The Horse Marines by
how much Texas history has occurred on horseback it isn’t surprising to learn
that one of the Republic’s greatest naval victories was achieved by 20 or so armed
and mounted rangers known to history as the Texas Horse Marines. |
little-known band of Texas patriots, under the command of Maj. Isaac Watts Burton,
is believed to be the only Marine unit in history to receive a tomahawk as standard
issue and perhaps the only one to capture three ships while riding horses and
without firing a shot.
The “soldiers at sea” in this instance had been
dispatched to the Texas coast by Gen. Thomas J. Rusk, who feared that Mexican
troops might land on the Texas coast. This was in June of 1836, three months after
decisive victory at San Jacinto but the Mexican army was still in Texas. A
Mexican insurrection was very much on the minds of the new Texas government.
patrolling an area between the mouth of the Guadalupe River and Mission Bay, Burton
got word of a suspicious vessel sailing into Copano
Bay. Burton and his rangers hurried to the area and issued distress signals
to the ship, a schooner named Watchman, which may have also run aground on a sandbar.
The rangers did not respond when the ship hoisted American and then Texan colors,
but responded to the Mexican colors.
Thinking the signals came from distressed
Mexicans, the captain of the Watchman and four of his sailors rowed ashore in
a small boat to aid their countrymen. Imagine their surprise when about 20 Texans
on horseback emerged from their hiding places to capture them.
the Rangers assumed the uniforms of the captured Mexicans and, accompanied by
a dozen compatriots, rowed back to the Watchman. The crew, thinking the boat contained
five of their men and a dozen or so distressed Mexicans, permitted them to come
aboard. The ship was seized without a fight.
This tactic turned out to
be as fortuitous as it was clever. The Watchman, though American-owned, was loaded
with provisions for the Mexican Army.
Figuring this would not be the last
such ship to sail along the Texas coast, Burton and his men waited. The Watchman
was still at Copano Bay
when two more ships loaded with supplies for the Mexican Army were sighted. The
Watchman’s captain was persuaded (gently we’re sure) to lure those ships ashore,
where the Horse Marines again captured the crews and seized the ships.
On July 28, the Kentucky Gazette published a letter describing the incident.
“On yesterday, news came of the capture of three Mexican vessels by a troop of
horses – these you will call ‘Horse Marines’ I suppose.” The letter was written
by Edward J. Wilson of Kentucky, who had come to Texas to fight in the battle
Burton’s rangers, the original horse marines, are sometimes
referred to as members of the Texas Marine Corps but they were volunteers and
not officially part of the corps. They made quite a sight when they sailed with
the ships into Velasco
with their beloved horses on board, making Wilson’s “Horse Marines” an apt description.
The three captured ships along with supplies valued at $25,000 were later
taken to Galveston.
Texas kept the cargo and gave it to the Texas army but all three vessels were
owned by Americans and were returned to their owners.
September 7, 2009 Column
Topics: Texas History | Texas
| Online Magazine | Texas
Towns | Features | Columns