"Time counts and keeps countin', and we knows now finding the trick of what's been and lost ain't no easy ride. But that's our trek, we gotta' travel it. And there ain't nobody knows where it's gonna' lead. Still in all, every night we does the tell, so that we 'member who we was and where we came from."
—Helen Buday as Savannah Nix in Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
Most of you have seen iterations of the “Come and Take It” flag. I have one I fly at some of my tailgate parties (when I’m not flying my Gadsden). It’s become something of an icon of the Tea Party movement. Modern takes on it replace the cannon with an assault rifle, semi-automatic pistol, or similar updates.
Yeah, it's pretty cool. But I’ll bet few of you know what that flag really is or where it came from.
Today—October 2—is the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Gonzales, which although militarily insignificant, marked the true beginning of the Texas Revolution.
In the 1820s, The Republic of Mexico began issuing land grants in its northern territories, and Anglo settlers (then known as “Texians”) from the fledgling United States migrated West to take advantage. The town of Gonzales was established as the capital of the DeWitt settlement, some 75 miles east of modern-day San Antonio (then San Antonio de Bexar), and about 130 miles west of modern-day Houston (then little more than swampland being sold by the Allen brothers as part of a real estate hustle). It was fairly remote, and the subject of frequent Indian raids. Rather than garrison scarce troops there, in 1831 the regional Mexican governor loaned the settlers of Gonzales a small cannon to help them defend themselves. By most accounts, the gun itself was probably of little actual military use, but its visual presence and noise would nevertheless have served as a deterrent.
By the mid 1830s, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had risen to power in Mexico, and the Mexican government moved from a decentralized federal system to a centralized dictatorship. The Texians became increasingly dissatisfied with micromanagement of their lives and excessive taxation by a central authority a thousand miles away.
As unrest and disobedience against government levies continued to rise, it became clear to the Mexican authorities that allowing potentially rebellious settlers to have a piece of military ordnance might not be in the government’s best interest. On September 25, 1835, soldiers dispatched by the Mexican military commander at San Antonio to demand the cannon’s return arrived in Gonzales. The settlers refused, and buried the cannon in an orchard.
On September 27, the commander in San Antonio sent 100 cavalry to repeat the demand, but when they reached the flooded Guadalupe River outside of Gonzales on September 29, they found the settlers had removed all means of crossing it. The following day, the Texians again refused the Mexicans’ demand for the cannon’s return.
I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request. Means “no.”
The Mexican cavalry then moved to a more defensible position upriver. The Texians dug up the cannon, mounted it on a wagon, and 150 militia crossed the river with the cannon the night of October 1. Early in the morning on October 2, the Texians encountered the Mexican camp. At dawn, the opposing commanders met in the center of the field between the two sides. Unable to reach a compromise, they returned to their respective lines, and the Texians raised the now-familiar hand-made white flag with a cannon painted on it and the caption “Come and Take It.” Both sides exchanged fire, with the Texians firing the cannon loaded with bits of scrap metal. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Mexican cavalry withdrew and returned to San Antonio.
Thus began the Texas Revolution. Santa Anna shortly thereafter began preparations for the march northward that would lead to the February-March 1836 siege of the Mission San Antonio de Valero outside of San Antonio de Bexar in what will forever be known as the Battle of the Alamo. On April 21, 1836, Santa Anna was defeated and captured at the Battle of San Jacinto, and the Republic of Texas was born.
So the “Come and Take It” flag isn’t just a cool-looking symbol of defiance. It is an actual relic from the struggle of freedom against tyranny.