In the deep fall of 1835, I walked to my mama’s cabin on St. Louis Street to harvest the bounty of nuts from Daddy’s pecan tree. The woods whistled with a cold wind that sounded like a warning. I wondered as I walked to town, What will the news be today? The Tavern hosted informants every night. They were spies bringing reports of Mexican troops discovered in the woods from the Guadalupe all the way to the Gulf coast. The Mexicans could smell the insubordination carried by men dedicated to Texian justice.
We heard the stories. Back as early as May, we heard about the sacking of the city of Zacatecas. Two-thousand civilians—not one in uniform, just common farmers, their children and wives—had been ravaged with the worst kind of Mexican debauchery. It was a raid inspired by rumors of rebellion. The Mexican Army matched the Comanche that day with their wickedness in Zacatecas. And in September, even closer to home, some Mexicans broke into a storeroom and beat in the brains of the farmer boy they found in there.
Our hearts went out to the victims, and we shuddered alongside our neighbors. We knew every community was prey to Indians or raiders of any persuasion. But so far, Gonzales restrained from retaliation. We wanted to believe these assaults were exceptions, carried out by renegade scouts acting on their own. The battle for our cannon was our personal fight. I secretly hoped the rest of the stories would continue to be about other places. Gonzales had enough trouble at home that year. We left other folks’ business to other folks.
Stephen Austin, a highly respected man, was now out of his Mexican jail cell. He had been a good friend of the deceased Mr. DeWitt. They had a history together, including being partners in this notion of settling Tejas. Austin knew the land. He knew the Mexican leaders, and he knew the Mexican law. He also knew that without DeWitt, Gonzales needed him. The settlers drafted Austin to organize an effort to control all the threats. Loose as it was, a rebel force was forming with no real obligation other than their sense of loyalty.
One night late in October, Mr. Seguin came in the tavern. “They come into San Antonio by the hundreds!” he said. “They keep a whole arsenal in their headquarters, that ol’ Spanish mission near the town square.”
That night the news stirred more reaction. The Gonzales men, under the influence of either corn liquor or their own bravado, decided to form a fighting unit.
John Benjamin was in the tavern that night. When he came home, he said, “Sydnie, I need your broom.” I knew he was a bit tipsy, but I gave him the broom. He propped it by the front door, muttered a few words, and we went to bed. I never suspected what he planned.
The next morning instead of going to the field he went to his barn and sharpened a file. He removed the broom straw, put a long notch in the broomstick and fitted the file in as if it was a blade. In a short while he was stooped over at the well pump wetting a length of leather strapping. He pulled the strapping tight, wrapped it around the joint and tucked the tail into the last loop.
“That’ll tighten up when she dries,” he said satisfied with himself.
“What are you doing?” I wanted to know.
“Sydna, I’ll get you another broom.” He sheepishly held out the straw from the sweeping end of my broom. Then he turned the long wooden pole in his hands and stabbed it out into the air. “Austin is gonna need us, and we’re gonna go. We’re gonna be the Gonzales Lancers,” he said.
I just laughed, but he looked at me, all serious.
“Come with me to town. You can visit with your mama, and we’ll see how this goes over.”
I had to go, just to know what he was up to.
John Benjamin carried his broomstick upright, the blade pointed skyward. I was quiet as we walked, remembering the day my brother and I evaded the Indian boy fishing with his spear and his dog and the skunk at the river. I wondered if my husband was having a game with his drinking buddies or if this lance had a more serious meaning.
“What you thinking about, girl?” He smiled and shot a look down at me.
For a precious moment we were courting again, just walking in the cool October air without a care.
“I’m just wondering what they’re going to say when you come into town with that broom stick.”
“Well, Missy, you weren’t there last night. You don’t know about the Lancers.” He grinned and broke into a run.
We were already crossing St. Andrews Street, and then we followed St. Joseph Street toward the other side of town. Much to my surprise, the men we met along the way hailed him.
“Hey, Lancer, that looks fine!”
“See? I told you,” he said smugly. He let me catch up to him.
We turned on St. Lawrence Street so John Benjamin could go to the livery. I went on to the store on Water Street.
“I don’t know what it’s about,” I told Nita.
“I tell you,” she said. “Last night they all feel like they got to fight.”
Then she told me how one man got up on the bar with her broom and told the men to go home, get their wives’ brooms, and make a lance like my husband did. They planned to form a unit and call themselves the Gonzales Lancers. They wanted to be ready so when Austin needed them, they’d be more organized. It was serious business. I went to my mama’s cabin.
At noon, my brother and my husband joined us in Mama’s cabin. “Everyone in the county wants a file sharpened.” My brother poured himself a cup of coffee. “This Lance Brigade is the thing,” he said as he grabbed a biscuit and propped a foot behind him against the wall.
“We gotta go,” John Benjamin told me. The reason for his urgency to leave became clear as soon as we stepped out onto the trot of Mama’s cabin. “We gonna go to San Antone,” he said. “All the Lancers.” He was walking briskly, as if something was left on the fire.
I was having trouble keeping up with him. “Why? Why now?”
“Because, we gotta cut this off now. The Mexicans are buildin’ up a force. We tried to make a point with the cannon, but they are still determined to give us grief.” He stopped in the middle of the street. “You heard what they did in Zacatecas. Word is Santa Anna’s Army is taking over every village. If they take San Antone, we’ll be helpless. The Tejanos don’t want that. Nobody around here wants a dictatorship.” He stood looking at me. Then he started walking again, each step of his boots pounding the earth. “Austin sent word he’s coming through here. We gonna be ready to go with him and cut this off now.”
They all met the next day down in the town square. It seemed like a snake hunt to me. No real reason, just looking for trouble to flex some muscle and air some grievances. I wondered if it would make any difference—get anybody’s farm papers or stop the Indians from burning down barns and scalping.
October was a dormant season in between crops. The work in the fields was not so demanding. If they had to go find trouble, this was the best time of the year to get it off their collective chests. In my third month of expectancy, I really didn’t want my husband going down to San Antonio, but I figured better to go and get back, so he’d be there in the spring for the baby.
The next two weeks were dedicated to the planning and drawing out of folks wanting to join the Gonzales Lance Brigade. I kept hoping the glamour would wear thin and they would change their minds. But they didn’t.
Austin really did come through Gonzales with about a hundred men. Mr. Austin and his officers stayed in the hotel. The volunteers camped all over creation. They left town the last week of October. The Gonzales men were all holding a lance, and the little cannon was riding on a new cart with oversized wheels. The COME AND TAKE IT flag proudly waved from a pole on the cannon cart. It was a sight to remember. Nobody thought they’d be gone very long.