Monday, March 26, 2012

Shameful Roots?

Historians write that the American Civil War was fought over states’ rights, not slavery.  But, if owning slaves was the defining state right, is this position accurate, or simply an attempt to disguise a shameful root.

Similarly, was Mexico’s prohibition of slavery a precipitating factor in the Texicans’ rebellion.  It is true that most of the major players, including Austin, Houston, Travis, Bowie, and many others, were raised in southern states and taught to advocate slavery.

Conversely, it was well known that Austin was personally opposed to the institution of slavery, even though he was responsible for disguising it as indentured servitude so it could be practiced in Coahuila-Tejas.  Equally puzzling were the facts that Bowie and his family made a living working and trading slaves, but Jim Bowie himself abandoned both when he moved from Louisiana.

Most published historians who specialize in the Texas Revolution do little more than mention slavery as an issue.  That Texas joined the Confederacy is ample evidence that its citizens favored slavery.  Would the prestige of Texas’ founding fathers be diminished if it were widely acknowledged that they fought to own slaves?  Has such knowledge effected how we feel about Washington and Jefferson?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Did Santa Anna have a personal vendetta against Jim Bowie?

Two affronts that were committed by Santa Anna on the first day of the Alamo siege were probably aimed directly at Jim Bowie.  First Santa Anna hung his blood-red, death-flag from the top of the San Fernando Cathedral bell tower, then he placed his first battery of cannon in the backyard of the Veramendi Palace.  Better sites were available for both.

The death flag was located over a mile from the Alamo and could barely be seen from the walls, while the cannon could have been placed closer to the Alamo, with better cover, and still across the river from, and beyond the range of the Alamo sharpshooters.

The sites Santa Anna did choose were both significant in the life of Jim Bowie.  In the San Fernando Cathedral, on April 25, 1831, Bowie had married Maria-Ursula-Fructuosa Veramendi-Navarro, the beautiful daughter of the Vice-Governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila-Tejas.  In September, 1833, as the senior male member of the Veramendi family, Bowie had gained control of the Veramendi Palace, when his wife and children, and her parents, all died from Cholera.

After joining the Catholic Church and swearing allegiance to Mexico in 1830, Bowie had given every indication that he intended to become an exemplary, Mexican citizen.  But, following the death of his Texas family, Bowie became an instigator and leader in acts of rebellion against Santa Anna and his government.

Without a doubt these acts would have caused Santa Anna to consider Bowie a turncoat.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why Were They Spared?

According to Susanna Dickinson, the wife of Captain Almeron Dickinson, the last Texan to die in the Alamo battle was Major Robert Evans, a thirty-six year old Irishman who came to Texas from New York.

Evans was Master of Ordnance and he had orders to detonate the Alamo gun-powder supply, rather than allow the enemy to capture it.  Had he succeeded, the names of as many as nine women and ten children might appear on the Alamo Cenotaph beside the one-hundred-eighty names of their husbands and fathers, there now.

Evans did not fail for lack of effort.  His body was found on the chapel floor outside the sacristy, where he had been speared by enemy bayonets.  He had poured a trail of black powder into the powder magazine, two rooms to his left, and was preparing to ignite it with a torch found in his dead hand.

Just how much powder was in the magazine is not known, but it is more than probable that, had it exploded, it would have killed Mrs. Dickinson, her daughter, and all of the other women and children huddled in the sacristy, and might even have destroyed the iconic chapel that is our focus today.

What prevented this disaster?  Did Evans look into the eyes of one of the terrified women or hear the cry of a child, and hesitate a moment too long, until the enemy was upon him?  We will never know.

But I think we can consider Robert Evans a hero of the Alamo, both for what he did and for what he did not do. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

How Should I Explain The Alamo To A Child?

When I began to get questions from children visiting the Alamo about the men who fought the Battle, I tried to avoid using the words kill and death, or any form thereof, in my answers.  

I don’t know why I was apprehensive, since I, myself, had confronted death as a child of four, when the neighborhood dogs ate my yellow, Easter duckling.

Perhaps it was because I thought I should shield the youngsters from the harsh realities of life, that I used words like honor, loyalty, and sacrifice instead.

These days, based on a little research and some professional advice, I use all of those words, freely and conjunctively.  The reality of death is all around us and we cannot prevent children’s exposure to it, anymore than we can prevent scraped knees from time to time.  All we can do is deal with it when it happens.  The professionals say that adults must talk with children about death so the children will know it is alright for them to talk about it.

I feel more comfortable answering their questions now because I am able to explain to the children that the Texan soldiers who died in the Alamo are like our soldiers who die in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They made the choice to risk sacrificing their most precious possession, their lives, to win another precious possession, the right to live free.