Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
As we enter my favorite stretch of Texas history, I often talk about the legends of Travis, Houston and other familiar names from the battles for independence. However, there were others that are less talked about that played pivotal roles in our fight for freedom, particularly one group that had a passion for independence that had been brewing long before the chants “Remember the Alamo” became our battle cry – the Tejanos.
The Tejanos’ place in Texas history took root in the 1700s when the land was under Spanish rule. As frontier people, they were mainly ranchers and farmers and developed a culture that was unique to them. (Even then, Texas was a country all its own.) Settling northeastern Mexico, the area of modern day San Antonio, many of their customs reflected that of traditional Mexican heritage, but with an independent Texas twist.
For the next 100 years, the Tejanos prospered and furthered their distinction from the Spanish crown and from other parts of Mexico. An earlier failed attempt by the Tejanos against Spanish rule gained new hope when Mexico won independence from Spain in 1831. However, Mexican dictator General Santa Anna proved to be a new force to be reckoned with.
By this time Texas had seen a significant influx of settlers from the United States, and like the Tejanos, had a culture unique as the land they occupied. As Texas’ distinction from Mexico grew, so did the desire for local rule and sovereignty.
The passion for independence spread throughout Texas and on March 2, 1836, 54 delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence and the fight for freedom began. Among the signers were Tejano patriots: José Antonio Navarro, José Francisco Ruiz and Lorenzo de Zavala. (Navarro later became the first Vice President of the Republic of Texas.)
During the days leading up to the Washington on the Brazos convention, a gathering of another kind was taking place in an old beat up mission in San Antonio. Juan Seguín, and his company of Tejanos, rode into the Alamo and readied for battle alongside William Barrett Travis, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and 187 freedom fighters. This rag-tag group of relentless patriots, made up of men from nearly every state in the Union and 13 foreign countries, including Mexico, held off an entire army of a several thousand for 13 days.
Defeat was not an option. Retreat was never on the table. Victory or death.
During the siege, Travis sent out his famous call for reinforcements. Juan Seguín was the last messenger to leave, riding though enemy lines carrying the final message from the beleaguered mission. Unfortunately, the call for help was not answered in time. Travis and 187 volunteers sacrificed their lives on the altar of freedom after thirteen glorious days at the Alamo.
Regrouping in Gonzales, Seguín and his company of Tejanos joined General Sam Houston in the final battle for independence along the marshy banks of the San Jacinto River. This was the only Tejano unit at San Jacinto. As not to confuse the Tejanos with Santa Anna’s army, General Sam had Seguín put a playing card in the head band of each Tejano so they could easily be recognized.
In an impromptu siege on the sleeping enemy, General Sam and his boys routed the Mexican Army yelling, “Remember the Alamo!” “Remember Goliad!” Most of the enemy were killed or wounded. The rest were captured or disappeared, the victory was stunning.
Texas became a free, independent nation that day and claimed what is now Texas, and parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming. In June of 1836, Juan Seguín accepted the official Mexican surrender of San Antonio and later saw that that the remains of those that perished at the Alamo received an honorable burial.
Among those that fought and died for Texas, were Seguín’s fellow Tejanos, mostly native Texans: Juan Abamillo, volunteered to serve under Seguín; Juan Antonio Badillo arrived with Seguin at the battle of the Alamo, but stayed behind to fight when Seguin went for reinforcements; Carlos Espalier, a 17 year old protégé of Jim Bowie.
Antonio Fuentes, was recruited by Seguín, took part in the siege of Béxar, and later had a falling out with Seguín and Travis, but stayed and fell at the Alamo; Damacio Jiménez, served under Seguín and Travis in Anahuac; José Toribio Losoya, a Mexican army deserter, enlisted as a rifleman in Seguín's company; Andrés Nava, took part in the siege of Béxar and later died while defending the Alamo.
José María Esparza, also known as Gregorio Esparza, manned a cannon during the siege and had his family with him in the Alamo. He was given a chance to leave, but chose to stay, fight and die for Texas. His wife and children were spared.
A plaque on the Alamo wall states: “The Alamo: The Thermopylae of Texas.” The Alamo is a tribute to all those that are defiant against any form of tyranny. It is important for us to recognize all those that sacrificed for freedom, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Remember who we are and what we stand for – remember the Alamo.
And that’s just the way it is.