The resent oil spill tragedy in the Gulf reminded me of a trip I took to West Texas in May 2004 with my brother Jim. We visited the Guadalupe Mountains, Big Bend, and White Sands. On the way back home we stopped in Houston, Texas to visit the site of the Battle of San Jacinto. As we approached the site the smell of petroleum assaulted our noses. The battle site sits near massive fuel storage tanks and refineries on the low, flat, grassy Texas lowlands. This region of Texas has always been a major player in our country’s oil industry as well as many other industries since becoming a part of the United States. The Gulf spill is a tragedy and it remains to be seen how this will impact Texas and the other areas of the Gulf. The same could have been said of Texas itself. Before becoming a state, Texas existed as an independent republic. This “Lone Star” republic won its independence from Mexico. That independence was won in 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto which sits very close to the Gulf shores of Texas. But no one then knew Texas would become a state and a key state at that.
One of the heroes of winning Texas independence was John Coker. John Coker was originally from South Carolina. He had been born in 1789 in Laurens County, South Carolina and he moved to Texas in 1834 with his father to settle on lands in Stephen F. Austin’s colonies. He was a blacksmith and joined the Texas army in 1836.
In April 1836, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, conqueror of the Alamo, made a tactical mistake as he chased General Sam Houston’s army in hopes of battling it and destroying it. Santa Anna was far ahead of his supply lines and he wandered into the maze of waterways and bayous along the Texas coast. On April 21, 1836 the two armies stood close to each other near the site of San Jacinto. They both stood on a maze of lands cut by rivers and waterways. One of the nearest was Vince’s Bayou over which a bridge existed that both armies would have to use to retreat or reinforce.
General Sam Houston
A comrade of John Coker’s, Young Perry Alsbury reported that Coker mused while on horseback looking out at the bridge over Vince’s Bayou, "Boys, before many hours we will have one of the damndest, bloodiest fights that ever was fought and I believe it would be a good plan to go and burn that bridge so as not only to impede the advance of reinforcements of the enemy, but it will cut off all chance of retreat of either party.” This remark was taken by his commander Deaf Smith to Houston. Houston agreed to send Smith and a 6 man team, including Coker, to destroy the bridge and cut off escape or reinforcements for both armies. Coker and his companions burned the bridge.
Surrender of Santa Anna
Meanwhile, Santa Anna and his men retreated to their afternoon siesta, thinking that the battle that would occur here would take place at dawn during the following day. And Santa Anna failed to post sentries. This intelligence was taken back to Sam Houston. Houston’s generals, however, urged him to wait to attack the Mexicans the following day. But Houston would have none of it. When news of the destroyed bridge reached the Texas army, Houston led his men in a surprise charge forward against the unprepared Mexican troops. In 18 minutes the battle was over. The Mexican army had been routed to the shouts of “Remember Goliad” or “Remember the Alamo.” 700 Mexican soldiers had died and 730 were captured. This battle assured the independence of Texas. Only 9 Texas soldiers were killed. The next day, Santa Anna was captured and made to agree to a peace treaty and Texas became a Republic. A little siesta had cost Mexico the lands of Texas.
John Coker settled in Bexar County in 1841 and ended up founding the Coker community in San Antonio on lands granted him as a veteran. He died on January 4, 1861. Today the site of the battlefield has a monument and a museum worth the stop. The white tower monument rises high above the Texas low lands. The museum has a fascinating collection of documents and artifacts telling the story of Texas independence. It was an independence important to the history of the United States. You just have to get past the smell of oil on your visit.
Sources Used to Write This Blog:
Wikipedia articles on John Coker and the Battle of San Jacinto. See:
The Handbook of Texas Online articles on John Coker and the Battle of San Jacinto. See: