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  • "A Glimpse of Texas Past"

    The Battle of Gonzales:
    "Come and Take It"

    by Jeffery Robenalt
    Jeffery Robenalt

    During the first few years of its newly won independence, Mexico followed Spain’s policy of strictly limiting Anglo-American settlement in Texas. However, after adopting the Constitution of 1824, the Mexican government liberalized the immigration policy, and in 1825, American Green DeWitt received permission to settle 400 families in central Texas near the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers.

    From the inception of Dewitt’s colony, the settlers were plagued by attacks from both local Native American tribes like the Karankawas and the Tonkawas, and from the more distant and fierce Comanches. The attacks continued unabated for more than a year, culminating in the burning of Gonzales which served as the capital of the colony. Seeking to bring an end to the violence, DeWitt negotiated a peace treaty with the Karankawas and Tonkawas, and the town was rebuilt, but the Comanches continued to raid the colony on a regular basis.

    In 1831, the colonists sought help from local Mexican authorities, but with no troops to spare, the only aid the military was able to offer was the loan of a small cannon. Though the tiny six-pounder provided little in the way of defense, other than some loud noise and smoke, it was to play a key role in future events leading to the independence of Texas.

    Come And Take It Cannon
    "Come And Take It" Cannon on displayed in Gonzales Memorial Museum
    Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, 2007

    Meanwhile in Mexico, the federalists, who believed in the principle of states’ rights, were involved in an ongoing struggle for control of the government with the centralists, who desired a strong central government. In 1833, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna seized power. Although the Texans supported Santa Anna at first, believing him to be a federalist, they soon realized that he failed to share their states’ rights views on government. Once in power Santa Anna showed his true colors by dismissing the Mexican congress, annulling the Constitution of 1824, and declaring himself dictator for life.

    Unrest grew Throughout Mexico as Santa Anna began to consolidate his power, and in 1835, several Mexican states revolted. The revolts were brutally suppressed. In one instance, the new dictator dissolved the legislature of Coahuila y Tejas and rewarded his troops with two days of rape and pillage in the town of Zacatecas.

    In June, the political unrest spread to Texas when the first skirmish between Mexican soldiers and Texas settlers took place near Anahuac. In spite of the rising tensions, however, most settlers like those of De Witt’s colony remained loyal Mexican citizens, although of the federalist persuasion. Unfortunately, Santa Anna unwisely chose to ignore this fact and increased tensions further by sending more troops to Texas under the command of his brother-in-law, General Martin Perfecto de Cos.

    Political opinion in Texas remained sharply divided. Some settlements, stirred up by revolutionary hot bloods like William Barrett Travis, supported the rebellion, while others, including Gonzales, continued to openly declare their loyalty to Mexico. Leaders across Texas began to call for a meeting to determine the true majority view. Although many people worried that Santa Anna would see such a gathering as a step toward revolution, by late August most settlements had agreed to send delegates to a formal Consultation scheduled for October 15.

    On September 10, events began to accelerate when the severe beating of a Gonzales resident by a Mexican soldier led to widespread public protests. Fearing a general uprising, Colonel Domingo Ugartechea, the commander of the Mexican garrison in San Antonio, sent Corporal De Leon and a small detachment of soldiers to retrieve the cannon under the pretense that it was needed for the defense of the city.

    When De Leon arrived in Gonzales and requested the return of the cannon, a poll was taken among the residents by the alcalde, Andrew Ponton. The citizens overwhelmingly voted against returning the cannon, and began preparing for trouble by moving their families together, gathering supplies, and sending riders across the countryside to gather the local militias. The small cannon was buried in a peach orchard for safekeeping.

    Upon Corporal De Leon's return to San Antonio empty handed, Colonel Ugartechea immediately dispatched Lieutenant Francisco Casteneda to Gonzales with more than a hundred troops. Instead of requesting the return of the cannon as before, Lieutenant Casteneda was ordered to demand its return. At the same time, he was to avoid a confrontation if at all possible; difficult orders to follow given the tense situation.

    Come And Take It Cannon
    Painting of "Come And Take It" Cannon on displayed in Gonzales Memorial Museum
    Photo courtesy Sarah Reveley, 2007

    Reaching the west bank of the Guadalupe River on the morning of September 30, Casteneda found the river running high from recent rains and all the rafts and barges removed to the east bank. Castenada requested to speak with the alcalde, but he was informed by the armed colonists spread out along the east bank of the river that Ponton was unavailable.

    After a frustrating day of shouting across the river accomplished nothing, Lieutenant Casteneda moved his men to some high ground 300 yards from the river and set up camp for the night. The following morning, well aware that the size of the Texas force was steadily increasing, Casteneda moved his camp seven miles further upriver to a more defensible position near a shallow ford. This was in keeping with Colonel Ugartechea’s orders to avoid hostile action, but the Texans failed to interpret the move in that light.

    Instead, the colonists saw Casteneda’s move as a threat, deciding that the Mexican strategy was to either withdraw from Gonzales to await reinforcements or attempt to force a crossing of the Guadalupe at another location. Therefore, they decided to take the initiative and launch their own attack. Once the decision to attack was made, the colonists spent the day readying weapons and equipment, which included digging up the small cannon from the peach orchard and mounting it on a pair of wheels removed from an old cotton wagon. Since there were no cannon balls, cast iron was cut into hunks of shrapnel small enough to fit the barrel of the cannon.

    On the evening of October 1, a force of about 140 Texans, under the command of newly elected militia Colonel John Henry Moore, began to cross the Guadalupe at the Gonzales ferry landing. Once across the river, the fifty men on horseback led the way followed by the cannon. The Texans who were on foot spread out to the flanks and formed a small rear guard. Progress was slow due to the men on foot, and a thick fog enveloped the Guadalupe river valley after midnight, delaying the march even further.

    Finally, around 3 AM, the colonists reached the area of the Mexican camp, but a barking dog warned of their approach. The Mexicans on the perimeter of the camp began to fire blindly into the fog. None of the Texans were hit, but the loud noise caused one of their horses to panic and throw its rider. The man suffered a bloody nose as a result of the fall. After the initial volley, the colonists made a hasty withdrawal, taking cover in a thick stand of timber near the Guadalupe River. Lieutenant Casteneda withdrew his men to a nearby bluff.

    Gonzales - Guadalupe River at Cost

    Guadalupe River
    TE photo

    Between the soupy fog and the early morning darkness, neither force could determine the exact position of the other, so both sides waited for sunrise. Fog continued to limit visibility when the Texans finally advanced from the trees around 6 AM and began firing at the Mexicans on the bluff. Casteneda immediately retaliated by launching a counterattack with a small force of cavalry. The Texans again fell back to the trees along the river, where they fired another volley, wounding one of the Mexican cavalrymen. Unable to maneuver among the trees, the Mexican horsemen were forced to withdraw.

    When the fog began to lift, Lieutenant Casteneda sent a messenger to Colonel Moore requesting a meeting. The two commanders met in full view of both forces, with Moore explaining that the Texans remained faithful to the Constitution of 1824, but could no longer recognize the dictatorship of Santa Anna. It is believed that Casteneda too was a federalist who supported the Constitution, but he had no choice but to follow his orders. Unable to arrive at a compromise, Casteneda and Moore returned to their lines.

    As Colonel Moore rode in among his men, the Texans fired the small cannon and defiantly raised a homemade flag with the image of a cannon and a star painted in black, above the words “Come and Take It.” The Texans followed up with a volley from their long rifles, and Colonel Moore led a halfhearted charge toward the bluff. The charge proved unnecessary, however, because Lieutenant Casteneda, following his orders not to force an engagement, had already begun a withdrawal toward San Antonio.

    Cost, Texas monument
    The 1936 Monument of
    the Battle in Cost

    TE photo, April 2000

    Although the Battle of Gonzales was, in reality, nothing more than a minor skirmish, its political consequences were far reaching. Like the Battle of Lexington, which initiated the American Revolution, Gonzales served as the Texas “shot heard round the world.” Texans had at last taken up arms to defend their rights against Santa Anna’s despotism, and they had no intention of turning back. Two days after the battle, Stephen F. Austin, who had long counseled peaceful negotiation, wrote “War is declared … public opinion has proclaimed it…”

    Gonzales Memorial MuseumGonzales Memorial Museum
    TE postcard archive

    Gonzales became a magnet for all those Texans bitterly opposed to Santa Anna and his tyrannical policies, and although the fighting at Gonzales had long since ended, they continued to gather in support of the revolutionary banner. On October 11, Stephen F. Austin, in spite of his lack of formal military training, was unanimously elected to command the “Army of the People.” The following day he led a march that would grow to nearly 400 men as it neared San Antonio, and would eventually culminate in a bloody siege of the old mission town.


    © Jeffery Robenalt, December 1, 2011 Column
    jeffrobenalt@yahoo.com

    References >

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    About Jeffery Robenalt

    BOOKS -
    Saga of a Texas Ranger is Mr. Robenalt's first novel, however, the second volume in the saga, Star Over Texas, will soon be ready for publication.
    www.sagaofatexasranger.com
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    References for The Battle of Gonzales "Come and Take It"

  • Barr, Alwyn, (1990), Texans in Revolt: The Battle for San Antonio, 1835, Austin, TX, University of Texas Press, ISBN 0-292-77042-1, OCLC 20354408
  • Davis, William C. (2006), Lone Star Rising, College Station, TX, Texas A&M University Press, ISBN 9781585445325, originally published by New York Free Press
  • Fehrenbach, T. R. (2000), Lone Star: A History of Texas and Texans, Cambridge: Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-80942-7
  • Groneman, Bill (1998), Battlefields of Texas, Plano, TX, Republic of Texas Press, ISBN 979-1-55622-571-0
  • Lack, Paul D. (1992), The Texas Revolutionary Experience: A Political and Social History 1835-1836, College Station, TX, Texas A&M Press, ISBN 0-89096-497-1
  • Roell, Craig H. (1994), Remember Goliad! A History of La Bahia, Fred Rider Cotton Popular History Series, Austin, TX: Texas State Historical Association, ISBN 0-87611-141-X
  • Todish, Timothy J.; Todish, Terry; Spring, Ted (1998), Alamo Sourcebook, 1836: A Comprehensive Guide to the Battle of the Alamo and the Texas Revolution, Austin, TX, Eakin Press, ISBN 978-1-57168-152-2
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