Saturday, February 25, 2017

Juan Seguin Returns To The Alamo

 February 25, 1837, San Antonio, Republic of Texas

Precisely a year earlier, on February 25, 1836, Captain Juan Seguin left the besieged Alamo at the order of Colonel William Travis.  He carried with him a request for help from the army gathering under the command of Sam Houston at Washington-on-the-Brazos.  Making his way without detection through General Santa Ana's forces, which had arrived in San Antonio on the 23rd, Sequin made his way to Houston, but the general was determined not to allow his small and unready army to encounter the well-trained Mexican force. Seguin, San Jacinto museum)

In a predawn assault on March 6, the Alamo fell and all its defenders killed ((for more on the myths and controversies surrounding the Alamo read Remember (My Visit To) The Alamo)).  The victorious Santa Ana resumed his march eastward, seeming on the verge of extinguishing the rebellion, when six weeks later at San Jacinto, near present day Houston, his force was destroyed by the Texian army led by Sam Houston.  Juan Seguin led his men bravely in the fight and was subsequently promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.

Seguin was born in 1807 at Bexar (later San Antonio), the largest town in Texas, then part of a province within the Spanish Empire of the Americas.  His family was one of the most prominent in Texas and of tejano (Texians of hispanic descent) origin.  In the 1820s, after Mexico obtained its independence from Spain, Juan's father, Erasmo worked with Moses Austin and his son, Stephen, on facilitating the settlement of thousands of Anglo settlers from the United States.  In 1829, Juan was elected Judge of San Antonio and became Alcade (Mayor) of the town in 1834.  Jim Bowie, the Louisiana adventurer who'd settled in Texas and married the daughter of another prominent local family. became a close friend.

When the Texas Revolution began in the fall of 1835, the Juan sided with the revolutionaries as did most Texas tejanos.  At the time the divisions were not between anglos and tejanos but rather about whether Mexico should operate on a federal or centralized basis.  Santa Ana had sought power pledging to be a federalist, but upon attaining the presidency quickly became a centralizer.  Along with Texas, several other Mexican provinces also rebelled at the same time.

Juan Seguin participated in the storming of San Antonio on December 5, 1835 and then worked with Bowie in preparing the defense of the Alamo.
Robinson to Houston - Page 1(1837 letter from James Robinson, VP of the Texas Provisional Government to Sam Houston, recommending Juan Seguin for an appointment)

Following San Jacinto and the capture of Santa Ana, the Mexico army retreated south of the Rio Grande but refused to recognize the independence of Texas.  In November 1836, Lt Col Seguin took over command of the Texian garrison at San Antonio.  In late February, he organized a  ceremony to bury the remains of the defenders from the 1836 battle.

After Santa Ana captured the Alamo he ordered the bodies of the defenders collected in three locations inside and just outside the walls and had them burned.  It is unclear what happened to the remains over the next year, but in February 1837, Seguin ordered the remaining ashes and bone fragments collected and had a Bexar carpenter make a coffin.  Juan caused the lid to be inscribed with the names of Crockett, Travis and Bowie (though it was impossible to identify the remains).

Seguin ordered church bells to peal throughout the day and led a procession through the street of the town to the Alamo.  Three volleys were fired over the casket.  Addressing the crowd in Spanish, he proclaimed (according to an account published several weeks later in the Columbia (later Houston) Telegraph & Register):
Companions in Arms!! These remains which we have the honor of carrying on our shoulders are those of the valiant heroes who died in the Alamo. Yes, my friends, they preferred to die a thousand times rather than submit themselves to the tyrant's yoke. What a brilliant example! Deserving of being noted in the pages of history. The spirit of liberty appears to be looking out from its elevated throne with its pleasing mien and point to us saying: "There are your brothers, Travis, Bowie, Crockett, and others whose valor places them in the rank of my heroes." Yes soldiers and fellow citizens, these are the worthy beings who, by the twists of fate, during the present campaign delivered their bodies to the ferocity of their enemies; who, barbarously treated as beasts, were bound by their feet and dragged to this spot, where they were reduced to ashes. The venerable remains of our worth companions as witnesses, I invite you to declare to the entire world, "Texas shall be free and independent or we shall perish in glorious combat."
Later that year Juan Seguin was elected to the Texas Senate, serving until 1840, but the alliance between tejanos and anglos was beginning to weaken.  Two factors were at play.  The first was the flood of American settlers moving to Texas in the wake of obtaining independence, many of whom brought with them prejudices against tejanos and catholics.  Second, the continuing threat of further attacks on the new republic by Mexico.  Caught in the middle were tejanos, increasing mistrusted by their fellow citizens of the Texas republic.
(from fine art america)

Sequin was once again serving as mayor of San Antonio when matters came to a head in 1842.  In January, Mexico announced its planned invasion of Texas (in part in retaliation for a failed Texian invasion of New Mexico the prior year), offering amnesty to anyone who did not resist.  In early March, the Mexican army seized Goliad, Refugio and Victoria and, on March 5, captured San Antonio, which it held until March 9 before retreating (Mexican forces would again occupy the town from September 11 through 20 of that year).  Juan Seguin and his family were among those who fled the invasion.  However, there was a growing clamor among the anglo settlers that unfairly portrayed Juan as a collaborator with the invading forces (to which the Mexican commander contributed by claiming Seguin was still a loyal Mexican citizen).  He was forced to resign in April and to protect himself and his family, fled to Mexico.

When Santa Ana learned of Seguin's presence he offered him a choice - prison or joining the army.  Seguin joined and served for the next six years until the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, after which he returned to Texas.  Seguin remained politically active in the 1850s and 60s, but conditions continued to worsen for tejanos.  Eventually (at some point between the late 1860s and 1883 according to various sources), Juan moved to Nuevo Laredo, in Mexico just south of the Rio Grande where his son was mayor, where we live until his death in 1890.

In recent decades his role in helping Texas obtain its independence has been increasingly recognized and Juan Seguin is now celebrated as a Texas hero.  On July 4, 1976 his ashes were returned from Mexico to be reburied in the Texas town of Seguin, named in his honor in 1837.

(Status of Juan Seguin, Seguin, Texas, from andrew butler photo)

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