When Empresario Stephen F. Austin, known today as “the Father of Texas,” received permission in 1821 to bring colonists from the U.S. into Mexico, he set into motion a dramatic chain of events that would lead to the formation of the Lone Star State. By 1830, the Mexican government had forbidden further immigration into Texas by U.S. settlers. In the following tumultuous years, bloody battles for such towns as Gonzales, Goliad, and San Antonio eventually led 59 delegates of the Convention of 1836 to gather at Washington, Texas, on March 2, to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence.
Four days later, the Alamo fell to Mexican General Antonio López de Santa Anna’s troops, and on March 27, 342 Texans were executed at Goliad under Santa Anna’s orders. And then the tide began to turn: A little more than three weeks later, on April 21, Texas troops, led by Major General Sam Houston, defeated Santa Anna’s men at the decisive, 18-minute Battle of San Jacinto. For almost 10 years afterward, until Texas was annexed to the United States, on December 29, 1845, the Lone Star State existed as an independent nation.
On March 2, 2005, you can join in on the numerous Texas Independence Day celebrations statewide, or simply take a moment to toast the Lone Star State. Try these words, written by the late historian Joe B. Frantz:
“To Texas….Joyous and sparkling,/Evergreen when it rains, enduring in drought,/Timeless, endless in boundaries, exciting,/Home to the adventurous of yesterday and today,/With shrines from the past/And space and spirit for the future./To Texas./Everlasting in the hearts of your people!”
In perhaps the state’s most ambitious celebration of Texas Independence, a nonprofit group called Celebrate Texas hosts a spate of festivities in the Austin area March 2-7. The group first hosts a memorial ceremony on March 2 at 9 a.m. at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin, where many independence fighters are buried, including Dr. Ashbel Smith, the “father of Texas medicine,” and Thomas William “Peg Leg” Ward, who lost his leg to a cannonball during the Siege of Béxar.
Also on March 2, at 11:30, a celebration at the State Capitol features live music, speeches, and entertainment.
On Saturday, March 5, the event continues with a 10:30 a.m. parade up Congress Avenue, featuring marching bands, reenactment groups, equestrian teams, and floats of all types. There’s also the daylong Lone Star Championship BBQ Cookoff at Stone Mountain, near Dripping Springs, and a golf tournament at the University of Texas Golf Club at Steiner Ranch in Austin on March 7, which helps raise money for future events and education programs.
For more details, call 512/263-6943; www.celebratetexas.org.
Independence Day Comes Alive
At Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site, where those 59 men signed the Texas Declaration of Independence, folks treat this milestone in history with particular reverence. This year, to commemorate the signing’s 169th anniversary, a free two-day celebration brings the Republic of Texas era to life.
Year round, of course, the public can tour the Star of the Republic Museum, which houses more than 1,000 objects relating to the early history of Texas; tour tiny Independence Hall; and get a taste of life during the post-Republic era at the working 1850s Barrington Living History Farm, which once belonged to Anson Jones, the last president of the Republic of Texas. Of special interest at the museum this year: one of the original broadsides of the Texas Declaration of Independence distributed in Mexico.
During the celebration, which takes place this year March 5-6, an expanded number of reenactors, period-crafts demonstrators, and performers will immerse visitors in the Republic period. Along with a black-powder gun salute, you can also enjoy an audience-participatory play, The Convention of 1836. On Sunday at 2 p.m., a program honoring the 59 delegates will conclude with a Texas-size birthday cake.
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site is about 14 miles northeast of Brenham. Call 936/878-2214, ext. 237; www.birthplaceoftexas.com.
When the 59 convention delegates signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, what effect did they expect to see on politics in Mexico City? How did Texas independence affect commerce along the Rio Grande? How did views of the Texas Revolution differ on both sides of the river? Learn all this and more at a binational conference titled The Texas Revolution on the Rio Grande, set for March 25 at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. Hosted by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and organized by the staff of the Alamo and the DRT Library, the conference is moderated by Alamo historian Dr. Richard Bruce Winders and features lectures by Miguel Angel González Quiroga, professor of history at the Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León; Dr. Stanley Green, former president of the Webb County Heritage Foundation in Laredo; Dr. Joseph E. Chance, a mathematician with a keen interest in Mexican War-era Texas history; and Dr. Félix D. Almaráz, an award-winning author and professor of history at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Preregistration for the conference costs $45 and includes admission to a reception on March 24, as well as refreshments and a luncheon on March 25. To register or for more details, call 210/225-1071; www.thealamo.org or www.drtl.org.
Remember the Alamo
On March 5-6 at Alamo Plaza in SanAntonio, the San Antonio Living History Association (SALHA) commemorates the final two days (March 5-6, 1836) of the 13-day siege of the Alamo with an event called Remembering the Alamo Weekend. With the famous mission as a backdrop, the event features period music, live cannon and flintlock arms demonstrations, and living-history presentations. On March 6 at 6 a.m., the group presents Dawn at the Alamo, a commemorative ceremony honoring those who died fighting on both sides. For more information, call 210/273-1730; www.sanantoniolivinghistory.org.
And There’s More!
Other March 2 commemorations throughout the state include the Toast to Texas Independence at the Heritage Village Museum in Woodville (409/283-2272; www.heritage-village.org); the Toast to Texas at Sebastopol House State Historic Site in Seguin (830/379-4833; www.tpwd.state.tx.us); a Texas Independence Day Celebration in Gonzales (830/672-6532); and General Sam Houston’s Birthday & Texas Independence Celebration in Huntsville (936/294-1832).