News & Politics

Woke History, Whether It's the 1619 Project or an Attack on the Alamo, Should Be Able to Withstand a Debate

(Image by E. W. Forbess from Pixabay.)

Before I get to the meat of this post, some news. Earlier this week I wrote about the Bullock Texas State History Museum’s event with the authors of Forget the Alamo, a book that badly distorts the history of the Alamo and disrespects its defenders.

How so?

Take a look at what the authors say on page 99.

And, sad to say, how anything that happened after Santa Anna’s appearance on February 23 can be held up as “bravery” is beyond us. Once Santa Anna appeared, Travis and his men were trapped. Despite the legends, there was never any conscious decision or vote in which the defenders elected to stay and fight. They had simply lingered too long, and now they were trapped. Every one was a dead man walking.

None of this is true and there isn’t enough snark in the world to make it true. Juan Seguin rode out of the Alamo on February 24 with the call for reinforcements. Thirty-two men from Gonzales, Texas, answered that call and got into the Alamo on February 29. James Butler Bonham returned from a mission to the Alamo on March 3, dying in the battle three days later. The defenders were surrounded but Santa Anna’s lines weren’t impenetrable. The defenders likely knew the terrain around the Alamo better than any of Santa Anna’s troops did. Every day the defenders stayed, they chose to stay. This includes the Tejanos, who if the authors’ racist narrative is to be believed, had reasons to leave the Alamo and turn on the Anglos inside. None of them did, though. They chose to stay and fought to the death against overwhelming odds. The last defender alive may well have been Jose Toribio Losoya, though we’ll never know for sure. We do know he stayed, he fought against Santa Anna, and he died at the Alamo. That’s brave in most people’s opinion. The authors of Forget appear to have canceled Losoya.

The authors also imply that others who were surrounded in battle were not brave even if they choose to fight. That’s one of many positions they ought to re-think.

Related: New Book Claims Texas Heroes Were Cowardly Fools Fighting for Slavery. It’s Wrong. Very Wrong.

In any case, the Bullock event was not originally set to be balanced, but the moderator (a former teacher) was gearing up to ask the authors some difficult questions based on the responses the museum was getting to the event. The authors make some serious claims and should expect to be questioned and tested, particularly given the attitude they have taken regarding Texas history — everyone else has been wrong for decades, but these three have uncovered the truth. Big claims require serious evidence. Media thus far have not asked them one single difficult question, and allowed them make outrageous claims such as that the story we know of the Alamo is no more real than the Easter Bunny. This should be tested.

The Bullock event was canceled Thursday and the authors claim they’re being “banned” or silenced. That’s about as factual a claim as many they make in the book. No one is deplatforming them, which happens to conservatives with numbing regularity. No one is calling for them to be deplatformed or unpublished or even silenced. At all.

The Bullock shouldn’t have been in a position to lend its considerable credibility to a non-peer-reviewed book that makes sensational claims, but cancelation may not have been the optimum outcome. A debate centered on the facts would be the best way to settle whether they’re right or not. Given the fact that their book isn’t peer-reviewed, and I (a non-historian) and Professor James L. Haley (an actual historian), Mark Pusateri, Michelle Haas, and others have poked numerous holes in it without breaking a sweat, a debate should be enlightening. Any or all of the three who wrote the following factual piece and sent it to me would be willing to engage, I’m sure. Please read, and share if you wish.

My next C’Mon Now! show examines another aspect of history that has come under woke assault. That’ll hit next week.

 

Wokeness At The Alamo: Fact Confronts Fantasy

by Jerry Patterson, Denton Florian, and Col. Alan Huffines

History is not clean. We like its lines well defined and its stories in 20-second soundbites but history is never that way. It is messy. When it does not fit the woke agenda the prevaricators and provocateurs take license to just make things up, often swaying great numbers of people.

Such is the case with the recent attempt to recast the Alamo story as an Anglo narrative driven by “white supremacy” and the desire to maintain slavery. There are several holes in this argument, the first being that the Texas Revolution was hardly an Anglo narrative, the second involves the Texas leaders who actually tried to avoid war with Mexico, and the third is in casting all of the Anglos as “white supremacists.”  

Mexican President-General Antonio López de Santa Anna campaigned as a states’ rights candidate but once elected abolished the Constitution of 1824 and took full power for himself, declaring himself a dictator. When Zacatecas rebelled, Santa Anna ransacked the city and 5,000 Mexican citizens were killed or executed. It was a warning to anyone who opposed him. As a result, civil war broke out in four other Mexican states: Yucatán, Tabasco, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas, none of which were slave-holding states.

The Tejano population (Mexican citizens born in Texas) was also alarmed. Santa Anna disbanded the local state legislatures and the elected governors were replaced with political appointees. Advocates of peace in Texas led by Stephen F. Austin tried to avoid war but on a diplomatic mission to Mexico City; Austin was arrested and thrown into prison. He had a year and a half to rethink his position.

Related: When the Alamo Gets Its Own Civil Rights History Wrong

The Texians (the Anglo settlers who came to Texas) had generous land grants, very low taxes, substantial autonomy, and wanted to continue living under the Constitution of 1824.  The vast majority of them never owned slaves. It was simply not in their interest to start a conflict with Mexico. If the Texas Revolution was all about slavery why would non-slaveholders be willing to die for something they had no part in? (Incidentally, the first soldier to take a bullet fighting for the Texas cause, on October 9, 1835, was Sam McCulloch, Jr., a free black man.)

It became clear that war was unavoidable. Tejano delegates José Antonio Navarro and Francisco Ruiz both signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. Of the six general and fourteen specific reasons the Declaration argues for independence slavery did not make the list. 

As the convention progressed, Tejanos chose to barricade themselves inside the Alamo and give their lives with the Texians. In a foreshadowing of the American Civil War 25 years later, Alamo defender Gregorio Esparza had a brother in Santa Anna’s army. After the smoke cleared from the battle, Fernando Esparza was given permission to retrieve his brother’s body, and thus Gregorio Esparza became the only Alamo defender to receive a Christian burial. The others were thrown onto a pyre and burned.

But the Tejano involvement hardly ends there. Juan Seguín and his men fought valiantly at San Jacinto, and Lorenzo de Zavala went on to help write the Texas Constitution. The argument that the Texas Revolution was an Anglo conflict about slavery is simply false.

Finally, David Crockett had a famous falling out with Andrew Jackson over Indian policy. That is why he was in Texas in the first place. Sam Houston, alone in political circles, argued for the rights of indigenous people and tried to get them title to their lands. He even lived with the Cherokee for six years and was adopted by the tribe as a full Cherokee citizen. He married a Cherokee woman in today’s Oklahoma. Jim Bowie also adopted another culture when he married Maria Ursula de Veramendi, the daughter of the Mexican Vice Governor of Coahuila y Tejas. These men had many close friends from other cultures. Dismissing them as “white supremacists” is a simplistic, woke fantasy.

Did people in the 1800s have different views on race than we do today? Yes. All of them did. Even the abolitionists wrote things that could never be printed in a modern newspaper. But to judge them by a moral standard that has advanced 185 years beyond their time is grossly unfair, amateurish, and irresponsible. Instead of judging previous generations, we should be asking ourselves what people 185 years from now will look back and condemn us for. That is a more difficult and uncomfortable question. History is always more complicated than we want to make it. It is always messy, and frequently inconvenient to woke fairy tales.

Jerry Patterson is a former Texas state senator and Texas Land Commissioner; Denton Florian is the Executive Producer of the EMMY Award winning documentary, “Sam Houston”; COL Alan C Huffines is the author of the books “Blood Of Noble Men: The Alamo Siege and Battle,” “The Texas War of Independence,” and is a member of the Alamo Community Advisory Committee. 

Update: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick got the event canceled. The authors were attempting to borrow the Bullock’s credibility to bolster their book without, to this point, ever answering any of their many critics. The media has given them nothing but glowing coverage.