Freeway Free in Texas: What my Texas History book forgot about the Alamo
I had not been aware that the Alamo is only one of five San Antonio missions which together comprise a National Historic Park as well as a World Heritage Site. The Alamo, of course, is the famous one, enshrined in national memory by a succession of movies – Fess Parker as David Crockett, Steward Granger as Jim Boweie, John Wayne as David Crockett again, all making this bit of history larger than life. I learned a lot that I had not taken in during my 7th Grade Texas History class, including:
Davy Crockett went to Texas to try to recoup his fortunes after a failed attempt at reelection to his Tennessee Congress post. He was essentially bankrupt.
Native born residents of the province of Tejas were mostly mixed-blood of indigenous and Spanish settlers, and were called Tejanos. Immigrants from the United States were mostly from the Southern states and were called Texians.
Santa Ana was not just the general defeated by Sam Houston at San Jacinto. He was the Mexican general who led a coup against the established Federalist government of Mexico after Mexico gained independence from Spain. He quickly established himself as the center of power, and had already put down revolts against his coup in three other Mexican provinces before moving north to put down the rebellion in Texas. Following his defeat in Texas he was in and out of power as the President of Mexico for another twelve years.
Many Tejanos joined the rebellion against Santa Ana because they resented the loss of local control under the new centralized authority. Many Texians rebelled because they had moved to Tejas with their black slaves, and the new centralized government outlawed all slavery.
William Travis, leader of the troops at the Alamo, had a black slave, Joe, who survived the battle and was allowed to go free to carry the news of the defeat to Sam Houston and the other rebels. Sarah Dickinson, a Texian woman whose husband was killed in the battle, was also allowed to go free, just in case a slave’s tale would not be believed. (Or was it the other way around?) The Tejano women and children who survived were also freed. Joe was reported to have impressed the Texas Cabinet with “the modesty, candor, and clarity of his account“, but all the same he was returned as chattel to the heirs of the Travis estate.
So in some ways the war for Texas independence was a preliminary skirmish in the Southern defense of their “peculiar institution” of slavery. Somehow the heroic defense of the Alamo did not come across that way in my 7th grade Texas History class.