King, Amon Butler (1807–1836)

By: Hobart Huson and Craig H. Roell

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 30, 2018

Amon Butler King (sometimes mistakenly called Aaron B. King), to whom Col. James W. Fannin, Jr., entrusted the disastrous evacuation of Refugio during the Goliad Campaign of 1836, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1807, the son of John and Mary Ann (Butler) King. After his father's death, his mother married Dr. Joseph Camp. King left home in 1827 to deal in furs; by 1833 he had become town marshal of Paducah, Kentucky. He was serving in that capacity in late October 1835, when Capt. Peyton S. Wyatt's Huntsville (Alabama) Company stopped off at Paducah en route to join the Texas Revolution. King and about eighteen other Paducans enlisted. Either before leaving Paducah or while on the way to Texas he decided to organize his own company. He detached himself and some eighteen men from Wyatt's company to form the Paducah Volunteers, of which he was captain.

The King and Wyatt companies traveled to Texas together, arriving at Nacogdoches on December 8, 1835. They marched on to Washington-on-the-Brazos and reported to Gen. Sam Houston on December 25. As a result of disagreements over the Matamoros expedition of 1835–36, King and his company were sent to Refugio the first week in January 1836 to garrison the old Nuestra Señora del Refugio Mission, where they remained until ordered to Goliad. In Goliad on March 1 they were mustered as "auxiliary volunteers" in Fannin's command at Fort Defiance. After Francis W. Johnson's defeat in the battle of San Patricio and King's removal to Goliad, most Refugio-area families fled their homes; but some remained stranded and asked Fannin for assistance, especially since the deserted homes were being plundered by Karankawa and Mexican marauders. On March 10 Fannin ordered King back to Refugio to extricate these stranded families and bring back supplies. At nine o'clock on March 11 King set out with twenty-eight or thirty men and the garrison's carts and teams. They arrived at Refugio late in the evening to find most of the families in the mission, though others, including the family of Lewis T. Ayers, were at Esteban López's ranch nearby.

The next day King proceeded to the ranch to escort Mrs. Ayers and others. They found and arrested some Mexicans, from whom King learned that the marauding bands of Mexicans and Indians plundering the countryside were encamped about eight miles below on López's lower ranch. Despite his orders to return to Goliad immediately, the former marshal marched to the lower ranch with about sixteen men to punish the marauders. His party was ambushed by Capt. Carlos de la Garza's rancheros and, it is claimed, Karankawa Indians. King succeeded in getting the families back into Refugio Mission on March 12 but was surrounded and held there by Garza's men and those of Capt. Guadalupe de los Santos, who were acting as advance cavalry for Gen. José de Urrea's Mexican army. Many Mexican rancheros from the San Patricio, Refugio, and Goliad areas had been incensed at their treatment by the Americans in Fannin's command and therefore remained loyal to Mexico and served as independent scouts and advance units for Urrea. The Mexican general also sent a picket of regulars under Capt. Rafael Pretalia to help Garza and Santos detain King at Refugio. King now had twenty-six men; six had become separated during the retreat. The Mexican forces probably numbered about 200, most being local rancheros.

King sent to Colonel Fannin for aid. Col. William Ward, with the Georgia Battalion and part of Wyatt's company sent to his relief, raised the siege on the afternoon of March 13 (see REFUGIO, BATTLE OF). King, however, refused to return to Goliad with Ward until he had first punished some rancheros who lived down the river. His insubordination was one of a number of events that led to Fannin's ultimate disaster, the Goliad Massacre. Apparently, both Ward's and King's men were eager to fight the Mexicans, but a disagreement erupted between the two commanders about who should carry out the mission; King wanted the task, but Ward preferred his second in command, Warren J. Mitchell. Taking his own company and eighteen of Wyatt's men, King sallied forth on his own punitive expedition to López's lower ranch, while Ward sent Mitchell to reconnoiter the enemy and waited at the mission for their return. Meanwhile, Urrea's army approached. Mitchell saw the Mexicans and returned to the mission, which was promptly assaulted by Urrea's main body of troops.

On March 14, after ambushing and killing eight Mexicans sitting around a campfire, King found that his way back to the mission was barred by Urrea's army. The Mexicans forced him to defend himself in a motte on the south bank of the Mission River against Col. Gabriel Núñez's cavalry and Col. Francisco Garay's infantry. King and his party put up a brave fight that lasted from late morning until dark. King's arm was shattered by a musketball; one of his men was killed and four were wounded. Mexican casualties were apparently heavier, but sources are unreliable. Ayers's account, published in the Quarterly of the Texas State Historical Association (now the Southwestern Historical Quarterly) in 1906, is the only firsthand account of King's attempt to escape. During the night the Texans crossed the river, intending to make their way back to Goliad. Their powder got wet in the crossing, however, so they were defenseless. At dawn on March 15 they were at the John Malone ranch, where they were captured by Garza's men, who tied them with a single rope and marched them the eight miles back to the mission.

Although Ward was also defeated in this battle, the battle of Refugio, he managed to escape with most of his command. But he was later captured in the Victoria area and ultimately executed in the Goliad Massacre in obedience to the Mexican congressional decree of December 30, 1835. King's men, along with stragglers from Ward's command, thirty-three in number, were marched out of the mission on March 15 to be shot, again in obedience to the decree of December 30. En route to the execution site, Col. Juan José Holzinger of the Mexican army heard some of the prisoners talking in German. He stopped the execution party and returned it to the mission, where the two Germans and also six Refugio colonists, including Francis Dieterich, Benjamin D. Odlum, and Ayers, were liberated. On the next day the victims again were led out. At a spot on a draw about a mile north of the mission, Captain King and the other prisoners were shot. Their bodies were left unburied on the prairie. Sometime after the battle of San Jacinto a party of Refugio citizens headed by John Hynes gathered the bones and relics of King's men and buried them. The place of sepulture was forgotten until May 9, 1934, when a grave containing sixteen skeletons was discovered by accident in Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery near Refugio. The bones were identified as those of King's men, and on June 17, 1934, they were reinterred in the cemetery with appropriate religious and military ceremonies. For the Texas Centennial in 1936 the state of Texas erected two memorials to King and his men—one in Refugio and another at Mount Calvary Cemetery. Tradition has it that another grave in the vicinity of the cemetery contains the bones of the other victims.

Harbert Davenport, James W. Fannin's Part in the Texas Revolution (MS, Harbert Davenport Papers, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin). James M. Robertson, "Captain Amon B. King," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 29 (October 1925).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Hobart Huson and Craig H. Roell, “King, Amon Butler,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022,

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January 30, 2018