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Black beans can kill you - The Mier Expedition
By David Keene
May 17, 2022
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The Keene boys

There were many armed skirmishes between Mexico and the Texans between 1836 when Texas declared independence from Mexico and 1843/44 when Texas defeated Mexico in the battle of San Jacinto. One of the most famous incidents during this period was the Mier Expedition into Mexico from Laredo and the following “Black Bean incident.” There were three Kentucky Keene boys involved with this incident. Edward Keene, Richard Keene, and George Washington Keene. George was late arriving in San Antonio, where the Texan unit originated, so he was not part of the group that was captured in Mier.

On November 25, 1842, a group of about 750 Texans under the command of General Alexander Somervell was sent from San Antonio to Laredo to chase out Mexican forces, but when the Texans arrived, the Mexicans had already left. The group was ordered by Sam Houston to return to San Antonio. The majority of the group left on Dec 19 to return to San Antonio. 308 disobeyed the order and decided they needed more supplies to make the journey back to San Antonio. (Remember this is Christmas time, cold and wet weather.) After some discussion, 261 decided to cross the Rio Grande River on December 20, and appropriate the needed supplies from the small Mexican town of Mier. What they did not know was that a large company of Mexican troops was nearby. A battle ensued and 243 of the Texans were captured. The captured Texans were started on a march to Mexico City, but very soon they attempted to escape. In retaliation, Santa Anna ordered all the prisoners to be shot. However, several of the Mexican commanders persuaded Santa Anna to reduce the punishment to decimate the prisoners, that is, shoot 1 out of 10 of the prisoners.

A clay jar was used to hold 159 white beans and 17 black beans. The prisoners were lined up and each was required to draw a bean from the jar. Those that drew black beans were shot on March 25, 1843. The 2 Keene boys, Richard and Edward, both drew white beans and survived the "Black Bean Incident.“

The survivors of the “bean draw” were marched to Mexico City to the Perote prison. On March 25, 1844, 16 Mier prisoners, including Richard and Edward Keene, escaped and made their way back to Texas. About this time, it became apparent to Santa Anna that the United States was going to annex Texas; he issued an order to release the remaining 121 Mier prisoners on September 12, 1844.

In December 1845, Texas was annexed into the United States as the 28th state. About the same time, the village of Bois d'Arc was renamed Bonham after the Alamo hero James Butler Bonham.

We don’t know a lot about Edward after statehood. We believe he moved to California and spent the rest of his life there. Richard died sometime after the Mier incident. George Keene served time with the U.S. forces that fought in the Mexican American war. George is said to have lived on a plantation in Marion County after the civil war. He married his brother Richard’s widow and the 3 are buried with a common headstone in Jefferson, Texas.

Our Joseph T. Keene is known to have operated an ox wagon freight service between Bonham and Jefferson after the civil war. This raises the question: “Did Joeseph T. and George W. ever meet?”