The Battle of Salado Creek, and the Dawson Expedition

dawson massacreThe Battle of Salado Creek, and the Dawson Expedition

After the defeat of  Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto in 1836, the Mexicans  signed the Treaties of Velasco…  but it didn’t take long for Santa Anna to regroup and invade Texas again.

This time he was not going to risk being captured. Instead of leading the army himself, he sent General Adrian Woll, a Frenchman who had served under Napoleon.

On September 11, 1842, as the thick dawn fog lifted, shocked San Antonio citizens awoke to see hundreds of Mexican troops standing at parade rest in Alamo Plaza. General Adrian Woll gleamed with pride at his success: the most important city in Texas was under his complete control.

In Gonzales,Texas, Masonic Brother and Colonel Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell gathered his men and started for Seguin.  Masonic Brother Alfred Sturgis Thurmond was town marshal at Victoria, and joined his friend and Masonic Brother Ewen Cameron’s Texas Ranger company for the trip.  They united with Masonic Brother John “Coffee” Hay’s Texas Ranger company and Masonic Brother. A.C. Horton’s Texas Ranger company from Matagorda, and others, and headed toward San Antonio.

Battle of Salado Creek

When the Texans arrived at San Antonio, they were over 200 strong, but were outnumbered over 8 to 1 by Woll’s forces.  Col. Caldwell (commanding) reasoned that if Woll could be lured into the open prairie, the outnumbered Texans could give a good account of themselves from their fine defensive position in the bed of Salado Creek. After the long ride, only thirty-eight horses in the Texan camp were fit for duty, thus only thirty-eight men could go in as decoys.

Brother Masons and Texas Rangers John “Coffee” Hays and Henry McCulloch, taking six men with them, boldly ventured to within half a mile of the Alamo, taunting the Mexican cavalry to come out and fight. Hays had expected to be pursued by about forty or fifty Mexicans.  Instead, as the Texans rode into the town, they encountered Woll’s entire force of about 500 mounted cavalry, already in the saddle!  The Mexicans gave immediately chase.

As Hays, McCulloch, and their half dozen companions rode out of town, with over 500 Mexicans in chase, and approached the rest of the group of about 30  Rangers who were hiding in ambush, Hays yelled orders to them to mount and fall back. (Editor’s note:  I suspect he did not have to say it twice!) The rangers fell back across the mesquite-covered prairie toward Caldwell’s position.

For the first four miles of the chase, the Texans had the advantage of a lead of about half a mile. Too soon, however, the fresh horses ridden by Woll’s men began to gain on the somewhat jaded mounts of the rangers. As the Mexicans gained ground, the Texans threw off blankets, hats, and raincoats in an attempt to lighten their horses’ loads. “The race,” wrote Masonic Brother and Reverend Z. N. Morrell, “was an earnest one.”

The Mexicans made a desperate effort to cut off Hays by passing his right flank. McCulloch and his men kept between Hays and the Mexicans, sending couriers every half mile or so to cause Hays’ men to peel off and head for the timber.  Finally, when the timberline  was reached, Brother McCulloch had only one man left with him, Masonic Brother and Texas Ranger Creed Taylor. These two had been targets of the entire Mexican force for the last half mile, at a range of 150 to 200 yards, and it was estimated that the Mexicans fired over 200 rounds at them.  Neither man, however, was hit by a single musket ball.

By the time the battle lines were drawn between the Texans in the Salado Creek bed and the Mexican troops, over 1,100 Mexicans troops would be involved in the fight against just a few more than 200 Texans.

Masonic Brother Rufus Burleson, one of the combatants, wrote: “Their grand old leader, Col. Caldwell,  in a few words of burning eloquence, said, “Boys we can never surrender; we must all die fighting; and although they outnumber us eight to one we can whip them as we did at San Jacinto.” He called on Elder Z. N. Morrell, who was equally gallant in the use of the musket as in wielding the sword of the spirit, to encourage the boys. The old hero cried aloud, “Boys, we are going into battle against fearful odds, eight to one, but their cannon can’t hurt us entrenched as we are. Keep cool. Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes. Shoot every man who wears an officer’s cap or sword, and before God we can whip them.” Just at that moment the cannon roared and the shot rattled among the tops of the trees and cut down the limbs.”

Mexican cannon fire, though well directed, shot harmlessly over the creek and the Texans, while the devastating return fire of the Texan sharpshooters withered the resolve of the experienced but outwitted Mexicans.

Only one Texan died along the Salado in the nearly five hours of the battle. On the Mexican side, the toll was difficult to confirm. Eyewitnesses at the scene claimed over 60 had died and at least 200 wounded. By 6.00 p.m., Gen. Woll realized that his situation along the Salado was untenable, and that other Texan reinforcements would turn the tide of battle against him. Cutting his losses, Woll ordered the playing of victory call by the buglers, and gathering up some of the bodies of his fallen soldiers, marched “with great fanfare and celebration” back into San Antonio. By Monday evening, Woll was marching southwest out of the city, with Texans giving chase. Harassed by snipers, the Mexicans nevertheless reached the Rio Grande and crossed into Mexico.

The Texans would hold up at the Rio Grande,  awaiting orders from Bro. Sam Houston to cross.  This was the prelude to the Mier Expedition.

Dawson Massacre

Another company of Texans at the Battle of Salado Creek were not as successful.  A separate company of 54 Texans, mostly from Fayette County, under the command of Nicholas Mosby Dawson, arrived at the battlefield and began advancing on the rear of the Mexican Army. The Mexican commander Woll, afraid of being surrounded, sent between 400 and 500 of his soldiers and one or two cannon to attack the group. The Texans were able to hold their own against the Mexican rifles, but once the cannon got range the Texan fatalities mounted quickly.

Dawson realized the situation was hopeless and raised a white flag of surrender. Both sides continued to fire, however, and Dawson was killed. Within an hour, thirty-six Texans were killed, fifteen were captured and three escaped.

Compiled and written by Dick Brown, Chairman of the Grand Lodge of Texas History Committee,   Data compiled from Wikipedia, Handbook of Texas On-Line, “Masonry in Texas” by James David Carter, and other sources.


About leader

District Deputy Grand Master Saratoga-Warren District 1998-2000; Grand Lodge Leadership Services Committee; Leadership Development Course Coordinator; Vice Chairman Grand Master's Educational Task Force; Vice Chairman Grand Lodge Child ID Committee; District Deputy Grand High Priest 14th Capitular District; Grand Master of the 1st Veil 2010; Grand Master 2nd Veil 2011; Grand Master 3rd Veil 2012 Grand Royal Arch Captain 2013 Grand Principal Sojourner 2014 Grand Captain of the Host 2015 Warren County Historical Society Board of Trustees; Queensbury Masonic Historical Society Charter Member; State Chairman Lodges & Buildings Committee Deputy Grand Master's Advisory Committee
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