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Settlers had fled their homes in Texas, after receiving reports of the Mexican Army, under General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, gathering on the Rio Grande in preparation to invade and retake Texas. A large scale exodus occurred after a string of Texian battle losses in the rebellion against the Centralist Mexican government.
The primary catalysts of the mass exodus were the knowledge of the defeat of the Texian forces at the Alamo with the declaration of Deguello to all Separatists of Texas by Mexican General Santa Anna and the imminent need of the Texian commander, Sam Houston, to raise and train an army large enough to confront them in battle.
A prelude of the Texas Revolution
The Mexican take no prisoner policy was in essence a replay of the similar no quarter given by the Spanish general and royalist Joaquín de Arredondo y Mioño, under whom Santa Anna had served as a staff officer. The counter-insurgency against the First Republic of Texas resulted in the virtual wholesale slaughter of civilians and Prisoners of War, in one of the largest reprisals ever conducted in Mexico, in an area that later became part of the United States of America .
In 1813, General José Joaquín de Arredondo's army destroyed the First Texas Republic, sometimes called the Green Flag Republic and its pro-independence movement, then being sponsored by the Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition. The campaign against the Republican Army of the North reached its decisive conclusion at the Battle of Medina, the largest battle in Texas history, which saw thousands of Texian, American, Tejano, Indian, Mexican, and European soldiers killed and those captured executed. Arredondo saw in Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna an up-and-coming leader. Santa Anna watched as the prisoners of war and any of their families which fell into the hands of his army were executed. As an aide de camp to Arredondo, he was privy to much of the Spanish general's brutal principles of counter-insurgency which included wholesale slaughter of Mexican nationalist rebels and communities sympathetic to the revolution. The end of the campaign saw the early Texas province devastated and essentially depopulated until Austin's settlement. The ruins and narrative of the campaign left a burning imprint in the minds of the later settlers, the few survivors, and Santa Anna.
Rebellion to the dictatorial rule of Santa Anna
When Santa Anna overthrew the pro-centralist Anastasio Bustamante, he quickly began dismantling the Constitution of 1824 under the guise of liberal reform. Finally, displeased with the pace of reform and growing tumultuous countryside, Santa Anna dismissed the liberal government and declared himself Supreme Dictator of Mexico. In reply to these events several states came to the defense of the Constitution and into open rebellion against the Centralist Government, including Coahuila y Tejas, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Durango, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Yucatán, Jalisco, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Zacatecas. Several of these states formed their own governments, the Republic of the Rio Grande, the Republic of Yucatan, and the Republic of Texas.
Hoping to achieve a similar gory but glorious victory against various rebellions, thereby uniting the Mexican nation behind him, General Santa Anna prepared his army. He called on all Mexican rebels to surrender and join his patriotic army, and started the long march north toward Texas. As Santa Anna began his campaign to put down these rebellions he methodically devastated the individuals, families, and communities who opposed him. By the time his reign of terror made its way toward Texas, Santa Anna had a well grounded reputation for counter-insurgency brutality and massacre.
Santa Anna's progression toward Texas
The State of Zacatecas proved to be Santa Anna's greatest obstacle at first. The Zacatecan militia, the largest and best supplied of the Mexican states, led by Francisco Garcia, was well armed with .753 caliber British 'Brown Bess' muskets and Baker .61 rifles. After two hours of combat, on May 12, 1835, Santa Anna's "Army of Operations" defeated the Zacatecan militia and took almost 3,000 prisoners which he summarily executed and followed by executing their families as well.
The few Mexican survivors of these ruthless actions south of the Rio Grande, brought news of the events and Santa Anna's vision to the Texans. The few survivors of the previous First Texas Republic quickly verified the probable intention of Santa Anna. Consequently, when Santa Anna succeeded in defeating and massacring the Texas garrisons at the fall of the Alamo on March 6 and the Battle of Goliad three weeks later, he marched into south central and eastern parts of the territory treating all in arms against him as pirates, unworthy of mercy. The remainder of Texas quickly fled the murderous onslaught.
The Runaway and scrapes
Sam Houston arrived in Gonzales on March 11, 1836, where Colonel James C. Neill, Colonel Edward Burleson, Captain Juan Seguín and their companies were now located. Two days later, they learned of the March 6 fall of the Alamo through the reports of Susanna Dickinson, after she had been released by the Mexican Army in San Antonio. Deaf Smith, Henry Wax Karnes and R. E. Handy had found Mrs. Dickinson and Karnes and other Texan family survivors of Santa Anna's campaign. With their reports in hand, the group hurried back to tell Houston of the news.
Upon hearing of the news and with subsequent reports of fleeing Texan families entering the camp, Houston decided to retreat, advising all settlers to follow. Henry Karnes was asked to burn Gonzales to prevent the Mexicans from gathering anything useful for their campaign. Although most Texian families had begun making preparation for leaving, substantial numbers decided to remain. As troops would march away from Gonzales, the remaining remnants lost their protectors. Salvador Flores along with a group of volunteers formed the rear guard that would protect the fleeing families. The Flores company proceeded westward to secure the lower ranches of San Antonio. Flores maintained this position offering protection from Mexican and Indian attack. On March 14, the caravan had reached the Lavaca River, there they would camp at Williamson Daniels.
On March 17, the Texians would cross the Colorado River where favorable defensive positions awaited them. Here they could secure three of the Colorado crossings; Burnam's, Dewee's (a.k.a., Mosely's) and Beason's, while waiting, although in vain, for the arrival of Colonel James Fannin's army. Preceding the Texian Army at these crossings was the civilian evacuation toward the American border and safety of Louisiana. On March 20, Sesma leading 800 men, had reached the Colorado. The Texians, although eager to battle, were advised by Houston to wait, which caused much grumbling and dissatisfaction among the troops.
Further up the Colorado at Mina (Bastrop), the civilian exodus traveling ahead of Antonio Gaona's Mexican Division, made use of the Puesta del Colorado crossing prompting the Ranger unit there to divide its forces. Half of the Tumlinson Ranger's corps protected the non combatants, accompanying them toward Nacogdoches along the San Antonio Road, with the remainder serving as rear guard between the Texan army below and the three pursuing Mexican vanguards. After the evacuation, Mina would be destroyed by the pursuing Mexican army and scavenged by Indians. After a week of organizing and training at Benjamin Beason's Crossing, the Texian Army under Sam Houston received the disheartening news of Fannin's fate. Houston would lose some 300 men, as they rushed to gather and escort their families. The flight eastward would continue toward San Felipe, on March 26.
On March 29, just the next day after arriving, Houston burned and abandoned San Felipe de Austin. This retreat of Houston and the Texian Army left more settlements unprotected. General Santa Anna had condoned the confiscation of food and the burning of towns along his route through Texas. Thus, his treatment toward rebelling Anglos, the "No Quarter" orders and proven history of massacre proved sufficient to cause thousands of settlers to flee his wrath. The refugee trains soon became a flood, as more settlers heard of the fall of the Alamo and the retreat of Houston. The flight was marked by lack of preparation and by panic caused by fear of both the Mexican Army and of Indians who, unknowingly were temporarily allied, might crush the fledgling Texan nation. While the fear of Indian alliance with Santa Anna was real, it did not materialize. By April 1 most settlements around the Brazos River were evacuated.
On April 2, Santa Anna reached Gonzales, following the military road he proceeded to take the Atascosito Crossing of the Colorado on April 5, and on April 7, he had reached San Felipe de Austin. While in San Felipe, Santa Anna did not know that Houston and his army were camped in a pasture across the Brazos River from Groce's Plantation, only fifteen miles above the main Mexican forces. For almost two weeks, the Texians would remain undetected, allowing time for their numbers to increase and training to progress. At the Brazos, the eager fighters were put to work. Captain Moseley Baker's company with Juan Seguin's company, would hinder the advance of Santa Anna for several days by blocking the Mexican army from crossing the Brazos river, thereby preventing them from rapidly overtaking the Texians. Wyly Martin was given the same task, but with a limited guard was flanked out of his position when the Mexicans crossed near Old Fort.
The spring of 1836 was wet, and many roads were washed away. The rain, cold, and lack of food and shelter made the settlers susceptible to many diseases such as cholera, whooping cough, measles and dysentery. They were buried where they died. Rumor had it that the Trinity river was rising, so this led to much haste in getting there for fear that if they rested, the river would be too high when they arrived and would prohibit their crossing. They also faced Mexican partisans and renegade looters who wanted what little the settlers may have fled with. Many were picked off by bands of Mexican scouts and partisans as well as hostile Indians. With the rivers flooded, the refugees were forced to make crude rafts to cross the swollen waterways, sinking them afterwards to delay their pursuers. The banks of the Trinity River overflowed and many families waited hours standing in running water just to get to the boat, only to realize that over five hundred others were still waiting on the opposite bank after they had crossed. Those that had not gotten across had to wait until the next morning when more rafts could be built before they could get across. During the night, they feared they may drown or be eaten by panthers, alligators, or bears. It took four days to get everyone and all the supplies across. The wagons and carts had to be taken apart to cross, then reassembled.
Houston stayed ahead of the Mexican army by crossing the Brazos beginning on the April 12 and marching east from Groce's Plantation on April 14. Santa Anna had learned of the Texian's President, David G. Burnet and other officials presence in Harrisburg and divided his army into three units. One detachment he sent on to Harrisburg to capture them. The second detachment he left behind to protect his supply lines. He continued his march with the third detachment. The Texians had also learned of the Mexican's plan and hurried to parallel the Mexican march. Harrisburg would be torched by the Mexican Army. On April 16, Houston's army ended the retreat by turning southeast to march toward the imminent confrontation on the San Jacinto River.
After pushing the defiant population before him in three primary pincer movements, Santa Anna presumed he had finally cornered the settlers and their protecting Texian soldiers and American volunteers under Sam Houston at San Jacinto. Because of this, he decided to let his army rest and not to attack until two days later. General Sam Houston took advantage of this and decided to mount his own attack.
The Runaway Scrape consisted of three major columns. The largest of these columns was protected by Houston's army. When Houston turned his army around he began collecting the refugee train behind his army. On April 21, in the subsequent battle of San Jacinto, this large group of settlers awaited their fate to the sounds of the battle before learning of Texas victory and their own safety. The remainder of the refugee columns continued for about six weeks until news spread of Houston's victory in the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Runaway Scrape had caused many families to incur substantial property losses, and upon their return home found their property had been ravaged and their livestock missing. Thus many ended up nearly destitute. Estimates of civilian casualties range from dozens to perhaps hundreds dead. Combined with military losses, the entire nation of Texas lost anywhere from a minimum of ten percent to upwards of twenty percent of its population.
- Edmonson (2000), p. 42.
- Edmonson (2000), p. 66.
- Edmonson (2000), p. 51.
- Davis (2004), p. 109
- Davis (2004), p. 106.
- Davis (2004), p. 303.
- Hardin (1994), p. 6.
- Castaneda (1970), p. 17.
- Castaneda (1970), p. 20.
- Carolyn Callaway Covington, "RUNAWAY SCRAPE," Handbook of Texas Online , accessed April 12, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
- de la Teja (1991), p. 80.
- de la Teja (1991), p. 187.
- Moore (2004), p. 60.
- Handbook of Texas
- Moore (2004), p. 83.
- Hardin (1994), p. 164.
- Edmondson (2000), p. 380.
- Texas Parks Dept. SJ Battleground
- "Antonio López de Santa Anna" PBS
- Todish et al. (1998), p. 130.
- Groneman (1998), p. 98.
- Steve Goodson. "The Runaway Scrape" Texas A&M University
- Harris, Dilue. "Reminiscences of Dilue Rose Harris". Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association. Texas State Historical Association.
- "Runaway Scrape" Handbook of Texas Online