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2017-11-30

DRT Texas Honor Day: Siege of Béxar

Contributed

John York, Indian fighter and soldier in the Texas army regular infantry, participated in the Siege of Béxar in early December, 1835. York had settled his Kentucky family in 1829 near San Felipe de Austin, future site of Industry, Texas, just before tensions between Mexico and Texas began to boil.
York participated in searches of the Frio and Medina river areas for Mexican reinforcements while Texan forces prepared to lay siege to a Mexican army in San Antonio de Béxar. The events of December 9 would become known as the Siege of Béxar and are memorialized each December by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas as a Texas Honor Day.
The Siege of Béxar began in October 1835, as forward Texan positions were established along the San Antonio River, and the Mexican army under General Martín Perfecto de Cos was driven back into San Antonio and the Alamo areas. Tactical engagements continued through October when Jim Bowie and James Fannin with 90 men were attacked by Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea and 275 soldiers south of San Antonio. The Texans defended their position along the bank of the San Antonio River and captured one cannon; however, men like York would find themselves in winter conditions and short of supplies that would plague morale on both sides.
Texans established camps above and below San Antonio while their numbers grew to an army of 600. Travis captured 300 Mexican mules and horses in early November, so Austin pitched a plan to attack the Mexican fortifications in San Antonio. But those plans were called off, and diplomatic duties soon called Austin away. Texas troops then selected Edward Burleson as their new leader, and John York would serve as his captain during the Siege of Béxar.
Intelligence from a Mexican officer revealed a declining Mexican morale, so a new plan of attack formed. While General Burleson scouted and protected the Texans’ camp and supplies, Benjamin R. Milam and William Gordon Cooke, with 300 volunteers, attacked the town. This tactic forced General Martín Perfecto de Cos to divide his forces between the town and the Alamo.
Before dawn on Dec. 5, James C. Neill distracted the Mexican forces with artillery fire on the Alamo while Francis W. Johnson seized the Veramendi and Garza houses north of the San Antonio plaza. During that night, Texans destroyed some buildings and dug trenches to connect the houses they occupied. Next, the Texans captured the Navarro house just before Colonel Ugartechea received 600 reinforcements; however, only 170 were experienced soldiers.
General Burleson sent 100 men into town to join the Texan force while General Cos sought to concentrate his troops at the Alamo, but the combination of winter conditions, short supplies and deserting soldiers resulted in Cos’ request for surrender terms on the morning of Dec 9. The Mexican general was allowed to retire southward because neither army had supplies to sustain a large group of prisoners. The Siege of Béxar had ended, but for men like John York, the history of the Republic was only beginning.
Following the Siege of Béxar, John York served Texas as an agent to raise a mounted company to fight Indians in the Mill Creek and Colorado River areas. He also served as Austin County sheriff and commissioner for DeWitt County before agreeing to sell his half interest in a league of land for $1 cash where the town of Yorktown was established. His life ended in a campaign against Indians in October 1848, just 13 years following the Siege of Béxar.
Daughters of the Republic of Texas salute all who fought in the Siege of Béxar and those who continue to serve our state and nation today. Caddel-Smith is thankful for all those who have sacrificed so much and wishes its friends and neighbors a blessed Merry Christmas and a hopeful New Year.
The next DRT meeting will be at First State Bank of Uvalde on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018, at 10:30 a.m.
This Siege of Béxar story can be found in Handbook of Texas Online, Alwyn Barr; “Bexar, Siege Of” and John York’s story is in the Handbook of Texas Online, Ruby Farrar Pridgen; “York, John,” both stories at http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/qeb01.