This week in Texas History: Burned-out adventurer cashes in his chips

Dazed, depressed and at the end of his rope, Samuel W. Jordan wandered the streets of New Orleans on Jun. 22, 1841 looking for a place to die.

Like many volunteers who arrived too late to fight for Lone Star independence, Jordan found life in the peacetime military too tame for his tastes.  Resigning his commission as a captain in the Texas Army, he took part in the Rio Grande campaign that  gave birth to the short-lived republic of the same name.

Federalist leader Antonio Canales appealed to Texans in 1839 to join the struggle to liberate the northern provinces of Mexico from the dictatorial rule of the centralists, the same enemy they had defeated three years earlier at San Jacinto.  To sweeten the deal, Canales offered the Anglo-Americans a fair share of the spoils, 25 dollars a month and a half league of land.

A hundred and twenty-eight Texans under the command of Samuel Jordan and Reuben Ross answered the call.  They crossed the border north of Reynosa, linked up with 400 federalists and on Oct. 3, 1839 routed the overconfident centralists at the Battle of Alcantro.

Eager to sever the compromising connection with his foreign friends, Canales furloughed the Texans, who went home in a huff.  He created the Republic of the Rio Grande in January 1840 only to be driven into exile two months later by a centralist counterattack.

With the exception of Reuben Ross, who had died in a December duel, the Texas troops rallied around the charismatic Canales.  Three hundred Mexicans, 80 Indians and 140 Anglos led by Jordan mustered at San Patricio in June.  In a matter of weeks, the Republic force numbered nearly 1,900 men.

Mariano Arista, the centralist general that had crushed Canales in March, slipped across the Rio Grande in late August with 1,100 seasoned soldiers and four artillery pieces.  However, worried about his unprotected rear, he quickly doubled back to Matamoros to await the federalist advance.

Meanwhile, Canales sent Jordan and 90 Texans on a risky reconnaissance behind enemy lines.  Soon after entering Mexican territory, Jordan received revised orders directing him deep into the dangerous interior.  The mysterious way Juan N. Molano materialized with the change of plans aroused the suspicion of the rank and file but not the trusting commander.

At Molano’s urging and over the strong objections of his men, Jordan proceeded to Ciudad Victoria 200 miles south of Matamoros.  Soon after reaching their destination came word that Gen. Arista was closing in for the kill.  But before the deadly trap could be sprung, the Texans hurried to Saltillo 180 miles to the northwest.

During the long march, Molano clandestinely corresponded with their pursuer.  The secret exchange ended with the snake in the grass accepting Arista’s surrender terms, which included betrayal of the Texans.

Four miles from Saltillo, the federalists were met by a superior centralist contingent.  The traitor Molano rode forward with a white flag supposedly for a truce talk and vanished from sight.

Moments later a federalist colonel switched sides shouting, “Viva the supreme government!  Death to the Texans!”  At that prearranged signal, the bulk of the Mexican troops abandoned their Anglo allies.

The Texans dismounted and took cover behind a stone wall.  Repeated attempts to storm their defenses were repelled by small-arms and rifle fire.  By dusk, however, they were running out of ammunition and precious time.

With a blood-curdling yell, the Texans charged the centralists on foot and broke through their lines.  Before the frightened foes could regroup, they jumped on their waiting horses and galloped away.

The Texans fought their way to the border losing only four comrades on the remarkable cross-country escape.  The Republic of the Rio Grande quickly collapsed, and Antonio Canales followed the example of his unscrupulous subordinates by making peace with the victorious central government.

Sam Jordan must have lost his mind in the aftermath of the misadventure.  In a bizarre incident on Dec. 10, 1840, he took a swing at Sam Houston with an ax handle, but a bystander blocked the potentially lethal blow.

Jordan spent the next six months in New Orleans preparing for a private invasion of Yucatan.  When the ship sailed without him in June 1841, he sank into a deep depression.

At a corner pharmacy, he bought a bottle of laudanum, a common but potent painkiller of the day that was ten percent opium in an alcohol-water solution.  Returning to his dingy rented room, he gulped down the deadly mixture, closed his eyes and drifted off into oblivion.

Read all about the early years of the oil frenzy in “Texas Boomtowns: A History of Blood and Oil” Order your copy for $24.00 by mailing a check to Bartee Haile, P.O. Box 130011, Spring, TX 77393.

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