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Texas Mercenaries (CEC)

Battle Flag of the Republic of Texas

Young men flooded to Texas in 1836, eager to prove their mettle against the centralist forces brought north of the Rio Grande by Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. One such group, the seventeen men of the Natchez Fencibles under John A. Quitman, a wealthy and important Mississippian, rushed to the call. Felix Huston, another important man in Natchez, brought another 700 volunteers. These groups, like many others, came too late to participate in active operations and found themselves a long way from their American homes with little adventure to be had. Most went home, but some, like Quitman’s recruit Reuban Ross, stayed in the new republic to see what developed.

Felix Huston, too, remained. In December 1836, Sam Houston elevated Huston to the rank of brigadier general. Ross joined his staff as captain, and participated in Huston’s scheming to establish garrisons south of the Nueces River and to invade Mexico at Matamoros with 10,000 men to assist the Mexican federalists’ cause. Houston blocked this effort.

When not planning grandiose adventures, the officers and men of the 2,000 man Texas Army mostly remained idle, spending their time brawling and loafing as the discipline of the army dissolved. When Houston attempted to correct this problem by appointing West Point-trained Albert Sidney Johnson to command over Huston, the Mississippian responded by challenging the newcomer to a duel and on February 7, 1837, shot him through the hip. Believing the situation hopeless, President Sam Houston disbanded most of the army in May 1837, releasing hundreds of armed, and unemployed, men into the Texas population. Some, like Ross, found an outlet for their energy by serving in the militia, the rangers, or scouting the country looking for acreage to lay claim to using their veteran land bounties. Ross eventually patrolled the Rio Grande as head of the “Frontier Guards,” a ranger company picketing the border.

Another of these adventurers lingering in Texas was Samuel Jordan. In December 1838 Mirabeau B. Lamar became president of the Republic of Texas, giving these rowdies hopes for a renewed Texas army and a chance at adventure. Instead, in May 1839 Jordan found himself a captain hunting Cherokees in East Texas. Disappointed by this lack luster campaign, Jordan looked for other pursuits.

Ross and Jordan, two Texas captains, listened to appeals by federalist Antonio Canales Rosillo as he traveled through Texas looking for men. Learning that Texas congressman Richard Roman also backed Canales, Jordan began raising troops while Ross gained authorization to use his command in the effort. Gathering together nearly 300 men, the triad of Texans each assumed the rank of colonel in the Texan Auxilliary Corps and headed into Mexico, driving away centralist garrisons at Mier and Guerrero.

On October 3-4, 1839, Canales and his allies defeated General José Ignacio Pavón and his 500 centralist troops at the Battle of Alcantra. Ross, for one, led his troops beneath the Lone Star banner of Texas. The federalist then turned to capture Matamoros, but Canales gave up the siege after little effort. Disgusted, many of the officers that led the Texan Auxiliary Corps returned to Texas, including Ross and Roman.

Jordan, though, stuck with Canales and became an enthusiastic backer of the Mexican’s scheme to establish the Republic of the Rio Grande. In the summer of 1840, Jordan took a reorganized Texan Auxilliary Corps deeper into Mexico under orders to attack the centralists at Saltillo. Discovering, too late, that Canales had intentionally ordered him into the teeth of the enemy’s strength–without additional federalist support–Jordan and his Texans fought for their lives against long odds. They succeeded in driving the centralist away, but had to fight their way back to Texas. Jordan and his ruffians quit their association with Canales.

Each of these Texas adventurers–Ross, Huston, Jordan, an Roman–followed different pursuits after their schemes to help the Mexican federalists. Ross was dead soon after crossing to the north bank of the Rio Grande. Henry McCulloch killed him in a duel at Gonzales over private matters. While his former officers fought in Mexico, General Huston had remained a few more years in the Texan army. On August 11, 1840, he had been on hand for the Battle of Plum Creek against the Comanches, but left Texas shortly afterward to form a law partnership in New Orleans. An advocate for Texas annexation to the US, Huston later became a rapid secessionist before his death in 1857. Jordan, weary and battered, returned to Austin in late 1840, but fled to New Orleans after attempting to murder Sam Houston with an ax. There, he overdosed on laudanum on June 21 and died. Roman became a leading citizen of Victoria, served in the 1846 US campaigns in Mexico, and then went to California during the Gold Rush. He died peacefully.