Reese, Charles Keller (1810–1858)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: May 3, 2019

Charles Keller Reese, soldier and planter, the son of Joseph and Margaret (Bowman) Reese, was born in Kentucky on November 13, 1810, and entered Stephen F. Austin's colony as a farmer in February 1830. He and his brother Washington joined Capt. John York's company at Gonzales and served at the siege of Bexar. They reenlisted in Capt. Robert James Calder's Company K of Col. Edward Burleson's First Regiment, Texas Volunteers, on March 13, 1836, and fought at the battle of San Jacinto. Washington Reese was killed by Comanches in Burnet County on August 27, 1839, while serving as a guide to the family of John West. In 1842, in response to Adrián Woll's raid on San Antonio, Reese and his sixteen-year-old brother William enlisted as privates in Capt. John S. McNeill's company of Col. James R. Cooke's First Regiment of Brig. Gen. Alexander Somervell's South Western Army and took part in the Somervell expedition. On December 14 Reese and Thomas Jefferson Green were the first Texans to cross the Rio Grande and plant the American flag on Mexican soil. When the army was reorganized on the Rio Grande for the Mier expedition with William S. Fisher in command, Reese was elected captain of Company F. His brother William, William Preston Stapp, and Joseph Berry were members of his company. Reese was perhaps the most controversial figure involved in the dismal history of the Mier prisoners. By Green's account, Reese distinguished himself at the battle of Mier by taking an active role in the fighting, staunchly opposing surrender, and advocating an escape plan before the prisoners were marched south into the interior of Mexico.

Samuel H. Walker, however, described Reese's behavior at Mier as "childish." Reese was, in Walker's words, "noisy & clamorous" in his arguments against escape once the party was south of Monterrey, too deep in Mexican territory to make good their escape to Texas. "You have sinned away your day of grace," Andrew Phelps McCormick heard him say; "what was courage and wisdom on the Rio Grande would be madness and weakness here." Walker supposed the escape plot scheduled for February 3, 1843, was foiled by Reese's warning of the Mexican guards, and on February 10, the evening before the uprising at Salado that precipitated the Black Bean Episode, Reese was quoted as saying, "This can be stopped, and I will do it." He left the compound with a Mexican officer, and when he returned the guard was doubled. "This is circumstantial evidence," wrote fellow captive Joseph D. McCutchan, "but I think sufficient, at least, to lay suspicion on the man who acted thus." On May 4, 1843, Walker wrote to Albert Sidney Johnston from Mexico City that the guards had been warned of the Texans' intention to break out at Salado and that "it is supposed" they were informed "by Capt. Reese of Brazoria whose conduct has been dishonorable." Although Reese refused to take part in the escape attempt, Green claimed that "while the assault was going on he exposed himself as much as anyone," and after the guards were disarmed, he determined to join the escapees. Both he and William were well armed and well mounted (through his influence with the Mexican commander, Walker believed), but, according to Green, Reese again changed his mind and surrendered to the Mexicans. Green, however, warmly defended Reese's actions, claiming that he remained at Salado only because he failed to convince William not to risk the hazards of the journey back to Texas. Reese, Green wrote, was "too tried a soldier and devoted a patriot to allow a suspicion either of want of bravery or patriotism." Reese was, in Green's estimation, "a man of uncommon fortitude and daring."

Virtually all of the Mier men were later incarcerated in Perote Prison, where, with his cellmate Green, Reese became a leader in the escape plot of July 2, 1843. He first planned to escape over the wall with Green but later joined the group of sixteen men who tunneled through the prison wall. Failing to establish a rendezvous with the guide they had arranged to meet, Reese, Green, John Twohig, and Daniel Drake Henrie together started on foot toward the coast. The rumor that Reese had been recaptured and murdered reached Perote on September 25, but was untrue. The escapees reached Veracruz, where they found passage to New Orleans on the steamer Petrita. From New Orleans they returned to Brazoria on the Lone Star. William Reese was released through the good offices of United States ambassador Waddy Thompson on March 24, 1844.

On October 18, 1843, Reese married Mrs. Sarah (Tait) Norris, who was born in Alabama in about 1819. By 1850 he was a cotton planter on Cedar Lake in Brazoria County with real estate holdings valued at $15,000. He died on October 14, 1858, some time after his wife, and was buried on his plantation. He was survived by seven children.

Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Founders and Patriots of the Republic of Texas (Austin, 1963-). Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Muster Rolls of the Texas Revolution (Austin, 1986). Sam Houston Dixon and Louis Wiltz Kemp, The Heroes of San Jacinto (Houston: Anson Jones, 1932). Thomas J. Green, Journal of the Texian Expedition Against Mier (New York: Harper, 1845; rpt., Austin: Steck, 1935). Andrew Phelps McCormick, Scotch-Irish in Ireland and America (1897). Joseph Milton Nance, ed., Mier Expedition Diary: A Texas Prisoner's Account by Joseph D. McCutchan (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978). Marilyn M. Sibley, ed., Samuel H. Walker's Account of the Mier Expedition (Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1978). Gifford E. White, 1830 Citizens of Texas (Austin: Eakin, 1983).

Time Periods:
  • Texas Revolution

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

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Reese, Charles Keller,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 16, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 3, 2019