James W. Paulsen 0000-00-00 00:00:00
The San Antonio Bench and Bar Fight a Mexican Army and Lose Even a casual glance reveals that page 43 of Bexar County Minute Book B is a little odd. The clerk’s elegant script summarizes courtroom activity for Sept. 9, 1842, the fourth day of San Antonio’s fall session. Page 43 records several grand jury indictments (cattle theft being the dominant theme) and states that a probate show-cause hearing would be held “tomorrow morning or as soon thereafter as counsel can be heard.” The minutes stop there. The bottom half of page 43 is written in a different hand, with a different color of ink, and a March 1843 date. The first entry recites the passage of special legislation “that the records of the District Court of said County of Bexar … on the sixth to the ninth inclusive of September … are hereby legalized in the same manner and form as if the Judge of Said Court had signed the same.” Court procedure at that time called for the minute book to be available for inspection on the last day of the session, after which the judge would sign and certify the record. What happened to the judge, and why did the court session last only four days? Therein lies one of the stranger tales in Texas legal history. The Texas Revolution did not end at San Jacinto. San Antonio residents learned this the hard way in March 1842, when Mexican troops captured and briefly held the town. District Judge Anderson Hutchinson and his family escaped but lost their furniture and most of their clothing. During the summer, the Republic’s Congress met and debated, but ultimately did little. However, President Sam Houston exhorted judges to continue in their duties to demonstrate the new nation’s stability. Judge Hutchinson obediently began the court’s fall term just as rumors of a new Mexican incursion reached San Antonio. Scouts were dispatched while court business went on. Unfortunately, the scouts failed to detect a force of about 1,400 Mexicans — infantry, cavalry, and artillery — until they appeared at the edge of town. Local lawyers, litigants, court personnel, and attorneys from surrounding counties rushed to reinforce the small local garrison, but the outcome was inevitable. Surprised and vastly outnumbered, the impromptu defense force surrendered after brief but spirited resistance. In his official report, Mexican General Adrian Woll marveled that “the enemies had abandoned themselves to confidence to such an extent that the Court Justices appointed by the so-called Government of Texas, had arrived to open the court sessions.” Judge Hutchinson was not lucky this time. The judge, clerk, district attorney, and all attorneys attending the court session were marched to Mexico as prisoners of war. Most remained there for more than two years. After his release, Judge Hutchinson decided to return to Mississippi. It is said that even the darkest cloud has a silver lining, and this episode is no exception. The attorneys who went to court but ended up at hard labor in a Mexican prison could take comfort in the fact that the Republic Congress enacted a special law exempting San Antonio’s defenders from all tax liability during the period of their imprisonment. By James W. Paulsen
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