William Alexander Anderson Wallace was born 3 April 1817 in the tiny hamlet of Lexington, Rockbridge County, Virginia. His ancestry included kinship to Sir William Wallace, the leader of the Scottish Army in the war against the land-grabbing King Edward I of England. From his grandmother Elizabeth Bruce, he was related to Sir Robert Bruce, better known as "Bruce the Fierce," a great feudal, Scottish king, who, upon the death of Sir William, led the Scots in the successful break from the British Crown. Scottish history states that Sir William was a giant in strength, and none could stand before him in battle. His battle sword, which he used against Edward of England, is still preserved in an Edinburgh museum. One historian even attempted to compare Sir Robert Bruce and Sir William Wallace on the merits of their strength alone and was astounded to discover that whereas Sir Robert could overthrow two ordinary men, "Sir William could overthrow two such as Sir Robert."
All of Bigfoot’s male relatives were big. He had one grand-uncle named William who was seven feet tall, and his own brother Andrew was six feet, five inches tall. Big Foot himself grew to six feet, two inches in height and cleared 240 pounds net. He had thick, black curly hair, and when he opened his arms wide, the spread measured six feet, six inches from the finger tips of one hand to the finger tips of the other.
His family came to America when Grandfather Samuel Wallace decided to leave the ancestral home upon the death of his own father, also named Samuel, prior to the Revolutionary War. Grandfather Samuel settled in Lexington, Virginia, and at one time owned over half the land that the city now occupies. When war came, he joined the American army, as did his brothers William, James, and Adam. All, save Samuel, who was the youngest, died during the war. William died one mile from Lexington, of maladies associated with the terrible winter George Washington’s troops endured. His was the first grave, and the longest, at more than seven feet, ever placed in the Lexington cemetery. Colonel James and Major Adam died in the battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina at the hands of Colonel Banastre Tarleton of the British cavalry. Swords carried by James and Adam were hacked and gapped from the hilt to the point, showing the ferocity with which the brothers fought. The one carried by James was six feet in length and heavy in proportion, and Adam’s, although shorter, was also thick and heavy. The swords bear testimony that no ordinary man could have used one.
Bigfoot’s father was Andrew Wallace, who maintained a large fruit orchard on the family farm in Lexington. His mother was Jane Ann Blair. He had five brothers: James, Samuel, Joseph Blair, Andrew, and Alexander Anderson; and four sisters: Rebecca Jane, Elizabeth, Martha, and Sarah. Andrew died in the seven days of fighting around Richmond, Virginia, during the Civil War. Life was also unkind to his sisters: Martha died young; Elizabeth died at age fifteen; and Rebecca died shortly after she married and moved to California. Sarah lived and married Charles Varner. It is also interesting to note that one brother’s name comprised both of Bigfoot’s middle names.
When news of his relatives’ deaths on the prairie at Goliad reached Virginia, Bigfoot packed and left for Texas almost overnight. He journeyed overland to New Orleans, where a cousin secured him a berth on a sturdy steamship for the short hop to Galveston. The sea trip was in such rough weather that everyone on board, save Bigfoot, had to be carried from the ship after it docked. He was lucky his boat even made it at all; the other schooners caught in the fierce storm foundered at sea with all loss of life. It was October 1837, a full year and a half after the deaths of his brother and cousin, but twenty-year-old Bigfoot was finally on Texan soil.
Indians were thick in the woods along all the trails leading to the interior, and since no one ever traveled alone, Bigfoot remained in Galveston long enough to secure transportation to Bastrop, a tiny community on the Colorado River northeast of San Antonio. From Bastrop, he journeyed south to Moore’s Fort. Only one man lived there, Colonel John Henry Moore, the commander of the Gonzales opponents to Mexican General Martin Perfecto de Cos in the fierce days of fighting preceding the Battle of the Alamo. Colonel Moore was one of Stephen F. Austin’s trusted "Old Three Hundred," so-called from the original 300 families that settled in Texas. Moore quickly offered to lay out a town-site on his land if Bigfoot would help build it, since about eight families were living in wagons directly across the river, and winter was fast approaching. Using the wood on Moore’s land, Bigfoot helped build the city of LaGrange.
Bigfoot stayed for one winter, a winter that got so cold that the whiskey in the only saloon froze, leading the other men to speculate that it was heavily watered down. Bigfoot himself lived in Texas more than five years before he ever touched a drop of whiskey or coffee. He preferred water and buttermilk.
The following Spring, Bigfoot took leave of LaGrange and headed back to the Gulf Coast. Colonel Moore had told him that the men who belonged to the Texas army during the Texas War for Independence were entitled to a grant of land, and Bigfoot meant to secure the land belonging to his brother Samuel. He journeyed to Houston, filled out the necessary paperwork, and sought out General Sam Houston himself, who was now the President of the Republic, to sign the document as the witnessing administrator. It should be noted that a few years before his death in 1899, Bigfoot sold a track of land between Ingleside and Aransas Pass, which became big news in the late 1980’s when it was selected for the "Super Port" project. It was given to Bigfoot Wallace by the State of Texas, and the deed is in the Nueces County Courthouse in Corpus Christi. He also was given about half of Galveston Island. Was any part of it his brother Samuel’s legacy?
Bigfoot arrived in Texas at the height of colonization and westward expansion. In 1837, the population of the State was 35,000 to 50,000. He found Texas to be a hunter’s paradise and made his way from the settled places into the wilderness, always seeking the extreme edge of the frontier, where he hunted the abundant game that he sold to the settlements. He was undisciplined and individualistic, a yarn-spinner and a dangerous foe, but he was always a jovial giant of good humor, always on the lookout for a good laugh. He once said, "I would not swap Texas for the whole shooting match," in referring to the rest of the United States and Canada.
In April 1838, Bigfoot finally journeyed to San Antonio for the first time to view the ruins of the slaughter at the Alamo, and when he arrived, he was aghast to discover that some of the ashes were still to be seen where the slain Texans were burned. Poking around in them, he turned up small pieces of charred bones, which he collected and buried. The memory of what it must have been like for Brother Samuel and Cousin William to be betrayed with no weapons for defense came flooding back. He vowed that as long as he lived, he would never surrender to the enemy. He was to remember his words two years later when the Republic of Texas attacked Mexico.
The winter of 1838 found him back at LaGrange, where he met with a man who had suffered the full horror of an Indian attack---and lived to tell about it. After one of his lone hunting trips to procure meat for the settlers, Bigfoot rested in the cabin of a friend known only as Woods, which was located about twelve miles north of LaGrange. A stranger came in and bent over the fire. The stranger wore a peculiar-looking fur cap, and when he removed it to reveal a raw, sore, bald scalp, Bigfoot, who never commented on other people’s appearances, couldn’t help himself. He blurted out, "My friend, excuse me, but what has happened to your head?" The stranger was Josiah Wilbarger, another legend of the wilderness. Wilbarger matter-of-factly replied, "I’ve been scalped by the Indians." The scalping had occurred in August 1833, and the scalp never grew entirely over a small place in the middle of the wound. Eventually, the skull bone became diseased, leaving the brain exposed, and he finally died from his wound in 1845. But the sight of that sore, raw head left a lasting impression on Bigfoot, who vowed never to be taken by the Indians.
Bigfoot never really intended to be a farmer or rancher, although he tried doing both. He was a frontiersman by nature, and gone far too often to make a successful career off the land. The one time he actually tried making a furrow, he used his poor saddle horse to pull the plow. Neither one ever got the hang of it. When he did finally manage to plant a crop of corn, the rains didn’t come. All he reaped for his hard efforts were thirteen dry ears---enough for one meal.
He settled on raising pigs out back of his cabin and kept a few horses and mules in the corral. When the Comanches finally managed to steal all his horses in the dead of night, save one gray mare he had staked out in a clearing on the other side of the cabin, he angrily gave chase, giving no thought to his own safety. Topping a hill, he noticed smoke rising from a flat about a mile off and smelled the unmistakable aroma of barbequed horsemeat. Horse was a favorite food of the Comanche. They would cut great chunks from the poor creature’s flank, while it was still alive, in the belief that the meat would be more tender. When both flanks were gone, the Comanches would then slit the creature’s throat and allow it to die. It galled Bigfoot that the Indians were torturing and eating his horses. Looking around, he discovered he was in the middle of a hickory grove. Since it was harvest time, the hard nuts were scattered all over the place. It gave him an idea.
Until the day he died, Bigfoot liked roomy clothes as well as a roomy range. He had a splendid suit of buckskin given to him by an old Tonkawa Indian friend. It had been made from the skins of big-horn sheep and decorated with buffalo tails and little copper bells. He also wore a great coonskin cap on his head and moccasins on his feet. Quickly tying the cuffs of his shirt and the bottom of the trousers with pieces of rawhide, he stuffed his roomy clothing with the tiny, hard-shelled delicacies until he was "padded out bigger than Santa Claus."
How he managed to remount his horse is anybody’s guess, but he had to roll off to dismount. He then crawled through the grass until he was within 100 yards of the Indian camp. Peeking through a bush, he counted forty-two of the enemy. Outnumbered, but determined to recover his stolen horses, he took careful aim and shot and killed one Comanche. While he reloaded his rifle, the whole contingent came after him. With his rifle in position, he raised up in "all his majesty and all his stature and all his hickory nuts, and after one look at him, the Indians halted like they had been paralyzed."
After several uncertain moments, the Indians attacked. They had no weapons, other than bows and arrows, but they shot their arrows with unerring accuracy. Each time an arrow hit a hickory nut, it split the nut and then fell harmlessly to the ground. By the time the Comanches exhausted their supply, the ground was covered in arrows three inches thick. Seeing the big man unharmed, the Indians stampeded to the hills. Bigfoot untied his clothes and thousands of hickory nut pieces rolled out. "You can kick me to death with grasshopper legs," he reported, "if a single, solitary hickory nut in the whole passel hadn’t been split open." Never one to waste opportunity, he later returned with a wagon, gathered up the nuts, hauled them back home, and fed them to his pigs.
Bigfoot was a quick learner and as creative as it was possible to be in that half-tamed land of violence and death. At the time of his arrival in Central Texas, most of the settlements were heavily populated with Mexicans who did not speak English, and he had not yet learned to speak Spanish. All that changed the day he went dewberry picking in the woods at the edge of the settlement without his rifle. When the Indians attacked, he narrowly missed being captured or killed because he did not understand his landlady when she told him to run. He was so close to the attack that he heard the screams of the captives, as they were hauled away by the invaders. That very night, he learned enough Spanish to recognize danger when he heard it.
Everything about Texas interested Bigfoot. When he became fascinated with the various-sized Spanish gourds he saw dangling from the Mexican burros and pack animals when the farmers trudged in and out of town, he took to growing them behind his boarding house. There were no canteens in those days, and the gourds were in great demand. They were fat on one end and slender on the other, and when hollowed out, made excellent water bottles. However, he had a small problem with them. The necks were so slender that he couldn’t run his great Bowie knife down their throats to clean them out, and he had no earthly idea how the Mexicans did it. With typical Bigfoot ingenuity, he settled on red ants. He plucked his gourds, which came in all sizes from pint to two gallons, waited until they were thoroughly dry enough for the seeds to rattle, lopped off a small section on the slender end of the neck, poured in a small amount of molasses, threw one or two gourds atop each red ant hill he encountered, and waited. After the ants cleaned them out, he sold them to travelers, once making as much as twenty dollars and fifty cents from one single vine. He grew gourds until the day he died.
In 1839, Bigfoot once again packed up for the short journey northward. The town of Austin had just been elected the new capital of the Republic, and he learned that there was plenty of work with high wages for anyone interested in construction. He was an expert with a broad-ax, having honed his skill while growing up in Virginia, and he obtained employment hewing logs for two hundred dollars a month plus board for the buildings being erected on both sides of Congress Avenue. He quickly formed a partnership with William Leggett, and the two men would venture deep into hostile territory for cedar and other woods, which they would then raft from high up the river to town. It didn’t take long to discover why the wages were so high---the Indian threat made most citizens afraid to work outside the settlement. Forty people were killed by Indians during Bigfoot’s short stay in Austin; he helped bury twenty-two of them. Some of those killed were his fellow hunters.
When local saloon keeper H. L Savory tired of paying the high price for hauled water---there were no wells in town---and offered twelve dollars per foot to anyone who would dig a well in town through the sand and rock, Bigfoot was the only one who volunteered for the job. He struck water at a depth of nineteen feet, and the vein flowed so strongly that when he dug into it, water flew up and hit him in the face. Witnesses said he yelled, "Draw me up quick before I drown in here!" The well is still located on the corner of Congress and Pine and is still known as the "Wallace Well." He is also known as the last man to drive a herd of buffalo through town.
It was about this same time that Bigfoot became engaged to be married, but before the happy plans could be carried out, disaster struck. Many residents of Austin became deathly ill from a strange fever, and many of them died. Bigfoot later said the sickness originated among the ranks of the army and spread to the citizens of the town, it’s fury only abating after General Sam Houston sent the soldiers away. Bigfoot would have died, too, if it weren’t for the careful nursing of his landlady. She parched flour until it was brown and then boiled milk. Mixing the two into a thin mush, she fed him teaspoonfuls until the sickness passed.
As he began to recover, his luxuriant hair fell out. Not wanting his bride-to-be to see him looking like what he described as a "young buzzard," he retired to the vicinity of Mount Bonnell and lived in a cave, determined to stay there until his hair grew back to its original look. His only visitor was his friend William Fox, who stopped by once a week to collect the game he hunted and bring him necessary supplies from town. On one visit, Fox informed him that ‘your sweetheart has gone and married another man.’ "I’m glad she’s gone," Bigfoot is said to have replied. "A woman that can’t wait until a man’s hair grows out, I don’t want." Bigfoot always made a dry joke of everything, even death. He never married, however, claiming he didn’t have time
It was during his short stay in Austin that Bigfoot said he acquired his famous nickname, although others have claimed that it happened during the invasion of Mexico in 1842. According to Bigfoot’s own testimony, in the hills surrounding Austin lived a particularly bloodthirsty Waco Indian the locals had dubbed "Chief Bigfoot" because his moccasin tracks measured well over fourteen inches in length. Since the right toe protruded from the moccasin, everyone learned to recognize the distinctive imprint. For more than twenty years, the big chief had been raiding around Austin, killing whomever he could and stealing horses and other property. No one had ever gotten close enough to take a shot at him---and lived. He stood six feet, eight inches tall, and weighed well over 300 pounds.
One day, a neighbor of Bigfoot’s returned home to find huge moccasin tracks in his kitchen and outside his house. The tracks led up to the house Bigfoot shared with his friend William Fox. Bigfoot and Fox had formed a partnership to haul rocks from the Indian-infested mountains to town for building houses, making lots of money in the process, and had rented the cabin next to the neighbor named Gravis. Without seeing if the tracks led any further, Gravis accused Bigfoot of being in his kitchen, as "you are the only man about the house who wears Indian moccasins."
Bigfoot was indignant. He had very small feet for a man of his size---rumored at a size 9 boot---and he claimed the only thing he had in common with the big Waco chief was that they both wore moccasins. He marched outside and placed his moccasin foot inside the huge print, insisting Gravis take a look at the big difference in size. Fox watched in high amusement. "Now, Wallace," Fox said, "when the Bigfoot Indian is not around, I will call you Bigfoot." Others took up the name, and it stuck. Thereafter, until the big "Bigfoot" Indian was finally killed, whenever anyone mentioned "Bigfoot," people would ask which one was meant, the Indian or "Bigfoot Wallace."
About a year later, William Fox was killed and scalped by the Waco chief, who no doubt prized the scalp highly, for it was beautifully thick, long, black and curly. Wallace tracked the Waco chief and shot him, but the chief survived. It does seem ironic that the man who gave Wallace his nickname fell victim to the very Indian they had both tried for so hard and so long to kill. Another noted Texan Indian fighter, and a great friend of Bigfoot’s, by the name of Edward Dixon Westfall, in a terribly ferocious hand-to-hand combat on the Llano, finally managed to slay the big chief.
Early in 1840, Bigfoot journeyed from Austin to San Antonio to became a Texas Ranger. Texas had been an independent republic for four years, but danger still lurked at every point of the compass. To the south was the constant threat of Mexican invasion. To the west and north was the frontier seething with all manner of Indians and fierce, brutal men calling it home. In fact, virtually every known assailant to law and order roamed the western borders at will. In the east, the area of heaviest settlement, was a serious problem with the Cherokee Nation, and a bloody feud between two bitter factions of settlers, called the Regulators and the Modulators, which nearly boiled into open warfare. Texas needed the Rangers more than ever.
Bigfoot’s captain was a young surveyor from Tennessee, John Coffee "Jack" Hays, considered by many as one of the finest Ranger captains who ever lived. Hays had already made a name for himself in a battle with the Comanches at Plum Creek, near present-day Lockhart, and General Houston commissioned the young man to raise a company of Rangers to be stationed at San Antonio as their headquarters, since San Antonio was still on the extreme edge of the frontier and had to be guarded constantly. Captain Hays was very particular about the type men he enlisted, and he had the best set of Indian fighters in the west. He was never defeated by the Indians. He insisted "a man had to have courage, good character, be a good rider, good shot, and have a horse worth $100." Bigfoot’s reputation had preceded him---Captain Hays signed him on the spot. Bigfoot spent the next several years defending Texas from Anglo desperadoes, Mexican bandits, Comanche and Apache raiders and others.
Shortly after becoming a Ranger, Bigfoot, with the help of another Ranger named Creed Taylor, unwittingly created the legendary headless horseman of South Texas brush country. Although the specter rode the countryside for years, terrifying anyone who came into contact with it---and almost doomed settlement---the headless rider was Texas justice, and Texas justice was all frontier, a system more barbaric than most city folk heading out on the noon stage liked to believe.
Creed Taylor was Bigfoot’s friend and similar to Bigfoot in some ways. He was a pioneer and frontiersman, as skilled as any Comanche when tracking. Like Bigfoot, Taylor always worked at building Texas, but unlike Bigfoot, he was as mean as a snake and a dangerous man to cross. As patriarch of the western fringe of the huge Taylor clan---the same Taylors of the infamous Sutton-Taylor blood feud which would need to be moderated forty years later by McNelly’s Rangers---Creed tolerated guff from no one.
He and his four brothers had inherited a vast cattle empire near Cuero in DeWitt County, just north of Victoria, from his father in 1830, but the big ranch wasn’t exactly where Creed wanted to live. Preferring the cedar-clad hills of the extreme frontier on the edge of Comanche country, his spread lay west of San Antonio in the thickest of bandit territory not far from the headwaters of the Nueces River. In that untamed area of the frontier, his stock was constantly stolen, no matter how hard he tried to prevent it.
It was common practice in those times to handle stock theft at the end of a rope. Indians, if they were caught, were instantly killed. But the bandits normally rode in groups, and in an effort to find the main party, the unfortunate victim was usually hoisted by the neck off the ground at the end of a rope a few times, hoping he’d spill his guts and blab on any others in his gang. It always worked, especially when accompanied with idle promises of jail instead of the gallows. The real truth, however, is that the bandit was left to slowly choke to death in the noose. The sight of the body swaying in the wind was supposed to act as a deterrent to other outlaws, only it seldom worked.
One well-known raider was a Mexican horse thief known as Vidal, and he had always been as elusive as the will-o’-the-wisp. Back in the earliest days of the Texas Revolution, he had been a lieutenant in the Mexican army. One night in early December, 1835, he deserted his post and slipped into the Texan ranks, insisting he was a friend. Although he brought valuable information for the rebels, one Texan rebel took a keen interest in the little Mexican army officer. That Texan was Creed Taylor, and Taylor never looked a gift horse in the mouth.
Taylor’s intuition turned out to be right. After the Revolution, when people turned to peace, Vidal turned to horse stealing. It was a risky business, for a man could get away with shooting his neighbor easier than he could stealing horses. At first, his reputation as a patriot cloaked his operations. By the time his real character became known, he was the uncontested leader of a string of outlaw camps on both sides of the border. His area of operation even stretched clear into Louisiana and Mississippi. The Rangers were constantly trying to capture him.
On the day that a Comanche raid pulled most of the men northward in the pursuit, leaving the settlements temporarily unguarded, Vidal and his gang struck. They gathered up a considerable bunch of horses from Creed Taylor’s ranch, as well as some from the neighboring ranches, and herded them southwest toward Mexico. Unknown to Vidal, however, Taylor was not out chasing Indians. The big Ranger and a neighbor, named Flores, immediately pursued. Right where the river bends below Uvalde, the two men ran into Bigfoot Wallace.
Bigfoot was always ready to hunt bandits and thieves, especially Mexican bandits and thieves because of what had happened to his kin at the Battle of Goliad. Not knowing for sure if the horse thieves were Vidal’s gang or not, but suspecting they were, Bigfoot decided it was time to put an end to Vidal’s raiding lifestyle once and for all. He would track the wiry Mexican bandit to earth.
When the three men finally located the camp of their quarry, they waited until night when all the thieves lay sleeping. Sneaking up on the camp from downwind to keep from spooking the stolen herd, the three men had no problems in the ensuing gunfight. The thieves were quickly killed, and that included Vidal. Although Vidal was wanted dead or alive, Bigfoot had other plans.
Bigfoot was always about as eccentric as he was ingenious. Since the messages left strung all over the hills by the necktie parties weren’t working, he decided that what was really needed was a truly drastic example of frontier justice. As disgusting as the task was, with the help of his friends, he severed Vidal’s head from his body.
It was now just a matter of selecting the proper horse. The wildest mustang in the stolen herd was a young, charcoal-colored stallion. It stood about fifteen hands at the shoulder, was incredibly strong, fleet as the wind, and smart. And it seethed in fury and hate. Standing blindfolded and securely tied between two trees, its angry snorts and screams left no doubt that it’d sooner stomp the life out of anyone rather than be ridden. The dark horse was just what Bigfoot wanted, and he wasted no time throwing a saddle up onto its back.
The men then lashed Vidal’s body on the protesting horse, binding the hands to the saddlehorn, legs to the stirrups, and securing the torso in such a fashion that it sat upright in the broad Mexican saddle and couldn’t fall out. They then tied the stirrups to each other under the horse’s belly, so they could not fly up. When that was finished, Bigfoot worked a rawhide thong through the jaws of Vidal’s decapitated head, and with the chin strap of the sombrero, secured it in the hat, which he tied to the saddlehorn, where it would flop and bounce with each step of the horse. He then turned the terrified mustang loose, and with an ear-splitting yell that could have been heard in the next valley, sent the maddened pony bucking and stomping over the hill...and into legend.
Bigfoot never expected the gruesome sight to do anything other than deter cattle rustlers and horse thieves, but it rode into legend because no one knew what it was. No one was ever able to "kill" it. Clad in Mexican rawhide leggings, buckskin jacket, and blowing serape, with its severed head tied on the saddlehorn beneath the tattered Mexican sombrero, the specter frightened everyone on the south plains for years.
Years later, when a posse of local ranchers and cowboys finally became brave enough to bushwhack it at a watering hole on a ranch near the tiny community of Ben Bolt, just south of Alice, they were thunderstruck to discover a dried up Mexican corpse riddled with hundreds of bullet holes, arrows, and Indian spears. It was lashed to the horse and saddle so tightly that the rope had to be cut to unfasten it. Beneath the rotting sombrero was a small skull, shriveled from too many years in the grueling Texan sun.
Bigfoot stayed in service as a Ranger around San Antonio for two years, actively scouting far and near, fighting bandits and horse thieves, lawlessness, range wars, cattle disputes, and the ever-present hostile Indians. In March 1842, General Rafael Vasquez succeeded in recapturing San Antonio for Mexico. He held the town only two days and then withdrew toward the Rio Grande. Big Foot and the other Rangers followed Vasquez, but they were too few to attack such a large, well-armed enemy.
Six months later, the Mexicans, under French-born General Adrian Woll, made another sudden descent upon San Antonio with a much larger army. They captured the city, taking fifty-six prisoners, including the entire District Court then meeting in town. It was not intended to be a permanent occupation, but a display of force by the Mexicans. Woll had three objectives: assert the sovereignty of Mexico, punish the Texans, and give any potential allies of the Texans something to think about. Big Foot and another Ranger, Nathaniel Mallon, were in Austin buying ammunition at the time. Captain Hays and a few others were on a scout. The handful of Rangers left in town managed to scatter to the hills.
The Rangers finally reassembled under General Matthew "Old Paint" Caldwell and his small army of Texans at Salado Creek, seven miles northeast of San Antonio. They didn’t charge the town, having learned to avoid being caught like rats in a trap after the Alamo and Goliad. Instead, many of the Rangers, including Big Foot, advanced to within half a mile of the Alamo and taunted the Mexican invaders out. Four companies of cavalry, followed by a 1,200 man infantry under Woll, who was then followed by the artillery, advanced on the Rangers, chasing them back to General Caldwell waiting on the banks at Salado Creek. All totaled, Big Foot estimated that General Woll had 1,500 men against "196 white men and one negro named Tom."
The Battle of Salado Creek almost went to the Mexican invaders. They fired their big cannon into the pecan grove where General Caldwell and his men waited, doing little damage except to the trees, and then charged the badly outnumbered Texans. The Mexican "sharpshooters," however, shot either short of the Texans or over their heads, whereas the Texans made every shot count. One Mexican, a cavalryman who had dismounted to fight, had such large spurs that he was unable to run. He died next to Bigfoot, and the big Ranger said he "never saw such large spurs. As he lay on his back, his feet were elevated several inches in the air, as the rowels, which were as long as tenpenny nails, rested on the ground." Bigfoot took them off after the battle and kept them a long time as a curiosity.
Bigfoot also spied a Mexican soldier wearing his favorite pants, stolen when the Mexicans had taken San Antonio. Unable to get a clear shot at the pants-thief, he picked out and killed a big soldier during the second charge and took his pants. They were a good fit and of excellent material, so he wore them to Mexico during the Mier Expedition.
Four days after their defeat at Salado Creek, the Mexicans pulled out of San Antonio. By this time, nearly 500 Texans had amassed on the riverbank, and they eagerly gave chase. The Texans caught the retreating Mexican column on the Hondo River above present-day Castroville, about thirty miles west of San Antonio. Since the Mexicans had their cannon in the rear, the Rangers made a charge to capture it, but were unsuccessful when the remainder of the Texans failed to follow suit. Bigfoot was riding a mule at the time, and he couldn’t get it to turn and retreat. He almost ran into the Mexican infantry before a Mexican bullet singed the mule’s nose, causing the beast to turn tail and run.
Bigfoot remained with Captain Hays’ Rangers until General Woll had been chased back across the Rio Grande. When the Texans arrived at Laredo on the Texas side of the river on December 8, the Mexican army wasn’t there, and the Mexican civilians weren’t up to fighting the well-armed Texans. On meeting no resistance from the Mexicans, many of the 750 Texans retreated back to Gonzales, including Jack Hays and most of his Rangers. Five army captains and their men refused to retreat. Big Foot also refused to leave. They organized themselves into an invasion force known as the Mier Expedition. Bigfoot claimed they had enough men to capture the Mexican town of Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico, if they ever got that far.
By late December, the Texans were camped on the Texas side of the river, about six miles from Mier, Mexico. They then marched across the Rio Grande, captured the town, and made a requisition on the Alcalde for provisions and clothing. They returned to camp with the Alcalde as hostage, but before they received their spoils, the Mexican army arrived in Mier, setting their cannon in the town square. It was Christmas Eve, and under cover of darkness, the Texans attacked. The only way they could advance was by opening passageways through the buildings and creeping by degrees toward the cannon. During the fight, Bigfoot found an abandoned baby near a wall. He scooped it up and dropped it over to the other side "at the same time shouting out in Spanish for someone to come and get the muchacho."
The Battle of Mier didn’t last long. The Texans were greatly outnumbered, and the Mexican army was constantly reinforced. Finally, Mexican General Pedro Ampudia sent a captured prisoner to inform the besieged Texans that he had 1,700 men under his command with 300 more on the road from Monterrey. Ampudia urged the Texans to surrender, promising to treat them as prisoners of war; if not, "no quarter" would be given. Bigfoot, remembering the fate of Brother Samuel and Cousin William at Goliad, bitterly opposed a surrender. He fully expected treachery from the Mexicans. He hung back, becoming the last man to surrender at Mier.
The Mexican loss at Mier was 2,000 men of whom 800 were killed. The Texans lost sixteen of 260 men, and thirty were wounded. Nearly every shot made by the Texans ended in the death of a Mexican, and the streets ran red with blood.
The Texan captives were first marched to Matamoros. By January 1843, they were on their way to Monterrey, on the road to Mexico City, under a heavily armed Mexican cavalry. The wounded were left behind in Mier. It was one continual jubilee after another for the Mexicans in each town as they passed, but sheer torture for the captives. The army starved their prisoners and made them walk until the Texans were almost "barefoot and haggard." When the bedraggled men finally reached Monterrey, the Mexican women took pity on the half-starved, half-dead Texans and brought the Americans plenty of food and drink. From Monterrey, they were carried by wagon to Saltillo, where they found six of the Texans who were captured when General Woll invaded San Antonio in September.
Leaving Satillo, they journeyed to Hacienda Salado, about 100 miles south of Saltillo. Here, they escaped. Big Foot said they overpowered their guards, found horses and mules, and scattered to the hills in a desperate attempt to regain Texas. He rode a fine dun mule which belonged to Captain Arroyo of the prison guards. By the evening of the third day, they were skirting Saltillo in their mad dash to the Rio Grande. Passing Saltillo, they again took to the hills. It was a colossal mistake. The Texans did not know the country. It was barren and lifeless, and after six days of terrible deprivation, they were reduced to eating their horses and mules and drinking the blood. They then survived by eating snakes and grasshoppers. Even this did not save them. Now on foot and wandering in the mountains, they became lost, disoriented, and disorganized. Many dropped in their tracks. Others just wandered off. Bigfoot had dried some of the mule meat in the hot sun and just barely survived by carrying the jerky on his back. But in a matter of days, his tongue had swollen to the roof of his mouth from his thirst, and he could no longer eat.
Five days later, when the Mexicans finally caught up with them, Bigfoot and three other men were within 150 yards of a water hole. This time, the Mexican soldiers were compassionate. They made a camp, allowing the recaptured Texans to eat, drink, and sleep while the army rounded up all the scattered Texans they could find, before the long trek back to Hacienda Salado. Of the 193 Texans who made their escape, five died of thirst and starvation in the mountains, four got through to Texas, and three were never found or heard of again. Bigfoot related later that thirst was a constant sensation which grew in intensity, whereas hunger pangs came only in "fits and starts."
With the men recaptured, Santa Anna ordered them all shot. The Mexican officer in charge of the prisoners refused. The British consul also interceded and had the execution order stopped. Santa Anna, however, would not be appeased. He ordered that every tenth man should be shot. The prisoners were then put in alphabetical order, chained together in pairs, and marched back to Hacienda Salado, where Bigfoot noticed some Mexicans digging a ditch. "That ditch is for us," said Henry Whaling prophetically, standing chained next to Bigfoot.
What happened next has got to be the worst act of vileness ever perpetrated by civilized man. It is known in history as the infamous "drawing of the black beans." The Mexicans decided to allow the prisoners to draw lots, thus determining who would live and who would die. They provided a pitcher into which they counted 159 white beans. They then threw in seventeen black beans and passed the pitcher around for the Texans to draw in alphabetical order. A black bean meant death, a white one assured life in prison in Mexico City.
Bigfoot was one of the last to draw, and it made his chance less for drawing a white bean. Nevertheless, he stepped quietly forward and reached for the pitcher. His hand was so huge that he had to force it down to the beans. Remembering that the black beans had been tossed on top and thinking that they might be larger than the white beans in size, he dug deep with the two fingers he was able to move in the cramped space. He latched onto two beans, one larger than the other. A Mexican guard warned him, "Don’t you pull out two. If you do, and one is black, you will have to take it." Bigfoot let the larger of the two beans fall back into the pitcher and pulled forth a white bean. His friend Whaling was next, and Whaling drew a black bean. Then M. E. Wing drew a black bean. The last three men did not have to draw, as all the black beans were then gone.
When Henry Whaling drew his black bean, he told Bigfoot, "Well, they don’t make much off me, anyhow, for I know I have killed twenty-five of the yellow-bellies." He then asked for something to eat, stating that he did not want to starve and be shot, too. He ate a hearty meal of two soldiers’ rations, and then smoked a death cigar.
The seventeen men in the execution line asked to be shot from the front at close range and without blindfolds. Their request was denied. The firing squad stood back some distance and blazed away at their backs for twenty minutes, all the time lacerating and mangling the Texan bodies. The Mexicans later claimed that Whaling took fifteen shots before he died. Bigfoot and the others were separated from the victims by a fifteen-foot high stone wall, but they heard the shots, groans, and shrieks. One Texan, J. L. Sheppard, was only wounded in the shoulder, but showed no signs of life when the bodies were stripped. After the soldiers left, he escaped to the mountains for ten days, but the Mexicans, upon finding only sixteen bodies for burial, hunted him down and executed him.
The survivors were summarily marched to Perote prison in Mexico City, but Bigfoot was a big man, and the shackles did not fit. They were too small and cut into his flesh, swelling his arms and turning them black. Before they were halfway to the prison, he was in agony. Santa Anna’s wife, Dona Inez, who was an invalid and a good woman, interceded for the captives. They were eventually unshackled and treated better.
It was during the long march to the Mexican prison that many believed fostered Wallace’s nickname of Bigfoot. The march wore out his moccasins, and his feet soon swelled to twice their size. But even at that, his foot was still small. He wore the equivalent of a size 9 or 10 boot. Nevertheless, the rumor still persists that when the Mexican guards were sent to fetch boots, none would fit because the Mexicans were all small in stature and had small feet. A boot maker later made the comment that the big man had a big foot...and the name stuck. Bigfoot, however, pointed out that many of the Texans also wore a size 9 or 10 boot, and they had no trouble acquiring new boots while prisoners of the Mexicans.
Bigfoot remained a prisoner of the Mexicans from 24 December 1842 until 5 August 1844. During that time, he was ill-treated and ill-fed, often subsisting on rats and foul water to survive. He worked in a chain gang building roads in Mexico City and once quarried rock for construction at Santa Anna’s presidential palace. He was released through the efforts of his father Andrew Wallace and Governor McDowell of Virginia. On the same day, Santa Anna’s wife died, and all the Texans, who were still prisoners, mourned her death. She had shown them nothing but compassion and charity throughout their ordeal, often interceding on their behalf with her husband. Shortly after her death, Santa Anna ordered the release of all the prisoners, keeping a promise he made to his wife on her deathbed.
Bigfoot returned to Texas (he contracted yellow fever on the way, but an old sea captain saved his life) and decided to stake a claim on a patch of wilderness on the Medina River just below Castroville, which he had found appealing on one of his scouts. Near his camp stood an old cannon carriage, which Santa Anna had abandoned when he invaded Texas. Sometimes the Indians were friendly, and sometimes they were not. During the hostile seasons, he had to be on continual alert, as he was in constant danger of attack. One of his close friends was Juan Castro, chief of the Lipan Apaches. Castroville was named in honor of Juan’s father, who served in the Spanish army in Mexico during Mexico’s war for independence from Spain in 1821.
When the United States war with Mexico erupted in 1846, Bigfoot was among the first to volunteer. He joined a regiment of Rangers as a Lieutenant and later became a Captain himself. Under the overall leadership of his old friend Jack Hays, he once again invaded Mexico. This time, he fought with gusto, having old scores to settle with his former captors. As the Mexicans surrendered, Big Foot aimed his pistol at a particular soldier marching under a white flag. "Lieutenant, don’t you know a parley when you hear it blowed?" questioned others in his command, as they restrained the big man. "No," countered Bigfoot with deliberate hatred, "not when I am in front of that man." The Mexican in question had been the one holding the pitcher of beans when Bigfoot had drawn for his life at Hacienda Salado. Witnesses said Bigfoot "cursed the Mexican for all the lowdown cowards he could think of." Throughout the rest of his life, Bigfoot had a deep hated of the Mexican soldier.
After the war, he returned to his cabin on the Medina River. His old friend Edwin Westfall also lived in the "area," about thirty miles south of Fort Inge (present-day Uvalde) in a cabin on the Leona River. The two men were the only frontiersmen in the untamed land, and as settlers moved in, they became protectors, leaders, guides, and Indian fighters. It eventually became so crowded that Bigfoot packed his meager belongings and headed south. In a wild and lonely spot on Chicon Creek, east of the Hondo River, he unloaded his pack and built his last cabin.
By 1850, Bigfoot was freighting mail from San Antonio to El Paso, an area 600 miles wide and frontier all the way. He was the only one able to do it; everyone else who ever tried it was either killed or scared off by the Indians. He took six guards and extra mules on each trip, and it took one month of hard riding to make. The old Comanche Trail went right through the range, and he was continually stalked and attacked by the members of the tribe. "Captain Wallacky" as the Comanches and Apaches called him, was the highest coup a warrior could make. His bravery and fearlessness was known by every soldier on every Army post along the route and soon spread throughout Texas and the Nation. He would ride into some posts with his coach so shot up that he’d have to lay over a day or two to repair it.
On one occasion, his friend Dutch Pete went along on the run. Pete was sleeping on the ground under the stage when the Indians attacked. In his eagerness to get a shot at the attackers, he thrust his head between the spokes of a wheel and nearly overturned the coach trying to get it out. He was armed only with a derringer, and when he tried to pull the trigger, it wouldn’t work. He tried three times before thrusting it back into his pocket in disgust, where it promptly went off by itself, grazing his leg and throwing him into something like a fit.
On another occasion, Edwin Westfall completed the mail run with Bigfoot, and they lounged in El Paso, preparatory to the return trip. The Rio Grande was up, and the Mexican ladies were paying two "clackos" (pieces of money about the equivalent of a penny) to get someone to take them across. It was typical Bigfoot humor. He and Westfall each selected the fattest lady they could find, got them on their backs, took them to where the water was the deepest, and then started pitching like a couple of wild horses. Bigfoot said he never pitched so hard or reared so high in all his life before he was able to fling the woman out into the middle of the river. He also said he was sorry he did it because he "lost at least a dollar's worth of hair" before the woman was dislodged.
In the early 1850’s, he was once again with the Rangers. As Captain of the company, he, Westfall, and about eighteen others were on a scout at a place called "Black Hills," named after the black creosote and blackbush that grew abundantly in the area. The area lay about sixteen miles from the present town of Cotulla in La Salle County. It was an extremely dry year, and they had been gone long enough to run out of water in their canteens. Bigfoot and Westfall knew where all the watering holes were in the area, and went from one to another, only to find mud or glistening white rocks. One of the men was also sick and unable to ride his horse, which meant he was littered on a stretcher, making progress very slow. As the sun beat down, the men dehydrated.
Bigfoot finally decided to venture to the water holes on the "Todas Santos" (All Saints) Creek in the Black Hills. He had been to them many times and had never known them to be dry. But the holes were also in the heart of Comanche country, and when the Rangers drew near, the place was a Comanche encampment containing more than eighty warriors. At the same time the Rangers saw the Comanches, the Indians saw them, and all-out war commenced.
At that time, Bigfoot had a large heavy rifle which once belonged to Colonel James Bowie of the Alamo. One pound of lead only made sixteen bullets for it. On one of the Indian attacks, he still had his ramrod in his hand, not having time to replace it, when he turned to shoot. He was also unaware that Westfall had come up beside him. As Bigfoot jumped over the brush fence the Comanches had constructed around the water hole, he ran his ramrod into Westfall’s eye. Bigfoot later recalled that Westfall complained, "This is a hell of a place to punch a fellow’s eye out!" In excruciating pain, Westfall lay incapacitated for many long minutes.
The battle for the water holes raged for most of the day. There were two watering holes, and when the Rangers were finally able to rout the Comanches from the lower one to the upper one, they were disheartened to find the lower one seething in putrefaction from hair, maggots, and scum. The Indians had been there more than a week making lariats, soaking the rawhide in the water. Full of rage and a burning thirst, Bigfoot and Westfall led the charge on the upper hole and with their fierce determination, chased the Comanches away. Twenty-two Indians were killed in the fight, but not one Ranger. Bigfoot said it was the sweetest water he ever tasted.
By the early 1870’s, Bigfoot had quit rangering and had pretty much settled down on his ranch on the Chicon River, living all alone with his horses, chickens, and two dogs named Sowder and Rock. His good friend Westfall, severely wounded in an Indian attack at his own cabin on the Leona, which left him in constant pain, eventually sold out when the area was no longer a frontier, moving about fifteen miles southwest of San Antonio on the Calaveras Creek, where he married and lived out his days until his death in 1897.
Bigfoot’s closest neighbors were now the McHenry Bramlette family living on a ranch on the San Miguel River. They were his best friends, and he spent much of his time as an honored guest in their home. In fact, after one particularly ferocious Comanche attack, he moved into a covered wagon at the Bramlette ranch and stayed for two generations or about twenty-two years. He loved all the children and spent many hours sitting in an old chair on the front gallery, regaling them with his escapades on the frontier.
One of the stories he liked to tell concerned his good friend Dutch Pete. Bigfoot, Pete, and two more men were on a hunt, but at the end of the day, they were too tired to head back to Bigfoot’s cabin. They stumbled across an abandoned shack, which had wide planks across the rafters, affording them a measure of safety from skunks, snakes, and other creatures of the night that might wander in on the floor below. When they were almost asleep, a war party of six Indians entered, built a fire in the chimney, and proceeded to barbeque a deer they had killed.
Bigfoot’s party was instantly awake, but Dutch Pete just couldn’t keep from creeping to the edge of the planks and peeping over at the Indians below. Although the others would pull Pete back by the seat of his pants, he still managed to creep too close to the edge, where the planks were loose. He toppled down into the midst of the Indians. The rest, feeling "the jig was up," let out war whoops, jumped down, and began firing their rifles. Every Indian took to the brush. Because of Dutch Pete, the hunters enjoyed a feast of barbequed deer meat.
The year the San Miguel River flooded, around 1881, Bigfoot’s covered wagon was lost. The water was up to his armpits when he tied the wheels and axles of the wagon to a tree, so it wouldn’t be washed away. He then fled with the Bramlettes to high ground, where they all lived on an island for several days while the waters receded. The high waters brought more than fifty rattlesnakes and dozens of rats, and he spent most of his time keeping the camp safe. When the floodwaters receded, he went looking for his wagon. The wheels were still there, but the bed was gone, along with his clothing, bedding, and all his belongings. He moved in with the Bramlette family. It was several months later that cow hunters informed him they had found it in the top of a tree, but all his effects had washed out in the flood.
As a member of the Bramlette family, he took to tending the family’s garden, and daughter Frances Bramlette estimated he must have bought a wagon load of seed during his stay with her family. Out back of the new cabin, built after the San Miguel flood had destroyed the other, he grew the great Spanish gourds used for packing water. Although retired, he never slowed down. When a friend died on the Medina and the man’s faithful old dog refused to leave the grave, Bigfoot journeyed twice a day to take care of the dog, until the dog eventually died.
He took his own two dogs everywhere with him. When he moved in with the Bramlettes, he went to the table with Rock on one side and Sowder on the other. As he ate, he would give first one and then the other a bite of the choicest meat, cake, bread, or anything else he thought they would like best. Louise Bramlette never uttered one word of protest, although the Bramlette dogs always stayed outside and were never allowed in the house.
Frances, whom Bigfoot called Fan, quickly became his favorite, probably because she was outspoken and fearless, much like himself. He never failed to take her every young rabbit, squirrel, or anything else he came across---even a javelina pig and a small black bear. When Frances grew up and married rancher W. W. "Doc" Cochran, Bigfoot then became part of her family, helping her raise her children as if they were his own. On one occasion when he fell asleep in his chair on the porch with the newspaper spread across his chest, the kids set the paper on fire. It burned away part of his long beard before he managed to put out the flames. The "scamps," as he called Fannie’s boys, always tried to outwit the old Ranger, but they always failed.