184 years ago today, a brave — possibly foolhardy — band of men gathered in the small settlement of Washington-on-the-Brazos and signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Soon, they would be fleeing for their lives from the oncoming armies of the ruler of Mexico, Generalissimo Antonio López de Santa Ana, the self-styled “Napoleon of the West,” leading over 5,000 battle-hardened soldiers against a few hundred rag-tag rebels known as Texians.
And to this day, Texans, native-born and transplants alike, celebrate our unique history as the only independent nation to join the United States thanks to those visionary founders. And to this day, some Texans still believe Texas should have remained independent rather than accepting annexation. Having failed to stay independent, some Texans even argue for secession — despite the dismal result the first time that was tried.
Not only is today Texas Independence Day, but it is also Sam Houston’s birthday as well. That wasn’t exactly coincidental. The drafters and signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence delayed ratification until Sam’s birthday, then appointed him Commander-in-Chief. He left immediately to aid the army at the Alamo, but was unable to reach it in time.
Receiving word of the fall of the Alamo and the subsequent killing of all of its defenders, Houston ordered a retreat the likes of which had rarely been seen before. With Santa Anna vowing to put all rebels and sympathizers to the sword, the meager forces under General Houston were forced to retreat. Left to their own defenses, the civilian population fled, too, in what became known as the Runaway Scrape.
During the entirety of the Texas Revolution, the Texian forces lost every battle and encounter — until the final, fateful Battle of San Jacinto. But both the tale of the Runaway Scrape and the Battle of San Jacinto are stories for other days.
And I could easily rattle on about Sam Houston. I researched old Sam extensively many years ago and even created an interactive installation for the Sam Houston Memorial Museum back in 1993 for the bicentennial celebration of his birthday. Again, the stories of his adventurous life, from early military heroism under General Andrew Jackson and budding political career under his mentorship to his life as an adopted son of a Cherokee chief to his tenure as Governor of Tennessee — and subsequent scandalous departure — to his trial on the floor of the Senate. All of that is before he even sets foot in Texas!
But it’s an odd feeling, this lingering Texan pride. I no longer live in Texas. I see things a little differently from a thousand miles away from my former home in Austin. But the truth is: once a Texan, always a Texan.
There just ain’t no such thing as an EX-Texan!