By: Richard G. Santos
Preparing to invade Mexico 165 years ago, the unit under the command of General John E. Wool left interesting descriptions of the Winter Garden area of Texas. Serving as war correspondent, scientist, translator and advisor with the unit marching from San Antonio, Texas to Guerrero, Coahuila was Josiah Gregg. Born in Tennessee in 1806, Gregg’s family had moved to Missouri when he was six years of age. He studied law and medicine and is said to have practiced both professions. Living in Arkansas in 1831 Josiah joined a trade caravan to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Life in the Mexican Province of New Mexico appealed to Josiah for he took a job as a bookkeeper and stayed in Santa Fe. In 1844 he published a two volume book titled Commerce Of The Prairies. His insight and description of the geography, people, culture, flora and fauna of New Mexico became popular at a time when war with Mexico was on the horizon. Not surprisingly, in 1846 he was invited to join the U.S. Army invading Mexico via the Winter Garden area.
U.S. General Wool led his force back-tracking Mexican General Adrian Woll’s 1842 route from Guerrero, Coahuila to San Antonio. This was the same trail used to surprise San Antonio by Spanish Colonel Ignacio Elizondo in 1813, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and the Vanguard Brigade in 1836, General Rafael Vasquez in 1841 and General Adrian Woll in 1842. While the rebels in San Antonio in 1813, as well as 1835-36, patrolled the Caminos Reales, the force attacking the city by surprise used the least traveled Smugglers Road. In 1847, serving under the topographical unit of Captain Hughes, Josiah Gregg kept a most informative and important diary describing the water crossings, campsites, mileage from one campsite to another, temperature readings, flora and fauna from San Antonio, Texas to Guerrero, Coahuila and beyond. The Woll-Wool trail was actually the Smugglers’ Trail used since the 1740’s by merchants from Coahuila, Texas and Louisiana. As such, it was not recognized as an official road or Camino Real. In 1842, Mexican Gen. Woll used Paso del Nogal in crossing the Rio Grande and was erroneously said to have blazed a new trail to San Antonio. The trail traversed present Maverick, Dimmit, Zavala, Uvalde and Medina counties before entering Bexar one mile below and two miles above the present City of Castroville. The lower crossing was good for cavalry, but not wagons, and the upper was the opposite.
In regard to contemporary communities, the Woll-Wool-Smugglers Road passed near El Indio, skirted Carrizo Springs and Crystal City on the west, passed through present Chaparosa Ranch west of La Pryor, crossed the Nueces downriver from Highway 83 and headed northeast via present Sabinal, Hondo, Quihe and Castroville before entering Bexar at either crossing of the Medina River. In a report dated December 7, 1847, Gregg described the area between San Antonio and the Nueces River as very fertile with plenty of water and suitable for development of agricultural endeavors. The area from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande was described as semi-arid brush country with natural springs sprinkled throughout the area.
The negative side of his report was the erroneous presentation of the history of San Antonio and description of the cuisine of Tejanos and Coahuilences. The paragraph describing the food is surprising as Gregg had lived in New Mexico where he had encountered and consumed the cuisine of the Manitos. Yet, he described Mexican food as “detestable.” Obviously referring to Chilepiquin, which is native to the area, Gregg noted that “everything is rendered as hot as fire by red pepper, which enters in enormous quantities into each dish as an essential ingredient.” Gregg wrote, “the favorite dish in Mexico is the frijoles.” He described it as a “very agreeable vegetable.” Gregg also described the grinding of corn to make masa and the process of hand-made corn tortillas. He added tortillas served as bread, forks and/or spoons. His biggest compliment was surprising. “In no portion of the world have I seen better wheat bread, cakes or confectionary. The Mexicans are peculiarly skillful in the preparation of fruits and confectionary.”
>Gregg, his diary and brief history is extremely valuable. Moreover, it documents the importance of the Smugglers Road of the 1700’s that became better known as General Woll’s Road.