not an exodus of Biblical proportions, a chaotic period during the
Texas revolution that came to be called the Runaway
Scrape resulted in many gripping tales.
Texas’s exodus began in March 1836 when word reached Gonzales
that the Alamo had
fallen with all its defenders slain. Fearing the advancing Mexican
army, the civilian population and what remained of Texas’s military
forces began a not-so-orderly retreat to the east. The safety of
Louisiana, then the western border of the U.S., lay 200 miles away.
One Runaway Scrape story was told by Fort
Bend County pioneer John Rutherford Fenn in an 8-page pamphlet
called, “An Account of the Escape of J.R. Fenn and Others from the
Mexicans in 1836.” While the booklet lacks a publisher’s name, publication
date and context-setting introduction, a good guess is that Fenn
had his recollections set in type either for posterity’s sake or
possibly to raise money for the Texas Veterans Association, of which
he was first vice president for a time.
Later reprinted by the Fort Bend County Museum, the booklet is a
gripping read. The original is also a rare Texas collectable.
Fenn had been born in Mississippi in 1824. In the late spring of
1832, his family moved to the then Mexican province of Texas, settling
in a big bend of the Brazos River near a private fort that would
give future Fort
Bend County its name.
Not quite four
years later, “about the 7th or 8th of April in 1836” the inhabitants
of that area heard that Gen. Santa Anna’s army was only nine miles
distant. At the time, Fenn’s father was away, serving as a member
of a militia company led by a Capt. Martin.
“Mother and I thinking it unsafe to remain home, took two [slaves]
and went two miles up the [Brazos] River to Morton’s place, which
was opposite Richmond,
[later] the county seat of Fort
Bend County,” Fenn wrote.
Hearing that the Mexican force was near, Capt. Martin sent out scouts
to find where the army had camped. The men located the army, and
ended up being chased several miles before their horses finally
outdistanced their pursuers.
The next day, Santa Anna and his troops crossed the Brazos about
four miles above Richmond.
They did so in a boat that Fenn’s father had built for use on the
“After all the…people who had gathered together for safety had crossed
to the east side, they bored holes in the boat to sink it,” Fenn
wrote, “but they were too small; it did not sink fast enough, and
the Mexicans swam in and got it and patched it up and crossed their
army in it.”
Elsewhere, a contingent of soldiers under Gen. Juan Almonte captured
a slave and forced him to reveal how he had made it to the west
side, which was in a canoe he led the Mexicans to. Using that round-bottomed
vessel, about 50 soldiers in small groups paddled to the east side
of the river near where some of the Texas civilians had gathered
in their preparation to flee.
Hoping to buy time, Capt. Martin’s men exchanged gunfire with this
force. Fenn’s father killed one soldier and soon the Mexicans fell
back. That allowed the women and children, including Fenn’s mother,
to hide in a wooded area.
During this time, young Fenn had been out with a slave about his
age rounding up horses for everyone. When the boys returned, they
were captured by some of Almonte’s men.
“I remained a prisoner until evening, when Gen. Almonte told me
he was going with his men… [to] capture Capt. Martin’s company,
and he would leave me and the negro boy until he came back the next
morning,” Fenn wrote.
But before he left, the general – who spoke English fluently – made
Fenn promise to find his mother and bring her back so he could make
restitution for property his men had confiscated. Fenn kept his
word about waiting, but the following morning he learned his mother
had already made good her escape. When the soldiers returned, not
having found his father and the other Texas men, the youngster saw
a chance to make a break for it and did.
“I ran to the woods, being shot at a great many times by the Mexicans,”
he recalled. “The leaves…fell all around me, but I kept going.”
Fenn headed east, finding several of the fleeing families about
15 miles out. When they reached Lynchburg in present Harris
County, they were reunited with Fenn’s mother and brother along
with other refugees.
Meanwhile, Capt. Martin had released all his men so they could go
help their families. Fenn’s father worked his way east, finally
finding his wife and son on the Neches River.
“My father took mother and I to Louisiana and left us,” Fenn wrote.
“He returned to the army of the Texas Republic where he served until
the autumn of 1836, when he procured a discharge and went after
The Fenns were back on their part of the Brazos by late November
and John never lived any farther away than Houston
for the rest of his long life. He died at 80 in 1904 and was buried
at his family’s old plantation on Oyster Creek in Fort
© Mike Cox
March 19, 2015 column
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