Texans gather to celebrate Texas Independence Day

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SPJST, a Czech fraternal organization, dances inside the Capitol in celebration of Texas' 176th Independence Day Friday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Marisa Vasquez | Daily Texan Staff

From readings of Alamo letters to dancing by a folklorico troupe, families celebrated Texas Independence this weekend at the state Capitol and other locations around the state.

The non-profit corporation Celebrate Texas arranged the Texas-themed events in Austin for the 11th year. The festivities kicked off on Friday with cultural performances in the Capitol rotunda, continued on Saturday with a 5K run and parade and ended on Sunday with a ceremony to observe those who fought in the Battle of the Alamo.

The Texas Revolution for independence from Mexican rule began with the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 and ended on April 21, 1836 at the Battle of San Jacinto. A committee presented the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. James Bowie and William B. Travis commanded the Texas soldiers at the Battle at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Although this battle ended in the annihilation of the Texas defenders, it is remembered for the soldiers’ perseverance against a much larger Mexican force.

Charles Yates, president of the board of directors for Celebrate Texas and a Texas Army reenactment member, sported 1800s revolutionary attire including his white beard, a soldier coat, fringe pants and a straw hat. Yates read the letter Travis wrote at the Alamo on Feb. 24, 1836 as Santa Anna’s troops bombarded the former mission with cannon fire. Travis wrote that he would not surrender as Mexican commander Santa Anna demanded.

“I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls — I shall never surrender or retreat,” Travis wrote. “Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism and every thing dear to the American character, to come to our aid.”

Yates said the celebration transcends the Texas Revolution and is really an observation of the various cultures that have come to the state seeking a new haven. Yates said the German settlers and later the Vietnamese immigrants were seeking a new beginning just as Texas revolutionaries Sam Houston and Davy Crockett set out to find.

“Texas is the land of the great second chance,” Yates said. “They came to start over. We should celebrate that.”

He said Celebrate Texas began with a generation that grew up commemorating Texas Independence, but he and others did not know if the observance would catch on with younger Texans.

“At first the feeling around town was you’re going to get four old rednecks in a pickup truck, but 4,000 people showed up,” Yates said.

Yates said Celebrate Texas wants people from around the world to visit the state for Texas Independence Day.

“They can all go put on a cowboy hat and go two-stepping,” Yates said.

Nine-year-old Texan Kimberly Neumann looked on with her parents as the dancers twirled in the middle of the Capitol.

Neumann is homeschooled in the East Texas town of Wildwood and visited the Capitol to help her with a class project on Texas history. She said the experience helps broaden her understanding in a way that textbooks cannot.

“Through the pictures you can’t see much,” Neumann said. “It’s different from where I live. You see new things — what happened in our history.”

Martha Zumwalt attended the Alamo Ceremony on the South Capitol ground on Sunday. She said her ancestors were tied to the revolutionary efforts so she wanted to attend to honor her family’s history.

“It’s my history and my family’s history and I’m proud to be a Texas woman,” Zumwalt said. “The history shaped who we are.”

Printed on Monday, March 5, 2012 as: Texas Independence Day celebrated around Austin