Alexander Wells had the advantage of a good physical constitution. During the first year at college his reputation as an athlete had been firmly established by many a hard fought contest in the college games. The last two years he had not taken an active part in them, as his studies had required his complete attention. On his return home, it was thought by parents and sisters that rest and recreation would soon restore the health of this overworked young graduate, who was now two years past his majority. Two months of rest, however, failed to produce any improvement, but the family physician would not admit that there was immediate danger, and declared the trouble simply the result of overstudy, advising travel. This advice was very satisfactory to the young man, for he had a longing to see other sections of the country.
The elder Wells some years previously had become interested in western and southern real estate, and among other investments which he had made was the purchase of an old Spanish land grant on a stream called the Salado, west of San Antonio, Texas. These land grants were made by the crown of Spain to favorite subjects. They were known by name, which they always retained when changing ownership. Some of these tracts were princely domains, and were bartered about as though worthless, often changing owners at the card-table.
So when travel was suggested to Wells, junior, he expressed a desire to visit this family possession, and possibly spend a winter in its warm climate. This decision was more easily reached from the fact that there was an abundance of game on the land, and being a devoted sportsman, his own consent was secured in advance. No other reason except that of health would ever have gained the consent of his mother to a six months’ absence. But within a week after reaching the decision, the young man had left New York and was on his way to Texas. His route, both by water and rail, brought him only within eighty miles of his destination, and the rest of the distance he was obliged to travel by stage.
San Antonio at this time was a frontier village, with a mixed population, the Mexican being the most prominent inhabitant. There was much to be seen which was new and attractive to the young Easterner, and he tarried in it several days, enjoying its novel and picturesque life. The arrival and departure of the various stage lines for the accommodation of travelers like himself was of more than passing interest. They rattled in from Austin and Laredo. They were sometimes late from El Paso, six hundred miles to the westward. Probably a brush with the Indians, or the more to be dreaded Mexican bandits (for these stages carried treasure—gold and silver, the currency of the country), was the cause of the delay. Frequently they carried guards, whose presence was generally sufficient to command the respect of the average robber.