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April 18th, 2012
Bartee Haile: Texans celebrate 50th anniversary of San Jacinto

This Week in Texas History: A column

In towns big and small across the Lone Star State, old and young came together on Apr. 21, 1886 to celebrate a very special San Jacinto Day.

The scattered and strictly local events could not hold a candle, of course, to the colossal centennial held during the Depression. There was nothing to compare with the Greater Texas and Pan American Exposition in Dallas, Fort Worth’s Frontier Centennial and the groundbreaking for construction of the San Jacinto Monument, but the folks back in 1886 did have something future generations would always envy — more than 200 guests of honor who actually fought in the Revolution.

Due to the disruption of a violent rail strike as well as plans for Apr. 21, Texas Independence Day caused hardly a ripple. The comparative inactivity on Mar. 2 rankled a San Antonio editor: “Today occurs the 50th anniversary of the signing of the declaration of Texas independence. Why Texans should not celebrate it with as great a display of patriotism as they do the 4th of July The Express does not understand.”

Nevertheless, the historic occasion did not go entirely unnoticed. At Brenham a public reading of the Washington-on-the-Brazos statement was given by the son of Moses Austin Bryan, a prominent participant in the sovereignty struggle, followed by remarks from D.C. Giddings, the famous former congressman who in 1872 thwarted an attempt by Reconstruction Republicans to deny him his seat.

But no one had any grounds for griping after the third Tuesday in April. Communities of every size and description combined for the best observance yet of the victory at San Jacinto.

Schools, banks and government offices closed for the holiday in Galveston, and many businesses locked their doors at noon. Though replaced by a paid department, volunteer firemen still exercised their customary leadership in the festivities which featured a parade, banquet and ball.

Spectators swarmed the beach to watch an artillery company bombard a barrel anchored offshore. But the noisy exhibition provoked more laughter than oohs and ahs, when a strong current carried the target out of range causing the shells to fall harmlessly into the sea.

“The heavy rain Monday night came in good time to lay the dust,” reported the Waco Daily Examiner, “and the walking along the streets was just good enough.” The student bodies of Baylor and Waco universities, due to merge later in the year, marched into town and joined ranks with firemen and soldiers for the parade to Minglewood Park.

A ceremonial welcome for recently relocated Baylor Female College was the main attraction at Belton, and parents packed the Palestine opera house for a program put on by their children. San Antonio veterans were wined, dined and toasted at San Pedro Springs, where long-winded speeches tested their patience, while simple picnics sufficed at Gainesville and Fort Worth.

Behind seven companies of fire fighters all decked out in colorful uniforms, Houstonians hiked to the fair grounds for a full day of fun and games. Militia drills, horse races and a track meet entertained the 5,000 in attendance, who capped off “perhaps the grandest San Jacinto celebration ever given in Texas” by dancing the night away.

Dallas benefited from the annual get-together of the Texas Veterans Association, an organization open to the original 300 colonists as well as former soldiers and sailors with service prior to statehood. The hat was passed to pay for the return of the remains of past president Francis W. Johnson, commander of the ill-fated Matamoros Expedition, who died two years earlier in Mexico, and Rip Ford, the famous frontier fighter, passed his own hat to solicit contributions for the publication of his memoirs.

Shady View Park was the site of Big D’s daylong shindig, which drew an impressive turnout from the state’s fifth largest city and the surrounding countryside. An especially loud rendition of “Dixie” drowned out portions of the address by the vets’ current chief, who complained, “If it were not for that infernal band, I had a splendid speech made up.”

The Morning News gave “equal time” to an unpopular viewpoint in its letters-to- the-editor section. The maverick reader absolved Santa Anna of any responsibility for the Alamo bloodbath and the Goliad massacre.

In Austin Gov. John Ireland had to wait until the prettiest baby and ugliest man were chosen. His pointed reference to the “many Spaniards and Mexicans, whose education and love of liberty caused them to revolt” must have furrowed the brows of those that believed the Texas Revolution was an Anglo-only affair.

Gov. Mark White sounded the same theme 100 years later, when he asked the sesquicentennial audience at the San Jacinto battleground to bow their heads in silent tribute to the dead on both sides. Had he forgotten that the Mexican casualties included the Alamo butchers and Goliad executioners?

For a limited time, order any two of “Tornadoes, Hurricanes & Other Disasters,””Secession & Civil War” or “Revolution & Revolution” for just $22.00 – a savings of $6.40 — from Bartee Haile at P.O. Box 152, Friendswood, TX 77549.

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