A hundred years to come my people will not be fit for liberty. They do not know what it is, unenlightened as they are, and under the influence of a Catholic clergy, a despotism is the proper government for them.” – Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna, 1836
Historical what-ifs are always popular. Have you ever thought about what might have happened if the hero of the revolution against Spain, General Antonio López de Santa Anna, had captured the Alamo in 1836 without destroying his chances of reconquering rebellious Texas? If Texas had stayed part of Mexico, perhaps under Stephen Austin’s original conception of a Mexican state?
Think about an America in which Texas is part of Mexico. Then ask yourself if, by losing, Santa Anna hurt Mexico more? Or was the true harm done to America? Given the state of GOP ideology today – I’m thinking about the politics of Gov. Rick Perry, and those of Greg Abbott, fresh from his victory over the better candidate, Wendy Davis, not to mention that recent immigrant, Allen West, who found Floridians to be too smart for him. I’m thinking about Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Representative Louie Gohmert, both at least as sane as Minnesota’s Michele Bachmann or Alaska’s Sarah Palin.
I’m thinking not only about depths of corruption that would do any Santa Anna-style despotism proud, but about bottom-dollar jobs and people dying from want of healthcare. I’m thinking about hatred and religion and guns.
With apologies to our fellow liberals in Texas, It does not seem all that unreasonable to suggest now that Santa Anna would have done us all a favor by being a better general.
Here is another what-if: what might have been the course of Texas history if he had failed to take the Alamo, and James Bowie, William Barret Travis, and David Crockett, had lived? These three men were movers and shakers in Texas. The first two based on what they had already accomplished there, and the latter based on what he had accomplished in Congress for the people of Tennessee. Both Bowie and Crockett were larger-than-life figures, living legends on the frontier.
We hear a lot about Sam Houston (he defeated Santa Anna and had a city named after him, after all), but how much would we have heard of him had these three lived to spread their own shadows over the land? Would the city of Houston today be the city of Travis, or Bowie? Or even Crockett? And what kind of state would it be?
To Santa Anna these Anglos might have been nothing more than pirates trying to steal parts of Mexico, but Travis, whom historian James Donavan calls a “firebrand,” the most extreme type of revolutionary, was a lawyer, a good friend of Governor Henry Smith, and a member of the War Party that favored independence. He was also intelligent, personally brave, a gifted orator, and “no man in Texas could claim more credit for the present uprising.” And he was only 26 in the year he died. He had a long and influential future in Texas politics ahead of him.
We can no more know what sort of movie Ron Howard would have made about the Alamo, had Disney not refused the movie he wanted to make, than what sort of world we would have inherited had Santa Anna been the “Napoleon of the West” in more than his own imagination. We do know what sort of movie was made instead, and it has served as a corrective to some earlier, mistaken notions about Texas history.
That film, John Lee Hancock’s, The Alamo (2004), has Travis tell the beleaguered garrison of the Alamo,
Texas has been a second chance for me. I expect that might be true for many of you as well. It has been a chance not only for land and riches, but also to be a different man. I hope a better one. There have been many ideas brought for in the past few months of what Texas is, and what it should become. We are not all in agreement. But I’d like to ask each of you what it is you value so highly that you are willing to fight and possibly die for. We will call that Texas.
Contrary to John Wayne, who, in his 1960 film, for some reason humanized Santa Anna and the Mexicans under his command without recognizing the Mexicans standing against him, the Alamo’s approximately 200 defenders included at least a dozen Tejanos.
John Wayne presented the Alamo as a struggle between right and wrong, and not as a struggle between Anglos and Mexicans; it just so happened in his Mexican-free Alamo that the guys who were right, were Anglos, and the guys who were wrong, were Mexicans.
The freedom won in the ensuing war was a victory for those opposed to Santa Anna’s tyranny. But in a very real sense it was also a victory of Anglos over Mexicans because Travis’ War Party won out over Austin’s Peace Party, which had favored Mexican statehood. John Lee Hancock put the Mexicans back inside the Alamo, but a film cannot change history, only correct it.
Texas became a slave state, which it would not have, had Santa Anna won, because slavery was illegal under Mexican law (though its peonage system was not much of an improvement). And after that, Texas joined the Confederacy in rebellion against the lawful government of the United States.
As reported here, K.C. Massey, who the SPLC characterizes as an anti-immigrant nativist extremist, “a member of a militia that ‘patrols’ the Texas border, met with and posed for photos with Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbot just four days before his arrest on illegal weapons charges.” Massey tells the SPLC he is innocent, but then, Rick Perry and Greg Abbott also claim they are innocent. None of their arguments are convincing.
They would all be Mexico’s problem today if Santa Anna had won.
Racists gathered in Rockwall, Texas, last weekend, to protest immigration and to celebrate the swastika and no doubt they had a good time with their kooky ideas about history, just has had Rick Perry and that enemy of an educated populace, David Barton.
They would also be Mexico’s problem. Or perhaps, a happier thought here, that of the cartels.
Walter Hill’s film Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) has Al Sieber, chief of scouts (played by Robert Duvall) mutter, “I don’t see how any man can sink so low. Must be Texans… the lowest form of white man there is.”
It is difficult, again with apology to our liberal Texas friends, not to sympathize.
After all, the first Anglos in Texas were themselves immigrants, many of them illegal immigrants at that, present in sovereign Mexican territory without permission and settling down on whatever land pleased them.
Granted, the men in the Alamo were fighting for many different things, some for independence, some for the 1824 Constitution, some for their homes and their families. But what the Alamo has become is a symbol of racism that completely discounts the historical realities.
Sadly, racism, like corruption, has become a staple of Texas politics. It may have become so even if Santa Anna had retained Texas, but it must be remembered that the first Anglo settlers were actually welcomed by the Mexican government, which couldn’t get anybody else to move there.
The Anglos only become unwelcome when they tried to take Texas away from Mexico. So far, no immigrants have tried to take Texas away from the United States. On the contrary, they want to be part of the United States, just as the first Anglos in Texas wanted to be part of Mexico.
Ironically, the word “Texas” is an Indian word. And it means “friend.” You would not know that by the actions of the Texas Republican Party.
 James Donavan, The Blood of Heroes: The 13-Day Struggle for the Alamo–and the Sacrifice That Forged a Nation (Kindle version) Little Brown & Co, 2012
Image from Slacktory
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.