By: Matthew Jackson
Most Texas residents are probably familiar with the history behind the San Jacinto State Historic Site. On April 21, 1836, Texan forces led by General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Anna and the Mexican Army along the banks of Buffalo Bayou on the west side of Galveston Bay. The battle ended the Texas Revolution and granted Texas independence from Mexico. Texas became a sovereign nation until 1845 when it was annexed by the United States. What people may not be familiar with is how the Texas Revolution started. Battles took place up and down the Texas coast and further inland at places like Gonzalez, Goliad, and at the Alamo in San Antonio in 1835 and 1836. However, the first rumblings of revolution occurred years earlier on the east side of Galveston Bay.
In 1830, Mexico established Fort Anahuac, a Mexican customs and garrison post, near the mouth of the Trinity River in Galveston Bay. It served as a checkpoint for American immigrants entering Mexican Texas. By 1832, American immigrants living near Anahuac became increasingly upset with Mexican customs so they began protesting against Mexican soldiers stationed there. Tensions boiled over into a small battle that summer against the Mexican military force in the town. Following the confrontation, settlers in the area adopted the Turtle Bayou Resolutions. The document listed grievances against the military-centric Mexican government at the time. The small conflict in Anahuac is considered by many to be the starting point for the Texas Revolution and ultimately the Mexican-American War in which the U.S. gained most of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, California, and parts of Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. For more history, see Texas Revolution and Mexican-American War.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, the site remained privately owned and relatively untouched. The Texas Veterans Association began lobbying for a memorial in 1856, but were unsuccessful until the 1890s. At the time, the state finally purchased the battle site and turned it into a state park. Efforts from the Daughters of the Republic of Texas helped secure funds from the state the federal government for a monument. Construction began in 1936 and was completed three years later after a 220-ton star was placed on top of the monument making it 567 feet tall, 12 feet taller than the Washington Monument. From the beginning, the San Jacinto Museum of History Association has run the monument. In 1966, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took control over it while allowing the Association to continue overseeing it. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962 by the National Park Service.
Activities and Opportunities-
The monument itself is the main attraction to the site, however one could easily spend half a day or more walking trails across the battlefield and through the adjacent wetlands that border the Houston Ship Channel. A view from the observation deck in the monument offers views of the Ship Channel, Battleship TEXAS, downtown Houston, and the Fred Hartman Bridge. It can also double as a bird watching tower providing views of 1,200 acres of tidal marshes, bottomland forest, and coastal prairies that are found in the park. You won’t get to see the birds up close, but it is an awesome sight to watch large flocks of roseate spoonbills and geese land in the wetlands from above.
After getting a glimpse of the area from above, the Boardwalk Interpretive Trail leads out from the monument to the marsh where seeing spoonbills, herons, and otters is common. The trail then leads into a forest where songbirds, butterflies, and reptiles hide in the dense cover. The trail was partially funded by grants from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Why is it significant to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge?-
Besides the closely knit history between San Jacinto and the city of Anahuac, there are also many issues that the battleground and Anahuac NWR face. Texas Parks and Wildlife continues to battle at the site, but this time against habitat loss and nearby development. Fire suppression, groundwater pumping, and introduction of non-native species over the past century are major factors in habitat loss and the decrease in wildlife diversity in the area. Over the past couple of decades, TPWD has taken significant strides to counter these issues in hopes of restoring the area just like it was at the time of the battle in 1836. Little bluestem, Indian grass, and other grass species that once dominated the site provided forage for Attwater prairie chickens and American bison. Introduction of non-native species like Chinese tallow and development along the ship channel led to a fast decline of habitat.
Anahuac NWR has remained much more undisturbed over the same time period, but still feels the same effects. Refuge managers continue to eradicate Chinese tallow to allow native species to grow. Subsidence in the area due to groundwater pumping and oil drilling makes the Refuge more susceptible to salt water intrusion. Refuge managers are able to deliver fresh water to the marsh so grasses can grow and wildlife can continue to live in the area.
Without these land management practices at San Jacinto State Historic Site and Anahuac NWR, both places would continue to degrade and ultimately convert to a new non-native condition or simply be completely flooded by Galveston Bay. These wetlands are vital to the health of fisheries along the upper Texas coast and provide buffers against storm surges for inland areas. See more native plants and wildlife at your Houston area National Wildlife Refuges. MJ
Historical information from Texas State Historical Association
Dorothy Estis Knepper, "SAN JACINTO MONUMENT AND MUSEUM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/lbs01), accessed July 14, 2013. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.