Monday, January 18, 2021

Amanuensis Monday: Samuel J. Denyer and the Santa Fe Expedition

Amanuensis: A person employed to write what another dictates or to copy what has been written by another.I continue my project to transcribe family letters, journals, newspaper articles, audiotapes, and other historical artifacts. Not only do the documents contain genealogical information, the words breathe life into kin - some I never met - others I see a time in their life before I knew them.

Today I share a news article containing a narration of some of the events of the Texan Santa Fe Expedition by Samuel J. Denyer, the brother of my second great grandfather, Ebenezer Denyer. I do not know how closely this narration resembles what other survivors said. or how it compares to the historical record. Reading it from the perspective of our own times, it is easy to see a markedly different narration of events could be written by other participants.

Santa Fe Expedition as told by Samuel J DenyerThe Brooklyn Daily Eagle 
Brooklyn, New York 
23 Jun 1843, Fri • Page 2

The sufferings of the Santa Fe Expedition — of which we received a verbal account from Samuel J. Denyer, one of the survivors, a few days ago — were much greater than have commonly been supposed. Scarcely had they left Austin when calamities began to overtake them ; and ere they had accomplished a moiety of the distance, their provisions were exhausted, and they were reduced to a state of extreme want. At the camp on Little River, Gen. McCloud, the leader of the expedition, was taken sick, and a small detachment remained for the purpose of assisting him during his illness and conducting him to the main body when he should recover: the remainder pushed onto Nolan's River, where they discovered an Indian village, and were fortunate enough to obtain some provisions. Here the main body was again joined by McCloud and his guard. The hunger of the men had now become excessive, and they ate the hides, entrails everything, in short, except the horns of their beeves, and even drank the blood. This latter was subsequently divided among them, so eager had the competition for it become. Large numbers of Indian dogs were also killed and eaten : and by many pronounced extremely delicate. At this time several of the men had been killed in skirmishes with the Indians and two or three had committed suicide.

Soon after leaving Nolan's river, and before reaching the Polladora, a fight occurred between five of the men and several hundred Indians. The former had wandered some distance from the camp for the purpose of shooting game, and while thus engaged, found themselves among hills black with the enemy. Escape seeming to be doubtful, if not impossible, they resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible, and obtaining as favorable a position as they could find, drew up their horses in the form of a breastwork, and awaited the onslaught. In a few moments about half a dozen Indians approached, and all save one were killed. Some four or five others were then sent, who shared the fate of their predecessors ; and this operation was repeated apparently with the view of not endangering the lives of more than were competent to the object until a score of the assailants had fallen. By this time the horses of the whites had been killed, and their bodies served as a fortification, from behind which considerable execution was done. At length, overpowered by numbers and their ammunition exhausted, they were slain. A spy, who arrived in camp the next day, informed the Texans that the heart of Maybe (one of the five) whose extraordinary bravery had excited the admiration of the Indians hid been taken out and roasted, and each one of the tribe allowed to eat a piece of it. A council was now held, and it was resolved that a detachment of one hundred should proceed to Santa Fe for provisions, as neither buffalo could be killed, or supplies obtained from the natives.

Leaving this position the main body advanced towards Red Lake, and in their progress encountered a large and handsome Indian village, (the Waco.) It was beautifully situated on the margin of a stream which emptied into Red River, and was so large as to be mistaken by many for the latter. The streets of this village were neatly laid out, the houses well built and comfortable, the gardens filled with fruit trees in bearing, and the fields growing corn and vegetables. In the centre was the Great Council House, of a circular form, and appropriately fitted up. Tho whole aspect of the place, indeed, gave evidence of advancement in civilization ; but the inhabitants were hostile and treacherous. At first they intimated their willingness to form a treaty, and proposed a day for a meeting of the Chiefs on both sides. The Texans were ready at the appointed time, but not so the faithless savages. They solicited further time ; but it having now been ascertained that they were carrying off their women, children and valuables, and that the desire for time was a mere artifice to deceive the Texans until the arrangements for giving them battle with safety should be completed, the negotiations were summarily closed, and the expedition took up the line of march.

From this time nothing of importance occurred until the surrender at Red Lake, which was induced by the treacherous conduct of the individuals entrusted with the arrangement. On arriving at the Lake the Mexicans were discovered in a strong position, and although not exceeding an hundred in number, they were fresh and well-provisioned, and constituted a formidable foe for one hundred and fifty Texans, worn down with hunger and fatigue, and many of them scarce able to walk. Still, the latter would have fought and were anxious to do so ; but they were overruled by the officers, all of whom, save McCloud, were clamorous for terms. The Mexicans had professed an anxiety to trade, provided their customers would lay down their arms; and promised, in the most solemn manner, to act in good faith, and restore the arms on their departure. When asked what guarantee they would give for the fulfillment of the conditions, they replied, "The best guaranty in the world the faith of the great Mexican nation."

An agreement was subsequently reduced to writing, and interpreted to the Texans by the commander. It promised everything that could be desired, and exhibited, on its face, the most perfect fairness. Gen. McCloud, however, was not willing to repose confidence in the treacherous crew ; referred to the many instances of Mexican duplicity of which they had had experience ; " but," said he, "what can one do against a dozen." At a given signal the Texans discharged and then grounded their arms, when the Mexicans marched in, and took possession of them. As an instance of their seeming fidelity we may state, that they requested each man to write his name on a piece of paper, and attach it to his musket, so that no difficulty or confusion might ensue in returning them. Some obeyed the request, and all were about to do so when McCloud suggested that they had better save themselves the trouble.

For some days after the capitulation, the prisoners were treated with generosity and even kindness ; but this was because their subjugation was not yet quite complete. One evening a sham riot was enacted, and a complaint was afterwards made that a Mexican soldier had been stabbed by one of the Texans with a Bowie knife. The prisoners were thereupon mustered into line, and their knives taken from them under pretense of examining each for blood. It is hardly necessary to say that they were not returned. Their rations were now suddenly cut down to an ear of corn a-day for each man, with scarcely water enough to quench their thirst. Subsequently the Texans were again paraded, and their pen and jacknives taken from them; when, being assured of their entire defenselessness, a most cruel and inhuman mode of treatment was adopted towards them by those honorable representatives of the " Great Mexican Nation." They were tied together and driven like animals ; kept with scarcely food enough to sustain life, and when the women and children on the route, seeing their destitution and feeling a disposition to relieve them, offered provisions, they were rudely ordered and beaten away. Sometimes a shower of nicknacs would be thrown in among them, which, however, were of little use, unless when the prisoners were fortunate enough to catch them in their hands. The subsequent fortunes of the expedition are already well known.


1) My third great grandfather, William Denyer, the father of Samuel Denyer and his brother, my second great grandfather, Ebenezer Denyer, was born in England and immigrated to the US in the early 1820s. Samuel was born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1822 and Ebenezer in Bucks County, Pennsylvania in 1828. It's not clear exactly when the family headed south to the Republic of Texas, but at least Samuel was clearly there before Texas became a State in 1845, and likely the rest of the family as well. William died in Louisiana in 1848, and was likely a resident of three countries during his lifetime. Samuel Denyer was killed by an "Indian" April 30,1861.

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