The Story of the Alamo is simple. Right? Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Barret Travis and a bunch of their friends went to Texas to start new lives. Then suddenly they realize they are being oppressed by the villain Mexican dictator Santa Anna. They rush off to do battle with him in an old Spanish mission in San Antonio. The morally superior Texans are outnumbered but fight valiantly and die and in doing so give Sam Houston enough time for him to prepare his army so they are able to beat Santa Anna at the battle of San Jacinto. And that was how independence was won for Texas.
I grew up in Texas and this was absolutely what I was taught in school.
And then I read the book “Forget the Alamo”. I will tempt you to buy the book by just telling you that there are several modern British rock stars that are entangled with the Alamo and the characters in the story of the Alamo and I will leave it there. Some of those are actually quite hilarious. OK, I will drop one name, Ozzie Osborn, and boy is it anything routine (well it is Ozzie, so what should you expect?)
The authors of the book bring up some statements some have made about this Texas narrative:
- “This is very serious business in Texas. No other state prizes it’s history quite like Texas”.
- “The idea, deeply held among generations of Texans that the state is special, somehow a cut above.”
- “Its history is kind of a civic religion.”
I don’t think I am anywhere near the far end of the overly braggadocios Texan, but I do have to say I have some Texas pride and the story of the Alamo I grew up on is part of this pride. In the several times I visited the site, I felt I was on revered land.
But then in reading “Forget the Alamo” I realize the truth may have been quite different and certainly less pure and heroic. I read what the main motivation is for people to come to Texas and the character of many of those that came. Mexico welcomed settlers to provide a buffer from the Comanche Indians so the expense of maintaining control of the land was easier. At least that was the plan. The book goes on to put forward (and give supporting evidence) that the entire Texas revolt was mainly about protecting slavery from Mexico’s abolitionist government so that the newcomers could make (lots of) money growing and selling cotton. Very little was about Santa Anna’s tyranny. In fact, he seems reasonable and actually provoked by the “rebels” after trying very hard to appease them.
Mexico wasn’t relying on slavery as part of its economy and had few slaves. So it was easier for them to make the call to abolish slavery. When the Mexican government put forward that any slave that set foot in Mexico they would be freed at that moment, all American immigration to Texas essentially stopped. At one point the main settlement in Texas was one quarter African slaves.
A few years later the Mexican government closed border for Texas and disallowed Americans to enter – not that the Mexican government was able to enforce that edict. Cotton prices were skyrocketing and Americans flowing in doubled the state’s population in just a 4 years. The irony of Mexico closing the border to Americans just makes me laugh today. As the authors of the book mention, the only thing missing is the Mexican president saying he is going to build a wall and have the Americans pay for it.
The book goes on to put forward that many individuals, both today and at that time, thought there was no need to “defend” the Alamo. It was a needless loss of life for something that didn’t have much strategic value. And on the “fact” that all the Alamo’s defenders fought to the death with price, there is some evidence those in the Alamo tried at one point to surrender.
The book goes on to talk about the individuals that came to Texas. Stephen F Austin repeatedly said the only reason Americans would come to Texas was to farm cotton. He was opposed to slavery, but not on moral grounds, but due to a fear of slave uprisings. There are plenty of very racists statements from many of the Texas leaders. It supposedly was common knowledge that “Any man coming to Texas was running from something – an arrest warrant or debts.” William Travis left his wife and came to Texas and never returned, but his diary claims to have been with more than 4 dozen women. Sam Houston and Davey Crockett were fleeing failed political careers. Sam Houston was even well known as a drunk by the local native Americans. Many of those that came to Texas were not only slave owners but were also slave traders and used shady tactics to gain more money in these trades. Most anyone today would of course be more horrified about them trading slaves than the fact that they had blemished business reputations, but the point being is most Americans at the time probably thought of many of these individuals with some distain. Most of these individuals were not the unblemished heroes like I was taught in school. And speaking of Texas schools, many schools in Texas are named after these famous early Texans. And on the opposing side, Santa Anna gave the Texans everything they wanted EXCEPT guaranteeing they could keep their slaves and bring in more slaves. The Texans were breaking the laws, not paying taxes, and killing those that came to try and collect the taxes. There is a strong case that he was probably too soft until he was forced to get Texas under control.
It seems at almost every turn that the history I was taught is contradicted by what seems to be the real history coming to light now. And even today there are laws on the books (and threats of more) that teachers in Texas must teach a “patriotic” version of the Alamo and early Texas history. To even mention much of what is in the book, “Forget the Alamo” can get a teacher in serious trouble.
So my point of this post is not to just give a condensed history lesson. As I was reading this book, it brought up many parallels between the history of the Alamo and Texas and the history of the LDS church. I am not happy that my teachers in school were made (probably unknowingly) a myth of the history of early Texas. I dislike the fact that many of items of my conversion as a teenager came from stories told by Elder Paul H. Dunn – which later turned out to be fiction. And of course, I see parallels of placing individuals up on pedestals by covering up part of who they were, creating narratives that were objectively incorrect, and individuals – especially current leaders – that all but refuse to admit there is much of any issues of any cover up. After almost a decade past the start of my faith crisis I have read just under 100 books on church history (and insane amounts of podcasts). Sure the history of the church has some problems and some isn’t so positive. In fact I find it rather fascinating. But I am still quite upset at the coverup of the history – not so much the history itself. The same applies for the story of the Alamo. I don’t think the men were TOTAL scoundrels. I have sympathy for them as they lived through Texas summers without air-conditioning! That alone is a bit amazing. But I really can’t handle that I was told a false history and this was and still is enforced by lawmakers that don’t even want to admit there is possibly another narrative.
- Do you see parallels or differences in the Texas narrative and the LDS narrative?
- Am I just an angry Texan because someone didn’t follow the rule of “Don’t mess with Texas” [history]?