Skirmishes in the frontierlands at length triggered a Texan reprisal-slash-plundering expedition.
The officially independent Somervell Expedition of volunteer Texan militiamen captured a couple of Mexican towns, then disbanded to go home. Those members of it optimistic about their chances for more raiding set off for Ciudad Mier* — the Mier Expedition.
The Mier Expedition was a flop, and the irate Mexican President Santa Anna ordered the entire band shot to make an example. Anglo diplomatic wrangling got him to go down to shooting one tenth of the band.
Well, you’ve gotta pick that tenth somehow.
The Black Bean Lottery
So on this day, 176 potentially condemned men were made to draw a bean from a pot containing 159 white ones and 17 fatal black ones.
For the lucky 159, there was no rush quite like winning your life from a legume, as this survivors’ account describes:
I knew then that I was safe, and the revulsion of feeling was so great and rapid that I can compare it to nothing except the sudden lifting of an immense weight from off one’s shoulders. I felt as light as a feather.
The 17 for whom the cosmos had ordained frijoles negros took a quick leave of their companions, and were shot in two batches. (Here is a thorough discussion of the entire affair.)
It was a typically dicey death by musketry, with lots of people requiring multiple volleys. One of the 17, one James Shepherd, even survived the execution altogether by playing dead. (He fled during the night, but was later recaptured and [successfully] re-shot.)
The most hated man (by the Mexicans), Ewen Cameron, drew white, but Santa Anna thought better of letting him draw air and had him separately executed a month later. The rest of the lottery’s “winners” languished in prisons and work camps for more than a year of continued Texas-Mexico hostility, until they were amnestied and released in September 1844 — many destined to renew hostilities in the imminent Mexican-American War.
That survivor quoted above, William “Bigfoot” Wallace, was one of those re-enlistees. His colorful career with the Texas Rangers earned him a minor star in the firmament of Americana; he appears in Larry McMurty’s Lonesome Dove prequel Dead Man’s Walk … only in that version, he gets cinematically black-beaned at the big moment, as in this clip from the miniseries of the same title.
* The town is latterly famous as a key transit point for arms smuggling to Fidel Castro to supply the Cuban Revolution.
On this date in 1794, firebrand revolutionary pamphleteer Jacques Hebert and his eponymous party of Convention radicals mounted the scaffold during the Paris Terror.
As a 32-year-old, Hebert started putting out his foul-mouthed blog radical newspaper Le Pere Duchesne in the Revolution’s early months.
In this increasingly vituperative rag, Hebert — incongruously writing in the voice of “Old Man Duchesne” — savaged first the royal couple, and then (after that pair lost their well-coiffed heads) whatever the retrograde element of the unfolding Revolution happened to be on any given day: the constitutional monarchist Lafayette; the bourgeois liberal Girondists. His paper valorized the Parisian working-class sans-culottes, and lustily demanded heads for the satisfaction of their various grievances.
All of these thoughts trouble my brain, and the memory of Marat follows me without end. Last night I saw him in a dream: his wound was still bleeding, dammit. Upon seeing it I cried. Friend of the people, I shouted, is it you? Yes, good Père Duchesne, it’s Marat who comes from the dead to talk with you, because — dammit — the love of freedom pursues me even beyond the grave. Content to have lost my life for my republic, there only remains to me the regret of not having seen it delivered, before my death, from all the scoundrels who tear away at its breast. Père Duchesne, you must do what I couldn’t do. You closely followed me in the revolution; like me you consecrated you life to the defense of the rights of the people. You speak the language of the Sans Culottes, and your foul mouth, which makes little mistresses faint, sounds beautiful to free men, for free men shouldn’t be sought among the beautiful souls. Your joy and your anger have done more than all the dreams of statesmen. They know this well, the worthless fucks, and that’s why they’ve persecuted you like they did me. Courage, old man; don’t back off when you suffer the same trials as me, don’t be afraid: is there a more beautiful death than mine? But since you’re useful to your fellow citizens, try to avoid the daggers of statesmen. Live a while longer in order to denounce them and to complete, if you can, the task I’d undertaken.
Yes, Père Duchesne, you have to go after them hammer and tong, and not take it easy on anyone. When three months ago I proposed planting three hundred nooses on the terrace of the Tuileries in order to hang there the perfidious representatives of the people, some took me for a madman, and others as someone thirsty for blood. But nevertheless, if I’d been believed how much bloodshed would have been avoided! More than a million fewer men would have perished! So when I made that proposition I wasn’t speaking as a bloody monster, on the contrary I spoke as a friend of humanity. The moderates have buried more victims than those that fell before the steel of our enemies. Nothing is more harmful in a revolution than half measures. We have finally arrived at the era when we must pare things right down to the bone. … No more quarter for the defeated party, because, dammit, if the statesmen had the upper hand for one moment there wouldn’t exist a single patriot in six months.*
Late in his run, Hebert was on to venting dissatisfaction with the party of Danton, who had followed the monarchists and the liberals off the starboard of acceptable revolutionary opinion. Sensible centrist Maximilien Robespierre would indeed strike that faction down — just two weeks after he’d purged the radical Hebertist gaggle itself.**
Eleven days afterLe Pere Duchesne last hit the streets, its author’s head hit the basket.
His printed editorials (like the one above) often assert a modish conviction in his own coming martyrdom, but as proof against a fatal political reversal, Hebert had trusted overmuch to his power base in the Paris commune. When he was carted out this morning, the mob whom his own paper once played to reveled in old Pere Duchesne’s fall just as readily as it had reveled in his enemies’.
some men carrying long sticks, at the end of which were suspended braziers of burning charcoal, symbolical of the “Charcoal-burners” of the “Pere Duchesne,” thrust them into the face of Hebert, insulting him with the same bitter railleries with which he tormented so many other victims (Alphonse de Lamartine)
Hebert was executed at the Place de la Revolution in a batch of 20 fellow-radicals, among whom we also find the eloquent “orator of mankind,” anticlerical† wordsmith Anacharsis Cloots. (Victor Hugo on his revolutionary leader in Les Miserables: “he had too much of Saint-Just about him, and not enough of Anacharsis Cloots.”)
The original La Pere Duchesne was dead, but just as the hot-selling mag had attracted ripoffs in its original run, the name lived on as a symbol of popular revolutionary menace — to be reclaimed by later generations in print and song.
Everywhere and at all times men of commerce have had neither heart nor soul: their cash-box is their God; they only know how to thieve and deceive; they would shave an egg, they would kidnap their own fathers; they traffic in all things, even human flesh; theirs are the ships which sail to the African coasts to capture negroes whom they then treat as worthless cattle.
** These rival factions linked as fellow-victims of Robespierre’s Terror are neatly symbolized by the spouses of their respective antipathetic scribblers: Jacques Hebert’s wife Marie, and Lucile Duplessis, wife of the Dantonist journalist Camille Desmoulins. Marie and Lucile were guillotined together that April, having forged a friendship while awaiting the chop.
† “The personal enemy of Jesus Christ,” Cloots called himself. He also remarked, “What is man’s chief enemy? Each man is his own.” A lot of enemies, this one had.
On this date in 1526, Spanish bishop Antonio Osorio de Acuña was beheaded in Simancas for supporting the revolt of the comuneros.
Acuna was in his sixties when the popular revolt rose in Castile.
Given his age and station, he might have been expected to exercise the bishopric of Zamora in the interests of the powers that be. Instead, he threw in with the rebels, even fearlessly leading men into battle.
If that sounds (rightly or wrongly) principled to you, you might be surprised that Acuna has generally been tarred as an opportunist.
Was it “opportunistic” to seize the vacant bishopric of Toledo when that city was under attack by royalists? Or was it a courageous and needful stroke to take the ecclesiastical power in hand and direct the church’s material resources to the cause?
It’s really all in how you look at it. Surely throwing dissenting priests into the dungeon was a little harsh, but then, it was wartime.
Acuna was caught fleeing for France after the revolt broke down, but his execution took four-plus years to arrange through the sluggardly church courts.
Still, he was executed — a fact which underscores the stakes he was playing for, and insured that he would never get the benefit of historiographic doubt.
This Spanish-language page summarizes Acuna’s pre-comuneros career of graft and careerism. This Castilian nationalist page likes him quite a lot better.
Executed Today is pleased to mark the anniversary of Thomas Hilliker’s hanging with a chat with Trowbridge Museum Curator Clare Lyall.
ET: Can you put in context the significance of burning down a mill in Wiltshire in the early 1800s?
CL: This was part of organized resistance against mechanization that had begun to turn violent. Mills at Warminster and Bedington had already been burned. There was widespread opposition to processes that were perceived as threatening jobs and this was indicated by many employees joining unions despite the union’s illegal status.
Thomas Hilliker was 19 when he died. What do we know about him? What kind of life did he lead?
Thomas was a literate, apprentice shearman. The job of a shearman was highly skilled and involved the cropping of the raised nap of the cloth to ensure that a finely knitted fibre remained. He was only two years into a five-year apprenticeship when he was arrested. We have little evidence about the type of life he led. There was a statement that gave him an alibi for the night of the burning down of Littleton Mill, when one of his friends found him drunk outside a cottage where he had been visiting and took him in there to spend the night in the kitchen. I guess from that we can conclude that like many teenagers he liked on occasion to drink alcohol to excess.
There were contradictory statements about whether Hilliker was actually there holding the Mill manager prisoner whilst the Mill was burned. He also had an alibi for that evening and it would have been very unusual for senior union men to have involved a junior member with such a serious event. I think all this casts doubt on his guilt.
What did Thomas have to say to his family in this last letter? What does that tell us about his life?
It was a moving farewell to his parents and siblings with a request for them not to forget him and to stay out of trouble. I don’t think this was an admission of his involvement in the Littleton Mill incident but may refer to his membership of an illegal organization, a union which after what had happened to him might have considered wasn’t worth the risk.
As a curator, how do you present this artifact to visitors? What kind of reactions does it typically draw?
We present the letter in a display case which has a controlled environment and subdued lighting. There is a transcription of his final letter that is displayed on the outside of the case and adjacent to the letter.
Many people are moved by the letter and why he never told who the true culprits were.
However, in the spirit of softness, it brings this time only a fictional execution.
On this date in 1979, Gu Shan, the central character of Yiyun Li‘s novel The Vagrants gets a bullet to the heart in the Chinese town of Muddy River. The novel traces the lives of several townspeople in Muddy River who are touched by Shan’s death.
The short life of Gu Shan is secondary to the action of the novel itself: first a revolutionary, then a counter-revolutionary, the 28-year-old is imprisoned for acting against the government. As she sits in jail, she continues to write, and the scribbles in her journals are used in a retrial to garner a death sentence.
In a town of 80,000, her actions can be both consequential and inconsequential, but the people around her are a wholly forgotten lot. In a sense, then, Shan is important mostly because she’s noticed, and, as the saying goes, that really ties the room together.
The story tracks a cluster of characters who interact on the streets but live very different — almost uniformly bleak — lives. These range from Nini, a deformed girl whose mother was brutally assaulted by Shan when the latter was a revolutionary (a crime for which Shan suffered no consequences) to Bashi, the deranged son of China’s best Korean War-era pilot, who mutilates Shan’s corpse and shows a mild obsession for a 7-year-old boy.
Muddy River plays host to dozens of other characters connected to the execution, and Li paints a vividly depressing picture of China immediately after Mao Zedong’s death. The town is a collection of sad lives mired in moral depravity brought about by destitution and Party corruption. The most positive events transpire in quarters in a portable toilet.
Assuming you’re not looking for a pick-me-up on this equinoctial day (and why would you be at this blog if you were?), The Vagrants is well worth the read.
Jackson was described as standing erect and playing the part of an actor. Walling trembled with his eyes downcast. At that point, Jackson was again asked if he had anything to say. An eyewitness said, “Jackson hesitated fully two moments before he replied. Before he spoke, Walling turned expectantly evidently believing Jackson would speak the words that would save his life, even while he stood on the brink of death. Walling had half turned around and he stood in that position with an appealing expression on his face, while Jackson without looking at him, upturned his eyes and replied, ‘I have only this to say, that I am not guilty of the crime for which I am now compelled to pay the penalty of my life.”
Walling was then asked if he had any comments. He said, “Nothing, only that you are taking the life of an innocent man and I will call upon God to witness the truth of what I say.”
At 11:40am the trapdoors opened and Jackson and Walling were hanged.(Source)
Jackson and Walling had been convicted the previous year in separate trials — each defendant accusing the other — for the murder of Pearl Bryan, a naive Greencastle, Ind. farmgirl who had gone in search of an illegal abortion and turned up headless.
The notoriously grisly case — the decapitated body was only laboriously identified by tracing a manufacturers’ mark on her shoes back to her hometown — precipitated a nationwide media frenzy, ordinarily an ephemeral phenomenon.
But for the last public hanging in Campbell County, the crime beat couldn’t even scratch the surface of the weirdness.
Poor Pearl Bryan’s head, you see, was never found, and the culprits adamantly refused to divulge its whereabouts, prompting rumors of satanic ritual.
This occult connection (and the unsettled nature of a case with a head still at large) attracted paranormal associations.
Bobby Mackey’s Music World, a Wilder, Ky., honky-tonk, that opened more than 80 years after Pearl Bryan’s murder, is reputed to be haunted by her spirit and those of the men hanged for her death. (The actual connection of this building/site to Pearl Bryan or her killers is speculative at best, but to judge by the stories they tell about it, Bobby Mackey’s seems to be a spectral Grand Central Station. Don’t take it from me: a “ghost counselor” and the “President of the United States Psychotronic Association” both vouch for its spooky bona fides!)
This position provided access to the Fuhrer for Fromm — and for his chief of staff, Col. Claus von Stauffenberg. And it gave his office the authority to issue the “Valkyrie” orders for quelling civil unrest that Stauffenberg’s circle would use to attempt to seize Berlin.
Fromm realized that his underling was involved in a plot against the Nazi dictator, but neither joined it nor smashed it.
This play-it-safe approach turned out not to be safe at all. When Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler failed, Fromm hastily attempted to cover his tracks by summarily executing Stauffenberg and co-conspirators.
Not all that subtle, really. “You’ve been in a damned hurry to get your witnesses below ground,” Joseph Goebbels sneered.
Heinrich Himmler quickly had Fromm arrested. “Fate does not spare the man whose convictions are not matched by his readiness to give them effect,” wrote July 20th conspirator Hans Speidel. (As cited by Shirer.)
Although in Friedrich Fromm’s case, that wasn’t entirely true.
In recognition of the general’s calculated but not-unhelpful show of loyalty on the decisive date (enacted when Fromm realized the plotters had made a dog’s breakfast of everything) Hitler generously permitted the general to be “honorably” shot … rather than strangled from a meathook.
* Some sources give March 12, rather than March 19. I have been unable to establish primary documentation, but the sites for March 19 are far more numerous. (Years-later update: I probably got this wrong. I’d be better inclined to believe March 12.)
Scores of trumped-up heresy charges did the work of ecclesiastical assassination for this renowned brotherhood originally founded to safeguard pilgrims in the Holy Land. (There’s a fine podcast episode on the Templars’ history here.)
This appears to be some sort of legitimate history. How droll!
Ruthless French King Philip the Fair, who owed the Templar banks a ton of cash, mounted in 1307 a, um, surprise nationalization — with the magnificently coordinated arrest of hundreds of members of the order on Friday, Oct. 13, 1307.**
This was, on the face of it, quite an infringement by the secular power upon the Church, but since Pope Clement V was Philip’s very own sock puppet — to the extent of relocating the papacy to Avignon the better to attend to his master — it was all good. Plus, of course, everyone made out with a big pile of loot.
As the interested parties jockeyed over those confiscated estates, there ensued for the once-powerful, now-proscribed order a years-long saga of torture, burnings (of lower-ranking Templars), salacious Baphomet-worship revelations, juridical maneuvering, and, finally, a compromise life-saving confession which Molay and his associate Geoffroi de Charney dramatically spurned.
The cardinals dallied with their duty until March 1314, when, on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame, Jacques de Molay, Templar Grand Master, Geoffroi de Charney, Master of Normandy, Ilugues de Peraud, Visitor of France, and Godefroi de Gonneville, Master of Aquitaine, were brought forth from the jail in which for nearly seven years they had lain, to receive the sentence agreed upon by the cardinals, in conjunction with the Archbishop of Sens and some other prelates whom they had called in. Considering the offences which the culprits had confessed and confirmed, the penance imposed was in accordance with rule—that of perpetual imprisonment. The affair was supposed to be concluded when, to the dismay of the prelates and wonderment of the assembled crowd, de Molay and Geoffroi de Charney arose. They had been guilty, they said, not of the crimes imputed to them, but of basely betraying their Order to save their own lives. It was pure and holy; the charges were fictitious and the confessions false. Hastily the cardinals delivered them to the Prevot of Paris, and retired to deliberate on this unexpected contingency, but they were saved all trouble. ‘When the news was carried to Philippe he was furious. A short consultation with his council only was required. The canons pronounced that a relapsed heretic was to be burned without a hearing; the facts were notorious and no formal judgment by the papal commission need be waited for. That same day, by sunset, a pile was erected on a small island in the Seine, the Isle des Juifs, near the palace garden. There de Molay and de Charney were slowly burned to death, refusing all offers of pardon for retraction, and bearing their torment with a composure which won for them the reputation of martyrs among the people, who reverently collected their ashes as relics.’
-A History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, Vol III
Not bad, but the for a real plot twist, check the Templars’ turn — most famously in Dan Brown’s leaden bestseller The Da Vinci Code, but more entertainingly rendered as nonfiction “speculative history” in Holy Blood, Holy Grail — as mystic guardians of Christological secrets.†
Their most sensational secret: the Holy Grail.
In this reworking, the Cup of Christ is not the San Greal but the Sang Real, God’s own royal bloodline, by way (for some reason) of the French Merovingian dynasty.
Thither this blog dares not venture, but those with the requisite inclination towards the occult will find limitless explorations of the theme for ready sale. All we ask, gentle reader, is that you kindly cut us in on the action by using our handy affiliate links.
In what may be yet another mystical just-so story, Molay is said to have foretold, as the flames consumed him, the deaths of his persecutors.
Pope Clement, Chevalier Guillaume de Nogaret [the prosecuting inquisitor], King Philip! I summon you to the Tribunal of Heaven before the year is out!
The curse worked: none of those gentlemen lived to see 1315. Someone, somewhere, has also attributed every bum turn for the French crown since then to Molay’s anathema. There’s a legend that an onlooker at Louis XVI‘s execution dipped his handkerchief in Citizen Capet’s Sang Real and cried out, “Jacques de Molay, tu es vengé!”
† It is a fact that these guys liked sweeping their crusading conquests for supposed holy relics, like this Roman nail recently unveiled from a Templar fort that was reverentially “handled by a lot of people over a long period of time.”
On this date in 1834, one day after overrunning the Alava village of Gamarra, Carlist General Tomás de Zumalacárregui had 118 of its defenders shot.
Zumalacárregui was the outstanding Carlist (read: conservative, absolute-monarchist) officer of the day. (Here‘s a public-domain memoir of his campaigns.)
We meet him on the march in 1834, adroitly reversing the grim royalist position in the First Carlist War — a liberal-vs.-conservative civil war that also mapped onto ethnicity, geography, and royal succession.
On this occasion, he overwhelmed a contingent of liberals and Basques fighting for the child-queen Isabella II. The survivors were taken prisoner and (despite objections from some of Zumalacárregui’s underlings) given a fusillade the next day in the neighboring town of Heredia.
Día 17. Permanecimos en Heredia donde se fusilaron 118 peseteros. (“Day 17: We remained in Heredia, where we shot 118 Chapelgorris.”)
The Fusilamientos de Heredia — still notorious to this day — were distinguished by their number, but they were hardly unique. Both sides in the civil war unapologetically carried out summary executions of prisoners they had no resources to detain and did not care to turn loose. (And in the more everyday interests of sowing terror, or avenging the last time the other guys sowed terror.)
An English peer eventually brokered the Lord Eliot Convention, an arrangement by which both Carlists and Cristinos agreed to stop slaughtering prisoners and exchange them so that they could properly slaughter one another on the battlefield instead.
The Roman Emperor Tiberius expired at Misenum on this date in 37 A.D.
The Death of Tiberius, by Jean-Paul Laurens. Tacitus records that the aged princeps was thought to have expired, to the great relief of all, when word came that he was reviving. “[Praetorian prefect] Macro, nothing daunted, ordered the old emperor to be smothered under a huge heap of clothes.”
As Tiberius had been spending his last years terrifyingly purging Rome of alleged “traitors,” his death was met with some considerable relief. Great news: charismatic young prince Caligula is in charge now!
Anyway, despite the old man’s unpopularity and the manifest injustice of his treason trials, Tiberius’s death did not quite halt momentum of political butchery. Ever thus with bureaucracies.
The people were so glad of his death, that at the first news of it some ran about shouting, “Tiberius to the Tiber,” while others prayed to Mother Earth and the Manes to allow the dead man no abode except among the damned. Still others threatened his body with the hook and the Stairs of Mourning, especially embittered by a recent outrage, added to the memory of his former cruelty. It had been provided by decree of the senate that the execution of the condemned should in all cases be put off for ten days, and it chanced that the punishment of some fell due on the day when the news came about Tiberius. The poor wretches begged the public for protection; but since in the continued absence of Gaius [Caligula] there was no one who could be approached and appealed to, the jailers, fearing to act contrary to the law, strangled them and cast out their bodies on the Stairs of Mourning. Therefore hatred of the tyrant waxed greater, since his cruelty endured even after his death.
But Tiberius’s cruelty didn’t endure too long after his death. Pretty soon, Caligula’s cruelty would have the stage all to itself and Tiberius survivors would be yearning for the good old days.
The History of Rome podcast covers Tiberius’s crazy years and the transition to Caligula here.
* It’s not completely explicit that it was on this same March 16 that news of the emperor’s death hit Rome; therefore, it’s conceivable that the drama described here played out on a subsequent date.