Juan N. Seguin led a life that saw him as a great hero of Texas and as the alleged leader of the Mexican army that massacred thirty-five Texans near Salado Creek in 1842. Seguin remains a figure in Texas history that conjures up feelings of loyalty and controversy among many historians. What reasons would a man have for allegedly turning his back on his country and joining the enemy, an enemy that had a short time earlier murdered his fellow Texans! The depths of loyalty and patriotism that Seguin displayed during the Battle of San Jacinto and as an elected official in Texas are what should have made him a hero in the eyes of Texans. Due to the animosity that many Anglo Texans felt towards Juan and his fellow Tejanos, however, the true reasons behind Juan's actions, as a politician and a military leader, were never completely understood. One of the goals of this paper is to try and explain and shed some light on the complicated story of Juan N. Seguin and attempt to determine his rightful place in Texas history. Does Seguin merit the valor and prestige that comes with a great hero or does he deserve our disdain for his course of actions?
Born on October 27, 1806 in present day San Antonio to Juan Jose Maria Erasmo Seguin and Maria Josefa Becerra, Juan was the oldest of three children. Younger brother Tomas, who died as an infant, was born in 1807, and youngest sister Maria Leonides was born in 1809. Juan was born at what seems to be a very opportune time simply because of the growing importance of Texas. With the expansion of the United States westward, Texas now played an important role in United States politics. The forthcoming trials and tribulations would provide the ultimate stage for Seguin to forge his identity in the hearts and minds of the people of Texas and Mexico.
Juan was not the only member of his family to serve in public life. His father began his career as a public servant when he became postmaster of Bexar at the age of twenty-one, a position that he held for approximately thirty years. Juan's mother took charge of the post office when his father was away because she was able to read and write, a skill few women possessed during this time. Juan Seguin began public service at an early age. As a boy he helped his mother run the post office while his father was away. At the age of twenty-two, Juan was elected as alderman in San Antonio and held various other political offices before joining the military of the Texas revolutionaries in 1835. This was not the end of politics for Juan. He would later be the first Tejano to serve in the Texas Senate, and in 1840 he was elected Mayor of San Antonio.
Throughout much of his adult life Juan endured cries of "traitor" by other Tejanos along with the fact that many Anglos challenged his every move. Juan's career was filled with suspicions of criminal behavior and questions concerning his behavior. Some of the transgressions that Seguin was accused of took place during his time as a politician, but most came during his military career. Throughout his first military campaign in the late 1830's and early 1840's, Juan continuously encountered turmoil and hardships that stemmed from lack of resources to feed and equip his men and accusations of being a crook.
The few Mexican Tejanos who joined the Texas Revolution and fought against Mexico, received the worst of both worlds. Not only did the Anglos view them with contempt, but the Mexican army also saw them as traitors to their country. The feelings of Juan N. Seguin, and his men could be summed up perfectly by his statement that he was now a "foreigner in his native land." These feelings were not the only indication of the troubles faced by Seguin. Examples that would support these feelings held by Juan would be when his ranch was robbed by the Mexican army one day and shortly thereafter was set ablaze by the Anglo Texans. Tejanos were imprisoned by the Mexican army and charged with conspiring with the enemy, only to have the Anglo Texans charge them with the exact same thing. Results of these accusations and other actions by the Anglos caused some Tejanos to both flee their homes and wage a battle in defense of their land. During this period approximately one hundred and twenty Tejanos from out of Nacogdoches left their wives and families and began a short-lived and unsuccessful guerilla war against the Anglos. "Texas shall be free, independent or we shall perish with glory in battle"--Seguin
Seguin was probably most appreciated by Anglos for his presence at the Battle of the Alamo. His familiarity with the land and overall knowledge and abilities were a true asset to the Texans fighting in the Alamo. During his time spent at the Alamo Juan gained the respect of such Anglo Texas legends such as James Bowie, Davy Crockett and William Travis. Their feelings towards the importance of Seguin eventually led to a meeting of the war council to discuss who should be sent out to try to retrieve supplies. The council decided upon Seguin. Travis was the lone dissenting opinion, as he did not want Seguin to leave because he felt that Juan would be vital in case any further communication with Santa Anna would present itself.
It was decided, Seguin was chosen as the best person to attempt to retrieve aid for the embattled Texans. The only problem that stood between Juan and completion of his mission was that he did not have a horse! While on his deathbed, Juan approached Jim Bowie and asked if his horse was up for the challenge. Bowie willingly lent Juan his horse and any equipment he needed. The fact that Jim Bowie lent his horse to Juan, even though he was too ill to recognize him, showed how dedicated Bowie and his fellow Texans were in fighting for a free and independent Texas.
On the night of February 28th Juan set out to complete his mission. Before he was released from the compound, Juan had to produce proof that he was not trying to escape but was actually headed for reinforcements. After showing the necessary documentation, the Tejano sentinel gladly let him pass and wished him "God Speed." Not knowing that this would be the last time that he saw Seguin, Davy Crocket told him "Don't go and get yourself killed, we are going to see who is the better marksman!" Once beyond the safety of the perimeter of the Alamo, Juan and a fellow Tejano reached the Mexican line of defense. From a distance Juan seemed to the Mexican soldiers as merely a "ranchero," and he was allowed to continue. Upon closer inspection, the Mexican troops realized who they were and began to shoot, but by that time the experienced Tejanos had flown past them. At the time the decision was reached by the war council, Juan did not realize that their decision to send him for aid had just saved his life. The next time that he would see the Alamo, it would be in the hands of the Mexican army and his friends would no longer be alive.
After hearing the news that Santa Anna and his army had overrun the Alamo, Seguin made his way to San Jacinto. There he met up with Sam Houston (an Anglo Texan who stayed loyal to Juan until the end) and the remaining army of the Texas revolutionaries. The Battle of San Jacinto afforded Juan the opportunity to exact any and all forms of vengeance for the murder of his fellow countrymen at the Alamo. Seguin, with his newly formed band of Tejanos, fought bravely alongside the Anglo Texans and defeated the Mexican army at San Jacinto. That battle marked the end of any substantial Mexican presence in Texas until the Mexican-American War in 1848. Any questions about the character of Juan N. Seguin that anyone may have had were answered during the Battle of San Jacinto. Proof of the quality of Juan's character came when Houston would continually rely on Juan to fulfill any military or political obligation such as securing San Antonio and protecting its inhabitants.
Upon his return to the Alamo, some time in February 1837, the only remnants of habitation Seguin encountered were ashes spread out in three different piles. These remains were believed to have been those of Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, William Travis and the rest of the slain defenders of the Alamo. The honor of caring for the ashes and burying them was bestowed upon Juan. The remains were gathered and taken to the San Fernando Cathedral. Juan N. Seguin delivered, during what was probably one of the most painful moments of his life, an address in his native Castilian that more than adequately depicted the personalities of the great men who lost their lives in the Battle of the Alamo. And those words were: "These remains, which we have had the honor to carry on shoulders, are the remains of those valiant heroes who died at the Alamo. Yes, my friends, they preferred to die a thousand times than to live under the yoke of a tyrant. What a brilliant example! One worthy of inclusion in the pages of history. From her throne above, the spirit of liberty appears to look upon us, and with Tearful countenance points, saying, "Behold your brothers Travis, Bowie, Crockett as well as all the others. Their valour has earned them a place with all my heroes. Yes, fellow soldiers and fellow citizens, we are witness to the meritorious acts of those who, when faced with a reversal in fortune, during the late contest, chose to offer their lives to the ferocity of the enemy. A barbarous enemy who on foot herded them like animals to this spot, and then proceeded to reduce them to ashes. I invite all of you to join me in holding the venerable remains of our worthy companions before the eyes of the entire world to show it that Texas shall be free, and independent. Or to a man, we will die gloriously in combat, toward that effort."
"...If on the contrary you fail to render this slight of service…the supreme government can no longer treat you as Texians, but perhaps as enemies…"-Seguin
While Seguin's fame was growing in Texas, in Mexico he was being reviled in print as well as through word of mouth. In a published diary from Francisco Becerra, one of Santa Anna's soldiers, Seguin was labeled a traitor. According to the diary, this was "a label both ugly and deserved." Meanwhile in Texas, Juan had just received his new orders from Sam Houston. He was to take control of San Antonio, which was under Mexican control, with a group of men that he was ordered to raise. Their duty was to protect the frontier from further attacks by the Mexican army. Juan and the twenty-two men under his command entered San Antonio and accepted the surrender of the Mexican army stationed there. Unfortunately for Juan, many of the citizens did not wish to take up arms against Mexico and wished to remain neutral. This hampered his effort to raise the needed men to sustain a formidable military presence in San Antonio. Juan was then sent temporary relief in the form of approximately one hundred and eighty men from General Thomas Rusk. Juan, worried about a possible attack on San Antonio by the Mexican army, ordered the city to flee to the interior and take along with them their cattle and anything that could possibly be used by hostile forces. Failure to comply with this order would subject the citizens of San Antonio to possible capture. In addition, Seguin proclaimed anyone who did not flee but remained neutral by remaining in San Antonio, would now be regarded as an enemy of Texas.
Many residents chose not to leave and ended up regretting their inactions when a garrison of Mexican soldiers entered the city, which was now unprotected, in search of cattle. The Telegraph and Texas Register admonished these San Antonio residents and proclaimed, "They will perhaps in the future better appreciate the advice and orders of our friend, Colonel Seguin, who cautioned them of the danger of remaining in Bexar." Not long after, Seguin was ordered to return to San Antonio and take control of the town once again. President David Burnet also promoted him to Lieutenant Colonel. This time around, Juan found it easier to raise a battalion of men consisting of approximately eighty men. Advertisements in the papers facilitated the effort. Upon entering San Antonio with his battalion, his command would soon run into a great deal of controversy spearheaded by General Felix Huston.
General Huston was an Anglo member of the Texas Army and probably a racist. An ambitious general with delusions of invading Mexico, General Huston had no respect for Seguin because of the color of his skin and moreover because "he cannot speak our language." Tensions arose between the two men when General Huston declared that San Antonio should be abandoned and summarily burned to the ground. This did not sit well with Seguin, who immediately wrote President Sam Houston and inquired about the validity of Huston's orders. Just as quickly as Huston gave the orders, President Sam Houston cancelled Huston's orders and reassured Seguin about the status of San Antonio and his position. Seguin had not only ensured the existence of the city, but he also made a new enemy in General Huston. Although there was never any real proof, Juan believed that the real reason why Huston and his officers wanted to abandon San Antonio was so they could purchase the abandoned land at a very inexpensive price.
The events that transpired afterwards would lead one to believe that Seguin had foiled the plans of more people than just General Huston. Near the end of 1836, Seguin found himself on the verge of having his command taken away due to the low numbers of Texans in charge of protecting the city. All but forgotten by the Texas army, and forced to supply for his men with provisions and other necessities such as clothing and footwear, Seguin was forced to confiscate city funds, and the horses and mules of the San Antonio residents. These confiscations upset local residents, most of whom were Tejanos, and questions began to be asked about what kind of person would do this to his own people.
In the fall of 1837 Juan now found himself wanting to take a step back from his military duties, satisfied that all was well in control in San Antonio. He went on a furlough and traveled to New Orleans. Returning in early 1838, Seguin now found himself as an elected official. While he had been away, the residents of Bexar had elected him as their Senator in the Congress of Texas. Officially resigning his military command on May 14, 1838, Juan N. Seguin was now the first Tejano to be a member of the Texas Legislature. With only a few days left in the Second Texas Congress, Seguin sponsored and helped pass a bill that allowed for relief for the widows and orphans of the Alamo. One of his goals was to have the laws of Texas printed in Spanish as well as English. Simple as this may seem, this proved to be an arduous task. In what could have been seen as a stall tactic, the paper needed to print these laws was to be received from New Orleans, but it had not arrived. This was the reason given for one of the delays. Opposition to this probably stemmed from the Anglos dislike of the Mexican people. Throughout this process, Seguin managed to make more enemies. This time his major adversary was General Hugh McLeod, his opponent for the seat in Congress.
Some of the growing complications that arose in Seguin's political career stemmed back to his earlier work as a land speculator. His Anglo detractors accused him of fraudulent land deals. This was a practice followed by many Texans, but as a Tejano Senator, Seguin drew a great deal of attention. One allegation against Seguin was that he refused to return the money that he had confiscated during his previous stay in San Antonio. Also as commander at San Antonio he sold his supplies to the men in his unit, thus upsetting local merchants because they were losing out on profits. Although this act was not illegal, it was not looked upon favorably by outsiders. Seguin also refused to return the money that he had confiscated during his previous stay in San Antonio. From the perspective of today, it would seem that Seguin might have put his well being before those of his constituents especially since the accusations of improprieties were abundant. While much of Texas was poor, the thought of a Tejano having so much land and wealth did not sit well with many Anglo Texans, most of whom held racist feelings for Tejanos, especially powerful ones such as Seguin.
In 1840 Seguin suffered a major political, economic and military setback. He had resigned his seat in Congress and joined forces with the Mexican Federalists under the command of General Antonio Canales to establish the Republic of the Rio Grande. This plan failed when General Canales betrayed Juan and sided with the Centralist Mexican officials. Not only had Seguin vacated his Senate seat, he could not pay his men, and he lost all the money that he spent on supplies. The only thing that Seguin gained from this venture was knowledge of a planned attack by Mexico on Texas, but refused the invitation to join this raid. To add insult to injury, one of the first locations hit by the Mexican invaders was Seguin's ranch, where they took his small herd of cattle.
After the fiasco with Canales, the Board of Aldermen, as a token of their appreciation, offered Juan the position of Mayor of San Antonio. This gesture supplied proof that not everyone had lost faith in the man. He became mayor in 1841, but his life did not get any easier because this position put him in contact with many Anglos who carried hostile feelings towards Seguin. One of the first issues that Seguin had to deal with was the problem with speculators claiming land that did not lawfully belong to them. These men were referred to as squatters and they were all over town. Not only were they squatters, they were Anglo squatters. This presented a slightly more complicated problem for Seguin because many Anglos did not feel they needed to take orders from a Mexican. The squatter who gave Seguin the most trouble was James Goodman. Goodman felt that he had not been properly compensated for his work. Goodman would shoe the horses of the volunteers that would pass through San Antonio. In return for his services, Goodman claimed a house that was considered city property. When Seguin had him removed, he then made another enemy in San Antonio. Juan referred to San Antonio as "the receptacle of the scum of society". Seguin continually found himself having to come to the aid of Tejanos who were under constant attack by members of the Anglo population. Many of the attacks were racially motivated and unprovoked.
Along with his new responsibilities Seguin was still trying to make an effort to repay the money that he lost in the Canales adventure. As a result, he ventured into a smuggling operation with Rafael Uribe on behalf of General Mariano Arista, which also fell through. While in Mexico, during his smuggling adventure, he was mistakenly identified as a delegate of the Texas Government by General Arista and was ordered to leave at once. He did, and left all his possessions behind with an understanding that he would return when time permitted. Shortly following his departure his supplies were sold. Fortunately for Juan, this time he had not made his plans known publicly and was able to return to his position as mayor. Still rumors surfaced and the problems started all over again.
In 1842, some the rumors of financial improprieties and chants of traitor resurfaced after the failed Santa Fe Expedition, in which President Lamar failed to conquer New Mexico. Anglos accused Seguin of divulging information of this expedition to the Mexican government. Juan not only left San Antonio but he left Texas and headed for Mexico. Many have speculated why Juan left Texas. Some say that it was because of the treatment that he had received by the Anglo Texans and their destructions of his property. Another reason was out of concern for his family. Unknown assailants had already murdered his sister and fearful of what may happen to the rest of his family, Seguin chose to flee to Mexico. In Mexico, Juan encountered a whole new set of problems. Branded a traitor in his home, upon entering Mexico Juan was arrested. Seguin was forced to decide between the Mexican army or spending an extended period of time in a Mexican prison. If he chose prison, his family would suffer, as there was nobody else to provide for them. Juan joined the Mexican army and fought with them with the same convictions as when he fought against them.
At the same time that Seguin was a member of the Mexican army, many believed that he was spying for his old friend, Sam Houston. Houston had always kept an open mind about Seguin. Shortly after Juan's departure, Houston wrote to Erasmo, Juan's father and tried to console the older man by writing, "I pray, sir, that you will not suppose for one moment, that I will denounce Colonel Juan N. Seguin, without a most perfect understanding of the circumstances of his absence. I rely upon his honor, his worth and his chivalry." In keeping with his sense of loyalty, Juan sent communications to Houston notifying him of upcoming attacks into Texas by Mexico. Included in these communications were specific details about Juan's attire. Juan would notify Houston as to what he would be wearing and in return Houston would notify his men not to harm the individual wearing said clothing .
One of the first missions that Seguin was involved in as a Mexican soldier was the expedition with General Adrian Woll. On September 10, 1842, Seguin, leading his band of irregulars called the Bexar Defenders, a group of Tejanos loyal to Mexico, made their way into San Antonio and took control of the city with little to no resistance. In a twist of irony the squatter, Goodman, who had given Seguin so much trouble when he was mayor, was one of the first men to give up and surrender and pleaded that no harm come to him. Seguin, forever being the model soldier, accepted his surrender and Goodman was not harmed. Seguin admitted to holding no grudge towards Goodman.
The following day Seguin was sent towards Gonzales with a group of two hundred men. On the Cibolo, Seguin divided his men and sent them in three different directions. One went down the creek, another, up the creek and the remaining took the road to Gonzales directly. The following day all three groups were reunited and that is when Seguin was notified of what had occurred at Sulphur Springs the day before. Lieutenant Manuel Carvajal told of three Texans that his group had encountered, that did not surrender to them. Carvajal then told Seguin that he had killed those three men. In keeping with the dismantling of Seguin, when the news of the killings reached San Antonio, it was Seguin who was blamed for the murders. Mary Maverick, who often voiced her opinion on matters whether people wanted to hear them or not, wrote in her diary "Col. Seguin has killed three sick men at the Sulphur Spring." Mary Maverick was a socialite who wrote with a poisonous pen and often found her targets in the Seguin family. She had once noted "Mrs. Seguin was so fat that the General [Lamar] had great difficulty in getting a firm hold on her waist." Mary Maverick was just one example of the many that were continuing the disparaging remarks about Juan and seemed content to see him ruined.
As a member of the Mexican army, though he was never received a military title, Seguin was involved in battles that forced him to fight against his former countrymen. One particular battle that Juan was a part of took place on September 18, 1842. It was known as the Battle of Salado. The Texans won the battle itself but the real tragedy came when Captain Nicholas Mosby Dawson and his company of about fifty men rushed to aid Mathew Caldwell's force who was fighting the Mexican General, Adrian Woll. Unbeknownst to Captain Dawson, the Mexicans had concealed their artillery during the fighting. The Mexicans engaged Dawson, and at the perfect moment stepped aside and revealed their artillery. Upon seeing the site of the massive amounts of weaponry, Dawson instantly signaled for surrender. A signal that went unheeded and thus commenced the most brutal attack the Texans had ever been subjected to. At the end of this massacre, only two Texans survived. One, knowing the fight was lost, placed himself at the mercy of his captures and stumbled over to the officer in charge. To his great amazement it was none other than Juan N. Seguin. Realizing who he was spurred a feeling that made him attempt to escape rather than surrender to Seguin, "the traitor." Risking his life even further he managed to take down a Mexican Cavalryman, take his horse and make his escape.
Aside from the several battles and skirmishes that Juan was a part of he spent the majority of his time in Mexico in relative obscurity. Seguin once again made his presence known during the summer of 1845 when he acted as mediator between Texas and Mexico. His stance was that Mexico would recognize Texas as a Republic only if it would not annex itself with the United States. President of Texas, Anson Jones, received the notice and expressed his feelings towards Juan. His sentiments paralleled those of former President Sam Houston: "Col. Seguin fought as well at San Jacinto as any man there; but has been forced by bad usage to quit the country, and, as is said, has turned traitor; but I am unwilling to believe it…" President Jones did not reply to Seguin because annexation had already been voted on and approved.
Juan's troubles with Texans were not over yet. In the summer of 1846, Juan and his men were in the area north of Monterrey and that was close enough to draw the attention of the Texas Rangers. Ben McCulloch and his company of Texas Rangers crossed the Rio Grande in search of Seguin. Fortunately for Juan, they never caught him or any of his men. McCulloch, his brother and the rest of the Texas Rangers had formed their opinion of Juan the same way many others did. They believed the rumors and gossips that depicted Juan as a traitor. McCulloch's brother even referred to Juan as "Benedict Arnold and Judas Iscariot," and wanted to rid the world of the people who were not fit to live in it.
In February 1848, life had caught up to Juan and had taken a severe toll on him. Once a strong man of impeccable character, Juan was now worn down and appeared defeated. After simply leaving the Mexican army with his family, Juan appeared near the Presidio Rio Grande to ask for permission from President Mirabeau B. Lamar to return with his family to his rightful home in Texas. Juan was willing to risk any consequences that he may encounter upon his return to Texas. By the end of the year, Juan and his family were settled back in San Antonio. In another display of the type of resolve that Juan was made of, he was elected as Bexar County Justice of the Peace in 1852.
Juan N. Seguin lived his life loving Texas and fighting for it and for a short while, fighting against it. He was always a man that believed in justice and fought to preserve it. Many of the reasons why the Anglo population had such contempt for Seguin will never be known. Speculations can be made that because of his skin color, the land that he acquired or even his stature in Texas led to this intense hatred by the Anglo population. The origins of many of his problems were brought on by outside detractors, but Juan, in some instances, did contribute to the problems. Could things have gone different for Seguin? Could he have stayed in Texas and continue to fight off his enemies? Would his legacy have been better known by everyone if he had?
These and many more questions seem to arise when speaking of Seguin, but the answers will never be known because no one will ever truly know what it was like for him. What was he feeling when his fellow Texans were calling him a "traitor?" Did it take every fiber of his being to keep from responding to these names violently? It is in this author's opinion that Juan made it clear throughout his life that he was a man of his word. He fought for Texas, and when Texas was no longer able to protect him, he made his way to Mexico. There, he had to choose between a life spent in prison and having his family fend for themselves or, fight in the Mexican army against his former countrymen. He chose to protect his family by joining the Mexican army. Would anyone have chosen the former? Juan knew that his hands were tied and that the only move for him would be to do the best by his family and ensure their safety.
Whether on the battlefields or in the halls of congress Juan knew that it was up to him to stand up and defend his people. His people were the Tejanos who, during this period in Texas, had no voice. His presence commanded a certain amount of respect, which was validated by Presidents Sam Houston and David Burnet every time either one spoke of Seguin. This respect was not observed by all and that lead to some of the misfortunes that befell Seguin.
One of the most important things that Juan tried to exemplify through his actions is that he always remained loyal to the most important people in his life, his family. Whether it was because his family was in danger or because of the continued abuse that he was suffering at the hands of the Anglo population, Juan decided the best thing was to leave Texas. Yes, that was probably one of the most heart-wrenching and painful decisions that he ever had to make but being the man that he was, he made the correct choice for his family. Yes, it is also true that by leaving Texas, he brought on a lot of added scrutiny onto himself especially since he was already being considered a traitor, however, his priorities were inline. Seguin states in his memoirs that he never shed the blood of any man unnecessarily and that it was something that he was proud of. A statement like that speaks volumes about the personality and character of Seguin. He had more than a couple good opportunities to shed the blood of the same men that basically ran him out of his home. He always chose to be the bigger man.
"Bad things always happen to go people," a casual statement that could not ring more true when discussing Juan N. Seguin. Returning to the question that was posed earlier in this paper, how could a man like Juan, who served Texas as well as anyone else, fall from "grace" in such a short period of time? That may forever go unexplained because until you change the minds of the people who see him as a traitor, even today, you will always get dissenting opinions. Even though history books hardly mention him and other textbooks denounce him; Seguin must not be cast off and left out of the mainstream course of history. The important ideals and lessons that could be learned by understanding what Juan had to go through will go a long way in providing evidence about the structure of the people of Texas.
Seguin made a name for himself during his time spent in the Alamo and during the Battle of San Jacinto. Throughout his time in Congress Juan struggled to get laws translated for his people and passed a bill that set up financial support for the widows and orphans of the Alamo. Juan was the consummate professional and he lived by a certain moral code that was probably instilled in him by his father. Some of the events that colored the life of Juan can be viewed as morally and ethically questionable such as allegedly selling supplies to his men or invading San Antonio with a garrison of Mexican soldiers. In the end, everything that Seguin did was in response to, or as a result of, a circumstance that was beyond his control. Juan spent much of his adult life fighting and in the end he had little to show for it. The one thing that he always had was his pride and the sense that he knew that he was not wrong for the choices that he made. It is this author's opinion that Juan N. Seguin was in fact not a traitor but a great legend of Texas that exemplifies the meaning of the word Tejano.