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Chicken Ranch Central
That nobody took particular notice to a brothel setting up shop in a backwater saloon is hardly a surprise. The decade-long existence of the Republic of Texas was an eventful time for La Grange and Fayette County, and the years of statehood prior to the Civil War were no less so.I also excised a whole lot of passive verbiage from the chapter as a whole during my second draft rewrite. Passive voice is a failing of mine, I admit. There's more polishing to be done, but we're getting there.
Two major events would shape La Grange’s identity in dramatic fashion. In September 1842, following news of San Antonio’s capture by an invading Mexican army, a company of Fayette County men under the command of Captain Nicholas Dawson rode to the aid of a small force of Texans camped near San Antonio on Cibolo Creek. By the time Dawson’s force of 53 men arrived, the fighting had ended. Instead of riding to the rescue, Dawson’s men found themselves face to face with more than 600 Mexican soldiers armed with cannons. Only 18 Texans survived the slaughter, with three escaping capture. The remaining 15 were taken to Mexico as prisoners and eventually released nearly 18 months later. A mere 10 ever made it home to Fayette County.
That December, Texas launched the Somervell expedition in retaliation. After recapturing of Laredo, a force of roughly 300 Texans spoiling for a fight crossed the Rio Grande and continued on to Ciudad Mier. Following a sequence of poor command decisions, the Texans blundered into a waiting Mexican Army unit 10 times their size.
The battle of Mier raged Dec. 25-26, with the Texans inflicting astonishingly heavy casualties against the larger force. In all, approximately 600 Mexican soldiers were killed and 200 wounded compared to 30 Texans killed or wounded, but lack of ammunition, food and water forced the Texans to surrender. The prisoners were marched toward Mexico City, but on February 11, 1843, they effected a massive escape into the mountains. The desert proved too great an obstacle to overcome, and 176 of the prisoners were recaptured. The enraged dictator of Mexico, Antonio López de Santa Anna, ordered all of the escapees executed, but the governor of Coahuila, Francisco Mexía, refused the order, leading to the decimation compromise known as the Black Bean Affair. The prisoners were forced to pick one of 179 beans from a jar. Those who drew white beans were spared; those who drew a black bean--17 in all--were blindfolded and executed March 25, 1843. Of the 15 men from Fayette County who’d joined in the Mier expedition, only William Eastland drew a black bean, and he drew the first one.
The loss of so many men of the Mier and Dawson parties was a bitter pill for Fayette County to swallow, and one not readily forgotten. Compounding the anger was the fact the executed Mier prisoners were interred at Hacienda Salado, in the Mexican state of Potosi, more than 100 miles south of Monterrey. Mexico refused to repatriate the remains, insisting such an act would be a desecration of the consecrated graves. It wasn’t until the U.S.-Mexican War erupted following the annexation of Texas that the opportunity to recover the remains arose.
In 1848, during the period of armistice before the final peace treaty would formally end the hostilities, 11 Texans stationed at Concepción, north of Monterrey, hatched a scheme to ride south to Hacienda Salado to recover the remains of the Mier prisoners executed six years prior. Without official sanction, they crossed enemy lines the morning of May 2 and arrived at Hacienda Salado the next morning after a hard ride. They caught the locals by surprise and forced five Mexicans to dig up the remains. The Texans collected the bones in sacks which they tied to pack horses. As the Texans were departing, they spotted two riders fleeing to nearby Cedral, where 500 Mexican troops were stationed. Alarmed by this, the Texans rode hard through the night, pausing for only a few hours to rest their exhausted horses. They finally reached Concepción with their precious cargo the following afternoon, covering more than 300 miles in a span of 53 hours.
The remains of the decimated Mier prisoners were brought to La Grange in June, and by September the remains of the Dawson company were acquired as well. The two sets of remains were then interred with full military honors in a vault on the bluff overlooking the Colorado River. Over the years the site became known as Monument Hill, one of the most important shrines of Texas history.
Apache acorn cakesThe dough is very coarse, even though I used whole grain corn flour instead of corn meal. I figured out right away that "tortilla-like" was a non-starter. They simply wouldn't hold together when pressed that thin. I finally settled for a thicker, cookie-like form, and this worked fine. They cooked quite easily. The honey made them nicely sweet, but not cloying. The texture was similar to a heavy cornbread, and the acorns gave a nutty taste. The Wife wasn't terribly impressed, and the Bug wouldn't touch any, but Monkey Girl and Fairy Girl though the "acorn cookies" delicious and devoured most of them topped with melted butter.
1 cup acorn meal, ground fine
1 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup honey
pinch of salt
Mix the ingredients with enough warm water to make a moist, not
sticky dough. Divide into 12 balls. Let rest, covered, for 10 minutes or so. With slightly moist hands, pat the balls down into thick tortilla-shaped breads. Bake on an ungreased cast iron griddle
Acorn BreadI made a few minor substitutions for this recipe. For corn meal I used whole grain corn flour. I used whole grain wheat flour. Instead of cooked mashed potatoes, I used a quarter cup of instant flakes. I also used Red Star baking yeast, since I've had good results with their various strains of brewer's yeast. Everything went well until I formed the dough into a ball and set aside atop the stove (the warmest place in the house) to rise. After several hours (and much yeasty smell) the dough had risen only about 20 percent, if that. Hardly the "doubled in bulk" the recipe called for. I left it alone for a while longer, but no change was obvious. I punched it down--the texture was almost frothy, and it smelled wonderful--and divided it into two loaves. I then set these aside to rise. After a couple of hours, the dough had barely changed, rising maybe 10 percent. Frustrated, I went ahead and baked them, deciding they weren't going to rise any more so I may as well take my chances.
6 tbl. cornmeal
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup boiling water
1 tsp. salt
1 tbl. butter
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 cup mashed potatoes
2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cup finely ground leached acorn meal
Mix cornmeal with cold water, add boiling water and cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add salt and butter and cool to lukewarm. Soften yeast in lukewarm water. Add remaining ingredients to corn mixture, along with yeast. Knead to a stiff dough. Dough will be sticky. Cover and let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk. Punch down, shape into two loaves, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. Bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes.