March 2 is Texas Independence Day, which commemorates the day Texas declared independence from Mexico and became a republic, March 2, 1836. Four days later, The Alamo fell, and cries of “Remember the Alamo!” rang throughout Texas as the fragile nation struggled to maintain sovereignty.
Texas remained a republic until 1845, when it joined the United States of America. In the nine years as its own nation, many settlers and soldiers moved to Texas, where they lived, fought, died, and made history.
Jim Wells of Fort Worth has researched his Woods family history. His third great-grandfather, Zadock Woods, was one of the “Old Three Hundred,” the families who received land grants in Stephen F. Austin’s first colony. Woods, moved to the Missouri territory from the Northeast, fought in the War of 1812, and moved to Texas in 1824.
In 1842, Captain Nicholas M. Dawson recruited Woods and his sons, Norman and Henry Gonzalvo, to fight against Mexican general Adrian Woll at Salado Creek. Zadock Woods was killed September 18 in the Dawson Massacre. His son Norman was captured and taken to a Mexican prison, where he died, leaving behind a wife and children. Henry Gonzalvo was captured but escaped. He was one of only three Texans to escape the massacre.
“He took his guard’s spear and killed him with it and escaped,” Wells said. “That spear is in the Alamo museum.”
Like Woods, Rita Bryan’s ancestor, Edward Burleson, moved to Texas and made history. He came from Missouri in 1830, after having also served in the War of 1812. Burleson became part of the governing body in early Texas, was named a lieutenant colonel in Stephen F. Austin’s army, replaced Austin as general of the army, and fought in the siege of Bexar. He was a Texas Ranger, commander at the Battle of San Jacinto, member of the Texas house and senate, Vice President of the Republic of Texas, and chairman of the Texas Annexation Committee of 1844. Burleson County is named for Edward Burleson.
Euless resident Beth Gathings’ ancestor is Thomas Jefferson Rusk, who got to Texas because he was pursuing men who had embezzled money from him. While he never got his money back, Rusk stayed in Texas and shaped its history. Rusk was inspector general of the volunteer army, and he signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836. He helped revise the state constitution, became Secretary of War, and fought in the Battle of San Jacinto. Later he was Chief Justice of the Republic’s Supreme Court and he was later involved in the annexation of Texas to the United States. He also served in the US Congress.
Another Texas Revolutionary war hero was John Frelan Winters, who is Anita Thetford’s great-great grandfather. John Winters, his parents, James and Rhoda Winters, and John’s many siblings moved to Texas from Tennessee in 1834. At the outbreak of the Texas Revolution, John Winters and his two brothers, William Carvin and James Washington Jr., enlisted in Sam Houston’s Army, just as their father, James, had served his country in the War of 1812.
John Winters served in the Battle of San Jacinto in Captain Ware’s 2nd Infantry Company, Sherman Division. He and his brothers received large tracts of land when the war ended. When he died at the age of 50, John Frelan Winters owned 6,500 acres of land and was a successful rancher. His name is inscribed on the monument at the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site.
Anita Thetford is proud to be part of the historic Winters family.
“I take great pride in knowing that my ancestor was one of the brave soldiers who defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto and established independence for Texas,” she said. Thetford said her family hosts reunions every year, where “at least 65 relatives from the surrounding area meet to reminisce about the early Texas pioneers and keep our illustrious heritage alive.”
There are many Texas Independence Day events throughout the state every year, including ceremonies, parades, golf tournaments, 5K runs, and much more.