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Archibald Yell

August, 1797 - Unknown

Topic- U.S. Military Preparation, U.S. Support for the War, Troop Movements and Logistics, En Route to the Front, Texas Annexation, Buena Vista/la Angostura A Continent Divided: The U.S.-Mexico War

Born in Jefferson County, Tennessee in August of 1797, Archibald Yell’s family moved to Bedford County, Tennessee while he was still young. In the War of 1812, Yell fought in the Battle of Pensacola, Florida, in November 1814 and under General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. He later fought in the First Seminole War (1817- 1818) in Florida. In 1827, Yell settled in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where he studied law, passed the bar, and began a practice in Fayetteville. Tennessee Congressman James Knox Polk, a personal friend and fellow Democrat, helped persuade President Jackson to appoint Yell a judge in the territorial circuit court of Arkansas. Yell served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1836 to 1839. In 1840 he became Arkansas' second governor, resigning in 1844 to win another term in the U.S. Congress. In 1845 President Polk sent Yell to Texas to help promote public support for the U.S. offer to annex Texas to the Union.

In May 1846 Yell was appointed colonel and commander of the Arkansas Mounted Volunteers. The Arkansas troops joined the Division of Volunteers under the command of General John Ellis Wool at San Antonio de Bexar and from there marched south into Mexico to rendezvous with General Zachary Taylor and the Army of Occupation at Saltillo. General Wool regarded Yell as unable to train and unwilling to discipline the Arkansas volunteers, who quickly gained a reputation as the "Mounted Devils" and "Ransackers" due to their abuse of the Mexican population along the march. The better trained Arkansas companies under the command of captains Albert Pike and John Preston Jr. were assigned to accompany the U.S. engineers on reconnaissance missions in the area. Lieutenant Colonel William S. Harney was placed in command of the Arkansas companies under Yell. After several weeks Harney requested to be transferred back to his former command. On February 9, 1847, following a reported rape near their camp at Agua Nueva, a member of the "Ransackers" was murdered. The following day over a hundred members of the Arkansas volunteers found a number of war refugees hiding in a cave near Catana, Mexico, killing and scalping between twenty and thirty of the hapless victims. General Wool ordered Yell to produce the perpetrators of the massacre, but Yell failed to comply. Wool ordered two Arkansas companies to return to the Rio Grande.

At the Battle of Buena Vista in February 1847, Yell and the Arkansas volunteers, along with the Kentucky mounted volunteers under Colonel Humphrey Marshall were stationed with the baggage train in the U.S. rear at the Hacienda de Buena Vista. General Antonio López de Santa Anna ordered the cavalry under Brigadier General Julián Juvera to attack Yell’s position. At sight of the Mexican lancers, many of the Arkansas and Kentucky volunteers broke and ran, Colonels Yell and Marshall were able to rally a few of the men and check the Mexican assault until reinforced by Captain Enoch Steen and the 1st Regiment of U.S. Dragoons. Colonel Yell was lanced during the skirmish and died of his wounds.

Archibald Yell was originally buried on the Battlefield at Buena Vista, but within months of his death, his body was returned to Arkansas and interred at the Waxhaws Cemetery in Fayetteville. After the completion of the Evergreen Cemetery, Yell was moved to its Masonic section.


Brooks, Nathan Covington A Complete History of the Mexican War 1846-1848: Its Causes, Conduct, and Consequences. The Rio Grande Press, Inc. 1849.

Chamberlin, Samuel E. My Confessions New York, Harper, 1956.

Dougan, Michael B. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture

Hughes, William W. Archibald Yell: An American Hero. Fayetteville University of Arkansas Press, 1988

Meek, Melinda"The Life of Archibald Yell Chapter I: Early Life," Vol. 26, No. 1 (Spring, 1967), 11-23; “Chapter II: The Congressman from Arkansas,” Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol. 26, No. 2, (Summer, 1967), 162-184; “Chapter III: The Chief Executive,” Ibid. Vol. 26, No. 3, (Autumn, 1967)., 226-243; “ Chapter IV: The Return to Congress,” Ibid. Vol. 26, No. 4, (Winter, 1967), 353-378.

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