Texas Tales: Bigfoot Wallace and Miss Matilda
I had been introduced to one young woman by the name of Matilda, who was pretty as a pink! Her teeth were as white as an alligator’s, and her eyes were as bright as two mesquite coals, and her mouth looked like a little gash cut in a juicy peach.
William A.A. Wallace
William Alexander Anderson Wallace was not only born with a big name he garnered a big reputation. Born in Lexington, Virginia on April 3, 1807, he moved to Texas in 1836, after learning of the execution of a brother and cousin in the Goliad Massacre. A member of the disastrous Mier Expedition to Santa Fe, he was captured by Mexican authorities and sent to Perote Prison, surviving the infamous black bean episode. He later joined Jack Hays’s company of Texas Rangers, fought in the Mexican-American War, and lived through numerous scraps and adventures. Accounts conflict on the origin of his nickname “Bigfoot.” Some say the Indians gave it to him because of his large foot print, confusing him with an Indian by the name of Big-Foot. Others say Mexicans gave it to him because his feet were enormous compared to their relatively small feet. Whatever the story, the moniker stuck.
The following anecdote occurred on a trip back to his homeland. The presence of the “Wild Texan,” as the Virginians called him, set Lexington a-buzz. At a “fandango” held in his honor, Wallace became a great attraction to the young ladies. One in particular, a Miss Matilda, plied him with questions about the wilds of Texas.
I had been introduced to one young woman by the name of Matilda, who was pretty as a pink! Her teeth were as white as an alligator’s, and her eyes were as bright as two mesquite coals, and her mouth looked like a little gash cut in a juicy peach. She was a “deadener,” I tell you, and a regular “knee-weakener,” in the bargain; and I wanted to have a little talk with her the worst in the world; but somehow I felt a little afraid to venture. After a little while, however, she came up to me of her own accord, and began to ask me a great many questions about Texas and the Indians, wild horses, and the prairies, etc. Among other things, she asked me if young women were in great demand in Texas.
“I should think they were,” said I. “The day the first young woman came into our settlement there were fourteen Spanish horses badly foundered on sedge-grass, by the young men who flocked in to see her, from forty miles around; and the next morning she had seventeen offers of marriage before breakfast! The young woman was a little confused by so many applications at once, and before she could make up her mind which one to take, one of the ‘rancheros’ watched his chance, and the first time she walked out he caught her up behind him on his horse, rode off full speed to San Patricio, drew his six-shooter on the padre, and forced him to marry them on the spot. This saved the woman all further trouble on the subject, and they are now living happily together on one of the finest cattle ranches in the County of Karnes.”
“Oh! I declare,” said Miss Matilda, “that is delightful! How romantic to be run off with in that way by a handsome young ‘ranchero.’ I think, Mr. Wallace, I shall have to go to Texas.”
“You might do worse,” said I; “and besides, you would stand a chance of being run away with by some great Comanche or Tonkawa chief, with a bow and quiver on his back and eagle’s feathers on his head, and nothing else to speak of in the way of clothes.”
Miss Matilda didn’t seem to hear the last part of my speech, for she jumped up and clapped her little hands: “Oh,” said she, “wouldn’t that be fine? To gallop over the flowery prairies, free as the wind, from morning till night, and listen to the feathered songsters pouring forth their untaught melodies from every grove and shady dell! Oh, it would be splendid, Mr. Wallace!”
“Yes,” said I, “it would. One of the handsomest young women in our settlement was carried off, three or four years ago, by ‘He-che-puck-sa-sa,’ the ‘Bellowing Bull,’ and when I went on a visit to his tribe, not long ago, she was the favorite wife and head squaw of the wigwam, and had brass rings enough on her arms and legs to have made a pair of ‘dog irons,’ if they had been melted up, besides one in her nose as big as the palm of my hand.”
“Why! how many wives did the Mormon have?” asked Miss Matilda, looking a little down in the mouth.
“Oh! I can’t say exactly,” I answered; “I only saw six; but he had another wigwam at the village below. But,” said I, “Miss Matilda, after riding over the flowery prairies all day, and listening to the coyotes howling in every grove and dell, where will you put up at night; and how will you manage to get along without hot rolls for breakfast, and baked custard for dinner?”
“Oh,” said she, “I don’t care for them; I can do very well without them; all I want is a nice cup of coffee in the morning, and a biscuit or a slice of toast, and a little fresh butter, or a few fresh-laid eggs; and for dinner a few vegetables and wild fruits, and now and then a nice beefsteak or a saddle of venison roasted before the fire!”
“Yes,” says I, “that’s all reasonable enough, and you could get them, I suppose, at any time; but you see the Indians don’t cook their meat.”
“The cannibals!” exclaimed Miss Matilda; “they certainly don’t eat it raw, do they?”
“Yes,” said I, “as a general thing; only sometimes, when a fellow feels a little squeamish, he fastens a beef or mule steak under his saddle, and after riding and jolting on it all day, he finds it nicely ‘done’ when he stops at night; and it’s a very convenient way of cooking, too, especially when a fellow is in a hurry (which the Indians always are, for they are always after somebody, or else somebody is after them); and besides, they say it is the best thing in the world for a sore-backed horse!”
“Oh! dear,” said Miss Matilda, “I don’t believe I’ll go to Texas, after all; for if I do, I must put up with a ‘ranchero’—they don’t eat their meat raw, do they?”
“No,” said I, “except when they are out on the plains, and can’t find buffalo-chips enough to cook it with.”
“Oh! tell me, Mr. Wallace,” said she, “did you ever see a ‘mirage’ on the plains?”
“A mirage?” said I, rather taken aback, for I hadn’t the least idea what she meant, unless it was a drove of mustangs or a herd of buffalo; “why, certainly, I have seen a thousand of ’em.”
“I don’t think they were so common,” said she.
“Oh, yes,” I answered; “the last one I saw was just back of Santa Fé, and it stampeded when we got in about a quarter of a mile of it; and such a dust as was kicked up you never saw, for there hadn’t been a drop of rain there in six months.”
“Well, I declare,” said Miss Matilda; “I always heard that the mirage would disappear as you approached it, but I never heard of one kicking up a dust before.”
“No,” said I; “they don’t in other countries, where the ground is kept wet by constant rain; but in Texas, you see, it is different.”
Just then a dapper-looking young fellow came up and asked Miss Matilda if he might have the pleasure of dancing with her that set, and she walked off with him. I took a dislike to that young fellow at once, and felt for “Old Butch,” without knowing what I was about! The fact is, I rather fancied this young woman, and I determined, the next time I met up with her, to give her a better account of Texas, and leave out all about the centipedes and “raw meat.”
John C. Duval, The Adventures of Big-Foot Wallace, ed. Mabel Major and Rebecca W. Smith (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966), 303–307.