Monument Hill

BURIAL SITE OF DAWSON & MIER CASUALTIES

LA GRANGE, FAYETTE COUNTY, TEXAS

 

Footprints of Fayette article and photographs by Gary E. McKee:

Monument Hill

On a high bluff overlooking the Colorado River bottom in La Grange, Texas stands a tall limestone shaft. At the base of the shaft is a gray granite crypt containing the remains of heroes of the Republic of Texas. The following is the story of how this beautiful oak covered promontory came to be a shrine to freedom.

Twas six years since the smoke from the funeral pyre of the men of the Alamo had darkened the sky over the town of Bexar. Mexico still refused to recognize the independence of the land north of the Rio Grande.    

In September of 1842, the Mexican government sent another wall of eagles and serpents sweeping into Texas to reinforce their claim. The force surrounded Bexar, making surrender the only viable option for the Texian officials holding court in the town later to be known as San Antonio.

When the news of the Mexican invasion reached the town of La Grange in Fayette County, the local militia, led by Nicholas Dawson, mustered under the oak tree on the town square. About fifteen men left the square on horseback and crossed the Colorado riding towards Bexar. Along the way, Dawson enlisted men until a total of fifty-three men arrived at Salado Creek a few miles northeast of the Alamo.

Dawson’s party had traveled one hundred miles in just under two days, quite a feat at that time. Their horses were exhausted and the men had dismounted to prepare for battle. A Mexican patrol discovered Dawson, split into two pincers and surrounded the small band of Texians. At the center of the Mexican force were two cannon loaded with grape and canister shot. As Mexican lead poured into the Texians, more than half their number fell in the first few minutes. Seeing only two choices, death or surrender, Dawson surrendered. The silence of death and the cries of the men on the verge of death filled the air. The dead thirty-eight Texian heroes were left for the scavengers as the Mexican army headed back to the border. Fifteen men from Dawson’s command and the captives from Bexar courtroom were with them.

Other companies of militia from Fayette County arrived too late to assist Dawson. Captain William M. Eastland, Dawson’s cousin, commanded one of the militia units. The dead were buried on the banks of the Salado where they had fallen. The militia units returned to their homes to mourn their dead and plan their revenge.

Retribution began in November of 1842, when a group of 750 men left Bexar to avenge the death of their neighbors and relatives. Freezing weather, desertion, and the sacking of Laredo by the Texian force soon forced the Texian commander to order a return to Bexar and disband. Those still seeking revenge elected officers who wished to carry on.

On Christmas Day, a force of 261 men crossed the Rio Grande and attacked the town of Mier. Once again, a larger Mexican force surrounded the town, causing the Texians to surrender, mistakenly figuring they would be treated as prisoners of war and released. The Mexican government viewed the Texians as a band of rebels, and it was decided to march the able bodied prisoners deep into Mexico and imprison them.

Enroute, the Texians made numerous plans to escape that culminated in a mass breakout at the Hacienda Salado on February 11, 1843. After escaping the Hacienda, the Texians then broke into groups trying to return to Texas. The harsh terrain caused the majority to be recaptured. Three men managed to walk the three hundred mile trip to Texas. Two of these men were Fayette County men.

To teach the unruly Texian rebels a lesson, President Santa Anna ordered that the men be decimated. Decimation, a Latin word meaning to select one out of ten, has been used by armies since the time of Julius Caesar. One tenth of the 176 Texian rebels would be executed by firing squad.

A death lottery was organized, and an earthen jar was filled with one hundred fifty nine white beans and seventeen black beans. The prisoners were lined up to draw their own fate. Drawing a black bean meant death. All the officers drew first, and all drew a white bean with the exception of Captain Eastland, Dawson’s cousin from La Grange. The Captain was the first man to draw a black bean.

The enlisted men then drew the rest of the beans. The executions were carried out with full military ceremony. The bodies were left in a pile for four days before being moved to the nearest cemetery in the town of Cedral.

The surviving prisoners of what became known as the Mier Expedition were marched to Perote Prison near Mexico City where they met the Bexar/Dawson prisoners that were still alive. Utilizing various methods such as escape, bribery, foreign intervention, death and the “generosity” of Santa Anna, all of the men had left Perote Prison by September 16, 1844 and returned north of the Rio Grande.

After the annexation of Texas by the United States, a border dispute triggered the Mexican-American War. The Texians once again had their opportunity to seek revenge upon Mexico. Hundreds of Texians volunteered for service in the American army.

After the American invasion force had pacified the Mexican Army, a regiment of Texian Rangers under Major Walter P. Lane were stationed near Hacienda Salado and the town of Cedral. One of the Mier Expedition survivors, Captain Dusenberry asked permission to take a detail into Cedral and retrieve the bones of his comrades. Lane could not officially authorize such a violation of the truce; he just merely ignored the request.

A troop of Texians left under the cover of darkness with at least three Fayette County men in the small troop. They brazenly entered the town and impressed several “volunteers” to commence digging in the graveyard under the complaints of the priest. The bones were excavated and packed into four boxes and strapped to mules. By this time, the Mexican cavalry had been alerted and the Texians beat a hasty retreat back to their lines with a Mexican patrol in pursuit.

The boxes were returned to Texas and stored in the Fayette County courthouse. La Grange was chosen as the final resting place of the Mier men, to honor the only officer and first man to draw a black bean which sealed his fate, Captain William Mosby Eastland.

The return of the remains galvanized the community to retrieve the bones of Dawson’s men and a citizens’ group brought the bleached bones back to La Grange from the banks of the Salado. Veterans and citizens held meetings and decided to entomb the men on the commanding bluff to the south of La Grange. On September 18, 1848, a somber procession left the town square where six years before, Nicholas Dawson had hastily assembled a squad of men to protect their families and rode off into history. A befitting ceremony was held with proper respect being rendered.

At first, a simple sandstone vault was the tomb of these patriots. A committee was organized to raise money for a more befitting monument. The Monumental Committee decided upon starting a newspaper to fund a proper monument.

The paper existed for four years during which its purpose shifted from funding a monument to the Dawson and Mier men, to a monument to all Texas heroes to establishing a “Monumental College”. The Texas Monument paper failed because in the hope of attracting money, its editorial policy limited news that would not offend any potential donor.

So the heroes of Texas remained in their crude sandstone crypt on the bluff overlooking La Grange.

When the decision to bury the men on the bluff was made, the burial plot was on a league granted in1832 to David Berry. David Berry was over seventy years old when he joined Dawson’s band and was killed at Salado Creek. The land went through several owners. When H.L. Kreische purchased the land, the burial plot was not reserved on the deed. In 1850, to correct the oversight he offered to sell 10 acres surrounding the tomb under certain conditions to which the Monumental Committee consented. The conditions being that when a cornerstone was laid, he would be paid one hundred dollars. However, if nothing occurred in fifteen years the deed was null and void. The Monumental Committee folded and in1857, Kreische built his house adjacent to the tomb and claimed the land in 1865.

In 1904, the Kreische descendants, tired of unfulfilled promises by numerous groups to maintain the crypt, demanded the removal of the vault and its contents. They supposedly threatened to throw the remains over the bluff into the river if action wasn’t taken quickly. This drastic measure prompted the Daughters of the Republic of Texas chapter in La Grange to contact the state government and the land was purchased for $350.

In the early 1930s, when a state official visited the site with the purpose of moving the remains to the new state cemetery in Austin, it was surrounded by a rusty, neglected barbed wire fence. A tree growing out of the side floor of the tomb with cactus and other plants growing indiscriminately around it showed the neglect. Before leaving La Grange, the official mentioned that the remains were to be relocated to Austin.

This announcement spurred the creation of the Monument Hill Memorial Association. When the state returned to begin the move it found that “the ground around the vault cleared off clean as a whistle...the cracked walls repaired and an iron fence with a concrete curb erected around it.” Within two months a fitting granite cover was built over the old sandstone tomb. The 1936 Centennial was a boon for Texas history as the state spent large amounts of money to honor and preserve its heritage. Ten thousand dollars was appropriated for a monument to be placed next to the tomb. The forty foot shaft with the bronze angel at the base was soon completed on the small plot.

In 1957, Fayette County residents raised money to purchase the 3.54 acres around the tomb and donated the land to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to use as a state park.

Today, Monument Hill-Kreische Brewery State Historical Site contains the tomb, monument, and a historically accurate mural of the execution of the Mier men.

Footprints of Fayette article submitted by Carolyn Heinsohn:

Black Beans of Death

The following article by an unknown author was published in The La Grange Journal on November 15, 1928. In addition to a descriptive account of the massacre of the seventeen Mier prisoners who drew black beans at Salado, Mexico, the article also includes a first-person account by Franciska Willrich Vogt, who at age 13 witnessed the burial of their remains in 1848 on the bluff south of La Grange.   

It is a cold, gloomy day in March of 1843. A dismal wind startles weird echoes in the trees and canons of mountainous country near Salado, Mexico—rising in the mountains and sweeping with vicious insistence down to the little settlement where one hundred and seventy-six men are doomed to die.

In their hearts there is little hope of release. They sit in the stifling air of a rude shed, converted into a death chamber from a barn, and wait orders to march before a firing line and surrender their lives for Texas. Awaiting the surrender of their all—these who had scorned all other surrender as not befitting men who had sworn themselves to win freedom for their state.

Their clothes were worn threadbare, their feet were sore and lacerated from those long days and nights on the mountains without food or shelter while they sought the way back to Texas. Bodies were weak and helpless from the long exposure and in their minds was no thought but the release death would bring. In the hands of the Mexican general Santa Anna they hoped for no mercy.

Guards enter the room and silently place the men in heavy iron chains, ordering each to stand in line as he was bound. No word is said—then one of the Mexicans holds an official looking document to the light and reads orders that chill the blood of every man who heard them. They had expected death—death for them all according to the will of Santa Anna. Their capturer, General Mexia, had written his relentless commander, asking freedom for the prisoners, and Santa Anna had granted that only one man out of every ten would be shot and that the others might be spared.

In the history of Texas is written many chapters of dramatic happenings, but none more powerful in ironic twists of fate than the scene that followed the reading of the cruel orders.

An officer, holding an earthen mug in his hand, comes into the shed where the Texans were confined and bound in chains. In the mug were one hundred and seventy-six beans, the number of the prisoners. One hundred and fifty-nine beans were white and seventeen were black. The prisoners were each to draw a bean from the mug. The black beans meant death.

To tell the rest would be only to repeat a story known to all Texans, for the destiny of the Mier prisoners—men who dared to enter the enemy’s country out-numbered many times, to save their comrades captured by General Woll at San Antonio—will be retold and remembered through many generations.

It is from the lips of Mrs. Franciska Vogt of La Grange that the story was recently recounted with a new and gripping angle on the well known incidents—for Mrs. Vogt is the one person living who was present and remembers when the bones of these seventeen men were brought back to Texas soil and buried on the bluff overlooking her home in La Grange. And it was on her 93rd birthday that she recalled that solemn ceremony of 1848, when as a child of 13 she rode bareback to the site where the Mier prisoners were re-buried with honor and praise.

“Ah, I shall never forget how it looked— that procession of men riding mules and leading others with the bones of the Texans slung in gunny-sacks across the backs of the animals,” she said, her eyes once more glowing with the amazement she must have felt as a child. “They came right into town, and when I heard what was going to be done, I remember I ran and jumped on my pony and raced to the top of the hill for the ceremony.”

“I do not remember much of what happened, except that it was all very solemn and quiet as the bones were carefully and tenderly buried up there on the hill. Then the monument was put up—the big limestone tomb under which are the remains of those seventeen men who drew the black beans of death.”

Mrs. Vogt recalled that she was unable to get astride her horse after it was all over – remembering, as she says, more of the smaller details that made an impression on a young mind.

“I know it was some man from Austin who helped me – some nice man who held my horse and helped me swing up to ride back home again, but I do not know who, though I still remember how he looked that day,” she said.

The little old lady who will soon reach the century mark also told the story of the man who took the black bean drawn by a comrade away from him and died in his stead.  The incident may be legend or true, but Mrs. Vogt states that she has heard it all her life and believes its veracity.  It is told that the first to draw the fatal lot was a man with a wife and children back at home, and that his friend forced him to exchange the beans so that he might live.

Though the names of this Damon and Pythias of Texas history may be lost in the maze of years, what a monument to friendships that face life and death with equal unselfishness!

The burial of the Mier prisoners is only one of the incidents of early Texas history that can be told in the first person by the gray-haired and smiling grandmother and great-grandmother of La Grange.  She came to Fayette County from Germany in 1847 with her mother and brothers and sisters, following the father George Willrich, who had come the previous year and located a home.  Mrs. Vogt tells that the state gave 300 acres of land to every man with a family who settled in that country then – land as wild as if it had never been touched by man.

“These hills were thick with wild animals and rattle snakes, but I got used to them and remember riding all over the country by myself as a child,” she relates.  “I will always remember one time when I was going after the horses for my mother and came up on a lot of commotion in the woods.  When I got to a clearing, I saw six wolves tearing at the body of a deer they had killed.”

Mrs. Vogt’s father was a prominent judge in the “old country,” and came to America with many other immigrants during those years who sought freedom and prosperity in the new land.  He had a large family of children whose children and children’s children are numbered among the settlers of the state.  Mrs. Vogt’s own children are Mrs. Ernest Knigge of La Grange, with whom she makes her home; E. R. Vogt of Schulenburg, Julius Vogt of O’Quinn, Mrs. Fritz Nollkamper, Fritz Vogt, La Grange.

The story of the Mier prisoners will again be placed before the people of Texas during the next legislature, it was recently learned, as the senator and representative from that part of the state, Senator Gus. Rusek of Schulenburg and Rep. James Pavlica of Flatonia, are to ask that 50 acres of land along the top of the bluff where the men are buried, be purchased by the state for a state park and a memorial to their heroism.  The land is available for purchase at this time, and as the location is ideal scenically for a beautiful recreation resort, they will use all their power to pass the bill creating the Mier park for Texas.

A monument already stands on the court house square at La Grange, erected several years ago by the state “to the memory of the men who drew the black beans and were shot at Salado, Mexico, on March 24th, 1843,” and to Capt. N. H. Dawson and his men who were massacred at Salado, Texas, in September of 1842.  The remains of some of these men are also said to rest with the Mier prisoners in the tomb at La Grange, brought back by the group who went by mule train on their errand of such grim homage.

To follow the trail of these one hundred and fifty-six men who were spared in the fatal lottery at the haciendo of Salado would be to wonder whether or not the man who saved his friend did not leave him the worse fate.  Dying of unbearable hardships on their march into Mexico City, wasting away in dungeons, shot while trying to escape and a few finally winning their way back to Texas, the group one by one went the way of their comrades who drew death from the glass of chance that day.  But no matter what followed for them, it would surely be safe to imagine that none experienced deeper agony of suspense, or grief for his comrades, than when they plunged their hands into the little grains of matter, colored black and white, that meant a promised freedom or a black doom.

 

Historical Markers

Monument Hill Tomb

In September 1848, the remains of Texans killed in the 1842 Dawson Massacre and the 1843 "Black Bean Death Lottery" were reburied at this site in a sandstone vault. The Kreische family did its best to care for the grave during their ownership of the property, but it suffered from lack of formal oversight. In 1905, the state authorized acquisition of .36 acres here, and the Daughters of the Republic of Texas raised funds for a new cover for the tomb in 1933. During the 1936 Texas Centennial celebration, the 48-foot shellstone shaft with a stylized, Art Deco-influenced mural was erected to mark the mass grave more prominently. Local citizens purchased 3.54 acres as a donation to the state for parkland in 1957. (2002)

Photos contributed by Marion and Steve Daughtry

Kreische Complex

German immigrant Heinrich Kreische (1821-1882) purchased nearly 175 acres of property in Fayette County in 1849. A stonemason by trade, he built a house, barn and smokehouse here on the high south bluff above the Colorado River. In the 1860s, Kreische began brewing Bluff Beer near his homesite. Situated on the spring-fed creek, the brewery included an elaborate tunnel system to provide temperature control for the brewing process. Bluff Beer was sold throughout Central Texas and was produced until 1884, two years after Kreische died in a work-related accident. The Kreische complex stands as a reminder of German heritage and culture in this region of the state. (2002)

List of Burials 

The following data was taken from the booklet Monument Hill State Historic Site: The Dawson and Mier Expeditions and their Place in Texas History by Mark Abolafia-Rosenzweig:

 

NAME

DEATH

COMMENTS

Adams, ?

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Alexander, Jerome B.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Alley, James

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Barkley, Robert

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Beard, John

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Berry, David

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Brookfield, Francis E.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Butler, Thomas J.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Cash, John L.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Church, T. John

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Cocke, James D.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Cummings, John

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Dancer, John

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Dawson, Nicholas Mosby

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Dickerson, Lewis W.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Dunham, Robert Holmes

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Eastland, Robert

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Eastland, William Mosby

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Este, Edward E.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Farris, Lowe (?)

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Field, Charles S.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Garey, Elijah

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Griffin, Joe

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Hall, Harvey W.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Harris, Robert

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Hill, George A.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Jones, Asa

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Jones, John F.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Jones, Thomas L.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Lewis, Patrick

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Linn, William

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Lowe, Winfield S.

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Maher, Patrick

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

McGee, Richard

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Ogden, James Masterson

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Pendleton, John Wesley

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Rice, Thomas

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Roberts, Christopher

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Rowan, William

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Savage, William

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Scallorn, John Wesley

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Scallorn, Elam

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Simms, Thomas

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Slack, Richard

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Thompson, Joseph N. M.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Torrey, James N.

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Trimble, Edward

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Turnbull, James

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Wells, Norman Miles

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition

Whalen, Henry

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Wing, Martin Carroll

25 Mar 1843

Executed at Salado, Mexico on the Mier Expedition

Woods, Zadock

18 Sep 1842

Died at Salado Creek on Dawson Expedition


Related Links

Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Parks
Located on the bluff overlooking La Grange, this picturesque 40.4-acre state park is the site of a tomb containing the remains of members of the Dawson and Mier Expeditions, as well as the ruins of one of the first commercial breweries in Texas.

Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historical Parks
TexasEscapes.com

View of Colorado River from Monument Hill by Gary E. McKee
Monument Hill – Kreische Brewery State Historic Site
Dawson Massacre
Mier Expedition
Perote Prison
Black Bean Episode
Jerome B. Alexander
James Decatur Cocke
Nicholas Mosby Dawson
William Mosby Eastland
Patrick Mahan
James M. Ogden
James Nash Torrey
Henry A. Whalen
Martin Carroll Wing
Zadock Woods
All at the Hand book of Texas Online

Participants in the Dawson Massacre
contributed by Dale Martin

The Mier Expedition
Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas Web Site

Eyewitness Descriptions of the Battle of Salado & the Dawson Massacre
Sons of DeWitt Colony Texas Web Site

Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier
By Gen. T. J. Green, 1845
Southern Methodist University Web Site

Letters of the "Dawson Men" from Perote Prison, Mexico, 1842-1843
April 1935 article in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association from the Texas State Historical Association website

See Henry L. Kreische Brewery and House Listing in the National Register