In 1827 Thomas Rife was born in either Mississippi or Louisiana. His father had left South Carolina during the "Great Migration" that occurred after 1810. His mother was from Kentucky. His parents probably met and married after their arrival in the new territories. Thomas Rife probably grew up on a pioneer farm in Louisiana and came to Texas after the Mexican War. When he was 22 or 23 years old he joined up with a company of Texas Rangers led by Big Foot Wallace.
When Texas became a State in 1845, the assumption was that the US Army would provide protection of the Texas frontier. Indeed this was one of the principal reasons given for joining the federal union. After annexation the State of Texas hoped that it could avoid the expense of maintaining a military force and, for the first few years after the Republic became a State, Texas troops were called into service only at the request of the US Army and only to deal with specific raids by either Mexicans or wild Indians. The expectation was that the Federal Government would pay the State troops while they were assisting the US Army in defending the frontiers of Texas from Indians and Mexicans.
Between August 1849 and the end of 1850, US Army General George M Brooke called on the State Governor for five companies of 79 Rangers each. Among these was a Texas Ranging Company under the command of Big Foot Wallace. In the tradition of the Rangers, the recruits provided a horse, saddle, bridle, halter and lariat and the State provided a percussion rifle, a Colt pistol and ammunition. The men were issued neither uniforms nor tents. Although they traveled in military formation and their organization mimicked that of a military unit, the Rangers fought and lived like a band of Comanche Indians. It was this fighting style and their mustang mounts that made the Texas troops valuable to the US Army. They complimented the Federal troops, most of whom were infantry. However, the Texans were notoriously difficult to control and, after a group of them crossed into Mexico in late 1849 in the service of a gang of smugglers, General Brooke ordered all of the Ranger companies disbanded. This was done in the fall of 1851.
In October 1850 Thomas Rife was enrolled in a Ranger Company based at Fort Ingle in what is now southern Uvalde County. In March 1849 the First US Infantry established a camp near Mt. Inge on the east bank of the Leona River a few miles north of a ford called Woll's Crossing. Mount Inge, a 140-foot volcanic plug located one mile south of the town of Uvalde on highway FM 140, was used as the lookout. In December 1849 the name of the encampment was changed from Camp Leona to Fort Inge. Most of the structures at Fort Inge were "jacals". Jacals are one-room shelters consisting of upright log pickets plastered with mud and then whitewashed. The roof was thatched. During this period almost all buildings on either side of the Rio Grande were jacals. Usually one fifty-man company of US infantry was stationed at Fort Inge. In 1850 William A (Bigfoot) Wallace's Texas Ranging Company and Capt. William Hardee's Company C, Second Dragoons (1849-1852) both used the camp. Beginning in 1849 a farming community grew up near the post and between 1849 and 1855 it was a "pony express" stop between El Paso and San Antonio. The fort was one of a string of such outposts that formed the frontier between the settled part of Texas to the east and the home of wild Comanche Indians to the west. The forts were built in the late 1840s by the US Army to block Indian raids into the interior of the State. Fort Inge also served to protect the coach road between San Antonio and El Paso del Norte, 400 miles to the west.
In 1899 A. J. Sowell published a book called "Life of Big Foot Wallace" in which Big Foot Wallace described a couple of fights between this company of Rangers and Comanche Indians. One of these fights occurred in a place called the "Black Hills", a summit in LaSalle County about 16 miles from the present town of Cotulla. The Black Hills was about 60 miles from the Ranger's base at Fort Inge. The Rangers had been trailing a large band of Indians for some time when they were spotted a single Comanche on a ridge. The Indian challenged the Rangers to come and fight. Wallace suspected that the man was a decoy and he approached the ridge cautiously. As suspected, he found hundreds of Indians lying in ambush. After the possibility of a surprise attack was lost, the Indians began to ride their horses in circles around the Rangers, challenging them to attack while showing off their riding abilities. The outnumbered Rangers dismounted and set up defensive positions. After some time a group of twenty-five Indians attacked the Rangers. They rode in tight circles around the dismounted troopers while shooting their arrows.
The Rangers shot and killed several of the attackers, wounded others and killed or wounded many of their horses. The Indians regrouped and attacked two more times using the same circling approach. Among the dead Indians was a man who had charged directly at the whites while "waving a bunch of roots he held in his hands." The man likely believed the roots would protect him from the Texan's bullets. Finally the main force of Indians charged straight at Wallace's Rangers. When the leading Indian was thirty yards from the Rangers, three riflemen shot his horse from under him. The man scrambled to his feet and Captain Wallace fired and shot him in the right hip. Other Indians came forward and carried the leader from the battlefield.
Arrows had wounded two of the Rangers and all of the men were thirsty. As the Indians carried their wounded leader away from the fight, Wallace's men mounted their horses and headed back the way they had come. They rode to a water hole they had passed. Wallace knew that the Indians would be guarding the water so he dismounted ten of his men and ran through the brush to the water hole. There they found and killed the three Indian guards. The shooting alerted the other Indians to their presence and Wallace and his men were forced to flee.
The Rangers withdrew a safe distance and waited for the Indians to leave the area that afternoon before returning to the water hole to water their horses. One of dead Indians had two plugs of tobacco in his shot pouch, which, Wallace said, "was a God-send to us, as we had been without a chaw for several days." The Rangers had suffered three men wounded. They found the bodies of twenty-two Indians on the ground and they estimated that they had wounded at least fifteen others. This fight was known as the Black Hill's fight.
The year before, in 1849, a group of about twenty Comanche men had attempted to steal horses belonging to the Rangers. The Rangers were on patrol and camped in a little thicket where they slept on the ground with their saddle for a pillow and a blanket for cover. The Rangers always posted guards on their horses and on their campsite. This night the guard heard the approach of the Indians and the Rangers ambushed them, killing or wounding four of the raiders. In this initial attack, one of the Rangers was wounded and a pack mule was killed. The Indians then surrounded the camp. The Indian's arrows were no match for the rifles and Colt pistols of the Rangers and four more Indians were killed during the daylong fight. Two more Rangers suffered arrow-wounds by the end of the fight. Near the end of the day, another group of forty Comanche men arrived and, after a show of horsemanship and bravado, challenged Wallace's men in Spanish to a fair fight. Wallace accepted the offer and told the Indians that he and his men would meet them at a nearby spring after his men had finished their meal. As soon as the Indians were out of sight, Wallace and his men mounted their horses and left the area as fast as they could.
I don't know how long Thomas Rife was in the Ranging service. In 1855 a fire in the office of the Texas Adjutant General destroyed many muster rolls and other early Texas military records. In 1881 the Adjutant General's office was burned again when the Capitol building burned. Thomas Rife was enumerated in the 1850 Bexar County, Texas, Federal Census as a Ranger at Fort Inge. This is the only record I could find of his career as a Ranger. Enlistments were of short duration and the arrangement was quite informal. Many paramilitary groups were organized in Texas during the frontier period and only a few were formally recognized by the State was Ranger Companies. Usually the Governor nominated the Captain and the Captain recruited his own men. The men were paid a monthly salary from the State Treasury (when it was not empty) and provided with replacement horses. It was expected that the men would live off game they killed. Most of the Rangers were young men and most were not native Texans. Enlistments were often for six months.
Prior to the 1870s, the Rangers were not a professional group although a few men were engaged in the ranging service for years at a time. Big Foot Wallace was one of these few. He came to Texas from Virginia in 1837 to avenge, he said, the death of his brother in the Goliad Massacre in 1836. He was briefly a farmer near La Grange and then a cedar chopper around Austin. He joined a group of settlers chasing a large band of Comanche raiders in 1840 but arrived too late to participate in the Battle of Plum Creek (near present-day Lockhart). He joined Jack Haye's Rangers in March 1842 and attacked the rear-guard of the Mexican army that, under General Adrian Woll, attacked and captured San Antonio in September 1842. He joined a punitive expedition called the Somervell Raid that was supposed to punish the Mexicans for repeatedly invading the State. After the expedition crossed the Rio Grande River, the official leadership called the raid off. Wallace and a small group of men refused to obey the order and attacked the town of Mier in what history calls the Mier Expedition. The Texans were quickly surrounded by the Mexican army and captured. The Texans were taken to the City of Saltillo where they briefly escaped. As punishment for the escape attempt, 17 men were selected and executed in the Black Bean incident.
Wallace survived and was sent to Mexico City where he and the others were put to work repairing roads. Eventually they were all sent to a prison at Perote, east of Mexico City along the road to Vera Cruz. In September 1844 Wallace was released and deported to New Orleans. There he earned a living by capturing runaway slaves. By 1845 he had returned to his old hunting cabin on the Median River in south Texas. From September 1845 through the end of the Mexican War in late 1847 he was on the rolls of the Texas Mounted Rangers. For another two-year period between 1849 and 1851 he commanded the Rangers at Fort Inge. After his company was disbanded in the fall of 1850 he took a contract to carry the mail from San Antonio to El Paso along the road that passed through Fort Inge. Short time later he was once again placed in command of a company of Rangers at the request of Governor Bell. It was this company that fought the Comanche Indians at the Black Hills. After this company was disbanded he returned to his small ranch on the Medina River where he lived until 1899.
Texas joined the movement to secede from the Union reluctantly. Its most famous statesman, Sam Houston, opposed secession until the end. By 1861 Sam Houston had been the governor of two States, he was twice elected President of the Republic of Texas and had served as a member of the Texas and the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. He had been instrumental in founding the Republic of Texas and in its annexation to the USA. The annexation of Texas led to the Mexican War and the acquisition by the United States of the American Southwest, an area greater than old Mexico. He served as US Senator from Texas from 1846 until 1859 when he was once again elected Governor of Texas. Houston strongly opposed secession, refused to recognize the authority of the secession convention and refused to take the oath of allegiance when Texas joined the Confederacy. The convention deposed him in March 1861 and he retired to his farm.
Historian Walter Prescott Webb believed that Houston was well aware that the United States was falling apart in the late 1850s and that Houston returned to Texas with the intention of launching an aggressive war with Mexico with the intention of conquering it. He hoped that this would turn the nation's attention away from the all-consuming issue of slavery, unite the people of the United States behind the invasion and lead to his own election as President of the United States. In 1859 and 1860 he worked secretly to this end, even attempting to enlist Colonel Robert E Lee, then the commander of the Eighth Military District at San Antonio, in the scheme. As late as August 1860 Houston was attempting to get financing from London bankers who owned large quantities of defaulted Mexican bonds.
The idea of invading Mexico again was not unique to Sam Houston. Many Americans had the same idea. About this time, a secret group called the Knights of the Golden Circle was being organized throughout Texas. Its stated purpose was to invade Mexico and annex the northern Mexican states to the US or else establish an empire there. Nearly all of the Rangers joined the organization, including Benjamin McCullough. Ben McCullough was a Ranger Captain when he was sent to New York in August 1860 by Governor Sam Houston to negotiate the loan from the English bankers. With some of the money he was supposed to purchase ten thousand rifles made according to specifications sent to him by Houston. However, the bankers refused to loan the money. By the fall of 1860, Houston realized that the Civil War was too close to be averted. He stopped his attempts to organize an army of invasion and watched as Lincoln was elected President and South Carolina and then Mississippi withdrew from the federal union.
In March 22, 1862, the 36th Texas Cavalry Regiment (also called 32nd Texas Cavalry) was mustered into State service at Camp Woods on Salado Creek under Colonel Peter Woods. The recruits were from around San Antonio. This regiment was known as Woods' Cavalry Regiment (32nd). Another group, also called 36th Texas Cavalry, was organized in Belton in 1863, and is often confused with Woods' Cavalry. Thomas E Rife is listed on the rolls of Company H, 36th Texas Cavalry, Confederate States Army, as a Private.
During July and August 1862 Woods' Cavalry trained at Camp Clark near San Marcos in Hays County. They then patrolled the area around Fredericksburg, a German Unionist stronghold where there was open resistance to the Confederate authorities. There was much coercion against Unionists particularly around San Antonio where the German population outnumbered both the Hispanics and the Anglos until 1877. In June 1863, Woods' Cavalry Regiment was moved to Indianola for garrison duty. Indianola and Galveston were the State's main ports of entry and both ports were garrisoned by Confederate troops. In February 1864, the regiment was ordered dismounted and 157 of the men deserted. The horses were the property of the men and they refused to surrender them to the Confederate authorities. Officers of the regiment were sent to the men's homes to persuade them to return to the unit. Most of the men reported back and on February 28, Woods' Regiment was sent to western Louisiana to counter a build-up of Federal troops there.
In March 1864 the Union army and navy moved up the Red River with the intention of capturing Shreveport while another army invaded Louisiana from Arkansas. By mid-April the Union army had captured the city of Alexandria in central Louisiana. However the Confederates under General Richard Taylor routed the Union cavalry at Sabine Crossroads and the Union army retreated to Alexandria. The Federal troops burned Alexandria on May 16 and continued to retreat downriver. The force attacking from the north withdrew into Arkansas when Confederate reinforcements arrived from Texas under General Kirby Smith. On March 12, 1864, the 32nd Texas Cavalry arrived at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana. They patrolled the Atchafalaya River basin until February 1865.
On April 9, 1865, Robert E Lee surrendered his army at Appomattox Court House in Virginia and on May 26 General Kirby Smith surrendered the Confederate forces in Texas. On May 21, 1865, Woods' Regiment was disbanded at the City of Houston and the remaining men returned home.
In 1872 Thomas Rife was 45 years old and living in San Antonio. That year he married the nineteen-year old daughter of a family of Mexican immigrants from the northern Mexican State of Chihuahua. In 1873 his first child, William, was born and, as was the custom of the time, his wife gave birth to another child every two years until they had eight surviving children. In the 1880 Federal Census he and his family are listed in Justice Precinct #1 in San Antonio. He listed his occupation as Policeman. He was 53 years old, his wife Eduarda, was 25, and his five children ranged in age from 7 years to 7 months. The neighbors included two musicians, a county clerk, a livestock dealer and some laborers.
When Thomas first visited San Antonio in 1850 its population was 3,480. By 1870 the city had grown to 12,266 inhabitants. By 1890 the population had grown to 37,673 and by 1903 the population of San Antonio had reached 58,016. San Antonio was then the largest and most prosperous city in Texas. After the Civil War wild cattle grazing on the surrounding prairie were rounded up, driven to a railhead in Kansas in great herds and sold for slaughter. For a few years cattle prices were high but the market was soon glutted and the price of cattle collapsed. From1873 until a tariff was eliminated in 1885, San Antonio was the market for a booming trade in wool. In 1860 gas street lighting was installed and in 1875 mule-powered streetcars started service. In 1877 the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad reached the City. In 1878 water pipes were laid under the streets and the city had piped-in water. In 1890 electric trolleys replaced the mule-powered streetcars. The German-English School had existed since 1858 and the first public school building opened in 1882. All of the Rife children attended school and could read and write. The children spoke Spanish with their mother and English with their father.
On September 1, 1881 Thomas C Rife was issued Confederate Certificate No. 718 for 1,280 acres of "vacant, unreserved and non-appropriated public domain of the State of Texas". This was a bounty for Confederate veterans from Texas who were wounded in the service and permanently disabled in such a way as to "seriously impair their ability to perform bodily labor or to earn a living". I do not know the nature of Thomas Rife's disability. 2,068 Confederate certificates were issued. Thomas used his certificate to claim land in Bexar County. I have no knowledge that he lived on or used the land. He probably sold it. After the Civil War, many families from Louisiana and Mississippi moved to the area around San Antonio to escape chaotic conditions in the old South and the price of land in the region rose accordingly.
Thomas apparently continued to work as a policeman for the City of San Antonio until his death sometime before 1900.This was an era in which the police had to take prisoners to jail by force. There were no police wagons and drunks often fought the police. The last Indian raid into Texas occurred in 1881 but turmoil on the frontier with Mexico continued until the 1920s. As a result many men carried a pistols and shooting were not uncommon. The city jail and City Hall were located on Military Plaza. Thomas Rife probably worked out of the city jail, called the Bat Cave because of the large colony of bats in the attic of the building. (In Texas the word "cave" often refers to a colony of wild bees).
The Alamo was founded as a Catholic mission about 1718. The mission was built on the banks of a spring-fed river in what is now downtown San Antonio, Texas. In later years about three acres of land around the church was surrounded by a high stone wall nearly three feet thick to provide a secure home for the Indians living around the mission. The mission buildings were abandoned in 1793 and were used as a barracks by Spanish and Mexican troops from 1803 until 1835. In the winter of 1835 about 155 Texas secessionists under William Travis and James Bowie occupied the old mission buildings and turned them into a fort. In March 1836 a Mexican army under President Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna breached the walls of the fort. Santa Anna had warned the Texans that he would not take prisoners and everyone in the Alamo except for women, children and slaves were killed during or after the battle. Because Santa Anna had executed the few men who surrendered, the phrase "Remember the Alamo" became a battle cry in the successful Texas war of independence.
In 1841 the Republic of Texas passed a law returning the old mission buildings to the Catholic Church. However ownership of the chapel, the adjoining convent and the plaza in front of the church were disputed by the City and by individuals who had squatted on the land during the chaotic period after the Texas War for Independence. When the Mexicans under General Woll captured the City in 1842, all of the land records were burned and the City Council taken captive to Mexico. Without records, it took the City years to evict squatters who claimed numerous City Lands, including the Alamo Plaza in front of the old chapel. After Texas became a part of the United States in 1845 the US Army leased the Alamo from the Catholic Church and it was again used as a barracks and quartermaster's depot until 1876. In 1850 the City unsuccessfully sued to obtain title. In 1871 and again in 1877 parts of the property was sold to the City and to private individuals by the Bishop. After the Army moved to Fort Sam Houston in 1876 the mission convent building was purchased by the wholesale grocery firm of Hugo and Schmeltzer. In an Act of April 23, 1883, the State purchased the old chapel from the Catholic Church and gave custody to the City on the condition that a City custodian watch over the building.
In 1893 a group of San Antonio residents decided to preserve the property. This group was joined by women affiliated with an new organization called the Daughters of the Republic of Texas that a San Antonio native, Adina De Zavala, had formed in 1891. In 1902 the Hugo-Schmeltzer Company announced that they were going out of business and offered up the convent, now called the Long Barracks, for sale. A group of East Coast investors hoped to purchase the property with the intention of building a hotel on the spot where the convent stands. To forestall the destruction of the historic buildings, Adina De Zavala convinced the wealthy Miss Clara Driscoll to place an option on the building. The Daughters did not have the money to exercise the option but in January 25, 1905, as a result of lobbying by Clara Driscoll, the Texas Legislature passed a law authorizing the Governor to purchase the convent and deliver it and the chapel to the Daughters of the Republic of Texas. The Daughters restored the property to what they thought it looked like in 1835, named it the "cradle of Texas liberty" and made it into a shrine to the men killed there in 1836.
In the early 1890s the City employed Thomas Rife to be the Custodian of the Alamo. By then he was in his early sixties and had been a city cop for a number of years. He and his family lived at 430 N. Laredo Street, on the other side of the river but less than a mile from the Alamo. The 1893 City Directory lists him as the Custodian at the Alamo. Sometime before April 1900 Thomas Rife died and his widow moved to a rented house at 816 South San Saba Street near the corner of South Laredo in downtown San Antonio. In June 1900 seven children, aged from 25 to 8 years, remained at home with their widowed mother. The seven Rife boys grew up to be laborers. The Rife children married children of Mexican immigrant families and used Hispanic versions of the English names their father had given them. All of them except for my great-grandfather lived in San Antonio all of their lives. Morris (Mauricio) Rife moved to the boom-town of Port Arthur, Texas, soon after his marriage in 1902 and took a job at the Gulf Oil Refinery there. He became Head Stallman in charge of a gang of Mexican laborers. G N Mullins was also employed at the refinery as a carpenter. Morris' oldest child, Mary, married G N Mullins and their first child, my father, was born less than two weeks after Morris Rife died on the job in 1921.
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