A Walk Through Time
Ill Treatment of Colonists
During Austin's absence in Mexico in 1822, many families, who started to his colony, settled in East Texas, in the neighborhood of Nacogdoches. Under the general colonization law these families were entitled to land, but were unable to obtain titles, because no land commissioner had been appointed for that district. In 1829, Don Juan Antonio Padilla was sent out to issue titles to these colonists. But Padilla found the same difficulties which had beset Edwards. There were conflicting claims. He manifested a disposition to deal justly with the immigrants. The Mexicans, who claimed large bodies of land, complained of the commissioner, and before he had fairly commenced issuing titles, he was arrested. The next year Francisco Madero resumed the work of assigning land to the colonists. Among other acts of Madero was that of creating the municipality of Liberty. He, too, gave offence to the Mexican officers and was suspended, and the colonists were again left with no means of procuring land titles.
On the 6th of April 1830, President Bustemente issued a proclamation prohibiting any further immigration into Texas from the United States. In 1831, custom-houses were established at Nacogdoches, San Antonio, Copano, Velasco, and Anahuac. By decree of April 7th, 1832, foreigners (meaning Americans), were forbidden to carry on a retail trade in the country. To overawe the colonists, a considerable body of troops was sent into Texas by General Teran. Colonel Piedras, the ranking officer, had three hundred and twenty men at Nacogdoches; Colonel Bradburn one hundred and fifty at Anahuac; Colonel Ugartechea one hundred and twenty at Velasco; Colonel Bean had a small force at Fort Teran, on the Neches, and there were also companies at Tenoxticlan, Goliad, and San Antonio.
The first serious difficulty between the colonists and the military occurred at Anahuac. Under instructions from Teran, Bradburn arrested the Commissioner, Madero. He also abolished the ayuntamiento at Liberty, and established one at Anahuac, without any warrant of law. The citizens were further annoyed by the lawlessness of Bradburn's soldiers, many of whom were discharged convicts. The commander shielded his soldiers from punishment, even after their crimes hadbeen clearly proved. He also received and harbored runaway slaves, and when their owners demanded their return, refused to give them up, on the plea that they had already enlisted as soldiers in the Mexican army. He finally proclaimed martial law, and arrested a number of citizens for whom he had conceived a dislike, and confined them in the barracks.
Though these men had violated no law, and were ignorant of the cause of their arrest, Bradburn threatened to send them to Vera Cruz for trial. By another military decree all the ports of Texas, except Anahuac, were closed. That port was at the head of Galveston Bay, outside of Austin's colony, and accessible only to vessels of light draught. It was not to be expected that Anglo-Americans, with their inborn love of liberty, would tamely submit to such outrages. Meetings were held and measures devised to effect the release of the prisoners in the stockade.
A company was organized under the command of Francis W. Johnson, who demanded the immediate and unconditional release of their fellow-citizens. This company, when approaching Anahuac, intercepted and captured a scouting party of fourteen of Bradburn's soldiers. In a parley, Bradburn proposed that if the Americans would release the soldiers just captured and retire some six miles, to Turtle bayou, he would set at liberty the citizens in the stockade. Johnson agreed to this. The captives were sent into the garrison, and he retired with his command to the bayou, to await the arrival of their friends held in custody. In the meantime Bradburn heard that Piedras was approaching with reenforcements from Nacogdoches, and declined to give up his prisoners. Piedras, as soon as he ascertained the true state of affairs, superseded Bradburn (who immediately left for New Orleans), and released the prisoners.
Fortunately for the Texans, at this juncture news arrived of a revolution in Mexico. Santa Anna, who was just rising into favor, had pronounced against Bustemente, and proclaimed anew the Constitution of 1824. A public meeting at Turtle Bayou, June 13, 1832, gave a cordial assent to this republican movement. This placed the Americans in Texas in harmony with the liberal party of the nation.
In the month of May, before any of the citizens had left for Anahuac, a meeting was held at Brazoria, in which a proposition was made to first capture Colonel Ugartechea at Velasco. This failed by one vote. Ugartechea, however gave an informal pledge that he would remain neutral. The assailing party at Anahuac needing cannon, Captains John Austin and Wm. J. Russell were dispatched to Brazoria for two at that place. Ugartechea declined to let the cannon pass Velasco. Captain Austin at once called for volunteers to capture the garrison, and one hundred and twelve men volunteered. Part of these, with the cannon, were placed on board the schooner Brazoria, in charge of Captain Russell, and floated down the river. Captain Austin conducted the remainder by land. These, when they arrived at the mouth of the river, were formed into two companies. Captain Russell, and floated down the river. Captain Austin conducted the remainder by land. These, when they arrived at the mouth of the river, were formed into two companies. Captain Brown, with one company, took position near the beach, where they were partially protected by drift-wood. Captian Austin, under cover of darkness, approached within a few rods of the fort, carrying palisades of plank for protection, and working in silence, threw up temporary breastworks.
The battle commenced about twelve o'clock at night June 25th. Just after daylight, a shower of rain fell, damaging the ammunition of the assailants. The breastworks not affording protection to his men, Captain Austin retired a short distance, to a more advantageous position. The part on the vessel still kept up the fight and the riflement were especially successful in picking off gunners who mounted the parapet to fire the cannon. After about ten hours' fighting, a white flag was raised in the fort, and soon afterward the garrison surrendered. In the fight, the Mexicans had thirty-five killed and fifteen wounded. The loss of the Texans was eight killed and twenty-seven wounded.
Colonel Piedras, by his course at Anahuac, had become popular with the Texans. But he was a monarchist, and did not believe the Mexicans capable of self-government. At a public meeting, at Nacogdoches, a committee was appointed to invite Piedras to join the republicans. This he declined to do, when the citizens organized a military company for his capture. On the 1st of August, Colonel Bullard, who had been chosen commander, took a position near the old stone house, which, after a severe fight, was captured by a party of Texans under Captain Bradley and Lieutanant Looney. A body of cavalry, sent by Piedras to re-capture the house, was repulsed with loss. The fight lasted until night.
Under the cover of darkness, Piedras cast his ammunition into wells, and silently left the place, retreating westward. He left forty killed and a number of wounded in the town. The Texans had one killed and five wounded. The next day a party of Texans intercepted the retreating Mexicans at the Angelina river. At the first fire, Marcos, one of Piedras' officers, was killed. To avoid the further petfusion of blood, Colonel Piedras turned the command over to Major Medina, who immediately surrendered, and he and most of his men espoused the republican cause.
Soon after this, Colonel Souverin, a republican, who had become commander at Anahuac, collected all the Mexican soldiers he could muster from the commands of Bradburn, Ugartechea, and Piedras, and sailed to Tampico to assist in the revolution against Bustemente. Texas was thus left without a garrison.