Historical Tales: 2—American - Charles Morris

How Houston Won Freedom for Texas

We have told the story of the Alamo. It needs to complete it the story of how Travis and his band of heroes were avenged. And this is also the story of how Texas won its independence, and took its place in the colony of nations as the "Lone Star Republic."

The patriots of Texas had more to avenge than the slaughter at the Alamo. The defenders of Goliad, over four hundred in number, under Colonel Fannin, surrendered, with a solemn promise of protection from Santa Anna. After the surrender they were divided into several companies, marched in different directions out of the town, and there shot down in cold blood by the Mexican soldiers, not a man of them being left alive.

Santa Anna now fancied himself the victor. He had killed two hundred men with arms in their hands, and made himself infamous by the massacre of four hundred more, and he sent despatches to Mexico to the effect that he had put down the rebellion and conquered a peace. What he had really done was to fill the Texans with thirst for reverse as well as love of independence. He had dealt with Travis and Fannin; he had Sam Houston still to deal with.

General Houston was the leader of the Texan revolt. While these murderous events were taking place he had only four hundred men under his command, and was quite unable to prevent them. Defence now seemed hopeless; the country was in a state of panic; the settlers were abandoning their homes and fleeing as the Mexicans advanced; but Sam Houston kept the field with a spirit like that which had animated the gallant Travis.

As the Mexicans advanced Houston slowly retreated. He was maneuvering for time and place, and seeking to increase his force. Finally, after having brought up his small army to something over seven hundred men, he took a stand on Buffalo Bayou, a deep, narrow stream flowing into the San Jacinto River, resolved there to strike a blow for Texan independence. It was a forlorn hope, for against him was marshaled the far greater force of the Mexican army. But Houston gave his men a watchword that added to their courage the hot fire of revenge. After making them an eloquent and impassioned address, he fired their souls with the war-cry of "Remember the Alamo!"

Soon afterward the Mexican bugles rang out over the prairie, announcing the approach of the vanguard of their army, eighteen hundred strong. They were well appointed, and made a showy display as they marched across the plain. Houston grimly watched their approach. Turning to his own sparse ranks, he said, "Men, there is the enemy; do you wish to fight?" "We do," came in a fierce shout. "Well, then, remember it is for liberty or death! Remember the Alamo!"

As they stood behind their light breastworks, ready for an attack, if it should be made, a lieutenant came galloping up, his horse covered with foam. As he drew near he shouted along the lines, "I've cut down Vince's bridge," This was a bridge which both armies had used in coming to the battle-field. General Houston had ordered its destruction. Its fall left the vanquished in that day's fight without hope of escape.

Santa Anna evidently was not ready for an immediate assault. His men halted and intrenched themselves. But Houston did not propose to delay. At three in the afternoon, while many of the Mexican officers were enjoying their siesta in perfect confidence, Santa Anna himself being asleep, the word to charge passed from rank to rank along the Texan front, and in a moment the whole line advanced at double-quick time, filling the air with vengeful cries of "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!"

The Mexican troops sprang to their arms and awaited the attack, reserving their fire until the patriots were within sixty paces. Then they poured forth a volley which, fortunately for the Texans, went over their heads, though a ball struck General Houston's ankle, inflicting a very painful wound. Yet, though bleeding and suffering, the old hero kept to his saddle till the action was at an end.

The Texans made no reply to the fire of the foe until within pistol-shot, and then poured their leaden hail into the very bosoms of the Mexicans. Hundreds of them fell. There was no time to reload. Having no bayonets, the Texans clubbed their rifles and rushed in fury upon the foe, still rending the air with their wild war-cry of "Remember the Alamo!" The Mexicans were utterly unprepared for this furious hand-to-hand assault, and quickly broke before the violent onset.

On all sides they gave way. On the left the Texans penetrated the woodland; the Mexicans fled. On the right their cavalry charged that of Santa Anna, which quickly broke and sought safety in flight. In the centre they stormed the breast-works, took the enemy's artillery and drove them back in dismay. In fifteen minutes after the charge the Mexicans were in panic flight, the Texans in mad pursuit. Scarce an hour had passed since the patriots left their works, and the battle was won.

Such was the consternation of the Mexicans, so sudden and utter their rout, that their cannon were left loaded and their movables untouched. Those who were asleep awoke only in time to flee; those who were cooking their dinner left it uneaten; those who were playing their favorite game of monte left it unfinished. The pursuit was kept up till nightfall, by which time the bulk of the Mexican army were prisoners of war. The victory had been won almost without loss. Only seven of the Texans were killed and twenty-three wounded. The Mexican loss was six hundred and thirty, while seven hundred and thirty were made prisoners.

But the man they most wanted was still at large. Santa Anna was not among the captives. On the morning of the following day, April 22, the Texan cavalry, scouring the country for prisoners, with a sharp eye open for the hated leader of the foe, saw a Mexican whom they loudly bade to surrender. At their demand he fell on the grass and threw a blanket over his head. They had to call on him several times to rise before he slowly dragged himself to his feet. Then he went up to Sylvester, the leader of the party, and kissed his hand, asking if he was General Houston.

The man was evidently half beside himself with fright. He was only a private soldier, he declared; but when his captors pointed to the fine studs in the bosom of his shirt he burst into tears and declared that he was an aide to Santa Anna. The truth came out as the captors brought him back to camp, passing the prisoners, many of whom cried out, "El Presidente." It was evidently Santa Anna himself. The President of Mexico was a prisoner and Texas was free! When the trembling captive was brought before Houston, he said, "General, you can afford to be generous,—you have conquered the Napoleon of the West." Had Houston done full justice to this Napoleon of the West he would have hung him on the spot. As it was, his captors proved generous and his life was spared.

The victory of San Jacinto struck the fetters from the hands of Texas. No further attempt was made to conquer it, and General Houston became the hero and the first president of the new republic. When Texas was made a part of the United States, Houston was one of its first senators, and in later years he served as governor of the State. His splendid victory had made him its favorite son.