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Reminiscences of Annie Fagan Teal

These “Reminiscences” appeared in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Vol. 34, pp 317-328, and were contributed by Mrs. Thomas O’Connor, of Victoria, Texas. They had previously been published in Victoria in 1897, in a magazine entitled “By the Way,” which was published by Dr. George Tyng, who consented to republication in the Quarterly.  Current permission for republication on this website (SCRankin.com) of the article as it appeared in the Quarterly has been granted by Harold Johnston, great great grandson of Annie and Peter Teal. The “Reminiscences” were compiled originally by Mrs. T.C. Allan, and the notes (shown in italics) in the below edition were supplied by Mrs. O’Connor. 

In 1816, when two years of age, Annie, daughter of Nicholas Fagan, came with her parents from Ireland to New York, where they lived four years, and then moved to Philadelphia. From there they drifted to Pittsburg, Cincinnati and St. Louis, and later to a point above the last named city, where they lived three years. That country being thinly settled by whites, Sioux Indians forming the greater part of the population, the climate cold and no Catholic church near, the mother was anxious to leave and find a home where her children could be brought up under the influences of her own church. New Orleans was selected, the trip being made in a flat boat. The mother died soon after arriving at their destination, and the father and children were stricken with yellow fever. Strangers in a strange country, their situation was pitiful. But as in the days of the early Disciples a “good Samaritan” passed by – a wealthy lady, Mrs. Duplice, learning their condition, sent a Mexican nurse to attend them. As soon as they could be moved in safety she had the children conveyed to her home, where she kindly cared for them until the father called them home after a second marriage.

In 1829 the family came out to Texas on the Panoma, in charge of Captain Prietta, a Spaniard, who got a special permit to land them at Copano. Reaching there, he asked what could have induced them to seek a home in so desolate a country with only Mexicans and Indians for neighbors. He was afraid to go ashore, and said that was his first and would be his last trip to the “wild” country. Mr. Edward McDonough and wife, father and mother of Mrs. James Warden, came over on the same boat from New Orleans. The Fagan party left Copano one beautiful, bright sunny morning, traveled all day, and went into camp under shining stars. During the night a “norther,” a thing unknown to the travelers, came up with rain and sleet, wetting and chilling most thoroughly the little party, in which were two young babes. Next morning the oxen could not be found; frightened and driven by the storm they had wandered away. The men went in search of them, leaving the women and children alone on the cold wet prairie, where they were detained two days until the searching party returned with most of the missing animals. The tired, discouraged travelers hurried on, leaving one man to guard the wagon left behind until the men could return and renew the search.

They pitched their tents on the San Antonio River, the waters of which must have the same influence in entrancing strangers as that of the Guadalupe, for they have never left the country of their adoption. In this new home they found but one white man named Shaw, who, though quiet and inoffensive, was forced by the Mexican authorities to leave as no Protestant was allowed to live in the country. It was the plan of the Mexican government to get three hundred families from Ireland and settle an Irish Catholic colony. Only those who brought papers from the civil authorities and priests of their former homes, certifying to their good character as citizens and Roman Catholics, were allowed to remain over twenty-four hours in the country. The Irish emigrants were on their way out when cholera broke out among them; many died on board the vessel, and others succumbed after landing. So rapidly did the dreadful disease spread, and so many of the wealthy Spaniards died, that the colonization idea was given up. Carlos, a rich Mexican of the well-known Carlos ranch, sold a herd of cattle, and his son, a young man, met the buyers, at Mrs. Teal’s home to receive the purchase money. While engaged in counting the money a messenger rushed into the room with news of the epidemic, causing the people to flee in alarm. Young Carlos hurried out of the house and hastily buried the money. He with fourteen others of his family, died with cholera and the hiding place of the money was never known. As is often the case, the richest and most beautiful were among the victims. So few people were left in the country that the government was petitioned to allow any and all to settle there.

Mrs. Teal’s father was a cousin of Sir Edward Pakenham. When a boy of fifteen years of age, full of the Pakenham fighting blood, he wanted to go aboard a man-o’-war; opposed by parents, he ran away from home, went to Dublin and wandered around with a few cents in his pocket seeking a lodging place. Not having money enough to pay for a night’s lodging he was turned off; a son of the landlady, with a younger and more tender heart than his mother, followed the boy, made up the amount, and took him back to the house. The woman questioned him as to his name, plans, etc., which he candidly confessed to her; she wisely discouraged his going on board a war ship, and advised him to return to his parents, which he did.

Coming to his Western home, Mr. Fagan sawed the logs with which to build his house with a “whip-saw”; so heavy were some of these that six yokes of oxen were required to draw them; he made the shingles by hand. The house was put together so strongly with heavy bolts, that it could not be entirely taken apart. The upper story was arranged for a chapel, with altar, confessional, and priest’s room. An old bell, one of four which had belonged to the beautiful “Church of Refuge,” or Mission church, so injured by a storm that it had to be taken down was hung on the upper gallery and sounded the hours for service in the little chapel. [Nicholas Fagan willed this bell to his grandson, Dennis O’Connor, who built a lovely little chapel at his ranch house, a few miles from the old Fagan home, as a shrine for the old bell. It was still there in 1897. Dennis O’Connor died in 1900.] [ Today the bell is in the Refugio County Historical Museum.] The other three bells were left on the road near the river, where they lay undisturbed. One day a horseman tied his horse to one which bore the date 1722; the animal, becoming frightened, ran away, dragging the bell several miles, where it was left with the rim broken off. When negroes entered the neighborhood and built Mt. Zion Church, they took possession of this bell.

The new-comers found not a bushel of corn in the country, for the Indians would not allow the Mexicans to plant crops. The settlers went in boats to Caney and bought corn and – weevils. Mr. Fagan had brought millstones from New Orleans, and Mr. McDonough a steel hand-mill. Before they could grind this corn they threw it on hot embers to drive the weevils out, and husked the grains in lye. No objection was made to their planting corn the next season; wheat was brought from Mexico. The government offered to give three leagues of land to whoever would erect a mill. Mr. Fagan built one, but having all the land he wanted, never claimed the subsidy. The Sidick, Fagan, Teal and McDonough families formed a little colony of their own, living quietly and peacefully on their ranches and in time became owners of immense tracts of land and large herds of cattle. Houses were ten or twelve miles apart, so the neighborly kindness (?) of “borrowing a chunk of fire” was not often exchanged. Surrounded by Mexicans and Indians, they learned to fear neither, as they were never harmed during all the long years they lived among them. Women and children went from house to house, or roamed over the broad prairie without accident or harm. Soon after coming to the country, Annie Fagan and two other young girls passed a Caranchua camp; the Indians were making beer and beckoned to the girls to come. Afraid to go, more afraid to run away, they stood irresolute, until one, braver than the rest, walked into the camp. Seeing she was not brained and scalped, the others took courage and joined her. Although the calumet was not passed to them, the beer was, which they cautiously drank from the filthy cup, and so sealed their friendship with the tribe.

Annie Fagan and Peter Teal were married at her father’s home in Refugio County, Texas, in January, 1833. Among the specially invited guests were Prudentia, an Indian chief, and Rosa Marie (Rosemary) his wife. In the course of the evening the latter was sipping from a glass, when Prudentia came to her, and in Spanish said: “You are drinking too much.” In the same language she replied: “Well, it is the cowboys’ feast.” After the ceremony the Mexicans fired a salute of ten guns. The marriage services were concluded by a Mexican priest, before daylight, at the church in La Bahia. This little town was settled largely by wealthy, intelligent Spanish people. Among them was a family named Hernandez, who always invited the colonists to make their house a home whenever they came to the village church. The lady of the house, though with hosts of servants at her command, would greet them and in her own soft language say: “Pass on, ladies; I stay to serve you.” Before going to church, she would replace their sunbonnets with silken crepe shawls. Mrs. Teal says she never in her life saw such handsomely dressed ladies as she once saw in this little village at La Bahia. It was Independence Day of the Indians of Mexico and was being celebrated on the 16th of September, 1832. Inside a gaily decorated carriage sat a little Indian girl, dressed in all the splendor of Indian royalty; long lines of white ribbons were fastened to the carriage and held by twelve elegantly dressed Spanish ladies who walked on either side, while the carriage was pushed forward by officers of high rank, and soldiers marched in front. The little girl represented the Indians of Mexico; she afterwards became the wife of one Carlos ______, who was killed by a desperado, from whom he was trying to recover a stolen horse and saddle. The child so honored is now an old woman, still living at La Bahia. Mrs. Teal says the Spanish ladies were dressed in silks that would stand alone, costly laces, jewels rich and rare of beautiful Mexican workmanship.

Four different Indian tribes lived in the country: Lepans, Tonquways, Comanches, and Caranchuas. The latter would hire to the whites, Mr. Fagan employing them to harvest his crops, etc. They valued their labor at so many jugs of whiskey, but were wise enough to divide the “drunk” – half of the tribe getting beastly drunk, while the others would stand guard, taking their turn when the first had sobered up.

Mrs. Teal says the Comanches and Tonquways had a battle in the neighborhood, the whites having given guns and ammunition to the latter, who killed twelve of the enemy. Whenever the Indians happened to a misfortune in any place they would leave the neighborhood and not return for several months, and sometimes years. Before leaving, the Comanches sent for the white men to come and see them go empty-handed, for they said the Tonquways would kill the settlers’ stock and then blame them. Wiley White had a fine American horse running on the prairies, which followed the Indians. The owner took a gun and went alone to bring the animal back. A few savage Wacos, who were with the Comanches, wanted to kill him but they would not allow it. Mr. White rode among them, caught his horse and returned home. A different band of the same tribe, however, came into the neighborhood one night and killed six men, among the unfortunates being Captain Arno, who was mate of the vessel that brought the Fagans over from New Orleans.

Mrs. Teal says the Indians would test the friendship of the whites by sending one of their number, perhaps a young boy, to a house at nightfall; he would claim to be lost, and ask for a night’s lodging. If he returned, the tribe would never harm that family, but say: “He good white man; he no kill lone Indian.” But woe unto the house where one was killed. One went to the house of Don Juan Hernandez one night, and unknown to the family was killed by the Mexican hirelings on the place. Hernandez was compelled to flee the country, much of his property was destroyed, and two Mexicans killed.

Mrs. Teal says a daughter of the house of Hernandez was so very beautiful that all eyes were riveted upon her whenever she appeared in public, but she married the homeliest, one-eyed Mexican in the entire country – a man whom the father could never tolerate.

The militia and troops followed on the trail of the Indians to take revenge for the killing of the two Mexicans, but as soon as they came up to the savages, whom Antonique, their chief, had formed into a “V” to receive them, they retreated with celerity. Again, in 1836, the Mexicans went to Caranchua to attack the Indians, but the settlers forbid any disturbance.

In 1836, Mrs. Teal was at home one evening with two little brothers, when about dusk the Tonquways came up to the house and loitered around. Although not afraid of them, she told them it was getting late and they must go home. All went but three young Indians, who seated themselves on the fence; she ordered them to leave, when they said, “Wait till we tell you about the big fight.” It seems the Caranchuas had gone to the Tonquways with a proposition that they unite their forces for the purpose of killing De Leon, a rich Spaniard, who had formed a colony called by his name. He lived in the “Round House,” [Round Top House, celebrated in the annals of Victoria, was the home of De Leon’s son-in-law, Placedo Benevides [Placido Benavides]] which stood on the Catholic college block, in Victoria. De Leon, at the time, was at his ranch near town. They agreed to join the expedition, but proposed to start out with full stomachs; a repast was therefore provided, and while the Caranchuas were eating, their hosts secretly cut their bow strings, then attacked them with knives, killing eleven of the twelve men. The scalps were then taken to Victoria, where the Indians celebrated their bloody work by “scalp dance” on the market square. “But 0,” as they told Mrs. Teal, “the Cranchs were brave, so brave; when we stick knife in they drink their own blood.” This was, indeed, a gruesome tale for young woman to listen to from the lips of savages in the gathering darkness and no other person except two little children about the place.

Soon after this, Antonique, chief of the Caranchuas, learning that a number of his late enemies were at Mr. Fagan’s where they came and went at will, walked over alone and unarmed. He sat in their midst all day, neither taking any notice of the other. At sunset he as quietly walked out from among them, nor was he followed.

Mrs. Teal was familiar with many of the customs of the different tribes around them. In 1830, the chief of one tribe having been killed by the Comanches, the Indians at sunset placed skin on the ground in effigy of their dead chief, stood around and sung or wailed a mournful dirge all the night long, never once sitting down, nor scarcely changing their position. She said it sounded so plaintively sweet on the still night air. At sunrise they sat around this effigy in three rows; the Indian highest in office spoke to them earnestly, pointing towards heaven, then went to each man, laid hands on his head and stroked it down. Soon as this ceremony was over all arose, the skins were taken reverently up and the whole tribe moved silently away nor returned for many years. At their feasts, they would take the choicest piece of meat, offer it to the “Great Spirit,” then to the “Four Winds,” after which it was buried and so given back to “Mother Earth,” who gave them all of good. Mrs. Teal remembers the Caranchuas as a comely set of people, similar to the Lepans, both of whom dressed with some attempt at imitation of the whites; the other tribes around retained their own peculiar dress. One day her father, going into La Bahia alone, saw a body of Indians approaching, whom he took to be Comanches or Wacos, the most unfriendly tribe near; he dismounted and stood with his gun cocked, determined to fight for his life. They proved to be Lepans, and Castro, their leader, recognizing Mr. Fagan, ordered his men to halt, while he advanced alone. He told Mr. F. he “was a brave man to leave his horse and stand ready to fight, single- handed, a whole tribe of Indians.”

In 1838, a messenger was sent from San Antonio to notify James Powers, the Impresario of his colony [at Refugio], that 900 Indians were coming down upon the people. They divided, however, part going on the Rio Grande, while the others came on, killing and destroying as they came. Mr. Fagan chanced to be out with a little child when a mule ran up and followed his wagon; he knew the rider had been killed and that Indians were near, but went on his way. The Indians crossed the river just ahead of him, so he did not meet with them, or would have been killed, as were Mr. Lawler, Howard and others of his friends. Mrs. Teal saw her brother John and her nephew, Dennis O’Connor, running from the Indians. The first had gone out with Howard, who was killed; he outran them and so saved his life.

In 1842, from Indian depredations, drouth, etc., there was great suffering among the people. No bread in the country for three or four days and cattle were too poor to be eaten. Fortunately, the pecan crop was large and brought good prices, which prevented famine in the land. Mrs. Teal says that during and just after the war with Mexico there was more distress and trouble of every kind in the country than ever before, caused by robbers and followers of the American army. Once a party of Mexicans came across the border to sell a lot of horses; they staid at her father’s house three days, when having sold out set out for their homes in the night. Next day some of these stragglers came along, trailed and followed up the Mexicans, overtaking them about nightfall, sat around their campfire, drank of their coffee, then attacked and killed all but one man, took their money and horses.

When Fannin was organizing his little band, Mr. Fagan, Mrs. Teal’s father, said: “The Pakenhams were warriors by land and warriors by sea; to run or stay away was a disgrace.” He left his home and family and offered his services and life, if need be, to the brave Georgian. Having for so many years lived in peace with the Mexicans, and being well known and liked by them, one of them said to him: “We will speak a word for you.” On the day of the massacre a boy came up to Mr. Fagan and told him he had orders to go into a certain orchard and remain until sent for Mr. F., thinking it a hoax, paid no attention to it. The same message was delivered a second time and again was unheeded. A third messenger arrived who told Mr. Fagan the authorities ordered him to take a quarter of beef to Miller’s orchard and for him to stay there until ordered away.  Mr. F., without understanding the strange command, did as he was told and had barely reached the designated place when he heard the heartrending cries of his comrades: “Don’t shoot; for God’s sake don’t shoot me.” Shot after shot followed in quick succession till the last voice was hushed – in eternal silence. Mr. Fagan’s Mexican friends had used this device to save his life. Some selfishness was mixed with their friendship, for he was a fine blacksmith and wheelwright, and they could ill afford to lose his services. But had it not been for the interposition of these Mexican friends he too would have been one of the victims of the most barbarous treachery and cruelty to be found in the annals of the world. “Good in all and none all good,” so again did a Mexican show kindness to the enemies of his people. After the Fannin massacre he stole away to the battleground to see if perchance there might be any left alive on the field. He found one man, Colonel Hunter, very badly wounded, whom he took on his shoulder to the Coletto [Coleto]. Afraid to keep him with him, he consulted with Mr. Sedick [Sidick]and Dan Wright as to what should be done with him, as without attention he would die. It was decided to conceal him in a field near Mr. Wright’s home, which was done, and Mrs. Wright [Called by Sam Houston “The Mother of Texas”], grandmother of Mrs. Fox, of Victoria, fed and attended to his wants until he had sufficiently recovered to go to his friends. Colonel Hunter lived to tell the wondrous story of his escape from death to children and grandchildren, for fifty years more on earth were given him.

Mrs. Teal says that, just before Santa Anna was taken prisoner, men mounted on fine horses rode through the country, crying: “Run, run for your lives; Mexicans and Indians are coming, burning and killing as they come.” A panic ensued; men, women and children on foot, on horses, with or without saddles, fled the country. She with others and with a child on her lap, made for Sabine, riding all day over the prairie, through woods or water. Many sickened and died on the road. They were met by a small band who took their guns from them. The alarm given the settlers proved to be a plan concocted to rob and pillage the country, which was done on a magnificent scale; as of all the cattle owned by this colony, one cow only was left them, she proved to be too refractory to drive. Mrs. Teal’s party went further east into Louisiana; their friends there convinced them that it would be foolish to hasten home and find nothing to eat, and persuaded them to plant a crop there and raise corn to take back with them, which course they followed, the wisdom of which was proven to them on their return to their desolated homes. On her way back, Mrs. Teal saw the genuine, famous “Jim Crow,” was in his tent, but said she was glad to get out of so filthy a place. Going home she found a sister had died during her absence, and her father almost alone in the country. The robbers were still at work; she saw load after load of elegant. richly carved Mahogany furniture taken from the deserted homes of rich Mexicans.

Mrs. Teal enjoys recalling the jokes of old friends and yet laughs heartily at a saying of one Jack William [John Williams – refer to his Will], an Irishman, who on his way to America met an old friend in London who hailed and asked where he was from. Jack’s answer was: “I am from everywhere and will be from this place as soon as I can cross that river.” He wandered out to Texas and during the war with Mexico acted as spy for the United States government. To Mrs. Teal he left by Will all his personal effects, his “soldier rights” from beginning to end of war, auditor’s scrips, good as bank notes. To her brother, John Fagan, a quarter of a league of land. William died; his papers were left in hands of a man who disappeared, so the legatees secured nothing from his estate. Mr. Teal was left a large property by a Will of his uncle. Spurious heirs were brought into the country who claimed the property and they contested the Will. The case was carried into court, where it staid for forty years before a settlement was brought about. Thousands of dollars were spent on the case. The Teals lost their home and many hundreds of acres of land, reclaiming just one-half of the property. This long strife broke up the friendship and peace of a once happy, peaceful neighborhood. When Mrs. Catharine Allan was married in 1839, Mrs. Teal dressed her for her wedding. During the Civil War, Mrs. Allan being in the neighborhood, Mrs. T. rode over to visit this old friend of her youth. As she had not seen her in several years, she expected a cordial greeting, but was much distressed at her cool reception. The dignified matron was so unlike the little fifteen-year-old bride she had helped to dress, Mrs. Teal did not recognize in her an old friend, but supposed her to be one of the “law-suit folks” who annoyed her son continually.

Mrs. Teal and Rev. Father Weyer, of Victoria, came from the same part of Ireland. While Mrs. Teal’s memory of it is but a nursery tale, Father Weyer’s recollections of the old country are as fresh and green as his own Emerald Isle. Mr. Dennis O’Connor, the big stockman, is a nephew of Mrs. T., his mother having been her sister. Few people can claim to have lived under five different governments, but England, United States, Mexico, Republic of Texas and the Confederacy have all claimed Mrs. Teal; her experiences have been many and varied; she has seen much of the world – many people of many nations. She has studied human nature in all its phases, under all circumstances, and bitter as have been her experiences she has never lost faith in God or man. It is wonderful to hear her relate incident after incident, giving names of persons and place, dates, the year, month or day without hesitation. She spent a day with the writer not long since and she was surprised at her lively interest in current events, her clear conceptions, thoughts so forcibly expressed, a vein of Irish humor running through her most serious talk, then her laugh is as hearty and merry as a young girl’s. Indeed, the day was a most pleasant one, and the recurring thought was, “what a wonderful woman !”

The many changes time has made in the sixty-eight years since Mrs. Teal landed on Texas soil have never effaced from her memory the beautiful landscape her eyes rested upon as she neared her future home on San Antonio River. So lovely was the scene even the slow, toiling wagons moved too fast for her; she and her father alighted and bade the others drive on while they drank in the beauteous scene so new to them. She says: “O, it was Paradise! such a beautiful country, green grass and trees in mid-winter, horses running and playing over the vast prairies, deer grazing quietly or peeping curiously through the bushes, while birds were so numerous the very air seemed alive with them.” They came to a lake known as Mill Pond, the loveliest spot her eyes ever rested on, the water of which was clear and deep, geese and ducks swimming on the surface or diving underneath, Spanish daggers growing singly or in groups all around the edge. Again and again she repeats: “It was a beautiful country – a land flowing with milk and honey; at peace with ourselves and all the world, what more could we ask for? Until robbers came into the country it was a happy, glorious time.” Of all that happy little colony, only Mrs. Teal herself, Mrs. Sidick, a half-sister, who still lives in the old neighborhood, and John Teal, a brother-in-law, who is almost a centenarian, whose home is in Tilden, Texas, only these three are left. Mr. Teal, her husband, died in 1853. Long past her three score years and ten, she is still a loved and honored member of her daughter’s (Mrs. M. Murphy) household. Though she has lived in Victoria ten years she does not like town life; she says she loves nature’s works too well to enjoy looking at houses only; she likes freedom, plenty of room, air and light. Of her ten children, she has two, Mrs. Murphy, her daughter, and her son, James. Her eldest son, Nicholas, contracted measles in the army, was given a furlough and went home to die, living one week after reaching his home. During the war, two other sons, John and Willie, lay dead in the house at the same time. That was a trying time to the mother; so few people in the country, they had to be buried by kindred hands.

Her cup of sorrow was not yet full – soon after the close of the war, her daughter, Rose, just budding into womanhood, sickened and died. Another daughter, Mary, bade good-bye to the world and went into the Convent at the Mission. She was later sent to Galveston, when, on account of her failing health, she was transferred to Fort Worth. Not regaining strength, she was sent still further north into Missouri, where she died eight years ago. Still again was this much bereaved mother called upon to part with another beloved child. Four years since, after years of acute suffering, her daughter, Kate, passed away. Ten children had been given her, eight had been taken away, yet this Christian:, mother murmured not, but silently bowed her head, saying: “Thy will be done.”

[Original editorial note:] Since the above sketch went into the hands of the printers, Mrs. Teal has passed from earth forever. After three weeks of suffering she died on the morning of June 24, 1897, at the home, of her daughter, Mrs. Murphy, of this city. Her patience during her, sickness was wonderful; no one of her nurses heard a murmur or complaint from her lips, only when asked by her faithful physician or anxious friends, “how she felt,” did she speak of her feelings, then would give a quiet answer. She was perfectly rational to the end, responded to the prayers said around her dying bed, held the crucifix in her hands and raised it lovingly to her lips. She knew she was going, but had no fears. As a little child lays its head on its mother’s bosom and goes to sleep, so she, with the same trusting love, fell asleep in the arms of her Saviour.]