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Owning a piece of Texas history
by Kenda Nelson
Oct 29, 2012 | 1301 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Kenda Nelson photo
Two finely honed crosses from the historic Mission Anaqua tree will be auctioned off at the Annual Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 28 in the OLR auditorium.
Kenda Nelson photo Two finely honed crosses from the historic Mission Anaqua tree will be auctioned off at the Annual Our Lady of Refuge Catholic Church Fall Festival on Sunday, Oct. 28 in the OLR auditorium.
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REFUGIO — Little remains of the historic Mission Anaqua that provided shade for General Sam Houston at Nuestra Señora Del Refugio as he attempted to stop an ill-fated expedition during the Texas Revolution.

On Sunday, Oct. 28, two one-of-a-kind, hand crafted crosses will be auctioned during the Annual Fall Festival at Our Lady Refuge Catholic Church. Last year, two other items made from the anaqua were the most popular items at the festival.

Festival organizers Kate Campbell and Betty Bauer said the items make it possible to “own a little piece of Texas history.” The supply of the anaqua wood remains limited.

For more than 175 years since Houston languished in its shadow, the anaqua tree spread its massive branches behind Our Lady of Refuge Church, a historic gem for the town as well as the church members.

After years of trying to keep the tree healthy, the tree died in March, 2011. The heartbreaking decision to cut the tree down was made for safety reasons. Until 1976, the tree was considered the largest of its species on record in the United States, according to the book, “Famous Trees of Texas.”

To preserve its place in history, parishioners gathered wood from the healthy trunk and larger limbs.

Former Refugio resident Sam Campbell crafted the crosses from the anaqua for the church’s annual fundraiser.

The book of famous trees provides its history. The tree was removed in this years edition of the book.

Following their defeat, Mexican General Martin Prefecto de Cos and his troops withdrew from San Antonio early in December 1835. Previously, a wealthy, educated Scotsman, Dr. James Grant’s large estate was confiscated by the Mexican government. Bitter feelings prevailed and he wanted to recoup his property.

Grant persuaded approximately 200 Texans and Francis W. Johnson, their commander, to attack the rich settlement of Matamoros. The Council of the Provisional Government were at odds with Gov. Henry Smith and Sam Houston so he approved the mission. The council appointed Gen. James W Fannin as their agent, commandeering Gen. Houston’s legal authority and dividing command of the expedition.

When Houston heard of the removal of his troops and most of the supplies from Bexar (San Antonio), the general went to Goliad to challenge the expedition. Houston was only able to persuade approximately 30 men to return to Bexar.

Houston believed the attack was doomed to failure. So, again, on Jan. 17, 1836, Houston came to Refugio to stop the illegally authorized expedition.

Under the Mission Anaqua on the north bank of the Mission River, Houston spoke to Grant’s men who were camped along the river. Explaining the futility of the expedition, Houston pleaded with the men to wait for reinforcements from Alabama and Georgia.

While some agreed to wait, 60 men left for San Patricio, taking the three brass cannons, while Johnson and Grant awaited Fannin’s arrival.

On Feb. 1, 1836, Fannin arrived in Refugio from Copano, a port settlement between Refugio and Bayside which was later abandoned after several devastating hurricanes.

Instead of joining Johnson and Grant, Fannin left to reinforce Goliad and sent troops to San Patricio to retrieve the cannons.

Johnson and Grant needed horses so the two leaders divided the forces in order to obtain more at area ranches.

During the time they were divided, General Jose Urrea’s troops overwhelmed 35 men in Johnson’s party in San Patricio. Twenty were taken prisoner, six escaped and several of the Texans were killed.

Grant and all but six of his men were killed during an ambush in Agua Dulce.

Houston’s wisdom shared with freedom fighters under the shade of the great Mission Anaqua was largely ignored but the great leader lived to change the course of Texas history.

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