As the eldest son in a large family, William Joel Bryan apparently assumed adult responsibilities at a relatively young age. He was still in his teens in 1835 when he became one of the first volunteers to join Capt. Ebberly’s company of Texas militia, formed to defend the Austin Colony.
Along with others in this group of Brazoria County residents involved in this confrontation, Joel marched to meet the Mexican troops at Gonzales.
This skirmish, which would become known as the Lexington of Texas, was the site of the first armed fight between the colonists and representatives of the Mexican government.
The dispute centered about the government’s demand that settlers relinquish a small cannon that Green DeWitt’s colony had been allowed to use as protection from attack by Indians.
When the first demand for the cannon’s return was refused by the 18 men defending the colony, more than 100 Mexican troops were sent to Gonzales to retrieve it.
As they utilized a variety of excuses to delay the cannon’s return, the weapon’s defenders dispatched word of the standoff, seeking help from other settlers.
Within the next couple of days, an estimated 140 men from other Texian settlements reached Gonzales to help defend the cannon.
On Oct. 2, these Texians approached the Mexican camp, leading to the first shots fired during the struggle for Texas independence, and to success for the colonists in this initial battle.
Sarah DeWitt and her daughter sewed a flag commemorating the event. Known in history as the “Come and Take It” flag, it features those words, along with a likeness of the cannon.
Following their victory, the Texians, who were led by Joel’s uncle, Stephen F. Austin, as well as Edward Burleson, Jim Bowie, James Fannin and Francis W. Johnson, began a siege of San Antonio.
On Dec. 5, after additional clashes at Mission Concepcion and in what came to be known as The Grass Fight on the outskirts of San Antonio, Ben Milam challenged his men to follow him into the town, apparently surprising the Mexican troops.
Although seriously outnumbered by the Mexicans, who had the strategic advantage of their location, the colonists bombarded the Alamo, with neither side making significant headway in what eventually became street-by-street fighting.
In mid-October, Joel had been among some 300 men brought by Austin to aid this effort to gain control of the city, then considered the most important in Texas.
He was serving as a picket guard in San Antonio when Deaf Smith, who had asked permission from both Texan and Mexican leaders to go to his wife there, was pursued by the Mexican cavalry.
The timely aid provided by Joel and another Texas soldier, J.W. Hassell, allowed Smith to escape.
Incensed at the Mexicans’ perfidy, Smith, who had planned to remain neutral, immediately volunteered to utilize his renowned tracking and guiding expertise to aid the Texans’ cause.
By Dec. 7, it appeared that the Texans had gained the advantage, though their casualties had included Ben Milam, who had been killed by a Mexican sharpshooter.
The siege continued until Dec. 9, when the Mexican forces, who had been cut off from supplies, surrendered. Although also short of supplies, the Texians were aided by some of the town’s Mexican residents, managing to forage for what they needed.
Although Mexican reinforcements arrived Dec. 8, their numbers were offset by desertions, and the newcomers brought no provisions. By the following day, their numbers had been reduced significantly, forcing them to retreat to the Alamo.
Under the terms of their surrender to the Texians, each of their men was allowed to retain a single firearm but had to take an oath that he would never return.
A number of Texas’ leaders considered San Antonio too far from the site of most of the settlers’ homes to be of strategic value, and General Sam Houston ordered that the Alamo be put to the torch and the city abandoned.
Instead, Bowie ordered that the city and the Alamo be fortified, a decision that led to the slaughter there in March of 1836.
By this time, Joel Bryan, who was serving in a company led by Colonel Robert Calder, was marching eastward, following Gen. Houston toward San Jacinto.
Among Joel’s other contributions to the fight for Texas independence were numerous scouting expeditions, for which he was credited with service valuable to the cause.
Illness sidelined him before the Battle at San Jacinto, however. This was a time when many Texas volunteers, including Joel’s brother, Guy, were stricken with measles.
This was apparently a serious problem at that time, probably exacerbated by the unusually cold, wet, spring weather and the lack of shelter as a result of the wartime exodus of Texas settlers. Pneumonia was an extremely common complication.
James Perry reported in a letter that his family was all “in tolerable health” with the exception of Joel, who had been forced by illness to leave the army.
His youngest stepson had been “quite unwell,” Perry wrote. At that time, he said, he was among the family members resting at the Scott home, with Guy Bryan having recovered and preparing to join Houston’s troops, and Austin Bryan still with the army.
Next week: Guy Bryan is “improving his place” at Durazno.
Night: 79, slight chance sh bf 7 p, sigh chance sh after 1 a, partly cloudy, south 5-10 becoming light after midnight, chance of precip 10
Tue: 92/77, 40 chance sh t, mostly sunny, SE 5-10
Wed: 30 chance sh t, mainly after 1 p, mostly sunny
record: 100, 67
sun: 6:53, 7:56
moon: rise 10:37 p, set 10:19 a
last 8-23, new 8-30, first 9-5, full 9-13
tides: 6:57 a, 1.4 ft, 6:44 p, 1.1
1:24 p, -0.8 ft.
gulf cast: South winds 10 to 15 knots. Seas 4 feet. A chance of showers.