FM 2436/ HWY 77 Fayette County
After paying the admission at the ticket window of the A-frame office, we walked the dirt path past picnic tables and the holiday decorations of reindeer figurines and Christmas trees, and I thought to myself, I may be in for a ho-hum experience. But when I stepped into the Oak grove overlooking La Grange and the mighty Colorado River flowing across the lower plain, I took off my cap, and walked up to the vaulted tomb of the 16 Fayette County soldiers who traveled down to the Rio Grande River Valley in 1842, to fight off the Mexicans invading the border of the Republic of Texas. They were captured at the Battle of Mier in Mexico and executed.
The monument before me looked like it was dropped into the ground from the sky. An obsidian art deco angel stands facing the tomb, the soldiers painted on the stone lying before the Mexican firing squad, eyes closed, gunsmoke fresh and revolving in the air, a red archangel hovering above them. I had my boy read the inscription about the black bean roulette: 1 out of every ten of the 176 recaptured Texans were sentenced to death for attempting escape. They would cast lots. Pulling a white bean from a clay pot of beans would mean a prison march to Veracruz, and pulling out a black bean, death by bullet. 16 lay dead, the 17th later shot dead in the city street after feigning death and escaping again.
Four years later, one of the survivors of the Black Bean massacre rode into Mexico again, this time for war, now a Captain in the United States Army. He returned to El Rancho Salado and exhumed his fallen comrades, and travelled with them by ship to Galveston, and from Galveston by wagon back here to Fayette County, for burial. I can just see him, Captain John Dusenbury on horseback accompanying the wagons, as the coffins rocked inside side-to-side, the wheels creaking over the uneven road, his pained gaze and heavy sighs, gripping the horn of his saddle with locked fists.
I later read that Sam Houston was in attendance here for the interment, along with 1,000 guests on this very bluff overlooking the Colorado River in 1848, and I thought about the ages that have passed, since he stood here with the veterans of numerous clashes and battles, his chin on his breast, hat in his hand, as the fallen received full military honors on Monument Hill by the Kriesche residence, on a bluff overlooking wild Texas, now an American state three years young, the chain rattling against the flagpole, the flag popping and snapping, the bright colors unfurling in the wind.
The historic site closed at 4:30 and we had arrived too late to hike as long as we would have liked. We drove around LaGrange and admired the pretty Victorian houses, teal and yellow, and cruised around downtown. By Prosperity Bank, I saw the prettiest Live Oak I’ve ever seen. It was like a bonsai tree manicured by a giant.
We drove around some more and we asked a lady putting up signs by a gazebo where we could find some Bluff beer, in the honor of Heinrich Kreische, the great German Brewer of LaGrange. She looked at us straight, her hand over her eyes like a visor, and said, “They sell it at H-E-Bay,” with a heavy Texas accent. Well, I’ll be. We found the grocery and things were looking up. I held those six-packs on the way back to the car like suitcases of cash.
We planned on driving down FM 2436 for a scenic drive, and were headed that way when my wife noticed the white bridge over the Colorado River. She turned her little car around like she was being chased and we drove right over the bridge into the golden light glowing in the sky ahead. She jumped up in her seat when she noticed a walkway on the bridge, and we parked.
I walked across like a wooden soldier in the Nutcracker, with the most unnatural gait, scared witless of the rattling bridge, speeding cars, and the 100 foot drop. My wife and son got a good laugh out of that but I was quickly calmed by the pastoral scene unfolding before me. Below, a 6 point buck leapt across a fallen tree, and in the middle of the river, three does splashed and frolicked by a sandbar around a soft white crane who stood motionless in the water. We hiked down, the sky growing purple over the rusting railroad bridge in the distance.
We took 77 south to try and make it to FM 2436 before sunset, and stopped by a church in Hostyn, a Czech community. The stained glass dazzled at twilight, and we saw that the night service was just letting out. To the side of the church was a cemetery with tall and slim European gravestones. It looked like a chess set, chess pieces on every square.
We drove down FM 2436 back to Austin in the dark of the night, and turned up the radio. A sheriff’s car passed us, speeding past, his exhausts rumbling low.