Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Alamo Hero Charles Despallier: Second Generation fighter for Texas Liberty


Today is the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. One of the defenders who died that day was Charles Despallier. Typical histories note him as simply an outsider, like many, with no real ties to Texas. But the fact is, Charles’ family had fought for Texas for decades before that date.
One of the key figures in the Gutierrez-Magee Expedition of 1812-13 was Bernard Despallier. He was a French Creole from Louisiana who had served as a militia captain in the Spanish service there, and was loyal to Spain even when it went to war with France. As a result, felt himself threatened when the French and later Americans got control of the province, and asked and was permitted to settle in Trinidad de Salcedo in 1806. He married a Tejana, Maria Candida Grande.
When the Spanish expelled foreigners three years later, Despallier was sent back to Louisiana. When Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara came through Nacogdoches, Despallier befriended him and when the Mexican rebel returned from Washington, D.C., Despallier was one of his confidants as he put together his filibustering expedition. Despallier was also a gifted writer and began composing (in Spanish) propaganda pamphlets to send into Texas. Governor Salcedo would later single out Despallier and Gutiérrez as the two people most responsible for the expedition that invaded his state.
When Augustus Magee led the expedition into Texas in early August, 1812, the number of Hispanics in the army was small enough to count on one hand. But as soon as they began bringing in deserters, and after the fall of Nacogdoches brought new volunteers, a sizeable Hispanic troop was now available. Despallier, fluent in Spanish and probably somewhat competent in English too, was selected to lead this contingent, since Bernardo Gutiérrez was at that time still in Natchitoches organizing things.
Bernard Despallier continued to lead Spanish/Mexican troops, ultimately joined by Miguel Menchaca, who became the principle leader of that contingent of the army. As a native Tejano, Menchaca took a greater role as that contingent swelled. By the Battle of Medina, the Spanish/Mexican troops likely outnumbered the Anglo volunteers.
Despallier suffered personal losses in the rebellion. After the rebels had taken Nacogdoches and Trinidad, they sought to send in infiltrators into Bexar to bring in propaganda pamphlets that Menchaca had written. One of the men chosen for this task – a man in his 60s named Luis Grande – was Despallier’s own father-in-law. When they were captured by Governor Salcedo, Grande was likely executed. (I’ve found a sentence of death for his co-conspiritor, but not for Grande).
After the defeat at the Medina, Bernard Despallier fled to Texas. He was one of the few people exempted by name in the later Spanish offer of amnesty. Instead, a reward was placed on his head. Bernard stayed in Natchitoches in exile, raising his family. Son Blaz Philipe Despallier had been born in Texas in 1809, and sometime during or shortly after the expedition, Bernard’s wife bore another son, Charles. Both sons would later fight for Texas.
As Mexico became independent and opened up, Bernard Despallier was too old to return to Texas, but his sons were connected to many of the early Texas settlers. Victor Madison Despallier, another son, was a friend and attorney for James Bowie. Charles Despallier immigrated to Texas, where he became influential enough to be one of the signers of the Goliad Declaration of Independence of 1835.
When the Texas revolution broke out, Charles was likely involved from the beginning. His brother Blaz Philipe came to Texas to join them. The brothers were no doubt fired in their eagerness  by their father’s stories of his own Texas revolution – and the memory of their grandfather Luis Grande. They fought in the Battle of Béxar, in which the Texas forces, led by Ben Milam, took San Antonio.
Blaz Philipe after the battle served as a scout for William Barret Travis, but at some point he had contracted disease in the campaign, a not-infrequent occurrence during war in that era, and returned to Natchitoches to recuperate. Nonetheless, his younger brother Charles remained at the Alamo. He served as a scout as well and took out messages from Travis pleading for aid. He returned with the “Immortal 32” of Gonzales, and stayed in the mission for the remaining days of the siege, dying in the final battle. Lists of Alamo defenders include him, but also include a “Carlos Espalier” who is likely a double counting. (Historians disagree on this point, but since the original French of the name is D’Espallier, it is almost certainly a reference to the same person).
Charles Despallier, therefore, one of the dead who fell 183 years ago today, was not just some adventurer who had never heard of Texas, but a second-generation fighter for Texas liberty. He deserves to be remembered as such.

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