"The Gonzales Cannon"
In March of 1831, the Mexican military authorities in San Antonio loaned an old small bronze six-pound Spanish cannon to the DeWitt Colonists at Gonzales Texas for protection against Indians. The cannon was basically useless for any real defense, as the ignition hole had been "spiked.” This reduced the cannon to not much more than a noisemaker. But the colonists were thankful to the Mexican authorities for loaning it to them, and it was occasionally fired from the log fort overlooking the ferry crossing at Gonzales to signal nearby Indians that their presence was noted and to think twice before attempting anything.
Four years later in the summer of 1835, the majority of those in and around Gonzales were still loyal “Federalist” Mexican citizens, and disapproved of the aggressive talks about war and independence going on in San Felipe and opposed any armed resistance against Mexico. But they began getting concerned with the news of a dictatorship by Santa Anna, and the frightening reports of his brutal tyranny against anyone who opposed him. The citizens of Zacatecas had resisted, and the dictator rewarded his troops with two days of rape and looting of their town. The commander of the Mexican forces in San Antonio sent letters of assurance that their troops were not coming to Gonzales and the DeWitt colony. The colonists distributed these letters of assurance to other settlements to show justification for their loyalty to the government and disapproval of any insurrection.
But sentiment quickly changed when, without provocation, a Mexican soldier attacked and bludgeoned a young Jesse McCoy with the butt of his musket in a local store. The news of the incident spread quickly to the outlying farms and ranches of the colony. At this point, the Mexican authorities thought it unwise to leave the settlers with a weapon. Santa Anna sent orders to his commander in San Antonio that he wanted all Texians disarmed, and he had no choice but to ask for the loaned cannon to be returned. He sent a letter to Gonzales asking for its return as it was needed “...for the defense of San Antonio.” The colonists realized at that moment that something else was up. They knew that the cannon was essentially useless as a defensive weapon. The alcalde, or mayor, of Gonzales took a vote and all but three citizens were against giving the cannon back. He replied back to the commander’s letter that they wanted to keep the cannon.
The colonists began preparing for trouble, moving families together to safety, consolidating weapons and supplies and dispatching messengers through the countryside and surrounding settlements. The cannon was taken just outside of town and buried in a peach orchard.
Upon receipt of the letter, the commander sent Lt. Francisco Castaneda from San Antonio with over a hundred men to demand the cannon, but to avoid confrontation if at all possible. Castaneda was authorized to arrest the alcalde and others who resisted and to bring them to Bexar as prisoners. When Castaneda’s force arrived the Guadalupe River was high from rain, and all rafts and barges had been moved to the east bank by the colonists. He had a message shouted across the river requesting a meeting with the alcalde, but the reply shouted back was that the he was out of town, and only he could make an official decision regarding the cannon. This ruse was used to give them more time for more reinforcements to arrive, including Col. Robert Coleman and his thirty mounted Indian fighters. Standing among the bushes and trees on the east bank that day were a group of eighteen armed colonists who became known as the "Old Gonzales Eighteen," who helped delay actions for two days.
Castaneda was aware of the increasing size of the Texian force and the difficulty in fording the swollen Guadalupe, so he moved their camp 15 miles upstream, still on the west bank, in a more defensible position and near an easier ford. The colonists prepared to take the offensive by making ready their assorted weapons of all shapes and sizes. Three men were sent to dig up the cannon from the peach orchard, which was then mounted on a pair of wooden wheels from a cotton wagon. Blacksmith’s removed the spike from the cannon’s touch-hole while others cut up every piece of loose metal they could find into shrapnel that would fit into the barrel of the cannon.
At 7 PM on October 1st, the Texian force began to move across the river at the Gonzales ferry crossing with 50 mounted men along with the cannon and those on foot.
It was almost 3 AM when they came close to the Mexican position. Their camp was across a small creek a few hundred yards away from where it flowed into the Guadalupe river. The fog was very thick, and a dog that heard their movement began barking. Mexican pickets fired into the fog and slightly wounded one of the Texians. Neither of the forces could determine the other's position, so they waited for dawn. When the fog began to lift, the Texians found themselves in a corn and watermelon field. They moved into an open area and began firing their rifles towards the Mexican armies position. A Mexican cavalry detachment crossed the creek and attacked the Texian's, who then fell back to the woods lining the river.
The field from where the cannon was fired, and the trees along the river.
Lt. Castaneda called for another meeting to peacefully request for the cannon to be returned. The spokesman for the Texians was John Henry Moore, who rode over and met with Castaneda and explained that Texians no longer recognized the centralist government of Santa Anna and instead remained faithful to the Constitution of 1824, which Santa Anna had repudiated. Castañeda revealed that he shared their federalist leanings, but that he was honor-bound to follow orders. With no compromise, Moore returned to camp. The Texians raised a homemade white banner with an image of the cannon painted in black over the words "Come and Take It". The makeshift flag evoked the American Revolutionary-era slogan "Don't Tread on Me". The Texians yelled out to the Mexicans, "There it is…come and take it." At which time, the Texian Lt. Col. ordered the cannoneer to fire the cannon, which had been loaded with 16 inches of powder and scrap metal. Other than blowing the cannon off its mounts on the wagon, it was a harmless shot, but a powerful one. It became known as the first shot of the Texas Revolution.
Lt. Castaneda immediately retreated with one casualty and returned to San Antonio. The Texian force sustained a minor gunshot wound, and one bloody nose, caused by the rider being thrown by his spooked horse when the cannon was fired.
Thus ended the confrontation that became known over the years as the “Battle of Gonzales” or the "Lexington of Texas" commencing with the "Texas shot heard round the world."
Young Jesse McCoy, who was beaten by the Mexican soldier, went on to fight and die at the Alamo along with others that participated in this event as part of the “Gonzales Alamo Relief Force.”
Compiled paraphrased and edited from online resources, including
The Handbook of Texas online
J. Frank Dobie, Tales of Old-Time Texas.
Modern Alumitype photograph by Tom Cavness