[p. 68]

 The Black Bean

FEW of the major events of early Texas history found missing from the roster of participants the name of one or more of the Beaumont pioneers, and the little settlement on the Neches gave a number of martyrs to the cause of Texas independence.

To the Ogden family, perhaps, fell the most trying and tragic experience of which there is personal record in the archives of the early days, when James Ogden fell before the murderous fire of Mexican executioners at Mier, one of the seventeen members of the ill-fated expedition who drew a black bean.

Students of Texas history will remember that incident in the long list of somber tragedies of which devoted Texas patriots were victims during the several struggles with Santa Anna, who, though vanquished, never quite lost hope of again possessing the rich territory wrested from him by Houston and his little band; of how General Adrian Well, Mexican general with 1200 men, invaded Texas, marched upon San Antonio and captured it; how 200 soldiers finally repulsed Well who retreated from San Antonio.

Before the echoes of the bugles which sounded General Well's retreat had finally died on the air, volunteers came flocking to San Antonio eager to pursue him, and on November 18, 1842, seven hundred men under the leadership of Alexander Somerville had assembled there armed and equipped for a campaign. After several days' march they camped at Laredo, and planned to cross into Mexico and take the enemy by surprise. But an order was given by General Somervell to return to Gonzales where they would be disbanded. The men were dumfounded. Three hundred flatly refused to obey the order, and with this group Captain William S. Fisher was elected colonel in command, and the expedition proceeded down the Rio Grande opposite the Mexican town of Mier. Of this band was James Ogden, who, with his brother, Frederick Ogden, had come to Beaumont to settle in 1840.

On Christmas morning Colonel Fisher led his men across the river to meet the Mexican troops, 2000 strong, under the command of General Ampudia. By daylight the Texans had captured the enemies' cannon and cut their way into the town , where the fight went on, hand to hand, from street to street, from house to house. The fight lasted for seventeen hours, at the end of which time a flag of truce was sent by General Ampudia to Colonel Fisher. Fisher had been severely wounded early in the action. He was weakened by loss of blood and unnerved by pain, and he advised surrender, although to this time his men had been victorious. He knew the Mexican general he said, and answered for his good faith. After much discussion the majority of men agreed to the surrender, and the terms were drawn up. No sooner were the articles signed and the Texans's arms stacked than the unfortunate prisoners began to suffer from the cruelty of their treacherous foes. They were put in irons and marched to Matamoras, thence to the interior. On their arrival in Salado they were met by an order from Santa Anna. Every tenth man was to be shot!

One of their own number who could read Spanish was made to interpret the order to the men, and amid the deadly stillness following the reading of the awful decree an officer entered the shed where they were confined, carrying an earthen jar containing 175 beans. Seventeen of the beans were black, the others white. The jar was placed on a bench and a handkerchief thrown over it. The roll was then called. Each prisoner stepped forward as his name was called, placed his hand in the jar and drew a bean.

The black beans in this fatal lottery meant death. It was Sunday afternoon, just as the church bells were everywhere calling the people to vesper prayer when this fearful drama began. Not one of the actors in it faltered or changed color at finding in his hand the token of death. When the ordeal was ended the shackles of the seventeen doomed men were knocked off, they were hurried to a yard adjoining the shed and shot without ceremony, while their comrades crouched against the wall within, heard their whispered prayers, the echoing shots, the dying groans.

James Ogden was one of the doomed ones, and in a letter sent to his mother in Kentucky, are given the last words of the martyr. This letter is the property of his niece, Mrs. Viola Johnson of Beaumont.

"New Castle, Kentucky,
"June 17, 1543.

"Dear Sister:

"I avail myself of the present opportunity to inform you that we received the last words of James since you were here. I send you a copy verbatim:


"'Clay, tell my friends that I die a Christian, thanks to Meriwether, a Methodist preacher. He has been my guide to heaven and he is my friend. He stripped to clothe me, he starved that I might eat. He is a relation of your neighbors.

"'Tell my father I wish my old friend Crouch to preach a sermon to my friends for me and tell them I wish them all to meet me in heaven. Tell my sisters I wish them to meet me in heaven. Tell my mother not to grieve for me, for the friend that I love is with me and my God will not forsake me. Give my love to all, to Mrs. Meriwether's family, and Old Crouch and tell them all to meet me in heaven. To Meriwether I am indebted for the favor of dying with my hands untied. Farewell, all farewell.'

"It was inclosed in a letter from Clay, a fellow prisoner who was released. Clay wrote that Meriwether was taken as a spy by the Mexicans but proved himself to be a Methodist minister. He wrote that Meriwether carried James on his horse and would not let the guard strike him. He wrote that James died bravely and religiously and was buried by Meriwether. He said Meriwether died of fever ten days after the execution and I devoutly hope their redeemed spirits have met and been re united in a better world than this. James M. Ogden was not easily deceived and let us remember and cherish and labor to comply with his last request `Tell my sisters to meet me in heaven.' I have looked carelessly on these things but shall never do it again.

"In compliance with the request of James, Mr. Crouch will preach a funeral sermon in the Baptist church in New Castle on the second Sabbath in September.

Elizabeth S. Ogden."

The letter came by devious routes, reaching the family about six months after the death of the martyr.

In Case of Indians

As already mentioned, James Ogden, victim of Mexican cruelty, with his elder brother Frederick, came to Beaumont from Kentucky about the year 1840, making the trip in a wagon. The brothers settled on 20 acres of land near the center of which is the present site of the Pennsylvania school building. Here they cleared a home site among the great oaks that covered the land and built a large log house, planted pecan trees, which still stand there, and otherwise made ready the new home for Frederick's wife and son, who had remained in Kentucky. Then Frederick journeyed back to the old state and brought his family to Texas, coming down the Mississippi in a boat, thence by schooner across the gulf to Sabine and up the Neches to Beaumont.

Frederick Ogden was a college graduate in both law and medicine, and among other activities practiced both professions here. His brother James, unmarried, ventured farther in search of adventure and became a member of the fatal Mier expedition, whose story is told in the preceding pages.

Mrs. Viola Johnson, daughter of Dr. Frederick Ogden, is one of Beaumont's oldest native daughters. To Frederick Ogden and his wife were born four children, Lemuel P., Ed, William and Viola.

Mrs. Johnson recalls many stirring incidents on the frontier, and relates that "living under the bed" in hiding from the Indians was a frequent expedient of the children of that day. Indians, she relates, were then encamp ed in numbers on Spindletop and the whites lived in constant dread of an outbreak or of sporadic maraudings by small squads of the tribe. She still has in her possession a dagger which her father gave her mother as a means of protection from the Indians.

Both Dr. and Mrs. Ogden died during the childhood of Viola and her brothers, and the children returned to Kentucky to make their home with relatives. At the age of 16 young Lem Ogden ran away from home and joined the Confederate forces, remaining with the army till the close of the war, at which time he came back to Beaumont, established his claim to the 20 acres of land owned by his father and uncle.

Here he was joined later by his brother, Ed, and here he married Miss Cyntheal McClure.

For several years, states Mrs. Ogden, who still lives in Beaumont, the brothers worked in sawmills at a wage of 50 cents a day, eventually receiving the maximum wage for such work, $1 per day. Finally tiring of such ill-compensated work, the two saved a sufficient sum to purchase one large cypress log. From this log, laboring side by side, they sawed and split a cargo of shingles which they traded in Corpus Christi. From this modest and laborious beginning came the founding of one of the town's leading families.

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