The early nineteenth century was a time of unrest in both Mexico and the northern frontier. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla formally began his rebellion against the Spanish government in 1810. The rebellion against Spanish rule took shape in San Antonio a year later in 1811 with the Casas Revolt. The revolt “was one of the many challenges to imperial authority” that erupted throughout New Spain after the initiation of Hidalgo y Costilla’s rebellion. The governor of Texas during this period, Manuel Maria de Salcedo, was a royalist, and upon discovering that the Mexican rebels hoped to gain assistance from the United States through Texas, decided to preemptively attack revolutionary forces on the Rio Grande. Members of the San Antonio garrison and citizens of the City were not happy with this decision as it would leave their families unprotected from Native American raids. In response, members of the city’s governing body known as the alcalde, including Francisco Travieso, recruited Captain Juan Bautista de las Casas “to assume command of the San Antonio troops.” Casas and his “rebellious militia” arrested Governor Salcedo and declared themselves agents of the Hidalgo y Costilla revolutionary government (Caldwell 2013; Yanguana Society 1941).
In line with the principals of the rebellion, “Casas and his supporters declared themselves against government by European-born Spaniards” or “gauchupines.” Casas ordered his men to arrest all gauchupines living in Texas and to confiscate their property. The revolutionaries in Mexico appointed him interim governor of Texas, and he made his headquarters in San Antonio. Despite his success, support for the revolution in Texas was by no means universal. A royalist faction led by Juan Manuel Zambrano emerged and was strengthened when a visiting ambassador to the United States was rumored to be aligned with the French. Always leery of the French, more citizens threw their support behind Zambrano, and they overturned Casas on March 1. The rebellion was floundering in general at this time, and Casas was executed as a traitor in Monclova. His head was sent back to Texas for display in San Antonio as a warning against future rebellion. Though unsuccessful, the revolt demonstrates the significance of the provinces and of Tejanos in the revolutionary effort. Additionally, Casas opened trade with the United States during his brief tenure of office. The possibility of expanding trade into New Spain prompted increased interest in the region by the United States that would eventually change the course of Texas history (Caldwell 2013; Yanguana Society 1941).
A primary example of the result of increased American interest in the region was the catastrophic Battle of Medina that occurred on August 18, 1813. This battle, which was the “bloodiest…ever fought on Texas soil” took place south of San Antonio “in a sandy oak forest region then called el encinal de Medina” between members of the Gutiérrez-Magee expedition and the Spanish royal army under General Joaquin de Arredondo. The battle occurred during an unstable period in world history and “affected the destinies of Spain, Mexico, the United States, England, and France.” At the time, Mexico and Latin America were in revolt against Spain. The King of Spain Joseph Bonaparte was brother to Emperor of France Napoleon Bonaparte, who was waging war throughout the European continent. The United States and England were also at war during this period in a conflict later known as the War of 1812.
Though an unlikely setting for an international incident, the remote Spanish province of Texas played an integral part in world politics due to the actions of a group of American-sponsored filibusters led by José Bernardo Gutiéez de Lara and August William Magee.
The Gutiérrez-Magee Expedition, as it would become known, entered Texas on August 7, 1812 under the pretenses of making Texas an independent state under the Mexican Republic. They quickly captured Nacogdoches, Trinidad de Salcedo, La Bahía, and finally San Antonio “where a declaration of independence for the State of Texas under the Republic of Mexico was proclaimed on April 6, 1813.” They made their headquarters in San Antonio; however, their success was short-lived (Thonhoff 2013; Hatcher 1908; Adovasio et al 2003).
In August of 1813, Spanish General Arredondo led an army of 1,830 men from Laredo to San Antonio to stop the rebellion. The republican army, which included “Anglos, Tejanos, Indians, and former royalists” totaled approximately 1,400 men. Upon hearing of the Spanish approach, the men decided to spare the city of San Antonio from the ravages of battle and meet the royalist army south of the community. During a fierce four-hour battle, the republican army was annihilated. Of those not killed in battle, most of those trying to flee were captured and executed. Of the original 1,400-man force, less than 100 survived. In contrast, General Arredondo lost only 55 men “who were given honorable burial the next day on the way to San Antonio.” Once Arredondo arrived in San Antonio, he instituted martial law and proceeded to “severely punish the rebels and their families” (Thonhoff 2013; Hatcher 1908). It is noteworthy that a young commander serving under Arredondo, Lieutenant Antonio López de Santa Anna, learned much about Texas that he would use when leading a Mexican Army against Texian and Tejano rebels twenty-three years later.
The bodies of the republican soldiers were left on the battlefield until 1822 “when José Félix Trespalacios, the first governor of the state of Texas under the newly established Republic of Mexico” had the men buried “under an oak tree that grew on the battlefield.” Described as the “Texas counterpart to the Mexican War for Independence,” the widely unrecognized battle had far reaching implications and served as a precursor for the second Texas Revolution two decades later (Thonhoff 2013; Hatcher 1908).
In 1821, Mexico finally achieved independence from Spain and outlined the principles of its new national government with the institution of the Constitution of Coahuila and Texas in 1824. The constitution designated Texas as the District of Bexar, and the new Mexican government oversaw the secularization of the remaining mission property and sold the lands at public auction. The sale of public lands and the Mexican government’s land grant policies encouraged settlers to come to Texas, and many settled in the San Antonio area on lands formerly associated with the missions. A specific example along the Mission Trails hike and bike trail is the National Register of Historic Places-listed Yturri-Edmunds House. Though its exact date of construction is unknown, the mid-nineteenth century dwelling was constructed upon land once associated with Mission Concepción purchased by Manuel Yturri de Castillo in 1824 (Texas Historic Sites Atlas; “Yturri-Edmunds House” NRHP file).
During the same period, Stephen F. Austin had gained considerable prominence in Texas, and by 1833, Austin looked toward San Antonio to provide support in his efforts to make Texas an independent nation. In the same year, General Antonio López de Santa Anna Pérez de Lebrón became the president of Mexico, and the following year he dispatched an army in the command of General Martín Perfecto de Cos to address the mounting resistance in Texas. In this attempt to prevent dissention in Texas, General Cos chose San Antonio as his headquarters (Fox and Cox 1989).
General Cos’s control of San Antonio ended in December of 1835 when Ben Milam and his troops of Texian, Tejano and Native American volunteers attacked the Mexican army on the Main Plaza during the Siege of Bexar. In February of 1836, Santa Anna and the Mexican Army arrived in San Antonio and went on to defeat the Texian and Tejano troops at the Alamo weeks later in early March. Texas finally won its independence from Mexico when Texian and Tejano forces defeated Santa Anna’s army at the Battle of San Jacinto in April of 1836 (Figueroa and Mauldin 2005).
The Republic of Texas inaugurated Sam Houston as its first president in 1836. Late in the same year, the Texas Congress set the boundaries of the republic, naming the Rio Grande as the southern boundary, even though Mexico refused to recognize Texas’s independence. As a result, a state of war continued. In 1842, General Ráfael Vásquez and 700 Mexican troops attempted a takeover of San Antonio with little resistance from an unprepared Texan force. In the same year, General Adrián Woll briefly captured San Antonio, but met with a formidable Texan resistance that manifested itself in the Battle of Salado Creek (Gunn 2008). During this invasion, Woll and his troops took possession of the casas reales (civic government building and courthouse), took the members of the court as hostage, and removed or destroyed many of the courthouse’s records (Santos 1978). They were eventually driven out by Texan forces who engaged the troops along Salado Creek about seven miles from San Antonio. The engagement, now known as the Battle of Salado Creek, resulted in sixty Mexican casualties, though only one Texian was killed with several more wounded. Though the Texan forces under Captains Matthew Caldwell and John C. Hays pursued, flooding and indecisiveness among the commanders kept them from following through with additional attacks, and Woll and his remaining forces were able to escape back to Mexico (Cutrer 2013). Throughout this period of turmoil, limited development and settlement occurred in San Antonio. Shortly thereafter, in 1844, Mexico and Texas reached a truce.
"San Antonio in 1836" as drawn and illustrated by George Nelson