The Come & Take It Cannon

The Battle of Gonzales happened 186 years ago today (if you ware reading this on October 2) and is hailed as the first land battle of the Texas Revolution.

That makes this a good day to clear up a misconception.

Maybe you’ve visited the little cannon on display in Gonzales, or have seen a photo of it like the one above. You have almost definitely see it depicted in paintings showing the Battle of Gonzales.

If so, you have a misconception about the Come and Take It cannon.

The little cannon on display in Gonzales was at the battle, but it was not the cannon the Mexican army had come to take. The little gun pictured is a Spanish esmeril, about 22 inches long and weighing a little under 70 pounds. It fired a half-pound ball.

We know from documents in the Bexar archives that the cannon loaned to the colonists for protection against Indians was a bronze six pounder. That designation means that it fired a solid iron ball weighing six pounds. The cannon itself weighed about 700 pounds and was around six feet long.

After the battle of Gonzales it was taken to San Antonio where it was used in the Siege of Bexar, then at the Alamo during siege and battle there. When the Mexican army retreated from Bexar after San Jacinto, they disabled the cannon and buried it.

Samuel Maverick discovered it buried on his property in the 1850s. Later, in the 1870s, his heirs donated the cannon to St. Mark’s Church, which had it melted down make the bell that still hangs there.

Yes, I know. That makes our heads shake. But it happened.

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The bell that used to be the Come and Take It cannon

One man who actually worked with the cannon was Noah Smithwick, blacksmith, Indian trader, Texas Ranger. In the last year of his life, he dictated his memoirs to his daughter.

Here is what he had to say about the Battle of Gonzales and the Come and Take It cannon:

"…we laid off our packs and hurried on to Gonzales, the initial point of attack, to help repel the Mexicans, whose only ostensible purpose proved to be the recovery of an old cannon which the citizens had borrowed from the garrison at San Antonio some time before to defend the place against Indians, and which was practically useless, having been spiked and the spike driven out, leaving a touch-hole the size of a man’s thumb.

Its principal merit as a weapon of defense, therefore, lay in its presence and the noise it could make, the Indians being very much afraid of cannon. But it was the match that fired the mine, already primed and loaded.

Before we reached Gonzales the Mexican soldiers arrived on the opposite side of the river, which they did not attempt to cross, and made a formal demand for the cannon.

Useless as it was, the Texans not only refused to surrender it, but crossed over and put the Mexicans to flight.

It was our Lexington, though a bloodless one, save that a member of the “awkward squad” took a header from his horse, thereby bringing his nasal appendage into such intimate association with Mother Earth as to draw forth a copious stream of the sanguinary fluid.

I can not remember that there was any distinct understanding as to the position we were to assume toward Mexico. Some were for independence; some for the constitution of 1824; and some for anything, just so it was a row. But we were all ready to fight.

Our plan was to rush on to San Antonio, capture the garrison before it could get reinforcements, and then - on to Mexico and dictate terms of peace in the capital of the Montezumas.

The Sowells had a blacksmith shop at Gonzales, and, being a gunsmith, I set to work to help put the arms in order. There was no coal, so some of the boys were set to burning charcoal.

We brushed the old cannon, an iron six-pounder (here he is misremembering, records state clearly it was brass), scoured it out, and mounted it on old wooden trucks - transverse sections of trees with holes in the centers, into which were inserted wooden axles - and christened it “the flying artillery,” making merry over it as if it were some holiday sport we were planning for.

We had no ammunition for our “artillery,” so we cut slugs of bar iron and hammered them into balls; ugly looking missiles they were I assure you, but destined to “innocuous desuetude,” as I shall relate in due course.

We were going to do things in style, so we formed a company of lancers and converted all the old files about the place into lances, which we mounted on poles cut in the river bottom.

While some were busy with the arms and ammunition, others were devising a flag. I cannot say who designed it nor who executed the design, as that was not in my department, and history is silent on the subject.

Hubert Bancroft devotes some space to the origin of the Lone Star flag. Had he consulted me, I could have given him a pointer, for to my certain knowledge the first Lone Star flag used in the revolution was gotten up at Gonzales for Austin’s army and consisted of a breadth of white cotton cloth about six feet long, in the center of which was painted in black a picture of the old cannon, above it a lone star and beneath it the words, “Come and take it,” a challenge which was lost on the Mexicans.

It was not called the Lone Star, however, but the Old Cannon flag."

Who was Noah Smithwick?

You already know he marched from Gonzales with the first Texas army.

He also held Jim Bowie’s original knife in his hand…and made him a new one.

Like I said, he was a blacksmith and Texas Ranger. He even negotiated a treaty for the Comanches.

He knew Bowie …and Austin…and Houston. Travis…Burnet…and Borden. He even met Davy Crockett when he passed through Bastrop, headed for the Alamo.

And that’s maybe ten percent of what’s in his memoir.

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Noah Smithwick - Age 91

Smithwick doesn’t just tell you about the big events. He also records how people talked, what they ate, wore and how they had fun.

"When young folks danced those days, they danced ; they didn’t glide around; they “shuffled” and “double shuffled”, “wired” and “cut the pigeon’s wing,” making the splinters fly.

J. Frank Dobie pronounced it, “Best of all books dealing with early life in Texas.”

Coming from the man who literally wrote the book on Texas history books, there is no higher praise.

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I was not aware of that history.So the bell is the thing. I didn’t know the
bell was was that heavy

St Marks Episcopal Church, San Antonio. Just blocks from the Alamo

I’m watching texas rising. The Texas rebellion didn’t have a large army. Sam Houston had only 137 troops. He had to pick his spot and capture Santa Ana by surprise vs going head to head vs Santa Ana’s much larger army even when it was divided. Also at play is Santa Ana knew that Jackson and the US wanted all the territory to the pacific so even if he won, he’d eventually be fighting the US in a lost cause. He also couldn’t hold Texas bc it was too much to police. So eventually manifest destiny by the US would win out but Sam Houston made it happen sooner.

It’s still disputed where the cannon actually ended up. Some say it never made it to San Antonio, some say the Mexicans got it at the Alamo and ditched it. I do think it is funny that the cannon was a piece of crap and there is a good chance that Mexico did in fact “come and take it”.

Another thing about the Texas revolution a lot of people don’t know, Mexico had a bunch of other revolutions going on all over the country. Pretty much half the states were rebelling. Texas was not the biggest priority for them (similar to Britain with the American Revolution). That Santa Anna was apparently one interesting character. Basically a very good con man that kept getting back in power even though he had almost no success at anything, lol.

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I liken it to the British vs us. For the British it was far away and hard to control even if they won. They prob knew it was a matter of time before they would lose America even if they won. For Mexico, the same bc Jackson would have soon sent troops and they’d be fighting the US. It was a matter of time for both Mexico and Britain to fail here. It doesn’t discount what Sam Houston did bc he was under pressure to engage the enemy but he waited for his right time to strike so he was a good general and Washington who only had 11,000 troops at tops fought for yrs and finally won.

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Yeah, in both cases you were still out numbered and had a tough task in front of them. It took good leadership to win both. Of course we will make things more monumental/dramatic when teaching it. Things like showing Mexico’s army as some flawless machine who were desperate to keep Texas or Santa Anna as a great military tactician are great storylines, but not precise history.

One other cool thing I never knew until I toured the USS Lexington which had an exhibit on it, there was a Texian Navy during the revolution.

Texas rising on amazon shows how undermanned we were in Texas which I’m watching now.

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Comanche Indians everywhere and Sam Houston was a good general bc he picked his spot to win. He was under pressure to attack but he stood his grd until the time was right.

I enjoyed the book “Empire of the Summer Moon”. He wrote about the San Juan Mission in San Antone and how the walls protected the citizens from Comanche attacks. When we were in town or the UTSA game, we attended Mass at San Juan. I wanted to see the walls (very low). Walking out, my wife said “I felt like I attended Mass 200 years ago”.

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“Empire of the Summer Moon” is a top-notch book.

“Comanche boys became adept bareback riders by age six; full Comanche braves were considered the best horsemen who ever rode. They were so masterful at war and so skillful with their arrows and lances that they stopped the northern drive of colonial Spain from Mexico and halted the French expansion westward from Louisiana. White settlers arriving in Texas from the eastern United States were surprised to find the frontier being rolled backward by Comanches incensed by the invasion of their tribal lands. So effective were the Comanches that they forced the creation of the Texas Rangers and account for the advent of the new weapon specifically designed to fight them: the six-gun.”

The Comanches would attack settlers then rapidly disappear back into the vastness of the Great Plains. No one knew where they went. Ranald Mackenzie, who graduated 1st in his class from West Point in 1862 and finished the Civil War in 1865 as as a Brevet Brigadier General, was sent after the Comanches. The buildup to the chapter on Mackenzie’s successful search for the Comanche’s winter campgrounds is terrific.

… and much more. Highly recommended

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Why, was it in Latin?

All Texans (native and transplants) should read TR Fehrenbach’s definitive Texas history: Lone Star, A History of Texas. Definitely not PC but a clear eyed recording of our past and the history that defines our great state.

He also wrote a very good history of the Comanche. And the Korean War where he was a combat officer.

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The chapel looked untouched from when it was built. The experience just seemed like it could have been a long time ago.

BTW, had it been in Latin, I could have provided the responses, well, most of them. I would stumble over the Creed

Significantly different from San Juan Capistrano in California

When we went to Tucson for the Zona game, we visited the Mission to Francis Xavier. Again way more ornate than San Antonio

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good thread

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I’m about 1/3 of the way through Fehrenbach’s 750-page “Lone Star, A History of Texas & the Texans” and give it high marks – a worthy read.

Tidbit – Spain/Mexico lured Anglo settlers to Texas to serve as a buffer v. the Indians with very generous terms – You could buy a league of rich land (~4400 acres) from Stephen F. Austin for the same price as ~80 acres in the Southern US. And the Texans were largely self-governing, they paid no taxes or religious tithes for years, and no Mexican troops were stationed there.

I recently watched a video where the historian claimed we were taught wrong and that the original revolutionist in American saw themselves as Englishmen. What is the view on the Texan revolutionist, did they see themselves as Texans already or just westward Americans? Was it like the American revolution, were some loyalists to Mexico?

It’s an opinion but one I think I would agree with. Of Britain had listened to grievances and worked on some of them we’d have stayed with them much longer. Texas revolution is different I imagine pretty much all the sellers from the states saw themselves as Americans first and foremost.

They were a mix. Some had been in TX many years. And those had a great situation – left alone by distant Mexico City, no custom duties, no taxes, no tithes. Cheap, fertile land. Few Indian troubles in the area – the Comanches were north & west. These Texans wanted to keep a good thing going.

Some newcomers from the US wanted to quickly further Manifest Destiny and make Texas a part of the US. While Pres. Andy Jackson was privately supportive of this eventually happening, he would not make an open demand/suggestion of it.

Some were very loyal to Mexico and left as war broke out. Interestingly, Stephen F. Austin was loyal to Mexico, too, early on, because of the good deal he & the Old 300 enjoyed. He was a skilled diplomat.

What I didn’t know about was the chaotic Mexico govt.

Example 1 – Mexican govt. was very centralized and when Mexico was still ruled by Spain this went all the way back to the king. Decisions could literally take years. Imagine a request for a decision in Texas being relayed from Nacogdoches to San Antonio, Matamoros, Saltillo, Mexico City then across the Atlantic and back.

Example 2 – When Napoleon invaded Spain in 1808 he forced the King off his throne. This paralyzed decision making – Spaniards wouldn’t recognize the new king, Joseph Napoleon, and the old king Ferdinand VII was in French hands and couldn’t rule. Decision-making stopped.

The Mexican Govt. changed several times before 1836 as political factions maneuvered and the government’s attitude toward Texas changed, too. Sometimes politics paralyzed the central govt. and Texas was left alone which the Texans liked. But in 1835, when attitudes hardened toward Texas, the chain of events leading to war began. When Texans resisted further Mexican controls, the Mexicans saw it as insubordination to the central government – a gross violation that must be stopped – leading to further controls.

I did not know that Don Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna de Lebron (Gen. Santa Anna) was also President of Mexico

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Two letters after the victory at San Jacinto — 5,000 Texans, mostly old men, women & children, were trapped at Harrisburg in the Runaway Scrape

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