It was on this day in 1836 that the news of the outcome of the Battle of San Jacinto reached New Orleans, Louisiana from which it was quickly communicated to the rest of the United States. Though Texas was decidedly not a part of the United States, and the Texas Revolution was not a matter of U.S. national involvement, nevertheless, the country was greatly interested in the outcome. News of the Texian victory made Sam Houston a national hero in the U.S. and it was widely assumed that the soon-to-be-independent Texas would become a state in the Union.
On April 21, 1836, Texian (as they then styled themselves) forces under the leadership of General Sam Houston defeated Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s army at the battle of San Jacinto. This victory won for Texas its independence from Mexico, and paved the way for the creation of The Republic of Texas, an independent nation for a decade.
Mexico’s loss of Texas really comes as no surprise under the circumstances: the population of Texas was overwhelmingly composed of Yanqui settlers who had been invited into Texas. Spain had claimed the land that would become Texas as early as 1536, but for the next 290 years made no effort to settle the vast and often inhospitable land. After the United States acquired the Louisiana Territory by purchase in 1803, Spain realized that the Americans would soon be looking westward at the open lands of Texas. In nearly three centuries, Spain had established just three settlements in Texas: San Antonio, Nacogdoches, and Goliad. By 1820, the population of Texas that was reckoned as Spanish subjects amounted to about 4,000 (no one bothered to count the native tribes, naturally!)
In order to strengthen their claim on the territory, Spain invited Americans to settle in Texas, so long as they swore allegiance to Spain and nominally adopted the Roman Catholic faith. Moses Austin and his son Stephen Fuller Austin organized American settlements in Texas, drawing heavily from Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi. With Mexico’s successful overthrow of Spanish rule in 1821, these newly imported Yanquis were theoretically citizens of Mexico. Mexico decided to maintain Spain’s policy of inviting more Yanqui settlers into Texas. So successful was this program, that by 1835 the population of Texas had grown to about 45,000!
Despite oaths of allegiance, most of these Yanqui settlers considered themselves Americans, and they enjoyed the relatively free hand they were given to manage their affairs within the Mexican federal system. As Mexico became more concerned about the loyalty of these settlers, it began to impose restrictions on immigration and also put limits on local autonomy. These impositions were greatly resented by the Yanqui Texians, (“Texian” is the demonym used to denote inhabitants of Texas prior to statehood) and several rebellious demonstrations took place.
In 1834, General Santa Anna, who had been democratically elected Presidente the year before, assumed dictatorial powers, and suspended the Mexican Constitution of 1824, which had granted significant local power to Texas. The Texians, both Yanqui settlers and native Tejanos, resented this restriction – and notably, they resented Santa Anna’s intention to prohibit slavery in Texas. Santa Anna swore to force the Texian back into submission. The Texians pledged to defend themselves against the oppressor. As armed conflict grew inevitable, popular sentiment moved toward complete separation from Mexico, though not as an independent nation: from the start, Texians felt that Texas should join The United States of America.
When General Santa Anna marched north into Texas, he headed a small but well-trained Army. Determined to capture San Antonio, then the most important city in Texas, Santa Anna learned that a small garrison was holding the city’s mission church known as The Alamo, as a fortress. Santa Anna decided that he would have to conclude this situation before he could make further advance.
The two weeks that Santa Anna devoted to taking the Alamo gave the Texian army time to regroup and reinforce. The brutality with which Santa Anna treated the Alamo’s defenders ignited a great fury and an even greater resolve among the Texians, who made “Remember the Alamo” a cry that echoes unto our own day. As is the case with most symbolically important events, the details of the Alamo are often obscured and exaggerated, but it is true that the time gained by the defenders of the Alamo was crucial to the ultimate success of the Texian rebellion.
On 26 March, Santa Anna’s troops captured the Texian defenders of the town of Goliad. Despite their formal surrender in accordance with military protocol, Santa Anna ordered all the captured Texian soldiers to be shot, beaten to death, or trampled by cavalry. This gross breach of the Law of Arms not only enraged the Texians and ultimately much of the outside world, it greatly demoralized Santa Anna’s own troops: not only had their general flouted the rules of warfare, his mercilessness would surely be returned by the Texians!
Six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna’s 2,400 man force was encamped on low ground near the present city of Houston at San Jacinto. In the late afternoon of 21 April, the Texian forces caught the Mexican Army literally as it slept: some 900 or so Texians announced their presence with a shout – it is claimed they shouted “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”
What ensued was a slaughter, pure and simple. The unwary Mexican troops were unable to organize a coordinated response, and despite their formal military expertise, they were trained for set engagements on the battlefield, not hand to hand fighting in swampy mire. In about 18 minutes it was all over: more than 600 Mexican troops had been killed, nearly 800 captured. The Texian losses amounted to nine killed and thirty wounded. Though Santa Anna initially escaped, he was captured and forced to grant Texas’ independence.
General Sam Houston, wounded during the combat, survived and was later elected the first president of The Republic of Texas. He would later serve as Senator and Governor of the state after it was admitted into the Union. Texas remained an independent nation for almost ten years, and was widely recognized in Europe, but not by most Latin American nations. The four-vessel Texas Navy repeatedly attacked Mexican shipping during the years of independence, helping to deter Mexico from a new invasion. Finally, in 1845, the United States admitted Texas as the 28th state.
But for Santa Anna’s overwhelming and unjustified confidence, and his Texas-sized ego, Texas might have remained under Mexican rule. But for the Battle of San Jacinto, Texas would never have become independent. There is a massive monument at the battle site – taller than the Washington Monument, of course! – and Texas still take pride in the stories and myths that make up the history and traditions of this great state!
Flower Mound, Texas
If I owned Hell and Texas, I’d live in Hell and rent-out Texas!
— General W.T. Sherman
And here is a poem that my Texan Grandfather used to recite, and which
my Mom taught me before I was in school; it has always colored
my impressions of Texas:
Hell in Texas
Oh, the Devil in hell they say he was chained,
And there for a thousand years he remained;
He neither complained nor did he groan,
But decided he’d start up a hell of his own,
Where he could torment the souls of men
Without being shut in a prison pen;
So he asked the Lord if He had any sand
Left over from making this great land.
The Lord He said, “Yes, I have plenty on hand,
But it’s away down south on the Rio Grande,
And, to tell you the truth, the stuff is so poor
I doubt if ’twill do for hell any more.”
The Devil went down and looked over the truck,
And he said if it came as a gift he was stuck,
For when he’d examined it carefully and well
He decided the place was too dry for a hell.
But the Lord just to get the stuff off His hands
He promised the Devil He’d water the land,
For he had some old water that was of no use,
A regular bog hole that stunk like the deuce.
So the grant it was made and the deed it was given;
The Lord He returned to His place up in heaven.
The Devil soon saw he had everything needed
To make up a hell and so he proceeded.
He scattered tarantulas over the roads,
Put thorns on the cactus and horns on the toads,
He sprinkled the sands with millions of ants
So the man that sits down must wear soles on his pants.
He lengthened the horns of the Texas steer,
And added an inch to the jack rabbit’s ear;
He put water puppies in all of the lakes,
And under the rocks he put rattlesnakes.
He hung thorns and brambles on all of the trees,
He mixed up the dust with jiggers and fleas;
The rattlesnake bites you, the scorpion stings,
The mosquito delights you by buzzing his wings.
The heat in the summer’s a hundred and ten,
Too hot for the Devil and too hot for men;
And all who remained in that climate soon bore
Cuts, bites, stings, and scratches, and blisters galore.
He quickened the buck of the bronco steed,
And poisoned the feet of the centipede;
The wild boar roams in the black chaparral
It’s a hell of a place that we’ve got for a hell.
He planted red pepper beside of the brooks;
The Mexicans use them in all that they cook.
Just dine with a Mexican and then you will shout,
“I’ve hell on the inside as well as the out! “
from American Ballads and Folk Songs, Lomax