By PAM STRANAHAN
Friends of the History Center
For most folks today, Copano Bay is a quiet fishing spot or a source of oysters and shrimp. But for the early settlers, it was the lifeline to the interior of Texas and a strategic military location. When the Spaniards established a defensive line of presidios and missions in 1722, Copano Bay took on significant importance. It was the shortest route for supplies and men to replenish the interior posts, mainly in San Antonio. By the 1830s the port of El Copano had a Mexican customhouse and fresh-water tank. Groups of colonists passed through the bay on their way to the Power and Hewetson colonies at San Patricio and Refugio.
After 1821, the Mexican military used El Copano to supply the presidios and, with the threat of the Texas Revolution, they transported troops to put down the “insurrection.” General Cos came through Copano on his way to the Battle at Bexar (San Antonio) in September 1835. In October the port was taken by the Texians led by Cpt. George Collinsworth. Everyone expected the main Mexican army to follow Cos by sea so the Texians planned to control Copano. Volunteers from the U.S. began to arrive to assist the Texians. Ticknor’s Alabama Volunteers and Duval’s Kentucky Riflemen arrived through Copano and went to Refugio. Early in 1836, Fannin and Ward’s Georgia Battalion arrived with four pieces of artillery and the Lone Star flag made by Joanna Troutman. The Red Rovers came from Alabama to fight in the Texas Revolution. The naval clipper, Invincible, also delivered volunteers to Copano. The Texas navy played an important role in the war by patrolling the Gulf shores to deter Mexican shipping.
During the Mexican campaign to punish the revolutionaries (Texians), General Urrea’s Yucatan Battalion captured Copano in March 1836. The Mexicans then used it as a main port to bring reinforcements to Texas and to send prisoners to Mexico. The Nashville Company of volunteers who came into Copano Bay in late March were captured, and marched to La Bahia. They were spared during the Goliad massacre and sent as prisoners to Matamoras. Mexican forces controlled Copano until General Filisola’s retreat in May 1836 after the battle at San Jacinto.
During the spring of 1836, the Mexican legislature disavowed Santa Anna’s treaty with Texas and considered itself still at war. One unusual incident happened in June 1836. Major Burton’s Mounted Rangers (Texians) were at Copano when a Mexican vessel, the Watchman, sailed in. Pretending to be Mexican, the Texian patrol signaled for the vessel to send its boat ashore. When they did, the Mexicans were captured. Burton’s troops took the boat and rowed out to secure surrender of the ship. Later, when two other Mexican ships arrived, they were decoyed by the Watchman and captured. All three vessels became prizes of the Texians who became known as the “Horse Marines.”
The History Center for Aransas County at 801 E. Cedar Street will showcase regional history for visitors of all ages.