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WALLACE, WILLIAM ALEXANDER ANDERSON [BIGFOOT]

WALLACE, WILLIAM ALEXANDER ANDERSON [BIGFOOT] (1817–1899). William Alexander Anderson (Bigfoot) Wallace, soldier and Texas Ranger, the son of Andrew and Jane Ann (Blair) Wallace, was born in Lexington, Virginia, on April 3, 1817. He was descended from Highlanders William Wallace and Robert Bruce, and the clan instinct was strong in him. In 1836, when he learned that a brother and a cousin had been shot down in the Goliad Massacre, he set out for Texas to "take pay out of the Mexicans." A good many years later he told John C. Duval that he believed the account had been squared. Wallace was a magnificent physical specimen. In his prime he stood six feet two inches "in his moccasins," and weighed 240 pounds without surplus fat. For a while he tried farming in the vicinity of La Grange, but the occupation was not to his taste. In the spring of 1840 he moved to Austin, saw the last buffalo of the region run down Congress Avenue, decided that people were getting too thick, and moved to San Antonio. He was with the Texans who fought Gen. Adrián Woll's invading Mexican army near San Antonio in 1842 and then volunteered for the Somervell and Mier expeditionsqv. Some of his most graphic memories were of his experiences in Perote Prison. As soon as he was released, he joined the Texas Rangers under John Coffee (Jack) Hays and was with the rangers in the Mexican War. In the 1850s Wallace commanded, as captain, a ranger company of his own, fighting border bandits as well as Indians. He was so expert at trailing that he was frequently called upon to track down runaway slaves trying to get to Mexico. He drove a mail hack from San Antonio to El Paso and on one occasion, after losing his mules to Indians, walked to El Paso and ate twenty-seven eggs at the first Mexican house he came to-before going on to town for a full meal. During the Civil War he helped guard the frontier against the Comanche Indians. At one time Wallace had a little ranch on the Medina River on land granted him by the state of Texas. The later years of his life were spent in Frio County in the vicinity of a small village named Bigfoot. He never married. He was a mellow and convivial soul who liked to sit in a roomy rawhide-bottomed chair in the shade of his shanty and tell over the stories of his career. Occasionally he rode to San Antonio; less occasionally he would go to Austin and consort with "Texas John" Duval. Wallace was as honest as daylight but liked to stretch the blanket and embroider his stories. He read and was no illiterate frontiersman, but he summed up in himself all the frontiers of the Southwest. His picturesqueness, humor, vitality, and representativeness of old-timy free days, free ways, and free land have broken down the literalness of every writer who has treated of him. Without directing events, he was there when they happened-and he was a tale-teller. As a folk hero he belongs more to social than to military history. Wallace died on January 7, 1899, and shortly thereafter the Texas legislature appropriated money for moving his body to the State Cemetery.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

John Crittenden Duval, The Adventures of Big Foot Wallace, the Texas Ranger and Hunter (Macon, Georgia: Burke, 1870). Andrew Jackson Sowell, Life of "Bigfoot" Wallace, the Great Ranger Captain (1899; rpt., Austin: State House Press, 1989). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Stanley Vestal, Bigfoot Wallace: A Biography (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942).

J. Frank Dobie

Citation

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

J. Frank Dobie, "WALLACE, WILLIAM ALEXANDER ANDERSON [BIGFOOT]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fwa36), accessed July 13, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.