EDINBURG, May 26 - March 6 of this year marked the 177th anniversary of Texas Independence, However, it should be the 200th anniversary, as facts tell us that the first major skirmish leading to Texas Independence occurred at the Battle of Medina on April 6, 1813.
The individual who spearheaded this movement was Col. Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara y Uribe, a Tejano, who first responded to Padre Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s call for freedom from tyranny against the Spanish Royalists, proclaimed on September 16, 1810. The "El Grito" resonated throughout the Texas of that time which was also part of the Spanish Empire, so much that the "Cabildo de San Antonio de Béxar," made up of Tejanos, issued a proclamation supporting Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s call for liberty. Tejanos were the first to initiate the framework and ideals that later on led to the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, when the newcomers to Texas simply took up the struggle first started at the Battle of Medina on April 6, 1813. At this, the greatest battle fought on Texas soil, close to one thousand Tejanos and other volunteers perished in their quest for freedom, which culminated in 1836.
Col. Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara y Uribe became the first President of the Republic of Texas. He wrote and signed the first Texas Declaration of Independence on April 6, 1813 and a week later signed the Texas Constitution, patented after the U.S. Constitution, declaring Texas an independent state. By then, Tejanos had already done much of the heavy lifting, sacrificing and dying by the time Sam Houston and other Texian patriots crossed over the Sabine River. So, essentially, newcomers came into the struggle and took over a work in progress. However, up until a few years ago, this part of pre-1836 Texas History had been completely obscured from the pages of Texas history books. Thus, we must all recognize that pre-1836 Texas History is a seamless part of the history of our state. Furthermore, the more all of us know about the Tejanos’ role, the more the general public will see and understand that the Spanish/Mexican roots in this state run deep, covering many centuries of active participation in the building of Texas.
The siege of the Alamo (a Christian Mission built by Spanish Missionaries to instruct the Indian population in and around San Antonio de Béxar), lasted only a few crucial days, ending on March 6, 1836, the day Mexican General Antonio de Santa Ana entered the Alamo Mission. Meanwhile a convention was being held that lasted from March 1, to 17, 1836 declaring Texas Independence and writing a constitution, thus initiating the beginning of the second Declaration of Independence, the second Republic of Texas, and the second Texas Constitution. However, this 1836 declaration did not save the men entrapped at the Alamo. These brave defenders of the Alamo hailed from many parts of the world, representing a multi–ethnic force, all gathered there for the common cause of freedom. Very few of the men were native Texans, as a great number came from such states as Kentucky and the Carolinas, with some 32 of them coming from Tennessee, and from states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New York also. Europeans were also presented, as ten of the patriots hailed from England, and 11 were from Ireland, and of the 30 or more Europeans, some came from Germany, Denmark, Scotland and Wales.
Accounts differ regarding the number of individuals at the Alamo in 1836. Up to 1920 the number stood at 150, then to 183 in 1968, and finally grew to 189 today. Six defenders were known to have survived, among them Brígido Guerrero, who received a pension later on as a result of being a defender. Mexican officers who cremated the remains counted between 250 to 256, leading historians to believe that many of them were San Antonio residents who merely sought refuge at this mission as Santa Ana’s Army advanced, or perhaps they were Mexican soldiers who had deserted, or perhaps Tejanos and newcomer farmer colonists living in Texas at that time. Be that as it may, of the 189 or so individuals who perished at this battle as many as 80 of them were documented residents of Texas, and of this only eight were actually born in Texas, and they were all Tejanos: Juan Abamillo, Juan A. Badillo, Carlos Espalier, Gregorio Esparza, Antonio Fuentes, Damacio Jiménez, José Toribio Losoya, and Andrés Nava. The following is a tribute to those brave Tejanos, all heroes of the Battle of the Alamo of 1836, who perished alongside David Crockett, William Travis and others:
a.) Juan Abamillo: A native Tejano who volunteered to fight under the command of Col. Juan N. Seguín.
b.) Juan Antonio Badillo: a native Tejano who also served under Col. Juan N. Seguín, and stayed on at the Alamo when Col. Seguín was called out to seek reinforcement among his Tejanos loyalist.
c.) Carlos Espalier: He was a native Tejano and a protégé of James Bowie, and was only 17 years old when he perished at this battle.
d.) José María Esparza: Also known as Gregorio Esparza was born in San Antonio de Béxar. He married María Petra Olivas with whom he had several children. He also formed part of Col. Juan N. Seguín battalion of Tejanos, and when General Antonio de Santa Ana arrived in San Antonio, he was advised to take refuge at the Alamo along with his wife, three sons and a baby daughter, and could have left but decided to stay and perished along the others tending a cannon during the siege, but his family survived the siege. His brother Francisco Esparza recovered his body, and was given a proper Christian burial, a respect not given to most other defenders.
e.) Antonio Fuentes: He was born in San Antonio de Béxar, and although he had a fallen out with Col. Juan N. Seguín, he stayed on and died alongside the others.
f.) Damacio Jiménez: A native Tejano who also formed part of Col. Juan N. Seguín battalion.
g.) José Toribio Losoya: He was born in the Alamo "barrio" to Ventura Losoya and Concepción de los Angeles Charlé. He deserted the Mexican Army to join Col. Juan N. Seguín’s Battalion of Tejanos. He perished at this battle, but his wife and three children who sought refuge at the Alamo’s chapel, along with other women and some slaves, survived the siege.
h.) Andrés Nava: A native Tejano who had enlisted for only six month’s service under the command of Col. Juan N. Seguín. He died while defending the Alamo alongside the other Texas patriots.
It is interesting to note that the Tejanos who perished at the Alamo were only a small representation of the thousand other Tejanos who also fought for freedom alongside the Texians (not of Hispanic origin). Tejano ranchers and their families prominently provided ammunition, food, shelter, and horses to the freedom fighters during these tumultuous times in Texas history. Col. Juan Seguin’s Tejano Cavalry made out of thousands of Tejano ranchers/land owners soldiers fought valiantly against the Mexican Forces of General Antonio Santa Ana, outmaneuvering Mexican soldiers with their riding skills, and won the day for General Sam Houston at the Battle of San Jacinto.
During the beginning of the 20th Century a revisionist approach toward depicting the Battle of the Alamo, 1836, began portraying a different scenario, elevating certain individuals to an almost super human status, and almost completely erasing the valuable and significant role the Tejanos played during this period in Texas history. In so doing, Texans of all persuasions were robbed of the pre-1836 seamless and illustrious History of Texas that got its start with the arrival of the Native-Americans centuries before, and then the arrival of the Spaniards Pánfilo Narváez, and Alvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca with a crew of soldiers on Texas soil in 1528, detailing a history covering centuries of human activity that begs to be told, and honor. All this is, then, an essential part of who we are, clearly defining us as a people. In addition, the old version damaged the Tejano psyche for decades, as Tejanos look like the enemy, they speak like the enemy, thus they were the enemy; and one does not give aid or comfort to the enemy. It is interesting to note also that the Tejanos were the first ones to initiate a battle for liberty, the first ones to perish in battle in their quest for freedom, and unfortunately the first ones to be forgotten in the pages of history. No Longer! Proceed!
Brownsville native Dr. Lino García, Jr., holds the Chair of Professor Emeritus of Spanish Literature at UTPA. He can be reached at: LGarcia@TPA.Edu