The Importance of Béxar: Legend vs. Evidence

by Dr. Bruce Winders, Curator & Historian at The Alamo

One of the most enduring misconceptions regarding the Battle of Béxar is a supposed family relationship between Antonio López de Santa Anna and Martin Perfecto de Cos. As the legend goes, Santa Anna and Cos were brothers-in-law. Hence, Cos’ loss of San Antonio de Béxar brought dishonor to the entire family, a dishonor that Santa Anna vowed to erase by recapturing the town. Although there is no evidence to support this supposed connection between Santa Anna and Cos, the public and even some historians continue to repeat it. The line from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes to mind: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

What is the problem with continuing promoting this misconception? After all, Santa Anna’s supposed need to restore family honor by recapturing San Antonio provides a clear motive for his actions. Unfortunately, it become the substitute for the evidence and diminishes Santa Anna’s role as the president of Mexico. As the leader of that nation, Santa Anna was bound by duty to reestablish control of Texas.

Moreover, the family honor story diminishes the true importance of San Antonio de Béxar. The town of San Antonio was not a worthless settlement on the Texas frontier for which there was not value in defending. On the eve of the Texas Revolution, the town boasted a population of more than two thousand inhabitants. It was the crossroads though which the routes to east Texas and the Rio Grande Valley passed. A political seat for most of its existence, Béxar was also a center of trade and commerce. In sum, San Antonio de Béxar was a prize worth fighting for — a fact that guaranteed that there would the Centralists would have to retake the town once it fell if the rebellion was to be crushed.

In Their Own Words: The Importance of San Antonio de Béxar

James Bowie to Governor Henry Smith [Excerpt of Letter]

February 2, 1836

“Bexar:. . . The salvation of Texas depends in great measure in keeping Bejar out of the hands of the enemy. It serves as the picquet guard and if it were in the possession of Santa Anna there is no strong hold from which to repell him in his march towards the Sabine. . . . Colonel Neill and myself have come to the solemn resolution that we will rather die in these ditches than give up this post to the enemy. These citizens [at Bexar] deserve our protection and the public safety demands our lives rather than to evacuate this post to the enemy. — again we call aloud for relief; . . .”

Wallace O. Chariton. 100 Days in Texas: The Alamo Letters. (Plano: Wordware Publishing Inc., 1990), 203–204.

William B. Travis to Governor Henry Smith [Excerpt of Letter]

February 12, 1836

“COMMANDCY OF BEXAR: You have no doubt already received information, by Express from La Bahia, that tremendous preparations are making on the Rio Grande & elsewhere in the interior, for the Invasion of Texas — Sant Ana by the last accounts was at Saltillo, with a force of 2500 men & guns, Sesma was at the Rio Grande with about 2000 — He has issued his proclamation denouncing vengeance against the people of Texas — and threatens to exterminate every white man within its limits — This being the Frontier Post nearest the Rio Grande, will be the first to be attacked — We are illy prepared for their reception, as we have no more than 150 men here and they in a very discouraged state — Yet we are determined to sustain it as long as there is a man left; because we consider death preferable to disgrace, which would be the result of giving up a Post which has been so dearly won, and thus opening the door for the invaders to enter the sacred Territory of the colonies.”

Wallace O. Chariton. 100 Days in Texas: The Alamo Letters. (Plano: Wordware Publishing Inc., 1990), 225–226.

William B. Travis to Governor Henry Smith

February 13, 1836

. . . it is more important to occupy this Post than I imagines when I last saw you — It is the key of Texas from the Interior without a footing here the enemy can do nothing against the colonies now that our coast is guarded by armed vessels –

Wallace O. Chariton. 100 Days in Texas: The Alamo Letters. (Plano: Wordware Publishing Inc., 1990), 226–227.

Antonio López de Santa Anna

Manifesto

Béxar was held by the enemy and it was necessary to open the door to our future operations by taking it.

Carlos Casteñeda, ed. and trans. The Mexican Side of the Texas Revolution. 12–13.

Dr. Richard Bruce Winders is the Historian & Curator at The Alamo. A specialist in United States-Mexico borderlands, he is the author of numerous books and articles on the Texas Revolution and the Mexican War.

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