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 public land.

 

 

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 29, 1835, 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 2, 1835 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 21, 1836: The Republic of Texas was born.

 

On December 14, 1837, 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 today.  

 

 

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.