Battle on the San Gabriels

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The Time Capsules stories are prepared by

Bob Brinkman - Texas Historical Commission


Remembering James Rice and the Battle on the San Gabriels

This month marks the anniversary of an important battle in Texas history. Starting with J. W. Wilbarger, author of Indian Depredations in Texas in 1889, many historians have called the Battle on the San Gabriels the second-most important strategic battle in Texas after San Jacinto. The hero of the battle was a 24-year old Lieutenant in the Texas Rangers who made his mark on Texas history and the settlement of Williamson County. James O. Rice was in the Rangers in early 1836, serving in Captain Tumlinson’s company that was based at Block Fort near Leander and helped evacuate settlers from Central Texas as Santa Anna’s army advanced after taking the Alamo. Rice was also one of the first seven permanent settlers along the Colorado River at Waterloo, the village that became Austin in 1839. In the spring of that year, Rice was in Colonel Edward Burleson’s Ranger company, which was protecting Central Texas settlers from Indian attacks. The Rangers encountered a band of eighty Mexicans and Indians marching across Texas and successfully pursued and captured most of the group. Lt. Rice led a party of 17 Rangers that chased the escapees across the Colorado River to the San Gabriel forks, near present Liberty Hill.

Ranger William Wallace shot and killed their leader, Manuel Flores, who was an Indian agent working for the Mexicans.

The rest of the group fled, and the Rangers discovered papers in Flores’ pouch that explained the scope of his activities. Flores was under orders to meet with the Indian tribes of the Plains and incite them to attack the Texan settlers. The Indians were promised restoration of their lands in Texas in exchange for their service. At a time when the settler population was outnumbered by the natives, such attacks might have proven fatal for the young Republic.

James O. Rice continued to defend Texas settlers against attackers throughout the Republic period. He was at Kenney’s Fort along Brushy Creek, the first permanent settlement in Williamson County, and he was in the force that repelled General Woll’s attack from Mexico in 1842. Rice was a part of the Somervell, Mier, and Snively Expeditions to Mexico in 1842-43. He was one of four men who circulated a petition for the creation of Williamson County in 1848, and he settled on Brushy Creek at Blue Hill, which then changed its name to Rice’s Crossing. Today that village name and a 1936 historical marker near the battle site are the only monuments to a pioneer and hero who time and again risked himself for the continued freedom of his home.