I’ve already made note in an earlier blog post that I don’t believe America was made great by “rugged individualism.” That’s just not a good description for the reality that made us strong and viable as a nation. Perhaps it’s my academic nature to want to be more precise, but I think a better way to describe it is that our forebears had a sense of self-responsibility exercised in the midst of community. What do I mean by that? Well, our nation’s founders and our early ancenstors knew that if they didn’t take care of their own needs then they’d be a burden on the rest of society. In frontier times that could be disastrous for all concerned. But they didn’t ignore the needs of others. When neighbors needed help, they were helped. When a barn had to be raised or crops brought in, folks assisted one another. They knew that cooperation was the best form of success. Somehow this was eventually misrepresented as a rugged form of individualism but I just don’t think that’s the whole story.
The flag for today’s post comes from a frontier community known as Gonzales, Texas, located about 65 miles east of San Antonio. In 1831 this territory was under the control of Mexico. In order to secure the defense of the town against Commanche raiding parties, the Mexican government provided it with a small cannon. Political turbulence was on the horizon. Although Gonzales had pledged its loyalty to Mexican President Antonio Santa Anna, this commitment wavered when a Mexican soldier bludgeoned to death a citizen of the town in September of 1835. Protests and outrage ensued. Given that some parts of Mexico were already in revolt, officials decided that the cannon in Gonzales had to be removed so that it would not be used against the military by rebellious “Texians.”
To the credit of the Mexican authorities, they attempted to retake the cannon peacefully. Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea dispatched a small force to do the job. The colonial Texians used delay tactics with the patient Mexicans who were still hoping to settle the matter without a fight. Eventually a larger force was sent with a hundred dragoons, or mounted infrantrymen. Probably realizing that the military force would finally grow weary of delay (and with rumors circulating about an impending assault), the men of Gonzales went on the offensive. In the wee hours of October 2, 1835, they approached the Mexican encampment. They were spotted and fired upon. Several hours of gunfire followed but without much effect. In darkness and fog the dragoons had no way to know the size of the attacking force. They eventually withdrew. By some reports there were a couple of casualties on the Mexican side and one bloody nose among the Texians, suffered when a rider fell from his horse.
The event has gone down in history as the Battle of Gonzales, but it was little more than a skirmish. When the Texians returned to Gonzales, someone raised a white banner painted with a star, a cannon, and the revolutionary slogan “Come and Take It.” In the American press the skirmish was nicknamed “the Lexington of Texas.” Opposition to the increasingly dictatorial policies of President Santa Anna continued, and his repudiation of the Constitution of 1824 was a major sticking point. About five months after the skirmish of Gonzales, the Mexicans wiped out the defending Texian garrison at the Alamo Mission in San Antonio. The Battle of Gonzales went down as the opening salvo of the Texas Revolution, leading to nine years of independence before the Republic of Texas joined the American Union as the Sovereign State of Texas. The city of Gonzales has adopted a modified version of the flag. To see it, click HERE.
Among those who worry that their constitutional right to bear arms is threatened by increasing federal regulation, the Gonzales Flag has taken on important significance. In fact, I think I’ll go out front and raise mine as soon as this blog post is finished.