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Somervell Expedition

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Title: Somervell Expedition  
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Subject: List of counties in Texas, James Charles Wilson, Ciudad Mier
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Somervell Expedition

Mier Expedition
Frederic Remington.
Date November 1842 - February 1843
Location Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas
Result Mexican victory
 Republic of Texas  Mexico
Commanders and leaders
Republic of Texas Alexander Somervell Mexico Francisco Mejia
Mexico Pedro de Ampudia
~700 ~3,000

The Mier Expedition was an offshoot that developed originally out of the Somervell Expedition, which was an unsuccessful military operation launched in November 1842 by a Texian militia against Mexican border settlements. It included a major battle at Ciudad Mier on December 26 and 27, 1842 which ended with a costly Mexican victory. The attack was partly in hopes of financial gain and partly in retaliation for the Dawson Massacre, in which thirty-six Texans were killed by the Mexican Army.


Although Antonio López de Santa Anna, the ruler of Mexico, was defeated at the Battle of San Jacinto and signed the Treaties of Velasco in 1836, ceding Texas territory from Mexican control, his forces continued to invade the Republic of Texas hoping to regain control.

On September 17, 1842,[1] Texan and Mexican forces engaged at Salado Creek, east of San Antonio. After a separate favorable Texan engagement earlier in the day, a reinforcement company of fifty-four men, mostly from Fayette County, under the command of Nicholas Mosby Dawson, began advancing on the rear of the Mexican Army. The Mexican commander, General Adrian Woll, sent 500 of his cavalrymen and two cannons to attack the group. The Texans were able to hold their own against the Mexican soldiers, but once the cannons were within firing range the Texan fatalities mounted quickly. The battle, which lasted just over an hour, ended with thirty-six Texans dead and fifteen captured in what became known as the Dawson Massacre.


On November 25, 1842, Alexander Somervell, a customs officer from Matagorda Island left San Antonio with 700 men under his command on a military expedition to punish the Mexican Army for raids in Texas. The Somervell Expedition recaptured Laredo on December 7, 1842 and then, with a reduced force of 500, took the Mexican town of Guerrero. Without serious backing for the expedition from the Republic of Texas, Somervell ordered his men to disband and return home on December 19, 1842. Five captains and their men disobeyed, initiating the start of the Mier Expedition. They then continued the march on to Ciudad Mier under the command of William S Fisher.

Battle of Mier

On December 20, 1842, the 308 Texan soldiers who ignored orders to pull back from the Rio Grande to Gonzales approached Ciudad Mier. They camped on the Texas side of the Rio Grande. 261 soldiers participated in the attack on the town, while the others remained behind as the camp guard. The Texans were unaware that 3,000 Mexican troops were in the area under the command of Generals Francisco Mejia and Pedro de Ampudia. Although they inflicted heavy casualties on the Mexicans, 650 dead and 200 wounded, the Texans were forced to surrender on December 26. 243 Texans were taken prisoner and marched toward Mexico City via Matamoros and Monterrey for punishment.

On February 11, 1843, 181 Texans escaped, but the lack of food and water in the mountainous Mexican desert forced 176 to surrender or be recaptured by the end of the month. When the prisoners arrived in Saltillo, Coahuila, they learned an outraged Santa Anna ordered the execution of all the escapees, but Governor Francisco Mexía of the state of Coahuila refused to follow the order.[2] The new commander, Colonel Domingo Huerta, moved the prisoners to El Rancho Salado. By this time, diplomatic efforts on behalf of Texas by the foreign ministers of the United States and Great Britain led Santa Anna to compromise that only one in ten would die.

Black Bean Incident

To help determine who would die Huerta had 159 white beans and seventeen black beans placed in a pot. In what came to be known as the Black Bean Episode or the Bean Lottery, the Texans were blindfolded and ordered to draw beans. Officers and then enlisted men, in alphabetical order, were ordered to draw. The seventeen men who drew a black bean were allowed to write letters home and then were executed by firing squad. On the evening of March 25, 1843, the Texans were shot in two groups, one of nine men and one of eight. According to legend, Huerta placed the black beans in last and had the officers pick first, so that they would make up the majority of those killed.

The first Texan to draw a black bean was Major James D. Cocke. As a witness recalled, Cocke held up the bean between his forefinger and thumb, and with a smile of contempt, said, "Boys, I told you so; I never failed in my life to draw a prize." He later told a fellow Texan, "They only rob me of forty years." Fearing that the Mexicans would strip his body after he was dead, he removed his pants and gave them to a companion whose own clothing was in worse shape. He was shot with the sixteen others who drew black beans on March 25, 1843. His last words were reported to have been, "Tell my friends I die with grace." The seventeen that drew black beans in the lottery were James Decatur Cocke, William Mosby Eastland, Patrick Mahan, James M. Ogden, James N. Torrey, Martin Carroll Wing, John L. Cash, Robert Holmes Dunham, Edward E. Este, Robert Harris, Thomas L. Jones, Christopher Roberts, William N. Rowan, James L. Shepherd, J. N. M. Thomson, James Turnbull, and Henry Walling. Shepherd survived the firing squad by pretending to be dead. The guards left him for dead in the courtyard, and he escaped in the night but was recaptured and shot. Eastland County, Texas is named after William Mosby Eastland.[3]

Captain Ewen Cameron had drawn a white bean, but was ordered executed anyway by Santa Anna. As he waited to die, Cameron refused to confess to a priest. Standing before the firing squad, Cameron declined the offer of a blindfold, declaring, "For the liberty of Texas, Ewen Cameron can look death in the face." He then opened his hunting shirt and yelled at his executioners, "Fuego!" ("fire").

The white bean survivors, including Bigfoot Wallace, and Samuel Walker, finished the march to Mexico City and were imprisoned at Perote Castle along with the fifteen survivors from the Dawson Massacre. Some of the Texans escaped from Perote or died there, but most remained captive until they were released, by order of Santa Anna, on September 16, 1844.


In 1847, during the Mexican-American War, the United States Army occupied northeastern Mexico. Captain John E. Dusenbury, a white bean survivor, returned to Rancho Salado and exhumed the remains of his comrades. He traveled with the remains on a ship to Galveston, Texas, and by wagon to La Grange in Fayette County, Texas. La Grange citizens then retrieved the remains of the men killed in the Dawson Massacre, from their burial site near Salado Creek. The remains of all the men were reinterred in a common tomb in a cement vault on a bluff one mile south of La Grange. The grave site is now part of the Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites.

The Black Bean Episode is the subject of Frederic Remington's painting The Mier Expedition: The Drawing of the Black Bean.

See also

Texas portal
History portal


  • Abolafia-Rosenzweig, Mark. The Dawson and Mier Expeditions and Their Place in Texas History. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. 2nd printing April 1991.
  • Interpretive Guide to: Monument Hill/Kreische Brewery State Historic Sites. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
  • "Mier Expedition". The Handbook of Texas Online. Retrieved Sep. 24, 2006.
  • Nance, J. Milton. Dare-Devils All: The Texan Mier Expedition, 1842-1844, 1998 posthumous edition, Archie P. McDonald, ed.

External links

  • Handbook of Texas Online
  • Museum of Fine Arts Houston
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