In the last installment of history podcaster Brandon Seale’s 2019 series Finding Medina, the storyteller admits that he hasn’t lived up to the promise of the title.
“I have not found definitive proof for the battlefield of Medina,” Seale intones frankly, after twelve episodes extensively exploring the mystery of where the legendary Battle of Medina took place.
The 1813 Battle of Medina is considered the first Texas revolution, and though unsuccessful on the part of the rebels — more than 1,000 are presumed to have been killed, their families harassed and sent out of Texas — it served as just the first step in a war that culminated in the success of the 1836 rebellion.
But the location of the battle remains an enigma. Researchers, historians, and descendants of soldiers have been searching for decades for definitive proof, but contemporaneous accounts offer contradictory evidence, and no comprehensive archaeological digs have been undertaken in an effort to uncover artifactual evidence.
Though Seale concludes his podcast saying that keeping alive the memory of the battle might be enough, the quest to locate the actual battlefied site continues this weekend, with a public symposium and memorial ceremony at the Atascosa County Historical Commission in Leming.
Seale will lead a roundtable discussion Friday evening from 6-8 p.m. during which researchers will present available evidence for where they believe the battle took place. On Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., researchers will join descendants of the defeated 1813 Republican Army of the North for the annual commemoration of the battle and further discussion, to honor the sacrifices of the original Texas revolutionaries.
Both events are open to the public.
Still, they persisted
The battlefield remains unfound, but not for lack of trying. Three historical markers identify the supposed site of what is known as the bloodiest battle in Texas history for the number of fighters killed and wounded, but each are in different locations, including one in Bexar County and two in Atascosa County, one of those privately funded and on private property.
The public marker in Atascosa County, at Bruce Road and Old Applewhite Road, admits that no archaeological evidence has been found to prove the location. Nor does archaeological evidence currently exist to definitively prove any of eight other potential sites.
In admitting defeat, Seale joined other hallowed Texas heroes who lost their quests. But Texas defeats, the Alamo battle and the Battle of Medina in particular, have a way of enduring as inspirations for later victories.
The 1836 defeat at the Alamo led to the subsequent victory at San Jacinto, during which Gen. Sam Houston rallied his troops with the famous “Remember the Alamo!” cry. Seale and other historians posit that both the Alamo and San Jacinto battles were inspired by the rebellious army that first fought to free Texas from what they saw as tyrannical Mexican rule.
Alamo survivor Juan Seguin’s detachment in particular was populated by direct ancestors of those who fought in the Medina battle, Seale has noted, and Sam Houston based his tactics at San Jacinto on mistakes made by the Republican Army of the North that led to their defeat.
Locating the battlefield is important because it deserves recognition and commemoration on the level that the Alamo receives, said Atascosa County Historical Commission Chairman Martin Gonzales, who was inspired in part by Seale’s podcast to add the Friday roundtable to the annual commemoration.
Aside from the historical markers, “there’s no shrine to the final chapter of the first revolution,” Gonzales said, echoing the title of the 1985 book credited for reviving interest in the Medina battle, Forgotten Battlefield of the First Texas Revolution: The Battle of the Medina, August 18, 1813.
The book was edited and annotated by Atascosa County resident Robert H. Thonoff based on a manuscript prepared by historian Ted Schwarz. Thonoff will be honored during the Saturday ceremony, though infirmities will not allow the 91-year-old former judge to attend in person.
“Although I can’t be there in body, I will be there in spirit,” Thonoff said.
A Minnesota historian read his book soon after publication and contacted Thonoff to help organize a 175th anniversay commemoration in 1988. That event led to annual commemorations and the ongoing search for the original battlefield, which has been complicated by contradictory accounts from the time of the battle, and divergent speculation by present day researchers.
At last, archaeology
Seale said he hopes this latest gathering of evidence will point to the most likely locations to begin archaeological digs, which could happen as soon as February 2022. Researchers hope these digs might finally reveal solid evidence that has so far eluded them.
Such digs are meticulous and require funding. Seale said a combination of public and private funds are currently being raised toward a total of $60,000, and that even if definitive evidence of the battle site is not found, other artifacts are likely to be discovered, given that the region includes old caminos reales that had been in use for hundreds of years.
Seale laughed when confronted with his contradictory impulses. He concluded his podcast saying, “to the extent that we feel like we need a place to go to honor the Battle of Medina, I think we already have it,” in the form of the El Carmen Church, where the battle has been commemorated continuously for 200 years.
Yet the symposium continues the search.
“Who doesn’t love a quest?” he joked, then turned serious. “Being able to point to a spot on a map with some certainty helps bring visibility to the event.”
Such visibility would also contribute to current discussions about telling the true tale of Texas history, he said.
“It may have new resonance as we’re re-examining some of our old historical stories and old favorite Texas battles, that it’s worth it to open up the panorama a little wider, and capture some of these other other events that were also pretty determinative of Texas history,” he said.
Both events will take place at the Atascosa County Historical Commission, 25 E. 5th St. in Leming, and both are free.
Disclosure: Finding Medina and other podcasts by Brandon Seale have been published by the San Antonio Report.