San Antonio, June 5, 1869
Mr. Narciso Leal and friends, San Antonio, June 5, 1869
A Brief Biographical Sketch Of The Author Of These Commentaries
There are few men like José Antonio Navarro, who have not only desired to be a patriot but have known how to be one-which is what makes a citizen illustrious. We will not attempt to make Mr. Navarro appear as a liberator, like Bolivar; nor a jurisprudent like Henry Clay; nor a leader like Hidalgo, because the knowledge we have of his irrepressible dignity forbids it. But we can assure that his return to private life has made him a greater man than fame would have made of him in the spacious halls of the senate. Despite his scant education, José Antonio Navarro is one of those men who stands out, even alongside other men of note. We can say that his intellect has little in common with the others, but comes very close to that of B Franklin. Everyone knows more of the virtues than of the talent of the Philadelphia philosopher. José Antonio appears to be of this mold, having made himself worthy of the merit conceded to him by all those who have the opportunity to deal with him in good faith. Whoever treats with Mr. Navarro diligently, in accord with his ideas, or who upon meeting him engages his sense of humor, is received by José Antonio and treated with a tact and courtesy that leaves nothing to be desired. The furniture and various items which make up the contents of his home immediately convey the idea that this honorable compatriot is a member of that small body of men whose simple and unchanging customs embody both knowledge and recreation. This is an enrapturing thing that imposes equally the austerity of science with spirited associations and friendship, as though they existed in perfect harmony.
To see José Antonio, at the age at which we write these paragraphs, is to recall the saying: "so young yet so old." His appearance is of the Spanish type. He has an aquiline nose, a pure ruddy color of face, and the uniform whiteness of his complete head of hair delicately frames his wide forehead. But nothing of his physiognomy shows the excesses of premature age. To the contrary, his sane judgment and his intelligence clear and quick to perceive-his natural voice, energetic and sonorous when he raises it, with its facile action and accent, enables the least observant person to see that José Antonio Navarro is in the prime of his golden years. Consequently he possesses a high level of energy to live his life with perfected harmony-amazing results of a frugal life balanced by wholesome customs. Many times those of us writing these lines have had the good fortune of spending a few hours at the side of this honorable elder without considering it to be more than a very useful and agreeable company that influences our soul in the regions of pleasure and the unknown. Alexander of Russia said one night, in the Theater of Erfurth to Napoleon himself: "The friendship of a great man is a favor of the Gods."
And how many times would we have missed a new idea, if we had not been listening to the reason of the sound intelligence of our venerable friend! Of course we would over extend ourselves if we tried to consider all the points to make a more complete-which could easily fill this brief note. But we are satisfied that there are persons who probably should be working on a complete biography of José Antonio, and we leave that task to them as being more competent and better informed than we are. However, we can only conclude with a limited account of the birth and some of the events of the life of our subject. José Antonio Navarro was born in this city on February 27, 1795. His parents were Ángel Navarro, a native of Corsica (Europe), and Maria Joséfa Ruiz y Pena, of Spanish origin and a creole of this city. As a person whom nature had chosen for great and righteous ideas, José Antonio quickly absorbed the scant education that he was able to obtain in the state of Coahuila! But because of his desire to learn, he knew that was not enough and he persevered. Trust in the faith of self-education was how Don José Antonio has been called to occupy distinguished positions first in Mexico, then in the Republic of Texas, and later in the United States.
The life of José Antonio Navarro can be divided into three glorious epochs: (1) that of his birth and youth in Mexican Texas, where at a very young age he was initiated in the events of the insurrection according to the commentaries that follow. (2) That of his mature age, in which he figured notably in the revolution of Republican Texas, in which because of the firmness of his character and principles, he experienced a cruel deception by Santa Anna, the most despotic of the dictators of Mexico. (3) Consequently, for the remainder of his days, from then until the present time, he has continued to be the strongest champion of the rights of the people in the United States-not withstanding his retirement from public events that today agitate the country. This is how our venerable compatriot lives today, providing with his disciplined conduct and orderly habits the most relevant example of good sense in the question of political parties.
José Antonio Navarro has many prestigious friends in this country who take pleasure in recalling his merit, not withstanding any opposition to his political beliefs. There are instances of men more eminent than he, who by reason of their knowledge and youth bask in the fame of illustrious audiences who then disappear like the lightning that only lasts for the rainy season. But José Antonio, following the course of events, has imparted to his country the enduring service of his virtuous life and common sense that is only given to the predestined. Such is our perspective of the life of the Honorable] and worthy elder. At seventy-four years of age, it appears that the increase of time weighs upon him only to enhance the marvelous memory he possesses. The lesion on the left leg, caused by an accident in the year, resulted in a painful tumor that aggravates his suffering. Nevertheless, this condition has not prevented our venerable fellow citizen from the exercise of walking naturally and regularly. We will conclude this article, whose purpose is to highlight the character of the author of the Historical Commentaries, which we have the pleasure to present to our fellow citizens as an endowment of our country's past. Yet at the same time other facts about José Antonio Navarro must be withheld because of his scrupulous modesty that would not pardon us, in spite of the consent he gives in his answer to our letter at the beginning of this booklet.
Let the foregoing be sufficient for all who know the Honorable] José
Antonio Navarro to understand that we have written in deference to the truth, which medium
we hope will serve as a declaration for all those who, like us, profess a true affection
To the Editor of the San Antonio Ledger:
In the issue of September 15 last, I read some historical recollections concerning the foundation and early history of San Antonio de Bexar. Since I was an eyewitness of all the salient events that were described, I cannot resist the temptation to correct some 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 was difficult to follow the historical chronology. An accurate chronicle of those events has long been needed, for it would present to posterity the customs, character, abilities and moral qualities of the men of that epoch. In 1813, the author of this letter was nearly eighteen years old; he lived in San Antonio and still retains fresh memories of that time. This circumstance, and his passion for his beloved San Antonio's history (which should be narrated with due respect for the truth) has produced the present declaration.
You will not discover vainglory, nor the inordinate desire for excellence of style, but rather a concise narrative of bloody and revolutionary times. The Mexican priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, embellished by a thousand superlatives, was the first to utter the cry of independence in the town of Dolores. The priest José Maria Morelos, famous from that time to the present for his military talents, was another one of the heroes of Mexican independence. After the execution of the priest Hidalgo, Morelos convened the first Mexican Congress at Apatzingan. General Felix Maria Calleja, later Viceroy of Mexico, was particularly notorious for his bloody persecutions and iniquities against the patriots Hidalgo, Guerrero, Morelos, Bravo and others. Calleja was the most formidable enemy the Mexicans had. Morelos was captured, humiliated, and finally shot in the old castle of San Cristobal, four leagues distance from the capital of Mexico. José Bernardo Gutiérrez, 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 went to Washington and other cities in the United States, and finally in the state of Louisiana he assembled four hundred fifty 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 Bahia del Espiritu Santo, known today as Goliad. In response, Manuel Salcedo, military governor of Texas, and Simon de Herrera of Nuevo Leon, rode out with more than two thousand men and attacked La Bahia on November 15 of the same year. Generals Gutiérrez, McGee, Kemper, Perry, and Ross sustained the siege for three vexatious months; almost all their force was composed of American volunteers and some Mexicans. Finally, in desperation they came out from the walls of Goliad and fought the enemy. They returned to the fort having suffered almost no losses, leaving two hundred of the enemy dead and wounded. Toward the end of March 1813, after twenty-seven regular skirmishes, Salcedo and Herrera discontinued the siege and turned back toward San Antonio. Gutiérrez, Kemper, and the others, encouraged by the forced retreat of the enemy, followed them day by day. Salcedo had barely arrived at San Antonio with his army when Simon de Herrera ordered him to leave the city and march to Salado Creek where, at the place called "Rosillo," he fought the army of Gutiérrez---if a band of nine hundred patriots could be called such.
The two forces met at the end of March. It was a bloody battle. Herrera lost four hundred men, dead and wounded; Gutiérrez only five dead and fourteen wounded. The royal army ran in disarray toward San Antonio, which Salcedo and Herrera had begun to fortify for the purpose of resisting Gutiérrez. This Kemper and others, after collecting the spoils of battle and burying the dead, pursued them with their victorious army and took possession of Concepcion Mission, southeast of San Antonio. The next 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 precinct, Bernardo Gutiérrez demanded the unconditional surrender of Governors Salcedo and Herrera. This took place on March 30, 1813. On the afternoon of the 31st, these same persons with their entire military staff and other officers of high rank left Bexar on foot and met Gutiérrez and his victorious army. The conference between victor and vanquished was brief. Nothing is known about what was said, except for the request that their lives be guaranteed. Gutiérrez replied evasively but indicated that their lives were not in danger.
This cowardly surrender sealed the doom of those unfortunate Spanish officers. They surrendered their swords and were placed between two columns. Gutiérrez and his army crossed 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 1836 was to become the cradle of the liberty of Texas and the scene of glory and valor. There, the valiant patriots Gutiérrez, Kemper, Ross, and their brave companions enjoyed the first sleep since the triumph of March 31st, and there they sealed the mysterious legacy of those terrible events which happened in the year of 1836.
On April 1st, at nine in the morning, the republican army marched to a beating drum from the Alamo to the main plaza of San Antonio. They crossed the river by means of a miserable bridge, replaced today by the excellent and beautiful one at Commerce Street. The Hispanic-Mexican army had disbanded and retreated the previous night and could not be found in any part of the city. Only a few persons immobilized by terror and the families of some citizens of San Antonio remained. Gutiérrez took possession of the Casas Reales, where the beautiful store of the Vances now stands. He immediately called an administrative junta or civil council of those citizens who, with the greater ardor, had opposed Spanish rule and who consequently had favored Mexican independence. The junta was composed of a president, a secretary, and eight to ten members. From the writing of Gutiérrez it seems that he created it with the sole object of court-martialing and sentencing the Spanish prisoners.
The secretary of this junta, Mariano Rodriguez, is still living. At that time he was an active and jolly youth. Today he is an antiquated septuagenarian who merely exists in San Antonio with a very limited recollection of the past and an utter indifference for the future. On the fourth day of April, or possibly on the night of the fifth, a group of sixty Mexican men under the command of Antonio Delgado led fourteen Spanish prisoners, including four of Mexican birth, out of San Antonio to the eastern bank of Salado Creek, near the same spot where the battle of Rosillo occurred. There they dismounted from their fine horses, with no other arms than the big knives that each of those monsters carried hanging from their belts for use in the country. After having heaped offensive words and insulting epithets upon them, they cut their throats. With inhuman mockery some of those assassins sharpened their knives on the soles of their shoes in the presence of their defenseless victims.
Oh, shame of the human race! Oh disgrace for the descendants of a Christian nation! What people 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, they may eradicate such horrible stains from our benevolent 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 Casas Reales to inform Bernardo Gutiérrez that the fourteen victims 22 had been dispatched. On that portentious morning, a large number of other young spectators and I stood at the door of the Casas Reales and watched Captain Delgado's entrance into the hall. He doffed his hat in the presence of General Gutiérrez and, stuttering, he uttered some words mingled with shame. He handed Gutiérrez a paper which, I believe, contained a list of those whose throats had been cut, and whose names I give below: sdct
I myself saw the clothing and the blood-stained adornments which those tigers carried hanging from their saddle horns, boasting publicly of their crime and of having divided the spoils among themselves in shares. As I have said, it is certain that Gutiérrez received in the same Government House an account of that cruel affair, although later he disavowed taking part in the execution of the prisoners. Gutiérrez says in a manuscript which he wrote and printed in Monterrey on May 26,1827 that he had never given the order to execute those unfortunate fourteen prisoners, but rather that a great number of citizens, who were greatly excited and angry with the Spanish governors, induced a majority of the junta to pass a formal order requiring the guard who had custody of the prisoners to hand them over immediately.
The guards, Gutiérrez adds, could do no less than obey without hesitation-even though an authorization and order for it should have been prepared. Thus the prisoners under their responsibility were immediately taken out and conducted to the place where an inhuman and bloody death awaited them-a death which was given to them without authorization and without the temporal and spiritual assistance which the Holy Church requires. Perhaps God permitted it as a merited punishment for the inhuman cruelties which had been committed by those unfortunate individuals.
Whoever knows, or who can formulate a rough idea of the type of men of that epoch, can comprehend the extreme depth of ignorance and ferocious passions of the men of those times. Whoever is informed will understand that among the Mexicans of that time, with some exceptions, there was no clear political sentiment. They did not know the importance of the words "independence and liberty" and they did not understand the reasons for the rebellion of the priest Hidalgo as other than a shout for death and a war without quarter on the gachupines, as the Spaniards were called. Thus one will readily concede and agree, as Bernardo Gutiérrez has admitted in his own way, that the band of so-called patriots "killed those fourteen victims." But his excuse is very weak, very cowardly, and unworthy of a general who neither would nor could avoid such a scandal, much less relinquish his command upon seeing his cause blackened by a more monstrous action than could be perpetrated by a vandal chieftain. Consequently, Gutiérrez shared in the atrocity. His own dissimulation exposed him, and like Pilate he washed his hands. It was no court martial that sentenced them, as has been erroneously stated.
Kemper and his American auxiliaries were horrified by such a barbarous deed and prepared to leave the country, demanding of Gutiérrez what they were owed in the name of the Mexican Republic. But due to the pleadings of Colonel Miguel Menchaca and other Mexican leaders, they consented to remain in San Antonio to help the cause for Mexican independence. A few days after these events, it became known with certainty that Colonel Ignacio Elizondo was marching from Rio Grande toward San Antonio with an army of more than two thousand men. He was furious about the news of the deaths of the two governors, and by forced marches he arrived at the place known as the Alazan about two miles west of San Antonio. Gutiérrez and Perry met him there June 3, 1813, and a number of curious youths observed from the towers of the Catholic parish church. We watched the clash of flashing weapons through our field glasses and listened to the horrifying thunder of the cannons.
After four hours of combat Elizondo was defeated and he abandoned the field of battle, leaving four hundred men dead, wounded and as prisoners. Gutiérrez lost twenty-two men and forty-two wounded. Among the dead was the aide-de-camp Mr. Maricos, a French youth, skillful, learned, courageous, and so gallant that not even the marshals of Napoleon could rival him. The victorious Gutiérrez and Perry had scarcely returned to San Antonio when it was learned that the Commander in Chief of the province, Joaquin de Arredondo, was at Laredo marching toward San Antonio with more than three thousand of the best Mexican troops, including the fugitives of the battles of Alazan who with the defeated Colonel Elizondo had joined them on the road.
At this time, Gutiérrez, despite his victories, began to lose the confidence of his officers and soldiers. Perhaps it was because of his barbarous and abnormal conduct towards the murdered Spaniards, or perhaps because of the political intrigue of José Alvarez de Toledo, a Spaniard who had been sent by the Cortes of Cadiz to the island of San Domingo. Liberal and disaffected with the rule of the king of Spain, he came to Texas from the state of Louisiana to dispossess Gutiérrez of his command. The morale of the republican officers and the army was affected, and what is absolutely certain is that Gutiérrez' influence diminished with the same rapidity it was won in a thousand triumphant battles.
Discouraged on seeing himself abandoned, Gutiérrez left Bexar for the United States with some of his most intimate friends. A few days later, General Toledo took command of the army. Gutiérrez, in his proclamation of May 25, 1827, said that General Alvarez de Toledo was only a sham patriot of Mexican Independence; that when he came to Texas to take command of the republican troops he was in secret correspondence with the king of Spain in an attempt to hinder the progress and the success of the patriots. It is given as proof that some time after the year 1813, Alvarez de Toledo returned to Spain and was not only received by Fernando VII but was even rewarded with the appointment as ambassador to one of the European courts.
Whether this is true or not is a mystery hidden in the obscurity of time long passed. What is at least proved is that, having been a sincere patriot in 1813, Toledo 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 admit that the assertions about Gutiérrez are supported by the epithets that his own countrymen have hurled in his face: "He was a politician without principles, an uncultured judge, and an insubordinate soldier who was cruel to the marrow." On the other hand, Toledo was a young man of about thirty-two years, of liberal principles, eloquent in speech and personal gallantry, having resourcefulness, fine manners and diplomacy. With this multitude of seductive qualities he immediately captured the hearts and minds of the army and the residents of San Antonio and later took command as chief as has been said.
At last General Arredondo arrived, furious and impatient to quiet the spirit of insurrection and to avenge the death of his compatriots, the governors. On the 18th of August, and not on the 13th as has been previously reported, Toledo offered to do battle at Medina. This general had fifteen hundred men including six hundred American volunteers; Arredondo had four thousand men. The battle was fought with great military skill on both sides. The American volunteers formed the regiment of infantry and handled the artillery, composed of nine cannons from four to eight caliber. The cavalry consisted of inhabitants of San Antonio and vicinity and of some individuals from Tamaulipas and Rio Grande. As a strategic device, Arredondo caused his army to raise a unanimous shout of "Long live the king! Victory is ours!" At the same time the band sounded notes of victory, causing the cavalry of terrorized patriots to flee from the field. However the plodding American infantry and its artillery sustained the deadly fire from Arredondo's eighteen heavy-caliber cannons for more than four hours.
They could not overcome the impossible, nor is it the natural order of things to fight against a disproportionately large force. Resolving to give themselves up to fate, the American infantry finally abandoned the artillery and hurriedly fled from the field of battle, breaking their rifles against the oak and mesquite trees rather than leave them as trophies for the enemy. Arredondo's cavalry pursued them for six long miles, with saber in hand and fixed lances, inflicting terrible losses. And thus perished the greater part of those brave compatriots.
On the following day, Arredondo entered the city triumphantly, his carts laden with wounded and dying. At this point my hand trembles in recording the scenes of horror which they inflicted even on the bitterest enemies of Gutiérrez in repayment for his past cruelties. Arredondo avenged himself in the most outrageous manner and indiscriminately ordered the imprisonment of seven hundred peaceful inhabitants of San Antonio.
At the same time, he imprisoned three hundred unfortunate people in the cells of the Catholic priests on the night of August 20th. They were crowded like sheep in the fold during the hottest months of summer. On the morning of the following day, eighteen of them had perished from suffocation. The remainders were passed before firing squads, from day to day, for no more reason than having been accused of favoring independence. By an inexplicable coincidence, it appears that in San Antonio those same places where so many cruelties were committed have been reserved by Providence and destined, in happier times, to serve as lessons in devotion, justice, education, and recreation. For where the courthouse stands today, and in the front of the balustrade of the hotel on the main plaza---one a sanctuary of law, the other a lodging place that provides the most delicious things that gastronomy has to offer---is where in those times daily executions took place, and often the moans of the dying were heard. The post office is the means by which our inner thoughts are communicated in writing, and through which knowledge and civility are diffused through the community; where the post office stands today, Arredondo devised a large prison for women known as la quinta.
More than five hundred married and single women whose husbands and fathers were known as insurgents suffered there. For four months, insolent guards daily compelled them to convert twenty-four bushels of corn into tortillas to feed the officers and soldiers of Arredondo. There the modest and sensitive wives and daughters were exposed to the jeers of those depraved, undisciplined troops, and frequently they suffered the impure, lewd, gazes and debasing remarks of officers and soldiers who enjoyed that detestable and repugnant spectacle. Juana Leal de Tarin and Concepcion Leal de Garza, who still live on their farms on the banks of the San Antonio River, were among those innocent and unfortunate prisoners of La Quinta. They endured their outrageous captivity with spirited courage before yielding to the shameful proposals of their jailers.
After the battle of Medina, Colonel Elizondo left San Antonio with five hundred 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 one hundred five persons were shot. Perhaps I shall be accused of exaggerating by giving a historical account of the method of judgment by which those captured on the Trinity were condemned and executed. Elizondo had for a chaplain a despicable priest known as Padre Camacho. When some of the fugitive insurgents were captured, Elizondo brought them to the confessional and ordered this clergyman to confess them according to the rites of the Catholic Church. Christian sentiment and hope of eternity compelled those unfortunate men to confess truthfully, without reserve, the part they had taken in the revolution. Padre Camacho, with the proof of these confessions, would give a prearranged signal to the officers of the guard so that they might lead the victim immediately to the place of execution. sdct
Another aggravating circumstance may fill the readers with horror. Padre Camacho had been a casualty at the battle of Alazan, wounded by a spent bullet which broke the muscles of his leg. More than once on the Trinity River, when some wretch condemned to death pleaded aloud for mercy, the priest, raising his clerical habit would say to him, "Move on my son and suffer the penalty in the name of God, because the ball that wounded me may have come from your rifle." After these executions on the Trinity River, Elizondo returned with all the afflicted families as prisoners, among whom were many black-eyed and beautiful women. He invited the weaker sex to bathe their delicate forms while they were being compelled, with hands tied, to cross the San Antonio River on foot at the very place now occupied by the pleasant bath house of Mr. Hall.
Who could have foretold that the heads of the famous spies of General Gutiérrez, Culas, Botas Negras and Ayamontes, whom Arredondo had executed in San Antonio, would be caged and placed on the point of a pike at the same place where the American banner now proudly waves on Military Plaza? Who could have foretold that thirty-three years after this emblem of terror was flaunted by tyrants to instill fear, that a flag respected by the world would mark the place where those lifeless heads had been exhibited? After Mexican Independence was won, Governor Trespalacios crossed the Medina River on his way to San Antonio and, upon viewing the prairies sprinkled with human skeletons, had them collected and buried with 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 brave Mexicans,
This is an imperfect but truthful history of the events of that period. After the arrival of Arredondo, San Antonio remained quiet and subject to the dominion of the king of Spain. He confiscated and sold the property of the patriots-known as rebels-who never recovered their belongings, not even after the consummation of Mexican independence in the year of 1821. The noble citizens of Bexar sacrificed their lives and property, performing heroic deeds of valor in the year 1813. Yet they left to their descendants no other inheritance than the indifference and ingratitude of the Mexican Republic. They never received any compensation or indemnity, not even the due respect and gratitude from their fellow citizens of Mexico. Our courage and heroism were cast into oblivion by the government of that ancient and renowned land. For that reason, I do not believe that anyone will be surprised by the germ of discontent that the people of Texas harbored. For this reason they adhere to the new order of things that is offered to us by the institutions of a great, powerful and appreciative republic. Such is the beginning that brought about the Independence of Texas, which separated itself from that government forever. Perhaps this subject can be continued at a later date.
SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS