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Historian shares gripping tale from Texas’ early days

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    Harry Krenek shares some Texas history on Texas Independence Day.
  • Article Image Alt Text
    The audience listens closely to the suspenseful stories. Photo by Julianne Hodges

As Texas historian Harry Krenek shared the story of a tragic battle in the early days of the Texas republic, the audience listened attentively, captivated by the tale, with the occasional groans at the painful descriptions of battle or chuckles at Krenek’s humorous observations.

During the Elgin Historical Society’s Texas Independence Day program on March 2, Krenek shared the story of the Dawson Massacre, during which a group of 53 men, mostly from nearby Fayette County, faced Mexican soldiers in September 1842.

Texas had won its independence in 1836, but Mexico sent an army to the new republic twice after that. During the second invasion in September of 1842, an army of 1,300 soldiers from Mexico seized San Antonio. Since Texas didn’t have an army, volunteers began heading towards San Antonio to fight the Mexican army.

The group from Fayette County began heading towards San Antonio but were caught by the Mexican cavalry in an open prairie. The militia took cover in a mesquite thicket, and the Mexican soldiers began shooting at them with a cannon. All but a few were killed or taken prisoner.

Krenek shared stories about a handful of the people involved in the fight. One of these people was Samuel Maverick, a lawyer and rancher from San Antonio and the origin of the word “maverick.” He was in San Antonio when the Mexican army arrived, took the city’s officials captive and imprisoned them in Mexico.

Another famous figure, who was connected with Maverick but fought in the battle, was Griffin, a slave of the Maverick family. When the San Antonio court was taken captive, Griffin told Maverick’s wife what happened, and she asked him to go back to San Antonio and help Maverick. Griffin then joined with the militia company from Fayette; when they were attacked by the Mexican cavalry, Griffin refused to surrender until he was killed and even kept fighting with a mesquite limb after his weapon was taken.

According to Krenek, the best-known family involved in the battle was the Woods family.

During the battle, one of the Woods men, Norman, was wounded. His brother, Henry Gonzalvo, tried to get him to leave, but Norman was too hurt to leave.

After Gonzalvo left Norman behind and ran from the mesquite thicket, he was pursued by a Mexican cavalryman who tried to kill him with a lance. Gonzalvo Woods grabbed the soldier’s lance, pulled him from the horse, killed the soldier with his own lance and escaped on the soldier’s horse. That lance is now in the museum at the Alamo.

“What happened to these men during the battle is an example of, even though you win your independence, you sometimes have to constantly defend your independence,” Krenek said.