The Unicorn of the Texas Revolution

by Michelle M. Haas

The Anglo Triumphalism mythology we’ve heard decried from on high is as mythical as a unicorn or an ugly Texas sunset. It’s 2021, yet we hear it from professors in the highest positions at public Texas universities. We recently heard it from three Texas journalists carrying water for the professoriate in a book that pretends to debunk Alamo myths, while dedicating a scanty 28 pages to the siege and battle. And now we read it in a July 13, 2021 article in Time Magazine.

Quoting Raúl Ramos, an associate professor of history at University of Houston, in that article:

…well, if you’re Mexican American, and you’re being taught that Mexicans are evil in the Texas Revolution—isn’t that supposed to make you feel bad? Wouldn’t that give [teachers] a platform to push back on this mythologized story of Texas, which is to emphasize Anglo American superiority and ethnic Mexican inferiority? But it’s clearly not what was intended; I don’t think the legislation was intended to protect the feelings of Mexican American kids who are being taught that Anglo Americans are superior in the triumphant Anglo mythology of the Texas Revolution.

He’s referring to recent legislation that prohibits critical race theory and its corrosive siblings from being taught in Texas schools. At the heart of that legislation is the idea that we shouldn’t teach children that they’re victims or oppressors. 

With his “triumphant Anglo mythology” incantation, Ramos joins the chorus of academics and journalists belting out the ballad of their own sacred creation myth. It’s a tone deaf strain because echo chambers are soundproof and stifling. If they could hear what’s going on out here, they’d see the world has moved on.

Without an Anglo-centric non-inclusive dragon to slay, they’d all fade into obscurity, wouldn’t they?

If I had a nickel for every time a professor or journalist threw John Wayne or Fess Parker at the wall and tried to make it stick, I’d be set for life. “We have to stop teaching the John Wayne version of history,” goes the ritual chant, tenderly passed down from Boomers to Zoomers. John Wayne’s Alamo came out in 1960. Sixty years have passed, and those who rail against the coonskin cap view of “history” are the same class who need it for their own myth! The rest of us have moved on.

Sure, the Wayne film has a following. There are Facebook groups and forums dedicated to it. But those aren’t the people writing our history books or teaching our children.

Let’s look closely at this myth that says kids are taught and 21st century Texans believe in Mexican inferiority. Since the journo-academic creation myth is modern – they blinked themselves on to the social justice scene about 30 years ago – and depends on what they claim is the prevalent viewpoint, the evidence should be all around us. But it isn’t. Quite the contrary.

Is Tejano history given short shrift? No. 

In the last quarter century, thirty-three books on Tejano subjects have been published by major university presses. Most remain in print today. This doesn’t include scholarly journal articles, self-published books, or books specifically about Tejano celebrities or music. It also doesn’t include general histories of Texas or the Revolution that reference all significant players regardless of skin tone or country of birth.

The next plank in their mythological platform is education. Are Tejanos absent from history taught in our schools? Are people on the Mexican side of the Texas Revolution painted as “evil,” as Dr. Ramos and his ilk claim? Nope and nope.

A look at the TEKS standards for 7th grade Texas history informs us that the myth-builders have some explaining to do. Here are some highlights from the State Board of Education TEKS framework for 7th grade social studies:

In the Spanish mission period: Massanet, Hidalgo, Margil. In the Mexican Texas era: De Leon and Seguin, among others. Texas Revolution: George Childress, Lorenzo de Zavala, James Fannin, Sam Houston, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Juan N. Seguin and William B. Travis. Republic era: Lamar, Houston, Chief Bowles, Hays, Navarro, William Goyens, Cordova.

Slavery is emphasized in the 1820s and again in the 1850-60s.

If this doesn’t sound supremely Anglo to you, that’s because it isn’t. It’s a myth.

The kids are alright. How about us grown ups? 

As a Texana publisher, I can only tell you what books Texans are willing to trade their hard-earned money for. As an industry point of reference, the average non-fiction book sells about 750 copies before it’s played out.

What kind of books do Texans go nuts for? Just Anglo-centric ones? Let’s look at what has sold well to modern folks.

Dr. Stephen Hardin’s Texian Iliad (U.T. Press, 1994) is a shining example of how Texans embrace the full story of the Texas Revolution and all the players in it. Tens of thousands of this scholarly but impossibly well-written book have sold to date. It’s still in print and much beloved. Nary a word about “evil” Mexicans to be found in its pages. Dr. Hardin acknowledges bravery on both sides of the Revolution and objectively points out racism and other misdeeds when the historical record indicates they happened. That’s what objectively written history looks like. And Texans love it.

A second sample of sound scholarship reaching a wide Texas audience is Colonel Alan Huffines’ Blood of Noble Men (Eakin, 1999.) His work was the key that unlocked the Alamo siege calendar for us.  Huffines shows us who was where (Mexican and Texian), experiencing what on each day, based on extant eyewitness accounts (Mexican, Anglo, slave, male, female.)  Almonte, Esparza, Batres, Seguin, Villanueva, Arocha, Diaz, Peña…do these sound like Anglos to you? Hardly. Yet that’s who speaks in Huffines’ work, which has sold thousands of copies and remains in print. So much of what we know about the inner workings of the Alamo siege and battle was given to us by Mexican and Tejano sources, by way of Colonel Huffines. Military historians true to the craft don’t take sides and don’t care what color the participants are. And Texans love it.

Lastly, there’s the diary/narrative of Lt. Col. José Enrique de la Peña, published in English as With Santa Anna in Texas (A&M Press, revised edition 1997.) It has been in print since I was born and is the most widely-cited account of the Alamo siege and battle we have. Read this slowly: the most often-cited account of the Alamo was written by a Mexican officer. It’s 2021 and has a remarkable sales rank on Amazon. Go figure.

If all of this doesn’t sound supremely Anglo to you, that’s because it isn’t. It’s a myth. Texans don’t shy away from books with Tejanos in them. See also: recent NYT bestsellers by S. C. Gwynne and Stephen Harrigan.

Before we depart let’s visit the fallacy of the Alamo’s Big Three, often depicted as the avatars of all that’s unholy about the mythological Anglo-centric narrative.

Quoting the recent journalist-penned book, Forget the Alamo, seems as good an introduction as any: 

Bowie was a murderer, slaver and con man. Travis was a pompous racist agitator and syphilitic lech; and Crockett was a self-promoting old fool who was a captive to his own myth. They can no longer be the holy trinity of Texas, nor can the Alamo be the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

Set aside the haughty presentism of the journalists here for a second and focus on why these particular men are the Big Three. It has naught to do with their sins, previous occupations or race. It has everything to do with human nature. 

If, God forbid, there were a pot plantation conflagration that cost 180 lives plus Willie Nelson, whose name do you think we’d see in the headlines? James Bowie and David Crockett were both celebrities before they became Alamo defenders. Were there more wholesome men among the garrison? Probably. Does it matter? Not one bit.

In sum…. we have two celeb frontiersmen and Travis commanding the garrison, penning a letter for the ages. That more attention is paid to the Big Three than the other defenders (Tejano and Anglo) and everyday Bexareños is a product of human nature, not of racism. Anyone telling you otherwise is trying to keep their own creation myth alive.

Was there a time when we taught less about Tejanos in our classrooms? Surely there was. I wasn’t alive for it.

Were there many times throughout our history that Anglo and Mexican culture clashed? You bet. 

But neither of those times is now. Tejano heroes and Tejano culture are mainstream and beloved. They’re woven into our fabric. The mythological bogeyman to which professors, journalists and politicians must cling to retain their own relevance is gone. The dead horse they’ve been beating has transformed into a mythical unicorn.

Academics and journos, I extend this sincere invitation to you:

Please join us in the present. Abandon your weird obsessions with John Wayne and Fess Parker. The relative racial harmony we have here will not provide you with job security, but there’s more honest work available here. We can help you with a new creation myth that doesn’t require gaslighting and warping history to hold your head up high.

Please….join us in the now!

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