Capitol Comment: Texas' 175-year legacy of freedom and patriotism

U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison Mar. 3, 2011, 4:40am

One-hundred-and-seventy-five years ago, 59 brave men risked their lives to boldly put forward their belief that Texas must and ought to be a free nation. The signers, our state's forefathers, knew that by putting their name on this new declaration of independence, they were also putting their families and livelihoods in peril. But they were willing to risk it all for liberty.

I recently participated in Washington-on-the-Brazos' 175th anniversary celebration of the Texas Declaration of Independence. It was truly a special occasion that brought together the descendents of all 59 signers and thousands of proud Texans to commemorate one of the most pivotal events in Texas' long legacy of freedom and patriotism. My great-great-grandfather, Charles S. Taylor was willing to sign the document that secured our freedom, and I am humbled to occupy the Senate seat from Texas that was first held by another signer, Thomas J. Rusk. They were both from Nacogdoches, Texas' oldest town.

In the time leading up to the Texas Revolution, colonists were living under the centralized power of the Mexican government. Its steel grip on trade, religion, and taxation, conflicted with the yearning for independence that drew early American settlers to Texas.

The accounts of our revolution have become some of the most dramatic stories of patriotism in both Texas and American history. We remember the sacrifice of Colonel William Barret Travis, Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, and the 189 men bravely defending the Alamo against Santa Anna and his thousands of trained Mexican troops. Outnumbered by more than10 to one, for 13 days of glory, the Alamo defenders bought critical time for General Sam Houston, knowing they would never leave the mission alive. Had they not laid down their lives in that seminal battle, Sam Houston's victory at San Jacinto just two months later would not have been possible. And Texas' freedom might not have been won.

The signers of the Texas Declaration also used their voices, professions, and positions of influence to wage critical battles in the revolution. In 1836, my great-great-grandfather, Charles Taylor was land commissioner in East Texas, responsible for issuing titles and collecting fees. He served as alcalde, essentially the mayor, of Nacogdoches Territory. Thomas Rusk was serving as the secretary of war for the Texan insurgents. Rusk asked Taylor to allow the fees entrusted to him to be used to purchase weapons for the Texas army. Taylor ultimately agreed, believing that the people who paid the taxes wanted and deserved the freedom to govern themselves. With this money, Texan citizens were armed for the battle. They had no formal training and there was not enough money for them to have uniforms - but what they did have was the will to fight for something greater than themselves.

There was another contingent of brave Texans whose involvement in the revolution was significant, but sometimes overlooked: women who had to fight to keep their families together, or even alive.

The Runaway Scrape of 1836 swept up nearly every family in Central and East Texas. My great-great-grandmother Anna Maria Taylor was one of the thousands of refugees fleeing Eastward from the Mexican advance. With her husband Charles Taylor attending the convention of delegates at Washington-on-the-Brazos, Anna Maria, like other mothers in the Runaway Scrape, struggled to escape on foot. Tragically, and like so many other mothers of the time, she lost all four of her children during that time of adversity. But, the trials of the revolution were not the final chapters of their lives. After the War of Independence ended, Anna Maria and Charles went back to Nacogdoches, where she bore nine more children.

Thomas Rusk pointed out that, "the men of Texas deserved much credit, but more was due the women. Armed men facing a foe could not but be brave; but the women, with their little children around them, without means of defense or power to resist, faced danger and death with unflinching courage."

In order to secure our bright future, we must preserve our rich history. It is important every generation of Texans pause to remember the patriots of the Texas Revolution: each soldier who gave his life in the fight for independence; the 59 men who put their lives in danger by signing that declaration of independence; and every man, woman, and child who struggled to make Texas the marvelous place it is today.

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