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San Jacinto Monument

by Mike Cox

"Most people think the towering star-topped limestone monument, built during the Texas Centennial in 1936, is the only San Jacinto monument. Actually, it’s only the biggest."
Mike Cox
Two stone obelisks rise over the San Jacinto battlefield – one is 570 feet tall and is one of the most photographed monuments in America while the other is easily missed by visitors.

Most people think the towering star-topped limestone monument, built during the Texas Centennial in 1936, is the only San Jacinto monument. Actually, it’s only the biggest.

The first San Jacinto monument
is a white marble shaft put up in 1881 to mark the final resting place of eight Texas soldiers killed or mortally wounded in the April 21, 1836 route of Gen. Santa Anna.

Texans remember the men who died in the Alamo, they remember the men executed at Goliad, but the men who died at San Jacinto have been largely forgotten.
For years, most accounts of the battle placed the Texas death toll at nine – two men killed outright and seven who died later from their wounds. The best book on the battle, Stephen H. Moore’s “Eighteen Minutes” (Republic of Texas Press, 2004) lists 12 Texas soldiers who gave their lives at San Jacinto:

Lemuel Stockton Blakley; Benjamin Rice Brigham; James Cooper, Mathias Cooper; Thomas Patton Fowle (sometimes wrongly listed as Thomas Patton Fowler); Giles Albert Giddings; John C. Hale; George A. Lamb; Dr. William Junius Mottley; Ashley R. Stephens, Olwyn Trask (wounded April 20 in the initial skirmish with the Mexicans) and Leroy Wilkinson.
BOOK
Moore says four of the men – Mathias Cooper, Fowle, Hale and Lamb – died fighting. The other eight died later from wounds they suffered in the battle.

None died harder than Mottley.

“As I entered the little room where he lay,” Dr. Ashbel Smith later wrote, “he cast on me one of those looks of deep distress that too often speak of despondency to the physician. Extending my hand to him I felt his tremulous grasp, and he said, ‘Doctor, I am a gone case.’”

Smith said Mottley had been “shot through the abdomen, and his bowels…lacerated.”

The young doctor begged for water, but could not hold it down.

“Must I die?” he asked Smith.

“It is your lot now to part from us, but what have you to dread?” Smith asked.

“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” Motley replied.

At that, Smith turned away, later admitting: “The scene was too painful.” Mottley died later that night.

The last to die of wounds sustained during the battle was Giddings, a 24-year-old surveyor from Pennsylvania, who had lingered until June 7.

The details of Giddings’ last moments went unrecorded, but a letter he wrote to his parents only 11 days before the battle has survived.

“If we succeed in subduing the enemy and establishing a free and independent government, we shall have the finest country the sun ever shown upon,” Giddings wrote the day after he enlisted in the Texas army, “and if we fail we shall have the satisfaction of dying fighting for the rights of men.”

He went on to urge his parents not to worry about him. “I am no better, and my life no dearer, than those who gained the liberty you enjoy. If I fall you will have the satisfaction that your son died fighting for the rights of men.”

His family buried Giddings elsewhere, but Blakey, Brigham, Lamb, Mottley, Mathias Cooper, Fowle and Stephens were buried beneath the spreading oaks where Houston’s army had its camp. Their graves had only crude wooden markers, and by the late 1870s, only Brigham’s grave could be identified.

J.L. Sullivan, a Richmond lawyer, began an effort to raise money to put a permanent marker commemorating the Texas soldiers. The Legislature chipped in $1,000.

The engraved stone shaft was dedicated on Aug. 25, 1881. Present at the ceremony was Robert J. Calder, captain of the company in which Brigham had served; Temple Houston, Sam Houston’s grandson and Blakey’s granddaughter, identified only as Mrs. Buchanan.

Carved on the south side of the monument are the words of Thomas Jefferson Rusk, first secretary of war for the Republic of Texas and a participant in the battle:

“The sun was sinking in the horizon as the battle commenced, but at the close of the conflict, the sun of liberty and independence rose in Texas, never, it is to be hoped, to be obscured by the clouds of despotism.



© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales"
March 23, 2005 column

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