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The Texas Rangers
at the Battle of Salado Creek

by Kevin Braeutigam
Last month I read a new book entitled, “Saga of a Texas Ranger” by Jeffery Robenalt. The book is the first volume in what will eventually be a four volume historical fiction series about sixteen year-old Caleb McAdams who joins the Texas Rangers at the Battle of Plum Creek after his family is massacred during the Great Comanche Raid of 1840. As a lover of Texas history, I devour any history book I happen to come across, but unfortunately a lot of people are unfamiliar with Historical Fiction and its merits, worth and possible reading enjoyment. When I had an opportunity to speak with Jeff Robenalt, he shared my opinion.

In fact, Jeff told me his most difficult task as a junior high school Texas history teacher in Lockhart, Texas is to capture the attention of his students and to get them interested in their heritage. According to Jeff, this attitude applies to most adults as well. That’s where the idea came to him of writing accurate Texas history in the form of an exciting and interesting story, rather than in a dry set of facts and dates that many people would set aside without a second glance.
Saga of a Texas Ranger captures the excitement of the past by weaving young Caleb McAdams into the fabric of real Texas Ranger history. In a review of Jeffery Robenalt’s book Donaly Brice, noted Texas historian and author of The Great Comanche Raid, said, “Saga of a Texas Ranger is a vivid portrayal of the challenges and trials faced by a young Ranger during the infant years of the Republic of Texas. Jeff Robenalt’s extensive knowledge of Texas history and geography have allowed him to weave a captivating story of adventure, perseverance, and romance that will captivate and hold any reader’s imagination.”
Being a fan of San Antonio history, I was particularly interested in the Chapters that described Caleb’s participation in the Battle of Salado Creek, an event that took place near present day Fort Sam Houston. The battle came about as the result of the occupation of San Antonio by 1,200 Mexican soldiers under the command of French mercenary General Adrian Woll.

At the orders of Mexican dictator Santa Anna, General Woll crossed the Rio Grande and moved on San Antonio in retaliation for Texas President Mirabeau Lamar’s ill fated 1842 Santa Fe Expedition to capture New Mexico. General Woll evaded the prying eyes of Captain Jack Hays and a small detachment of Texas Rangers by leaving the roads south of San Antonio and making a cross-country night march through the hills.

While entering the city at daybreak on September 12, 1842, the Mexicans suffered twenty-four casualties and took fifty-three prominent Texas citizens prisoner, including the entire district court which happened to be in session. Captain Hays arrived later that morning, but with so few Rangers under his command and the town already occupied, his only recourse was to send his men to arouse the countryside and gather as many volunteers as possible.

From Gonzales to Bastrop, from Goliad to Victoria, and from all across central Texas individuals and groups of men rode or walked to the relief of San Antonio. Within the next few days more than 200 volunteers gathered at Seguin, every man eager to drive the Mexicans out of the Republic no matter how badly the odds were stacked against them. When a strong detachment from Gonzales and the Guadalupe Valley galloped into town behind Matthew Caldwell, “Old Paint” was immediately elected to the rank of Colonel and given command of the small Texas army. Jack Hays was selected to lead the forty-two man mounted company, many of them members of his own Rangers.

By late in the evening of September 17, the Texas volunteers were encamped on the east bank of Salado Creek, a few miles northeast of San Antonio. Caldwell could not have selected better defensive ground to make his stand. East of the creek, the Texas position was protected by a natural embankment and the dense thickets that grew along the creek bottom. A steep wooded hillside rose abruptly on the west side of the creek, so the position could only be approached from the east and northeast across an open prairie with no cover. However, when Caldwell called a meeting of the men, many of them demanded that he abandon the position and attack San Antonio in the morning to drive the Mexicans out of the old mission town.
In Saga of a Texas Ranger, Jeffery Robenalt does an excellent job of capturing the tension of the moment as Caldwell attempts to convince the volunteers that attacking San Antonio would be foolhardy. Caldwell then tells the men of his plan to use Jack Hays and his Texas Rangers to lure General Woll out of San Antonio, “If Woll chooses to come after us, he’ll have no choice except to attack across the open ground to the front of our position. If the Mexicans do that, gentlemen, we will surely make them pay dearly for bein’ so rash.”
The following morning, Jack Hays and a few Rangers succeed in getting the Mexican cavalry to follow them from the Alamo back to the camp on Salado Creek, and after a brief rest, Caldwell sends them back out on a scout to see if General Woll has taken the bait. When the Rangers return from the scout with news of Woll’s approach, they find themselves cutoff from the creek by the Mexican cavalry. Robenalt describes the action as the Rangers fight their way through the Mexican horsemen and flee back to the safety of their own lines. “At less than fifty feet the Rangers in the center of the line opened fire, and with their Colts and shotguns blazing, blasted a gaping hole in the tightly packed ranks of Mexican cavalry.”

Early in the afternoon General Woll arrived at Salado Creek with nearly 600 Mexican infantry, dragoons, and cavalry and spread them out across the prairie to the east of the Texas positions. Suddenly two riders galloped past the surprised Mexican soldiers and headed for the safety of the Texas lines. After reining in and taking a moment to catch their breath, the riders reported to Colonel Caldwell with a gruesome tale.

The men had been acting as scouts for a for a detachment of 53 volunteers out of La Grange under the command of Captain Nicholas Dawson when the main party was cut off and surrounded by a large contingent of Mexican cavalry and infantry several miles from Salado Creek. Instead of attacking the unlucky Texans, the Mexicans stood off and blasted them with artillery for over an hour. After enduring the terrible punishment for as long as they could, the few remaining Texans raised a white flag and laid down their arms. The Mexicans moved in and bayoneted all the wounded and some of the others, taking few prisoners.
Fayette County Courthouse entrance with obelisk
An obelisk in front of Fayette County Courthouse in memory of the Fayette County men who were killed with Captain Nicholas Mosby Dawson at Salado Creek.
Fayette County Courthouse inscription
The inscription on the obelisk
stonecutter's correction on the obelisk
The inscription on the obelisk
TE photos
The sorry tale spread like wildfire along the Texas lines, and most of the irate volunteers demanded an immediate attack on the Mexicans. Jeffery Robenalt does a great job in capturing the men’s fury and in dealing with Caldwell’s manner of convincing them to bide their time and wait for the Mexicans to attack. For the next two hours the Mexicans stood in their lines and did nothing, and Caldwell was beginning to wonder if Woll was ever going to attack when the Mexican bugles sounded and the drums began a steady beat. General Woll had finally fallen into Caldwell’s trap.

Through the eyes of young Caleb McAdams, the reader is able to visualize the Mexican soldiers in their colorful uniforms as they slowly advance across the prairie as if on parade. “The Mexican drummers began to beat the command to advance, and their troops stepped off in unison, lowered bayonets glistening in the sun. On they marched, relentlessly closing to within three hundred yards, then less than two hundred yards. Sweat poured freely into Caleb’s eyes, as Hawken to his shoulder and finger on the trigger; he wondered whether Colonel Caldwell would ever give the command to fire.”

With the beginning of the battle, Robenalt breathes life into the dry pages of history as he paints a panoramic view of the sights, sounds, and smells of the battlefield. “At one hundred yards Caldwell bellowed the command to open fire, and the Texans’ rifles roared with one voice, belching out a thick cloud of gun smoke and hurling a deadly sheet of well-aimed lead directly into the advancing lines of infantry. The devastating fusillade tore gaping holes in the Mexican line even unseated some of the trailing horsemen.”

The reader can almost feel the fear in young Caleb as he frantically reloads his Hawken long rifle in the face of the glistening Mexican’s bayonets, joining in with the other Rangers and volunteers to bring down a withering hail of fire on the advancing enemy. “Caleb quickly reloaded, caught up in the frenzy of killing now, and drew a bead on a dragoon. His target was hit in the head by another Texan before he could squeeze the trigger, so Caleb simply shifted the muzzle of his Hawken slightly to the right and killed the Mexican advancing beside the man he had been aiming at.”

The Mexican soldiers continued their brave advance until it became obvious that the attack was doomed to failure. Robenalt relates, “Volley after blistering volley exploded from the Texans’ long rifles and huge gaps opened in the Mexican ranks. Soldiers fell left and right, most of them hit in the head or the chest, and after a few more ragged volleys from the disheartened attackers, General Woll was forced to signal for a withdrawal. The Mexicans staggered back across the prairie, carrying their wounded with them, but they were forced to leave many of the dead where they lay.”

Toward sunset General Woll reassembled his bloodied troops and reluctantly began a long slow retreat back to San Antonio, his wagons loaded with forty-four dead and one hundred fifty wounded. Sixty Mexican bodies still littered the broad prairie in front of Salado Creek. Unbelievably, only one Texan was killed during the raging battle.

The Mexican troops evacuated San Antonio on September 20. Two hundred Mexican families also headed for Laredo under General Woll’s protection, their carts and wagons piled high with plunder and driving five hundred cattle. Caldwell held a vote and the volunteers voted to pursue the enemy south, but little came of the pursuit in spite of the efforts of Jack Hays and the Texas Rangers. General Woll made good his escape, reaching the Rio Grande on October 1.

Be sure and read Jeffery Robenalt’s Saga of a Texas Ranger. What better way to enjoy a rousing tale and also get an accurate account of the Battle of Salado Creek and many other exciting events in the history of the Texas Rangers from 1840 until the dawn of the Mexican American War in 1846.

© Kevin Braeutigam

They Shoe Horse, Don't They? December 17, 2010 Column
Jeffery Robenalt was 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. Mr. Robenalt currently resides with his wife Lizabeth and daughter Emily in Lockhart, Texas where he teaches Texas history at Lockhart Junior High School.
Saga of a Texas Ranger is Mr. Robenalt's first novel, however, the second volume in the saga, Star Over Texas, will soon be ready for publication.
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This page last modified: December 17, 2010