The Patriot & The Dictator

The face of our state is a story book, and it’s stories are told in the names we’ve given to places.

Take a dot on the map in Limestone County for example. Whether you pronounce it Ma-HAY-a or Ma-HAIR, this home to roughly 7000 Texan souls is named for Jose Antonio Mexia.

Mexia was something of a prodigy in his political and military career. By the age of thirty-two he was a senator and a brigadier general.

When Santa Anna switched sides from Federalist to Centralist in 1834, Mexia had the same problems with his actions as the rowdies up in Texas who were beginning to grouse. In fact, he was about a year ahead of them in standing up to the dictator, and when things didn’t go his way, found himself exiled in New Orleans.

The following year, on the day before the Consultation met at San Felipe de Austin to form a provisional government for Texas, Mexia boarded the schooner Mary Jane in New Orleans. On board were 150 volunteers with a declared destination of Matagorda.

The men thought they were bound for glory in Texas, but once underway, Mexia informed them they were actually headed for Tampico.

Taking that port city, he explained, would fracture Santa Anna’s hold on power and they would combine forces with Federalist rebels in Tamaulipas and march on the capital. There would be rich rewards for the victorious gringos.

On November 14, the Mary Jane arrived at Tampico and promptly ran aground. Mexia’s men waded ashore and captured a small fort protecting the port. 

The next day, at the Battle of Tampico, they were on their way to whooping the Centralist garrison, but ran short of powder and had to retreat. Mexia and the bulk of the force commandeered an American schooner and set sail for Texas. But thirty-one of the American volunteers were captured. 

A trial was held, they were convicted of piracy, and shot.

When no uproar came from the United States, Santa Anna realized he had found a useful tool in labeling rebels as pirates. In December of 1835, Santa Anna’s Defense Minister, Jose Maria Tornel, announced a decree by the dictator’s puppet congress that stated any armed foreigners entering Mexican territories would be deemed pirates and punished as such.

This is the infamous Tornel Decree which Santa Anna used to justify the Goliad Massacre, where Fannin’s men, whether foreign or citizens of Mexico, were slaughtered without trial and without any idea of what was about to happen to them. 

When Santa Anna was take prisoner after the Battle of San Jacinto and pleaded for his life to be spared, General Houston asked how he dared make such a request after what he had ordered at Goliad. 

The dictator, with tears in his eyes, lamented that he could do nothing for Fannin and his men. The congress had passed a law and he had no choice but to follow it. Houston was disgusted but spared the “Napoleon of the West”, stating:

“Texas, to be respected must be polite. Santa Anna living can be of incalculable benefit to Texas. Santa Anna dead, would just be another dead Mexican.”

Alas, Santa Anna learned nothing from Houston’s example.

Three years later, back in power, and once again fighting Federalist rebels, Santa Anna captured General Mexia at Vera Cruz. Instead of sparing his life, he allowed Mexia three hours to write his final letters before facing the firing squad.

When told of the dictator’s generosity, Mexia said, “If Santa Anna had fallen into my power, I would have conceded him only three minutes.”
Texas Quote

“The loss of Texas will inevitably result in the loss of New Mexico and the Californias.”
– Jose Maria Tornel

Categories: Texas Revolution