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  • Texas | Columns | "Charley Eckhardt's Texas"

    Old Whip

    by C. F. Eckhardt

    Allen Vince was a Missourian who came to Texas with Austin’s original colony. He settled on a bayou that fed into Buffalo Bayou about 20 miles below where the town of Houston was later established. He built a small, rough, but sturdy bridge out of cedar over the bayou—which became known as ‘Vince’s Bayou,’ while the bridge was known as ‘Vince’s Bridge.’

    Vince’s Bridge was a very important structure in the area. It was about the only way you could cross Vince’s Bayou, since the land around it was extremely marshy.

    Mr. Vince established what was known at the time as a stock farm—we’d call it a ranch today. He raised cattle brought from back east and some very fine horses, as well. In particular he had a large, coal-black stallion called ‘Old Whip.’ Whip was both powerful and extremely fast. Mr. Vince held him at stud, getting a handsome fee for breeding him to mares in the area.

    Then came April, 1836. Santa Anna and his army showed up on Vince’s doorstep. The family promptly fled, leaving their stock behind—including Old Whip. Santa Anna immediately appropriated the stallion for his own use, transferring his elaborate, gold and silver mounted saddle from the animal he was riding. He then crossed Vince’s Bridge with his army, with the exception of a 12-pounder cannon, its caisson, and a wagon full of ammunition. He didn’t think the bridge was sturdy enough to cross such heavy weight. He had it moved around the head of the bayou. Soon after Santa Anna’s army crossed, Houston brought his men across the same bridge. After Houston came Cos with an additional 500 Mexican troops.

    Santa Anna continued on to New Washington, where he burned a warehouse and took possession of whatever else he could find. He then sent Colonel Delgado out with a detachment to bring in some cattle to feed the army. Delgado’s detachment rounded up 100 head belonging to Dr. Johnson Hunter, which were then slaughtered. Hunter had about 600 head, so Santa Anna didn’t feel his troops would go hungry.

    According to Delgado’s after-action report, when a scout came in and informed Santa Anna that Houston’s troops had crossed the bayou and were in his rear, he behaved in a most peculiar manner. To quote Delgado, “He at once mounted his horse and dashed back toward the prairie through a narrow lane crowded with pack mules and soldiers, riding over them and knocking them to one side in piles, and shouting at the top of his voice ‘The enemy are coming! The enemy are coming!’” This thoroughly demoralized the Mexican army. Instead of preparing for battle, the men started trying to run away. Finally a group of cavalry arrived with the information that Houston and his men had gone into camp on Buffalo Bayou. Santa Anna once more got control of his men and moved them to a spot about half a mile south of where the Texian army was camped, preparing for a battle the next day.

    Santa Anna had a bright orange tent made of a heavy-woven, canvas-like material that actually was silk. He spent a lot of time in that tent. What he was doing there we don’t know for sure, but rumor holds he had a woman named Emily in it with him. Emily Morgan is the inspiration for the original lyrics of the song, ‘The Yellow Rose of Texas.’ He also kept Whip saddled and next to his tent.

    About four o’clock on the afternoon of April 21 the Mexican army was taking a siesta. That, of course, is when Houston and his 800-odd men struck the much-superior force. The battle itself, considered one of the ‘turning point’ battles in world history, was over in sixteen minutes. The Texicans, many of whom had close friends or relatives with Travis at the Alamo or Fannin at Goliad, continued to pursue and kill as many Mexican soldiers as they could find. The slaughter lasted until it was too dark to see.

    Santa Anna, in the meantime, jumped on Whip and headed for Vince’s Bridge. Houston, though, had ordered Deaf Smith and his scouts to burn the bridge. Santa Anna tried to cross the bayou on Whip, but the horse got thoroughly mired and he abandoned him, hiding out in some reeds. When Captain Henry W. Karnes and his troops arrived they found Whip still stuck in the mud, with Santa Anna’s gaudy saddle still on him. They got the horse out of the mud, cleaned him up, and brought him back to Houston, whose own horse had been killed in the battle. Some time later Sion R. Bostick and four other men found Santa Anna hidden in the reeds, wearing a private soldier’s coat. He claimed to be but a private, but when the men saw he was wearing a fine, ruffled linen shirt under the coat and had on silk under-drawers, they realized he was much more than a private.

    Whip was eventually returned to Allen Vince, who kept him for many years. Santa Anna’s saddle was auctioned off as spoils of war. It was purchased by Mirabeau B. Lamar for, or so the source says, $300. Considering that an ounce of bullion gold sold for $10 in those days, that was a lot of money.

    © C. F. Eckhardt
    December 1, 2011 column
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