THE MEMOIRS OF JOSÉ ANTONIO NAVARRO
Interesting Historical Memoirs. To the Editor of the Ledger:
In the issues of December 27 and 28, 1853 of this newspaper of which you are now the editor, the author of these memoirs published an account of certain events which occurred in the years 1812 and 1813, concerning the invasion of General Bernardo Gutíerrez who for the first time brought from the United States 600 or more daring North American volunteers to aid in the struggle for Mexican Independence. After fighting for about ten months against the troops of the King of Spain, before the walls of Goliad and on the fields of Rosilla and Alazan, they finally succumbed at the bloody battle of Medina, August 18, 1813, being pitted against a superior force which the veteran Spanish general, Joaquín de Arredondo, led from the interior of Mexico. It seems that it would be interesting for the readers, especially the present residents of Goliad, San Antonio, and the surrounding territory whose beautiful forest and crystal springs have been stained with the drops of illustrious blood which for many years back have been shed by the many defenders of liberty, to read and to learn from the lips of a contemporary, an eye witness, the origin of such romantic deeds, how they began, and in which the heroic sons of the city of San Antonio de Bexar took an active part from the year 1811 onward.
Far from any affectation of literary skill, excessive zeal or great skill in writing history, with no hope of material reward, I write this very important little work yet conscious that I am free and superior to any who might labor with the hope of reward. The events which I am about to narrate have been fixed in my mind from the time of their occurrence and I am of no necessity to seek high sounding phrases or allegories such as are found in tales of mythology.
Give me paper, ink and pen with ardent desire for some skill, and the truthful historian of the future may have facts with which to glorify the history of this my beloved country. That is what has prompted me to write these memoirs, and in which undertaking a moral ambition and desire for pecuniary reward are satisfied.
The public has seen the history of Texas written by the unsuccessful Colonel Yoakum, which, although in many respects is admirable and accurate, is marred by such inaccuracies, as for example, having Governor Antonio Cordero die from having his head cut off at Rosilla among the fourteen Spanish officers who were assassinated there, when it is well known that Cordero was still living in Mexico until the year 1821. He also says that the father of Captain Antonio Delgado was shot in San Antonio and his head exhibited in public, when we know very well that the honorable ancient died of old age and grief on the Trinity River when Elizondo was pursuing the fugitives of the battle of Medina.
In this fashion Colonel Yoakum falls into other little errors which, although they do not mar the substance of his history, do impute an unconceivable change of characters as when he says that because of the war with the Indians, the troops of the Alamo were compelled in the year 1785 to take refuge within the walls of the Alamo. Certainly this is what happened, but it was when these troops were in the so called Alamo of Parras in Mexico and long before they had come to this Alamo of the Mission of San Antonio Valero, which has been called thus since its establishment and only had the nickname of "Alamo" after the troops of the Alamo of Parras came to the Mission of Valero through the years 1803 and 1804 and remained In that Mission without any change until the revolution of 1813. These motives, and the instances of some of my friends who have desired to know the most important events which have happened in modern times in our city, have caused me to decide to write this brief chronicle.
I am not doing it for the petty souls nor or the egoists to whom the glories or misfortunes of men of the origin and language are of little or no importance. I am doing it or the philanthropists and cosmopolite who know how to appreciate it and who are contented with the vicissitudes of a valiant people, who have struggled, despite their own ignorance with only the thought of winning their liberty from very superior enemies, thus, asking themselves the equals of the most free and prosperous of all men as if they were adorned by a canopy of stars. I am doing it so that our American public may understand. how unworthy are some among ourselves who with crafty and ungrateful schemes seek to expel the lawful owners and descendants from this classic soil attacking those who or a half century have shed their blood in defense of the liberty which we now enjoy!
Since 1807 and 1808, the Spanish nation has appeared to be gasping its last. Through the invasion of that prodigy of conquerors, Napoleon I, the Mexicans began their secret conferences in order to shake of the ominous yoke of the mother country, not because they saw it despoiled and almost absorbed by the formidable conqueror, but because they could not continue to tolerate the taxes of the tyrannous Spaniards who in their fearful impotence and their frantic delirium brought upon them by the severe damage to the Spanish peninsula, began to inflict upon the meek sons of Mexico unimaginable cruelties, accompanied by pecuniary taxes which were collected with violence, this valuable booty to be distributed among the tumultuous Juntas and Governments known as the provinces of Spain.
Never has any people on earth seen a mosaic of orders and commands inlaid with more confusion, all leading to the oppression and robbery of the unfortunate Mexican people.
On September 8, 1808, a French General named Octaviano d'Alvimar, arrived in San Antonio de Bexar. He said that he had traveled incognito across the United States and had entered Texas through Nacogdoches. d'Alvimar was, at the moment, the viceroy of Mexico by decree of Napoleon.
I saw him enter the Plaza of San Antonio in his handsome uniform covered with medals and brilliant crosses which rivaled the benignant sun which still illuminated the Plaza of San Antonio before sunset. But General d'Alvimar seems not to have yet heard of the reverses of fortune of his matter, the Emperor Napoleon, and that the arrogant and indomitable Spanish people were even then marching in streams of blood to shake off the yoke of French domination in Spain. He was ignorant of the cunning and inquisitorial orders peculiar to Spanish diplomacy in sudden changes, which had already been anticipated by the Spanish Viceroy with the result that d'Alvimar was made prisoner and sent under guard to the Capital of Mexico by order of the Governor of the province, Antonio Cordero.
It appears that this incident augured certain victories for the Spaniards at home and inspired greater terror in the conspirators who were plotting in America; nevertheless, the Mexicans pursued their secret conspiracies to win independence from the Spanish Capital.
On the other hand the news which arrived from the peninsula every day was woeful and alarming; the troops of Napoleon triumphed all sides. Spaniards by the thousands hastened to swear allegiance to the Emperor of France.
Finally, it was understood that a French magistrate would soon come, ordered by Napoleon to receive and take charge of the vice-royalty of Mexico.
The priest of the pueblo of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo, was one of the conspirators. The number one cry of Independence was planned for a given date, but a Mexican Benedict Arnold, to whom the secret was known, informed the Viceroy of Mexico and scarcely two hours after midnight, September 16, 1810, when the priest Hidalgo uttered the cry, there was ample time to make him prisoner, sending him to Mexico and thus ending all hope of Independence. "Long live Our Lady of Guadalupe and death to the Gachupines!" was the first battle cry which he uttered at this critical instant. Under such feeble auspices born a revolution, rich in victories which have created a Federal Republic that takes its place among the nations.
He who would view these anomalies with emotion must pause first to consider the time long past and the mentality of the people where the events happened. He must put himself in the place of the patriot Hidalgo, who was already denounced as a traitor before the implacable, despotic Viceroy of Mexico. He would think himself in a critical situation, without any kind of campaign plan, without money, weapons or troops, except a few hundred Indians from his own pueblo, troops undisciplined and stupid who could not have been led to an undertaking so vast by the clear reasoning of Washington or the dauntless will of Napoleon I unless the appeal was made to them through vengeance and superstition which weapons this illustrious and unfortunate patriot Hidalgo was compelled to use.
By necessary consequence, from that time an epoch of pillage and beheading ensued, but the instincts of the people are powerful when they are fighting for a just cause. The Mexicans, in the center of those inevitable disorders, triumphed on all sides until the end of 1810. Throughout the entire realm the people had risen in mass, exiling, imprisoning, or beheading the Spaniards. The echoes of the insurgent victories were heard in the most remote provinces, and on this day reached San Antonio de Bexar.
A garrison of 2000 soldiers of the King guarded this city and the military post to the Sabinas river. Its chief duties were to defend the province of Texas at all hazards against any advance by the United States. The officers and most famous troops of Nuevo Leon and Nuevo Santander were here.
It might be said that each solder was a capitalist, a distinguished citizen whom the Viceroy of Mexico favored with preference. No wonder that at that time San Antonio was at the height of its prosperity! Hundreds of thousands of gold and silver coins came into the city every two months for the luxurious maintenance of the troops. It was a very common occurrence to see a soldier spending 100 pesos for a luncheon and with the same unconcern as we might now invite a friend to drink a glass of beer.
But with all this and whatever individual pleasures they could enjoy, since the life of a great city is common to all its society, the citizens and troops in San Antonio began to exhibit some anxiety concerning the political future of Mexico. Rumors and sarcastic remarks against the Spanish rulers began to enter friendly conversation.
The descendants of the first Canary Islanders who settled Bexar as legitimately constituted Hidalgos, (every original settler and his descendants were given titles of nobility-Hidalgos) those who with the greatest audacity suggested methods of humiliating the haughty Spanish Governors. The Delgado, Arochas, Leales, Traviesos, and others formed a preferred group in Bexar and they regarded themselves as nobles from the time their forefathers arrived from the Canary Islands to settle the province of Texas in 1730.
This was the source of their justified pride and jealous indignation against the despotic action of the Spanish rulers. There could be no better encouragement for these resented noblemen than that offered them by the news from Mexico concerning the victories gained by the priest Hidalgo and other insurrectionist leaders.
Nevertheless, there was a great obstacle in the way of carrying out the insurrection. The principal military officers were of Spanish stock. There were other born in Mexico, but these hesitated through a respectful delicacy, to receive the first orders to assail the rights of a monarch who had ruled them or 300 years.
In this conflict of opposing interests, the citizen of San Antonio elected members of the army who were neither officials of high rank because the confidential nature of their rank nor were they simple privates whose consciousness of inferiority would render them likely to retreat in the hour of peril.
Three sergeants then were chosen to seduce the army. they were Miguel Reyna, Blas Jos* Perales and Trinidad Perez. These soldiers provided the entire troop with weapons in the barracks which was in the place now known as la Villita here in San Antonio.
At dawn, January 22, 1811, they offered this army to the Captain of Militia of Nuevo Santander, Juan Bautista Casas, who accepted the command ordered him and was place at the head of 1500 men.
Casa marched them in columns to Military Plaza; they accompanied him as delegate of citizens Gavino Delgado, Francisco Travieso and Vicente Flores. Almost at the break of dawn, the rebels formed in closed ranks before Military Plaza. Captain Casas, with his staff, entered and made prisoners of Governor Salcedo, Herrera and other Spanish officials who still slept in the peaceful slumber of the morning twilight, confident that no one would dare to attempt any offense against their omnipotent persons.
This memorable day of January 22, 1811 was the first time the Mexicans of San Antonio de Bexar had made public their desire to break forever the chains of their ancient colonial slavery.
This was the day on which, attempting to conceal that trembling and throaty voice which is a part of a long servile life, they could raise their voice to those who before had been the absolute master of the Mexicans.
That sudden transition of today when slaves are elevated to the position of nobles and judges of their oppressors and masters of yesterday, created the most bitter vanguard against the so-called Gachupines.
Captain Casas hastened to send 14 Spanish officers, well laden with chains, to the interior of Mexico. February 16, 1811, the Spanish officers left Bexar with a formidable guard under the command of Vicente Flores and Sergeant Miguel Reyna, with orders to deliver the prisoners to the insurgent Brigadier, Pedro Aranda who was stationed at the Presidio of the Rio Grande.
Everything appeared to point to victory, insuring the independence of Mexico. There was scarcely any one who did not covet the glory of those who had dared to fling in chains the Spanish oppressors.
But like human nature which remains unchanged today, the more violent the carnal communication of the mind, the shorter their duration, and very few days elapsed before there were faces seen wearing a melancholy very poorly disguised, like a sick person who pretends to be ignorant to the seriousness of his disease in order that he might not realize the approaching end of his existence. And no more tragic symptoms could be imagined than those of January 22. Casas and the other sycophantic chorus feigning ignorance of all danger, allowed the masses of the people and the troops of the garrison to make free comments on the news from Mexico. They exaggerated the defeats suffered by the priest Hidalgo and depicted the desperate situation of the insurgent armies.
It was unfortunately the truth! The glories of Hidalgo, Allende, Abasola and other illustrious Captains of Independence had been defeated in the outskirts of the capital of Mexico and already they had been obliged to retreat with their defeated army to the provinces of Coahuila and of Texas with five million pesos in gold and silver coins with the object of interning themselves in the United States and raising a large army of American volunteers.
Inscrutable decree of Almighty Providence! How can any mortal man dare to prove His divine decrees? It is permitted us in the discharge of our filial obligation to ask, "Why didst Thou permit that those precious treasures should find a lodging in the United States Thou mightst have averted ten years of cruel warfare in which more than 500,000 Mexicans disappeared slain on the field of battle or by execution on the gallows. But let us cast a merciful veil over the heavens where human reason cannot penetrate and let us follow the events which happened in San Antonio de Bexar.
Captain Juan Bautista Casa was a native of San Fernando in the ancient province of Nuevo Santander. He belonged to the military company of the Cross and he died at the age of 36 years. Although he was a capitalist in his country, he followed military service for the honor of it. His talents were mediocre but disinterested and honorable. He accepted the command ordered him by the citizens and military garrison of San Antonio because he believed the time had come to do battle against the natural enemies of this country, and above all, because he was one of those men who, because of excessive courtesy, are unable to refuse a favor or to withstand importunity.
Such was the man who placed himself at the head of that revolutionary volcano. He found himself among people who had no knowledge of warfare, no political initiative, and with no better guide than a blind lust for vengeance , discordant elements which made it easy for the Spaniards to introduce spies and spread propaganda with which they readily swayed the minds. This scheme was called the counter-revolution, or the revival of obedience to the tyrant Ring of Spain.
Father Juan Manuel Zambrano, a native of Bear, was endowed with a gigantic frame was enormously fat; he was also an arrogant person, as restless as quick silver and suspicious by nature; this person was chosen to effect the counter-revolution in favor of the Spaniard.
It is not my intention to analyze the conduct of all who participated in this counter-revolution which hastened the ill-fated Casas to the gibbet, but how ca we do less than weep, and pity the wild insanity of those who, seduced by the false honor of being faithful to the most detestable tyrant of Europe, boasted of burying the fratricidal dagger in the hearts of their Mexican brethren, thus riveting their own chains and continuing to shed tears in order to get their daily bread with the slothful pace of the ignorant oxen.
On March 3, 1811, Juan Bautista Casas was surprised and taken prisoner by the said priest, Juan Manuel Zambrano, in the very houses of Government where 39 days before his friends and accomplices had been. Casas said to his captors with indignation, "Are you the same individuals who placed me in this office and now you must add infamy to treason by capturing me and delivering me to the gallows?"
"Silence, wretched traitor, replied one of his captors with the same fanatical and wordy conviction that was used by the inquisitors when they were going to burn the so-called heretics on a pile of green wood in the holy name of God. Silence, and submit to the law and mercy of our most beloved sovereign, our Lord, Fernando VII.
"Long live the King" At this voice of thunder there was a general pealing of the bells, cheers from the troops and the people, with a pharisaical gabble like savage cannibal surrounding the victim they are about to sacrifice. When it was announced that the unfortunate Captain Casas was in chains and the inhabitants of San Antonio relapsed once again to the status of vassals of the King of Spain.
Let us leave poor Casas, groaning in his chains within a filthy and lonely calaboose, to view what was happening on the other side of the Rio Grande.
We have already related that since February 16th, Governors Salcedo, Herrera and other officers had been confined in prison, making a total of fourteen prisoners who had already arrived in Monclova. The Mexican Colonel Ignacio Elizondo was there and declared himself for the King. Salcedo, Herrera and the officers were set at liberty. All united, they plotted the surest way to lure with cunning schemes the priest Hidalgo with his army, which was still in the city of Saltillo, in order to take him prisoner by means of finesse. If this should happen, it would follow, as a matter of course, that all the provinces of Northern Mexico would one after the other espouse the cause of the King.
President Zambrano divined all this in Bexar, but nevertheless, with that trickiness which by virtue of strategy the revolutionists employed at that time. Zambrano immediately sent two spies who were in his confidence, Captains José Muñoz and Luis Galan. They set out March 8 with instructions in duplicate, and they were adequately instructed in the way to conduct themselves on that mission in the event that they should encounter the priest Hidalgo, or the officers of the King. So the event was being well planned by both belligerent parties.
It inspires pity rather than horror to behold the cringing tortuousness to which the Macchiavellian teaching of the superior Spanish leaders had led the untutored Mexicans, countenancing among them the vilest deeds of velleity and treachery with the base purpose of destroying in their bosoms every generous impulse and converting them into wretched instruments of their on destruction.
Muñoz and Galan, on arriving at Monclova and seeing that every one had already declared themselves in favor of the King, offered the Spanish Governors the pleasing information that the traitor Casas as imprisoned in Bexar; consequently, meriting congratulations of the faithful vassals of his Majesty in the entire province of Texas.
Immediately they dispatched a courier to inform President Zambrano of the happy result of his diplomatic missions, requesting him at the same time t send the prisoner Casas to Monclova as 800 as possible, where he was to wait a trial or the crimes he had committed against the King. But Zambrano had ultimately become a more accomplished master of the science of craftiness than his teachers, the Spaniards. He delayed sending Casas until he might be better assured of the trend of affairs in the interior of Mexico. Upon receipt of the authentic news that all the army of the priest Hidalgo would surely be made prisoners through a well organized conspiracy in Monclova, he sent the illustrious captive, July 2, 1811, under a guard commanded by Sergeant Juan José Calderon of La Bahía.
Zambrano also left July 26, accompanied by his Government Junta and all the troops of San Antonio, for a military jaunt to the city of Laredo.
Casas arrived at Monclova about the middle of July. Cordero and the other Spanish Governors were already there. Monclova as the center of action for all the Castilian grandees as they awaited the Sicilian vespers against the unfortunate Hidalgo.
There followed against Casa a criminal action before a military council of war of which the said Cordero was President. Casas was unanimously condemned to face the firing squad.
When the attorney general came to read the death sentence, Casas knelt, listened to it, and then kissed that paper containing the fatal message according to custom.
Poor Casas! He was an Orthodox and sincere Christian. When he was asked if he had anything to say concerning his sentence, he replied, "No, because I know that I have failed my sovereign. I only desire to receive one favor of his royal clemency and that is, that a small portion of my property be given to my poor aged mother for her support in her few remaining days. The royal treasures of his Majesty are enormous and it would not affect them in the slightest degree if a small sum were deducted from my own estate. Likewise, I wish to request that a matter of 200 pesos which I owe be paid and which I am in no position to pay if you confiscate all my property after my death. I have nothing more to ask.
As it was already known that the army of the priest Hidalgo was due to arrive at Acatita de Bajan, the execution of Casas was suspended.
On July 27, the priest Hidalgo was made prisoner with 32 generals and his entire staff, a total of 2,000 soldiers; and little more than three and one-half millions in gold and silver coins fell into the hands of Elizondo and the governors.
Hidalgo and the majority of the generals were conducted to Chihuahua and shot. After this event, that is to say, on August 1, Casas was placed in the death cell and on August 3, he was executed in Monclova at the root of Zapopa hill. The order was given to cut his head off and send it to San Antonio. Although it arrived in only three and one-half days, It had already decayed and It was necessary to bury it.
General Bernardo Gutíerrez, then Colonel in the army of the priest Hidalgo, upon learning what had happened July 27, became a fugitive and after traveling through the deserts of Texas, he arrived in the United States from whence he brought the American volunteers for the campaign of 1812 and 1813.
We has noted the ephemeral duration of Mexican Independence in Texas in 1811, the tragic end of Casas, and hopes all hopes of further liberty were extinguished. The Spanish governors returned fro Monclova to assume their former positions of commanding. President Zambrano and the Government Junta handed the command over to the officials of the King. The people of San Antonio returned to their exclusive attributes of obeying blindly a King of heaven and another of the earth and of laboring to win their daily bread.
If we contemplate this humble submission of an untutored community which entrusted its entire ambition and worldly and eternal happiness to pleasing both a celestial and terrestrial ruler, naturally then the question arise:
Would it not promote most the happiness of the human race to concentrate all its philosophy and obligations in obedience to only two supreme beings (although it might occur to us that possibly neither of these superior beings was worthy)?
Or should mankind submit to these bitter and evil struggles to comprehend and seek to unravel all these chains of the intricate machinery of government?
Would the vigor of the body and the uplift of the soul be better promoted by an existence of supine ignorance of the excesses of mankind and of their rulers in order not to experience the sorrow of seeing or knowing that there are so any wicked people in the world?
Some take advantage of brutal force, and others vested with liberty and equality, rob and assassinate the poor and, in many instances, even revile the very ones who have given them a country and power.
But like sweet peace which they had enjoyed through blind passive obedience, if wishing themselves far away entered the turbulent hearts of the noble Islanders, new hopes has come in from the neighboring Republic of the North, from across the seas, and over the narrow paths of what was then the deserts of Texas.
The desire for aping foreign ideas and customs faded before the incomparable satisfaction of a sovereign people in America; the tottering Spanish rulers would very soon be destroyed by the moral strength of republican institutions.
These noble Islanders scrutinized such ideas and they were later made evident to them, although there was no more success than to envelope themselves in ruin and to be almost exterminated from the soil which had given them birth and which their forefathers had conquered.
Scarcely sixteen months after the catastrophe of Acatita de Bajan, November 1812 Bernardo Gutíerrez entered Texas with that little army of lion-hearted North Americas and took la Bah’a and later San Antonio on April 1, 1813.
Immediately the Delgados, Arochas, Traviesos, Leales, and many others, recalling how much they had suffered the previous year for the cause of independence, joined Gut’errez and his army, body and soul.
They fought with fury and enthusiasm against the might of the terrible Arredondo. Arredondo triumphed in the famous battle of Medina, and these patriots lay dead in the fields of battle and on the gallows. A few emigrated to the United States never to return. These valiant souls lost everything.
Mexican independence, germinated in the blood of these martyrs, was finally declared in September 1821.
But sad to say, not one single sigh crossed the mountains of Anahuac to console even the desolate remainder of those brave patriots. Such is the end of the heroic! But perhaps there is more value in glory than the miserable compensation that might be awarded by mankind.
To complete the picture of misfortune, the few descendants who survive in San Antonio are disappearing, assassinated in the full view a people who boast of unexcelled justice and grandeur.
Consolación Leal, heroine of those day, died a few months before assassinated by a Spaniard, and Antonio Delgado was riddled by bullets from the rifle of a bastard American. Heaven grant that the reading of these historical sketches may stir generous hearts to regard with more indulgence this race of men, who, legitimate lords of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes, to follow in the footsteps of those very ones who enjoy the land in the midst of peace and abundance.
José Antonio Navarro
In the eleventh issue of this newspaper we began publishing the memoirs of José Antonio Navarro, of San Antonio de Bexar, which publication is concluded today.
The description is full of interest because its author was a contemporary, an eye-witness and a participant in the most important events of the epoch of which he treats; he was instilled besides with a feeling of gratitude and philanthropy for his native country, and was endowed with a sagacious mentality and an unprejudiced knowledge. He has presented the events and he characters just as they were, as they impressed him at that time, without reservations or allegories. and without pretense or other ambition so that historical fact may be taken from his sketches. We are persuading José Antonio Navarro to continue his important works not only concerning the very epoch marked by the Independence, memorable campaign and loss of Texas, a part of Mexico, events of which the principal theater has been the city of San Antonio because of its location and its relations with other Texan communities. We congratulate him on the cordial welcome with which his important historical efforts have been received.
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