The Forgotten Hero: Ben Milam

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Tony Maples Photography


The Forgotten Hero Ben Milam

Image: freemasonryresources.com

Ben was a high-ranking Freemason when he converted, but he doesn’t seem to have told the bishop about it. At the time, Freemasonry was proscribed by the Catholic Church and it’s still frowned on. The Knights of Columbus, the Catholic men’s brotherhood, was specifically established in the US to give Catholic men an alternative to the Freemasons. That didn’t mean Catholics–some of them very important Catholics– weren’t Freemasons. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna y Perez de LeBron, who held the title–among others–of ‘Defender of the Faith,’ was a practicing Freemason. His display of the Masonic ‘brother in distress’ sign to Sam Houston, another Freemason, after his capture, probably saved him from almost immediate hanging and certainly contributed to the, in effect, VIP treatment he got from Houston and the other Texas officials, most of whom were Masons.

The Forgotten Hero Ben Milam

Image: johnwayne-thealamo.com, Ben Milam leads Texians in an assault on San Antonio in the Siege of Bejar, December, 1835.

Ben Milam helped plan and personally led the assault on Bejar–and almost lived through it. The battle was mostly over when he stopped next to a tree in the back yard of the de Veramendi house. Oral history, passed down through the generations from those who were there to their descendants, says Ben had a reason for stopping by the tree. He hadda pee! While he was engaged in this most intimate act, a Mexican sniper shot him through the head.

The Forgotten Hero Ben Milam
Photo: Terry Jeanson, the Milam cypress tree as viewed from the bridge near the intersection of Commerce and Soledad.

Whether the Mexican rifleman chose that particularly intimate moment to shoot Ben down or not we don’t know for sure, but the story’s been around for about 170 years now. Trouble is, it couldn’t have been a ‘Mexican sniper,’ because the Mexican army had no snipers. What they had were special rifle battalions of highly-trained, well-treated troops who were armed with British-made .64 caliber Baker rifles.

In fact, the whole Mexican Army was copied–weapons, organization, and tactics–from the British Army of the Napoleonic Wars. Santa Anna may have called himself ‘The Napoleon of the West,’ but he certainly appreciated the organization and tactics of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, who was primarily responsible for the downfall of Bonaparte. As in the British Army, the Mexican Army’s rifle battalions were well-trained in the use of their weapons on individual targets. The worst of the rifle troops were pretty fair shots, while the best were certainly equal to anything on the Texican side.