- A Brave Boy and a Good Soldier: John C. C. Hill and the Texas Expedition to Mier
In the thirteenth century, thirty thousand French children led by Stephen of Cloyes embarked on a crusade to reclaim the Holy Lands. Other than its being a disaster, historians know almost nothing of the crusade or the fate of the thirty thousand young crusaders. Six hundred years later, a young Texas farmboy, John C. C. Hill, joined family and neighbors bound on a frontier crusade. Unlike the French children's fate, however, Hill's adventure has not languished but instead lives in a skillfully written short history of Hill, his fellow Texans, and the Mier raid. In 1842, fourteen-year-old John C. C. Hill convinced his father, Asa, to allow young John to accompany him and others on a reprisal expedition against Mexico's incursion at San Antonio. The expedition to Mier culminated in the infamous black bean incident that cost seventeen Texans their lives. Hill's courageous fighting at Mier earned him the respect of his adversaries, one of whom sent Hill to Mexico City, where he lived as a quasi-adopted son of Santa Anna. Educated at the Colegio de Minería, Hill became a successful engineer, respected by Mexicans and Texans but an object of curiosity and some suspicion for his biculturalism. Hill's surviving the Mier expedition and his successful career in his enemy's backyard earned John Hill a unique niche in Texas lore.
Amberson's impressive research enables Brave Boy to tell its own story. Through memoirs and letters, Hill and others recall, explain, describe, and otherwise take you back into their uncertain, anxious world from frontier Texas to sophisticated Mexico City. Hill's youthful naiveté evolves into a more worldly awareness and, on [End Page 410] occasion, cunning that rescues an old benefactor's brother. Despite the hostilities that eventually brought Hill into the world of his Mexican enemy, Hill bore no contempt for this new society. By all accounts from him, his brother, and those who met Hill, he became a universal citizen bearing an affection and respect for his adopted culture as well as his native Texas.
A combination of several photographs, period drawings, and two maps illustrate Amberson's biography. Of interest to the reader with limited exposure to Texas history is a timeline beginning with March 6, 1836 (the Alamo's fall) to May 8–9, 1846 (the battles at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma). The timeline provides a sense of perspective as the reader follows young Hill from Texas into his new life in Mexico. Also of interest is the list of characters who appear throughout the biography. Longer histories preclude tools such as these but for the casual reader, such aids are welcome.
While Brave Boy is a simply written history, aimed toward a younger reader, it must not be dismissed as a "children's book." If this is junior high literature, this is how it ought to be done. Amberson skillfully weaves dialogue and well-researched fact showing respect for both her craft and her reader. Brave Boy stands on forty-two primary sources and forty-one secondary sources, the effect of which provides compelling drama of battle and personal triumph. Throughout the book, Hill remains the center of the narrative with emphasis on the Mier expedition and its aftermath with Hill. The Mier expedition put Hill on a course toward a broader world than that which his rustic life at Fayetteville, Texas, would have provided. Amberson's epilogue about Hill's graduation from Mexico's prestigious Colegio de Minería provides an upbeat conclusion that destiny is, at the end, a consequence of one's own making. From combatant to captive and finally to renowned engineer, John Hill's life reminds us that neighboring cultures can, and have, produced together extraordinary people even...