I was born a Texan and have always loved history, so I was destined to write this article!
Background of the Texas War for Independence from Mexico
In 1835, the DeWitt colonists, most of whom were loyal to Mexico, were alarmed to see General Santa Anna assume increasingly dictatorial powers. Among the most egregious abuses suffered were Santa Anna's decision to annul the Constitution of 1824, dissolving the legislature of Coahuila y Texas, and the shameful and dishonorable treatment of his opposition. Perhaps the most frightening news was Santa Anna's reward to his Mexican troops by allowing them to loot the town of Zacatecas after his soldiers defeated the resisters in the town.
A friend of Santa Anna's, Edward Gritten, visited the town of Gonzales, Texas, and found the colonists continued to be loyal to the Mexican government but were prepared to resist troops that did not support the Constitution of 1824. Gritten wrote to Colonel Ugartechea, commander of the Mexican army based in San Antonio, and Ugartechea sent letters to the DeWitt colony assuring them that the army had no intention of coming to Gonzales. The colonists disapproved so highly of the talks of independence in San Felipe that they sent copies of the letters to nearby settlements to convince them not to fight Mexico.
However, the cruelty of the Mexican soldiers quickly proved itself, when Jesse McCoy was attacked on September 10, 1836, with the butt of a rifle in a store belonging to Adam Zumwalt, and the news spread.
With unrest increasing, the military requested the town of Gonzales, Texas to return a cannon which had been sent to them for protection against Comanche attacks, in answer to a formal request by Empresario Greene DeWitt made in January, 1831. In March, 1831, Jefe-Politico Ramon Musquiz had sent approval for a cannon for Gonzales, Texas to Antonio Elozua, the military commander at Bexar. Elozua gave his approval and required a receipt for the cannon, and in the terms of the receipt, the cannon was required to be returned upon request. James Tumlinson signed the receipt on March 10, 1831 and delivered the cannon to Gonzales.
On March __, 1831, I the Empresario of this colony, I Green DeWitt admit that I received from ___ a reinforced bronze cannon for the defense of this settlement against the savage Indians which are making hostilities against it. I offer to maintain the said cannon in the same state in which I received it and am obligated to return it as soon as it is asked for by the principle [sic] commander of the army in this department.
The Request to Return the Cannon
Fearing unrest, Colonel Domingo Ugartechea, the military commander at San Antonio, Texas under General Martin Perfecto Cos (Santa Anna's brother-in-law), dispatched Corporal DeLeon and several other men to retrieve the cannon from the municipal magistrate, Andrew Ponton, but the colonists knew that there were many unused cannons of this type available in the San Antonio arsenal. Upon DeLeon's arrival on September 25, the colonists buried the cannon beneath G. W. Davis' peach orchard, in west Gonzales, and gathered their families, armaments, and provisions together for safety. Ponton sent this letter in reply to Musquiz:
Gonzales Sept 26th 1835. Excellent Sir. I received an order purporting to have come from you for a certain piece of Ordnance which is in this place. It happened that I was absent an so was the remainder part of the Ayuntamto when your dispatch arrived in consequence the men who bore sd dispatch were necessarily detained until to day for an answer. This is a matter of delicasy to me nor do I know without further information how to act this cannon was as I have always been informed given in perpetuity to this Town for its defense against the Indians. The dangers which existed at the time we received this cannon still exist and for the same purposes it is still needed here---our common enemy is still be dreaded or prepared against. How or in what manner such arms are appropriated throughout the country I am as yet ignorant but am led to believe that dippositions of this nature should be permanent at least as long as the procuring cause exists. I must therefore I hope be excused from delivering up the sd cannon until I have obtained more information on the subject matter. At least until I have an opportunity of consulting the chief of this department on the subject---as well to act without precipitation---as to perform strictly and clearly my duty, and I assure you, that if, after a mature deliberation on the subject, I find it be my duty & in justice to your self---I obligate my self to comply with your demands---and will without delay send the cannon to you. God & Liberty---ANDREW PONTON, Alcalde.
When Colonel Ugartechea received this letter, he sent Lieutenant Francisco Castaneda, accompanied by over 100 men, from San Antonio to retrieve the cannon, but with orders to avoid confrontation. However, Lieutenant Castaneda had the authority to arrest anyone who resisted, including Ponton, and to transport them to Bexar and imprison them. On September 29, Castaneda's scouts met with Pvt. Isabel de la Garza, who reported that he had escaped after the colonists had detained and disarmed the Mexican troops. Another soldier, whom the colonists had released, confirmed this and reported that in the last two days the number of colonists who had assembled to defend Gonzales was now close to two hundred. Castaneda arrived at the riverbank, but was told that only Ponton could make an official decision to return the cannon, and that he was out of town.
The Battle of Gonzales - September 30
The remaining Mexican forces arrived at the west bank of the river Guadalupe, to discover that the river had swelled from rain, and that every raft, boat, or barge had been moved to the east bank. Castaneda requested to meet with Ponton, but was informed by regidor Joseph Clements that Ponton had still not arrived, but was expected in the afternoon. Finally, one Mexican soldier was allowed to swim across the Guadalupe river, and was sent to deliver this message:
Gonzales Sept 30th 1835. Sir. Owing to the absence of the alcalde the duty has devolved upon me of answering the communication directed to the Alcalde of this Town demanding agin the cannon which is in this Town as well as in answer to your note wishing to open negociation on the subject. In answer to the first demand made for the sd cannon The Alcalde espressed his coubts of what was strictly his duty in the matter, and wished to consult the Political chief of this Department before he decided possitively in the case and fanally---This rigor Priveledg of consulting our chief seems is denied us the only answer I can therefore give youis that I cannot now will not deliver to you the cannon agreeable to my notions of peopriety---And these are also the sentiments of all the members of this Ayuntamiento who are now present. The sd cannon is now in this Town and if force it from us we must submit---We are weak and few in numbers but will nevertheless contend for what we believe to be just principles. God and Liberty Joseph D. Clements Regigor. Addressed: Franco Castenada, En el llano en frente de Gonzales.
The settlers, in the meantime, elected John Henry Moore of Fayette as their new leader, while Joseph Washington Elliot Wallace and Edward Burleson, both of Columbus, were elected second and third in command.
Castaneda's side was approached by a Coushatta Indian, who informed them that there were 140 men now assembled on the Texas side. Castaneda therefore retired for the night to high ground three hundred yards from the river, afterwards known as Santa Anna's Mound, or DeWitt's Mound. Dr. Launcelot Smither offered his services as a negotiator with the colonists to Ugartechea, if he would not order hostile action. Smither met with Captain Matthew Caldwell, known as "Old Paint", and explained that the soldiers would not attack if the settlers returned the cannon. Caldwell told Smither to return to the Mexican camp, and to bring Castañeda to the town the next morning to discuss the matter. Meanwhile, reinforcements from other areas of Fayette County arrived, and on September 30 Captain Albert Martin sent this meesage to San Felipe, as well as the Lavaca and Navidad river valleys:
Fellow Citizens of St. Philipe & the Lavaca. Gonzales Sept. 30th 1835. A detachment of Mexican forces from Bejar, amounting to about one hundred and fifty men, are encamped opposite us; we expect an attack momently. Yesterday we were but 18 strong, to day 150 & and forces constantly arriving. We wish all the aid & despatch that is possible to give us that we may take up soon our line of march for Bejar and drive from our country all the Mexican forces. Give us all the aid & dispatch that is possible. respectfully yours Captain Albert Martin, R. M. Coleman Capt., J.H. Moore Capt. [Addressed] Fellow Citizens of St. Philipe and the Lavaca
The Battle of Gonzales - October 1
Castaneda knew he could not ford the swollen Guadalupe river, and knew also that the Texans were amassing additional forces. Therefore, he moved his men seven miles upstream to a more easily defensible camp (and near an easier ford) near a farm belonging to Ezekial Williams. John Sowell, Richard Chisholm and Jacob Darst dug up the Gonzales cannon from underneath the Davis peach orchard and mounted it on a pair of wooden wheels from an Eli Mitchell's cotton wagon, cutting up metal to make shrapnel, and loading it into the cannon.
Come and Take It!
The Battle of Gonzales - October 2
Although Castaneda had received orders not to engage the Texans, because the Mexican army wanted to avoid what might be an embarrassing confrontation, the colonists assumed he meant to ford the river about fifteen miles further north, and fifty mounted Texan soldiers crossed the Guadeloupe at the Gonzales ferry crossing, along with the cannon and many soldiers on foot. It was foggy. A dog barked and woke the Mexican forces, and the Mexican soldiers fired, spooking a horse and causing its rider a bloody nose. However, neither side could find the position of the opposing army. As dawn approached, the Texans discovered they were in the fields of Ezekial Williams, and after snacking on ripe watermelons, moved to an area 350 yards from the Mexican army, whence they began firing. Forty cavalrymen under Lt. Gregorio Perez charged the Texans, who retreated to the riverbank. And now came Dr. Smither, who had been arrested by the Mexicans and stripped of his belongings. Smither told the Texans that Castaneda desired only to meet, but the Texans arrested him on suspicion of being a double agent. At last, Castaneda and Colonel Moore met, but while Castaneda sympathized with the federalists, he was required to follow orders, and withdrew. The cannoneer, J.C. Neill, was ordered by Lt. Col. Wallace to fire, and the Texans raised the historic Texas "Come and Take It" flag. Although the cannonshot itself was harmless, Moore ordered the Texans to fire a rifle volley, and charged towards the Mexican army, but without engaging them. Castaneda's forces suffered one casualty and retreated to San Antonio, presumably because he had received orders from Ugartechea to do so if negotiations were unsuccessful or Texan forces were superior. Castañeda reported to Ugartechea, writing "since the orders from your Lordship were for me to withdraw without compromising the honor of Mexican arms, I did so." On the Texas side, one person sustained a minor gunshot wound.
The Pioneer Village Living History Center
Aftermath of the Battle of Gonzales
"The fight at Williams' place" preciptated the muster of the Texian Republican Army, commanded by Stephen F. Austin, and the march on San Antonio de Bexar, for the restoration of the Constitution of 1824, and was known as "The Texas Shot Heard 'Round the World." This marked the beginning of the revolution, and the progress of Texas towards self-governance as an independent nation. It was called "The Lexington of Texas" by a number of prominent newspapers, and thus in honor of the Battle of Lexington became known as "The Texas Shot Heard 'Round the World."
Today you can see a re-enactment of the Battle of Gonzales each year on the first full weekend of October, at the Pioneer Village Living History Center. The Battle of Gonzales, the opening shot in the Texas War for Independence from Mexico, was a defining moment not only in the history of Texas, but in the history of Mexico and the history of the United States as well.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
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