Mexican-American War folded letter
Nineteen-year-old Lieutenant William McKean of Ultima Thula, Arkansas wrote letters to his family over a three month period in late 1846 as Company G moved through Texas into Mexico. On two-sides of this sheet sent to his brother, McKean recorded observations of San Antonio ten years after the Texas struggle for independence, writing that ". . . The first place I came to was the celebrated Alamo. . . ."
Sept. 17, 1846
Camp Wool Near San Antonio Texas
My Dear Brother
I reached this place on the 4th in good health & Calvin appeared to mend the whole trip from Uncles to this place & at this time he is entirely well I went to Town yesterday & it is the queerest looking place I ever saw. The first place I came to was the celebrated Alamo where Crockett & his brave companions were massacred by the treacherous Mexicans I took a good survey of the whole place - but it was so filthy that it was very unpleasant while exploring it. It is built entirely of a kind of lime rock it is about 55 feet high & there is no Roof perceivable being made perfectly flat with gutters extending through the walls for the purpose of carrying off the water. It is at this tenantless save a blacksmith shop & is going to ruins.
The cannonballs have left their impressions plainly stamped upon the walls. The whole East End was nearly battered down by Santa Anna in 36 you can see his magazine where he shot from & which is about 2 miles off The Alamo from the papers which have been found in the Town, is two hundred & fifty years old. The Catholic Church is a fine looking building & is worth any persons' trouble to go & see it. The other day while in town I had the opportunity of seeing the ceremony of a Catholic funeral & it interested me very much to see the maneuvers they perform over their dead
The next Curiosity is the San Antonio River it is one of the cleanest and prettiest rivers I ever saw A fish is perceivable at the depth of ten or fifteen feet. We are encamped at the head of the river & I rekon you never saw such a spring as burst out here & I guess I never was so fooled in my life as when I took a drink out of it for its appearance indicated that I would get a splendid cook drink - but I was sadly disappointed for it is tolerably warm. This is easily accounted for because there is such a large extent of prairie around it. The Illinois Troops are good looking men & are well drilled & when it is necessary they will do some fighting. They have a full & splendid
band of music & it is beautiful to see them parade. I will now give you an account of my visit to San Jose or St. Joseph. It completely paid me for my ride though the sun shone hot enough to have killed a Georgia negro. The Front that is the west end has a large double door & over the center of it is the Image of our Saviour & then on either side in the Apostles as I supposed for there was no one who could explain them. And there are divers of little fellows but I dont know whom they represent the whole of them are cut out of stone. After viewing those awhile I walked around and opened a small door and commenced ascending the spiral stairway which goes round & round like a black snake climbing a tree. After ascending about 50 feet I came to a platform. & then I had to take up another flight which was about 15 feet high when I reached the top of this flight of stairs I stood upon a platform of about 4 feet square Just about this time I thought I was high enough from the ground - but my curiosity led me to ascend the second flight. This brought me upon the place when the singers used to sit & from this floor you have a full view of the Priest while he is officiating. There was another flight of stairs - but my inclination to proceed higher was perfectly satisfied & I contented myself with walking over the top of San Jose I descended upon my hands & knees & in the course of an hour I reached Terra firma The room that I most desired to get into was locked & as I had rode 3 miles to see it I thought I would not be foiled so I commenced hunting a place to get in & it was not long til I discovered a window which I scaled in double quick time & I soon found the room that I was after & into it I burst. & the first thing I met was the Image of our Saviour dressed in some old Mexican woman's gown. I rode over to the Catholic burying ground & there I saw and touched things that I
never did before. The Burying is enclosed by a stone wall about five feet high & contains about an acre & within were the things that I had never seen before. Sculls and human bones of every description lay thick upon the ground & at every step I trod upon a human bone The Catholics had just buried a corpse & where they dug the grave lay the bones of a human being. When the bones become too numerous they collect them into a pile & burn them. Some of the sculls had bullet holes in them & others looked like they had received a blow from an axe or large knife. Conception Mission is in sight of our present encampment I intend paying it a visit before I leave. I stated in the first part of my letter that we were camped upon the head of the river- but we are now camped about 7 miles from the head & 3 miles below Town The situation of our Camp Ground is disadvantageous and disagreeable we have to go about ½ a mile for water & at least ¾ for wood. The Tents are placed on a hot broiling prairie, & where there is no breeze often [?] it is hot thought to kill anything except these nasty Black Mexicans There has been considerable sickness in our Company & I am sorry to say that 5 Cases proved fatal. Barnett and Spence died at the Trinity as I mentioned in one of my letters And on the 4th of Sept Thomas Wright son of Judge Wright died & on the 9 or 10th Gideon Leidmon & on the 14th Corp. Crosland. You must not be uneasy on the account of the sickness in our camp for I will take all the care I possibly can of myself. Joe we have the kindest and best parents in the world & if Papa and Mama gets sick attend closely to them: for we never can repay them for their trouble Derrick has been very sick but he is recovering & I think that he will not be able to go with us for Gen Wool has served orders that he will discharge all that are unable to stand the trip There is no telling when we will leave here. We will be paid off next week our two months pay. The officers have recd
their Pay Joe they make wagon beds our of Corn stalks and they yoke all their oxen by the horns. You can see something that you had seen before every time you go into Town.
Give my best Respects TG & WRH & their Ladies & to all the neighbors Tell Mr. Heames that I would have written to him but I did not have time Inc your letter of the 11th Augt & if you had known how bad I wanted one you all would have written. Since I left Washington I have written 10 or 12 letters back. I will look for letters next mail from L.G. & W.R. Harri. I hope papa has recovered [illegible] this.
My love to you all
& I am your sincere
Brother W K McKean