Monday, March 7, 2016

Mission San Antonio de Valero

There are two widely distributed bumper stickers in Texas.  One says, simply, “Native Texan”.  The other says “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as soon as I could”.  Course, lately, there’s another thing on an awful lot of bumpers around here.  It just says California and has some letters and numbers on it, but that’s a subject for a different post.

Where was I?  Oh yeah.  Two bumper stickers.  

Well, I fall into the second category.  My Dad received orders to Webb AFB, TX in July of ’65.  I was entering 4th grade.  I remained in Texas through graduation from Pilot Training in ’78.  I didn’t spend any significant time in Texas while in the Air Force, mostly stopovers in Cross Country Flights, but I've always consider myself Texan.  I returned for good on retirement.  So, one way or the other, I got here as quick as I could.

My first impressions of Texas were in the movies and given his stature, most of those movies starred John Wayne.  While at Webb, I scored a sweet deal with the base theater.  I mowed their lawn, and received free admission to movies as long as they were rated less than R.  Movies on base were a mixed bag, some first run, some pretty old.  Didn’t matter, I went as often as I could.  I distinctly remember seeing “The Alamo” starring John Wayne.  

I got to thinking about that movie over the last few days, after I realized that this year is the 180th anniversary of Texas’ Independence.  That realization also included the 180th anniversary of the Fall of the Alamo on March 6th 1836.  So, I’ve been doing a little brushing up on my Texas History.
The Fall of the Alamo  painted by Theodore Gentilz in 1844, 

BTW, Texas History is taught in 4th grade, 7th grade, and 10th grade here.  You start to get to know the players after a while.  I was familiar with the prime players in the episode.  William Barrett Travis, Davy Crocket, James Bowie, and James Bonham for the Texans, Santa Anna  (I was taught you had to Hiss after saying that) on the Mexican side. 
William B. Travis

 I was well versed in the dates and the general force structure. Roughly 6000 Mexicans against 189 Texans with the battle being fought for 13 days from Feb 23rd through Mar 6th.  Of course, I was aware that all the Texans were killed, many being executed.

And, while those facts are, in fact, generally true.  There were things I didn’t know.  I found this site to be interesting in providing more details about the situation.  

The first adjustment to the facts occurred when I visited the Alamo for the first time when I was in High School.  While in the Chapel (remove your hat and speak in whispers), I encountered an exhibit about Susanna Dickinson.  The exhibit said she had been spared by Santa Anna  (Hissss!) and sent to Gonzales to tell the Texans what fate awaited them if they continued the revolt.  So, at that point, I believed she was the ONLY survivor.  The site now says that as many as twenty women and children who had been in the mission throughout the battle were spared and sent home, included also was Travis’ slave, a man named only as Joe.
Susanna Dickinson

I also had a bit of difficulty in understanding the situation both before and after the battle.  How did Texas get embroiled in that revolution and how after such terrible defeats, at both the Alamo and Goliad, could the entire war be won in a matter of a few weeks. 

As to what events led up to the revolution, this site  has a pretty good synopsis.  I thought this passage was particularly interesting.
“The most immediate cause of the Texas Revolution was the refusal of many Texas, both Anglo and Mexican, to accept the governmental changes mandated by "Siete Leyes" which placed almost total power in the hands of the Mexican national government and Santa Anna.
Most of the Anglos who moved to Texas came from the Deep South. During the 1820s and 1830s, this region was swept by Jacksonian Democracy - a governmental philosophy that held that all government was bad, the best government was the least government, government grew more tyrannical the fewer people held power, the executive branch was the most dangerous and the one to be given the least power, etc. Perhaps most importantly, Jacksonian Democrats and the vast majority of Anglos who emigrated to Mexican Texas felt that governmental power should be vested primarily in local and state governments which, being closer to the people, were more representative and more easily controlled.
Many Mexicans felt exactly the same way. Remember that one of the internal disputes in post-revolutionary Mexico involved the best way to distribute power between local, state, and national levels of government. Centralists, who wished to allot the overwhelming majority of power to the central/national government in Mexico City, were fought tooth and nail by those all across Mexico who felt this would amount to an uncontrollable and tyrannical dictatorship.
Until 1835 these groups fought one another for control. In October, 1835 the centralists and Santa Anna won out with the enactment of "Siete Leyes". This move: (1) did away with the federalist Constitution of 1824, (2) abolished all state legislatures including that of Coahuila y Tejas, and (3) replaced states with "departments" headed up by governors and appointed councils selected by and serving at the pleasure of Santa Anna.
The reaction in many sections of Mexico, including Texas, was military resistance to the creation of what many citizens saw as an all-powerful government in the hands of a tyrannical Santa Anna. In Texas, war was originally waged in an attempt to restore the Constitution of 1824 and federalism. Only later would it become a war of independence."
Some things never change.

Why the Alamo though?  What did 189 Texans think they could do against 6000 Mexican Soldiers?  Interesting question.  One of the Alamo myths debunked at the site is that they were a holding action to allow time for Sam Houston to raise an army.  Houston was at Washington on the Brazos until March 6th as part of the constitutional convention and once complete, he headed to Gonzales to take command of the forces there.  Those forces included a 400 man battalion under James Fannin as well as 200 volunteers.  History has treated Fannin somewhat poorly, denigrating him for failing to come to the rescue at the Alamo.  However, in Goliad, he also was facing Mexican forces and could not leave the area undefended.  

The source of all knowledge cites a letter outlining the strategic importance of San Antonio and the Alamo and that ceding it to Santa Anna  (Hisssss!) would  mean “there is no stronghold from which to repel him in his march to the Sabine.”  Given the transportation infrastructure that bisects San Antonio today had its basis on the Roads and trails in the 17 and 1800’s, the Alamo was indeed of strategic importance.

Finally, throughout the battle, Travis was constantly sending for reinforcements.  Apparently, Santa Anna’s (Hisssss!) arrival at the Alamo on Feb 23rd was about a month sooner than the Texans expected  So, I’m thinking they didn’t expect to be that outnumbered in this fight.

Everything I’ve read about the battle indicated that Travis and the rest of the Defenders were prepared to die for the cause, but they also expected that if captured they would be treated as Prisoners of War and potentially paroled back to the United States.  That obviously wasn’t the case at the Alamo or a couple of weeks later at Goliad.  I wondered why that might be and found the reason interesting.

In December 1835, Santa Anna (Hissss!)had asked for and received a resolution from the Mexican Congress which stated
"Foreigners landing on the coast of the Republic or invading its territory by land, armed, and with the intent of attacking our country, will be deemed pirates and dealt with as such, being citizens of no nation presently at war with the Republic and fighting under no recognized flag." 

The punishment for Piracy was (is?) execution.  Since Texas was part of Mexico and the US was not at war with Mexico, at least from the Mexican point of view, execution was legal.  However, the policy backfired on Santa Anna (Hisssss!).  In executing the survivors at the Alamo and Goliad, it served to reinforce support for the Texan cause, Independence, in the United States and more importantly Great Britain and France.

An additional aspect of the battle and the executions that I hadn’t considered was the effect on the civilian population.  When the Alamo fell and its defenders were executed, that started an event called the Runaway Scrape.  

The Runaway Scrape was the flight of civilians from the San Antonio area eastward toward the Sabine River.  What started as a trickle with the arrival of Santa Anna (Hissss!) in February became full flight by March 11th when Sam Houston decided to abandon Gonzales and retreat eastward.  Washington-on the Brazos was deserted by March 17th.  This continued even after the Battle of San Jacinto as many reports were treated as rumors.  This site  talks about people beginning to return to the Gonzales area in 1838/39.  So, refugees and civilian casualties were a problem again.

The revolution was brought to a successful conclusion by the Texans at the confluence of the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou with a surprise assault during the Mexican Army’s Siesta.  Of course, their failure to post sentries contributed greatly to the surprise.  In an 18 minute battle, the Texans lost 9 killed and 26 wounded.  The Mexican Army didn’t fare as well with 630 killed, 208 wounded and 703 captured.  Among the prisoners was the President of Mexico, Santa Anna (Hissss!).  As a prisoner, Santa Anna (Hissss!) was forced to sign the Treaties of Velasco which recognized Texas Independence.  I’m fairly certain that the Mexican treatment of prisoners at the Alamo and Goliad weighed heavily on his mind during this time.
The final piece of information I learned researching this post is that there was a Rhode Islander fighting on the Texan Side. Albert Martin

Albert Martin, Alamo defender and officer of the Alamo garrison, son of Joseph S. and Abbey B. Martin, was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on January 6, 1808. He moved to Gonzales, Texas, in 1835, by way of Tennessee and New Orleans, following his father and older brothers. In Gonzales he ran a general store. At the outbreak of the Texas revolution, Martin was one of the "Old Eighteen," defenders of the Gonzales "Come and Take It" cannon. He was part of the Texas force that besieged San Antonio de Béxar in the autumn of 1835. By December 19, 1835, he was back in Gonzales recovering from a foot injury inflicted by an ax.
Martin returned to Bexar sometime before the Alamo siege. On February 23, 1836, the first day of the siege, he was sent by Lt. Col. William B. Travis as an emissary to the Mexican force. He met Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna's adjutant, Col. Juan N. Almonte, who rejected Martin's invitation to come to the Alamo and speak directly to Travis. On the following day, Martin left the Alamo carrying Travis's famous letter "To the People of Texas." He passed the message to Lancelot Smither in Gonzales. Martin returned to the Alamo with the relief force from Gonzales and arrived on March 1, 1836. He died in the battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836.
As I read various posts on this subject, I was reminded that history does repeat itself and lessons can be learned from the past.

First, it’s apparent that there is an inherent and ongoing conflict between those who want strong centralized government and those that want government responsibilities pushed down to the lowest appropriate level.  It’s also apparent that conflict usually results in armed conflict.  That is my biggest fear right now.

Second, it’s important to remember that the enemy gets a vote in your battle plans.  Santa Anna (Hissss!) showed up before the Texans were ready.  Sam Houston showed up when Santa Anna  (Hissss!) wanted a nap.  On such whims the fates of empires rest.

Third, make sure your assumptions on the rules the other side is playing by are correct.

Fourth, civilian refugees will be a factor both during combat and afterward.  Plan accordingly.

Finally, negotiation is much easier if you have a knee on the other’s chest and a knife at his throat.


  1. Great job Juvat! Lots of excellent historical detail (and links to more) and your four lessons at the end are timeless.

    I wonder if kids still learn about the Alamo? (I did as a kid in Vermont, but that was before the days of political correctness and "everyone gets a trophy." Sigh...)

    1. Thanks,
      I can't vouch for all, but in this School District the Alamo is taught. Quick trip through the Elementary School on Friday had hand drawn posters and a diorama or two. It was interesting.

  2. We learn, but still wash, rinse, wash again our history. We try to filter out the cause effect result, and inject the same argument ad infinitum. States rights, what right, local rights, I'm hearing "granted by God" again. I feel the trepidation again, another whisky rebellion? Or a civil war? In the incipient state? S I guess they want real blood this time, but how do you stop Hitler's from destroying the "state"?

    1. We share some of the same worries.

    2. All excellent questions, for which I have no answers. I do believe that those questions are why our government was designed the way it was, though. The inherent inefficiencies built into the 3 branches are the safeguard our freedom from Lord Acton's dictum ""Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely." That saying certainly seems to have been validated lately.

  3. How do you put the toothpaste back in the tube?
    Local control of the schools would be a start.

    1. Figuring out how to reverse the breakdown in Families would be a good start also.

    2. Yeah... that would help with taking back the schools.

  4. Holy Cow! I seem to be a Jacksonian Democrat!
    My parents, their parents and theirs, all born in Texas as far as I can figure out. I visited Corsicana and Marshall every two years of my life before seventeen. I lived in Big Springs and San Antonio and Sherman. My brother-in-law augured in near Bergstrom. My kin are all there. I know where the fruitcake is hidden and I like the notion of dinner at noon and supper after work.
    All this to ask, "Am I a sort-of Texan?" If so then I can deal with having been born in Oregon! Yikes!

    Great reading, Juvat!

    1. Seems to me, Dave, that all you have to do to fill the I'm a Texan square is "get here as soon as you can". But I will caution you, their is only one spring in Big Spring, and I did a lot of fishing in it when I was a kid.

  5. I remember reading in a history magazine some years ago about the executions, and I think it was Davy Crockett whom historians now think was executed after the battle. To me San Jacinto was a near-miracle. Celia Hayes, who I have mentioned to you before, loves to write about Texas History and she has pointed out that the Treaties of Velasco did not end Mexican incursions into Texas.

    As far as stereotypes I was stationed for a few months in El Paso and grew to love the area. You had to realize there that you are about 400 miles from anywhere, if you exclude Las Cruzes.

    Like anywhere else I have found Texans to be some of the best and some of the worst. What I discovered in El Paso is that while eating in a Luby's Cafeteria (Cafeterias really seem to be a Texas thing don't they?) - the guy in bib overalls might be dirt poor or a multi millionaire and he would treat you the same.

    Then it seemed to me around the Dallas area people all wanted you to know how much money they had, or at least let you think they had money.
    Every big building seemed to have someone's name on it.

    Goes with what I discovered a long time ago that everywhere there are people you want to know and people you;'d just as soon not know.

    But the good ones far outnumber the others.

    1. Almost without a doubt, San Jacinto was a miracle. For Santa Anna not to have posted sentries which allowed the Texans to close undetected to within yards of the Mexicans was a blunder of epic magnitude. Yet, here we are.

      As I've mentioned, I grew up in West Texas and love the "see 'em comin'" views. Our time in Alamogordo was highlighted by trips to the big city, El Paso. Don't know if you've been there lately, but it's a lot bigger big city than before. And not in a good way, if you get my drift.

      Peeps is peeps, wherever they are. Small town peeps tend to be a bit more friendly, if only because it's harder to get away with things. People know who you are.

  6. "Sam Houston showed up when Santa Anna (Hissss!) wanted a nap. On such whims the fates of empires rest."

    Folklore has it that "The Yellow Rose of Texas" had a bit to do with that.

    1. I've heard that story. If true, I understand the need for a nap. Heck, I understand the need for a nap no matter the reason.

  7. Appeared all of a sudden in El Paso when I was @3. I did that a lot. About the only state I never claimed is whatever state Purdue is in. We never went back there again. The nuns in Rhode Island taught the Alamo. I visited when I was in San Antonio. I liked the River Walk and almost nothing of the rest. It was Memphis without the music.

    1. Memphis without the music. Yep, pretty much describes it. I visit it when I must and only then. You're right that the Riverwalk is ok, a little touristy after the first couple of visits though. About the only thing I look forward to down there is a great lumber yard with a wide variety of exotic woods for a reasonable price. My wife cringes when I tell her where I'm headed. Reasonable being in the eye of the woodworker.

  8. Yep, Yellow Rose... :-) And nice recap!

    1. Texas A&M (Whoop!) does a pretty good job of separating fact from fiction on the story. Seems like it has a pretty good chance of being fact, or at least mostly fact.


  9. Don't tell me that other bumper sticker says California 420. I thought Texas was immune to that.

    1. Well, I'm pretty close to Austin, so immune is probably not possible. Weird, however, is ever present.


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