The celebration of Texas history and its heritage continues Saturday, March 12, in San Benito with the annual reenactments of the major battles of the 1836 Texas Revolution.
See a complete schedule at happybirthdaytexas.com.
Last week on March 5, the Texas Heritage & Independence Celebration Association held one of the best history symposiums in Texas. The caliber of presenters was outstanding and worthy of the momentous occasion to recognize the brave soldiers and patriots that fought on both sides of the conflict. The Mexican-born Tejanos who fought for independence were especially highlighted as contributing greatly to the successful campaign against Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna.
Dr. Trinidad Gonzalez of South Texas College kicked off the symposium with the historical background that led to the revolution. He also spoke about the brutal history of Texas Ranger brutality and repression against South Texas Mexicanos and Tejanos in the 1910s and 1920s. The racism that contributed to the harshness of the battles left a legacy of repression and conquest against the native Texans of Mexican descent, some of whom could trace their roots to the Spanish era of Texas. This harsh Texas border history is now being shown in an exhibit at the Bullock State Museum in Austin.
Dan Arellano of Austin wore a Spanish-era military uniform and donned an elegant sombrero and sword during his presentation and the entire symposium. In fact, he is the most photographed individual at the Bullock Texas State History Museum by tourists. At the San Benito symposium, he proudly explained his family roots leading back to pre-Texas Independence days. He focused his presentation on what he called Texas First War of Independence of 1813 and the Battle of Medina that was fought 20 miles south of San Antonio. A force of Spanish troops (that included a young 23-year old officer named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna) defeated a force of mostly Tejanos in a fierce fight that ended for the time being any effort to break away Texas from Mexico.
Keynote speaker Dr. Andres Tijerina, to his credit, cut short his attendance of the Texas State Historical Association annual conference in Irving to be in San Benito. He returned this year to once again challenge everyone to expand their familiarity with the true history of Texas. Like Dr. Gonzalez, he talked about the history of racial attacks and actions against Mexicanos and Tejanos. He explained that the Mexican Army was following what were then rules of war when it gave no quarter at the Alamo. He also explained that Tejanos were way ahead of the 1836 Texas patriots as they had been pursuing a more democratic and liberal form of government years before. The hunger in Tejas for a greater control of their own destiny was always there and had been suppressed by Spain before 1836.
Author and Rio Grande Guardian columnist Jose Antonio Lopez gave an extensive overview of the contributions of Tejano Bernardo Gutierrez de Lara Uribe in the first struggle for Texas independence. (Lopez is related to the Gutierrez de Lara lineage.) In fact, in 1811 he was selected by Mexican independence icon Father Miguel Hidalgo to travel to Washington, D.C. on a special mission to seek U.S. aid to Texas in its fight for independence from Spain. Gutierrez met with President James Madison and Secretary of State James Monroe to plead for assistance.
Despite five successful battles being won against the Spaniards, the Tejano cause was ultimately defeated after the Battle of Medina on August 6, 1813. A force of 1,800 Spanish Royalist troops routed an army of Tejanos of 1,400 – less than 400 survived the battle while the Spanish lost only 55 soldiers.
Architect and field historical researcher Manuel Hinojosa presented an incredible overview of accounts in the diary of Mexican Officer Jose de la Peña. This Mexican officer wrote a diary that claims that former U.S. Congressman Davy Crockett from Tennessee survived the siege of the Alamo and was immediately executed by Santa Anna’s army. Apart from this Crockett issue that will remain forever debated and unresolved, Hinojosa explained meticulously how travel, battle, and other accounts in the diary checked out with the geographical areas that were described. Hinojosa personally visited locations described by de la Peña in Mexico and areas where the Mexican Army traveled while in Texas, including its retreat after the Battle of San Jacinto. Examples of military hardware, weapons, musket balls, buttons, and other items that were found by Hinojosa and other researchers over the years were presented to verify the diary accounts.
Reenactor Wade Marcum concluded the symposium by delivering an animated and detailed account of the Battle of Gonzalez, the Battle of the Alamo, and the Battle of San Jacinto. All three will be reenacted tomorrow in San Benito. Marcum has been a lead reenactor at the San Benito historical festival for years.
I urge you to visit San Benito this Saturday. If you cannot attend, dedicate this month to read about Texas history and the contributions and sacrifices of so many that led to the creation of our great State of Texas. Myths and Hollywood tales feel and look good, but historical facts will set you free.
Salomon Torres is a reenactor and avid aficionado of the history of the 1835-36 Texas War of Independence and the 1846-48 U.S.-Mexico War.
Editor’s Note: The photos featured in the photo gallery at the top of this guest column were taken at San Benito’s 2015 re-enactment of the major battles of the 1836 Texas Revolution. More photos and information can be found at happybirthdaytexas.com.