The 1812 Revolution in Texas


Everyone knows that the Texas Revolution broke out at Gonzales on 2 October 1835, San Antonio was soon captured and Sam Houston named commander-in-chief. The Alamo was lost in March 1836, captured soldiers were shot at Goliad, and on 12 April Houston won the battle of San Jacinto, defeating General Antonio López de Santa-Anna, securing the independence of Texas, of which Houston was the first president. Texas was admitted to the Union on 29 December 1845, and this action precipitated the Mexican War. This was merely the last in a series of incidents beginning with the Louisiana purchase of 1803 with the aim of acquiring this territory for the United States. Secretary of State Monroe had conceived the aim of conquering Canada and Mexico at the time of the War of 1812, so it was no new idea. Burr and Wilkinson had some such scheme in mind that never came to fruition. Here is an account of the first serious attempt for the independence of Texas.

The province of Téjas in Nueva España extended from the Rio Nueces (which enters the Gulf near the present city of Corpus Christi) to the Rio Sabina, which was the border with Louisiana. The northern boundary was the Rio Colorado, now the Red River, but was somewhat indefinite because there was no settlement there except by the Comanches. South of the Nueces was the province of Nueva Santander, now Tamaulipas, and to the west was the province of Coahuila. The idea of the Rio Bravo, or Rio Grande as it is known in the United States, as the southern boundary is a purely American idea.

The capital was at San Antonio de Béjar, just north of Rio Medina. South of San Antonio was a desert, reaching to Laredo on the Rio Bravo. Nacodoches, far to the east, was the gateway to Texas from the United States. It has added a "g" as a Texas town. Nachitoches, on the Red River in Louisiana, was also on the route, accessible by river. There was a little settlement at Galveston, and another at Presidio de la Trinidad near the Brazos (why a prison was needed here is a wonder), and still others near the bay of Espiritú Santo, behind Matagorda Island. European settlement was mostly in the form of haciendas, each a small, largely independent, community. Americans, where they were allowed to settle and hold land, brought their slaves with them to work their haciendas. It was very difficult to get settlers, so even Americans were admitted.

When the Mexican revolution broke out in 1810, there were uprisings in all the isolated northern provinces, but they were soon put down by counter-revolution. In Béjar, Colonel Manuel Salcedo was governor, and Colonel Simon de Herrera was his associate. There was some question of precedence and overlapping authority, but the two worked fairly well together. Both had been active in suppressing the revolution, and were known for their rigor and cruelty.

Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara, a creole of wealth and property in Nuevo Santander, supported independence. General Arredondo, the military commander of the province, occupied de Lara's villas on Rio Bravo in June 1811, and Lara fled to the United States, returning surreptitiously to retrieve his family. He went to Washington, where he was insulted and appalled by Secretary Monroe's views, but nevertheless conceived a plan to seize Texas from the royalists. A group of 400 to 500 American adventurers, led by Augustus Magee, an army officer, was assembled, and Lara led them to Nacodoches, which he seized without effort on 11 August 1812, the inhabitants having fled on news of his approach. They marched on, seizing Presidio de la Trinidad and the settlements on the bay of Espiritú Santo.

Governor Salcedo had knowledge of their invasion, and raised an army to oppose them. He beseiged the group at Espiritú Santo, but could make no progress, and retired to Béjar on 1 February 1813 when his supplies were exhausted. Lara followed him, and routed Colonel Herrera, who had come out to oppose him, at El Rosillo. Béjar surrendered on 1 April, the American fifth column in the town no doubt aiding this outcome. Lara formed a popularly-elected junta to govern the province.

The locals were eager for revenge on Salcedo and Herrera, who had oppressed them, and were, besides, instrumental in the capture of their hero Hidalgo not long before. A certain Pedro Prado led a mob that overpowered the jailers of Salcedo and Herrera on 5 April. Along with several others, Salcedo and Herrera were killed by the mob, much to Lara's displeasure, but he could do nothing.

Meanwhile, these developments were not unknown in Nuevo Santander, where General Arredondo gathered his forces and proceeded to Laredo on 20 March. The ardent Colonel Ignacio Elizondo, who had captured Hidalgo and brought him to Chihuahua two years before, proceeded in advance, collecting the dispersed royalist troops that he encountered. On 18 June, he was in sight of Béjar at a place called El Alazán. On 20 June, Lara sallied out and routed Elizondo, who fled back to Laredo. On 26 July, Arredondo marched from Laredo with 735 infantry, 1195 horse, and 12 cannons, crossing the formidable desert. On 17 August, they are at Las Rancherías, threatening Béjar.

A little earlier, José Alvarez de Toledo, a Spanish naval officer born in Santo Domingo, later a deputy to the Cortes in Cádiz who had fallen out with this body and had taken refuge in the United States, showed up in Nachitoches and made it known that he wished to join de Lara as second in command, and support the revolution. His real aim of supplanting de Lara was all but obvious, so de Lara refused his offer, and told him to retreat. Toledo then made a proclamation of his aims, and was supported by the junta and the Americans in Béjar. Lara returned to the United States, leaving Toledo in command.

Toledo sallied out to meet an advanced force of 180 horse under Elizondo, which was instructed to make a reconnaissance only, and not to engage. However, in an action on 18 August at Atacoso, in which Elizondo was reinforced by Arredondo with 150 horse and two cannons under Lt. Col. Zambrano, Elizondo was routed and retreated precipitately, pursued by Toledo, into the main body, which was then crossing Rio Medina. There was a bitter battle at this point, Toledo attempting to turn Arredondo's flanks, while Arredondo charged Toledo's center. When Arredondo realized that most of the Americans, who were the backbone of Toledo's force, had been killed or wounded, he sounded the "victory" to rouse his troops. Whether or not victory was then apparent, the renewed vigor of his troops gave him the victory. Incidentally, Santa-Anna was present as a young officer at this encounter.

Arredondo entered Béjar on 24 August, and his reprisals were remarkably severe even for the bloody war of Mexican independence. He quickly shot some 327 unfortunates, including all the Americans he could find. Elizondo was given the duty of pursuing the remnants of the rebels, which he did with gusto. The American adventurers fled back to the United States as best they could. 11 of the slower ones were killed leaving Espiritú Santo. The remainder of these found Elizondo on their road at Trinidad, who had captured and shot up to 71 of them by 12 September, as he reported to Arredondo from Ojo de agua de los Brazos. Elizondo continued the pursuit to Nacodoches. Here a young officer in his force, Lt. Miguel Serrano, driven mad by the excessive bloodshed, hacked Elizondo and his aide Capt. Isidoro de la Garza to death in their beds. This was considered divine retribution for the capture of Hidalgo. Elizondo was buried on the banks of the Rio San Marco, while Serrano was adjudged insane and confined in a convent.

In a proclamation of 10 October 1813, Arredondo pardoned those taking part in the rebellion, except for Lara, Toledo, Prado and other leaders, including any American at all. A price was put on their heads, and anyone killing or capturing them would be rewarded with land, even if he were an American. Lara was later a Spanish ambassador. Arredondo ordered Col. Quinters to chase some marauding Lipans towards Nacodoches, installed Lt. Col. Cristóbal Dominguez as the new governor, and returned to his new headquarters in Monterey.

Later filibustering expeditions were made by James Long of Mississippi in 1819 and 1821, and by others of less importance, but all failed. The Spanish continued to solicit American settlement, as in Moses Austin's colony of 1821. The Mexican government that succeeded the Spanish was less eager for American settlement, being aware of the dangers, which proved all too real. The American push was for land that could be worked by slaves, as that to the east had been exhausted by wasteful agricultural procedures, and which would ensure continued support for slavery in the national government.

It is often noted that the Spanish, and later Mexican, authorities were less than welcoming to American visitors. This page has made one reason clear for the hostility--the fear that the Americans were there to seize the territory. However, there was also a traditional unwillingness to admit foreigners that had a religious basis. In Spanish territory, only the Roman Catholic religion was allowed; no other was permitted, and even then a close watch was kept by the Inquisition and the archbishop for any deviation from the true dogma. The authorities were very fearful of the introduction of protestant, or even different Catholic, doctrines that would undermine the authority of the church, and for this reason foreigners were always viewed with suspicion. This antipathy to visitors competed with the desire to acquire settlers and the wealth they would create, so the two views competed with one another continually, especially in the northern areas such as Texas and California, which attracted very few settlers from the south.

References

Lucas Alamán, Historia de Méjico (Méjico: J. M. Lara, 1850), vol. III


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Composed by J. B. Calvert
Created 13 July 2001
Last revised 15 July 2001