THE MEMOIRS OF JOSÉ ANTONIO NAVARRO Historical Sketches About San Antonio de Bexar By an Eye-Witness October 30, 1853
he following historical memoirs which were written in Spanish [be]fore the Ledger went to press last week, but publication was suspended on the request of the gentleman who assisted in translating it into English. He said that the manuscript needed some revision and before it was not ready in time for our edition of last week. It appears from this that the said historical work was too good to be given publicity in the newspapers of San Antonio and now we understand that it as been published in another city without the permission of the author. This produced the delay of our installment or last week and has placed under the necessity of preparing another translation, thus preventing us from issuing the entire essay this week.
To the Editor of the San Antonio Ledger.
In the issue of September 17th last, I read some historical memoirs concerning the foundation and ancient history of San Antonio de Bexar Since I was an eye-witness of all the events described in that work, I cannot resist the temptation to correct certain substantial errors contained in that narrative. Undoubtedly, they are the result of inaccurate reports which were perhaps taken from mutilated and incomplete documents from which it is difficult to maintain chronological sequence. I have always wanted to obtain the most exact report of those events so that the customs, character, abilities and moral traits of the men and events or that epoch might be presented to posterity.
In 1813, the author of this letter was eighteen years old; he was then in San Antonio and he still retains fresh memories of that time. This act and his concern for everything pertaining to San Antonio, beloved for thousands of reasons, are the result of the present emanation and should be narrated with due respect to the truth.
You will not discover in this writing flowers of speech nor the persistence of excellence of its style but an unreserved narrative of bloody and revolutionary times. The Mexican priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, illustrious by a thousand titles, actually was the first to utter the cry of Independence in the Pueblo of Dolores. The priest José María Morelos was ramous from that time to this for his military talents. He was also another one of the heroes of Mexican Independence and who later after the execution of the priest Hidalgo, convoked the first Mexican Congress of Apacigen. General Felix María Calleja, later Viceroy of Mexico, was particularly distinguished of his bloody persecutions and iniquities against the patriots Hidalgo, Guerrero, Morelos, Bravo and others. Calleja was the most dangerous enemy of the Mexicans.
Morelos was captured, treated with ignominy and was finally shot in the old castle of San Christobal one-fourth league distance from the capital of Mexico.
José Bernardo Gutíerrez, a native of Revilla, Tamaulipas, fled to the United States immediately after the capture and imprisonment of the patriot heroes in Acatita de Bajan near Monclova, in the year 1811. He visited Washington and other cities in the United States and finally in the state of Louisiana enlisted 450 American volunteers with whom he again invaded Texas in the month of October, 1812.
Nacogdoches, a military fortification on the Trinity River, was captured by him without resistance and subsequently he took La Bahía del Espiritu Santo, known today as Goliad. Manuel Salcedo, military Governor of Texas, and Simon de Herrera of Nuevo Leon, went out with more than 2000 men and besieged La Bahía, November 15, 1812.
Generals Gutíerrez, McGee, Kemper, Perry and Ross sustained the siege for the better of three months. In desperation the besieged finally went out from the wall of Goliad with almost all their force composed of American volunteers and some Mexicans. They fought the enemy and returned to the for t leaving 200 of the enemy dead and wounded and they suffered scarcely any losses. After twenty-seven regular encounters, Salcedo and Herrera discontinued the siege and retired to San Antonio towards the end of March 1813. Gutíerrez, Kemper and the others, stimulated by the forced retreat of the enemy, followed them day b day. Salcedo had not arrived at San .Antonio with his army when he was ordered by Simon de Herrera to abandon the city and march to the Salado, where, at the place called "Rosilla", he encountered the army of Gutíerrez, if a band of 900 patriots could be called an army.
The two armies fought to the end of March. It was a bloody battle. Herrera lost 400 men, dead and wounded, and Gutíerrez lost only five dead and fourteen wounded. The royal army fled in disorder in the direction of San Antonio which Salcedo and Herrera had begun to fortify for the purpose of resisting Gutíerrez.
Kemper and others, after collecting the spoils of battle and burying the dead, pursued Salcedo with their victorious army and took possession of Concepción mission, southeast of San Antonio. The following day they marched to San Antonio. The army of patriots formed in double columns in the lower labor where at present stand the private residences of Devine, Callaghan and Gilbeau. From that memorable place, Bernardo Gutíerrez demanded the unconditional surrender of Governors Salcedo and Herrera. Surrender took place March 30, 1813. On the evening of the 31st these same persons with their entire staff and other officers of high rank let Bexar on foot and met Gutíerrez and his victorious army. It was clear that nothing was known of what had happened to the conference between the victors and the conquered except that the request that their lives be spared had been guaranteed. Gutíerrez replied evasively but gave them to understand that they were in no danger of losing their lives.
Those unfortunate Spanish officers surrendered at the discretion of the enemy and so by their cowardice sealed their own doom. They surrendered their swords and were placed between two files of soldiers. Gutíerrez and his army returned to the eastern side of the river compelling their prisoners to march in front to the sound of martial music, and they entered within the walls of the Alamo, the same Alamo which in March 136 was to become the cradle of the liberty of Teas and the scene of the marvel of valor. There, the valiant patriot, Gutíerrez, Kemper, Ross and their brave companions enjoyed the first sleep since the triumph of March 31st. There, they sealed the mysterious bond of those terrible events which happened in the year of 1836.
On April 1st at nine in the morning, the republican army marched to the beating of drums from the Alamo to Main Plaza of San Antonio. They crossed the river of Commerce street. The Spanish-Mexican army ad disbanded and retired the preceding night and could not be seen in any part of the city. Only a few who were overcome with terror and e few citizens
of San Antonio remained. .Gutíerrez took possession of all the houses of Government where the beautiful store of the
Mesdames Bances now stands, an immediately called an administrative Junta of civil council of those citizens who with great ardor had opposed Spanish rule and ho consequently had favored Mexican Independence. This Junta was composed of from eight to ten members, a President, and a Secretary. From the writings of Gutíerrez it seems that he signed it with the sole object of court martialing[sic ] and sentencing the Spanish prisoners.
The secretary of this Junta, Mariano Rodrigues, is still living. At that time be was a youth, active and jolly. Today he is an antiquated septuagenarian who merely exists in San Antonio with a very limited recollection of the past and an extreme indifference for the future. On the fourth day of April, of possibly on the night of the fifth, a company of sixty Mexican men under the command of Antonio Delgado led out of San Antonio fourteen Spanish prisoners, including four of Mexican birth, to the eastern bank of the Salado near the same spot on which occurred the battle of Rosilla. There they alighted from their fine horses, and with no other arms than the large, dull machetes which each of those monsters carried hanging from their belts. After having heaped offensive words and insulting epithets upon them, they beheaded them with inhuman irony, some of those assassins sharpened their machetes on the soles of their boots in the presence of their defenseless victims.
Oh, shame of the human race! What a disgrace for the descendants of a Christian nation!
What blood can coolly suffer in silence an act unparalleled in the annals of the history of San Antonio de Bexar? But we owe an impartial history to posterity that such horrible deeds may be known to the future generations so that through their own good conduct of the future, they may eradicate such horrible stains from our benign soil.
One day after the slaughter, I myself saw that horde of assassins arrive with their officer, Antonio Delgado, who halted in front of the houses of Government to inform Bernardo Gutíerrez that the fourteen victims had been disposed of. On that morning of ominous glory, a large number of other young spectators and I stood at the door of the Palace of the Governor and watched Captain Delgado's entrance into the hall. He doffed his hat in the presence of General Gutíerrez and stuttering, he proffered some words mingled with shame. e handed Gutíerrez a paper which, I believe, contained a list of the beheaded ones, and whose names I give below:
SPANIARDS:I myself saw the clothing and the blood stained jewels which those tigers carried hanging from their saddles horns, making public festival of their crime and of having divided the spoils among themselves pro rata.
Manuel Salcedo, Governor
Simon de Herrera, Colonel
Geronimo Herrera, Colonel
Juan Echevarria, Captain
José Mateos, Lieutenant
José Goescochea, Lieutenant
Juan Ignacio Arrambide, Lieutenant
Gregorio Amador, Lieutenant
Antonio Lopez, Lieutenant
Francisco Perciva, Captain
Miguel de Arcos, Lieutenant
Luis Hijo y Francisco, Lieutenant
Juan Caso, Lieutenant
As I have said, it is certain that Gutíerrez received in the Palace of the Governor an account of that cruel affair although later he disavowed taking part in the execution of the prisoners. Gutíerrez say in a manuscript which he wrote and printed in Monterey May 6, 1827, that he had never given the order to execute those unfortunate fourteen prisoners, but that a great number of citizens who were greatly excited provoked against the Spanish Governors, induced a majority of the Junta to pass a formal order so that the guard who had custody of the prisoners should hand them over could avoid such a scandal, much less relinquish his command on seeing his cause blackened by the most infamous action that could be authorized by a leader of vandals. Consequently, Gutíerrez shared in the atrocity. His was a hypocrite; he pronounced sentence and like Pilate, washed his hands. It was not a court martial which passed sentence as has been erroneously stated.
Kemper and his American auxiliaries were horrified by so barbarous a deed and they prepared to leave the country, demanding of Gutíerrez that they be justified in the name of the Mexican Republic but due to the pleadings in chorus of Miguel Menchaca and other Mexican leaders, they consented to remain in San Antonio to help the cause of Mexican Independence.
Some days after these events, it became known with certainty that Colonel Ignacio Elizondo was marching from the Rio Grande to San Antonio with an army of more than 2,000 men. Elizondo was furious on receiving the news of the murder of the governors and by forced marches arrived at the place known as Alazan about two miles west of San Antonio. Gutíerrez and Peery met him there June 3, 1813, and from the towers of the Catholic Parish Church, a number of curious youths, including myself, watched the conflict of shining weapons through our field glasses and listened to the deep thunder of the cannons.
Elizondo, after a combat of four hours was defeated and he abandoned the field of battle, leaving 400 men dead, wounded and prisoners. Gutíerrez lost 22 men and 42 wounded.
Among the dead was the aide-de-camp Maricos, a French youth, skillful, learned, with a personal valor and such bravery that not even the marshals of Napoleon could rival. Scarcely had the victors, Gutíerrez and Perry, returned to San Antonio who it was learned that the Commander in Chief of the province, Joaquín de Arredondo, was in Laredo on his way to San Antonio with more than 3,000 of the best troops of Mexico, united with the fugitives of the battles of Alazan who with the defeated Colonel Elizondo had joined them on the road. At this time, Gutíerrez, despite his victories, began to lose the confidence of his officers and soldiers. Either the barbarous and abnormal conduct of Gutíerrez towards the murdered Spaniards of the political tricks of José Alvarez de Toledo, a Spaniard who had been set by the Cortes of Cadiz to the island of San Domingo, a liberal opposed to the rule of the King of Spain, who came from the state of Louisiana to dismiss Gutíerrez from office, all effected the feeling of the Republican officers and the army. But what is absolutely certain is that Gutíerrez' influence diminished with the same rapidity as that with which he had triumphed in a thousand battles.
Discouraged on seeing himself abandoned, Gutíerrez left Bear with some of his intimate friends for the United States. And a few days later, General Toledo took command of the army. Gutíerrez, in his proclamation of May 25, 1827, said that General Alvares de Toledo was only a hypocritical patriot of Mexican independence and that when he came to Texas to take command of the Republican troops, he was in secret correspondence with he King of Spain in an attempt to hinder the progress and the success of the patriots.
As proof of his assertion it is said that some time after the year 1813, Alvares de Toledo had returned to Spain and he was not only received by Fernando VII, but he was even rewarded with the appointment of Ambassador to one of the European Courts. Whether this is true of not is the mystery hidden in the misty twilight of time long passed. There is further proof of Toledo's having been a sincere patriot in 1813, after which he suffered the weakness of taking refuge in the amnesty and favor of the King. But if we may judge by reputation and appearances, we must confess that the assertions of Gutíerrez are confirmed by the epithets that his own countrymen have hurled in his face, "He was a politician without principles, an unlettered judge, an undisciplined soldier and cruel to the marrow.
On the other hand, Toledo was apparently a young man of 32 years, of liberal principles, affluent in speech, pleasing personality, skillful, of gentle manly demeanor and very obsequious. With this multitude of fascinating qualities, he immediately captured the hearts and goodwill of the army and the inhabitants of San Antonio, and later, he became the commanding officer.
Finally, General Arredondo became furious and impatient to pacify the minds of the people an to avenge the death of his countrymen, the Governors. On the 18th of August and not on the 13th, as it has been stated, Toledo opened battle at Medina. This general had 1,500 men including 600 American volunteers. Arredondo had 4,000 men. The battle was fought with great military skill on both sides. The American volunteers formed the regiment of infantry and the company of artillery was composed of nine cannon from four to eight inches in caliber. The Cavalry consisted of inhabitants of San Antonio and vicinity and of certain individuals from Tamaulipas and the Rio Grande.
By a strategic movement Arredondo caused his army to raise a unanimous cry of Long live the King! Victory is ours! At the same time the band played their notes of victory, causing the cavalry of terrorized patriots to flee from the field. However, the phlegmatic America Infantry, and its artilleries sustained the deadly fire fro the eighteen heavy-calibered cannon of Arredondo for more than four hours.
No one can overcome impossibilities, nor is it natural for one to combat a disproportionately large force. The America Infantry finally abandoned the artillery and
hurriedly fled from the field of battle, breaking their files against the oak and mesquite trees, rather than leave them as trophies for the enemy and resolutely they gave themselves up to fate. Arredondo cavalry pursued them with saber in hand and lance prepared, inflicting terrible slaughter upon them for six long miles, and so perished the better part of those brave compatriots. On the following day, Arredondo entered the city triumphantly, with his carts laden with wounded and dying.
At this point my hand trembles in recording the scenes of horror with which they spurred one of the bitterest enemies of Gutíerrez in requital for the previous atrocities of Gutíerrez. Arredondo avenged himself in the most infamous manner and without distinction, and he ordered the imprisonment of 700 of the most peaceful inhabitants of San Antonio.
At the same time, he imprisoned 300 unfortunate people in the cells of the Catholic priests on the night of the 20th of August. They were crowded in like sheep in the old in the hottest months of summer. On the morning of the following day, 18 of them had perished from suffocation. The remainder were placed before the firing squad from day to day for no more response than that they had been accused of being in favor of Independence.
By a unexplicable [sic] coincidence, it appears that in San Antonio, in those same places where so many cruelties were committed, reserved for providence so that in happier times they might serve as lessons in devotion, justice, education and recreation, there today stands the courthouse, and facing Main Plaza is the balustrade of the hotel; the former is the sanctuary of the law, and the latter a lodging place that affords the most delicious food the gastronomist can possibly procure.
In those times, daily executions took place and often the laments of the dying were heard where now stands the Post Office through which the inner thoughts are communicated in writing, and through which knowledge and policies are diffused through the community.
Arredondo erected a large prison for women known as La Quinta. There, they suffered agony. More than 500 married and single women whose husbands and fathers were known as insurgents! For four months, an insolent guard compelled them to convert twenty-four bushels of corn into tortillas daily to feed the officers and soldiers of Arredondo.
There, the modest and gentle wives and daughters were exposed to the insults of, those depraved undisciplined troops and frequently they suffered the defiled and lewd gazes and endearing remarks of officers and soldiers who enjoyed that detestable and repugnant pastime. Juana Leal de Tarín and Concepción Leal de Garza, who then lived on their farms on the banks of the San Antonio River, were among those innocent and unfortunate prisoners of La Quinta. They endured their defaming captivity with a spirited courage before submitting to the shameful proposals of their jailers.
*[See Editor's Note]
After the battle of Medina, Colonel Elizondo left San Antonio with 500 men in pursuit of the fugitives, who were on the road to the United States.
At the Trinity river on the old road from San Antonio he overtook a body of men and families, and at that point 105 persons were shot.
Perhaps I shall be excused of exaggerating in giving details of the manner in which those captives were condemned and executed on the Trinity. Elizondo had for a chaplain a despicable priest known, as Padre Camacho and when some of the fugitive insurgents were captured, Elizondo brought hem to the confessional and ordered the said clergyman to confess them according to the rites of the Catholic Church. Belief in Christianity and hope of eternity compelled those unfortunate men to confess without reserve the part they had taken in the revolution. Padre Camacho, in the conviction of these confession, gave a prearranged signal t the officers of the guard so that they might lead the victim immediately to the place of execution.
One other aggravating circumstance may fill the readers with horror. Padre Camacho by chance had been wounded by a spent bullet which broke the muscles of his leg at the battle of Alazan. More than once on the Trinity River, where. some unfortunate condemned to death, pleaded aloud for mercy, the priest, raising his clerical garments said to him, "Move on my son, and suffer the penalty in the name of God, because perhaps the bullet which wounded me may have come from your gun."
After these executions on the Trinity river, Elizondo took as prisoners all the broken families, many ladies, black eyed and beautiful. They were handcuffed and were compelled to cross the San .Antonio river on foot at the very place which now is the pleasant bathing place of Mr. Hall, and Elizondo himself invited the weaker sex to bathe their delicate forms.
Who could have foretold that the heads of the famous spies of General Gutíerrez, Gulas, Botas Negras and Ayamontes, whom Arredondo had had executed in San Antonio, would be crated and placed on the sharp end of a pike at the very spot where now the American flag proudly waves on Military Plaza
Who could have foretold that thirty-three years later an emblem of terror feared by the tyrants, a flag respected by the world, would mark the place where their lifeless heads had been exhibited.
After the independence of Mexico was gained, Governor Trespalacios crossed the Medina river towards San Antonio and upon viewing the prairies sprinkled with human skeletons, he had them collected and buried with full military honors.
I distinctly remember the following Inscription written on a square of wood which was on the trunk of an oak tree:
Here lie the Mexican heroes who followed the example of LeonidesThis is an imperfect but truthful history of the events of that period.
Who sacrificed their wealth and lives
Ceaselessly fighting against tyrants.
San Antonio remained quiet and subjected to the dominion of the King of Spain after the arrival of Arredondo. He confiscated and sold the property of the patriots known as rebels who never recovered their goods, not even after the consummation of Mexico Independence in the year of 1821.
The noble citizens of Bexar sacrificed their lives and property, performing prodigies of valor in the year 1813. They left to their descendants so other inheritance than the indifference and ingratitude of the Mexican Republic.
They never received my recompense of indemnity, not even the due respect and gratitude of their fellow citizens of Mexico. Our courage and heroism were cast into complete oblivion by the government of an ancient and respected country. for that reason, I do not believe that anyone will be surprised that the germ of discontent which the people of Texas nurtured and for which reason they adhere to the new order of things that is offered to us by the institutions of a great, powerful, and growing Republic. Such is the source an opportunity for the Independence of Texas which State is separated from that Government forever. Maybe this condition will continue indefinitely.
Source: Photostatic copy of typescript on file at the DRT Library. Provided by Robert L. Tarín, Jr. OCR scanned and corrected by Randell Tarin , August 1998. Some errors are as they appeared in the available transcript.
* Editor's Note:
Juana Leal de Tarín and Concepción Leal de Garza were both daughters of Don Joaquín Leal and Doña Ana Maria de Arocha. Juana Leal de Tarín was imprisioned because her husband, Don Vicente Tarín had resigned his post as commandant of the Alamo de Parras company to take a captaincy in the insurgent army. Her sister, Concepción Leal de Garza was imprioned for her outspoken views and because her father and brothers had joined the insurgency.