September 16, 2010 - The first shot fired at the Battle of Lexington 1775 is known as "the shot heard 'round the world" because it signaled the beginning of the American Revolution. The "shot heard 'round Texas" in this state's revolution was fired at Gonzales in 1835, and what has become known as the "Come and Take It" cannon is the state's symbol of that momentous volley.
As cannons go, this one wasn't much. The Mexican government had loaned the cannon to settlers at Gonzales in 1831 to help protect them from Indian attacks, of which there were several. The cannon is believed to have been captured from the Mexicans during the Mexican War of Independence and later recaptured by Mexico. The Spanish had "spiked" the cannons, which meant that the hole where the powder is ignited had been blocked with a metal spike. It still made a lot of noise when fired, but it didn't pack much of a punch. Even then, the cannon was more symbolic than lethal.
By 1835, the Mexican government decided that arming the Texas settlers might not be the best idea. When soldiers were sent to retrieve the cannon, colonists buried it in George W. Davis's peach orchard and sent out a call for armed volunteers at Gonzales.
The Mexican military commander in Texas, Domingo de Ugartechea, sent troops under the leadership of LT. Francisco de Castaneda to Gonzales to retrieve the cannon. The troops were more a show of force than anything else. Castaneda had been given the dubious orders to take the cannon, but to avoid open conflict, if possible. The government wanted the cannon, but wasn't willing to risk the embarrassment of a military defeat to get it.
Castaneda's troops reached the Guadalupe River near Gonzales on Sept. 29, 1835, but high water and 18 militiamen on the other side of the river inspired Castaneda to look for a less well-guarded area to cross. After the Mexican soldiers moved, the Texans crossed the river at the Gonzales ferry crossing with about 50 mounted men, foot soldiers and the little cannon that was at the center of the controversy.
The Texans attacked on the morning of Oct. 2. Castaneda pulled his troops to a better-protected area and requested a meeting with Texas commander John Henry Moore. Castaneda told Moore that he had no desire to fight the colonists; he was simply under orders to take the cannon. Moore said the cannon was there for the taking, but they weren't going to give it up. Negotiations ended.
The cannon had been disinterred from the peach orchard and mounted on a pair of wooden wheels from a cotton wagon. It was unspiked and every piece of loose metal, including horseshoes, chains, trace rings and any other kind of metal the settlers could find was stuffed into the barrel of the cannon and hauled into battle. Two women in Gonzales, Cynthia Burns and Evaline DeWitt, fashioned a flag with the picture of a cannon and a lone star on a white background and the words "Come and Take It" stitched below the cannon.
After negotiations broke down, the cannon, loaded with 16 inches of powder in addition to the scrap metal, was fired in the general direction of the Mexican soldiers as an exclamation point to their determination to keep the cannon. Historians mark that as the first shot of the Texas Revolution. After a brief battle, Castaneda withdrew his troops, but both sides knew that war was now inevitable.
The cannon is believed to have been hauled to San Antonio where it was taken by Mexican troops at the Alamo and probably melted down along with several other guns taken in the course of battle; eyewitness accounts of the cannon and its fate often contradict one another. A cannon that washed up in a 1936 flood at Sandie's Creek, not far from the battle site, was probably not the "come and take it" cannon as many supposed.
The cannon is gone, but not forgotten, residing now in history, legend and lore, an unlikely destiny for an otherwise unremarkable piece of artillery.