Authors: Don Worcester
They rushed in and seized the skull from Ellis' hands. The mulatto begged them to free him. CarreÃ±o ordered the two separated and Ellis flogged, and a wheel put around his neck. The officer didn't carry out the order to flog him, but he did have the wheel put around his neck. The wheel was so large Ellis couldn't reach the rim, and he couldn't stand or kneel, grimacing in pain as his muscles protested. He saw CarreÃ±o walk by and look into the room with an expression of satisfaction on his face. After four hours the officer ordered the wheel removed and took Ellis to his cell, again in double shackles.
Ellis was saddened by Luciano's likely death, and bitterly disappointed that he'd failed to escape again. I'd give my life for a chance to kill CarreÃ±o, he thought. He looked around in the unaccustomed dim light for the lizard. “Bill,” he called, “come here,” but the lizard didn't appear.
The next morning he saw the lizard crawling down the wall and reached for it as usual, eager to hold and stroke it. But when he held out his hand for the lizard to crawl on it, Bill backed away. Ellis gave it a few scraps of beef, but whenever he tried to hold it, it ran. He patiently set out to win its confidence again, and after four or five days, he was greatly relieved when it crawled on his hand and cocked its head at him while he talked to it.
Later, Ellis began twisting a small cord out of the palmetto leaves in his mat. In four or five days he had a string about thirty feet long. On tiptoe, he looked out the small window and watched until he saw a woman walking by. “Hello,” he called in Spanish. “Wait a minute.”
The woman stopped. “I can't see you,” she said.
“I'm a prisoner,” he told her.“Will you do me a favor?”
“What is it?”
“I want some
I'll lower a string for it.” When she agreed, he tossed some money through the window.
After she had gone, Ellis tied the string to his arm, feeling like a lazy fisherman waiting for a bite. He felt a tug on it, and the woman said, “You can pull it up now.” He carefully pulled on the string, until a cow's bladder came safely through the small window. It was filled with
Ellis took a sip of the powerful liquor, then lay back on his mat. After half an hour he heard his cell door open, although it wasn't time for food and inspection. He quickly hid the bladder in his water pot and put his old hat over it. An elderly priest entered.
“My son,” he said, “an officer of the guard told me you have tamed a lizard, and I came to see if it's true.” Ellis took Bill out from under his blanket, where he was hiding, talked to him and stroked his back. The old priest was delighted.
“Man has the power to do anything he sets his mind to,” he said. He gave Ellis a few coins and left. Ellis pondered his words. I'm going to get away from here, he thought. It can be done somehow, and I'm going to do it.
One morning late in 1810, a captain opened the cell door and stood in the doorway, eying Ellis a moment before speaking. “Brigands and desperadoes under Padre Hidalgo have stirred up an Indian
,” he said. “All prisoners who agree to serve in the army to help crush those monsters will be released.” He paused, while Ellis tried to comprehend his message. He had no love for the army, but anything was better than this. “Is it your wish to serve?” the captain continued, looking at the tiny cell and wrinkling his nose in disgust.
“Yes, even getting killed would be better than rotting here.”
As he clanked through the cell door in his shackles, Ellis stopped and turned, looking up at the wall. “Goodbye, friend,” he said. “This time I won't be back.” The officer stared at him, bent over, and peered up at the cell wall, wrinkling his nose at the stench. Seeing no one, he shook his head as if he should have known that all prisoners were a bit loco, then led the way to where others were gathering. When a soldier removed the shackles from his arms, Ellis held up his scarred wrists. He'd become so accustomed to the weight of the irons that his arms seemed to float up toward his face.
William Danlin, bearded and long-haired, and still limping from the old arrow wound, hurried to Ellis and shook hands with him. “Ellis,” he exclaimed, “I'm sure glad to see you again, and I know Cooley will be. I never had a chance to tell you before, but Fero is no friend of yours. When he and Tom House and I were fixin' to escape, Tom and I wanted to include you and Duncan. Fero wouldn't hear of it, but he never said why.”
“Thanks. I'll steer clear of him.”
A soldier handed each of them cotton pants, shirts, and leather sandals; another issued muskets. Blinking his eyes in the sunlight, Ellis marched with the other prisoners to army barracks near the town, where they were placed in two local militia companies. They were drilled on the parade ground for hours in the heat and dust. Weak from the months of confinement, Ellis collapsed on his mat at the end of each day, sure he'd never be able to rise again. By the end of two weeks of daily drilling, however, he felt strong and was eager to see the last of Acapulco.
With a company of uniformed regular troops, who acted as if they couldn't even see the shabby citizen soldiers, the two militia companies boarded small ships that tacked their way up the coast to the mouth of a river. The only time I was ever on a ship, Ellis thought, as he gazed at the ocean and sniffed the salt air, I was hiding in a barrel. This is better. When they landed and he took a few steps, his legs felt peculiarly unsteady, and he noticed that others also staggered a little. Captain NicolÃ¡s CosÃo lined them up under coconut palms.
“Men, we have reports that the monster Morelos is somewhere inland, not many miles from here,” he told them.
“No doubt he'll try to ambush us, so we must locate his camp before we march. Who will volunteer to find it?”
Ellis, Danlin, and six Mexican militiamen from Acapulco responded, and set out upstream among the palms along the river. There was no breeze, and the heat was oppressive. Ellis wiped the sweat from his face. “Who is this monster we're looking for?” he asked a short, swarthy militiaman who walked at his side.
“He is Padre JosÃ© MarÃa Morelos,” the man answered, “but he is no monster,
He is a good man, a patriot who wants to free our land from Spain. When the revolution began, Padre Hidalgo sent him here with only twenty-five men. Now they say he has a small army. The only title he will accept is âServant of the Nation.'”
“Then we must warn him that the royalists are coming.”
That's why we're here.”
After several hours of plodding inland, the sweating men came to a farm that had many fowls of various kinds. The hungry militiamen bargained with the farmer for a few chickens, then lit a fire.
“You wait here while I locate the camp,” Ellis told them. “No need for all of us to go.” They gladly agreed. Danlin limped toward Ellis, intending to accompany him.
“You stay here and rest your foot,” Ellis told him. “I'll come or send word when I find him.” He walked on alone.
In half an hour, Ellis came to a trail leading through tall broad-leafed trees and flowering vines away from the river. He followed it a short distance, startling large green-and-yellow birds that raucously scolded him as they flew away. Ellis heard voices and crouched on the blanket of leaves in the underbrush until forty or fifty men were near. Among them he recognized several former prisoners, and knew they'd deserted to the patriots. When he stepped out and hailed them, they greeted him as a friend, and led him to the rebel camp. There he saw at least five hundred men of all colors, mostly Indians and mestizos, but also blacks and mulattoes. He looked around for their leader, wondering what sort of a man he might be.
“Where's Morelos?” he asked. One of the ragged men pointed to a group standing in the shade of a huge tree, but Ellis could see only their backs. He walked up and peered over the shoulders of the nearest men, but saw no one who looked like he might be the commander of such a motley army. In the center of the circle, a heavy-set individual, who was little more than five feet tall, was speaking in a low, almost musical voice. His features were coarse, his lips thick, his face marked with moles. His eyes and skin were brown, his eyebrows thick and joined above his nose, on which was a large scar. His face reflected boundless energy and uncompromising determination. Covering his head was a brightly colored kerchief. A slender chain around his neck held a small silver crucifix.
He must be the chaplain, Ellis thought, wondering which of the others was Morelos. All but one of the men around the short man left. He looked at Ellis with raised eyebrows, his glance searching. “How can I help you?” he asked.
“Excuse me,” Ellis stammered. “I was told that General Morelos was here, but....”
“I've been a general only a short time,” Morelos said, his tone both grave and amused. “I'm afraid I'll never look like one.” He smiled, and Ellis instantly felt drawn to him.“Why do you want to see me?”
“I was a prisoner in the San Diego Castle,” Ellis replied. “They let us out to fight in the royalist army. We landed at the mouth of the river, and eight of us volunteered to find your camp for them, but really so we could warn you they are coming.” He told Morelos where Danlin and the others were waiting. Morelos sent the man at his side to bring them in, then faced Ellis again.
“I'm not surprised they have come,” he said. “I expected that. Thanks to you, they won't take us by surprise. What will you do now?”
“Right now, all I can think about is getting back to the States somehow,” Ellis answered. “I've been a Spanish prisoner for ten years.”
Morelos sighed. “Ten years,” he said. “Maybe you're fortunate. We've been prisoners of Spain for nearly three hundred years. Now we intend to throw off our yokes, but the struggle promises to be long and bitter. Look at us!” He gestured toward the ragged men squatting in the shade, sharpening knives or machetes. “We have to fight them almost with our bare hands.”
Ellis looked around and shook his head. How could this ragtag army led by a plucky little priest with no military training hope to defeat veteran Spanish troops? Their cause was hopelessâall were doomed to die in battle, or worse, be shot in the back as traitors.
“I don't see many guns,” he admitted.
“No, and we have little powder for the few we have.” Ellis thought about that.
“If you have any sulfur and saltpeter,” he said, “I can at least make some gunpowder for you.”
“We have a small supply of both. Make all you can.”
Ellis got some of the women camp followers to grind the saltpeter and sulfur on the stone
they used for making commeal. He mixed the powder, then approached Morelos again. “If I go back to the royalists, I know I can get at least seventy men to come over. They'll have guns, too.” The stocky priest looked at Ellis for a moment, and it seemed that he was taking his measure as a man.
“Go ahead, Elias,” he said, “for I trust you not to betray us. But make it appear that you escaped. If they're the least bit suspicious, they'll shoot you on the spot. They may, anyway.”
Ellis and Danlin slipped away that night, and the next day told CosÃo about their capture and lucky escape. The captain looked at them through narrowed eyes. “They were going to shoot us in the morning,” Ellis explained. “We had to get away.” CosÃo shrugged and ordered them to join the force of regulars and militia again.
“You'll have your chance to get even,” he said.
“I sure hope so,” Ellis replied. They marched to Tres Palos, closer to the rebel camp, where they joined a larger force under Captain Francisco Paris, who was preparing to attack the rebels.
Because none of the militia had uniforms, Paris sent Ellis and others to shoot cranes so they could use the white feathers to distinguish the militia from the rebels. Ellis slipped away to a house where he found two women whose husbands he suspected were with Morelos.
“I've got to get word to Morelos,” he told them. One cautiously nodded. “Tell him Elias said to send as many men as he can to that abandoned house by the creek. I'll meet them there tonight and we'll capture the royalist camp and artillery.” He hoped Morelos wouldn't think it was a trap.
That night Ellis and two Mexicans, who were rebels at heart, slipped out of camp, knowing that the sentry guarding the artillery also favored the rebel cause. In the light of a full moon, they waited anxiously at the abandoned house, listening intently. Overhead, bats squeaked as they flitted after insects, and owls hooted mournfully. “I hope they come,” Ellis said impatiently. “It's too good an opportunity to miss.” The others agreed.
About midnight, Ellis heard the muffled sound of footsteps. He and the two Mexicans walked quietly toward the sound, straining their eyes in the moonlight. “Who is it?” Ellis called softly in Spanish.
Captain Miguel Avila cautiously approached, leaving the others behind. “Elias,” he asked, “is that you?” Ellis stepped forward and shook hands with him.
“How many men?”
“About five hundred,” Avila replied, “but only thirty-six have guns.”
“No matter. If all goes right we shouldn't have to fire a shot.” Ellis explained his plan. Then he and his two companions led the way across the shallow creek and through the grass to the hill where the sentry waited by the five cannon. Avila quietly ordered some of his men to swing the guns around and aim them at the sleeping royalist soldiers, while Ellis lit a small fire with flint and steel. When he had five sticks burning, he handed four of them to others, then held the last one above the touchhole of a cannon. The others stood with their matches poised over the remaining artillery pieces.
“Order them to surrender,” Ellis told Avila.