Texas History Reveals that Black Beans Can Kill You

Throughout the entirety of my life my favorite legume has been the pinto bean.  In my estimation, pinto beans seasoned properly and cooked to perfection with toppings of onion or chow-chow, served with cornbread and a tall glass of buttermilk are hard to beat.  However in recent years, black beans, which have always been popular in Cuban dishes, have gained a new status in the culinary world.  Yet, as an old white guy with Tennessee and Texas roots, I still prefer my pintos.  But, I must admit that this is a digression from my original intention to tell the story of how black beans really can kill you.

In the days after Texas had gained its independence from Mexico in April of 1836 and become the Republic of Texas, Texans were having trouble with Mexican soldiers coming across the border and raiding Texas cities.  By the 1840’s, the situation had become extremely difficult.  Texas citizens were demanding that something be done, and President Sam Houston finally responded.  He appointed Alexander Somervell, the Secretary of War of the Republic of Texas, to take a group of recruits and make Texas’ presence known in the area between the Nueces and Rio Grande Rivers.  As a side note, Somervell County which is the home of Glen Rose and the Dinosaur Valley State Park is named for Alexander Somervell.  Somervell took his force of about 700 raw recruits and raided some of the border cities, including Laredo.  After these raids, he made the decision to cease the sorties and return home.  This decision did not sit well with some of his troops, so they remained along the border.  By Christmas day of 1842, this group of Texans had advanced into Mier, Mexico and were engaged in a bloody battle with a detachment of the Mexican military.  The Texans suffered about thirty casualties, but ran out of ammunition and food.  Not knowing that the Mexican forces had about 800 casualties, they surrendered to the Mexican military.  There were probably over 200 Texas soldiers who were then ordered on a forced march to Mexico City.  They had chosen Ewen Cameron as their leader, and he was able to engineer an escape.  The Texas contingent tried to make their way back across the border, but within about a week 176 of the prisoners had been recaptured.  Mexico’s President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna demanded that the Texans be put to death immediately.  After lengthy discussions, the governor of Coahuila and others were able to persuade Santa Anna to change his orders.  He eventually ordered a decimation of the Texas troops, meaning that a tenth of them would be killed.

The method to determine who was to die was simple.  The Mexican military authorities took an earthenware pot and placed 159 white beans and 17 black beans in it.  If a prisoner chose a black bean he was condemned to die at the hands of a firing squad.  Some of the prisoners discovered that the black beans were larger and managed to select white ones.  March 25, 1843 was the date of the drawing of the beans, and by dusk of that day the losers of the lottery were executed by firing squad.

Black Bean Episode 001

“Shooting the Decimated Prisoners”, drawn from life by Charles McLaughlin, one of the prisoners. Obtained from Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

Those who were executed after the bean lottery were John Cash, James Cocke, Robert Dunham, William Eastland, Edward Este, Robert Harris, Thomas Jones, Patrick Mahan, James Ogden, Christopher Roberts, William Rowan, James Shepherd, J N M Thompson, James Torrey, James Turnbull, Henry Walling, and Martin Wing.  In addition to those who drew the black beans, Ewen Cameron was also executed as the leader of the group.  Many of those who were not executed did not fare so well, for all the other prisoners were confined to the wretched Mexican prisons and many succumbed to disease and starvation.  By 1844, the prisoners were finally released to the Republic of Texas.  In 1848, after Texas was a state in the United States of America, the remains of those executed were reburied in La Grange, Texas.  This incident from Texas history is referred to as The Black Bean Episode.

Information for this narrative was found in the Texas State Historical Association “The Handbook of Texas Online”, and through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

I do hope that after you have read this you understand exactly how black beans can kill you.

I trust that I will see you on down the road.

Uncle Thereisno Justice