TOs the long-standing American struggle over how much truth to say about traditional minority oppression overflows, with arguments about everything from teaching critical race theory to the mention of anything gay In the presence of anyone under the age of 18, this engaging new book on the history of the Alamo comes at the perfect time.
Or, as Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford put it: “If ever there was a time for a lively discussion about what the Alamo really symbolizes, we suggest it be now.”
Burrough is the author of six books; Tomlinson, an accomplished journalist; Stanford, a successful political consultant. In their collective opinion, “it is no exaggeration to say that The Alamo is the secular western wall” of Texas, “its secular Mecca. Something like Jews and Muslims have fought for the Temple Mount, so Anglos, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Texans and Native Americans are now debating the future of the Alamo and its meaning. “
Almost 200 years after the battle that killed 200 Americans in an old Spanish church outside of San Antonio, the essential argument remains the same: were these settlers fighting for their “freedom” against the oppression of a Mexican tyrant, Antonio López de Santa Anna, or Were they primarily interested in preserving the slavery opposed by a newly independent Mexico, but which they considered essential to the success of their flourishing cotton farms?
Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford leave no doubt about the correct answer. Slavery.
“Texas, as we know it, exists only because of slave labor,” they claim, and most Texans who came from the south “would not immigrate to Texas without it … for Mexicans, recently freed from Spanish oppression, abolish slavery was a moral issue. For the American colonists it was a matter of wealth creation. “
Or as Texas pioneer Stephen Austin wrote in different letters, “It takes nothing but money” and “it takes blacks to get it.”
What the authors call a “historiography” or “a story of stories” does a fine job of separating the few true facts about the Alamo from the legend that comprises “the beating heart of Texas exceptionalism.”
Jim Bowie, portrayed in countless stories and movies as one of the Alamo’s bravest defenders, likely died on his sickbed without facing any attackers.
Davey Crockett, always depicted in paintings, songs, and movies dying “in the center of a circle of fallen Mexican soldiers,” probably surrendered in the middle of battle and was executed afterward.
Whether it was a fight for freedom or for slavery, the Alamo was an overwhelming victory for Mexico. But accounts of the Mexican carnage – anyone who surrendered was executed and his body immediately burned – stimulated a huge desire for revenge.
“It is not an exaggeration,” write the authors, “to venture that the gently massaged story of [the Alamo’s] The heroic fall emerged as the most powerful weapon in [future Texas president Sam] The Houston Arsenal “.
Just six weeks after the fall of the Alamo, Santa Anna’s army was attacked by Houston’s men and defeated in 18 minutes at the Battle of San Jacinto. Six hundred Mexicans died. Only nine Texans died in the battle, plus six who succumbed to their injuries.
The remainder of the book is dedicated to the long battle fought by historians, novelists, and filmmakers, all seeking to use this story for their own purposes.
DW Griffith, author of The Birth of a Nation, “the biggest box-office film in American history,” was also responsible for its spiritual sequel, Martyrs of the Alamo, “the most wickedly distorted version of the narrative of Alamo never told … the Texas revolt as an Anglo-Saxon revolt against the sexual predations of Santa Anna and his soldiers. Forget freedom, forget Mexican tyranny, [according to Griffith] the Alamo was really about the dangers of miscegenation. “
A particularly poignant section of Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford’s book offers the accounts of Mexican-American Texans who considered themselves Americans until the seventh grade, when they were suddenly discovered to be the Alamo killers.
This is how the Latin activist Rosie Castro, mother of the presidential candidate Julían and his congressman brother Joaquín, remembered it.
“They used to take us there when we were school children. They told us how glorious that battle was. When I grew up I knew that the ‘heroes’ of the Alamo were a bunch of drunks and cooks and imperialist slavers who conquered lands that did not belong to them. But as a child I got the message: we were losers. I can really say that I hate that place and everything it represents. “
Incredibly, the three authors write that “they could not find a single white friend who knew of this widespread Latino sentiment. This ignorance, we might venture, is at the root of much of the resistance to updating the Alamo narrative. “
They conclude that most people “need to forget what we learned about the Alamo, embrace the truth, and celebrate all Texans.” Reading your book is an excellent first step on that essential journey.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism