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March 4th, 2011
Bartee Haile: Civilians slaughtered on eve of Mexican War

This Week in Texas History: A column

When Gen. Zachary Taylor received his marching orders for Port Isabel on March 8, 1846, an old friend told him he would be riding along with a civilian caravan.

Following the well-worn trail from Tennessee, the Rogers family reached Texas a few days after the Battle of San Jacinto. Patterson Rogers and his wife Elizabeth decided the chaotic conditions were not conducive to raising eight children and withdrew east of the Sabine River to wait for the dust to settle.

Like the triumphant Texans, the Rogers never dreamed statehood would be a decade in coming. Yet, as the years slowly passed, they never regarded their stay in Louisiana as anything other than temporary.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Starting today, Bartee Haile gives us a weekly look at a bygone Texas through his column, This Week in Texas History. His column will run on Wednesdays starting March 9.

A short autobiography

Born in Dallas at the close of the Second World War, I am a fourth or fifth generation Texan. Impossible to be more precise because my ancestors, like most nineteenth-century Texans, were lousy record keepers.

I attended public schools in Dallas, San Antonio, Tyler and Richardson before going onto Texas Tech and Southern Methodist University for my college education.

After years of beating my head against the middle-management brick wall, I finally decided, with the encouragement and support of an extraordinarily understanding wife, to take the writing plunge. In the summer of 1983, I introduced This Week in Texas History which 28 years and more than 1,400 columns later is the oldest and most widely read feature of its kind appearing in dozens of papers from Fort Davis to Sulphur Springs and Plainview to Rockport.

In the weeks and months to come, you will see everything under the Lone Star sun in this column. I believe that is what makes This Week in Texas History so darn interesting to such a wide audience. I hope you will agree, and I look forward to hearing from you.

When Gen. Zachary Taylor landed with his troops on the Texas coast in the summer of 1845, Roswell Denton was not far behind. The civilian sutler or provisioner for the expedition was accompanied by his three elder brothers-in-law – Anderson, Lieun and William Rogers – and the rest of the close-knit clan soon joined them at Corpus Christi.

Three weeks after the Stars and Stripes replaced the Lone Star, Gen. Taylor moved into position along the international boundary to meet any Mexican attempt to retake the long lost province. Anderson Rogers remained at Corpus Christi, the port of entry for all supplies, while Roswell Denton and his two other assistants built storehouses at Port Isabel and San Antonio. After putting Lieun Rogers in charge of the Alamo City operation, the sutler rushed to New Orleans to speed up the shipment of munitions.

Denton’s parting instructions to Anderson and William were to deliver a supply train to the Second Dragoons at Port Isabel. He specifically told them to avoid the interior, which was growing more dangerous by the day, and to take the safe Padre Island route.

Sporadic skirmishes were already occurring along the border, when the brothers departed Corpus Christi on April 25, 1846. Besides their 50-year-old father, who insisted on making the trip, the passenger list included a dozen additional men, three women and four small children. The caravan was poorly armed and traveled without military escort.

For reasons that were never known, the Rogers brothers ignored their boss’s warning as well as a similar admonition from Gen. Taylor. Instead of heading due south down Padre, they followed the southwesterly course of the Arroyo Colorado into the hazardous mainland.

In the vicinity of present-day Harlingen on the first day of May, a band of Rio Grande raiders suddenly encircled the column. Though outnumbered and outgunned, the three Rogers and the majority of their male companions did not want to give up without a fight.

But the fate of the defenseless women and children caused them to think twice. Promised civilized treatment by the smiling bandit leader, they dropped their weapons and raised their hands.

The men were immediately stripped, lashed together in pairs and herded at gunpoint to a high bluff, where they were forced to kneel. The executioner then grabbed each victim from behind by the hair, yanked back his head and slit his throat. After tossing the bodies two at a time over the precipice, the murderous maniacs butchered the screaming women and children.

As the bandits leisurely looted the wagon train, a naked corpse came to life in the shallow Arroyo Colorado. William Rogers crawled out of the water and hid in a hole in the bank until the raiders rode off with their plunder.

The youth should have been dead. Even though the assassin had missed his jugular vein, which reduced the flow of blood to a trickle, the knife practically severed his windpipe. Still, he managed to breathe through the gash in his throat.

Covering himself from head to toe with mud to protect his skin from the blistering sun, William wandered aimlessly in search of help. He could swallow water and berries only by lying flat on his back. After four days and 40 miles, he stumbled upon an old Mexican, who provided the pitiful gringo with fresh clothes and a place to sleep.

A passing patrol took William prisoner and transferred him to a POW camp in Matamoros. Denied medical attention, his festering wound became a breeding ground for screwworms.

After a prisoner swap, freed Americans informed Col. David Twiggs that William was still in foreign custody. The outraged officer demanded his release, but the commander of the Matamoros garrison denied any knowledge of the captive.

Realizing the Mexicans intended to keep the massacre a secret by refusing to hand over the sole survivor, Twiggs set a deadline for his repatriation. If the enemy did not let him go, the colonel threatened to level Matamoros with his artillery.

The Mexicans got the message and quickly turned William Rogers loose. Nursed back to health, he lived to tell the world about the Arroyo Colorado atrocity.

Bartee Haile welcomes your comments, questions and suggestions at or P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549. His website is at

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