Several days following the final assault on the walls of the Alamo, word was recieved in Gonzales, the nearest Texian settlement to San Antonio.  Sam Houston had gone there to rally the Texas Army … and a company of local men had gone to the Alamo in response to Travis’ plea for help. From Daughter of Texas, this is what happened on the day that Susannah Dickinson brought the world from San Antonio that the Alamo had fallen.

            The hours and days of March dragged past at a snail’s pace; a week and a half since the Gonzales Ranging Company had ridden down towards the ferry and the road to Bexar. Surely they had achieved a safe passage into that crumbling and shabby fortress and other reinforcements were on the way? Now and again, Margaret fancied that when it was very still – at dawn, or just after sunset, and the light breeze came from the north that she could hear a faint continuous rumble, like distant thunder – the sound of cannon-fire. Toward the end of that time, rumors swept Gonzales, each more dreadful than the last: the worst of them had the Alamo fallen and all the defenders put to the sword, but that tale had been brought by a pair of Mexican cattle-drovers, who – as it turned out, had not seen anything of the sort, but had heard the dreadful tale from another drover.

Within days of reading Colonel Travis’ declaration and plea in the Telegraph, soldiers, militia, and ranging companies began arriving in Gonzales, singly or in companies. Colonel Neill, who had taken leave from his duties at Bexar, thinking that all would be in order and there would be time enough to finish reinforcing theAlamo, began gathering those new recruits to his little army. Race, with his face seeming to be pale skin stretched over the bones of his face, had recovered enough strength to resume his duties as a courier and dispatch rider. More »

29. July 2010 · Comments Off on The Gonzales Ranging Company · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,

Texas map

One of the challenges of writing about a frontier-era woman of fairly conventional background and 19th century limitations, and trying to keep it all exciting for a reader comes when you have to start tackling things like  war, politics, commerce, Indian raids, and frontier exploration adventures. All the above were happenings that only men participated in fully. Mostly, in order to write directly about them is to either tell of them through male characters, or to create/locate a female outlier, of some variety – perhaps a tomboy who dresses as a man, or an unusually determined woman following her husband or lover. Generally, women were on the fringes, watching from the sidelines, holding up the home-front and generally cleaning up afterwards; which makes the drama rather understated – since a lot of it will be happening offstage. For the current WIP I am having to fall back on Margaret Mitchell’s stratagem in the first half or so of Gone With The Wind, when it comes to the Civil War – that is, having male characters appear, breathless and exhausted, from the wings, and giving an account of the varied events to my leading characters, mostly wives and mothers, sitting restlessly at home and waiting for word. In this way I have dramatized elements of the Come and Take It Fight, the Grass Fight  . . .  and the siege of the Alamo. Kind of hard to find any fresh aspect or angle of that to write about: but when I was tackling the story of the rise of the cattle industry in Texas I also thought all of the stories had been told. Lucky for me, they haven’t been. To the larger world, the story of the Gonzales Mounted Ranging Company is a relatively small footnote in the Alamo saga, and the Runaway Scrape – the civilian counterpart to Sam Houston’s strategic withdrawal to East Texas, likewise.


These two elements are linked, however – and in a terribly dramatic way. Gonzales, the farthest west of the American grants and settlements in Mexican Texas, was also the nearest such settlement to the seat of Mexican civil and military authority in San Antonio de Bexar – seventy miles or so by road. Oddly enough, relations between the citizens of Gonzales and the Mexican government had been fairly amiable; Gonzales was the locus of the ‘peace party’ which favored accommodation, as much as possible – as opposed to the ‘war party’, centered in San Felipe, who touted independence and took a hard line in response to the ongoing ‘Federalist-Centralist’ dispute in the politics of an independent Mexico. That is, right up until the Commandant of the presidio in Bexar had asked for the six-pound cannon to be returned, and then all heck broke out.

Far to the west – and on the very edge of American settlement – Gonzales of the early 1830s was a tidy little town, a hub of entrepreneurial activity; settlers had brought their wives and families, the tools of their trade. They had qualified as generally good and law-abiding citizens of the places they had come from, and of their new town. They were settled and relatively prosperous – not easily driven to open rebellion which would put at risk everything they had build in five hard and dangerous years on the frontier. When William Barrett Travis sent out a plea for reinforcements for his tiny garrison, one of the first of his messages went to Gonzales. And Gonzales was the first to respond, sending thirty of their own. These were not newly-arrived volunteers from the United States, land-hungry, restless and ready for a fight: but men of family and considerable substance, relatively long-established in Texas, in comparison to those who they were going to join, behind the crumbling adobe walls of a former mission. Most left wives and large families behind them, although four of the Gonzales relief company were teenagers. One of them, fifteen-year old William King argued his way into the company even as they were departing, insisting that he could well substitute for his father  . . .  but his father was desperately needed at home.

A bare week and a half later, of course – the news arrived that the Alamo had fallen, and all the defenders were dead – including those leading men of Gonzales, whose remains were burned with all the other defenders (save one) in two large pyres on the Alameda by order of the victor, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Their widows and orphaned children hardly had time to grieve, for by then Sam Houston had been put in complete command of what passed for the Army of Texas. Sam Houston was not going to risk his lightly armed, ornery and quarrelsome body of some three hundred soldiers and militia volunteers out on the farthest edge of American settlement, in a place where they could be mopped-up and massacred by a larger and well-equipped Army. Santa Anna had all the advantage of the ground, of fast-moving and well-mounted cavalry, of experienced artillery and disciplined and professionally officered infantry. Santa Anna had just finished putting down rebellion against his authority in half a dozen other Mexican states, including Zacatecas, where his army was permitted to loot and pillage at will for two days.

Well knowing of Santa Anna’s reputation for reprisal against those he defeated, and realizing they would be left defenseless, settler families began to flee, even as Houston gave orders for his force to abandon Gonzales. Much of Houston’s baggage train was turned over to evacuate women and children; equipment and supplies were dumped in the river or burnt. The town of Gonzales was purposefully burned; Houston, knowing that Santa Anna’s force was at the end of a long supply line, wanted to leave a scorched earth, as he and his army retreated eastwards. He sent word to Colonel James Fannin, at Goliad, in the old Presidio of La Bahia, to fall back to the line of the Colorado River. Fannin, at best an indecisive man, boxed in by an inability to make hard decisions, left departing too late to save himself or the 400 men of his garrison. He was defeated in a pitched battle at Coleto Creek in middle of March; those who survived Coleto were executed on Palm Sunday, 1836 – again, by the order of General Santa Anna.

Holding a line at the Colorado River was not possible: Houston fell back again, upon hearing of the massacre at Goliad, and the refugees fell back with him. Conditions were not helped by it being the rainiest spring in years. Rivers and creeks were running high – which did put the pursuing Mexican forces at a disadvantage in pursuit – but intensified the suffering of the refugees. Many had left their homes on a bare half-hour notice, packing in haste and burying such valuables as they could not take with them. Their homes were abandoned to the elements. Pregnant women gave birth with no other shelter than their friends holding pieces of canvas over them. Houston fell back again – San Felipe, which had been the heart of the American colonies, having been established by Stephen F. Austin, was burned also to the ground, although by whose orders – or if by the pursuing Mexican column has never been quite clear. In the space of a month, all that had been built in ten years across a vast tract of the lowland plains of Texas was abandoned, empty, and burned-out. Some even thought, in despair, that Houston and his army, and the fleeing settlers would have no other choice but to take refuge by crossing back over the Sabine, the final river dividing Texas and Louisiana.


But in April, at a meadow at edge of Buffalo Bayou, near the present-day town named after him, Sam Houston saw his opportunity to strike, and took it. Perhaps sensing that his ragged and contentious little army only had one fight in them, he wished to make it where it would count, and where they had a better than good chance of winning – and in a brief 18 minutes they did.