Dawson Massacre

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: August 17, 2021

After the capture of San Antonio on September 11, 1842, by Brig. Gen. Adrián Woll in the second of the Mexican invasions of 1842, Texan forces gathered on Salado Creek under Col. Mathew Caldwell to repel the raiders. While Texas arms were succeeding at the battle of Salado Creek on September 18, 1842, a calamity was occurring only a mile and a half away. In response to Caldwell's call for volunteers, Capt. Nicholas M. Dawson had raised a fifty-three-man company, mostly from Fayette County, and marched down from La Grange. Believing Caldwell's forces to be in grave danger, Dawson's men chose not to wait for Capt. Jesse Billingsley's company, which was following them, but to disregard the threat posed by numerous heavy Mexican cavalry patrols and to fight their way to the Salado. Near Caldwell's embattled line, between 3 and 4 P.M. on the eighteenth, the company was intercepted by a column of 500 irregular Mexican cavalry commanded by colonels Cayetano Montero, José María Carrasco, and Pedro Rangel and supported by a battery of two field pieces. According to the accounts of several survivors, the Mexican column was commanded by Juan Nepomuceno Seguín, but they were no doubt in error. Dawson dismounted his men in a mesquite thicket where Fort Sam Houston now stands and threatened to "shoot the first man who runs." The Texans were quickly surrounded but repulsed a spirited cavalry charge and inflicted a number of casualties on the enemy. The Mexicans then fell back out of rifle range and opened fire on the Texans with their artillery. Billingsley's company, which arrived while the fight was in progress, was too weak to go to Dawson's aid, and Caldwell's men on Salado Creek were heavily engaged throughout the afternoon. Montero once more ordered his cavalry, then dismounted, to charge. After a vigorous but futile resistance, the severely wounded Dawson sought to surrender. The Mexicans continued to fire, however, striking Dawson several more times. Seeing surrender to be impossible, he gasped out his dying words, "Let victory be purchased with blood." Alsey S. Miller took up the white mackinaw that Dawson had waved in token of surrender and rode with it toward the Mexican lines, only to be fired upon in his turn. Miller then galloped through the enemy toward the town of Seguin. Henry Gonzalvo Woods, after witnessing the death of his father and the wounding of his brother Norman, also escaped. Some of the Texans continued to resist while others laid down their arms. Heroic in the fight was Griffin, a slave of Samuel A. Maverick, who, his rifle shattered, fought on with the limb of a mesquite tree until he was killed. By 5 P.M. the fight was over. Thirty-six Texans died on the field, fifteen were taken prisoner, and two escaped. The prisoners were marched away to Perote Prison in Mexico. Of these men, only nine survived to return to Texas. Thirty Mexicans were estimated to have been killed and between sixty and seventy wounded. Two days later the Mexican army retreated toward the Rio Grande, and the Dawson men were buried in shallow graves in the mesquite thicket where they fell.

Joseph Milton Nance, Attack and Counterattack: The Texas-Mexican Frontier, 1842 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964). Juan N. Seguin, Personal Memoirs (San Antonio, 1858). L. U. Spellmann, ed., "Letters of the `Dawson Men' From Perote Prison, Mexico, 1842–1843," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 38 (April 1935). William P. Stapp, The Prisoners of Perote: A Journal (Philadelphia: Zieber, 1845). Leonie L. Weyand, Early History of Fayette County, 1822–1865 (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1932).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Dawson Massacre,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/dawson-massacre.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 17, 2021