The account below was shared by one of William Preston Stapp’s descendants: Steve Bennett of Fort Worth. Steve is Elijah Stapp’s great grandson x3.
This moving and descriptive account relates to the ill-fated Mier Expedition and the Black Bean Episode wherein Texans were captured (including William Preston Stapp) by Santa Ana’s army and some were executed. I really appreciate Steve sharing this with us!
From the Account of William Preston Stapp 1845. Jaded with the barbarous stages imposed on us in our fettered condition, and worn down with the severity of our morning’s tramp, we entered our former quarters (the corral of the ranch), and gladly sought repose for our wearied limbs upon the filthy floor of the shed that ran round the enclosure. The morning had been clear and beautiful, and the noon warm to sultriness; but a few miles before we reached the ranch the sky became suddenly overcast, and fierce gusts of wind came whistling along the plain, blinding us with clouds of sand, and whirling the heavy leathern caps of the cavalry from their heads as lightly as though they were children’s bonnets. So sudden and violent a transition of the element around us would have passed unheeded at any other time or place. But occurring on the eve of our return to a spot with which we were connected by memories of blood and violence, whose transactions vague rumor had also associated with some impending atonement, inspired a presentiment of approaching evil in the minds of most of us. Still there was nothing either in the communications or deportment of our guard along the road, to excite the slightest suspicion of their design, and by the time we had reached our pen and huddled under its shelter, the tempest began to lull and our apprehensions were departed.
But a few minutes had elapsed before a group of Mexican officers entered our quarters, and one of them, holding a paper in his hand, directed the interpreter to summon us around him, when he proceeded to read its contents in Spanish to the assembled prisoners. As no second order enforcing the execution of the one from Santa Anna commanding our deaths had been received at Saltillio, a hope had sprung up amongst many, that some possible clemency might be in store for them. A few, therefore, of the more sanguine, pushed their way into the circle, and bent their eager eyes on the reader, half expecting his communication to be a mandate for our release. Who can describe the thrill of horror and consternation that electrified every heart, when the interpreter, in broken and tremulous tones, announced it as an order from the supreme government, directing every tenth man amongst us to be shot! the lots to be decided on the instant, and the execution to follow immediately. So entirely unexpected was this murderous announcement, so atrocious in its character, and so inhuman and indecent in the haste of its consummation, that a stupor seemed to pervade the whole assembly, not a word escaping from the lips of any for more than a minute. The silence was at length interrupted by the interpreter, who, in obedience to his directions, proceeded to inform us further, that all had been sentenced to the same fate, but the humane government had been graciously pleased to commute the just claim to this decimal exaction. A low clatter of the handcuffs was now heard, as some of the most desperate of our fellows essayed to free themselves from their shackles. This had been foreseen and provided against. An order was promptly given us to fall back within the shed, and the doorway and top of the sunken wall bristled with the muzzles of muskets presented to enforce it. We were helpless as the bound victim under the sacrificial knife, and had no alternative but to obey.
Whilst we were marshalled in an extended file, a Mexican subaltern and soldier entered the yard together, bearing a bench and earthen crock. The bench was placed before the officer who had communicated the order, and the crock set upon it, containing one hundred and seventy-four beans, (the number of prisoners present amongst which were seventeen black ones. A handkerchief, so folded as to hide the colour of the beans, was then thrown over the crock, and a list of our names, taken down when we were recaptured, placed in the hands of the interpreter. When these funeral preliminaries were completed, the name of our dauntless leader was first called, who, with a step as stately and brow as serene as he ever previously wore, stepped forward and drew. Each name continued to be called in their order on the list, and the individual compelled to draw, until the seventeen black beans were taken from the crock. When a bean was drawn, it was handed to the officer, and the bowl well shaken before the lottery proceeded. As they drew, each person’s name was entered upon another memorandum, with the colour of his bean. In many instances the doomed victim was enforced to revisit the fatal urn, to allow the comrade to whom he was chained to try the issues of life and death. Appalling as was the first effect of the order, and rapidly and voraciously as our self-dug graves yawned around, not a step faltered, nor a nerve shook, as the sickening ceremonial proceeded. Several of the Mexican officers seemed deeply affected, shedding tears profusely, and turning their backs upon the murderous spectacle. Others again leaned forward over the crock, to catch a first glimpse of the decree it uttered, as though they had heavy wagers upon the result. Three-fourths of the beans were exhausted before the fatal seventeen were drawn. When the sacrifice was made up, the victims, names were called over, their persons scrutinized, and being removed outside, their irons were knocked off. A few of us were permitted to go out and take a hasty leave of them. A priest had accompanied the march from Saltillio, who was now present to offer them extreme absolution; but only two could be prevailed on to accept of his intercession. Major Robert Dunham, being importuned to confess him to the holy father, repelled the proposition with warmth, preferring, like a good Protestant, to shrive himself, which he knelt down and did mutely and earnestly. This brave and honest man was then solicited by the rest to offer up a prayer in their behalf; but, as he was about to comply, he was rudely stopped by the officer on duty, who sternly and profanely forbade it. As the hour of twilight advanced, two files of infantry, consisting of twenty men each, with the whole of the cavalry, escorted the doomed party to the eastern wall, selected as the site of their execution. Here, being made to kneel down, with their faces to their butchers, they were blindfolded and shot, in two parties, successively, nine first, and eight soon afterwards. Huddled together in the stalls of the corral, the surviving prisoners were forced to sit down, and a heavy body of sentinels placed over us, with their firelocks cocked and at a present, ordered to shoot the first man who should move or speak whilst the execution was progressing.
Tears forced their way down many a rugged cheek, as, silent and manacled, we listened to the mournful and plaintive notes of the dead march, swelling and sinking on the ear, as the procession rounded our prison, to the eastern flank of the ranch. The wall against which the condemned were placed, was so near us we could distinctly hear every order given, in halting and arranging the command for the work of death. The murmured prayers of the kneeling men, stole faintly over to us—then came the silence that succeeded, more eloquent than sound-then the signal taps of the drum-the rattle of the muskets, as they were brought to an aim-the sharp burst of the discharge, mingled with the shrill cries of anguish and heavy groans of the dying, as soul and body took their sudden and bloody leave. The names of the victims of this perfidious and most atrocious tragedy, were (spellings and full names modified from Stapp)…