The Black Swan Inn and the Battle of Salado

Created Thursday, 21 April 2011 01:32

The Black Swan Inn and the Battle of Salado

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So, this was a place that we found by accident, on our last weekend walk, doing another leg of the Salado Creek Greenway– the portion from Tobin Park south, following the line of the nearly-dry creek south from 410, past the Oakwell stables, through a light forest of oak trees, interspersed here and there with pecan trees. There are – as in some of the other legs of the Salad Greenway – a very few places where one can actually see buildings or rooftops through the trees, but those places are rare. If it wasn’t for the hum of traffic, now and again, or an airplane flying over from the airport, you could think you were miles and miles from the city. I’m surprised there isn’t even more people on these trails on weekends.

The bottom end of this trail, though, petered out at Rittiman Road – no more delightful green glades . . . but before it did, it paralleled Holbrook Road for a good few blocks – a little more out in the broad sunshine than would be comfortable if the morning had been any hotter – but there on Holbrook Road, I spotted a historical marker, and went across the median and the roadway to read: Holy smoke, this was the site of the Battle of Salado, another one of those donnybrooks between Santa Anna and the rebellious Texans. Briefly told, in 1842, Santa Anna sent an army commanded by one of his top generals to retake San Antonio . . . which they did, completely by surprise, capturing every Anglo male who had come for the district court: judges, lawyers, prosecutor, court clerk, litigants, defendants and all.

Fortunately, the local Ranger captain, John Coffee Hayes and his men were not among those captured; they were free in the greenwood, at their camp along the Salado, north of town – and sent for help at once. When it came, led by Matthew “Old Paint” Caldwell from Gonzales, they did not attack San Antonio directly. The greater portion of his volunteers dug in along the creek . . . and Jack Hays and a dozen others rode into San Antonio – to the very plaza of the ruined Alamo mission, and provoked a good portion of Woll’s force, over a thousand – into chasing after them.

Hays’ Rangers stayed just ahead of them all the way, during what must have been a heart-poundingly tense gallop. Lured out into the open prairie, Woll had the advantage of numbers, and artillery – but not the dense cover along Salado Creek that the Texian sharp-shooters were accustomed to fight from. Woll took horrendous casualties for a day, before deciding to declare it a victory and return to San Antonio. It would have been an unvarnished triumph for Caldwell and his volunteers, save that a company of Texian volunteers arriving too late for the battle ran into Woll’s rear guard and were nearly wiped out. That was the Dawson Massacre and the stone marker for that is two miles away, on the Austin Highway.

There was a tall white house, on the rise behind the stone marker – and one of the other walkers that we met explained that it was Victoria’s Black Swan Inn, very possibly the most haunted building in San Antonio – although the Menger Hotel is likely a close second. So that was our wonderful discovery for this weekend . . . oh, and there are thickets of blackberry bushes along part of the creekway trail paralleling Holbrook Road. We are so coming back in long pants and long-sleeved shirts next time.

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