GOD & TEXAS: From criminal to hero


Deserter! In April 1836, both Abraham Scales and John Garner were tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by firing squad for deserting the Texas army. When duty and honor were needed most, these two men were AWOL. With Mexican General Santa Anna’s army advancing, Texan General Sam Houston was alarmed about his undisciplined troops. A strong judgment against these two deserters would send a message to the whole army. On April 2, Scales and Garner were brought before the court-martial board. After their unanimous conviction, their execution date was set for April 3. When Houston was informed of the verdicts, he said, “The man who abandons his post is more dangerous to the security of the army than twenty out of our lines. The punishment for delinquency must be proportional to the fault of the individual.” The judgment of execution was confirmed. Abraham Scales was respected among his fellow soldiers, and even the camp surgeon testified that he was fit for service. Appeals were made to General Houston to be lenient with Private Scales because he was repentant and wanted to remain in the army. Houston responded by overturning the judgment against Scales with a full pardon. A few days later, Scales again deserted the army and disappeared. Conversely, John Garner was considered a rogue among the troops. Most were agreeable to the judgment of death for him, and no one pleaded for his life to be spared. At the appointed time, the grave had been dug, with the coffin beside it. Blindfolded, Garner knelt before twelve marksmen as they aimed at his body. Suddenly, Colonel George W. Hockley rode into camp with a pardon for Garner from General Houston. Houston had reconsidered the charges against Garner and said that he hoped that by saving his life, it would “guarantee for his future good conduct and obedience to the rules and regulations of the army.” Garner returned to service and became a hero in the Battle of San Jacinto. Garner’s heroic exploits are briefly stated on Texas Historical Marker “No 18 – Vince's Bridge destroyed by military permission April 21, 1836 by Deaf Smith, John Coker, Denmore Reves, John Garner, John Rainwater, Moses Lapham, V.P. Alsbury. This historic deed is believed to have insured the capture of Santa Anna.” Within weeks of his scheduled execution, Garner volunteered to join Deaf Smith in a dangerous mission. The destruction of Vince’s bridge impeded reinforcements from helping the Mexican Army, and it delayed Santa Anna as he tried to escape. The destruction of the bridge also committed the Texan Army to fight without a means of retreat. The wayward life of John Garner illustrates our own guilt before a merciful God. Romans 6:23 NLT states, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” As we repent and confess our sins to God, we will receive His mercy and righteous pardon.


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