21. February 2012 · Comments Off on Mr. Cannon-Ball Was Not His Friend · Categories: Old West · Tags: , , , , ,

Thomas William Ward was born in Ireland of English parents in  1807, and at the age of 21 took ship and emigrated to America. He  settled in New Orleans, which by that time had passed from French to  Spanish, back to French and finally landed in American hands thanks to  the Louisiana Purchase. There he took up the study of architecture and  engineering – this being a time when an intelligent and striving young  man could engage in a course of study and hang out a shingle to practice  it professionally shortly thereafter. However, Thomas Ward was diverted from his  studies early in October, 1835 by an excited and well-attended meeting  in a large coffee-room at Banks’ Arcade on Magazine Street. Matters  between the Anglo settlers in Texas and the central Mexican governing  authority – helmed by the so-called Napoleon of the West, General  Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna – had come to a frothy boil. Bad feelings  between the Texian and Tejano settlers of Texas, who were of generally  federalist (semi-autonomous) sympathies had been building against the  centralist (conservative and authoritarian) faction. These developments  were followed with close and passionate attention by political junkies  in the United States.

Nowhere did interest run as high as it did in those cities along the  Mississippi River basin. On the evening of October 13, 1835, Adolphus  Sterne – the alcade (mayor) of Nacogdoches – offered weapons for the  first fifty volunteers who would fight for Texas. A hundred and twenty  volunteers signed up before the evening was over, and Thomas Ward was  among them. They formed into two companies, and were apparently  equipped and outfitted from various sources: the armory of the local  militia organization, donations from the public, and ransacking local  haberdashers for sufficient uniform-appearing clothing. They wore grey  jackets and pants, with a smooth leather forage cap; the color grey  being chosen for utility on the prairies. The two companies traveled  separately from New Orleans, but eventually met up at San Antonio de  Bexar, where they became part of the Army of Texas.

They took part in  the Texian siege of Bexar and those Mexican troops garrisoned there  under General Cos – who had come into Texas earlier in the year to  reinforce Mexican control of a wayward province. Thomas W. Ward was  serving as an artillery officer by then; a military specialty which men  with a bent for the mathematical and mechanical seemed to gravitate  towards. The Texians and volunteers fought their way into San Antonio by  December, led by an old settler and soldier of fortune named Ben Milam.  Milam was killed at the height of the fighting to take the town by a Mexican sharp-shooter,  and Thomas Ward was severely injured; one leg was taken off by an errant  cannon-ball. The enduring legend is that Milam was buried with Ward’s  amputated leg together in the same grave. Was this a misfortune – or a  bit of good luck for Thomas Ward?

Not very much discouraged or sidelined, Thomas Ward returned to New  Orleans to recuperate – and to be fitted with a wooden prosthesis. He  would be known as “Pegleg” Ward for the remainder of his life. He came  back to Texas in the spring of 1836, escaping  the fate of many of his  fellow ‘Greys’ – many of who were among the defenders of the Alamo,  their company standard being one of those trophies captured there by  Santa Anna. Others of the ‘Greys’ were participants in the ill-fated  Matamoros expedition, or became part of Colonel James Fannin’s garrison  at the presidio La Bahia, and executed by order of Santa Anna after the  defeat at Coleto Creek.

Thomas Ward was commissioned as a colonel and served during the  remainder of the war for independence. Upon the return of peace – or a  condition closely resembling it – he settled in the new-established city  of Houston, and returned to the trade of architect and building  contractor. He was hired to build a capitol building in Houston – one of  several, for  over the life of the Republic of Texas, the actual  seat of government became rather peripatetic. When the second  President of Texas, Mirabeau Lamar, moved the capitol to  Waterloo-on-the-Colorado – soon to be called Austin – in 1839, Thomas  Ward relocated there, serving variously as chief clerk for the House of  Representatives, as mayor of Austin and as commissioner of the General  Land Office. As fortune would have it, during an observance of the victory  at San Jacinto in April of 1841, Thomas Ward had another bit of bad  luck. In setting off a celebratory shot, the cannon misfired, and the  explosion took off his right arm. (I swear – I am not making this up!)  To add to cannon-related indignities heaped upon him, in the following  year, he was involved in the Archives War. Local inn-keeper, Angelina  Eberly fired off yet another cannon in to alert the citizens of Austin that  President Sam Houston’s men were trying to remove the official national  archives from the Land Office building. (Either it was not loaded with anything but black powder, or she missed hitting anything substantial.)

Fortunately, Thomas Ward emerged unscathed from this imbroglio. I  think it would have been plain to everyone by this time that Mr.  Cannon-ball was most definitely not his friend. He married, fought  against Texas secession in the bitter year of 1860, served another term  as Mayor of Austin, as U.S. Counsel to Panama, and lived to 1872 – a very  good age, considering all that he had been through.

(Thomas Ward appears  briefly as a character, along with Angelina Eberly and some other characters from early Austin, in Deep in the Heart.)

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