Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)

Growing up in Houston, I always liked April 21st because it was a holiday. I believed there was no school because it was my mother’s birthday - she really never told me differently. I was proud to be the only kid that had a mom with a school holiday. It was only later that I came to find out the holiday also represented the most important military victory in Texas history, one that occurred right here in our home town of Houston. It was a unique holiday for southeast Texas called, “San Jacinto Day.”

After Santa Anna, Dictator of Mexico, stormed over the Alamo walls on March 6, 1836, he went looking for the rest of the Texans that wanted independence from Mexico. General Sam Houston had been building the Texas Army and Santa Anna’s three Armies were giving chase. The Texans and their families fled east in what Historians called the “runaway scrape.”

Finally, near the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou at Lynch’s Ferry, Houston stopped to fight. He and his Army of 700 faced Santa Anna and an army of about 1600 on the marshy plains of San Jacinto. Scout Deaf Smith was ordered to burn the only bridge and trapped both armies between the river and the marshes.

It was April 21, 1836. General Sam wanted to charge into battle the next day at dawn, but after discussions with his troops decided not to wait any longer. So in the middle of the afternoon General Sam and the Boys marched in a single line in broad daylight with little cover toward the Mexican Army.     

The outnumbered Texans were an odd terrifying looking bunch. Without regular uniforms, they were dressed in buckskins, with pistols in their belts, bowie knives, long muskets, and tomahawks. They came from numerous states and Mexico. The Tejanos, Mexicans loyal for independence, were led by Captain Juan Sequin. So as not to confuse these Tejanos with Santa Anna’s army, General Sam had Sequin put a playing card in the head band of each Tejano so they could easily be recognized.

This was General Houston’s first Texas battle. Santa Anna’s veteran army had yet to lose any conflict. The Texans charged yelling “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” They carried a flag of partially nude Miss Liberty, and the fife played a bawdy house song called “Come to the Bower.’

Santa Anna's army, caught napping, was routed. Most of the enemy were killed or wounded. The rest were captured or disappeared, the victory was stunning. The Texans wanted Santa Anna hung because of the Alamo and for murdering Col. Fannin and his 300 volunteers at Goliad. Wise and politically astute Sam Houston would have none of the lynching and spared Presidente Santa Anna for later bartering power.

Texas became a free, independent nation that day and claimed what is now Texas, and parts of New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. It was one of the largest land transfers in world history as a result of one battle. The latter land was sold to the US to pay Texas’s war debts. Texas was a Republic for nine years and then admitted to the Union in 1845 by a one-vote margin. Some now wish the vote had gone the other way.

In 1936, Texans built the San Jacinto Monument to honor the Texas War of Independence and General Sam’s Victory. It looks like the Washington Monument with a star on top – but of course, it’s taller.

Today the bugles are silent and the battle field is surrounded by petrochemical plants. Not much is said now-a-days about Texas Independence or San Jacinto Day. It is not even a school holiday anymore. But this weekend, proud Texans will be at the San Jacinto Battleground to honor the few brave Texans and Tejanos that made Texas a new free nation. We remember our past, knowing we were a nation once; and sometimes we still act like an independent country.

I will fly the Texas Lone Star Flag proudly on this San Jacinto Day. Then I will go take my mom a bunch of flowers remembering that this glorious day once was a school holiday to celebrate my mother’s birthday.

And that’s just the way it is.