do terrible things - they kill and they destroy property.
But some good can come from them. In 1933, a devastating hurricane
slammed into the Lower Rio Grande Valley, doing considerable damage
to Port Isabel
On the plus side, the storm (they didn't get names back then) exposed
the long-buried remnants of a Civil War supply base and hospital on
Brazos Santiago, a stretch of sand just south of Padre Island.
Visitors found intact Army-issue shoes, swords, guns, and bottles
lying on the sand as if they had just been dropped by some wool-clad
Sixty-six years later, when Hurricane Bret struck midway between Corpus
Christi and South
Padre Island on Aug. 22, 1999 it not only poured copious amounts
of rain on parched South Texas, it did some interesting archeological
work. In displacing tons of sand on the beach of Brazos Santiago,
the storm uncovered the remains of what is believed to be a Mexican
naval vessel destroyed by the Texas Navy in 1836.
The shipwreck is still visible today at low tide, an approximately
70-foot long, elliptical array of sea life-infested wooden ribs protruding
above the sand. Fortunately, only the local salts know the precise
It seems all but certain that the spot is the last resting place of
the hulk of the General Bravo, a Mexican war ship originally christened
as the Moctezuma. She was only a two-masted schooner displacing some
100 tons -- nothing in comparison to the warships of Britain, France
and the United States -- but what she did and then what she later
failed to do makes her one of the most important vessels in Texas
In 1835, as Mexico struggled to keep its grasp on its independent-minded
province north of the Rio Grande, the Moctezuma's commander received
orders to prevent any duty-free commerce through Texas ports. In other
words, she was to suppress what Mexico considered smuggling.
The Moctezuma did her job quite effectively. In stopping and searching
Texas-based vessels as well as ships under other flags, the schooner
played a big role in adding to the growing Texan hostility toward
Mexico. The Mexican warship, wrote one young attorney, "aroused the
indignation & resentment of the whole people." The attorney was William
Once the revolution began, the Moctezuma, by this time renamed the
Bravo, went into service supporting the movement of troops into Texas.
As the Bravo operated around the mouth of the Rio Grande, the Texas
schooner-of-war Invincible sailed south from Velasco under the command
of Jeremiah Brown.
Commissioned on March 12, 1836 only six days after the fall of the
Alamo, Brown soon had a bit of a misunderstanding with his boss, Commodore
Charles E. Hawkins, that left Brown clapped in irons at Matagorda.
That unpleasantness behind him, Brown set sail to patrol the Gulf
of Mexico off the port of Matamoras to prevent Mexico from re-supplying
or reinforcing its troops in Texas. On Easter Sunday, April 3, the
Invincible attacked the Bravo.
Brown splintered the vessel with cannon balls and left it beached
and ablaze near what is now Boca Chica, Texas.
When one of his Texas tars yelled down from the rigging "Sail, ho,"
the captain brought the Invincible about to bear down on another approaching
vessel. This ship proved to be the American-flagged brig Pocket. Brown
captured the ship and found the barrels of flour and other items listed
on its manifest included hidden kegs of gunpowder and other war material
intended for the Mexican Army.
With a Texas crew sailing the Pocket, Brown made for Galveston
with his prize. Had the badly needed Mexican supplies reached their
Army, it could have continued to fight even after Houston's April
21 victory over General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Since the Mexicans
outnumbered the Texans even after Sam Houston's victory over part
of the Army, most historians believe Mexico eventually would have
Jonathan W. Jordan, author of "Lone Star Navy" (Potomac Books, 2006)
doesn't equivocate in his assessment of Brown's engagement off Matamoras:
"The Texas Navy, as much as the Battle
of San Jacinto, saved Texas, and thereby altered the history of
the American west."
Had the Bravo been able to protect shipping from Mexico to the Texas
coast, the Mexican national government would have succeeded in re-supplying
the army it had sent there to put down a rebellion.
Lone Star Navy
|Though she lies
within sight of South
Padre Island's high-rise condominiums and hotels, the wreck of
the Bravo is hard to reach even in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Even
so, souvenir hunters who only charitably might be called amateur archeologists
have combed the site with metal detectors and even removed small pieces
of the surviving wood as keepsakes of the revolution that assured
Texas independence from Mexico.
Slowly, hopefully before her timbers disappear altogether, the historic
vessel is being reburied by Gulf of Mexico as wave action replaces
the sand washed away by Hurricane Bret. Then, her maritime grave unmarked,
the Bravo will wait until the next hurricane exposes it again.
November 28, 2006 column
by Mike Cox