October 2, 1835 – Gonzales, Texas…
On the bank of the Guadalupe river, there stands a band of 18 Texans, a small cannon, and a flag that will soon be immortalized. Across the river is camped a detachment of 100 Mexican soldiers under the command of Francisco de Castañeda whose mission is to reclaim the cannon from the Texas militia. Just before the battle an additional 122 Texans arrive to reinforce their Gonzales brethren. As dusk falls the Texans begin to cross the river. As they approach the Mexican camp a dog barks, alerting the Mexican troops of their approach. The Mexicans begin firing but because of the fog they don’t hit any of the militia. The Texans fall back into the thick trees surrounding the camp and wait for dawn to make their attack. At dawn, the Texans emerge from the trees and begin firing on the Mexican soldiers. when the Mexican Dragoons try to rebuff the Texans they find they can’t traverse terrain among the thick trees and they are forced to retreat. Then Castañeda requests a meeting with the Texan commander, The commander of the militia informs him that the Texans no longer recognized the centralist government of Santa Anna and instead remained faithful to the Constitution of 1824. After the parlay the Come and Take It flag is unfurled to shouts of “Don’t Tread On Me,” the cannon begins to fire, the Texans charge, the Mexicans retreat, and the first battle for Texas Independence is won!
The City of Gonzales
The city of Gonzales (population 7,237, elevation 309 feet) takes pride in its history and heritage. It is dubbed the “most historic community” in Texas and “the birthplace of Texas Freedom”. Established at the confluence of the Guadalupe and San Marcos Rivers, it was where the first shot of the Texas Revolution was fired. The colony played a significant role in the war for independence. In 1999 when Rick Green was serving as the State Representative for Gonzales, he passed legislation officially naming Gonzales “The Lexington of Texas.”
Gonzales has a number of historic homes and properties, the Confederate Fort Waul, and several museums – The First Shot Battleground, Gonzales Memorial Museum, Old Jail Museum, and the twelve acre Pioneer Village Living History Center at 2122 North St. Joseph Street. Here there are 7 acres of restored 19th century buildings including log houses, a church, a smithy, and a smokehouse.
Gonzales County is one of the 13 original counties in Texas – now one of the 254 Texas counties, the highest total number of counties in the United States. Texas counties have commission governments electing 4 commissioners from four precincts, one county judge, one sheriff and one tax collector. There are 18,628 acres in the county or 1,068 square miles.
Rafael Gonzales (1789-1857)
Rafael Gonzales was the governor or Coahuila of Texas from 1824 to 1826 and later secretary of the comandancia of Coahuila and Texas. Both the city and county of Gonzales were named in his honor.
Green De Witt (1787-1835)
Empresario Green DeWitt established the DeWitt Colony and headed it from 1825 until he failed to fulfill his contract or get it renewed in 1831. Inspired by the success of Moses Austin’s colony and with his support, DeWitt was authorized to establish a colony and settle up to 400 Anglo Americans on the Guadalupe River adjacent to Stephen F. Austin’s colony. DeWitt named the colony Gonzales for the Mexican governor Rafael Gonzales.
DeWitt invested all his family including his wife’s resources in the colony; In 1826 the family moved to the colony. Though he was an enthusiastic and energetic real estate dealer and worked with Byrd Lockhart, Jose Antonio Navarro, Charles Lockhart, and surveyor James Kerr, there were conflicts with Martin DeLeon on boundary issues and the colony never proved materially or financially rewarding for him. During the struggles DeWitt bartered with pelts and printed his own scrip – the first Texas paper currency. He also had his wife establish a land claim in the colony to protect the family from poverty and his misfortunes as the colony was failing. Her Sara Seely land grant was one of very few colony land grants issued to a woman.
In 1835, DeWitt traveled to Mexico in a failed attempt to acquire additional land claims to raise money to deal with his debts. While in Mexico, he contracted what was likely cholera and he died and was buried in an unmarked grave in Mexico.
The Battle of Gonzales (1835)
Green DeWitt did not live to see the war for Texas independence begin in his DeWitt/Gonzales Colony on September 29, 1835. Because of conflict with the Indians, DeWitt had petitioned for and been granted the use of a small cannon but with continued unrest and conflict among the colony settlers and their neighbors, the Mexican government sent five soldiers to retrieve their cannon. When the settlers refused to give them their cannon, the five soldiers left but returned with 100 Mexican dragoons to get the cannon. “The Old Eighteen” men, the only able bodied men in the colony at the time again refused to relinquish the cannon. Within two days 168 men from nearby joined the Gonzales settlers and the Battle of Gonzales became the first shot in the war for Texas independence October 2, 1835. The cannon is an historic treasure for Gonzales to this day.
Sarah Seely DeWitt and Naomi DeWitt
In the first conflict of the Texas Revolution the Battle of Gonzales fought over the Gonzales Cannon, Sara and Naomi cut up Naomi’s wedding dress and made a banner battle flag. This famous “first Texas flag” has a black cannon and the words “Come and Take It.” The flag is also an historic treasure for Gonzales.
John Henry Moore (1800-1880)
John Moore was one of the original settlers at Stephen F. Austin’s empresarios colony and there he built a blockhouse at LaGrange for defense and led companies of volunteers in expeditions against the Waco and Tawaconi Indians. In 1835, he was so vocal in warning settlers against an impending Mexican attack and calling for Texas independence that there was a Mexican order out for his arrest. When the five Mexicans were sent to take the cannon from Gonzales September 25, 1835, the Gonzales Committee of Safety asked Moore for reinforcements and he marched to Gonzales and took command of the Texas volunteers in the Battle of Gonzales. He was said to have designed the “Come and Take It” flag made by Sara and Naomi DeWitt.
As the elected “Colonel” of the volunteer army of settlers and member of their “Council of War” discussing how to best protect themselves from the Mexicans, Moore was ordered by Stephen F. Austin to organize a cavalry company of men who had double barreled shotguns and pistols.
After his successful efforts in the Texas Revolution, Moore turned the attention of his volunteer army which had grown to three companies to fight the Comanche in 1839. After that campaign, President Sam Houston asked him to raise and direct 200 men to protect San Antonio from both Indians and Mexicans. Though too old to fight when the Civil war broke out, John Moore volunteered in 1861 to raise funds for Terry’s Texas Rangers 8th Texas Cavalry.
Gonzales & the Battle of the Alamo
When William Travis called for reinforcements knowing that Santa Anna and his Mexican army were on their way to San Antonio and the Alamo, the only men able to answer the call were 32 settlers from Gonzales who have come to be called the “Immortal Thirty-Two.” They and nine other Gonzales men died at the Alamo. One of those nine Gonzales men killed was the Captain Almaron Dickinson, the captain in charge of artillery under Travis.
Almaron, Susanna, and Angelina Dickinson
Captain Almaron Dickinson, a member of the “Old Gonzales 18.” had brought his wife, Susanna, and their new baby daughter, Angelina, to the Alamo where he was stationed believing they would be safer at the fort with him. When Santa Anna and his troops arrived to besiege and re-take the fort, Captain Dickinson believing “all is lost” urged his wife to flee to save herself and the child. She hid in the Chapel with other women during the battle and after was interviewed by Santa Anna. She was released with her daughter, $2, and a blanket. She and two former slaves and allowed to return to Gonzales to spread the news of the destruction which Santa Anna brought to the Alamo and the threat that he would do the same to all who opposed the Mexican government in Texas. In Gonzales she did describe the details of the battle of the Alamo and the strength of Santa Anna’s army. She told of seeing Davy Crockett praying in the chapel before the battle and of seeing his body and that of Jim Bowie after the battle though she did not see her husband’s body. He had been among the group of 11 men killed near the end of the battle. She said that she wept for days. When Sam Houston got the report he ordered the army to burn Gonzales and retreat east and advised all civilians to evacuate to the east. This was called the “Runaway Scrape”. Houston’s retreat stopped at San Jacinto where he was able to make a stand and defeat Santa Anna. April 21, 1836. the Republic of Texas was born and proudly flew it’s Lone Star flag until 1845, when Texas was granted statehood.
Gonzales and the Civil War (1861-1865)
The Confederate States of America build Fort Waul near Gonzales in an attempt to stop Union forces from penetrating deep into Texas using the River Road. It was an earthen embankment fort and the only type one of its type built by the Confederacy west of the Mississippi.