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THE SITUATION IN MEXICO.
In his conversation with his neighbour, Mr. Radbury had mentioned Santa Anna, and it may be as well to look for a moment at this remarkable personage, who at that time, and for several years to follow, was the most important man in Mexico.
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was born in Jalapa, in 1795, and entered the army at an early age. With Iturbide he joined in the revolution and came out a brigadier-general, and was made commandant of Vera Cruz. A few years later he organised a revolt and overthrew the man he had aided, and in 1828 he deposed Pedraza and put Guerrero in his place.
So much of war would have satisfied any ordinary man, but it did not satisfy General Santa Anna, who was cruel and cunning to the last degree, and prided himself on being "The Napoleon of the West," as he styled himself. He wanted Mexico for his own, and in 1829 he defeated a large division of the Spanish army, that had landed at Tampico for the purpose of reconquering the country.
Having saved the Confederation, as he put it, Santa Anna considered that he had more of a right to Mexico than ever, and in 1832 he got into a wrangle with Bustamente, who was then occupying the Mexican presidential chair, with the result that Bustamente was banished by Santa Anna's followers, who forthwith made the general president. At this Santa Anna went still further by dissolving the Mexican congress, which action made him virtually a dictator. How it was that the Mexicans at large stood such treatment is one of the political mysteries of the age that has never been explained.
Yet Santa Anna's dictatorship, if such it may be called, was a position full of peril. There was constant wrangling in nearly every state of the Confederation, and in a number of places there were actual outbreaks, which might have resulted seriously had Santa Anna not nipped them promptly in the bud. Stephen Austin had gone to Mexico to further the interests of the Texans, and been there imprisoned for political reasons. This helped along the war between Texas and Mexico, which was bound to burst sooner or later.
The first dark cloud came in the passage of a decree reducing the number of the militia to one man for every five hundred inhabitants, and requiring all the remaining armed persons to give up their weapons. The Texans refused to submit, stating that they needed all the protection they could get, on account of the Indians and because of the desperadoes who flocked into the territory. In the meantime Mexico had sent many of her jailbirds to settle in Texas.
While this was going on, during the summer of 1835, Austin returned from his imprisonment in Mexico, and was given a grand public banquet at Brazoria. In his speech there he counselled moderation, but declared that the civil government was going to pieces, and that the Texans must take care of themselves. He still believed in Santa Anna and his golden promises, hoping against hope for a peaceful change for the better.
At San Antonio were stationed five hundred Mexican soldiers, under Colonel Ugartchea, and, according to orders, this command commenced to disarm such of the Texans as had failed to comply with the decree regarding firearms. At Gonzales, fifty miles to the eastward, the settlers had a four-pounder, a brass cannon given to them by the government for protection against the Indians.
"The people of Gonzales must give up the cannon," said Colonel Ugartchea. "Tell them to send it to Bexar without delay."
"We need the cannon," said the people of Gonzales. "It's the only cannon we have along the whole river front."
"Santa Anna's orders must be obeyed," was the Mexican colonel's comment, and he despatched a force of one hundred and fifty dragoons, under Captain Castinado, to take the cannon by force. The Mexican soldiers arrived at the river on September 28th. On the opposite side of the stream was Gonzales, but the ferry-boat was on that side, too.
The Mexican commander waved for the boat, but no attention was paid to his movement. Then a horn was blown, but still the Texans paid no attention.
"We will march to the ford," cried the Mexican captain, and the dragoons started. But on reaching the ford, half a mile below the town, they found themselves confronted by Captain Albert Martin, a merchant of the place, backed up by several dozens of determined-looking Texans.
The alarm had now gone forth, and express riders rode their steeds almost to death to summon the people of Bastrop, Victoria, and other places. Soon the settlers began to flock in, all on horseback and armed, ready to do or die for Texas, as the case might be. With the number were Mr. Radbury and Dan. Dan had been to Gonzales to buy some household stores, and his father, hearing of the uprising, had hastened down the river to find his son and see that no harm befell him. This had left Ralph home alone, saving for the company of Pompey Shuck, a negro, who had, during the summer, followed Mr. Radbury from the old home in Georgia and insisted that he be taken in and set to work, "jess as on de ole plantation, Mars' Radbury." Big Foot, the Indian, had departed some time before Pompey's arrival.
"This looks like a fight, father," observed Dan, as his parent joined him on the bank of the stream, where Dan had gone, following Captain Martin.
"It certainly looks like trouble," answered Mr. Radbury, as he gazed at the Mexican dragoons with anxiety. "That cannon may be responsible for a whole lot of bloodshed."
"Well, they haven't any right to disarm us," returned the youth, determinedly. "You'll fight first, won't you?"
"Perhaps I will; it will depend upon circumstances," was the non-committal reply. Amos Radbury was no "fire-eater," and, like Austin, preferred a settlement without a passage at arms.
At the ford the Mexican commander had ridden into the water to consult with the leader of the Texans.
"I am sent here to obtain the cannon you are holding," he said. "There is my order," and he held it out.
"We don't dispute the order, captain," was the reply. "But we consider it unjust to ask us to give up a piece that we may need against the Indians."
"If you will give up the cannon you will be protected."
"We haven't been protected for a long while. We have had to protect ourselves."
"You are thinking of using that cannon against the government," was the angry remark of the Mexican commander.
"We are not thinking of doing so,--but it may be we will be forced to do so," was the significant reply.
"I am coming over, and I demand the cannon," went on the Mexican leader, pompously.
"If you dare to come over, it will be at the peril of your life," was the calm return.
The Mexican commander continued to bluster and threaten, but all to no purpose, and at length he withdrew his force from the ford, and went into temporary camp in a valley opposite to Gonzales.
It was now night, and the town was at a white heat. Meetings were held in half a dozen places, and while some counselled delay others were for forcing the fighting. In the end, however, it was decided to wait, and in the meantime pickets were sent out to watch the Mexicans so that they might not enter Gonzales by stealth.
"I wonder if they will come over to-night," said Dan, as he and his father picked their way along the river to where forty or fifty horsemen who owned ranches in the vicinity had pitched their headquarters, the taverns in the town being already overcrowded.
"I doubt it, Dan. We have fully as many men, if not more, and a Mexican soldier never loves to fight in the dark."
"Perhaps the Mexican captain has sent back for reinforcements."
"That may be. Well, all we can do is to watch and be on guard."
By this it will be seen that Mr. Radbury was as anxious as any one to keep the cannon. He had refused to give up any of his firearms, and had buried two of his pistols under the floor of the cabin home.
The night wore away without any alarm sounding, and the next day the Mexican commander sent another demand for the cannon, and on the day following he asked that a time be set for a general conference regarding the now precious bit of property.
The conference was refused, and instead he was asked to vacate his position so close to Gonzales. This he would not do, and all of the settlers now agreed that he was awaiting reinforcements from Bexar.
"He will wait for Colonel Ugartchea to come up with the balance of the command, and then wipe us out altogether," said one.
"Or perhaps he is waiting for Cos to come up," said another. It was known that the Mexican general, Cos, was on the march for San Antonio de Bexar with six hundred additional troops for the garrison of that city.
The morning of the first of October came foggy and disagreeable. But little could be seen beyond the river bank, and it was not known if the Mexican command was advancing, retreating, or standing still. Again the leaders of the Texans met, and it was unanimously decided not to delay action longer, but if the Mexicans were still on the opposite side of the stream to compel them to move away before their force could be increased. Volunteers were called for to cross the river with the brass cannon and begin an attack, and a hundred and sixty Texans rode to the front for that purpose. Mr. Radbury was too loyal-hearted a man to hang back, and as Dan begged very hard to go too, he was permitted to join half a dozen young men who brought up the rear.
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