Annals of 1836: The Runaway Scrape
The 175 anniversary of the war for Texas independence is being observed this year, I've been to commemorative events at the Alamo, and at Presidio La Bahia . With the price of a gallon of gas already reaching towards $3.50, I'll probably have to give a miss on the drive from my San Antonio home to Houston to the reenactment event there on the weekend of April 16th. The war was fast, furious and relatively brief; barely six months from the start of open hostilities at the ‘Come-and-Take-it Fight" in a watermelon field outside of Gonzales, to the shattering of the Mexican forces under the command of Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, in a grassy meadow by Buffalo Bayou, in 18 minutes of pitched battle. Kind of fitting, actually - as went the war, so went the final decisive battle.
So, most of the major events have their commemoration - but not so much the event that hit the Texian settlers the hardest - the terrifying Runaway Scrape. The San Jacinto reenactment (April 16, 2011) will touch on it a little, which is only suitable, but it would be difficult for a day-long event to do the experience justice. It was a pell-mell evacuation of all the Anglo settler families, first from all settlements and farms west of the Colorado - and then, as Santa Anna's three columns kept advancing east, it seemed as if there would be no safety anywhere on the Texas side of the Sabine.
Fear drove the settler families, fear of the implacable Santa Anna, who had put down similar federalist-inspired rebellions in other Mexican states with considerable brutality. Upon defeating the federalist militia of Zacatecas, Santa Anna had allowed his victorious army to pillage, loot and otherwise abuse the citizens of the defeated town for two days. What happened in Zacatecas would have been well-known, among the Texian rebels; the executions of the Alamo and La Bahia garrisons were just proof that Santa Anna was running true to established form.
The direct orders of Sam Houston also provided a motivation, as if any more were needed. He had barely arrived in Gonzales on March 11, with the intent of rallying an army to him to relieve the Alamo, when word arrived that it was too late. Within hours, Houston gave orders for his army to retreat east, back to hold a strong line along the Colorado River. He also ordered that civilians evacuate as well . . . and that the town be burnt. It was a cruel plan, but one with a purpose. Santa Anna's supply lines were stretched to the breaking point as it was. Failing necessary supplies arriving from Mexico, they could manage in the short term by forage and local requisition, but Houston's plan was to leave a scorched earth as he retreated back and back again. Gonzales burned, so did the fledgling settlement of Bastrop, and San Felipe de Austin, although there is controversy as to who actually fired San Felipe. Refugio, Richmond, Washington-on-the Brazos - all emptied of the Anglo-American settlers and their families. Santa Anna burned Harrisburg, possibly out of frustration at not being able to catch members of the Texian government. All the way through March and into April, settler families straggled east. Some had only a bare few minutes to gather their belongings and leave. Many families buried those things they valued, intending to return when they could. It was the rainiest spring in years, which put many of the rivers at flood-stage and bogged down the Mexican army . . . but added to the sufferings of the refugees. Disease broke out, especially those intensified by cold, hunger and bad sanitation. The dead were hastily buried where they died, and their kin moved on, seeking any safety they could.