State Cemetery - Header Banner

Texas Independence Month Begins (03/01/12)

One hundred and seventy-six years ago today a group of men met in a drafty wooden building in the sleepy little settlement of Washington-on-the-Brazos. Ostensibly, the men were meeting to decide whether to draft a declaration of independence from Mexico or draft a resolution to petition the Mexican government to reimplement the Constitution of 1824. With Richard Ellis as president, forty-one men met in what is now known as the Convention of 1836. A mere day after meeting, George Childress and five other men drew up the Texas Declaration of Independence. Texas now celebrates its Independence Day on March 2 every year to honor the signing of the declaration (see a list of signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence buried at the Cemetery here).
However, a piece of paper has never guaranteed anyone’s independence. The road from Texas the rebel Mexican state to Texas the free republic was a long and bloody one. It could be argued that the seeds of the Texas revolution were sown as soon as Moses Austin thought up the idea of bringing colonists to Mexican Texas, but the first real armed conflict between the settlers and Mexican forces started at the Battle of Velasco in 1832. It was a relatively minor skirmish, but it is recorded in the history books as a Texan victory. Things simmered beneath the surface, however, and the tensions rose even further in 1834 when Santa Anna rescinded the Constitution of 1824, angering not just Texans but all of Mexico. Mexico was plunged into a Civil War that Santa Anna had to quell before looking to Mexico’s most sparsely populated state. As late as 1835, Stephen F. Austin still advocated peaceful reconciliation with Mexico but was arrested as the civil head of a rebellious state. He was freed, but in September of 1835 he called for war with Mexico.
A series of battles ensued. No decisive victory was forthcoming, but small forces of Texans and Mexican regulars met and fought at various spots around the state. The first engagement of infantry was at the Battle of Gonzales which could be called a Texan victory as the Mexican force disengaged, but was really no more than maneuvering. One Texan died and two Mexicans died. The Siege of Bexar was more decisive, a clear Texas victory that resulted in the occupation of San Antonio and the Alamo. Unbeknownst to the Texas Army and the Texan leadership, Santa Anna left Mexico City with 6,000 men at the end of December in 1835. Jim Bowie, James Bonham, William Barrett Travis and Davy Crockett were all present at the Alamo by February 23 when Santa Anna entered San Antonio with his troops. The siege of the Alamo began. A series of Texan defeats led up to the ultimate Texan defeat at the Alamo. On March 6 Santa Anna’s army storms the Alamo mission and kills the Texan defenders to a man. Their bodies are burned by order of Santa Anna. Just four days after bravely declaring their independence, Texans were on the run all over the state and pursued by a far numerically superior force. The Texans retreat in a rearguard action known as the Runaway Scrape. As they flee across Southeast Texas, Sam Houston and the Texas Army (see a list of Texas Republic veterans buried at the Cemetery here) are informed of the disaster at Goliad. Four hundred Texan prisoners surrendered by Colonel James Fannin were executed at the Goliad Mission on March 27 and again the bodies are burned by order of Santa Anna. Anger and caution war within the Texan camp with Houston recommending prudent retreat and others, including Edward Burleson, demanding to turn and fight.
Having split his forces numerous times to pursue false Texan trails, Santa Anna’s army still outnumbers the Texans, but by a much smaller margin. On April 21, 1836, 900 angry Texans stand to fight near the Buffalo Bayou facing 1,300 Mexican regulars. In the late afternoon, the Texans surprise the Mexican Army and in 18 minutes the Texans had their revenge for Goliad and the Alamo. At a place named for a 13th Century Dominican Saint, San Jacinto, Texans earned their independence after the promise was made on March 2. Six hundred and thirty Mexican soldiers were killed and 208 were wounded, nine Texans were killed and thirty were wounded. The next day a group of men (including Joel Walter Robison and James Austin Sylvester, both buried at the Cemetery) captured a man that would later be identified as Santa Anna. He was brought before the wounded Sam Houston and together they drew up the Treaties of Velasco. Texas and Mexico faced a decade of stormy relations, often spilling over into bloodshed until Texas was annexed into the United States. The annexation led directly to the Mexican War. It was not until the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 that Mexico accepted Texas’s independence.  

March is Texas History Month because of what happened at Washington-on-the-Brazos so many years ago today. The State Capitol, the Bob Bullock Museum and the Texas State Cemetery see an upswing in visitors interested in Texas’s past. If you need an excuse to come see the Capital City’s landmarks, use Texas History Month.


- Will Erwin