Adrian Woll, with 1,400 Mexican troops marched north and occupied San Antonio on September 11, 1842.
As a colonel, Woll had been quartermaster general of the Mexican Army of Operations in Texas during the War for Independence. His advance came on the heels of an earlier foray north in March under General Rafael Vasquez which had prompted a Declaration of War from the Texas Congress.
However, Lamar was now out of office and Sam Houston was President of the Lone Star Republic and he refused to fight Mexico again. Nonetheless, when Woll took San Antonio, now the second time the city had been occupied, albeit briefly, since independence, the Texans responded with combative determination. A volunteer force of some 225 militia under Captain Nicholas Dawson and Captain Matthew Caldwell converged on the Alamo City. Dawson and his 52 men were intercepted by a Mexican force of some 400 soldiers at Salado Creek before they could join forces with Caldwell. Outnumbered and surrounded Dawson and his men made a gallant stand as they were cut to pieces by Mexican artillery. Although Dawson finally attempted to surrender, the Mexican cavalry charged in and slaughtered Dawson and 35 of his men. This became known as the Dawson Massacre and further enraged the Texans who, under Caldwell, managed to defeat the main Mexican army and send General Woll retreating back to Mexico as more Texan volunteers poured in.
The Texans were outnumbered 10 to 1 but proved to be more than a match for their enemies. In the firefight that ensued the Mexicans suffered 600 casualties while the Texans lost only about 30 men. Yet, despite their tenacity, the Texans were in an impossible position. Although they had won the battle, successful tactics cannot overcome a poor strategy. Alone in enemy country with no support, the Texans were soon out of food, water and ammunition. Ultimately, after talking with the Mexican commander, they agreed to surrender, but their troubles were far from over. They were marched to Camargo, then to Reynosa, then to Matamoras and then to Monterrey, all the while receiving the most brutal treatment. They were paraded before the local citizens to be mocked and insulted and were forced to eat dogs they captured along the way.
These 176 Texans faced a grim fate. President Santa Anna, who had never forgot his humiliation by the Texas army in 1836, ordered that all of them be put to death. Fortunately, this resulted in an outcry by the foreign envoys in Mexico and the Governor of Coahuila, Francisco Mexia, refused to obey the ghastly order. So, Santa Anna modified his decision, at least somewhat, and ordered every tenth man to be executed and the rest would be spared. To determine who would live and who would die, the Texans were to draw beans from a pot. A white bean meant life and a black bean meant death. Colonel Dominic Huerta, the Texans' jailer, chained them in pairs and blindfolded them. The officers were to draw first and there was no officer the Mexicans wanted dead more than the Scottish Texan Captain Ewan Cameron. It was no wonder why.
All those who drew black beans were to be shot the following morning. One of them was Henry Whalen who accepted his fate with defiance saying, "Well, they don't make much off me, anyhow, for I know I have killed 25 of the yellow-bellies". He also asked for a substantial last meal with the comment, "I do not wish to starve and be shot too". To the surprise of many, the Mexicans agreed and gave him a double ration. Then, at 6:30 in the evening of March 25, 1843 nine of the Texans were chained together and shot. After them, the final eight were also massacred in the same way. The executions lasted only 11 minutes but Henry Whalen had to be shot 15 times before he finally died. James L. Shepherd, who was only 17 years old, had been wounded but pretended to be dead until he had a chance to escape. Sadly, he was recaptured at Saltillo three days later and shot. In their thirst for vengeance the rules of the executions were not enough to save Captain Cameron either. Despite drawing a white bean, after the remaining prisoners began the march to Mexico City the brave Texan was shot on the morning of March 25 at Huehuetoca on orders from President Santa Anna.
During the Mexican-American War, Texas troops found the graves of their comrades at Hacienda Salado and returned them to Texas after the war. The bodies of those killed in the Dawson Massacre were moved with them to LaGrange where, on September 18, 1848, the sixth anniversary of the Dawson Massacre, they were buried with full military honors with numerous dignitaries, including Sam Houston, looking on. The Mier Expedition and the subsequent black bean incident have been remembered by Texans ever since as an example of Texas heroism and Mexican brutality along with the Dawson and Goliad Massacres and the desperate defense of the Alamo. May they never be forgotten.