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Moses Rose: A tale of the Alamo and survivors
The title character of MOSES ROSE is based on a legendary Texas figure: Louis Rose, a 50-year-old veteran of Napoleon's Grand Army, who supposedly fled the Alamo the night before the Mexican Army's final assault. He may or may not have existed; and if he did exist, he may or may not have left the Alamo in the way of the legend. The novel imagines what might have happened to Louis after leaving. In the following chapter, which takes place several months after the fall of the Alamo, Louis has made his way to the East Texas village of Nacogdoches. There, he has killed a man who has been stalking him with a bitter vengeance: the man, like many in Texas, has considered Louis to be a traitorous coward. But other Texans are less sure. Everyone has questions for him. Near the end of this chapter, Louis recognizes someone who will have a profound effect on him: Mary Kimbro, the widow of a man who chose to stay and die at the Alamo. He has tried to avoid her, but realizes it is inevitable that he must confront her.
On June sixth, a baked Monday afternoon two days after the fight, a murmuring crowd stood waiting in front of the Stone Fort, a two-story, stone-and-wood building not far from the log Meeting House. Adolphus Sterne, Frost Thorn, and several other men leaned on the railing of a balcony that ran the length of the Stone Fort, talking among themselves and glancing toward the grass road.
"Well, Dolph, what do you think?" Thorn asked nervously, watching the crowd.
"Theyíre just curious," Sterne answered. "I donít see any pistols or muskets down there."
"But there are some strangers, Dolph."
"Frost, more newcomers are showing up around here every week, some of them are even staying put after that Runaway Scrape, some of them are coming back from Louisiana and aiming for home. These look tame to me."
Another man spoke from behind them. "Youíre gonna have to meet downstairs," he said, "Ďcause I donít reckon all these folks will take kindly to being left out here in the sun, just waiting. They want to see the show."
"Yes, fine, Tom," Sterne said. "Blakeís already down there getting the chairs and benches set up."
"Dammit, Dolph," Thorn muttered, "all this makes me uneasy, I mean not just this crowd, but what that fellow claimed and Louis killing him and all I thought our troubles were over."
Sterne leaned toward Thorn. "I asked Major Ward to post some of his soldiers on the other side of the old bull ring," he whispered. He looked at the sweating Thorn, then smiled and nudged his friend. "He didnít want to do it, Frost, said they were unwelcome enough just being here pretending the Indians might attack, but I told him Miss Anna Raguet would favor him kindly, and that prompted him to ask how many soldiers we needed."
"Well," remarked a man from behind them, "the sonuvabitch sure donít look too bothered."
Louis rode his stallion in a smooth walk toward the silent crowd and dismounted easily. He tied the reins to one of the tall posts supporting the balcony. A thick bandage bulged on his left forearm.
When he turned to walk inside he saw first the mulatto William Goyens and his wife Mary, a white woman from Georgia. Louis nodded slightly to them.
"Louis, weíre here to help if you need us," Goyens said.
"Thanks, Bill," Louis replied.
The crowd followed Louis into the first floor room, and he realized that the informal meeting he thought he would have with Sterne and Blake and Thorn upstairs in Vicente Cordovaís law room had now become something else: a hearing, even a trial of sorts. Something else new for the Stone Fort, he thought cynically. At various times in the past fifty years the building had been a trading post under its builder, Oil Ybarbo, the townís founder; a soldiersí barracks; a seat of government for the Eastern Province of Spain in 1810; a printing office for Texasí first newspaper in 1813; a fortress for Col. Piedrasí Mexican soldiers as they fought off a frenzied attack by the Anglos in 1832, before Piedras and his men were captured trying to sneak away at night; and, most recently, a general store for Adolphus Sterne with the town lawyerís office and other rooms upstairs, and in times of need, a town meeting hall.
Louis walked to the front of the downstairs room, picking his way among several stools and long benches, and nodded to Bennett Blake, who had just put a fourth chair behind a table facing the benches. Louis thought about irony: nine years ago in this very room he had stood before a bored Mexican judge and sworn the Mexican oath of allegiance, as Davy Crockett and others had done just a few months ago, and just last year Louis had listened without speaking at the half dozen meetings the townspeople held as they discussed the news about the growing rebellion to the west; he recalled Sam Houston running the meetings as if he were conducting a military campaign. And now here they were, he and Thorn and Dolph and all the others, about to enact yet another drama in the old building, and Louis suddenly realized he wished the imposing Sam Houston were there.
Louis sat in a chair facing the table and waited. He could hear whispering behind him as the room filled. After a few moments, he heard Sterneís heavy steps on the stairs.
"Hello, Louis," Sterne said as he strode to the table.
Louis nodded to Sterne, Thorn and Charles Taylor. No one said anything as the three joined Blake at the table facing Louis. Vicente Cordova leaned in a chair against the wall next to the stairs.
Blake cleared his throat, then studied a piece of paper as he talked flatly, "Well, letís see what we have. As best we can tell, this Jimmie Nunn was in his early twenties, from somewhere near Texana, down by Victoria. He had no work or kin around here. He just showed up."
"He was a rover," Taylor added softly in an English accent.
Blake looked at Louis. "So why did you kill him, Louis?"
"Because he tried to kill me."
"Maybe the rover had a good reason," someone muttered from behind Louis.
"Now listen," Sterne declared, glaring into the crowd, "weíre going to do this in the right way Ė"
"Yes, Dolph, we will," Blake said calmly. "Just relax. And everybody else, too, you all just sit there and listen if you want but nobodyís got anything to say except me and these men with me, and Louis."
Heat pressed on Louis. He glanced toward an open window and saw flat linen curtains.
"Now," Blake continued, "Dolph and Frost and several others saw the whole thing, and they have no doubts it was self defense."
"Good," Louis replied. "It was."
He could hear people fanning themselves behind him. He sighed, wiping his forehead with a kerchief as Blake read aloud Dolph Sterneís account of the fight. The other three men at the table looked over the crowd toward the back of the room, or at their own hands on the table.
"Frost here tells basically the same story," Blake said after he had finished reading. "Do you want to change anything in this account, Louis?"
Blake waited for Louis to continue, but then finally remarked, "Well, Louis, Iíve been in these parts just over a year, and maybe Iím not the right one to be questioning."
"It doesnít matter who asks the questions," Louis said.
"Yes, but Charles Taylor has lived here and in San Augustine and has been on the ayuntamiento and all, maybe he knows you better, or if you like Dolph or Frost Ė"
"Just ask your damned questions," Louis snapped.
"Please, Louis," Thorn pleaded, leaning onto the table, "weíre just trying Ė"
"If you have questions about the Alamo, ask them," Louis insisted.
Several people began mumbling behind him, and one man exclaimed loudly, "Some of us will even if you boys at the table donít!"
"All right, all right, just sit yourself down, Barnett," said Blake, waving his hands toward the crowd. He leaned back in his chair and sighed.
Sterne looked at Louis, and Louis thought Dolphís dark eyes were reassuring him. "Letís get it out in the open, Louis," he said. "This Jimmie Nunn, hell, I donít care if heís dead or not as long as heís not going to settle around here. But he made accusations about you being in the Alamo through the two weeks of the siege, and then running away, and he even called it deserting. He said you might have even fought with the Mexicans."
"Thatís not true, about fighting with the Mexicans," Louis answered quickly, "and I didnít desert."
"It donít matter what you call it," someone said scornfully.
Blake frowned, staring at the table, and Thorn shook his head, swallowing hard. Sterne and Charles Taylor sat unmoving.
"And you left, after all the other men had decided to stay?" Sterne asked at last.
"Obviously," Louis replied.
"Because I wasnít ready to die."
Some in the crowd gasped, and a man declared angrily, "We sent men from around here, you know."
"Yes, I know, I was with them," Louis said, still looking directly at Sterne. He waited, but no one said anything, so he continued as calmly as he could, though loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear. "I think you all should know that I left with Travisís permission and his best wishes. It was the night before the final assault, and yes, everyone else had decided to stay on. Travis had given us that choice. I left, and for no other reason than what I just said."
"Well Iíll be damned!" a man blurted behind Louis.
Some women were crying softly.
"I escaped through San Antonio that night, and had to kill a Mexican soldier Ė" he suddenly saw again the odorous, barefoot young soldier who had been on patrol with the sergeant, heard the boy whimpering Mama, "Ė and maybe another one, too, but I donít know because I just left him. The point is, I did not join the Mexicans."
"Nobody really thinks you did, Louis," Blake said, "weíre just all confused and thereís a lot of questions."
Louis had started to speak again when he noticed Sterne motioning for someone to sit down, and then heard a manís shaking voice say, "Louis."
Louis turned to the stooping man, who gripped a sweat-stained flat sombrero as he looked plaintively at Louis. He recognized James Wilson, who had a farm four miles away from Louisís cabin. Two years before, Louis and several other men had helped young David Wilson put a roof on the house he was building for his new bride.
"Hello, Jim," Louis said, rising.
Wilson nodded slowly, still looking at Louis with tired eyes, and mumbled, "How do, Louis. Well, itís about my boy, Davy. He ainít come back yet but I ainít heard his name in the dead menís roll being spoke around, and folks tell me it ainít been printed in Mr. Bordenís newspaper, either. Me and his mother and his wife was wondering what you might know."
Louis sighed. "Yes, Davy was there the night I left," he said gently, adding after he noticed the father flinch, "I didnít talk to him, but he seemed calm."
A woman gasped, another woman began to cry.
The image of the handsome young man eating slowly at a campfire made Louis think immediately another Scottish friend, and he said to no one in particular, "Mac was there, too, John McGregor, who worked at Frostís sawmill. Most of you knew him. He used to play his bagpipes at the dances here."
Another man helped Jim Wilson sit back down on the bench, the old manís head shaking slowly.
Finally, Charles Taylor cleared his throat and commented, "You know, weíve heard talk that after thereís an election for the president of the republic thereíll be some new laws about compensating the victimsí families."
Louis sat back down and looked at the plank floor in front of him.
A man behind him snarled, "This coward ainít getting nothing, is he?"
"Thereíll have to be documentation," Taylor continued loudly. "I mean, people could come from anywhere and say they had a son or brother or father there at the Alamo and deserved some compensation, whateverís going to be offered."
"Land more than likely, thatís what Anglo Texans and Americans care most about," Vicente Cordova added from the corner.
"Land, or money, or both," Taylor agreed, ignoring Cordova. He nodded to Louis. "Maybe youíll be able to help us with that, tell us who you actually saw."
"Travis sent several messengers out, and some of them came back and others didnít, and I didnít keep track," Louis explained. "And then a few nights before I left, about thirty Gonzales men burst through the Mexican lines at three in the morning and made it inside, but I didnít know most of them."
"Well, you knew the Nacogdoches men, anyway," Blake said.
Louis nodded. "Iíll write down who I can remember and keep it, or leave it with somebody."
"Leave it?" Thorn asked quickly.
"I may not stay around here much longer," Louis answered. Someone behind him muttered, "Leave tonight, goddamn you."
Blake rapped on the table to quieten the whispering in the crowd, and then announced, "Well, thatís it, I think. Louis definitely acted in self defense, donít you think, Vicente? And about this Alamo matter, well, letís just leave it as it is and see what comes up."
Cordova announced, as grandly as he usually spoke whether he was in front of a jury or not, "A man must live with himself, for all hours of every day. Louis Rose might have some sort of law in his conscience that passes sentence, but as far as I can see it, he committed no official crime in killing this Nunn boy. A clear case of self defense."
Louis sighed, waiting for the men facing him to rise and the room to clear, but then he heard from several rows behind him a young manís voice urging, "No, donít Jenny," and when Louis turned he saw a trembling, blonde young woman rising as a red-bearded man reached for her.
"Uh, Miss, " Blake was saying.
"See, I told you," Thorn whispered to Sterne, "strangers are going to stir things up."
Jenny Mitchum was pale, but she managed to speak. "My daddy, weíre not from around here, but you said something about the Gonzales men."
Louis nodded, and he suddenly felt more tired and sad than he had in years. She looked so young.
"My daddy was with them," she was saying, "with George Kimbro and the others, but we left Gonzales before he wouldíve had a chance to get back to us if he left, too." She took a deep breath. "My name is Jenny Mitchum, and my daddy was Issac Mitchum. He had a black beard with some gray in it, and a scar over his left eye, and he laughed a lot, and probably talked about his family. His wife, my mother, sheís blind."
Louis waited, every bit of the anxiety and grief that filled the room now piercing him as if he had fallen into another cactus patch. He suddenly wanted to stop speaking, to be alone, but finally he nodded as he looked only at Jenny, and said, "Yes, I remember him, and he was there when I left. Iím sorry."
Jenny closed her eyes, then leaned onto Jimmy Mabry, who had stood to hold her.
"Letís end this right now," Sterne insisted.
"Yes, please," Louis said, turning away from the crowd.
The four men at the table rose and walked away, and after a few moments Louis heard the benches and stools scraping the plank floor, and shuffled footsteps, all of them moving away from him. A few minutes later he walked out of the building. A dozen people were still standing around, talking in low tones. Sterne and Blake nodded gravely to him.
As Louis untied his horse he glanced to his right, down the grass road toward one end of town, and only ten paces away saw the back of a woman climbing lithely onto a wagon seat, where Jenny Mitchum already sat crying, leaning on the red-bearded man.
Something about the woman seemed familiar.
She looked straight at him.
Louis felt struck by a stone mallet. They faced each other for several moments, and finally he whispered, "Mary?"
She said something to Jimmy Mabry, who flicked the reins on the wagonís mules.
Louis looked away, staring at the reins he held so tightly that his
own hands were pale. He worked to control his breathing. His mind and emotions
spun, dancing a wild stomp like "Cherokees A-cominí," and he didnít even
realize he had been moving until a half hour later when he looked up and
saw his cabin waiting for him among the pines and oaks and willows.
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Department, Dan River Press, P.O. Box 298, Thomaston ME 04861