SAM HOUSTON AND TEXAS INDEPENDENCE: THE BIRTH OF THE LONE STAR

The story of the independence of Texas is a story of the people.  It is a story of unprecedented bravery, loyalty, and devotion to all that is the undeniable American principal of freedom. The object of a great power struggle between Mexico and the United States, Texans separated themselves early on as a people perfectly capable of taking care of themselves. Lured initially by the call of Manifest Destiny, the original settlers that would come to be known as “The Old 300” could never have envisioned the significance of their decision to leave the land of their forefathers and start afresh in the newly independent country of Mexico.  It is a large wonder how a people numbering so few could overtake a country so predispositioned for victory, and how in the face of such adversity unlikely heroes would overcome. That is the story of the Texans. That is the story of Texas.  In 1821, Moses Austin of Missouri was granted a portion of land bordering the lower Colorado and Brazos rivers in present-day Texas. The grant was given on the condition that a small colony numbering three hundred families could be established (citation from taos book); sadly Moses Austin contracted pneumonia (citation from video) and died shortly after receiving the grant. Wishing to follow through on his father’s’ expedition, Stephen Austin collected three hundred families and successfully established a settlement in the Brazos River Valley (taos). Initially, Austin collaborated with the Mexican government to ensure that the colony would operate within the Mexican framework of government and the state of Texas y Coahuila was established by 1824 (taos).  A rich and fertile landscape, the Texians soon found themselves greatly expanding as successes in farming major cash crops, such as cotton, encouraged many more Americans to make the journey into Texas.  Austin’s original colony was expanding far greater and faster than even the Mexican government had originally perceived, and soon concerns were raised as to the course that Mexico should take.  It was decided that General Manuel de Mier y Terán would embark upon an expedition to examine the extent of the expansion of the Americans in Texas; upon returning from his quest, the General is supposed to have exclaimed, “either we take steps to keep these Americans out, or we lose Texas forever”. Not ready to part with Texas, and fearful of the United States’ growing interest in the territory,  Mexico enacted the Law of April 6th, 1830.  This new legislation prohibited the settlement of any new colonists, as well as outlawed the Texians most prized institution:  slavery (video).  Trapped within a colony so freely given, Texians found themselves separated from loved ones and isolated in a relationship that was becoming increasingly hostile.  It was during these times that  tensions began to mount, and murmurs of revolution began to spread. Born March 2, 1793 in Rockbridge County, Virginia, Sam Houston began to resist the external pressures of society at a young age.  After the death of his father, his family moved to Tennessee where the young Houston decided that farm life didn’t suit him, and promptly ran away to go live with a neighboring Cherokee tribe where he was accepted as an honorary member, “Black Raven”.  During the War of 1812, Houston joined the army where he quickly excelled through the rankings, earning the friendship of Andrew Jackson and quickly establishing a name for himself as a celebrated military hero. Houston went on to become a government worker in Indian Affairs, Attorney General, member of the U.S. House of Representatives for Tennessee, and eventually, its governor.  A very controversial man, allegations soon arose of infidelity and alcoholism within his first marriage to Eliza Allen.  Not wishing to do her any harm, he quietly divorced Eliza during his term as governor.  It was after this that Houston decided to draw away from politics and the public eye for the time being; he retired to Oklahoma as an Indian Agent to negotiate with Comanche bands that were terrorizing settlers on either side of the Red River in 1833 (colonialism).  It was under these conditions that Sam Houston first crossed the Red River, supposedly exclaiming, “What the devil am I going to do in Texas?”.  Purchasing a small land grant in Nacogdoches, Houston settled down for the time being.   Houston quickly found himself swept up into the surmounting tensions between the settlers and the Mexican government. Upset with the regulations imposed on them through the hated Law of April 6th, 1830, delegates from the Brazos River Valley had previously gathered in what was affectionately termed “Washington-on-the-Brazos” to hold a convention discussing the grievances against the Mexican government.  It was here that they first spoke of forming a separate state that would still be under Mexican jurisdiction (taos).  By April of 1833, a second convention was being held at San Felipe.  Stephen Austin had been sent to negotiate terms with the Mexican government in Mexico City, but several less patient settlers decided to hold the second convention in the wake of Austin’s departure.  It was here that Sam Houston served as a delegate, and helped to draw up what would become the Texas Declaration of Independence. After Austin’s visit to Mexico city went sour and the colony’s founder was imprisoned, the young nation’s president, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna decided to take decisive militant action to attempt to regain control of the increasingly rowdy Americans. The Battle of Gonzales sparked the war that would result in Texan independence.  Acting under the orders of Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea (website), Mexican soldiers approached the Texans in order to take back the canons that had been given to them by the Mexican government for protection against raids by Comanche bands (colonialism and battle website).  The Texans captured the six Mexican soldiers and in retaliation Lieutenant Francisco de Castañeda was sent with a hundred men to make sure that the Texans understood Ugartechea’s orders.  On the morning of October 2nd, 1835, the Mexican camp was attacked and when confronted about the canons Texan leader John Henry Moore supposedly exclaimed, “There it is–come and take it.” As Castañeda had been ordered to use force if necessary, but not to compromise the integrity of the Mexican arms, he and his men fell back (battle).  Although only a minor skirmish, this event signaled the breakdown of relations between the Mexican government and the Texans–war was inevitable now, and war would indeed ensue, it was only a matter of time. Around fifty miles northwest of Gonzales, the Alamo was being used as a base by William B. Travis, a former South Carolina school teacher and lawyer who, along with several volunteers, had been storming various Mexican bases and ordering their surrender.  It was March of 1836, and the Texas Declaration of Independence had just been ratified unanimously by fifty-nine Texans at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Their defiance now publicly declared, President de Santa Anna realized the necessity of tightening his grip on the forces that had gathered inside the Alamo, and after slowly starving the Texan forces out, the Mexican army made its final assault on the morning of March 6th, 1836.  There were no survivors, and among the dead were chief characters such as Travis, Texas Ranger James “Jim” Bowie, and former Tennessee Congressman David “Davy” Crockett (taos). The bad news reached the settlers in San Felipe, and seeing as there was no buffer between themselves and the armies of Santa Anna, the time known as the Runaway Scrape began (video).  Sam Houston was charged with leading the regular army of Texas, but since the “army” was composed of volunteers, Houston had a difficult time maintaining order and control. However, he was determined to transform the ragtag volunteer army into a force capable of destruction.  Sam Houston sold off his property in Nacogdoches in order to raise enough funds for sufficient army supplies, and was even able to procure simple uniforms– which were adorned with a “lone star”–for the men and himself (video). Many began to criticize Houston, claiming that his revolutionaries were running away instead of facing the feared Santa Anna’s forces–and indeed they were. Running out of time and resources, Sam Houston and his forces were pursued until reaching a fork in the road; one path could lead them into Louisiana and safety, the other towards Harrisonburg and Santa Anna’s armies. “The morning of glory is dawning upon us,” Houston declared, “the work of liberty has begun”.  With that, Houston led the men to Harrisonburg; towards the armies of Santa Anna, and their destiny. Meanwhile, the Goliad Campaign of 1835 had been started by General Martín Perfecto de Cos to secure control of several ports along the Texas coast.  Texan volunteers organized under Colonel James W. Fannin, Jr. resisted the centralist takeover however,  and captured the fort and most of its defenders. Unfortunately, the brave Goliad Campaign came to a tragic close when General Santa Anna reclaimed the region and ordered the execution of the hundreds of Texan volunteers.  When news reached the revolutionaries, many were shocked and horrified alike; though legal under Mexican law, Santa Anna’s most recent actions displayed the true extent of his cruelty, as well as the ruthless ambition of which he was capable.  Moving forward in pursuit of Sam Houston’s army, Santa Anna closed in and established his troops along the east San Jacinto Bay marsh where he was joined by General Martín Perfecto de Cos and reinforcements of five hundred troops.  Altogether, the Mexicans had one thousand two hundred and fifty troops; while the Texans merely numbered nine hundred (battle). Nevertheless, in the afternoon of April 21st, 1836, Sam Houston rallied his men, hoping to surprise the enemy in their camp.  Neglecting to have stationed men at watch posts around the camp, Santa Anna’s forces soon found themselves under attack by Houston’s armies.  Bewildered and caught unaware, they were soon confused and disoriented as the Texans advanced upon them screaming “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!”Although outnumbered, the Texans managed to push back the Mexican forces, forcing them further and further until they began to spill into Peggy Lake.  Lasting only eighteen minutes, soon the waves of Peggy Lake ran scarlet (video), and the shores were littered with the carnage of six hundred and thirty Mexican soldiers.  More than six hundred other Mexicans, including Santa Anna were brought back to Houston (who had been wounded early on into the battle) to negotiate terms of surrender.  Suffering only minor loses, Sam Houston and his army emerged victorious, and with them, the Republic of Texas was officially born (battle).Affairs soon returned to normal within Texas; Sam Houston was elected as the republic’s first president and Texas was recognized as a sovereign nation by the United States, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, and Belgium (battle).  Texas established it’s southern and western border as the channel of the Rio Grande from the Gulf of Mexico up to present-day Colorado (taos). From there the border followed a line due north along the 42nd parallel for seventy miles, then south to the Arkansas River and east to the Red River, then back down south towards the Gulf again; completing it’s outline (taos). SCAN IN MAP OF THE REPUBLIC OF TEXASMany feelings of unity with the United States were already being fostered in Texas, and along with the prodding of Sam Houston Texas was finally annexed into the United States on April 12, 1844.  After nearly a decade of independence the state’s fight for liberty was over; however, Sam Houston’s was not.  Forever concerned with all matters relating to Texas, Houston served as its delegate and grew increasingly unpopular as he opposed separation from the union on the brink of the Civil War.  He even placed quite the target on his back by voting against the Kansas-Nebraska Act, being the only southern delegate to do so. However, it wasn’t until he refused to swear allegiance to the confederacy that he was ousted from office.  Yet this didn’t halt Houston from attempting to dissuade the state he loved from placing itself in this bitter conflict. Houston delivered many speeches throughout Texas, and while he made many enemies, he also had several loyal friends. In fact, on one occasion when crowds were especially hostile and threatening Houston with death, an observer pulled his gun and declared to the crowd that while even he may not agree with Houston’s ideals, no one was to harm him (video). The dawn of the Civil War saw a very sickly Houston dying in his home in Harrisonburg. He had several visitors in so that he could make his goodbyes; however, even while his wife Martha sat by his side in his final moments, Houston’s thoughts were on Texas. His final words echoed a life full of love and devotion to the state; “Texas, Texas, Martha” (video). The legacy left behind by Sam Houston is one of bravery and boldness–the story of the Texans and their fight for freedom will forever be one of  surprising and unlikely victories. However,  the story of Texas will remain a story of its people; beginning with Stephen Austin and a small land grant and continuing on through a revolution between a towering nation and a small, unofficial state.  It is the people who helped Texas overcome the odds, and the people that will continue to preserve its legacy today.  Through the darkest of nights the spirit of freedom prevailed, and for all the nights to come the Lone Star will remain a symbol of true American spirit and patriotism.