Dr. Richard Fox Bren-ham arrived at Washington on the Brazos in the spring of 1836, shortly after the Battle of San Jacinto. Born about 1810 in Woodford County, Kentucky, he was educated at Transylvania College.
In a brief “History of Brenham” that was written in 1933 by Mrs. Robert A. Hasskarl, the author stated that Dr. Brenham’s “first place of residence was with Sanford Woodward, on Woodward’s Creek,” about three miles east of what later became Brenham. This was his home up to 1839, when he then went to Austin.
Brenham served the fledgling Republic of Texas as a physician and soldier. Hasskarl described him as “strikingly handsome, tall, with a commanding physique; possessed a superior education, magnetic personality, cheerful disposition and a rare gift of oratory with a natural wit that pleased a crowd.”
In 1842, he joined Alexander Somervill’s Expedition that was ordered as a “punitive expedition against Mexico in retaliation for three predatory raids made by Mexican armies as far as to San Antonio.” A force of about 700 volunteers organized at San Antonio to march toward Mexico on Nov. 25. The expedition successfully chased the Mexican forces to Laredo and beyond the Rio Grande River. There, the expedition was hampered by inclement weather that damaged supplies. Somervill ordered the expedition to disband and return back by way of Gonzales.
Brenham, however, joined a disappointed group under the command of William S. Fisher to continue across the Rio Grande into Mexico to become captured by the Mexicans in what became known as the infamous Mier Expedition.
Previously, Brenham had participated in the ill-fated 1841 President Mirabeau Lamar ordered expedition known as the Texan Santa Fe Expedition to Santa Fe, hoping to establish trade. This expedition also had led to Mexican capture, including imprisonment in Mexico City. Brenham survived this episode to return to Austin in April of 1842.
While the Mier Expedition prisoners were first held at Salado on the route from Matamoros toward Mexico City, they planned an escape. On Feb. 11, 1843, the prisoners launched their escape plan.
Hasskarl described it as a “necessary charge through a narrow door to a courtyard where guards were stationed with fixed bayonets. As the prisoners had absolutely no means of defense, not even a club, it was obvious that the foremost man would perish. Dr. Brenham volunteered for this fatal mission; saying he was unmarried, and being a soldier of fortune, was alone in the world. He led the dash for liberty, killed two of the guards, and had severely wounded the third, when he stumbled and fell directly on the bayonet of his fallen enemy.”
She continued, “the self-sacrificing and chivalrous Dr. Brenham gave his life that his fellow men might have life and liberty.” Though many did escape, others would go on to a tortured imprisonment in the notorious Mexico City Pelote Prison.
Later in 1843, a group of women, who lived in the village called Hickory Point, urged the community to change its name to Brenham in honor of the fallen doctor/soldier. With the 1844 election of Hickory Point as the Washington County Seat, the town name became Brenham.
Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. For more information on the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation or to become a member, go to www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org .