For nearly 300 years, Spanish-speaking people had called much of the West their home. They raised vast herds of cattle in the fertile valleys of California, built cathedrals and towns of adobe along the Rio Grande in New Mexico. And in the sprawling northern province of Tejas , where Comanches and Kiowas controlled the open plains, they clustered around a handful of Catholic missions. But wherever they lived, they felt neglected by Mexico City, more than a thousand miles away.
people of the frontier were by and large anti-government, anti-institutional
church. They were very happy being left on their own to defend their property,
to live their own lifestyles without intervention of a far off government.
The Spanish colonists' motto was: God is in Heaven, the Pope is at the
Vatican, the King is in Madrid, the Viceroy's in Mexico City, and to hell
with you. I'm in San Antonio."
For generations, foreigners had been kept out of the isolated northern provinces. Then, after the Republic of Mexico won its independence in 1821, it announced that Americans were now welcome in Tejas -- Texas.
had what seemed like a good plan... to get settlers and colonists into
Texas, to make sure it was a settled territory that the United States
would have to back off from. The Mexican population doesn't really have
a surplus that could provide that kind of settlement. So, it seemed like
a good idea. It's one of those moments of hindsight where you think, 'Oh,
watch out for this one.'"
Lieutenant Josť Maria Sanchez
In 1821, an ambitious ex-newspaperman from Missouri named Stephen F. Austin settled 297 American families -- and their slaves -- on the Brazos River in east Texas. In exchange for the land, they agreed to convert to Catholicism and swear allegiance to the Republic of Mexico.
Under the same terms, Mexico granted others the right to settle in Texas. But soon, the plan began to backfire. Thousands of American squatters now came, carving out their own homesteads without anyone's permission.
think it was an opportunity for adventure for them. A lot of people came
to Texas because they were running from the law or running from a bad
family situation, a bad marriage. Texas was filled with, shall we say,
fringe society. But it was also filled with a lot of people who really
did want something more than what they had and thought they might find
it on the frontier."
Dirt-poor debtors came. So did land speculators, fugitives, lawyers -- and a tall 39-year-old Tennessean with a decidedly mixed reputation. Raised by his widowed mother and informally adopted by the Cherokees, he had distinguished himself in the War of 1812, served in Congress and was now Governor of Tennessee. Many assumed that he, like his mentor Andrew Jackson, would one day be President. His name was Sam Houston.
I think that he was one of the most difficult, the most irascible, the most principled , the most opinionated men in American history. He was flamboyant; he wore vests that were furry, or he would have on a jacket and on top of that an Indian blanket. He was the first man to wear beads on the floor of the United States Senate. I like that."
But after his young wife abruptly left him, Houston resigned the governorship without explanation, began drinking heavily, and fled to live with his Cherokee friends. His career in the United States seemed over. Sam Houston headed for Texas.
An eagle swooped down near my head, and then, soaring aloft with wildest screams, was lost in the rays of the setting sun. I knew that a great destiny waited for me in the West.
There were now nearly 35,000 American-born immigrants and their slaves in Texas -- ten times the number of Spanish-speaking tejanos. Despite their many differences, both groups agreed on one thing: they resented taking orders from far-off Mexico City.
Then in 1835, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was elected president of Mexico. At first, he promised greater autonomy for Texas. Instead, Santa Anna declared himself dictator, the "Napoleon of the West," and when Texans rebelled and talked of independence, he led an army north -- 5,300 men, flying a black flag that meant no quarter.
Let each man come with a good rifle and one hundred rounds of ammunition -- and come soon.
Because of his past military experience, Sam Houston was put in command of Texan forces. He called for more men -- from Texas and from the United States. In Washington, President Andrew Jackson ordered a policy of strict neutrality: he wanted to buy Texas, not fight a war over it. But "Texas meetings" were held all over the country. Eager young men signed up by the battalion.
In San Antonio, one hundred and forty-six men gathered at an old Spanish mission called the Alamo to stop Santa Anna's army. Houston believed the Alamo was impossible to defend, and ordered it blown up. But the men inside -- including an alcoholic adventurer named Jim Bowie and a former Tennessee congressman named Davy Crockett -- decided on their own to stay and fight.
On February 24th, 1836, Santa Anna reached San Antonio, and demanded that the Alamo's occupants surrender or be annihilated. Its commander, William Barret Travis, answered with a cannon shot. The Mexicans settled in for a siege. Travis scribbled out an urgent plea for reinforcements and entrusted it to a 30-year-old captain of the Texas army, a tejano named Juan Seguin, who slipped through the Mexican lines and delivered the call for help.
Meanwhile, in a rundown farmhouse in the tiny settlement of Washington-on-the-Brazos, 59 men, including three tejanos, declared Texas an independent republic and hammered out a constitution modeled after that of the United States. But there would be no reinforcements for the Alamo. Houston still considered it folly for his outnumbered army to fight Santa Anna there.
At five A.M. , on the morning of March 6th, 1836, after 13 days of siege, Santa Anna's bugler blew the Deguello, the signal for death in the bull ring. Twenty-six hundred Mexican soldiers charged the Alamo -- into a hail of Texan gunfire. At least 600 Mexican soldiers died that morning -- though Santa Anna would officially admit to just 70 deaths among his men. But the odds proved overwhelming. In a matter of hours, the Alamo was taken, and in the end all its defenders -- Americans and tejanos alike -- lay dead.
is important about the Alamo is not the number of men or who they were
or the various personalities, but the fact that this small group of men
chose to defend an impossible position, against a superior number, and
held it for thirteen days. They chose this place knowing that it would
mean sure death."
The killing went on. Santa Anna took a second fort, called Goliad. Its defenders were "pirates," he said, foreigners intent on stealing Mexican territory. He ordered 300 men -- most of them Americans -- to be shot and their corpses burned.
garrison... was taken and massacred. If such conduct is not sufficient
to arouse the patriotic feelings of the sons of liberty, I know not what
will.... Rather than be driven out of this country , I will leave my bones
to blanch on the plains of Texas.
Santa Anna pushed on. Now, all that stood between him and the defenseless settlements in east Texas was a small, poorly trained army of volunteers -- and their erratic and unpredictable commander, Sam Houston.
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