Saturday, April 23, 2011


As a Native Texan I write this post from my mind and not my heart, letting the historical record guide my words. On the occasion of this great state’s 175th anniversary, let’s pursue the truth with an even greater vengeance.

The conflict we know as the Texas Revolution certainly appears to have been inevitable. You had the need of a new country (Mexico) to attract settlers to its poorest and one of its sparsest populated states (Coahuila y Tejas) which can only be characterized as undeveloped wilderness. Residents of the nearby United States were attracted by the promise of inexpensive land and economic opportunity. Illegal immigration from the east into Texas was not uncommon and in 1825 the government of Mexico and the state of Coahuila y Tejas adopted what was known as the Empresario System in order to colonize and develop Coahuila y Tejas by a strategy of selective immigration and assimilation. While this was a laudable strategy, the Mexican government and the Empresarios eventually proved they were incapable of enforcing its stipulations.

The Empresario System allowed immigration agents such as Stephen F. Austin to bring in families and provided land incentives for their success. They came in droves all too willing to carve out opportunities for themselves though some were motivated by the initial stages of what would become known as Manifest Destiny. Though no premeditated conspiracy has ever been proved, it would be hard to think that the US government was not aware of the ultimate consequences of that immigration.

Many Texians were only paying lip service, if that, to their contract with the Mexican Government which included their conversion to Catholicism, learning Spanish and not embracing the institution of slavery, forbidden by the Mexican government. The greater majority of Protestant Texians did not convert to Catholicism and many supported the institution of slavery. Indeed, when Texas was ultimately admitted to the United States in 1845, it came in as a slave state.

Then, when the Mexican government clumsily though legitimately expressed concerns that their invited, mostly Anglo guests in Texas were not abiding by their emigration agreement, those Texians (independent by necessity) pushed back becoming ever more bold and defiant (Fredonia – Spark of the Revolution?). In the midst of all this the Mexican government itself was deeply troubled politically, in constant turmoil, sending conflicting messages to the Texians and their own citizenry.

The bubble of civility burst in 1835 when the charismatic though arrogant, corrupt and even delusional President of Mexico Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón (aka Santa Anna) who styled himself "The Savior of the Motherland" and "The Napoleon of the West" abolished the Republic and the 1824 Constitution he helped create and declared himself Dictator. Santa Anna installed a centralized dictatorship backed by the military openly declaring that, “Despotism is the proper government for them.” However you perceive Santa Anna, he influenced Spanish and Mexican politics and government, for forever and a day.

Santa Anna’s dismemberment of the Mexican Republic was not received well by the Texians who were used to an independent, representative Jacksonian Federalist model and the promises of a more benevolent, decentralized government. They resisted and were met with a determined Santa Anna who pledged to use force to, “reduce the malcontents to obedience.” For Santa Anna it was the beginning of the end (in fact, several beginnings and endings) that at one point in 1869 saw him selling chiclet to a businessman in New York City in order to fund yet another revolution. This man was hero and villain throughout his life especially to his fellow countryman who saw him as President of Mexico on eleven non-consecutive occasions over a period of 22 years though then periodically exiled him for 20 of his 82 years – the ultimate love-hate relationship.

The Battle of Gonzales when coupled with the earlier Anahuac and Velasco Disturbances, Santa Anna’s brutal and horrific handling of the Zacatecas Revolt, the call to disarm militias, the order to expel all illegal immigrants, unwarranted and illegal imprisonment of a then loyal Stephen F. Austin, the denial of state’s rights with the dissolution of the Constitution of 1824 turned out to be the “Lexington of Texas” and the first formal military engagement of the Texas Revolution. The attack on Texian Jesse McCoy by a Mexican soldier in the Dewitt Colony was perceived by many as unwarranted military brutality and appears to have dramatically altered the sentiments of the loyal DeWitt colonists. For many it was the straw that broke the camels’ back. We note that an ever motivated Jesse was one of the 32 Gonzales Rangers killed at The Alamo.

The Battle of Gonzales was “fought” between rebellious Texian settlers and a detachment of Mexican army troops in Ezekial Williams’ corn and watermelon fields not so ironically near Gonzales, Texas, on October 2, 1835. While Mexican authorities had given the settlers of Gonzales a mostly useless spiked bronze six-pounder cannon in 1831 to help protect them from frequent Comanche raids, they feared the Texians would turn the weapon against them and requested its return. Their request was dismissed and after what was a short fire fight between a reinforced and determined citizenry in Gonzalez, the Mexican military withdrew. The Gonzales cannon, by the way, was restored for this battle and fired at least one harmless but significant round validating the concerns of the Mexican military.

While some may think this much ado about nothing, it was an ultimate breach of confidence and the already strained relationship between the Mexican Government and the belligerent Colonists. It was the start of the Texas Revolution with the First Army of Texas Volunteers immediately raised after the Battle of Gonzales with Stephen F. Austin in command.

So, where is the Gonzales Cannon now? No one really knows though the historical record reflects that it was not abandoned assuring us that that a smaller, mostly iron cannon found in 1936 near Gonzales (another Texas Tall Tale) is certainly not the cannon (Thomas Ricks Lindley). Most historians believe that the Gonzales Cannon did make its way to Bexar and The Alamo where a victorious Santa Anna probably melted it down with other Texian ordnance. There appears to have been more than one cannon which has prompted this great controversy. While the cannon now on display at the Gonzalez Memorial Museum is not that gun (despite their claims), it does symbolize the defiant and courageous act that sparked the Texas Revolution.

Let’s never forget that this initial conflict was from the Texian perspective mostly about insuring Texas’ rights under the 1824 Mexican constitution and becoming a separate state in Mexico. That petition soon dissolved into outright revolution and not unlike other Mexican states, a drive towards total independence. The “Battle” of Gonzalez (flag above) was followed closely by the Siege of Béxar when rebel Texians under the command of Stephen F. Austin and Edward Burleson defeated Mexican forces under the command of Santa Anna’s brother in law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos at San Antonio de Béxar in the Mexican province of Coahuila y Tejas.

Cos who had initially intended to humiliate and arrest critics of Santa Anna surrendered in December 1835. Not unlike the Battle of Kings’ Mountain in the War of American Independence most of the combatants returned home confident that many others were wading into their fight for freedom. After Gonzalez and Béxar the die was cast.

An infuriated and embarrassed Santa Anna took matters into his own hands and decided on a no holds barred, no quarters given strategy that today would be perceived as ethnic cleansing and probably prompt a United Nations/NATO response today. Santa Anna’s tactics saw his victory at The Alamo, San Patricio, Agua Dulce and Refugio cheapened and dishonored. History now treats the massacres at the Alamo and Goliad as ultimate baggage and Pyrrhic victories that cost Santa Anna the confidence of many of his officers, prompted outrage and resentment and even increased fervor amongst those in the new Republic of Texas and any hope of legitimacy and recognition abroad. However the Mexican history books write this story, Santa Anna gave the Texians (and a supportive United States) all the ammunition they needed.

Given that he lived by the sword it is surprising, no amazing, that Santa Ana wasn’t assassinated by one or more of his political foes or that he was not executed at San Jacinto. His life sustained, a capitulated Santa Ana would countermand and render impotent the other approaching contingent of the Mexican army and sign the Treaties of Velasco, in which he agreed to withdraw his troops from Texas soil and, in exchange for safe conduct back to Mexico, lobby there for recognition of the new republic. That safe passage took a long detour (six months) and by that time a disgraced though we suspect a delighted Santa Anna found the Mexican government refusing to recognize the treaties thus setting up the Mexican-American War,

One eyewitness account of Santa Anna’s humanitarian disposition following San Jacinto makes sense to me (and I paraphrase) that given the tyranny he has pressed on his country let him be returned to Mexico and that, “in a few years Mexico will be too feeble to give us any trouble.” That, of course turned out to be an accurate and prophetic assessment and recommendation with Santa Anna becoming an enthusiastic and unwitting mole for all his adversaries (within and without). Though an admitted oversimplification there is no doubt that mostly because of his policies Texas ultimately broke free and became an independent state.

We also need to remember that Manifest Destiny or not, most of the Texians were invited guests, many of whom who outlived their welcome proving once again, however noble, valiant, courageous and legitimate the cause, there are always two or more sides to every story.


Ned Buxton

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