those diplomats in Washington finally talked the Mexican government into releasing us. By that time, they were already getting’ around to making Texas a part of the United States.
Matthew: What did you do after they let you go, ig Foot? I think that I would have taken a long vacation!
Big Foot: Naw, I got restless and joined up with the Rangers again. But I got back at those Mexicans when I went back and fought the Mexican War!
Susan: Is that when you came back and drove the mail stage?
Matthew: Papa told us you drove the mail from San Antonio to El Paso through country so thick with Indians that six men rode guard on the stagecoach.
Big Foot: You might say that it was pretty crowded out there!
Susan: I’ll bet Mom has breakfast ready by now, Big Foot. What’s the biggest breakfast you ever ate?
Big Foot: Well, there was the time that I ate 27 eggs along with potatoes and tortillas as a side dish.
Matthew: Do you ever wish you could go back to the days when you were a Ranger, Big Foot?
Big Foot: No, Matthew—I’m content now to hunt and fish and tend to my horses and cattle. Those were exciting days, but I’ve had more than my share of them! I’m just glad I lived to tell about them!
Narrator: Big Foot was 82 when he died at the home of friends in the Texan town that was named in his honor. He was buried in the state cemetery at Austin with the following epitaph:
Big Foot Wallace
Here Lies He Who Spent His
Manhood Defending The Homes
Brave, Honest and Faithful
Born April 13, 1817
Died January 7, 1899
Why did the Mexican Army re-invade Texas in 1842?
How would you describe the army that Somervell led to Laredo?
Do you think that Somervell’s decision to abandon the expedition was a wise one? Why or why not?
Why did Big Foot and Cameron and Walker decide to proceed without Somervell?
Why was the order to execute one-tenth of the Texans not a surprising order, considering the source?