The Republic of the Rio Grande: A Story of Its Rise and
Many events of an extraordinary character transpired in Texas during the year 1839. The two which overshadowed all others, from a military point of view, were the campaigns driving the Cherokee Indians from Eastern Texas and the establishment on Texas soil of "The Republic of the Rio Grande." The troubles which led up to the expulsion of the Cherokee Indians from Texas are matters generally known, but little is known to the causal reader of Texas history concerning the events surrounding the revolution against the Centralist of Mexico which led to the establishment of the "Republic of the Rio Grande." This event has historical value to Texas because the revolution had its birth in Texas and, too, because the "Republic of the Rio Grande" unfurled its banner on Texas soil.
The impetuous Texans who joined the Mexican Republicans in this revolution, were venturesome spirits who were not contented with the dull monotony of peaceful scenes. They thought they saw in it opportunities for service and gain. They felt that by taking advantage of these opportunities they could gain both. They were young men of splendid abilities-ambitious and brave but they did not stop to count the cost of failure or consider the reproach they were bringing upon their country.
The proclaiming of the Republic of the Rio Grande greatly disturbed the peace of President Lamar. Lamar was coquetting with the Mexican Republic with the hope that the new Republic of Texas could ultimately overcome the hatred of the Mexicans for the Texans, and when this revolution was being formed at Lipantitlan, on the Nueces River, he attempted to thwart it. Only 180 Texans participated in the revolution out of a force, of over 600 men. Those taking a leading part in this revolution were Republicans in sympathy with the struggling Republicans of Mexico.
When it became known to President Lamar that a considerable body of Republicans were assembling at Lipantitlan, on the Nueces River, he issued a proclamation ordering them to disperse. But they paid no attention to Mr. Lamar's orders and proceeded to organize the Republic of the Rio Grande, and formally proclaimed a military organization. The leaders among the Mexicans were General Antonio Cavalis [Canales] and Colonel José María Gonzales. The principal American leaders were Colonels S. W. Jordan and Reuben Ross. They marched from Lipantitlan, September 20, 1839 with a combined force of over 600 equipped troops, and crossed the Rio Grande on September 30.
The refusal of the leaders of the revolution to heed the warnings of President Lamar greatly disturbed him, and he had his adjutant-general to address a letter to José Ramos [alcalde] at Laredo requesting certain information. The letter read as follows:
I have been unable to find any reference to Colonel Ramos' report and have depended upon other reliable sources of information for the record of events which transpired following the crossing of the expedition into Mexico. Colonel Ramos was accidentally drowned in the Rio Grande a short time after the date of this letter, and in all probability no report was ever made by him.
After crossing the Rio Grande the expedition marched upon Guerreo for the purpose of investing that place. This was a fortified town near the Rio Grande and was occupied by General Parbon [Pavón] of the Centralist army. On reaching the vicinity of Guerrero, General Cavalis sent his spies forward to ascertain the strength of General Parbon's command. He also dispatched a messenger to the mayor of the town demanding the surrender of the place. The spies soon reported that the town was without troops and the messenger sent to the mayor returned hearing information that General Parbon had just evacuated the town. It developed that General Parbon had retreated towards Alcantra. General Cavalis led his troops in hot pursuit, overtaking the retreating army on October 3, when a fierce battle took place. Parbon was defeated and sustained a loss of 150 men. General Cavalis' loss was 14 killed. After this decisive victory many recruits, principally Mexicans, joined the army of the Republic of the Rio Grande.
From some cause which has never been clearly understood, General Cavalis did not follow up this victory, but remained inactive for more than two months. Finally, on December 12, he moved on Matamoras with his enlarged army of more than a thousand men. He found Matamoras garrisoned with 1,500 regulars under the command of General Canalizo [later two times President of Mexico]. Cavalis addressed a communication to Canalizo, demanding the surrender of the city. The messenger hearing the communication was held until Canalizo could hold a council of his officers. At the conclusion of the council, which was brief, General Canalizo replied to the communication from Cavalis refusing to surrender. Cavalis at once began a siege of the city, but at no period was it prosecuted with vigor. In a skirmish between the two commands, Oetober 15, General Canalizo lost 15 men and his force was driven back within the fortifications of the city. This initial defeat greatly discouraged Canalizo's force and it required vigorous military discipline to prevent desertion. Order and confidence, however, were restored, and further preparations made, to resist the siege. Cavalis was kept ignorant of the dissatisfaction and disorder in Canalizo's ranks.
An American, Mr. John Hughes, of Atlanta, Georgia, was a visitor to the United States Consulate in Matamoras at the time of the siege. In speaking of the defeat of Canalizo's troops by Cavalis, he said:
On December 16 Cavalis called a council of his officers. They were ignorant of the disorder and confusion in Canalizo's ranks. As a result of the council Cavalis announced his intention of abandoning the siege. This announcement greatly displeased the Texans and Colonel Ross, with about 50 of his men, recrossed the Rio Grande into Texas. Cavalis, with his badly disorganized troops, retired towards Monterey. When he arrived within a few miles of that city, December 24, he was confronted by General Arista with an army of 2,000 well-equipped troops. A light skirmish followed. During a lull of a few days which followed, spies were sent into Cavalis' camps. They succeeded in inducing quite a number of Cavalis' troops to join Arista's army by holding out inducements of much larger and certain pay. When Colonel Jordan learned of the depletion of Cavalis' troops by desertion, he gathered together a few reliable and faithful Mexicans and led them towards the Rio Grande. He recrossed that stream into Texas, January 7, 1840.
The sudden turn of affairs did not discourage Cavalis. He assembled his followers and issued a call for a general meeting to take place at Guerrero, January 28. Through an organization of spies in Cavalis' ranks, Arista was able to keep fully advised of Cavalis' plans. On March 15 be attacked Cavalis at Morales and defeated and routed his army. Cavalis escaped to Texas with a few of his faithful followers, and going to San Patricio he unfurled the flag of the Republic of the Rio Grande. Here he was soon joined by Colonel Jordan with 100 men, W. S. Fisher with 200 men and John N. Seguin with 110 men. The whole force, including about 300 rancheros, totaled 700 men. Here Cavalis called a council of war. It was decided that the army of the Republic of the Rio Grande should re-enter Mexico. Cavalis sent Colonel Jordan in advance of the main body of troops with a Mexican officer as guide. Jordan, with his advance troops, crossed into Mexico and successively occupied the towns of Guerrero, Meir, Camargo, Tula, Alorales, Linares and Victoria, the capital of the State of Tamaulipas. Even with these brilliant military achievements, Jordan was not free from treachery. He grew suspicious of his Mexican guide. It developed that his suspicions were justified. At Saltillo. October 23, he was confronted by a Centralist army of over a thousand men, with artillery under the command of General Rafael Vasquez. A battle soon followed. Immediately after the battle opened up the suspected guides deserted to Vasquez's army with their companions and as many Mexican troops as they could induce to follow them. Even this treachery did not discourage the brave Texan. He continued the battle killing about 400 of Vasquez's men with a loss of only five men killed and seven wounded.
After this engagement, Jordan finding himself without guides, and fearing further treachery, retreated without molestation With his troops to Texas. Cavalis did not follow Jordan into Mexico as promptly as he agreed to do, and when he did cross into Mexico he remained inactive. Finally at Camargo he surrendered his whole force to General Arista. Cavalis showed himself to be a weakling without military genius. He was a man, however, inspired with the loftiest principles of patriotism. He was faithful to his Texas associates. He showed this when he surrendered, as in the articles of surrender it was stipulated that the lives and liberties of the Texans in his command were to be preserved. Thus ended the short and spectacular life of the "Republic of the Rio Grande."
According to the New Handbook of Texas: Canales eventually capitulated to Centralist forces and forsook his Texan allies, a move for which he received a commission as brigadier general in Santa Anna's army. He later led campaigns against Anglo-Texans at Corpus Christi and Lipantitlán and in 1842 was instrumental in stopping a Texan filibuster at Mier. He was dismissed in 1844 for abandonment of his post but was later reinstated. During the Mexican War Canales harassed United States troops stationed between Corpus Christi and Matamoros. He fought at Palo Alto and at Resaca de Guerrero. He served under Gen. Pedro de Ampudia at Cerralvo and under Santa Anna at Buena Vista. Between 1848 and 1851 Canales served Tamaulipas as surveyor general, legislative envoy, and interim governor. On July 22, 1852, he received a gold award for exemplary conduct. His sons Servando and Antonio served several terms as governors of Tamaulipas. Canales apparently died in 1852, after leading government forces that suppressed the Tamaulipas Rebelión de la Loba at El Paso de Azúcar, Camargo.