SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 2000-2013, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved
José Antonio Navarro

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San Antonio Ledger, 12 December 1857

To the editor of the Ledger:

In numbers 27 and 28 of the month of December 1853 of this newspaper, the author of these notes wrote about the invasion of General Bernardo Gutiérrez and other events occurring in 1812 and 1813. It was Gutiérrez who brought from the United States those six hundred or more North Americans and volunteers, intrepid auxiliaries of Mexican independence. They fought more than ten months against the troops of the king of Spain at the walls of Goliad and on the fields of the Rosillo and Alazan. The insurgents finally succumbed in the bloody battle of Medina on the 18th of August, 1813, defeated by the superior force brought by veteran Spanish General Joaquin de Arredondo from the interior of Mexico.

It seems that this history would be of no little interest for your readers, especially for the present residents of Goliad, San Antonio, and the surrounding area, where their delightful meadows and crystalline springs were splattered with the blood of defenders of liberty that was spilled many years ago. It would seem to be of no little interest to read and understand now, through the mouth of an eyewitness, about the origin of the many conflicts in which the heroic native scions of San Antonio took an active part beginning in the year 1811.  I write this booklet as an inveterate devotee to historical materials, without literary pretensions, against all mercenary purposes, and feeling myself free and above those who do such for profit. The events I narrate were fixed in my retina at the time they occurred, and I have no need to resort to periphrases or allegories, as in mythological accounts. Paper, pen and ink, and an ardent desire that some able and conscientious future historian will have the materials to enhance the history of this my beloved land, have caused me to write this which is, without pecuniary return, the basis of my moral ambition.

The public will have seen the history of Texas written by the deceased Yoakum. While in many respects the work is appreciable and precise, it is plagued by a number of inexactitudes, such as this example: having Governor Antonio Cordero among the fourteen Spanish officials dying on the Rosillo by having his throat cut. It is certain that Cordero lived at least until 1821 in Mexico. Likewise, Yoakum says that the father of Captain Antonio Delgado was shot in San Antonio and his head put on public display---yet we know well that the venerable man died of old age and sorrow at the Trinity River while Elizondo was pursuing the fugitives from the battle of Medina. In this manner, Colonel Yoakum falls into other small errors which, although they do not damage the substance of his history, do impart an inconceivable inconstancy, such as when he says: that because of wars with the Indians, the troops of the Alamo were compelled during the year 1785 to remain within the walls of the mission. It is true that this happened, but it occurred when these troops were at Alamo de Parras in Mexico, long before they came to this Valero mission---which was called by that name since its foundation. It only took on the name "Alamo" after the troops of Alamo de Parras came to the Valero Mission, which was during the years of 1803 to 1804, and they remained at this mission continuously until the revolution of [1813].

These motives and the urging of some of my friends, who have desired to know about the most important contemporaneous events that happened in our city, have persuaded me to write this brief chronicle. I do not write for the heartless nor for the egoists-to whom the glories and misfortunes of men of another origin and language matter little or not at all. I write for the humanitarian and cultured who understand how to respect and empathize with the tribulations of a valiant people who have struggled in the midst of their own ignorance guided only by an instinct for their liberty, against enemies so superior that they may be placed alongside the most free and fortunate nations of all mankind-such as the nation with the flag of stars. I write in order to inform our Americans, however indignant some of them among us may be, who with base, aggressive pretexts want to uproot from this classic land its legitimate people who are the descendants of those who fifty years ago spilled their blood searching for the liberty of which we now vaingloriously boast.

Beginning with the years 1807 and 1808, when it appeared that the Spanish nation was breathing its last gasps as a result of the invasion by that prodigious conquistador, Napoleon I, Mexicans began quietly planning to shake off the ominous yoke of the mother country. Not because it was dismembered and nearly absorbed by the formidable conquistador, but because they could no longer tolerate the swarms of petty Spanish tyrants. These, in their angry impotence, in their frenetic delirium which caused the ruptures in the Spanish peninsula, inflicted unimaginable cruelties on the peaceful scions of Mexico, accompanied with violent pecuniary extortion in order to divide the booty among the tumultuous juntas and governments which were the provincial governments of Spain.

Never have people of the land seen a mosaic more confusingly inlaid with orders and decrees, all intended for the oppression and plunder of the unfortunate Mexican people. On the 8th of September, 1808, a French General named Octaviano D'Alvimar arrived in San Antonio. It was said he had traveled incognito through the United States and entered Texas through Nacogdoches. It was precisely D'Alvimar whom Napoleon had sent as the proclaimed viceroy of Mexico. We saw him enter the plaza of San Antonio with his flamboyant uniform. Covered with insignia and brilliant crosses, it challenged the amiable sun-which nevertheless continued to illuminate the plaza of San Antonio until its decline in the west. But it appears that General D'Alvimar was yet unaware of the reverses in fortune of his master the emperor, and that the arrogant and indomitable Spanish people were struggling through rivers of blood to throw off the French domination. He was unaware that astute inquisitorial orders, peculiar to Spanish diplomacy in emergent transactions, were now anticipated by the viceroyalty to the end that D'Alvimar be taken prisoner and sent under guard to the capital of Mexico. This was the determination of Antonio Cordero, governor of the province. It appears that this incident was accompanied by Spanish triumphs on the Peninsula and more terror for the conspirators' activities in America, but nevertheless the Mexicans continued their secret conspiracies to win independence from their colonial rulers.

On the other hand, reports that were arriving from the peninsula each day were gloomy and alarming. The troops of Napoleon triumphed everywhere and thousands of Spaniards were swearing obedience to the French emperor. Finally it was learned that a French magistrate, sent by Napoleon, would soon come to receive and take charge of the Viceroyalty of Mexico. The priest of the town of Dolores, Miguel Hidalgo, was one of the conspirators. The shout for independence was prepared for a certain day, but a Mexican Arnold entrusted with the secret gave the warning the Viceroy of Mexico had anticipated. The priest Hidalgo gave the shout at midnight of the sixteenth of September-even a delay of two hours probably would have seen him a prisoner on the way to Mexico, with all hope of independence dashed. sdct

Viva Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe; and mueran los Gachupines. This was the first invocation that occurred to him in those portentous moments. Upon such fragile auspices a revolution of fruitful results was born that has raised a federal republic that is a member of the family of nations. Let those who judge these anomalies with astonishment pause and contemplate the times and the capacities of the people there. Let them put themselves in the place of the patriot Hidalgo, already denounced as a traitor before the implacable despot, the Viceroy of Mexico. Imagine being in a pressing situation without the slightest plan of operation, without money, arms, or troops, having no more than a few hundred Indians from his own village. Neither the rigorous mind of a Washington nor the iron will of a Napoleon I could have led these chaotic, backward masses to so great an enterprise without motivating them by means of vengeance and superstition, just as this illustrious and unfortunate patriot was compelled to do.

The plunder and slaughter, a necessary consequence, began at that point. But how powerful are the instincts of a people who fight for a just cause! The Mexicans, in the midst of those inevitable disorders, triumphed everywhere by the end of 1810. All across the kingdom the people arose in mass, expelling, imprisoning and putting Spaniards to the sword. The echoes of the insurgent triumphs were heard into all the most remote provinces and this day arrived in San Antonio de Bexar. A garrison of two thousand soldiers of the king covered. this city and military points across to the Sabine River, their principal orders being to guard the Province of Texas at all hazards against initiatives by the United States. Here the officials and troops were more clever than those of Nuevo Leon and Nuevo Santander. Each soldier, one could say, was a citizen---capitalist---a distinguished calling to which the Viceroy of Mexico was passionately devoted. Is it surprising that at this time San Antonio was at the height of its prosperity? Hundreds of thousands in gold and silver coin came into the city every two months for the diligent maintenance of the troops. It was a common sight to see a soldier expend a hundred pesos on a meal and with the same nonchalance with which today we invite a friend to have a glass of beer.

San Antonio Ledger, 19 December 1857

Despite all these individual pleasures that were being enjoyed, the life of a great people is rooted in the totality of human society. The citizens and troops of San Antonio began .to manifest some anxiety about the political fortune of Mexico, and rumors and accusations against the Spanish governors now were noted in conversations among friends. The descendants of the first Islanders, the settlers of Bexar, its legitimate original masters, found bold and daring ways to humiliate the arrogance of the Spanish governors. The Delgados, Arochas, Leales, Traviesos and others had established privileged families in Bexar that were considered nobility from the time their fathers sailed from the Canary Islands to settle in the Province of Texas in the year 1730.

Here their well-honed pride and zealous indignation against the despotic actions of the Spanish governors germinated. There could have been no opportunity more suitable for these belligerent nobles than the one provided by the reports from Mexico regarding the triumphs gained by the priest Hidalgo and the other leaders of the insurrection. There was, nevertheless, considerable resistance to declaring a military rebellion. The principal military leaders were of Spanish origin. There were others of Mexican origin, but they restrained themselves with respectful delicacy from initiating the first rebellion against the rights of the monarchy that had ruled for three hundred years. To avoid this conflict of interest, the citizens chose individuals from the army who were neither officials of high rank (for the delicacy of the situation would make them useless for the enterprise), nor simple soldiers whose awareness of their inferiority would compel them to waver in the hour of danger. Thus three sergeants were selected to seduce the army:

Miguel Reyna, Blas José Perales and Trinidad Perez. They put all the troops under arms in the barracks that were located in La Villita, to the east of San Antonio. At dawn on January 22, 1811, they offered command of this army to the militia captain of Nuevo Santander, Juan Bautista Casas, who accepted and put himself at the head of fifteen hundred men. Casas marched in columns toward the plaza of government. Accompaning him as representatives of the citizens, were Gavino Delgado, Francisco Travieso and Vicente Flores. Dawn was just beginning to break when the battalions, now in closed column, faced the plaza of government.

Captain Casas, as ranking officer, entered and made prisoners of the Governors Salcedo, Herrera and other Spanish officials, who still slept the placid sleep of twilight, confident that no one would move against their omnipotent persons. This memorable day of January 22, 1811, was the first occasion in which the Mexicans of San Antonio de Bexar announced their desire to break forever the chains of their ancient colonial slavery. This was the day in which they no longer attempted to, restrain the trembling, guttural voice that pervades the long and servile life, and they were able to speak out loudly to those who had been the absolute masters of the Mexicans. But the sudden transformation of that day, in which the slaves were elevated to masters and the arbiters of their oppressors and masters of yesterday, generated a bitter vanguard directed against those called gachupines.

Captain Casas hastened to send the fourteen Spanish officers, well laden with chains, to the interior of Mexico. The sixteenth of February of the same year a formidable guard, commanded by the same Don Vicente Flores and sergeant Miguel Reyna, set out from Bexar with orders to deliver the prisoners to the insurgent Brigadier Pedro Aranda, who was at the Presidio del Rio Grande. Everything seemed to indicate the sure triumph of Mexican independence, and there was scarcely anyone who did not envy the glory of those who had dared to put the Spanish oppressors in chains. But human nature being what it is today, the more vehement the outbursts of the courageous spirit, the more fleeting its duration may be. Very few days passed before ominous signs appeared that were badly disguised---like the sick person who affects not to know the gravity of his illness in order to deny the approaching end of his existence. No omens could have signified more tragedy than those of January 22.

Casas and the other Coryphaeus feigning not to recognize the pervasive danger, freely permitted the masses of the town and the troops of the garrison to discuss the news that was arriving from Mexico, news which exaggerated the setbacks suffered by the priest Hidalgo and which painted a desperate situation for the armies of independence. It was unfortunately the truth! The glories of Hidalgo, Allende, Abasolo and other illustrious captains of independence had been eclipsed near the capital of Mexico and, with their defeated army, they were in retreat toward the provinces of Coahuila and Texas. They were hauling more than five million in gold and silver coin with the goal of reaching the United States and raising a large army of American volunteers.

What inscrutable judgments of Providence on high! What mortal man dares to question its divine dispositions? But permit us, brazen in our filial sentiment, to ask: why did you not permit those unfortunate heroes and their rich cargo to reach the classic land of the United States of the North, thus avoiding those ten years of cruel war in which more than five hundred thousand Mexicans disappeared, dead on the battlefield and by execution? But let us throw a respectful veil over mysteries that should not be exposed by human reason and continue with the events that took place in San Antonio de Bexar.

Captain Juan Bautista Casas was a native of San Fernando in the old province of Nuevo Santander. He was a member of the militia company of Croix and still was when he died at the age of thirty-six years. A capitalist in his country, he nevertheless served the military calling with honor, and his talents while moderate were disinterested and honorable. He accepted the command offered by the citizens and the military garrison of San Antonio because he believed that the time had arrived to fight the natural enemies of his country, and because above all he was a man of the type whose excessive urbanity made him incapable of resisting overtures and importunity.

This is the man placed at the head of that revolutionary volcano which burst forth from a people without a war strategy, without political principles, and with no guide other than the blind impulse for vengeance. These discordant elements enabled the Spaniards to introduce their emissaries and proclamations, with which they easily manipulated the revolutionary spirit into what was called the counter-revolution---the return to the obedience of the tyrant-king of Spain.

Father Juan Manual Zambrano, a native of Bexar, was designated to effect the counter-revolution in favor of the Spaniards. Gigantic and obese, arrogant in manner, dynamic and volatile as mercury, he possessed a special talent for total disorder. It is not my intention to rebuke the conduct of those who took part in this counter-revolution that hastened the unfortunate Casas to the execution block, but rather to deplore and pity the errant reasoning of those who, imbued with the false honor of being faithful to the most detestable tyrant of Europe, made an ostentatious show of plunging the fratricidal dagger into the heart of their Mexican brothers. Thus they hammered the rivets of their own chains, condemning themselves to trudge sorrowfully behind the plodding Spanish ox to earn their daily bread. sdct

On March 3, 1811, Juan Bautista Casas was surprised and taken prisoner by the said priest, Juan Manuel Zambrano, in the same government offices where, thirty-nine days before, he had imprisoned the governors with the aid of these same troops. Casas surrendered with the serenity of a courageous man. But upon seeing himself surrounded by bayonets of the same men who a few days ago had been his friends and conspirators, he spoke to them in anger: "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 execution block?" "Silence, wretched traitor," replied one of his captors with the same fanatical and wordy judgments 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 justice and mercy of our most beloved sovereign, our Lord, Fernando VII. Long live the king!" At this thunderous shout the bells began ringing continuously, the cheers from the troops and the people altogether created a pharisaic bedlam, like savage cannibals surrounding the victim they are about to sacrifice. Then it was announced that the unfortunate Captain Casas was in chains, and the inhabitants of San Antonio returned to the status of vassals of the king of Spain.

San Antonio Ledger, 2 January 1851

Let us leave poor Casas, groaning in his chains within a filthy and lonely prison cell, and survey what was happening at this time on the other side of the Rio Grande. We have already said that, since February 16, Governors Salcedo, Herrera, and other officers had been confined in prison-making a total of fourteen prisoners. Upon their arrival in Monclova, the Mexican Colonel Ignacio Elizondo declared in favor of the king, and Salcedo, Herrera, and the officers were set at liberty. Together, they plotted with cunning schemes the surest way to lure the priest Hidalgo with his army, which was still in the city of Saltillo, in order to take him prisoner by means of deception. If successful, it would follow as a matter of course that all the provinces of Northern Mexico would, one after the other, declare for the king's cause.

President Zambrano foresaw all this from Bexar and with cunning revolutionary strategy immediately dispatched two spies, Captains José Munoz and Luis Galan. They set out March 8, with adequate double instructions to be utilized in the event that they should encounter the priest Hidalgo or the generals of the king-for the idea was to be well received if stopped by either of the belligerent parties. It inspires compassion rather than horror to contemplate the bewildering entanglements to which the Machiavellian education of the superior Spanish leaders had led the unwary Mexicans. They encouraged among them the most contemptible deeds of weak wills and of treason with the base purpose of destroying every generous impulse in their bosoms, converting them into wretched instruments of their own destruction.

Upon arrival in Monclova, Munoz and Galan saw that everyone was already disposed in favor of the king. They told the Spanish governors the agreeable news that the traitor Casas was imprisoned in Bexar and relayed the congratulations of the faithful vassals of His Majesty from all of Texas. Immediately they dispatched an express courier to inform President Zambrano of the happy result of his diplomatic mission and at the same time requested that he send the prisoner Casas to Monclova as soon as possible, where he was to await trial for the crimes he had committed against the king. But Zambrano was now a consumate master of intrigue, more so than his Spanish teachers, and he delayed sending Casas until having assured himself of the state of affairs in the interior of Mexico.

When he received a reliable report about the well-organized plan in Monclova by which the entire army of the priest Hidalgo would without doubt be made prisoner, Zambrano transferred the illustrious captive on the 2nd of July, 1811, under a guard headed by the sergeant of La Bahia, Juan José Calderon. Zambrano also departed on the 26th of the same month. Accompanied by his government junta and all the troops of San Antonio, he advanced to the city of Laredo. Casas arrived at Monclova around the middle of July. Cordero and the other Spanish governors were there. Monclova was the focus for all the illustrious Castilians, and how they looked forward to Sicilian vespers for the unfortunate Hidalgo. Casas faced criminal charges before a military council of war, of which Cordero was president, and was unanimously condemned to face the firing squad. When the prosecutor read the death sentence Casas knelt, listened to it, and then according to custom kissed that paper containing the fatal message.

Poor Casas! He was a traditional 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 wish only one favor of his royal clemency, and that is that a small portion from the sale of my property be given for the support of my poor aged mother during 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 would request that two hundred pesos which I owe be paid 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 postponed. On July 27, the priest Hidalgo was made prisoner with thirty-two generals, his entire staff, two thousand soldiers, and a little more than three and one-half million pesos in gold and silver coin. Everything fell into the hands of Elizondo and the governors.

Hidalgo and most of the generals were taken to Chihuahua and were 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 foot of Zapopa Hill. His head was ordered to be cut off and sent to San Antonio. Although it arrived in only three and one-half days, the head had already decayed and it was necessary to bury it. General Bernardo Gutiérrez, then a colonel in the army of Hidalgo, upon learning what had happened July 27, became a fugitive. 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 have seen the ephemeral duration of Mexican Independence in Texas in 1811, the tragic end of Casas, and how all hopes of liberty were extinguished. Thus the Spanish governors returned from Monclova to assume their former positions of command. President Zambrano and the government junta delivered the command over to the officials of the king. The people of San Antonio returned to their limited options of blindly obeying one king of Heaven, another of the earth, and laboring to earn their daily bread.

If we contemplate this complacent conformity, of an untutored community which entrusted its entire ambition and both its worldly and eternal happiness to the pleasing of both a celestial and terrestrial sovereign, the question naturally arises:

Would it not be better for the human race to reduce its thought and obligations to the obedience of only two superior agents (although it may he supposed they are not flawless before meddling in the bitter and difficult struggle of trying to examine, comprehend, and handle all the links of the intricate machinery of a government? Is it better for the health of the body and tranquility of the spirit to live in passive ignorance of the powers of mankind and of their rulers in order to avoid facing the armies of the villains of the world [text missing] some of which prevail by brutal force while dressed in the vestments of liberty and equality, while others rob and kill poor people and many times vilify the same persons who have given them a country and power?

But even if such complacent peace resulting from blind obedience were to be desired, new aspirations were already entering the impetuous hearts of the noble Islanders, transmitted from the neighbor republic to the north, across the seas and through the narrow trails of what then were the unsettled lands of Texas. The appeal of ideas and customs from beyond the mountains faded before the incomparable satisfaction of a people king in the Americas; the tottering Spanish rulers would very soon be broken apart by the moral strength of republican institutions. These noble Islanders harbored such ideas, but acted on them much later and then with no more success than to bring ruin upon themselves and to be nearly exterminated from the land which had given them birth and which their forefathers had conquered.

In November of 1812, barely sixteen months after the catastrophe of Acatita de Bajan, Bernardo Gutiérrez entered Texas. With that little army of Leonidas North Americans he took La Bahia and later San Antonio, on April 1, 1812. Immediately the Delgados, Arochas, Traviesos, Leales, and many others, recalling how much they had suffered the previous year for the cause of independence, joined Gutiérrez and his army, body and soul. They fought with passion and zeal against the might of the terrible Arredondo. But Arredondo triumphed in the famous battle of Medina, and these patriots lay dead in the fields of battle and at the places of execution. A few emigrated to the United States never to return. These courageous souls lost everything.

Mexican independence, germinated in the blood of these martyrs, was finally declared in September 1821. But what ingratitude! Not one single murmur ever crossed the mountains of Anahuac to console the broken remnant of those brave patriots. Such is the end for heroes! Perhaps their renown would be more complete if they were to receive the miserable compensation due from their fellow men. To complete the picture of misfortune, the few descendants who survive in San Antonio are disappearing, murdered in full view of a people who boast of their justice and excellence. Consolacion Leal heroine of those days, died a few months ago, killed by a Spaniard, and Antonio Delgado was riddled by bullets from the rifle of an American bastard.

May Divine Providence use these historical commentaries to stir generous hearts to treat with more respect this race of men who, as the legitimate proprietors of this land, lost it together with their lives and their hopes, to follow in the footsteps of those very ones who now enjoy the land in the midst of peace and plenty.   sdct


SONS OF DEWITT COLONY TEXAS
© 2000-2013, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved