SAN BENITO — “Come and Take It.”
The black bold letters on the white flag fluttered crazily in the South Texas sky during a reenactment of the Battle of Gonzales.
The Texas Heritage Independence Celebration Association held its 13th annual celebration Friday and Saturday at the City of San Benito Fair Grounds. This year it took a new name, “Happy Birthday TexasFest,” but the annual reenactments of the Battle of Gonzales and the Battle of the Alamo were in full swing.
Actors portraying Mexican troops under the command of Lt. Francisco de Castaneda marched onto the field dressed in white cotton trousers and blue jackets. They stood in a line to reenact what was really only a skirmish on the morning of Oct. 2, 1835 involving the return of a small cannon.
“My name is Lt. Castaneda, and I come from Bexar with orders from Col. Ugartechea to recover a cannon from Gonzales,” said Castaneda, played by Salomon Torres.
The Texas State Historical Association says the cannon had been given to Gonzales in 1831 as a defense against hostile Native Americans. Four years later, Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana had usurped the Mexican Constitution of 1824 and set himself up as dictator of a centralist government.
Tensions had mounted between the centralist government and the residents of Texas which included both Anglo Texians and Hispanic Tejanos. Col. Domingo de Ugartechea, military commander in Texas, was a little nervous about the cannon being in the hands of Gonzales residents. He dispatched Castaneda and 100 dragoons to retrieve it.
But it wouldn’t be that easy.
“We need it for protection and we’re not going to give it up,” said Col. John Henry Moore played by reenactor Wade Markum.
It was a couple of days before the actual skirmish.
“We have Comanche on our borders, Lipan, and no, we are not going to give up our cannon,” Moore said in a parley with Castaneda.
“Under the Constitution of 1824, we are guaranteed to defend our rights, defend our homes and protect our families,” Moore said. “That cannon was a gift to the City of Gonzales, and we will not be giving it over to you today.”
After some discussion the Mexican troops withdrew. A few days later in the early morning the Texas defenders had gathered a militia and filled the cannon with nails, horse shoes and other miscellaneous items. A brief skirmish with Castaneda’s troops resulted in one Mexican soldier dead.
“The Texas War for Independence had just begun,” declared Jack Ayoub, narrator.
A few months later in March of 1836 Alamo siege would take place followed by the Battle of San Jacinto and the resulting independence of Texas.
The performance impressed spectators.
“It was well presented and we enjoyed it,” said Bob Labin, 66, a Winter Texan from Michigan. He and his girlfriend Donna Schmiedeknecht had driven from South Padre Island to see the reenactment.
“We had read about it and we came to see for ourselves,” he said.