A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Our Rich History: In March 1836, the Alamo fell; more to the story on our region’s connections to Texas

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

Every March, many who enjoy history can’t help but think of the Alamo. This little mission in San Antonio housed roughly 200 Texans fighting for independence from Mexico. The doomed, heroic struggle of Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Barrett Travis, and the other brave Texans at the Alamo, still captures our imagination.

Although the Alamo fell on March 6, 1836, the fight for independence was not over. Little known is the prominent role that the city of Cincinnati and some of her citizens played in the struggle for Texan independence.

If Jacob and Isaac Burnet sound familiar to you, it’s because the first elected president of the Republic of Texas was David Gouverneur Burnet. He was the son of Continental Congress member and Surgeon General, Dr. William Burnet, and the younger half-brother of Jacob and Isaac Burnet. Jacob, a prominent lawyer of Cincinnati whose political career spanned the territorial period through statehood, eventually served as a United States Senator from Ohio. Isaac Burnet was a long-serving Mayor of Cincinnati, starting in 1819.

The “Twin Sisters,” gifts of Cincinnati to the Texas Revolution.

After studying law in Cincinnati, David Burnet arrived in Texas in 1826. Hoping to get rich by speculating in land, Burnet returned to Ohio in 1827 to find settlers and financial support for his land plans. He found neither and was forced to sell the rights to his Texas property.

Settling on a smaller parcel of land in Texas, Burnet constructed a sawmill on the San Jacinto River in 1831. By 1835, it was apparent that the mill was a failure, so he sold it in June of that year. While Burnet was failing in the Texas milling business, a different kind of Texan “agent,” Francis Smith, was succeeding in Cincinnati.

On November 17, 1835, a concerned group of Cincinnatians agreed to assist Smith and the Texans in their bid for independence. Since the official stance of the United States government was that of neutrality, this aid would have to be discreet. Funds were raised so that the good citizens of Cincinnati could ship “hollow ware” to help the Texans. The Cincinnati “hollow ware” sent to Texas was made by the Hawkins and Tatum Foundry and was, in actuality, two six-pound cannons and all necessary associated equipment. Eventually known as the “Twin Sisters,” the artillery pieces saw their first action in the struggle for Texan independence at the Battle of San Jacinto, April 21, 1836. The cannons helped to route the Mexican troops and secured Texas independence with each blast.

David Burnet (Photos provided)

Cincinnati wasn’t finished putting her mark on the Texas Revolution, though. By this time, David Gouverner Burnet was the ad-interim President of the Republic of Texas. Since the delegates at the Convention of 1836 did not wish to choose someone associated with the actual delegation, Burnet was elected by a seven-vote majority. His term was not popular with the public. Soon after being sworn-in as President, he ordered the Texas capital, Washington-on-the-Brazos, evacuated and moved to Harrisburg. While Burnet was leading the retreat of the Texas government, Sam Houston was leading the retreat of the Texas Army. Both questioned the motives of the other, leading to acrimony between the two.

Another unpopular move was Burnet’s declaration of “martial law,” forcing all able-bodied men to serve in the Texas Army. The final straw was his handling of Mexican dictator, General Santa Anna. Blood lust ran high among Texans following massacres at places such as the Alamo and Goliad. Many wanted Santa Anna executed on the spot. Burnet would not allow it. Instead, he promised the dictator safe passage back to Mexico in return for signing the Treaty of Velasco, which declared Texas independent and its southern boundary the Rio Grande River. To save his own skin, Santa Anna immediately agreed. It would be 1837 before he was returned to Mexico. The Mexican government later repudiated the agreement.

Jacob Burnet

Former Cincinnati newspaper editor, James Allen, and his 75 Buckeye Rangers arrived in Texas on June 29, 1836. This volunteer unit was raised in and around Cincinnati. Fundraisers were held to pay for supplies. The Cincinnati militia district lent the military equipment. Allen was a personal friend of the owner of The Cincinnati Republican newspaper, Richard Disney. Disney had perished at the Goliad Massacre. These “emigrants” hoped to join the fray and be rewarded with Texas land. Too late for the decisive Battle of Jacinto, the Rangers hoped to see action elsewhere. Instead, they came to the aid of a former Cincinnatian.

Anger over President David Burnet’s refusal to execute Mexican dictator, Santa Anna, boiled over into armed insurrection. Around 200 men led by Colonel Henry Millard went to Velasco to force Burnet to resign and, most likely, to pursue execution of Santa Anna. Allen and the Buckeye Rangers quickly stepped up and became the president’s personal security detachment until cooler heads prevailed. Except for James Allen, the Buckeye Rangers accepted land grants and settled in Texas.

The contributions of the “Queen City of the West” to the cause of Texas and its struggle for independence cannot be understated. Cincinnati was represented at its founding by David Gouverner Burnet, in battle by the “Twin Sisters,” and finally, Cincinnati helped preserve newfound Texan independence with the efforts of the Buckeye Rangers. Later, when the United States declared war on Mexico in the late 1840s, the city of Cincinnati would again answer the call for aid to Mexico, with both troops and supplies.

It seems there’s a little bit of Cincinnati in the heart of Texas.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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