Banners of Protest
Americans have flown banners as symbols of political protest from the earliest days. Flags of protest hung on Boston’s Liberty Tree even before the first shots of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord, and the tradition is with us yet today. On Saturday, January 19th, over three thousand Utahns met at the state’s capitol, as part of similar events held throughout the country, to demonstrate in favor of the right to bear arms. Supporters came with signs and flags. The signs were homemade, but the flags were based on designs drawn from past centuries.
One flag flown was the Gadsden flag, yellow with a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, with the motto in block letters, “Don’t Tread on Me.” This historic flag from the time of the American Revolution, with its obvious message, has become favored at Tea Party rallies.
The other flag, although it appears modern also has its roots in American history. The motto on this black and white flag reads, “COME AND TAKE IT” in black block lettering. Above the motto is the profile of a rifle, a Colt AR -15, depicted below a single black five pointed star. While an AR-15 hardly seems to be a symbol of the past, its depiction on the flag is based on a story from reaching back more than one and three-quarters century to a time when Texas was still under Mexican control.
Mexican authorities had loaned a cannon to the town of Gonzales for their use in defense against Indian raids. However, as tension increased between the Mexican government and the American townspeople of Gonzales, the commander of the Mexican garrison in San Antonio sent a detachment to recover the cannon fearful that it could be used in a rebellion against Mexican control of Texas. The townspeople in Gonzales refused to give up the artillery piece and sent the detachment back to San Antonio empty handed.
When word arrived that a larger force of Mexican dragoons had been dispatched to force surrender of the cannon, a force of 200 men arrived from the area surrounding Gonzales to fortify the small town. Two local ladies, Cynthia Burns and Evaline DeWitt, painted a flag on cotton cloth depicting a Texas Lone Star placed above the silhouette of the cannon. The motto, “Come and Take It” challenged the Mexican soldiers to try and retrieve the artillery piece. The Texans outnumber the Mexican dragoons, who after a short battle, withdrew leaving the cannon in the possession of its defenders.
The improvised flag of a little known battle thus became the pattern for a modern flag. The cannon of the flag flown at the Battle of Gonzales in 1835 gave way to a modern rifle. The black and white flag, no longer hand painted is available for sale to those who find parallel in modern efforts to restrict gun ownership.
Opinions remain divided and emotions are high, but this shows that among our rights as Americans, we have the right not only to bear arms, but the right to fly flags. Both are old traditions in America.