Mexican Independence Movement


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The History of Texas: Mexican Independence Movement

(Previous Section: Life in San Antonio in the Early 1800's)

Don Francisco Miranda

Francisco MirandaDON FRANCISCO MIRANDA was the first advocate and martyr of freedom in Spanish America. His grandfather was once governor of the province of Caraccas, where he was born. In 1783, he visited the United States, and drank deep of the spirit of the American Revolution. He traveled over a good part of Europe on foot. In 1789, he was at St. Petersburg; and, though strongly pressed by the empress Catherine II. to enter her service, he felt an irresistible impulse that led him to join in the wars of France. Here he became attached to Petion, who had him sent on a mission to England, and gave him the appointment of major-general. After engaging in many battles in Belgium and Holland, he barely escaped falling into the hands of Robespierre, then of the directory, and again of Bonaparte. He devoted his time and great talents to the destruction of the Spanish power in America. It is not necessary further to trace the eventful history of his life, than to refer to the fact that he started an expedition in 1806 from New York to Central America, and then another in 1810, both of which were unsuccessful. Miranda had the countenance of Pitt in his expeditions; but it is equally true that the United States, although sympathizing deeply with their oppressed brethren under the Spanish yoke, afforded no aid and took no part in Miranda's movements. The positive declarations of Presidents Adams and Jefferson on this point should be satisfactory.

Aaron Burr and the Revolutionary Movement in Mexico

Arron BurrFrom the close of the American Revolution there were many choice spirits in Mexico, who were impatient for an occasion to achieve their independence. But the great mass of the people had been too greatly oppressed, and were too ignorant, at once to grasp and comprehend the great idea of civil liberty. They had a dim view of it only, which made them restless. The prospect of a war between the United States and Spain, from the year 1801 to 1806, excited the sympathy between the people of the United States and the Mexican creoles. From this grew up a correspondence, an understanding, between them, that at the outset of such a war the adventurers of the American Union were to invade Mexico, and join the creoles in sustaining their independence. At the head of this party in the United States was Aaron Burr. It was Burr's intention, in the event of such a war—then deemed almost certain—to establish an independent government in Mexico; and there is little doubt that, in this enterprise, he had the promised cooperation of General Wilkinson. To prepare for this state of things, and be nearer the scene of action, Burr had contracted for a large quantity of land on the Washita, and doubtless intended to make it his headquarters. In the event of there being no war, it is probable that Burr himself had but a confused idea of the course he would pursue. Perhaps, in the language of Commodore Truxton (who was a witness on Burr's trial), he would be on the frontier, and ready to move whenever a war took place. Burr may have intended to invade Mexico at all events—in fact, it is likely that he did—but his arrest, and the treaty between Wilkinson and Herrera, put an end to all his plans.*

* Burr's Trial; Annals of Congress (ninth Congress, second session), p. 1008. There is something mysterious in the conduct of General Wilkinson in the hasty conclusion of the agreement with Herrera, his sudden departure for New Orleans, and his immediate action in regard to Burr and his partisans; but, above all, in sending Captain Walter Burling to Mexico. Captain Pike, in his journal of the 20th of April, 1807 (he was then at Chihuahua), says: "We this day learned that an American officer had gone on to the city of Mexico. This was an enigma to us inexplicable, as we conceived that the jealousy of the Spanish government would have prevented any foreign officer from penetrating the country; and that the United States could send an authorized agent to the viceroyalty for, when the Spanish government had, at the seat of our government, a charge des affaires, served but to darken the conjectures. The person alluded to was Mr. Burling, a citizen of Mississippi territory, whose mission is now well known to the government." It appears, from Davis's Memoirs of Burr (vol. ii., p. 400), that the object of Captain Burling was to procure from the Spanish government a large sum for Wilkinson's services in arresting the designs of Burr. Burling must have obtained a passport from the governor of Texas; and this matter must have been arranged on the banks of the Sabine, at the time they agreed upon the neutral ground.

Burr was descending the Mississippi, and on the 17th of January, 1807, surrendered himself at Bayou Pierre, with nine boats and a hundred men, " a majority of whom were boys, or young men just from school." Thus ended his enterprise, but not its effects.

Burr was brought to trial; the whole Union was aroused, and information eagerly sought. The public mind was directed to Burr, to his supposed plans, and to the country he proposed to invade. The adventurers of America were studying the geography of Mexico and of Texas. The creoles of Mexico, groaning under an oppression—the more galling because they saw their neighbors of the United States free and happy—had also commenced the study of geography and the art of free government.

The victories of Bonaparte had placed continental Europe at his feet. So early as 1805 he had formed the design of placing one of his family on the throne of Spain; and, in acquiring that country, he expected also to obtain possession of her American colonies, then numbering at least fifteen millions of inhabitants. It was for this reason, and with this view, that he took part with Spain in her controversy with the United States touching the boundaries of Louisiana. As he had formed the design to acquire the Spanish-American colonies, he wished them as large as possible. Executing with celerity and without scruple his plans of aggrandizement, he invaded the Spanish territory. A domestic quarrel in the royal family favored his designs. Charles IV. was a weak and helpless monarch; he was ruled by his wife, and she by her favorite, Manuel Godoy, known as the "Prince of Peace." Between the two latter there was said to be an intimacy not creditable. Spain saw it, and Ferdinand, the king's son, saw it; but the king did not; hence a quarrel between Godoy and Ferdinand. The king and Queen took part with Godoy. In this unhappy state of their affairs, Bonaparte was called in to decide between them. He did so by sending both parties into a more honorable banishment than they deserved, and took possession of their kingdom. This was ratified by the treaty of Bayonne, on the 5th of May, 1808; and shortly thereafter, Joseph Bonaparte ascended the Spanish throne. The inhabitants of Spain did not long submit to this summary transfer of their government. Early in June following, the war commenced between the French and the Spanish patriots. The latter were directed by juntas, or revolutionary committees, acting with little concert or system, but with desperate valor. While this contest was raging in Spain, the news was received in Mexico of the overthrow of the house of Bourbon, and the usurpation of the Bonapartes. This was immediately followed by emissaries from Joseph Bonaparte and the different Spanish juntas, each asking and claiming the allegiance and support of the Mexican people. Here was a fine opportunity for an escape from European bondage. They were released from their oath of fealty to Charles IV.; and the parent-country was so involved in war at home, that, with union and concert, the Mexicans could easily have achieved their independence.

In the last days of July the news of the rising of the Spanish patriots against King Joseph Bonaparte reached the city of Mexico. The native Spaniards and official authorities in Mexico, with the exception of the viceroy Iturigaray, were willing to acquiesce in the order of the council of the Indies, transferring the American colonies to Bonaparte; but the viceroy and the natives of Mexico opposed it. Among the revolutionary juntas in Spain, that of Seville was the most prominent. The emissaries of this junta demanded that Mexico should adhere to the Bourbon family. These were followed by the agents of other juntas, each claiming the control of the colony.

In this distracted condition of their affairs, the people of Mexico proposed to the viceroy what had never been proposed before in that country—the call of a convention, or governing junta of delegates from the people. The viceroy was about to comply with a request so reasonable, when the Spaniards, fearful of a popular assembly, and of the loss of the offices—for they held them all—formed a conspiracy against him; and, at midnight, on the 15th of September, 1808, seized his person, and committed him to the prison of the Inquisition. All this was approved by the junta of Seville, who appointed the then archbishop of Mexico as viceroy. As he was a person of great mildness, and much venerated by the Mexican creoles, dissatisfaction was allayed.

But the Mexican patriots were again aroused by the removal of the archbishop, and the intrusting of the government, for the time being, to the "Court of Audience." This court was the exponent of genuine Spanish despotism, and justly abhorred by all liberal men in Mexico. In the meantime, the victories of Napoleon in Spain had overturned and dispersed the junta of Seville, thus offering to the people of Mexico another honorable and bloodless opportunity of being free. If they did not accept it, they thereby proved themselves unworthy of a destiny so exalted.

The junta dispersed at Seville again reappeared at Cadiz, and sent out Don Jose Venegas as viceroy. He exhibited his dislike for the native Mexicans by conferring all his favors upon the European Spaniards. He also stationed his most reliable forces at the disaffected points, thus showing his disposition to rely upon the sword for success in keeping Mexico in subjection to the junta from which he derived his power.

By this time the torch of revolution had been lighted over the whole of Spanish America. England had at first encouraged and taken part in the revolt of the different provinces; but when the war broke out between France and the Spanish patriots, Great Britain formed an alliance with the latter; while Napoleon, finding he could not secure the colonies for himself, took part in favor of their independence.

Don Miguel Hidalgo and the Mexican Revolution

Before the arrival of the viceroy Venegas, Don Miguel Hidalgo, a curate of Dolores in the province of Guanaxuato, a great friend to the native Mexicans, and a man of good sense and gentle manners, had raised the standard of revolt. The Indians, longing to avenge the atrocities of Cortez and the oppressions of so many years, flew to his aid. He was joined by several companies of the royal troops, and marched to the city of Guanaxuato, his army increasing daily. He took the place with little opposition, and, what was most important to him, he replenished his military chest with five millions of dollars taken from the treasury of the city.

The town of Queretaro, equal in importance to that of Guanaxuato, was in favor of the revolution; and, to prevent it from falling into the hands of Hidalgo, the viceroy, toward the last of September, 1810, sent General Cadena, with three thousand troops, to defend it. He also organized several corps of guerillas; but without effect. The revolt became general; and Hidalgo, after providing himself with munitions, and putting in some sort of order the immense host of creoles, Indians, and mestizoes, that followed his standard, set out on his march for the capital.

The Spanish junta, in October, 1809, had decreed terms of conciliation to be submitted to their revolted colonies. These were—that the colonies should have an equal representation in the national tortes; that their American and Asiatic colonies should enjoy a free trade; that the King's monopolies should be suppressed; that the working of the quicksilver-mines in America should be free; that native Americans should be equally eligible with European Spaniards to all offices in church or state; that, to prevent disputes as to the meaning of this last proposition, there should be an equal number of each of the two classes; and, to fill them, there should be a consultive junta in each province to make nominations. These propositions were presented to the Mexican people on the 23d of September, 1810. But they came too late. Hidalgo was at the head of an enthusiastic army; he had sufficient supplies, had thrown aside the gown and breviary for the sword, and wished a solution of the questions at issue at some point nearer the capital. On his march he overthrew all opposing forces; and it appeared that he would have no difficulty in making himself master of the city. Venegas had only two thousand troops for its defense. Cadena was supposed to be at Queretaro, and Calleja at San Luis Potosi—both too distant to afford relief. At this crisis, Venegas applied the spiritual weapon, which, among a superstitious people, never fails to have its effect. Hidalgo and his adherents were solemnly excommunicated. The revolted chieftain, who had too much sense to be overawed by such fancies, replied. But not so with his ignorant followers. The prestige of victory had departed. He marched to the suburb of the city, but the next day set out on his retreat.

Hidalgo Executed

In the meantime, the forces of Cadena and Calleja, having made forced marches to relieve the capital, united, and attacked and defeated Hidalgo, first at Aculco, then at Guanaxuato, and again on the 11th of January, 1811, not far from Guadalaxara. The latter retreated to Zacatecas, and then to San Luis Potosi. He was pursued by Calleja, and continued his retreat, intending to pass Saltillo, and make his way into Louisiana, there to remain until his affairs should be more propitious. But General Salcedo, commandant of the northeastern provinces, had sent out a force to cut him off in that direction; while Arredondo, in command of a Spanish force, was close upon his rear. In this critical position, Hidalgo was betrayed by Don Y. Elisondo, one of his own officers, at Acatita de Bajan, on the 11th of March, 1811. Many of his followers were executed on the spot; others were put to death wherever found. Hidalgo was taken to Chihuahua, and put to death on the 27th of July. Among his adherents, Colonel Delgado was apprehended at San Antonio, executed, and his head stuck on a pole at the crossing of the river between the Alamo and the town. Another, Bernardo Gutierres, effected his escape, and took refuge at Natchitoches. The names of some of Hidalgo's followers in the last days of his career are here mentioned, because of the important parts played by them in subsequent transactions in Texas.

The territory lying between the Arroyo Honda and the river Sabine, which had been left as neutral ground by the agreement between Wilkinson and Herrera, had become the rallying-point and refuge of a large number of desperate men. Many had removed there with their families, and established permanent residences. They made war upon all enemies, and, like the buccaneers, lived upon the fruits of their trespasses. They were more particularly partial to the Mexican traders, who brought horses and specie from the interior to exchange for merchandise at Natchitoches. These they preferred as victims, because they could rob them with the greater impunity. They had a regular organization, their headquarters, outposts, and whatever else of contrivance they deemed necessary to carry out their objects. The Spanish authorities had done what they could to suppress them. Twice had the military forces of the United States entered the territory, and drove them off, burning their houses and fixtures. They were not to be thus driven away.

The Freebooters

On one occasion, a number of Mexican traders, loaded with silver, had reached Salitre prairie, on the west bank of the Sabine, on their way to Natchitoches. A small Spanish force was stationed at this point, for the protection of trade, as well as to prevent adventurers from passing over to Mexico. They sent to Major Wolstoncraft, then commanding at Natchitoches, for an escort to guard the traders across the neutral ground, The request was granted, and a small guard was dispatched under the command of Lieutenant Augustus W. Magee. The traders were brought safely as far as La Nan, a small creek west of the Adaes. At this point the creek made a bend in the form of a horseshoe, the convex side being toward Natchitoches. The freebooters of the neutral ground, thirteen in number, had stationed themselves opposite the bend, on both sides of the road, having the creek between them and the road.

When the traders had all passed into the bend, and just as Lieutenant Magee and his guard, who were in front, were crossing the creek, the robbers advanced and fired. Magee, seeing himself overpowered, fled with his guard to Natchitoches; and the poor traders were relieved of all their valuables, and sent back to Salitre prairie. For the time, the money taken was concealed by the leaders of the gang under the bank of the creek, and they repaired to their several homes to await what would follow. The amount taken was so large, that it could not pass unnoticed. The next day, Magee, having been reinforced, returned to make search for the robbers. He met two of them going into Natchitoches, and, recognizing them, took them into custody. As legal proceedings at this period were not much regarded, they were tied to trees and whipped, with a view to make them disclose their associates. Failing in this, a live coal of fire was passed along their naked backs; but still no disclosure could be obtained. They were then taken to Natchitoches, and delivered into the hands of the civil authority for trial.

Early Texas Independence Movement

During the time of these occurrences, Colonel Bernardo Gutierres arrived at Natchitoches. He formed an acquaintance with Magee, and they had together many long conferences. Magee was young, bold and romantic in his disposition, and drank with eagerness the marvelous tales of Bernardo. As republican revolutionists of Mexico had in view a federative system like that of the United States, Magee had conceived the idea of conquering Texas to the Rio Grande, and building up a republican state, with a view of ultimately adding it to the American or the Mexican Union as circumstances should admit. He informed himself fully of the geography and resources of Texas, of the distracted condition of Mexico and Spain, and made his arrangements with consummate skill and secrecy. It would be necessary to have the aid of the Mexican population of Texas; and this would require the use of the name of Bernardo as commander-in-chief. It would also be necessary to have the aid, of the freebooters of the neutral ground; this Magee engaged himself to secure. It would likewise be requisite to have as auxiliaries the Texas Indians; these could be obtained through John McFarland and Samuel Davenport, both Indian agents, and decided republicans. And finally, it would be necessary to have supplies; Colonel Davenport had the wealth and disposition to serve as quartermaster and contractor to the army.

The arrangements all being completed, proposals were published, in the name of Don Bernardo Gutierres, for raising the "Republican Army of the North." The publication promised to each volunteer forty dollars per month, and a league of land to be assigned him within the boundaries of the new republic. Magee saw the leaders of the freebooters, and notified them to repair in June, 1812, to the rendezvous at the Saline on the east side of the Sabine river. He himself visited New Orleans, where he obtained a few supplies, and engaged some young men of respectable character to join him. Having arranged these matters, he returned to Natchitoches.

To carry out the plan agreed on, Bernardo repaired to the rendezvous on the 14th of June. His force there amounted to one hundred and fifty-eight men. They were of the neutral ground, and could not be conquered. They were ready and able to do anything that the same number of men could do. It was understood that Magee should remain yet longer at Natchitoches, and forward supplies and recruits; and, in the meantime, the force at the Saline was to cross the Sabine at Gaines's ferry, drive the enemy before them, and halt at the Spanish Bluff on the Trinity for further orders.

Bernardo and his men set out about the middle of June, crossed the river, attacked the Spaniards at Salitre prairie, and, after a running fight of about an hour, drove them away. In this fight the Americans lost two killed and three wounded; the loss of the enemy was not ascertained. The Spaniards retreated and fortified the hill overlooking the town of Nacogdoches on the cast. The Americans being in close pursuit, the breastwork was hastily constructed, and composed in part of bales of wool intended for the Louisiana market. When the Americans came in sight of the breastwork, they charged upon it, and the enemy fled. The former did not even get a fire at them; and when they took possession of the works, the Spaniards were flying through the town, and without any considerable halt continued their retreat to the Spanish Bluff. The Americans sent off the wool taken on the hill to Natchitoches to purchase supplies, and continued the march. Their numbers were continually increased by reinforcements forwarded by Magee. The contractor, Colonel Davenport, was also indefatigable in procuring and dispatching supplies. The fort at the Bluff, occupied by about four hundred Spaniards, was evacuated on the approach of the Americans. The latter took possession, and found also there a large supply of provisions and ammunition. Here they waited for reinforcements. Magee, on the 22d of June, 1812, resigned his commission, preparatory to leaving the United States; and, after making his arrangements, and collecting his friends and the recruits just arrived, he set out for the headquarters of the invading army. He left behind him Captain James Gaines at the crossing of the Sabine, to forward recruits and maintain the communication with the advanced forces.

The Americans remained at the Bluff till about the middle of October. The Spaniards in the meantime were not idle. His excellency Don Manuel de Salcedo, governor of Texas, with the aid of the late governor, Colonel Cordero, and Simon Herrera, governor of New Leon, were collecting such of the royalists as could be spared from the service in the interior of Mexico, and fortifying La Bahia and San Antonio. Don N. Arredondo, for his services in the capture of Hidalgo, had succeeded Don Nimisio de Salcedo as commandant of the north-eastern provinces. But the civil war in Mexico had not terminated with the death of Hidalgo. Morelos, another priest, had raised the standard of independence in the southern provinces of the viceroyalty; and Victoria was conducting the war with some success in the vicinity of Jalapa. The republicans, though driven from place to place, still kept up an organization, and a junta, whose orders were implicitly obeyed. The infamous Calleja had become the general butcher of Mexico; blood and desolation followed his march. Morelos, after a great and bloody battle, fought at Tixtla on the 19th of August, 1811, had laid siege to the strongly-fortified town of Acapulco with a part of his army, but with the main body took possession of Quautla Amilpas, about seventy-five miles from the capital, where he was besieged by Calleja.

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