Texas HistoryToday in Texas History: John Henry Moore Leads Texian Militia at Battle of Gonzales

In the spark that lit the fuse of the Texas Revolution, John Henry Moore and his band of militiamen stood athwart a dispatch of Mexican soldiers hellbent on confiscating a small cannon. The Texian's message was clear: "Come and Take It."
October 2, 2020
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Origin stories are often odd, convoluted, and eccentric because life is often odd, convoluted, and eccentric. To that end, a small part of the Texas Revolution can be traced back to a hatred of Latin, and the boy who fled Tennessee to escape it.

John Henry Moore led the ragtag Texian militia at the nearly bloodless and rather anticlimactic Battle of Gonzales — of “Come and Take It” fame.

But his path to Gonzales was a strange one.

Growing up in Rome, TN, Moore was like many of the men who eventually played a role in the Texas Revolution: young, brash, and in a hurry.

In 1818, after becoming burned out by studying Latin at college, Moore absconded to Texas — only to be dragged by his ear back to Tennessee by his father.

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But even a father’s austerity could not squash the allure of Texas as Moore later left Tennessee for the state in which he’d spend the rest of his life.

Moore was granted a league, 4,428 acres of land away from the river, and a labor, 177 acres of land adjacent to the river together with his partner Thomas Gray. The pair were part of Stephen F. Austin’s original 300 Texans.

The two farmed and ranched their parcel together along with Gray’s daughters and the four slaves between them.

In modern day La Grange, Moore built a twin blockhouse and dubbed it, fitting and pithily, “Moore’s Fort.” He married Eliza Cummins and together they had seven children, one of whom died in infancy while another lived to see a new century.

His first military action pitted him against American Indian tribes, such as the Waco and Tawakoni tribes, in the years that would lead up to the Texas Revolution.

As tensions bubbled up between Texas and Mexico, and not one to hold his tongue, Moore unabashedly backed Texian independence. So outspoken was Moore that his arrest was ordered by Martín Perfecto de Cos, Mexican President Antonio López de Santa Anna’s enforcer sent to curb the Texian unrest.

In the burgeoning fall of 1835, Moore was dispatched to Gonzales as Mexican forces rushed to confiscate a cannon from the Texians — one of enduring renown.

Accounts vary of just who came up with the iconic “Come and Take It” banner — a simple cannon insignia sandwiched by a lone star and the words which bear its name. But one of the theories holds that it was Moore’s brainchild.

Regardless, the banner would not be Moore’s most significant contribution to the spark that lit the fuse of the Texas Revolution.

Rather than sit back and wait, Moore ordered the militia attack the Mexican Army at dawn, taking them by relative surprise. The attack, coupled with the cannon’s boom, caused Captain Francisco Castañeda to request a ceasefire, upon which he and Moore conferred.

The main divide in Mexico and its territories was between its government’s, led by Santa Anna, preference for centralization and those outside the capital city’s, like the Texians, preference for federalism.

Disdain for a far-off power’s controlling edicts is a frequent theme to revolutions. The Texan one, just as the American Revolution 60 years prior, exemplified this as much as any.

Castañeda informed Moore he was a federalist but had to follow orders. And so, Moore returned to his line and ordered the Texians to fire on the Mexican regulars. Further following orders, Castañeda did what he could to avoid open conflict, retreating after suffering two losses to his opposition’s zero.

This enraged Santa Anna, something he viewed as a personal affront, who then ordered the full-scale invasion of Texas — which directly fed his ordered brutality at the Alamo and Goliad.

Moore was elected a colonel of the Texian Army and served in the new nation’s council of war during the revolution. A field report by Moore shows one of his responsibilities: head counting.

Austin even tasked him with forming his own pistol and double-barrel shotgun-wielding cavalry unit.

Moore remained in military service after Texas secured its independence at the Battle of San Jacinto, defending, at the personal direction of then-President Sam Houston, San Antonio from Indian and Mexican attack.

An 1842 letter from Moore to Edward Burleson, congratulating him on being selected Brigadier General for his volunteer force, shows the worries Texans faced of a potential second invasion by the Mexican forces.

This conflict would culminate in the Mexican-American War only a few years later, after which Texas joined the United States of America.

Later in life, in 1861, Moore joined the now-fabled 8th Cavalry, dubbed “Terry’s Texas Rangers” but was too aged to fight. Instead, he sold war bonds. During the Civil War, Moore lost much of his possessions — mostly due to the freeing of his slaves.

In 1880, Moore died and was buried in his family cemetery just north of La Grange, but his grave marker was incorrectly dated 1877.

Moore planted roots in Texas and played a direct part in the reshaping of the American continent. It’s a legacy enshrined in the iconic banner which beamed overhead his militiamen in Gonzales 185 years ago today.

And it’s a legacy bookended by the peculiarity life often produces. What began with a schoolboy’s scorn ended with a graveyard gaffe, yet the pages in between convey lightyears more about John Henry Moore.

But such is life.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.