Congressman Ted Poe (TX-02)
In April of 1836, as Texians were running for their lives, Santa Anna and his army were on their heels. As they made their way east, the weather continued to challenge their escape and the flooded bayous left the runaways with little options. One such place that provided a safe crossing was the narrow cedar bridge along Vince’s Bayou, just south of present-day Houston.
Like many folks of this era and region, Allen Vince was a rancher and a farmer. Originally from Missouri, he came to Texas as part of a colony led by Stephen F. Austin and quickly settled in. Historians disagree over fact or fiction when it comes to the actual site of Vince’s Bridge. But regardless of your side of the story, Vince’s role in Texas history wasn’t earned on the battlefield, nor was it his famous bridge. It wasn’t the man that made the legend, but rather the horse that stole the show.
When Santa Anna and his men made it to the deserted ranch, they ransacked it for supplies and rounded up all the stock. Among the horses stolen for their use, was a magnificent black stallion. This majestic horse stood out from all the rest and immediately caught the eye of the Mexican commander-in-chief. Little did he know at the time, but Old Whip was just like any other Texan – loyal to the cause.
General Sam and his boys were making their way towards the San Jacinto River and Buffalo Bayou at Lynch’s Ferry. Upon hearing the news that the Texians were closing in, Santa Anna frantically mounted Old Whip and raced back through the ranks shouting, “The enemy is coming! The enemy is coming!”
On April 21, 1836, grossly outnumbered, Houston and his ragtag bunch of freedom fighters readied for battle along the marshy banks of the San Jacinto. Scout Deaf Smith was ordered to burn the only bridge and trapped both armies between the river and the marshes.
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.
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. Santa Anna, realizing defeat was upon him, jumped on Old Whip, deserting his men and saving himself.
Now legend has it that Old Whip had other plans. Not knowing which way to run, Santa Anna let the horse lead him anywhere but there. Like the words from an old country song, “I don't have to touch the reins. He's right on track just like a train. This old horse knows his way home.” And that’s what that old war horse did, ran right back to where he belonged.
Although his instincts were on the right track, a burned bridge and impassable bayou had Old Whip bogged down in the mud leaving the fleeing fugitive with nowhere to go. Santa Anna tried to continue on foot, but was quickly captured.
The Texans wanted Santa Anna hanged because of the massacre at the Alamo and for savagely murdering Col. Fannin and his 300 volunteers at Goliad. But, wise and politically astute Sam Houston would have none of the lynching and spared him 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 United States 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 still wish the vote had gone the other way.
And as for Old Whip, he was returned to Allen Vince and lived out his days on the open southeast Texas prairies, reveling in his honor as one of the heroes of Texas Revolution.
And that’s just the way it is.