ROBERT MORRIS COLEMAN,
He could ride like the wind and shoot as unerringly as the Kentuckian he was born and raised. He held a reputation throughout his life for being adventurous, decisive, and passionate for causes in which he believed. Those who knew him said he was a man of truth, integrity and honor. He was a farmer, lawyer, author, Indian fighter, Texas Ranger, a colonel in the Texas Revolution, and aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston. His destiny was tied with Houston and the fledgling state of Texas, but he died before he could witness Texasí annexation to the United States. He had a healthy amount of self-esteem and was confident in his abilities to accomplish whatever goals he set for himself. He was a hero who incurred the wrath of the most powerful political figure in Texas.
Robert Morris Coleman was born before 20 Mar 17981 in Christian County, KY, the oldest son of James Coleman and Rebecca Morris. He was also a direct descendant of the immigrant Robert Coleman of Mobjack Bay, VA. Among the Mobjack Bay descendants were several famous and infamous Colemans. Robert Morris Coleman was perhaps the most well-known and controversial Coleman of them all.
The first sign on record of Robert Morris Colemanís sense of adventure occurred when he left Christian County, KY at the age of 16, intent on joining the gathering troops in New Orleans during the War of 1812.2 Under the command of Col. Posey, the Kentuckians of Christian County joined General Andrew Jackson in the most decisive battle of the war. The date was 8 Jan 1815. Two thousand British troops died that day, compared with the 71 American souls who were lost. This coming together of men from various parts of America was, in all probability, the first meeting between Robert Morris Coleman and Sam Houston. Almost twenty years would pass before they met again on the Texas frontier, with ill fated results.
After the War of 1812 ended, Robert Morris Coleman returned home and settled in to live with his parents in Christian County, KY. Sometime during the following few years, Robert read for the law and became a lawyer as his father and Uncle Robert were. It must have therefore come as a surprise when, in November 1820, Robert, his cousin Randolph Walker and several other men were the subjects of a bill brought against them for assault and battery. \(A bill was a written declaration of charges or complaints filed in a legal action.) The court proceedings were held in Trigg County./a>, KY because in May of that year, the portion of Christian County where the Colemans lived became part of the newly formed Trigg County. The details of the bill are unknown, as is the outcome of the legal action.
In Jul of 1821, Robert Morris Coleman paid tax on two horses and one black slave over 16. He was worth $700, owned no land, and lived in the home of his parents. Robertís sister Elizabeth married their cousin, Randolph Walker, on 5 Jul 1821. Randolph was a son of Sarah Coleman and Thomas Walker. Sarah was an older sister of James Coleman, the father of Robert Morris, Elizabeth and their siblings.
Some time after this event, Robert left Kentucky and went to Alabama. He met Elizabeth Bounds and married her on 22 Dec 1822 in Marengo County, AL. Two children were born to Robert and Elizabeth while they lived in Alabama: Albert V. on 23 Dec 1823 and Rebecca on 30 Jun 1825. After Rebeccaís birth, Robert moved his family to Trigg County. His mother Rebecca may have become ill and had asked to see him. Rebecca Morris Coleman passed away before 1830, for she was not on the Trigg County census that year.
Once back in Kentucky, Robert became a farmer and cotton planter. Daughter Sarah Elizabeth was born in Trigg County on 27 Aug 18273. Son James William was born in that county on 4 Dec 18291. The last of Robertís and Elizabethís children born in Kentucky was daughter Caroline who entered the world on 14 Oct 1830 and died three weeks later.
During the time Robert was living the relatively calm life of a Kentucky farmer, events in Texas would soon capture his imagination. A small number of Americans were already settled in the Spanish state of Tejas y Coahuila. Spain had claimed and ruled Mexico for over three hundred years, but only three settlements between the Rio Grande and Sabine rivers had been established in all that time: San Antonio, Goliad and Nacogdoches. The state of Tejas at that time was considerably smaller than its eventual size and shape when Texas achieved American statehood in 1845.
In 1820, an American citizen named Moses Austin asked the Spanish government for permission to settle in Tejas. Austin died soon after making his request, but the following year the Spanish government granted permission for settlement to his son, Stephen F. Austin. The Spanish government believed more settlers, particularly Americans and Europeans, were needed in Tejas to prevent other countries from trying to claim the land. The Spaniards, however, waited too long. In that same year of 1821, Mexico fought for and gained its independence from Spain.
Stephen F. Austin negotiated a contract with the new government of Mexico to settle three hundred families in Texas. His colony was called the Austin Three Hundred. The Mexican government required the settlers to become Catholics, speak Spanish, and obtain Mexican citizenship. True to their independent natures, the settlers, most of whom were southerners, only pretended to be Catholics and continued to speak English. They also refused to mold themselves into Mexicans.
Other Americans who founded colonies in early Texas were Green DeWitt, Sterling C. Robertson, Martin de Leon and Haden Edwards. These men were granted vast tracts of land on which to settle several hundred families. In 1826, Sterling C. Robertson traveled to Kentucky with the purpose of recruiting settlers for his colony. For each 100 families he persuaded to migrate, Robertson would receive 23,000 acres of land for himself. He focused his recruitment efforts in the Hopkinsville area of Christian County, KY. Robert Morris Coleman was first introduced to the concept of migrating to Texas after listening to Robertsonís persuasive arguments in favor of uprooting.
Robertson promised that every farming head of a family would receive 177 acres of rich bottomland and 4428 acres of pastureland for their stock. Settlers would also be exempt from taxation for six years from the date they settled in the colony.4 They were also allowed to import, duty-free, anything for themselves and their families. Robertson wove promises of abundant game, wild horses, cattle, turkeys, buffalo, deer and antelope. He told them the woods were full of wild bees, grapes, plums, cherries, persimmons and berries. Robertson claimed the climate was so mild that houses were unnecessary. Buffalo robes and bearskins were all that were needed for bedding, and deerskins for clothing.
Robertson assured the Kentuckians that Mexican soldiers were stationed on the frontier to protect against Indian attacks. But he neglected to mention that those soldiers were mostly the dregs of Mexican society, more interested in drinking, filling their bellies and taking siestas than they were in protecting anyone or any thing. Robertson also neglected to mention the Indiansí growing anger at the whitesí encroachment on their ancestral hunting grounds.
Two types of early settlers migrated to Texas. There were those who went there to acquire land on which to build a home and raise food and cattle. These men were honest and hardworking, desirous of succeeding at living on the frontier despite the ever-present danger of Indian raids. They brought their wives and children with them, each with their own special dreams. The second type of settler was often of the outlaw or adventurer ilk, fleeing from debt or possible imprisonment for killing someone in a duel. Some brought all their portable property with them; others left everything behind, viewing Texas as a means of starting over, perhaps changing their lives for the better. There would be no glory in the life and death struggles for the Texas pioneers, and few of them realized they were part of history in the making.
There is no doubt that after listening to Sterling Robertsonís pitch for migration, Robert Morris Coleman was determined to relocate to Texas. Five years would pass before he and his growing family left Kentucky for good. The death of his mother and his fatherís remarriage undoubtedly played a role in Robertís decision. He could leave Kentucky knowing his father was content with his life and new family. After the deaths of his mother and daughter, Robert appeared determined to prepare for the biggest adventure of his life. Six months after Carolineís death, Robert and his family left for Texas.
Their method of traveling south is unknown, but they likely traveled at least partway by flatboat. They would have made their way from the Cumberland River to the Mississippi and from there drifted down the river towards New Orleans. Flatboats were built specifically for traveling downstream, carried by the current, and needing only to be steered. The risk of river pirates was certainly a factor in traveling on the water, but flatboat owners and their crews were tough men who enjoyed outwitting the pirates. They had to, because flatboating was their livelihood. Robert Morris Coleman would have relished such an environment, and would have helped thwart any attempts by thieves and murderers to take what wasnít theirs. A number of flatboats could have been hired by Robert to carry the family, their possessions, farm stock and wagon southward. Once the flatboats reached their destination, they were broken up and sold for lumber and firewood. The boatís owner would then pay off his crew and make his way home to build more flatboats and begin the portage process all over again. As for Robert, he would have hired a steamer to carry the family and their goods across the Gulf to Galveston Bay.
It is also possible that Robert moved his family overland, especially if Elizabeth wanted to visit her family in Alabama. The logistics of moving by wagons would have necessitated the hiring of men to drive the wagons and drovers to herd the animals. The hired men would also have provided more protection against predators, whether they were two-legged or four-legged.
During the decade prior to Robertís migration to Texas, life was particularly hard on the settlers. They received the land they were promised, but that was the only promise fulfilled. Until a crop of corn and other vegetables had gone through a growing season, the only available food was wild game and whatever the settlers managed to bring with them. A simple meal of dried venison dredged in honey was often the only food served until a crop came in. But the hospitality of the early Texas pioneers would not allow them to turn away weary, hungry travelers. As long as their teeth, or grinders as the settlers referred to them, could chew the tough, dried venison, strangers were welcome to share the meager fare.
Despite the claims of the men determined to establish colonies, housing was necessary, particularly for protection against capricious weather and angry Indians. Small log cabins were quickly erected, sometimes haphazardly. Roofed with flat boards, they were windowless and floorless. But they did serve the purpose of keeping out rain, snow and sun, depending on the season. The cabins were also somewhat useful during Indian raids, but flaming arrows shot from huge bows by a strong Native American arm often caused the cabin to burn, and the entire family massacred.
Life was extremely hard on the pioneer women living in early Texas. Most of them had left their spinning wheels and looms behind because of the difficulty of transporting them. And when they first arrived in Texas, there was nothing yet to spin or weave. They had no poultry, no dairy products, and no gardens. Meals were necessarily simple and required a minimum of preparation time. Venison was the main staple, augmented by other wild game. Flour cost ten dollars a barrel, so there was no bread until a corn crop was ready for picking.
There were no books or newspapers, if the settlers were able to read. The first newspaper in Texas was The Cotton Plant, published by Godwin B. Cotton. He launched his newspaper in 1829 in San Felipe./a> but The Cotton Plant only lasted four years. The fourth newspaper published in Texas was The Telegraph and Texas Register in 1835, owned by Gail Borden of San Felipe. The Telegraph was devoted to the cause of independence and later became Bordenís tool as an influential supporter of Sam Houston. The "news" reported in The Telegraph was slanted in Houstonís favor and had little to do with actual events. After the Battle of San Jacinto, Borden moved the newspaper to Columbia where headquarters of the War Department was located, and then to Houston. Gail Borden later invented Eagle Brand Condensed Milk.
In the early years, there were no schools, no churches, and little relief from the monotony of living on a prairie far from neighbors and always threatened by Indians wanting to steal horses, cattle, and scalps. If the Indians failed to steal horses, they would simply kill them. The women lived with boredom, entertained by equally bored children and the family dog. Their men, however, seemed to flourish on the Texas frontier. The menfolk cut down bee trees and took the hives home, because honey was the only affordable sweetener. The men hunted game, and those who lived near the coastal rivers also killed alligators. Money was scarce and pelts of any kind were used as currency. Coffee and tobacco were considered absolutely indispensable to the men, although tobacco was regulated as contraband by the Mexican government and settlers were limited to planting only 1/6 of a bushel of tobacco seed each growing season.
Pots of boiled coffee and pouches of tobacco were enjoyed around a campfire on hunting parties. After a pot of water was brought to a boil, a handful of ground coffee beans was added and allowed to bubble and boil for a while. When the coffee was strong enough to float a horseshoe, several drops of cold water would be added to settle the grounds in the bottom of the pot. Yarns would be spun and politics would be discussed, often heatedly. And guards were always posted around the camp, continually alert for the presence of Indians bent on mischief.
Without doctors, settlers had only themselves on which to rely for medical care, such as it was. Although accidents happened while cutting down trees or chopping wood, wounds suffered during Indian raids were the most dangerous. Indian arrows were treated with poisons guaranteed to fester in a wound and provide a slow, painful death to its recipient. It was often necessary to saw off limbs of stricken victims with a handsaw, or tie hemorrhaging arteries with strands of horsetail. If a wound were less severe, cauterizing it with a red-hot branding iron would suffice. Mexican herbalist senoras were often consulted by pioneer women responsible for the health of their families. They began learning the medicinal properties of every plant, weed, bush and tree bark.
Life on the prairie wasnít all hard work or danger. All-night dancing parties were occasionally held, if a fiddler and clevis player could be found. A clevis was simply a U-shaped piece of iron with holes bored in each end. A pin was then inserted through the holes to attach one object to another, such as a chain to a wagon. The clevis and pin made a temporary musical instrument that anyone with a bit of rhythm could play. There were many more single men than women in Texas, and men rode in from miles around when word of a dancing party spread.
The scarcity of leather footgear created a problem if the cabin floor were made of puncheon. \(A puncheon was a heavy, broad piece of roughly hewn timber with one side bowed flat.) Flexible moccasins could not withstand the rough wooden splinters, so those fortunate enough to wear leather boots or shoes would take a few turns at dancing and then switch footgear with those who wore moccasins so they, too, could dance. By morning, every splinter was worn smooth on the floor. The heel and toe, rat-a-tat-tats kept rhythm with the fiddle and chevis, and also served as a human tool for sanding a floor smooth.
Although single men were the most frequent visitors to saloons, that wasnít always the case. Men gathered to hear the latest news of the rumored revolution with Mexico, and keep informed of the latest Indian raids near their settlements. Not all the men gambled, but for those who did, money was a scarce commodity on the frontier. Bets in the gambling parlors and saloons were limited to a quarter at a time. Quarters were also hard to come by, so silver dollars were cut into four pieces. No one got rich after an evening of gambling, but they did enjoy themselves and for a little while, at least, were not bored.
By the time Robert Morris Coleman and his family arrived in Texas, in May 1831, living conditions had eased somewhat during the prior decade of settlement. Log cabins were not as crudely built, and some were even constructed with four rooms divided by a wide, roofed-over corridor called a dog-trot. Food was more plentiful and established settlers shared their fruits and vegetables with newcomers until their first crop could be harvested.
Most of the early settlers in Texas had migrated from southern states. A small number of plantation owners and their slaves were among the settlers, but they were a minority. The southern tradition of riding and shooting, an eagerness to defend oneís rights, and a willingness to use guns or knives if necessary, suited them perfectly for frontier living. Robert Morris Coleman flourished in such an environment.
He, Elizabeth and their children settled near Mina which would later be renamed Bastrop. Robert and Elizabeth established their homestead on the east side of the Colorado River, a mile or two from the river itself. The land was known as Webberís prairie, named for John F. Webber who had built the first house and fort on the prairie that bears his name. The Mexicans mistakenly thought Webber was a doctor, and often summoned him, most unwillingly, to treat their ailments. He did the best he could and always managed to leave with his life intact.
Robert Morris Coleman received a labor of land (177 acres) from Ben Milam, 24 labors (4248 acres) from Sterling C. Robertson and a headright league (4428 acres) from Stephen F. Austin in the name of Robertís son, James W. Coleman.5 Robert also purchased a league of land (4428 acres) from Neils Peterson on 10 Jan 1834 with a down payment of $52.00 and a promise to pay the balance of $250.00 when Peterson needed it.6
In 1833, James Gilleland preached the first sermon in Bastrop County in the home of Robert Morris Coleman. Gilleland lived several miles downriver from the Colemans. Neighbors from miles around arrived to hear the sermon because church services back home in the States were sorely missed.
Robert became a well-liked prominent leader of the settlement. In 1834 he was elected mayor \(Alcalde\). As mayor of Mina, Robert was authorized to contract for the building of a ferry and a courthouse, to be approved by the Mexican government \(Ayuntamiento\) at their next meeting. For his services as mayor, Robert was paid with town lots in Mina.
Texas was full of colorful characters and one of them was Judge Robert M. Williamson who lived at Mina. Although blessed with great intelligence and a wonderful sense of humor, the judge was born with his right leg drawn up at a right angle at the knee and required the use of a wooden leg. The judge was known as "three-legged Willie" and was admired by those who knew him. To relieve their boredom, the single men of the settlement would often get together once a week for talent night at the local saloon. Each man would perform his particular talent for everyoneís entertainment whether they wanted to hear it or not. As the revelry continued through the night, the entertainment became more boisterous. Judge Williamson had a singing voice blessed by the angels, but the ditties and songs he performed did not even approach being politically correct.
Robert Morris Coleman wrote a letter to Sterling Robertson at Sarahville de Viesca on 8 Nov 1834 in which he informed Robertso..that he was "making every preparation to settle my league"Ö..that 9 labors (1593 acres) adjacent to the Coleman league were "layed off by Thomas A. Graves"Ö..that Dr. Thomas Kenney took the league west of the labors and intended to settle immediatelyÖ..that Robert Morris Coleman and Thomas Kenney "expected to settle 15 or 20 families on the San Antonio road over the winter" (1834-35)Ö..that Robertson should "excuse the writing as I write in the woods and in great haste"Ö..that Coleman and Kenney planned to be in Sarahville in January 1835 and would visit Robertson.7 The letter was written from West Yegua.
Robert Morris Coleman commanded the Mina Volunteer Mounted Riflemen, which was a forerunner of the Texas Rangers. As Captain of the Mina Volunteers, Robert engaged in more Indian fighting and scouting than he did farming. He apparently relied on Elizabeth to handle the daily rigors of maintaining a farm. By all accounts, Elizabeth was equal to the task.
When the Colemans moved to Texas in May 1831, Elizabeth was pregnant with son Thomas Conaly Coleman. He was born on 5 Dec 1831, but died two days later. Two more children were born at Bastrop, another son named Thomas Conaly on 1 Jan 1833, and daughter Sarah Ann on 12 August 1835.
On 12 Jan 1835, Robert Morris Coleman received an order to organize the first official Texas Ranger company in Bastrop. As Captain, he and his men were ordered to help eliminate hostile Indians from the Colorado River settlements. Robertís official pay as a Ranger captain was $75.00 per month, while his men were paid $1.25 per day. The Rangers were required to furnish their own weapons, horses and equipment. In the early days of the ranging companies, men volunteered and disbanded as needed. Some served only days, while others served for months at a time. In fights with the Indians, the Rangers were often outnumbered 50 to 1, and found it expedient to carry multiple pistols, rifles and knives. Out of necessity, they also learned from the Indians how to use frontier horseback riding tactics. The Rangers became extremely effective against Indian raids, and were a strong influence on U.S. and C.S.A. cavalries formed during the War Between The States.
During the early years of frontier rangering, each Ranger company was supplied with a predetermined ration of flour, bacon, beef, coffee, sugar, salt, soda, soap, vinegar, pepper, candles, potatoes, onions and rice. A ration was the amount configured for each Ranger on a daily basis. The Rangers in all likelihood ate better than most settlers on the frontier, although their diet was not varied unless they killed wild game. If the Ranger companies had surplus items such as flour, rice and sugar, items difficult for settlers to obtain, they often traded those staples for fresh milk, butter and eggs.
In the summer of 1835, Amos Alexander and his son were murdered by Indians near LaGrange, and Colemanís rangers went after them. Carrying long rifles, horse pistols and knives, the rangers were tough and ready for a fight. They captured seven Indians, a rare feat. After consulting amongst themselves, the rangers decided the Indians deserved no mercy, and executed them the next morning.
After Robert Morris Coleman returned home, he learned that Mexican General Ugartechea and his troops were marching towards Gonzales, intending to retrieve a cannon that had been lent to the Texans to help them defend the frontier against Indians. The march towards Gonzales by the Mexicans intent on retrieving their cannon would become the first incident of the Texas Revolution. Robert Morris Coleman organized a company of volunteers from Bastrop and rode for Gonzales. The men, like most Texans, had grown impatient for independence from Mexico. They knew if the Mexicans retrieved the cannon, it would certainly be used against the Texans in the impending revolution.
From a letter dated 30 Sep 1835 from Gonzales, written by Robert Morris Coleman to James B. Miller the mayor of San Felipe: "Dear Sir, I arrived at this place about 8 oclock last evening with 30 men from Bastrop. I left eight men on the way who will be here to day. John H. Moore also arrived last night with some 40 or 50 men. Our forces are slowly increasing. The Mexicans are encamped on the opposite side of the River, report as to numbers differ from 100 to 150 there is probably 125ówe have as yet no head. There will be one chosen to day you will use evry (sic) exertion to forward men to our assistance, as we expect a reinforcement from Baxor ourly (sic). I am for attacking those that are now heare we are divided on the subject. Something will be done so soon as there is a commander in chief. We are all captains and have our views. Do not be surprised should you hear of a battle being fought on this day. The sword is drawn and it must not be sheathed until Texas is free of these incursors (sic). Do all you can to forward I am yours in haste R.M. Coleman."8
Additional troops quickly began arriving. Col. Fannin led the "Brazos Guards" and Capt. Thomas Alley brought a small company from the Colorado.
When the Mexicans were seen approaching, the Texans raised the now famous "Come and Take It" flag. The first Lone Star Flag was the Old Cannon Flag "gotten up" at Gonzales. It was made of white cotton cloth about six feet long with a drawing of the old cannon centered in the middle and painted in black. Above the cannon was a lone star and below it the words "Come and Take It", a challenge reportedly lost on the Mexicans.
When Gen. Ugartechea demanded that the Texans return the cannon, he was at first ignored. But, in the words of Secretary of War Thomas J. Rusk, as Ugartecheaís demands heated up, the Texans "gave him the contents of the cannon". By the time the fight commenced, the Texans numbered 250 against thousands of Mexican troops. Indians watched the commotion from the hill ridges, apparently eager to join the Mexicans against the hated white men who had stolen their hunting grounds. The Texansí only artillery was the old cannon that they refused to return to the Mexicans. They carried Bowie knives and long, single-barreled, muzzle-loading flintlock rifles, the same type their fathers and grandfathers had used in the American Revolution, and those used by the Kentucky brigade at the Battle of New Orleans.
Whether it was luck or just fate, the Mexican Army showed little bravery. Patriotism was a foreign concept to them, and Santa Annaís troops exhibited a prompt penchant for deserting. Their desertions also took the Indian factor out of the fight.
Col. Stephen F. Austin led the first Texas Army, which numbered about 600. The men wore heavily fringed buckskin breeches, some new and soft and yellow, others hard, black and shiny from grease and dirt and being rained on. Many a new recruit discovered to his chagrin that wet buckskin had a tendency to stretch as much as a foot. The recruit would then cut off the excess with a knife. As their breeches began to dry, the buckskin also began to shrink and creep upwards, leaving a great deal of hairy leg exposed.
Only a few soldiers had boots, and most men wore shoes or moccasins. On their heads were military caps, sombreros, coonskin caps or tall beegums, a piece of hollowed out gum tree formerly inhabited by bees. Texas soldiers rode a variety of mounts, among them big American horses, Spanish ponies, half-broken mustangs, and even mules. Their only artillery was once again the old cannon mounted on boards and wooden wheels, pulled by two yoke of Texas long-horned steers. The old cannon was given its place of honor in the middle of the mounted men, but the slow pace was a hindrance and eventually the cannon was abandoned at Sandy Creek. As the Texans would prove time and again, their smaller numbers and ragtag gear and clothing would have no influence on their determination to fight the Mexicans and win freedom for all Texans.
By autumn of 1835, there were more than 35,000 settlers in Texas, and relations with Mexico were heating up. On 13 Oct 1835, Austin broke camp at Gonzales and led his men toward San Antonio de Bexar (pronounced "bear") where they expected to meet the enemy. At the Cibolo, Sam Houston rode into camp on a little yellow Spanish stallion so diminutive that Houstonís long legs encased in buckskins almost touched the ground. After giving a speech in favor of independence and turning down a request to enlist his Cherokee friends in the army, Houston left to attend the convention in San Felipe.
Jim Bowie and several other Louisianans also joined Austin at the Cibolo. Having heard of the impending trouble ahead for the Texans, Bowie and his friends were eager to join the fight. Austin, aware of Bowieís particular talents for leadership and fighting, placed him on his staff as a colonel. The Texans reached the San Antonio River at the old San Jose Mission, about eight miles below Bexar. Austin called a halt and sent Col. Bowie, with the companies of Fannin and Coleman, out to reconnoiter and select a position from which to launch an attack against the Mexican garrison.
The Mexicans opened up with cannon fire, but the Texans were dug in at a five or six foot high riverbank. Fanninís company took the lower arm of the river bend, Coleman the upper. Grape and canister crashed through the pecan trees overhead and ripe nuts rained down on the men. The Texans picked them up and ate them. Bowie, who would later die at the Alamo, was a born leader. He never wasted ammunition or men. He told the soldiers to keep under cover and reserve their fire because they "hadnít a man to spare". The Mexicans came within range of Fanninís men who, disobeying Bowie, opened fire. The Mexicans prepared for a charge and Bowie ordered Robert Morris Colemanís company to support Fannin. The Texans were outnumbered 4 to 1, but under the steady leadership of Jim Bowie, they fired by platoon, allowing others to reload. The Mexican troops charged three times but were quickly cut down by the long rifles of the Texans, and took flight. Sixty Mexicans and one Texan died in the fight that was called the Battle of Concepcion.
After Capt. Robert Morris Coleman returned home, he learned that, on 11 Dec 1835, he had been elected one of three delegates from Mina to attend the Constitutional Convention. The convention, scheduled for 1 Mar 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos, was also attended by the other two delegates, John W. Benton and Thomas J. Gazley. While attending the convention, Robert signed the Texas Declaration of Independence on 2 Mar 1836. He soon rejoined Austinís army, was promoted to major, became aide-de-camp to General Sam Houston and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto.
When Sam Houston./a> left the Cibolo for San Felipe, neither he nor Robert Morris had any idea they were on a collision course with history. During the days leading up to the revolutionís defining Battle of San Jacinto, Robert Morris Coleman observed firsthand the effects alcoholism and a rumored opium addiction had on Sam Houston. Robert served under Houstonís command, but he had little respect for the man.
Events in Sam Houstonís life prior to his Texas migration were indicative of his flawed character. Sam Houston was born in hilly, wooded Rockbridge County, VA on 2 Mar 1793. He was five years older than Robert Morris Coleman. Houstonís parents were Samuel Houston who served in the Revolutionary War, and Elizabeth Paxton, a hard-working, no-nonsense woman who had little time for her fifth son Sam, nor any of her other children. For the most part, Sam was left in the care of Peggy, a family slave.
After the American Revolution, Samuel Houston Sr. became a colonel in the Virginia militia and was often away from home. The elder Samuel had little influence over his son, and in a show of rebellion, young Sam refused to be called "Samuel". When Sam was 12, his father died and his mother moved her six sons and three daughters to Tennessee. A year later, Sam ran away from home and sheltered with a band of Cherokee who had migrated to the Arkansas Territory. Houston remained estranged from his family the rest of his life, rarely mentioned them, and led people to believe he was an orphan. Two circumstances would influence Sam Houston from that point on: his relationships with the Cherokee and Andrew Jackson, who would become Samís mentor. Jackson would guide Houston through the world of politics and became a father figure to Sam until Jacksonís death in 1845. In the three years Houston lived with the Cherokee, he learned their tribal customs, their language, how to hunt, and also acquired his lifelong addiction to alcohol, despite the Cherokeesí belief in temperance.
Houston joined the army as a private and served under the command of General Andrew Jackson. It was probably during the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 that Houston and Robert Morris Coleman first met. In 1814, at the age of 21, Houston was promoted to lieutenant. After the war, he settled in Nashville, became a lawyer and a politician. As with Robert Morris Coleman, Houston rarely practiced law, but for him, being a lawyer was necessary to obtain his goal of achieving high political office. From 1823-27, he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, lived in Washington D.C. and championed the cause of the Cherokee Indians. During this period, Houstonís drinking habits became voracious and resulted in Houston becoming the subject of gossip, a situation he reveled in. Then, in 1827, using his loquacious and persuasive charm, Houston was elected Governor of Tennessee, helped in part by his mentor Jackson.
Two years later, during his term as governor, Houston married Eliza Allen, the first of his three wives. The marriage was doomed from the beginning. Eliza was a daughter of planter Robert Allen and his wife of Gallatin, TN, a socially and politically ambitious couple. Houston and Allen had served in Congress together and Houston often visited the Allens. Eliza, although not considered pretty, was a charming, slender blonde and an excellent horsewoman. Houston was smitten by her, unaware that Eliza loved another man.
Houston was running for re-election at the time, and believed a marriage with a daughter of the influential Allens would insure his victory. The Allens were patently in favor of a marriage between the Governor of Tennessee and their eighteen-year old daughter. The clincher was a $100 loan made to Allen by Houston when they served in Congress together. Allen was unable to repay the loan and the two men agreed that Houstonís marriage to Eliza would cancel the debt. Unfortunately for Eliza, who was a deeply religious woman, she was very much aware of Houstonís penchant for womanizing and drinking. She detested Sam and was an extremely reluctant bride.
Sam Houston and Eliza Allen were married on 22 Jan 1829 in the parlor of her fatherís home. Houston would soon be thirty-six years old, twice Elizaís age. The couple moved into the Nashville Inn after their honeymoon. The Inn was constantly crowded with Houstonís drinking cronies and political hangers-on, a most unhappy circumstance for a genteel young plantation girl. Eliza, like Sam, never discussed their marital problems other than to say Houston was "insanely jealous" and often locked her in their room at the Nashville Inn to prevent her from talking to anyone. Eliza claimed ghosts haunted the "unstable Houston". On 2 Apr 1829, President Jackson was informed of the Houstonís marital discord and was heard to say angrily, "My God, is the man mad?"
A week later, on 9 April 1829, ..Eliza left Sam and returned to her family in Gallatin, who were reeling in shock. Less than three months had passed since the Houstonís were married. Houston, known as the "red-eyed governor" was mortified and refused to offer an explanation as to why his wife had left him. But on that same day, he wrote a letter to Robert Allen in which he commented several times on Elizaís virtue. "That I was satisfied and believed her virtuous, I had assured her on last night and this morningÖ.If mortal man had dared to charge my wife or say ought against her virtue I would have slain himÖ..The only way this matter can now be overcome will be for us all to meet as tho (sic) it had never occurredÖ..Eliza stands acquitted by me. I have received her as a virtuous wifeÖ..She was cold to me and I thought did not love meÖ..You can judge how unhappy I was to think I was united to a woman that did not love meÖ..My future happiness can only exist in the assurance that Eliza and myself can be happy and that Mrs. Allen and you can forget the past."9
Houstonís incredibly self-absorbed and ungentlemanly letter in which he questioned his wifeís virtue was a classic example of his unwillingness to assume responsibility for his own troubling actions, and to place blame on others. This trait, made worse by his alcoholism, would follow Houston all his life.
Tennesseeans were very displeased with Houstonís behavior and the governor realized he was unlikely to win reelection. While contemplating resignation and voluntary exile, Houston turned to religion for comfort, something he had never done before. He asked to be baptized in the faith, but Sam Houston, who would have benefited mightily from religious influences, was coldly refused.
After burning all his personal papers, Houston resigned as governor. None of Elizaís letters to Sam survived. On 23 Apr 1829, Houston left Nashville in disguise and boarded a steamer for the Arkansas Territory. Eliza waited seven years before obtaining a divorce from Houston. In 1840 she married Dr. Elmore Douglas. In that same year, 47-year old Sam married his third wife, 21-year old Margaret Lea who would become the mother of his children.
During his journey to the frontier, Houston wallowed in debauchery, swilling whiskey until he was physically helpless. But his drinking and gambling didnít prevent Houston from telling anyone who would listen that "a great destiny waits for me in the west". He was referring to the Oregon Territory. In 1818, the United States and Britain had entered into an agreement to settle the Oregon Territory, and a great deal of competition existed as to which country could entice the most settlers. Houston envisioned forming a voluntary force of frontiersmen to settle a colony at the mouth of the Columbia River, establish a government and claim independence. Then, he would put himself in charge. He was also developing a second scheme to conquer Texas by inciting a revolution and "be worth two million dollars within two years".
Houston abandoned both schemes and settled instead with the Cherokee in Arkansas Territory. He once again melded into the Indian way of life, speaking the Cherokee language and wearing a breechclout and turkey feathers. On 21 Oct 1829, Houston was granted citizenship in the Cherokee Nation, technically renouncing his American citizenship. His Cherokee name was "Raven", but he was more commonly called "the big drunk".
Although he was still legally married to Eliza Allen, Houston took a second wife in 1830. She was Talahina, a tall beautiful Cherokee woman also called Tiana by the Cherokee. Her "white name" was Diana Rogers. At Wigwam Neosho, Houston opened a trading post and planned to become wealthy. He also raised livestock and continued to drink copious amounts of liquor.
He used his Indian citizenship to avoid obtaining a license to trade, claiming he was exempt from federal trade law, based on the grounds he was a Cherokee citizen. In July of 1830, Houston received at his trading post, four barrels of Monongahela whiskey, one barrel each of corn whiskey, cognac, gin, rum and several barrels of wine. The federal government disagreed with his argument that the spirits were for his own use and therefore not taxable. Houston was forced to pay the licensing fee to operate a trading post and sell goods, and all applicable taxes. He perceived himself as being denied the opportunity of gaining wealth and his drinking increased to a dangerous level. Houston began to lose prestige among his Cherokee friends.
Matters worsened in 1831. Houston fought a duel with his store clerk over an inconsequential matter. Luckily, no blood was shed. Then, he accidentally struck an elderly Indian chief while in a drunken rage and had to appear publicly before the Cherokee Council to apologize. A few months later, Houston failed to be elected to the Cherokee Council because the Indians did not want a drunkard influencing their decisions.
In early February 1832, Houston was back in Washington D.C. with a Cherokee delegation to complain about the continual fraud inflicted upon Indian nations. He became embroiled in a controversy with Rep. William Stanberry of Ohio who had given a speech before Congress that was highly critical of Houston and questioned his honesty. Enraged, Houston challenged Stanberry to explain his inflammatory remarks or defend himself in a duel. A frightened Stanberry refused both options, but he did begin carrying two pistols and was always accompanied by two friends. On Friday evening, 13 Apr 1832, Houston spotted Stanberry on the street, yelled at him and charged toward Stanberry and his two friends.
Houston began beating the Congressman with his walking cane while Stanberry tried to pull a pistol from his pocket. The Congressman was no match for the 6í2" angry Houston, and suffered a severe beating. Houstonís two companions, Tennessee Congressman John Blair and a senator from Missouri, managed to pull Houston away before he killed Stanberry. After the Congressman recovered from the beating, he complained to the House Speaker and Houston was brought to trial before Congress. His defense attorney was Francis Scott Key.
Stanberry was disliked by many of his Congressional cohorts, while Houston often partied with a good number of them. By a vote of 106 to 89, the House found Houston guilty of the charges against him, but then issued only a reprimand. An angry Stanberry then brought charges against Houston in city court for criminal assault. Houston was found guilty, and sentenced to pay a $500 fine that he was allowed several years to pay off. Houston believed paying the fine would be an admission of guilt, and wrote to his mentor, President Jackson to ask for a pardon. Jackson granted the presidential pardon with the comment that the fine was "too excessive". So Houston escaped accountability for his actions, and at the same time, gained nationwide attention
In March of 1832, while Houston was embroiled in the Stanberry court cases, he was also involved in a mysterious correspondence with James Prentiss, a New York financier. Prentiss was a front man for several Texas land companies. The letters between the two men were often written in code, presumably to prevent them from being used against the men in court actions. Houston was hired to go to Texas, assess the situation, and purchase huge blocks of land. Prentiss wrote Houston that the purchase had to be made soon "for changes were about to transform Texas". Both men believed a revolution was brewing, and that land prices would be worth ten or twenty times their pre-revolution price. As partial payment for his services, Houston would receive 53,140 acres owned by the group of New York backers. He was also advanced $8,000 by Prentiss for expenses.
Late in July 1832, Houston left Washington D.C. for Nashville. By September, he was still in that city when he received disappointing news regarding the financial backing for the proposed land speculation scheme. Houston wrote Prentiss an angry letter terminating all agreements between them. Houston also informed Prentiss that he would go to Texas as a free agent. He then convinced President Jackson to send him to Texas to talk peace with, and gather information about, the Comanches in Texas. Perhaps President Jackson felt that his protégé would be better off leaving the States for a while. Houston had become a constant embarrassment to Tennesseeans, his Cherokee family in Arkansas, and Andrew Jackson himself.
On his way to Texas, Houston stopped off at Wigwam Neosho where he bid farewell to Tiana, his Cherokee wife. In an unusual gesture of kindness, he deeded Tiana the trading post, all the livestock and their two slaves. Houston kept only an old, decrepit horse for himself.
Sam Houston finally arrived in Texas in the early part of December 1832 and immediately set out to claim the destiny he was convinced belonged to him. The events leading up to and during the Battle of San Jacinto revealed Sam Houstonís penchant for his own self-interests. He learned that a vast difference existed between the Cherokee and Comanche Indian tribes. Unable to negotiate peace with the fierce Comanche of the Texas plains, Houston nonetheless set his sights on advancement within the Texas Army as a step up the ladder to high political office. Although he never abandoned his agenda for becoming wealthy, it seemed as though Houston was doomed to fail in that area.
Texans did not view his bouts of drunkenness with the same amusement as his friends back in Washington D.C. Texans were in a fight for their lives, having to deal with the fierce plains Indians and indolent Mexican troops, both of which held little value for human life. Houston realized he would have to prove himself worthy of leading the army, and became very unhappy with his circumstances.
Near the end of October 1835, Houston attended a Consultation (meeting) at the Solado River five miles east of San Antonio. As part of his plan to be named Major General of the Texas Army, he gave a rambling speech in which he attempted to scare the soldiers into returning home by telling them the Indians in north Texas were preparing to raid their homesteads. Houston said the army was wrong to pursue the Indians, that a peace treaty should be forged with the "powerful and warlike" people. His speech offended most of the attendees, and the soldiers became disheartened at his words. William H. Jack spoke next and made it clear to Houston that the Indians had been the ones to strike first and the Texans "had not taken up arms against them until their territory had actually been invaded". The speech by Jack was heartily received by the cheering crowd. Houston was embarrassed by the failure of his own speech, and the fact he was snubbed afterwards.
Houston realized that San Antonio had to be captured before he could be appointed Major General of the army. To further his bad mood, he had used up his supply of whiskey and had had no opportunity to replenish it. In a fit of delirium, he attempted to blow out his brains, but was subdued by Col. Jim Bowie who convinced him not to take his own life.
While traveling towards San Felipe with General Austinís troops, Houston tried to turn away volunteers. His behavior was the subject of a great deal of puzzlement among officers and soldiers alike. They wondered whether Houston was a friend of the Mexicans, or if he simply wanted Austin to fail and become disgraced. Houston also encountered a soldier named George Huff who was delivering a cannon to the Texas troops to help them bring down the walls of Bexar. To no oneís surprise, Houston tried to turn Huff away, but the soldier remained firm in his duty and rejected Houstonís suggestions. Once at San Felipe, Houston was able to obtain a supply of whiskey again, and presumably became more personable.
At San Felipe, representatives of Texas declared it an independent state, separate from Coahuila, but agreed to operate under the 1824 Mexican Constitution. Officers were elected to serve the new state of Texas, and Sam Houston became Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Texas Army, a post he had coveted.
While Houston remained behind at the old settlement of Washington-on-the-Bravos with his whiskey, women, and rumored opium, Col. William B. Travisí troops were being besieged at the Alamo by Santa Annaís army. Col. Travis sent out daily letters, pleading for Houston to send additional troops. Col. Fannin was also sending daily missives to Houston, asking for reinforcements to meet the enemy at Goliad. Houston, drunk as usual, did not believe the circumstances were as dire as Travis and Fannin claimed, He refused to send troops to their aid. Houston was heard to comment in foul language that Fannin wanted a fight and now he had it.
Robert Morris Coleman had several friends at the Alamo, among them Col. Jim Bowie with whom he had fought at the Battle of Concepcion, and Col. Travis. Robert and William B. Travis had first met in a Texas courtroom in 1834. Despite being on opposing sides, they became friends. Robert would see neither Bowie nor Travis again.
Settlers were fleeing the countryside, pursued by Mexicans and Indians. During the day, when Houston wasnít sleeping, he was defending his inactivity. His nights were spent in the grog shops of Washington-on-the-Bravos with gamblers and drunks. When Houston finally roused himself to leave, under threat of losing his commission as Commander-in-Chief, he headed for Gonzales.
Upon reaching that town, he and other Texans learned that the Alamo had not only fallen, but the brave survivors of the fight had been lined up and shot to death on Santa Annaís orders. Dejected at the loss, Houston angrily ordered that Gonzales and all Mexican farmhouses in its vicinity be burned. When that was accomplished, he then ordered the Texans to retreat because the Mexicans would quickly pursue them and "slay them to a man as they had done those who defended the Alamo". The retreat, to the Colorado River, was so precipitate that woman and children, many of them relatives of the men who perished at the Alamo, were left behind.
Houston received word of Col. Fanninís terrible defeat at Goliad and ordered another retreat, this one to San Felipe. The pleas of his officers and troops to fight were ignored. He left behind one hundred men to defend the river crossing, and took 1200 troops with him into the timber and camped between the river and a large lake. When the Texas troops realized Houston had no intention of meeting the Mexicans on the open field, about four hundred of the men left camp to rescue their families who were taking shelter between the Colorado and Brazos rivers.
At night, Houston was lost in a haze of liquor, complicated by his reported opium use. During the day he conferred with his officers. Houston adamantly advised retreat, but his officers, pressured by the demands of the troops, argued for engaging the enemy head-on. The Texans had no intention of retreating, not after receiving news of the Alamo and the disastrous battle at Goliad. They just needed to light a fire under Houstonís lazy butt and get him sobered up enough to lead them into battle.
The Texas Convention, having received word of Houstonís reluctance to engage Santa Anna, formed a military committee to inform Houston that he was at risk of yet again losing his commission if he did not act. Their beloved Texas was on the brink of being lost. Houston gave in to the demands of the military committee and reluctantly agreed to fight Santa Anna and his army.
The two armies met at San Jacinto on 21 Apr 1836. But each time the Texas officers ordered their men to commence the fight Houston himself countermanded the directives. Finally, the Texans begged their individual officers to "lead us on!" and the fight with Santa Anna proceeded without Houstonís leadership. The Texas cavalry was far superior to Mexicans on horseback, and the enemy began falling as soon as they were overtaken. When a Mexican demanded mercy, the Texans scornfully replied "Remember the Alamo!"
When the Battle of San Jacinto ended that day, more than 500 Mexicans were dead and eight Texans were killed. Robert Morris Coleman and his troops had captured 600 enemy, two hundred of them mortally wounded, and transported them under heavy guard to General Houston. The General looked at them, said he had not ordered the capture of any prisoners, and refused to accept them. Despite Houstonís procrastinations and an outright reluctance to fight Santa Anna, Texas had won its independence from Mexico.
Robert Morris Coleman remained in the army until 15 Jul 1836, then returned home. A week later, the first President of independent Texas, David G. Burnet, appointed him colonel of a regiment of Rangers. Robertís orders were to raise, for the term of one year, three companies of mounted men for the purpose of protecting the frontier settlers of the upper Brazos, the Colorado, the Little River and Guadaloupe. Colonel Coleman received instructions from Quartermaster-General Felix Huston "to purchase seventy-five horses, saddles and bridles, and to take charge of all horses and cattle roaming loose between the Brazos and Colorado rivers". Robert was instructed to exchange cows and calves for horses for his troops. His commissary, Samuel Wolfenbarger, requested provisions including 360 lbs. of coffee, 800 lbs. of salt and 392 lbs. of flour.
Colonel Coleman was also ordered to build a fort northwest of Bastrop on Walnut Creek. The fort, officially named Fort Houston although seldom called that, was occasionally referred to as Fort Colorado. But for most Texans, it was known as Colemanís Fort. The fort was basically a stockade surrounding two 2-story blockhouses and several cabins that housed settler families. A newspaper editorial a few years later described Robert Morris Coleman as brave and defiant with only a small troop of thirty or forty men to defend themselves and the settlers against the hostile Indians. Robertís soldiers were efficient and successful in carrying out their orders. When Houston had been in charge, the settlers complained that the Indians were killing their children. With Robert Morris Coleman in charge, the settlers complained that his soldiers were killing their hogs.
Colonel Coleman reveled in his Texas Ranger duties. The Rangers had become a major peacekeeping force and defenders of frontier justice, the very things in which Robert Morris Coleman believed. "The Texas Rangers were never more than a handful in number, but they were picked men who knew how to ride, shoot, and tell the truth. On the Mexican border and on the Indian frontier, rangers time and again proved themselves more effective than battalions of soldiers."10 The Rangers themselves may have sung these anonymously written words:
"Oh, pray for the ranger, you kind-hearted stranger,
He has roamed over the prairies for many a year,
He has kept the Comanches from off your ranches,
And chased them far over the Texas frontier."10
Robert Morris Coleman and Sam Houston had not seen each other since a few days after the Battle of San Jacinto and there were no signs of ill will between them. But other prominent Texans were still seething over Houstonís actions in the San Jacinto campaign. The Texansí victory in that battle had inflated Houstonís ego and he frequently referred to the victory as his "destiny". Using self-proclaimed bravery and perceived heroism, Houston ran for and won the Presidency of Texas with a large majority of votes. While touting himself a hero at San Jacinto, Houston also advocated a policy of peace towards the Texas Indians. Houston may have been referring to the relatively peaceful east Texas Indians, with whom he was most familiar and friendly. His policy was considered workable for the east Texas Indians, but ridiculous and reckless when applied to the more vicious plains Indians.
By October 1836, Houston was so anxious to take office that he pressured members of the Texas Congress to force President Burnet out of office a month early, and Houston was sworn in as President. Congressional members, who hoped for presidential favor, read the writing on the wall. Burnet was expendable, Houston the President-elect, was not.
Before he took office, Houston wrote Robert Morris Coleman a letter highly critical of Ranger activities, and informed Colonel Coleman of his peace policy regarding the ..Indians. Robert..as angry that all the hard work and risks taken by his Rangers was for naught. He wrote to President Burnet, expressing his astonishment at Houstonís accusations and policy. "I have acted in strict obedience to the orders given me by Major Sawyer the Secretary of WarÖ..I have now the three companies Almost complete, have made my head Quarters above the settlement on the ColoradoÖ..you will please examine my commissionÖ..as well as all other documents touching my ordersÖ..I challenge an investigation of my official acts and should there be cause, am willing to be removed, but I came to give protection to the frontier peopleÖ..I have taken my position, the Indians cannot dislodge me."11
By the time Burnet received Robertís letter, Houston had pushed Burnet out of office and taken the oath of President. Prominent Texans, including Burnet, John A. Wharton, Algernon P. Thompson and possibly Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar himself, began searching for a means to strike a blow at the drunken, arrogant Houston. At the time, Robert Morris Coleman was the ideal tool, and the men convinced him to write a treatise of the San Jacinto campaign with the intention of exposing Houstonís lack of character.
The publication of the anonymously written Houston Displayed, or Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto? By a Farmer In the Army, better known as Colemanís Pamphlet, created the greatest controversy in Texas politics, if not its history. The pamphlet was also the initial movement of the anti-Houston party in Texas. The Velasco Herald, owned by Vice President Mirabeau B. Lamar, published Houston Displayed in early 1837. Robert Morris Coleman was credited with the authorship, although Algernon P. Thompson and John A. Wharton were thought to have helped him.
Colemanís Pamphlet was widely acknowledged to genuinely hold true, particularly by officers and troops who took part in the campaigns Robert described, or who witnessed certain events. More than ninety percent of the officers and men who had participated in the Battle of San Jacinto supported the accusations in the pamphlet and criticized Houstonís part in the Texas Revolution. They believed Houstonís fame was too easily granted by the post-revolution immigrants. The newest settlers had arrived in Texas having read glowing accounts in American newspapers of Houstonís accomplishments, and believed he alone was responsible for Texasí independence. What the immigrants were not aware of, however, was that the American press had based their writings on information provided by pro-Houston supporters. And thus, Texas history was a bit skewed from the early days onward.
Houston did not challenge the accusations in the pamphlet for one simple reason. There were too many witnesses to its accuracy. In addition, a majority of politicians and men of leadership in Texas had, on more than one occasion, witnessed Houstonís drunken tirades and rambling speeches. They had little doubt that Colemanís Pamphlet was unimpeachably true. Houston was privately enraged, but uncharacteristically quiet in public. Some of Houstonís friends suggested that Robert Morris Coleman be held responsible for his conduct, which was laughable since Houstonís pitiful and cowardly conduct was the issue at hand. When the suggestion was repeated to Houston, he reportedly replied, "Poor Coleman is to be pitied." Of course Robert was to be pitied. He had publicly embarrassed Houston, and the vengeful character of the president would exact a dear price from anyone who dared spite him. Houston turned once again to liquor for solace, and ordered the confiscation and destruction of all copies of Houston Displayed.
Written in the flowery and verbose style of the day, Robert Morris Coleman stated in his Introduction that he was addressing the issue of Houstonís request to be placed at the head of the army in the event of another incursion by Mexico. The pamphlet would describe Houstonís behavior during the Texas Revolution, particularly the Battle of San Jacinto, and the author wanted the citizens of Texas to know Houstonís true colors. Robert admitted he was subjecting himself to the wrath of "executive power", but was willing to do so for the sake of duty. Robert Morris Coleman might have reconsidered his words if he had known what was in store for him.
Houston was determined to "get even", and did not have to wait long. An incident occurred at Colemanís Fort that would offer Houston an opportunity for revenge. An officer at the fort was rumored to be a deserter from the U.S. Army back in the States, but because of his military experience, he was made a lieutenant in the Texas Army. Unfortunately, the lieutenant liked to abuse subordinates. There was an enlisted man at the fort who loved his bottle, and he became extremely intoxicated one night. The lieutenant ordered him tied upright to a post and left there to sober up. Being drunk, the man was unable to remain upright and sagged downward. The cord around his neck hanged him. The lieutenant, frightened at what he had done, shamelessly abandoned the fort and left Col. Coleman to take the blame for the manís death.
When Houston received word of what had happened at Colemanís Fort, he immediately dismissed Robert Morris Coleman from the army and relieved him of his Ranger duties. On 8 Feb 1837, Houston ordered Robertís arrest, sent him to the prison in Velasco and had him placed in solitary confinement. Aware that a hearing or trial would allow Robert Morris Coleman to defend himself and clear his name, Houston held him in prison without bringing charges against him, thus denying Robert a trial. Houston then began gloating to friends that, in effect, any man who dared cross him would suffer the consequences of Houstonís wrath.
Col. William F. Gray, after visiting Robert Morris Coleman in prison on 22 Feb 1837, wrote in his diary that Robertís treatment had been harsh and arbitrary. Robert was anxious for a trial and asked Col. Gray to relate his request to Houston. But no trial was ordered and Robert Morris Coleman remained a prisoner.
Robertís plight finally came to the attention of Chief Justice James Collingsworth at Brazoria. Appalled that Houston had violated the very articles of government he had sworn to uphold, the Chief Justice angrily ordered Robert Morris Colemanís immediate release as a free man. Collingsworth also stated in his order that the articles for the government of the armies of Texas declare that no officer or soldier should be confined more than eight days without a court martial proceeding being convened. The release order was signed on 12 May 1837, more than three months after Robert Morris Colemanís imprisonment.
Robert was released from prison but remained in Velasco where he wrote a petition to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas. In his petition, Robert unequivocally declared the charges of criminal behavior and unofficerlike conduct unofficially made by Houston were not only groundless, but they were a stain on his reputation. He requested an investigation into those charges, asking for all papers on file at the war office, and all official documents in his own possession be gathered in support of his defense. Although he was a free man, Robert wanted to clear his name. He also wanted to make Sam Houstonís illegal and vengeful actions public knowledge. The petition was written and sent to the House Speaker on 31 May 1837.
Although Houston ordered all copies of Colemanís Pamphlet destroyed, he himself retained a copy, as did most of Houstonís enemies. Sam Houston might have been able to flummox the Texans of the day, particularly newcomers who were used to reading about the hero of Texas, but those who knew him well were divided into two camps: those who wanted to retain political favor from the drunken and tyrannical Houston, and those who knew him to be relentlessly self-absorbed and extremely reluctant to fight for the independence of Texas. Some leading Texans actually hated Houston until the day they died. Until the end of his life in 1863, Houston was dogged by the charges made against him in Colemanís Pamphlet. The embarrassment festered in his soul. This time, his mentor Andrew Jackson could not bail him out of trouble.
Robert Morris Coleman never saw his family again. While awaiting word on his petition to the House Speaker, Robert Morris Coleman drowned in the Brazos River near Velasco about 1 Jul 1837. His body was never recovered and the circumstances surrounding his death remain a mystery to this day.
Several monuments have been erected to recognize and commemorate Robert Morris Colemanís heroism, accomplishments and contributions to the history of Texas. In 1864, the city and county of Coleman, TX were named in his honor.
Robert Morris Colemanís death at the age of thirty-nine was a regretful and sad ending for a man who so greatly loved Texas. He and the other brave souls of the time played a remarkable role in protecting and defending the frontier settlements. They were the men responsible for winning Texasí independence, not Sam Houston.
After Robertís death, his wife and children remained on their Webberís Prairie homestead near Bastrop. The reason Elizabeth did not return to either Alabama or Kentucky is unknown, but her decision to remain in Texas would result in yet more heartache for the Coleman family.
A month after Robertís death, Elizabeth appeared at the August probate court in Brazoria County, TX to request that an administrator be appointed to settle her husbandís estate. Andrew Churchill was appointed Administrator and took his payment in land, perhaps more than he was entitled to.
At the time Robert died, his estate included 21,819 acres, although land was only worth five cents an acre in 1837 money. He also owned eight head of cattle, one yoke oxen, eight hogs, one small wagon, one feather bed, two buckets, two candlesticks, one small oven, one axe, one wedge, one hammer, one hand saw, one jug, one gun, one steel file, cupboardware, one small skillet, one lot books, two slates and a lot of old papers "of no value".
True to the promises of Sterling C. Robertson, the Colemans did not have to pay taxes until they had lived in Texas for six years. Elizabeth paid taxes on 8888 acres of land in Bastrop County in 1837 and 1838. She would not have had to pay taxes on any land in other counties on which she did not live.
Meanwhile, Indian depredations on the plains had not let up. The Comanche and Lipan tribes were bitter enemies. In the winter of 1839, the Lipans discovered a large Comanche camp on the San Gabriel River about 50 miles from Austin. The Lipans did not have enough warriors to attack their enemy, so they rode to the settlements and offered to help assist the whites in attacking the Comanches. There were no army troops in the vicinity, and the settlers knew the Comanche would soon start striking the settlements. Companies of volunteers were formed, led by Col. John H. Moore. Captain Eastland brought thirty men from LaGrange and Noah Smithwick led thirty men from the Bastrop area. Together with the Lipans, they tracked the Comanche to the head of the San Gabriel where it met the Colorado. A snowstorm struck, and it became so cold that some of their horses froze. The Lipans ate them.
Scouts found the Comanche on the east side of the Colorado River near the mouth of the SanSaba. Given the weather conditions, the Comanche were not expecting an attack. At daybreak, although far outnumbered by the Comanche, the Texans and Lipans began shooting into lodges. Pandemonium quickly followed. Woman and children were screaming, dogs were barking, and the Comanche braves began scattering and fighting back. The Texans and Lipans took cover in a ravine. Captain Eastlandís nose was creased by an arrow, another Texan was shot in the knee, and another in his back, but the Comanche were routed.
The Lipans stole as many of their enemiesí horses they could get, and left. The Comanche then stole the Texansí horses, leaving them stranded 100 miles from home with only their pack mules.
The Comanche, true to their nature, thirsted for revenge and began raiding the settlements. On 18 Feb 1839, in what is believed to be the last raid on Webberís Prairie in Bastrop County, the Comanche attacked the Coleman homestead.
As with much of the printed information regarding Robert Morris Coleman and his family, details of the Indian raid contradict themselves. Rumors and gossip flew on the wind throughout the settlements, which usually did not have access to current newspapers. With each telling of the circumstances surrounding the Indian raid, the story changed. But in an undated letter written by A.W. McClellan of Dime Box, TX, he relates what was told to him by his mother, Sarah Ann Coleman McClellan, the youngest daughter of Robert Morris and Elizabeth Coleman. It is more than likely that his aunts, Rebecca and Elizabeth, also told him the story of what happened that day. They were older and would have had clearer memories of the frightening Indian attack.
Ten-yr. old James William Coleman was outside the cabin and gave warning of the Indiansí approach, then hid in the bottom until he could get away to warn their neighbors. Six-year old Tommy was also outside but was caught by the Comanche who kept him. Tommy lived the remainder of his life with the Indians and his date of death is unknown. Oldest brother Albert, who was 15 at the time, ran into the cabin. He and his mother hid 14-yr. old Rebecca, 12-yr. old Sarah Elizabeth and 3-1/2-yr. old Sarah Ann under a bed and put a handkerchief in Sarah Annís mouth to prevent her from crying.
Elizabeth and her son Albert began shooting at the Comanche while Rebecca and Sarah Elizabeth talked loudly, as they had been taught to do. The idea of talk and loud noise was to fool the Indians into believing there were more people inside the cabin than they had thought. Albert was killed first, collapsing into a chair. The next arrow killed 33-yr. old Elizabeth and she fell across the lap of her son.
The Comanches were preparing to burn the cabin when soldiers and settlers rode up. The Texans chased away the Indians, unaware that little Tommy Coleman was their captive. Elizabeth and Albert were buried on the Coleman homestead. The family of eight was now decimated, with only four children having survived .
Five years later, Rebecca married Robert J. Russell and had four children before she died in 1852 at the age of 27. Her sister Sarah Elizabeth married William Brown and had two children before she died in Lee County, TX at the age of 29. Their brother James never married. He farmed and ranched in the area of Hornsbyís Bend of the Colorado River and died at the age of 17. James is buried in the Baptist Cemetery at Spring Prairie, five miles from Dime Box in Lee County, TX. Sarah Ann, the youngest child, was living in the household of James Smith in Bastrop County in 1850. Also living in the Smith household was William J. McClellan, a schoolteacher whom she married that year. Sarah Ann had two children before she died in 1856 at the age of 19.
On 22 Feb 1841, two years and three days after Elizabeth and Albert were killed by the Comanche, Attorney R.G. Green presented the following petition to the Honorable G. Fisk, Judge of Probate, County of Bastrop, Republic of Texas: "The petition of Samuel Wolfenbarger of said County, administrator of the Estate of R.M. Coleman, Decd., respectfully represents that there are several large claims against the estate of his intestate, to wit: two notes due to Col. J.E. Wallace of Matagorda, amounting to about two thousand dollars with interest, and others not yet recognized by your petitioner, but which he has no doubt are just. That the personal estate of said decedent has been exhausted, and there remains no means of paying these debts, but by the sale of the real estate of the said decedent. Your petitioner therefore prays that he may be permitted to sell the following lands at such prices and on such terms as your Honorable Court may think best, to wit: the Headright League of the said Coleman, located on the Yegua in Milam County, and 555 acres of land in Bastrop County, being the late residence of the family of said Coleman, and where his wife was killed by Indians. Also a lot of corn now on the latter place, being the rent of the same, and the proceeds applied to the payment of the said debt. Bastrop, Monday, Feby 22nd, 1841, R.G. Green, Fr. Ptr." "Ordered and decreed by the Court that the prayer of the petitioner be granted, that the said Administrator be allowed to sell said lands at the Court House in the Town of Bastrop, after advertising the time prescribed by Law, by posting up advertisements in three public places in the County, agreeable to the provisions of the law, in such cases made and provided."12
Sam Houston may have been prophetic when he claimed his destiny lay in Texas, or he may have just been drunk. But the destinies of thousands of other settlers were also tied to the wild and wooly Texas frontier. Robert Morris Coleman and his family were among them. Robert was a genuine hero during the settling of the Texas plains and in helping Texas win her independence from Mexico. The cost was dear, but his descendants live on, proud to claim Robert Morris Coleman as their ancestor.
1Date from a Texas memorandum between Robert Morris Coleman and Dr. Thomas
Kenney dated 20 Mar 1835 in which Robert stated he was 37 years of age, his wife Elizabeth
was aged 30, Albert 11, Rebecca 9, Elizabeth 7, James 5 and Thomas 2.
2History of Trigg County, KY, edited by William Henry Perrin, 1884, Chpt. 5, F.A. Battey
3Date written on a piece of paper in the billfold of Sarah Elizabethís husband, William Brown, a
copy of which is in the possession of descendant James Henry Brown of Hurst, TX.
5Spanish Archives, LXV, 459; File 1594, Milam 1st Class; Records of the General Land Office,
6Houston Displayed, Velasco 1837, p. iv, Introduction by John H. Jenkins
7McClean Papers Concerning Robertsonís Colony in Texas, Vol. IX
8The Handbook of Texas Online, RootsWeb.com, Battlefields of Texas by Bill Groneman, p. 34
9Sam Houston, John Hoyt Williams, pp. 66-67
10Guide to Life and Literature of the Southwest, Chpt. 11, Texas Rangers
11Houston Displayed, Velasco 1837, pp. ix-x, Introduction by John H.
Old Texas Days, Evolution of a State, Noah Smithwick, Austin 1900http://users.erols.com/hardeman/lonestar/olbooks/smithwic/otd1.htm
Sam Houston, The Life and Times of the Liberator of Texas, an Authentic American Hero by John Hoyt Williams, published by Simon and Schuster, 1993
Houston Displayed, or Who Won the Battle of San Jacinto? By a Farmer in the Army, published by The Velasco Herald, Velasco,TX, 1837, edited with an Introduction by John H. Jenkins, The Brick Row Book Shop, 1964, Austin, TX
The Texians, A Database of the People of the Republic, http://site17585.dellhost.com/lsj/texians
The Handbook of Texas Online, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view
Copy of handwritten petition of Robert Morris Coleman to the Honorable Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas dated 31 May 1837
Texas Rangers, http://www.texasranger.org
Louise Birchfield of Austin, TX
James H. Brown of Hurst, TX
Toni Crippen of Round Rock, TX