The History of Gonzales, Texas USA
Gonzales was established in 1825 on Kerr
Creek, 2 ½ miles east of the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers
in the gentle verdant hills of central Texas.
Over thousands of years the Guadalupe River carved a fertile
valley which is now 30 miles wide.
Gonzales is on the northwestern edge of the valley. For many hundreds of years, American Indians
lived at the junction of the 2 rivers.
Gonzales was established to be the capital of
a new colony of 400 families granted by the Mexican government to Empresario Green DeWitt.
Most of the settlers that joined his colony were German, Polish, &
Czech immigrants who entered through the Gulf of Mexico port settlement of
Indianola. For 12 years, until the close
of the Texas Revolution, it was the western-most Anglo settlement of the
northern Mexican Territory of Tejas. The town was
named in honor of Don Rafael Gonzales, provisional Governor of Tejas and Coahuila, Mexico. In 1832, the Mexican government appointed Byrd
Lockhart to resurvey the town about a mile west of its original site. He placed seven public squares in the shape
of a Spanish cross at the center of town and named all of the streets in the
original town site after Catholic Saints (in alphabetical order, no
less!). Two additional strips of land,
each one-block wide, were set aside for public use only. One extended 5 miles north and the other
extended 3 miles east of the courthouse.
A number of towns in Texas were organized in
this traditional fashion; but, Gonzales is the only town that still has all of
the original squares from the Spanish land grant intact and still in use as
During the colonial period of 1825 to 1835,
there were many problems with the Comanche and Tonkawa Indians. A number of settlers were killed during raids
along the perimeter of the settlement.
In 1831, the Mexican political chief in San Antonio, at the request of
the settlers in Gonzales, sent a six pound cannon to
Gonzales as protection against the Indian raids. By 1835, the political
relationship between the settlers of the colony and the new dictator of Mexico, El Presidente Generalisimo Santa
Anna, had deteriorated dramatically. He
decided that he needed to take back the cannon so that it could not be used
against his government in a revolution.
After a diplomatic mission failed, General Santa Anna responded with a
detachment of 100 Mexican dragoons. On September
the Mexicans camped at a ferry crossing on the Guadalupe River. There were only 18 men living in the
town. They quickly buried the cannon in
a peach orchard and secured the ferry to the east side of the river to prevent
the Mexican troops from crossing. This
allowed an additional 2 days for preparations, while the Mexican detachment searched
the river for another suitable crossing, for the citizens of Gonzales to
recruit a total of 168 Texans from the surrounding area, re-deployed their
cannon, and make a flag with the words “COME
AND TAKE IT!” emblazoned in black against a pure white background (made
from a wedding dress). The Gonzalians attacked the
Mexican camp 9 miles south of town at dawn on October
by fording the Guadalupe River before light and
surprising the garrison. The soldiers
who were not killed, retreated quickly back to Mexico: THE FIRST SHOT OF THE TEXAS WAR OF
INDEPENDENCE FROM MEXICO HAD BEEN FIRED!
Gonzales has been known since that time as the “Lexington of Texas.”
Only four months later, in late February,
1836, General Santa Anna returned; this time he brought 5,000 dragoons with him
to quell the “revolution” against the dictator in this northern territory of rebels who wanted
to govern themselves and break away from Mexico. General Sam Houston was still trying to
organize a Texas army when the Mexican
army pushed northward through the valley area of Texas. Soon, it was evident that the next major
battle would be fought at the Alamo, just 60 miles west
of Gonzales. The citizens of Gonzales
were the ONLY town to respond to
Col. Travis’ urgent call for re-enforcements.
A total of 32 men from Gonzales and the closely surrounding area (the
Immortal 32) gathered just west of town and road together to the Alamo to join the 9
Gonzales men who were already fighting there.
General Sam Houston learned of the devastating
defeat and the death of all of the volunteers from Gonzales when the sole
survivors of the Alamo siege, Mrs. Almaron (Susanna)
Dickinson, her baby, and Joe, Col. Travis’s servant, returned from the battle
together to report the tragedy.
General Houston quickly gathered his few
troops along with all of the citizens of Gonzales and began the famous “Runaway
Scrape” to gain time and muster more troops.
He burned the town and all of the provisions in it to deny General Santa
Anna the supplies that he need to pursue the growing Texas army. The first night after leaving the destroyed
town, he established his headquarters under a beautiful oak tree now known as
the Sam Houston Oak which still stands along remnants of the Old Spanish Trail
in front of the Braches House 9 miles east of town on Peach Creek. Eventually Gen. Houston made a stand at San Jacinto on the Texas coast where Santa
Anna was defeated in a surprise attack and Texas gained its freedom
from Mexico on April
The Republic of Texas was born.
Gonzales County was created by the
new Texas legislature from the
DeWitt Colony. During the 1850’s more
Germans and Czechs moved into the area along with Mexicans. John Fauth was
taking an apprenticeship in barrel making in upper New York state. He heard so many thrilling tales of adventure
and success that he, along with hundreds of others, immigrated through the port of Indianola to ride the train
from the coast northward to Gonzales.
The destruction of the Runaway Scrape gave way to a complete rebuilding
of the town. All of the standing
buildings were constructed in the mid 1800’s or later. That is why there are so many
Victorian, Edwardian, raised New Orleans Cottage, Neo-classical, and Arts &
Crafts style homes in the town. In fact,
over 165 of the homes are still standing and identified on a driving tour of
the town. Gonzales hosts a homes tour in
the 1st week-end of EVERY December and the 1st week-end
of EVERY April.
The carefully restored 1896 courthouse of Gonzales County now sits at the
junction of the two beams of the Spanish cross, and only public areas, schools,
and churches occupy those original squares today. The “Old Jail,” built in
1887, still stands on the courthouse square.
The cell blocks, furniture, and inside gallows still wait for visitors
In Civil War period, about 20 volunteer
military companies were active in Gonzales County. In 1863, the Confederate government
commissioned a fort to be built in Gonzales as protection against inland
invasion by Yankee troops who might want to surprise the Confederate troops in
the fortifications along the Gulf coast.
Fort Waul, C.S.A., an earthen
embankment fort surrounded by a moat, was constructed on the prominent hill
just north of the town. Apparently, the
use of a dry moat to slow the charge of cavalry troops was unusual in the
confederate fortifications. This may be
the only remaining visible site of this type of fort in the south. Its location is still visible today and is
now adjacent to the site of a historic Pioneer Village in which a number of
historic stores, homes, and a church have been relocated and restored for
visitors to enjoy. Cotton and Cattle
were the major industries of the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Cattle drives made their way along the Chisom Trail to Gonzales as they headed north to the
railhead in Kansas. After the civil war, the railroads moved the
cattle. The cotton industry never
returned after the Great Depression of 1929.
However, Gonzales County now raises more
cattle and more chickens than any other county in Texas. A circular road-trip, The Texas
Independence Trail, begins and ends in Gonzales. It provides a visit to all of the Texas
Independence historical sites which you can visit at your own pace. Maps & information are available at the
Old Jail on the courthouse square directly across from the fire station.