Texas Historical Documents

Drawing the Black Beans: the Mier Prisoners

March 25, 1843
From Thomas J. Green, Journal of the Texian Expedition against Mier (New York, 1845), 168-175.

Responding to the Santa Fe Expedition, the Mexicans made several raids into Texas. In September 1842, General Adrian Woll occupied San Antonio for nine days and carried off several prominent Texans when he withdrew. Angry Texans hurriedly answered President Houston's reluctant call for volunteers to punish the raiders. General Alexander Somervell led them as far as the Rio Grande but finding that the Mexicans had retired to the other side of the river, he ordered the expedition home. About three hundred of his men, however, refused to obey, chose Colonel W. S. Fisher as their leader, and started down the river toward Matamoros. On December 26 they lost a desperate battle at Mier to General Pedro Ampudia, and were started as prisoners toward Mexico City, but at Salado, south of Saltillo, they escaped. After nearly starving in the arid mountains, 176 of the 193 to escape were recaptured and returned to Salado. Only three reached Texas. Seventeen black and 159 white beans were placed in a vessel and each man required to draw Out One. Those drawing black beans were summarily shot. Ewen Cameron, who had engineered the escape, drew a white bean but was afterwards executed by special order. The survivors were taken to Mexico City and imprisoned in Castle Perote with the prisoners of the Santa Fe Expedition and from San Antonio.

The following account of the drawing of the bean, is from the pen of General Thomas J. Green, a participant.

Soon after they arrived [at the Salado on March 25, 1843], our men received the melancholy intelligence that they were to be decimated, and each tenth man shot.

It was now too late to resist the horrible order. Our men were closely ironed and drawn up in front of all their guards, with arms in readiness to fire. Could they have known it previously, they would have again charged their guards, and made them dearly pay for this last perfidious breach of national faith. It was now too late! A manly gloom and a proud defiance prevaded all countenances. They had but one alternative, and that was to invoke their country's vengeance upon their murderers, consign their souls to God, and die like men . . .

The decimator, Colonel Domingo Huerta, who was especially nominated to this black deed after Governor Mexier refused its execution, had arrived at Salado ahead of our men. The "Red-cap" company were to be their executioners those men whose lives had been so humanely spared by our men at this place on the 11th of February.

The decimation took place by the drawing of black and white beans from a small earthen mug. The white ones signified exemption, and the black death. One hundred and fifty-nine white beans were placed in the bottom of the mug, and seventeen black ones placed upon the top of them. The beans were not stirred, and had so slight a shake that it was perfectly clear they had not been mixed together. Such was their anxiety to execute Captain Cameron, and perhaps the balance of the officers, that first Cameron, and afterward they, were made to draw a bean each from the mug in this condition.

He [Cameron] said, with his usual coolness, "Well, boys, we have to draw, let's be at it;" so saying, he thrust his hand into the mug, and drew out a white bean. Next came Colonel Wm. F. Wilson, who was chained to him then Captain Wen. Ryan, and then Judge F. M. Gibson, all of whom drew white beans. Next came Captain Eastland, who drew the first black one, and then came the balance of the men. They all drew their beans with that manly dignity and firmness which showed them superior to their condition. Some of lighter temper jested over the bloody tragedy. One would say, "Boys, this beats raffling all to pieces" another would say that "this is the tallest gambling scrape I ever was in," and such remarks.

Poor Major Cocke, when he first drew the fatal bean, held it up 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"

Just previous to the firing they were bound together with cords, and their eyes being bandaged, they were set upon a log near the wall, with their backs to their executioners. They all begged the officer to shoot them in front, and at a short distance that "they were not afraid to look death in the face." This he refused and, to make his cruelty as refined as possible, fired at several paces, and continued the firing from ten to twelve minutes, lacerating and mangling these heroes in a manner too horrible for description . . .

During the martyrdom of these noble patriots, the main body of our men were separated from them by a stone wall of some fifteen feet high, and heard their last agonized groans with feelings of which it would be mockery to attempt the description. The next morning, as they were marched on the road to Mexico, they passed the mangled bodies of their dead comrades, whose bones now lie bleaching upon the plains of Salado, . . .


Monument Hill State Historical Site