Saga of a Texas Ranger–Series by Jeff Robenalt

Texas history and then some.

The Texas Santa Fe Expedition-backround history for “Saga of a Texas Ranger”

Written By: admin - Nov• 08•10
saga of texas ranger, jeff robenalt, texas history


The Texas Santa Fe Expedition

By: jeffery robenalt

      The second President of the Republic of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, had a bold new vision for Texas, one that was in direct conflict with the views of the Republic’s first president, Sam Houston. During his administration, Houston’s policies promoted the annexation of Texas by the United States and maintained peaceful relations with Mexico.

      Instead President Lamar sought freedom from United States influence and, more importantly, eventual expansion of the Republic of Texas from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to California and the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, he was not about to shy away from a possible conflict with Mexico in order to achieve his goals, as evidenced by his 1838 inaugural address where he stated, “If peace can be obtained only by the sword, let the sword do its work.” 

      The Treaties of Velasco, signed by Santa Anna after the Battle of San Jacinto, set the Rio Grande River as the boundary between Texas and Mexico. President Lamar took the stance that this treaty provision included the entire length of the Rio Grande all the way to the river’s headwaters in the far northern foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Under this view, the Mexican settlement of Santa Fe and half the province of New Mexico belonged to Texas. 

      With the opening of the Santa Fe Trail after Mexico gained its independence from Spain, a thriving system of trade developed between the United States and Mexico. President Lamar, desperate for a new source of income for the nearly destitute Republic, wanted Texas to take control of this profitable enterprise. Establishing Texas sovereignty over New Mexico would also promote the President’s goal of expanding the Republic westward. 

      In 1841, President Lamar sought Congressional approval to send an expedition to Santa Fe, but when Congress refused, he proposed to send an expedition on his own initiative for the dual purposes of establishing a trade route across northern Texas to Santa Fe, and for offering the New Mexicans an opportunity to join the Republic of Texas. 

      A call for volunteers was issued, and any merchant willing to ship goods to Santa Fe was promised both transportation and protection for his merchandise. The volunteers designated to protect the trade caravan, and perhaps act as an invasion force if the situation called for it, were commanded by General Hugh Mcleod and organized into five infantry companies and an artillery company. Supplies for the expedition and the merchants’ trade goods were carried in twenty-one ox-drawn wagons. 

      On June 19, 1841, the expedition set out from a site on Brushy Creek twenty miles north of Austin and slowly rolled north, fording the shallow Brazos River and entering the Cross Timbers in the area of present-day Parker County nearly a month later. Cutting their way through the timber and underbrush and hauling the wagons across numerous gullies and dry washes was backbreaking labor, and the men constantly suffered from the intense heat and lack of water. 

      The wagons headed northwest when they cleared the timber and reached the present site of Wichita Falls where the Wichita River was mistaken for the Red River. The Texans followed the valley of the Wichita for nearly two weeks before finally taking note of their error, but by then their Mexican guides had deserted the expedition. General McCleod was forced to send a company north to search for the Red River, and they eventually returned to lead the wagons there on August 20.

      Constantly harassed by small parties of Comanche and Kiowa warriors and suffering from a lack of adequate provisions and a scarcity of water, the expedition plodded slowly northwest until finally reaching the Cap Rock, a tall abrupt escarpment rising two hundred feet from the rolling plains of north central Texas. Above the escarpment stretched the dreaded Llano Estacado, the infamous “Staked Plains“, so named nearly three hundred years before during Francisco Coronado’s search for the fabled “Seven Cities of Gold.” 

      Unable to locate a route by which the wagons could ascend the Cap Rock, General McCleod sent a mounted party to seek out the settlements of New Mexico while he and the remainder of the expedition waited below the escarpment.  After suffering numerous hardships, the advance party finally met up with some Mexican traders on September 12, and sent a guide back to lead the wagons to the top of the Cap Rock and across the desolate high plains. However, the journey was far from over. 

      The rugged terrainof the Staked Plains, cut by hundreds of deep arroyos and bone dry washes, slowed the movement of the expedition’s wagons to a crawl, and water was so scarce along the route that the Texans were constantly thirsty. Worse, in spite of their guide, the expedition repeatedly wandered off course because not one man in the entire outfit was familiar enough with the Llano Estacado to realize when the Mexican was making a mistake. 

      Finally after suffering for nearly thirteen hundred miles since their departure from Austin, the Texans staggered into New Mexico; their spirits broken, their bodies lean from hunger, and practically dying of thirst. Upon their arrival, the volunteers expected to be welcomed with open arms by the citizens of New Mexico,not met by armed resistance, but unfortunately that was the fate that awaited them. 

      When the ill-fated expedition reached the border, the Texans were surrounded by a large force of Mexican dragoons under the command of the new governor of New Mexico, a Santa Anna appointee. The Governor offered the volunteers fair treatment and clemency if they agreed to surrender their weapons. Of course, once he had possession of the Texans’ weapons, he promptly reneged on his promise. 

      After confiscating all the expedition’s trade goods, the Governor ordered the Texans marched in chains the entire fifteen hundred miles to Mexico City. Many of the men, already weakened from their terrible ordeal on the Llano Estacado, died of thirst, hunger, exhaustion, and the occasional musket or pistol ball to the back of the head during the brutal and tortuous journey. Those who were fortunate enough to survive the death march were unceremoniously tossed into the dank dungeon of Perote Castle. 

      The Santa Fe debaclewas the political straw that broke the camel’s back for President Lamar. Hope for continued peace with Mexico had practically vanished, the currency had fallen to three cents on the dollar, and public debt had risen to more than six million dollars. Sam Houston soon returned to the Presidency of the Republic with a plethora of problems to solve, not the least of which was a series of incursions across the Rio Grande by Mexican soldiers in retaliation for Lamar’s ill-fated Santa Fe expedition. 

**** If you enjoyed reading this article, you will love my book, “Saga of a Texas Ranger”; historical fiction at its finest! To find out more about the book, go to ABOUT THE BOOK and BOOK REVIEW on this web site. To order either the hardback or kindle edition, go to ABOUT THE BOOK on this web site or click on . The second book in the series, “Star Over Texas”, is due to be released soon along with the soft cover edition of “Saga of a Texas Ranger.” ****

About the Author


Jeffery Robenaltwas born and raised in Tiffin, Ohio. He served in Vietnam as a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and later served as a Platoon Leader and Executive Officer with the 101st Airborne Division. He has a BS in Sociology from Troy University, a BA in History from New York University, and a Doctor of Jurisprudence from Texas Tech University. After earning his law degree, Mr. Robenalt was an Attorney for the State of Texas for ten years. Saga of a Texas Ranger is his first novel, however, the second volume in the saga, Star Over Texas, will soon be ready for publication. Mr. Robenalt currently resides in Lockhart, Texas where he teaches Texas history at Lockhart Junior High School.

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Article Source: Texas Santa Fe Expedition

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