Wednesday, August 17, 2011
The Battle of Medina - A True Tejano Revolution Celebrated its anniversary Aug. 18
Note: Pictured here are Dan Arrellano in a 19th century Tejano costume with replica of the Emerald Green flag of the Tejano Republican Army of the North who died valiantly in the Battle of Medina, the reenactors from this year's remembrance of the battle and the state historical marker.
How long have Tejanos been fighting for liberty and freedom in this land we call Texas?
Most of us are familiar with the battles at the Alamo and Goliad when thousands of Tejanos joined ranks with Gen. Sam Houston, William Travis, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett to help oust the treacherous Mexican government of Gen. Santa Anna. That was in 1836. Few of us, however, are familiar with our battle for freedom against Spain, the country that controlled Texas and much of the American Southwest for several centuries. That struggle started in the late 18th century and reached its peak in the early 19th century. Tejanos - the first European settlers of Texas and the first to "mingle" with the indigenous population of the American southwest and what is now Mexico - wanted independence from Spanish tyranny.
Author and Tejano historian Dan Arrellano from San Antonio, has done an admirable job of reminding us that the Tejanos' quest for liberty and justice from oppression predates the Battle of the Alamo and the soverigninty of Mexico in Texas. Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. There were battles for freedom here in this land well before that date.
For a brief shining moment, Texas was a "republica" pre-dating the Republic of Texas of Gen. Sam Houston. In 1812, Tejanos fed up with Spanish (not Mexican) rule rebelled. Arrellano's research reveals that on April 7, 1812 the Republican Army of the North crossed the Sabine River into Spanish Texas. Flying the Emerald Green Flag of Liberty, these Tejanos ensued in a journey across Texas that would see them claim victories over Spain in several key battles. Don José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara and William Augustus Magee, supported by 142 American and 158 Tejano volunteers, invaded Spanish territory with the aim of forming a new government. The rag tag army would be successful in every battle and every skirmish against Spain, beginning with the capture of Nacogdoches, Trinidad, the four-month siege of the presidio in Goliad, the Battle of Rosillio, the capture of San Antonio and the Battle of Alazan. After victory in San Antonio, there was a declaration of independence for the State of Texas under the Republic of Mexico on April 6, 1813.
But Arrellano reminds us that, unfortunately, Spain was still a super power in the early 19th century and it would only be a matter of time before it squahed the upstart rebellion. Spain would send an army of its best to take on the Tejano rebels. Gen. Joaquín de Arredondo, commandant-general of the Provincias Internas (Internal Provices of Spain) of the Spanish government, organized an army of 1,838 men and marched them early in August from Laredo toward San Antonio to quell the rebellion.
On August 18, 1813, the Tejano Republicans Army of the North set out to fight in what would become the biggest and bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil - “The Battle of Medina.”
The upstart army, consisting of approximately 300 Americans, one to two hundred Native Americans and eight to nine hundred Tejanos were tired from the continuos skirmishes agaisnt the Spanish, but willing to stand up and fight for freedom. The Tejanos - in particular - were determined.
They would encounter a well-trained and disciplined Spanish Royalist Army. The Tejano Republicans were ambushed and out of the 1,400 only one hundred would survive. The bodies of soldiers killed in battle were left where they fell. It would be nine years before their bones were gathered and buried in a communal grave.
Ninety of the survivors would be Americans, which proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that the ones with the most to lose would fight the hardest for freedom were the Tejanos and their Native American allies. The Tejanos and their indigenous brothers stood and fought to the last man. "This battle raged on for about four hours with our Tejanos, like Leonidas at Thermopylae, determined to achieve victory or die trying," Arrellano writes on the research of the account of the battle. Little did any one realize the sacrifice these men would pay would be the ultimate.
After the battle, the victorious Spanish Army marched into San Antonio where 500 additional Tejanos would be arrested and crammed into a make shift prison. The Spanish were furious and wanted to not only quell the revolt, but send a message to the residents of Texas that Spanish rule was supreme. Spanish military records show that 17 of those jailed, suffocated in the scorching heat of night. The next day several would be released, as a show of leniency from the Spanish crown, but to also spread the word that there would be consequences. Soon, 327 Tejanos who remained in jail would be executed. Three a day would from be taken out and shot, beheaded then their heads were placed on spikes and displayed around the square (what is now Market Square in San Antoino) for all to see as a lesson to those who dared rise up against Spanish rule.
Arrellano writes that no one would be spared the wrath of General Arredondo, not even the women and children. Ironically, one of the Spanish Royalist officers was a young lieutenant named Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Of course, he would return to San Antonio in 1836 with his Mexican Army to quell yet another rebellion by Texans and Tejanos.
Spanish military records show, according to Arrellano, that approximately 300 of the wives, mothers and daughters of the Tejanos would be imprisoned. He reports that many of them would be brutally and repeatedly raped, several dying as a result of the brutality. The women were forced on their knees from 4 in the morning till 10 at night to grind the corn to make the tortillas to feed the despised Spanish Army. And through the windows of their make shift prison the mothers could see their children searching for food and shelter on the street which became Dolorosa St.
The Battle of Medina is historic.
It showed that these new settlers of Texas were people of courage, foresight and discipline. They were a special breed, whose descendants would survive this and other atrocities the world would throw at them in the 19th and 20th centuries. It showed that this new breed of settler - The Tejano - would not stand still and allow to be ruled by despots and cowards who did not value human life or freedom. In short, their sacrifice - both men and women - in the Battle of Medina and in the streets of San Antonio would foreshadow the downfall of Spain in the new world and eventually lead to the formation of Texas. Their courage foreshawdowed the fight for equality that would lead to the the Catarino Garza rebellion in the late 19th century, the Plan de San Diego revolt in the early 20th century, the formation of organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens and the American G.I. Forum in 1917 and 1948, respectivley, and the Chicano Youth Movement and revolution of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. It foreshawdowed the descendants of Tejanos finally been able to seek justice, freedom and educatioin in the state their forefathers helped find and hone and it signalled to all that we can never let our guard down. We must always find for our freedom, dignity and respect.
Arrellano writes, "Short-lived as it may have been, this Republic was a real Republic and this was a real revolution, a revolution of the people, by the people, and for the people and these were our ancestors, and to this day they have remained unknown and unrecognized for their ultimate sacrifice."
In the San Antonio area, several associations celebrate the Battle of Medina. The celbration is usually around what is now the community of Medina Valley, south of San Antonio. Re-enactments of the battle are common. Words are spoking about valor and roots. This is wonderful, but we should do more.
This battle is an important part of Texas history and should be taught to our children. It cannot be found in the history books. It is the "bloodiest battle" ever fought on Texas soil. It represented a struggle for freedom that is still with us today. It's time we recognize this battle and make it part of our every day conversations about the Lone Star State.
Texas history did not start with Davy Crockett (John Wayne) and the Alamo. It started with the indigenous who were here, the Tejanos who helped tame the land and their ancestors who survived atrocity after atrocity to make sure they could stay and live in the land we call Texas.