OURY, WILLIAM SANDERS
OURY, WILLIAM SANDERS (1817–1887). William Sanders Oury was a soldier, patriot, Texas Ranger, and mayor of Tucson, Arizona. He was the oldest of nine children of Augustus Oury, and born at Abingdon, Virginia, on August 13, 1817. On June 9, 1836, eighteen year old William Oury was arrested for stealing money from sealed letters in the Abingdon Post Office on the testimony of his father. Oury escaped jail soon afterward, and was briefly recaptured before escaping again. He came to Texas on his own in 1833 after his family settled in Missouri.
During the Texas Revolution he served in the Alamo garrison, and was allegedly one of the men who rode to San Antonio de Béxar with William Barret Travis. Oury may have been sent from the Alamo as a courier about February 29, 1836. Thus, he consequently missed the battle of the Alamo. He later served as a courier for Sam Houston and took part in the battle of San Jacinto. By November 1836, Oury was making amends and proudly serving the new Texas Republic as a third corporal in Capt. Robert B. Irvine’s Company of the First Infantry Regiment. Oury was discharged from the Texas regiment on December 30, 1837. Oury appeared to prefer employment with mercantile stores and surveying, rather than on land acquisition. On August 15, 1838, a survey of 640 acres of land in Polk County was made in Oury's name for his military service. The land was forfeited, however, when he failed to follow up with the proper paperwork.
In 1840 he served with the Texas Rangers in the battle of Plum Creek and Bandera Pass against the Comanche Indians. He served in the company of Capt. John C. Hays. In 1842 Oury was a member of the abortive Mier expedition. He was one of the fortunate ones who survived the expedition and the execution lottery at the hands of its Mexican captors (see BLACK BEAN EPISODE). A few weeks after Hays’ famed victory over the Comanche at the battle of Walker Creek, Oury joined Hays’ unit on June 27, 1844, but he saw little fighting. A year later, Oury enlisted in Capt. Robert Addison “Add” Gillespie and First Sgt. William “Bigfoot” Wallace’s Company, which was federalized into Col. Hays’ First Regiment of U.S. Mounted Riflemen for the looming Mexican War.
He was an interpreter for Gen. Zachary Taylor during the battle of Monterrey. Oury was near Capt. Gillespie when the officer was mortally wounded while leading a charge at the battle of Monterey. After the American victory the regiment was discharged. Oury immediately returned to San Antonio to appear at an October 17, 1846, memorial for his fallen commander. Oury began farming around San Jose Mission along the San Antonio River with former Hays ranger Charles L. Pyron, and they bought land there in 1848. His family joined him there in 1848, but returned to Missouri after only eight months. The next year Oury married Inez Garcia of Durango, Mexico, and they followed the Gold Rush to San Francisco, California, and eventually Sacramento. Oury did not prosper from the endeavor, and his growing family headed back to Texas in 1856. Their wagon stopped in the frontier town of Tucson, Arizona, where Oury started a small cattle ranch, and became a respected citizen and community leader. Oury killed two men in separate duels, worked as an agent for the Butterfield Overland Mail, and elected sheriff of Tucson several times. As a Confederate sympathizer, some of Oury’s land and other property were confiscated by the U.S. Government after the war. In 1864 Oury became the first mayor of Tucson.
On April 30, 1871, Mayor Oury was one of the leaders in the infamous Camp Grant Massacre committed in retaliation for Apache depredations against settlers. The force of mostly Mexicans and members of the Papago Tribe indiscriminately killed numerous women and children on the U.S. Indian Reservation. In an 1874 correspondence with the Texas State Comptroller, Oury unconvincingly stated that he served as a volunteer at the siege of San Antonio in the fall of 1835, and claimed that he followed Col. Edward Burleson on the long retreat to East Texas. In 1884, Oury was elected the first president of the Arizona Pioneers Historical Society.
William Sanders Oury died at his home in Tucson, Arizona, on March 31, 1887. Oury's grandson, Col. Cornelius C. Smith and other family members allegedly published exaggerated accounts of their ancestor's service in the Texas Revolution, Mier Expedition, and Mexican War. Official documentation for Oury's military service appears within the muster rolls of Captains Irvine, Hays and Gillespie, while his early exploits appear in scattered sources.
Bill Groneman, Alamo Defenders (Austin: Eakin, 1990). Cornelius C. Smith, Jr., William Sanders Oury (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1967). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin. Amelia W. Williams, "A Critical Study of the Siege of the Alamo and of the Personnel of Its Defenders," (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Texas, 1931; rpt., Southwestern Historical Quarterly 36–37 [April 1933-April 1934]). Alexandria Gazette, June 20, 1836. Republic Claims 79-542 and 232-113, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas. William Orrey, Texas Adjutant General, Ranger Rolls, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, Austin, Texas. Cornelius C. Smith, William Sanders Oury: History-maker of the Southwest (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1967). Charles D. Spurlin, Texas Volunteers in the Mexican War (Cincinnati: Eakin Press, 1998). Boston Herald, March 26, 1883.
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Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on December 4, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.