April 3

This Day in History

Old West

Apr 3, 1817:

Texas Ranger "Big Foot" Wallace born

The legendary Texas Ranger and frontiersman "Big Foot" Wallace is born in Lexington, Kentucky.

In 1836, 19-year-old William Alexander Anderson Wallace received news that one of his brothers had been killed in the Battle of Goliad, an early confrontation in the Texan war of independence with Mexico. Pledging to "take pay of the Mexicans" for his brother's death, Wallace left Lexington and headed for Texas. By the time he arrived, the war was over, but Wallace found he liked the spirited independence of the new Republic of Texas and decided to stay.

Over six feet tall and weighing around 240 pounds, Wallace's physique made him an intimidating man, and his unusually large feet won him the nickname "Big Foot." In 1842, he finally had a chance to fight Mexicans and joined with other Texans to repulse an invasion by the Mexican General Adrian Woll. During another skirmish with Mexicans, Wallace was captured and endured two years of hard time in the notoriously brutal Perote Prison in Vera Cruz before finally being released in 1844.

After returning to Texas, Wallace decided to abandon the formal Texan military force for the less rigid organization of the Texas Rangers. Part law-enforcement officers and part soldiers, the Texas Rangers fought both bandits and Indians in the vast, sparsely populated reaches of the Texan frontier. Williams served under Ranger John Coffee Hays until the start of the Civil War in 1861. Opposed to secession but unwilling to fight against his own people, Williams spent most of the war defending Texas against Indian attacks along the frontier.

During his many years in the wilds of Texas, Wallace had hundreds of adventures. Once, Indians attacked Wallace while he was working as a stage driver on the hazardous San Antonio-El Paso route. He escaped with his life but the Indians stole his mules, leaving him stranded in the Texas desert. Forced to walk to El Paso, Wallace later claimed he ate 27 eggs at the first house he encountered after his long journey, then he went into town to have a "real meal."

In his later years, Wallace decided he had enough of life as a fighter and adventurer. In exchange for his loyal service, the state of Texas granted him land along the Medina River and in Frio County in the southern part of the state. Always happy to regale listeners with highly embellished tales of his frontier days, Wallace became a contemporary folk hero to the people of Texas. As one of his admirers concluded, Wallace was the perfect symbol of "old-timey free days, free ways, and free land."

Wallace died in 1899 and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

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