Map of Texas from the “Comprehensive Atlas, Geographical, Historical and Commercial” by Thomas Gamaliel Bradford, 1835. From the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection, University of Texas.

1835: The Summer of Discontent

By: Dr. R. Bruce Winders, Alamo Director of History and Curation

“The truth is, the people are much divided here.” — W. Barrett Travis to James Bowie, San Felipe, July 30, 1835 [1]
The “Come and Take it Cannon” at the Gonzales Memorial Museum.

School books teach us that the Texas Revolution began on October 2, 1835, at Gonzales when Texas colonists defied Mexican soldiers who came to retrieve a small cannon loaned for the defense of their community. Daring the Mexican soldiers to “Come and Take It,” their rebellious stand transformed what had been a war of words between Mexico’s Central government and Texas’ Federalist faction into a full-fledged armed conflict. Clearly, though, the colonists did not act spontaneously that day.

The summer of 1835 was a time of action. In May, General Antonio López de Santa Anna led a column of troops to the city of Zacatecas to crush a Federalist rebellion that had broken out in that state. Acting on orders from Santa Anna, the military commander of the district that included Coahuila Y Tejas, General Martín Perfecto de Cos, led troops to Monclova where he ordered the state legislature to disband. In June, William B. Travis and his supporters captured the Mexican garrison at Anahuac after accusing the forts’ commander and local tax officials of tyranny. Unlike his earlier involvement in the 1832 disturbance at Anahuac, though, Travis found his actions criticized by the majority of colonists. Colonists and Tejanos viewed these events as serious developments that appeared to be moving them toward an inevitable fight with the Mexican government.

Many colonists urged their countrymen to remain calm do nothing that might worsen the situation. They reminded others that Stephen F. Austin, who earlier had traveled to Mexico City to present a petition detailing the colonists’ grievances, remained a prisoner there. Frustrated with the response he received to his petition, Austin had sent a letter telling Texans to proceed with their plan to establish Texas as a separate state within the Mexican Federal Republic. His belligerent stand alarmed authorities who ordered him arrested and held in prison. Although later released from close confinement, Austin still remained in the Mexican capital awaiting permission to return to Texas. His friends and political allies in the Peace Party wanted no additional incidents that might jeopardize his safety or chance of freedom.

Photo Credit: “Pioneer Heroes and Daring Deeds”, published by Scammell and Company in 1882;

Events beyond their control continued despite the faction’s peaceful wishes. Cos had captured Augustín Viesca, the governor of Coahuila y Texas, as that official tried to reach the Department of Texas. The Governor and his supporters, who included Benjamin R. Milam, planned to reestablish the state capital at San Antonio de Béxar before Cos’s soldiers apprehended them as they rode northward. More disturbing to Texans, though, was word that Cos would soon be on his way with a large number of troops. The rumor was that Texas would receive the same treatment that had been visited upon Zacatecas.

As developments unfolded, the warning of the War Party seemed to be coming true. Its supporters even urged an immediate march on Béxar before it could become a Centralist stronghold. Colonists throughout the settlements held meetings discussing possible actions against Centralists. Toward the end of August, Cos ordered the arrest of William B. Travis, Lorenzo de Zavala, and other perceived troublemakers in an effort prevent further anti-government agitation. Austin, who had been absent from Texas for more than two years, returned home in late August to find the region preparing for war with the Centralist government of Mexico. While the Battle of Gonzales marked the beginning of outright hostilities, the rebellion was already well underway by the August 1835.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: John H. Jenkins, ed. The Papers of the Texas Revolution. (10 Vols.; Austin: Presidial Press, 1973).

[1] John H. Jenkins, ed. PTR, I, 289.

This article originally appeared in the August 2014 edition of “The Alamo Messenger,” a monthly history publication from the Alamo’s education department. Join the Alamo’s email list.

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