In 1960, at the height of the Cold War, John Wayne released a movie to display his hatred of communism.
Searching for a storyline, he chose (sadly) the 1836 Battle of the Álamo to superimpose his bias. Therein, he portrays the Anglo illegal immigrants in Mexico as the good guys (the U.S.); and the Mexican Army (the legitimate national military force in Texas) as the bad guys (the Soviet Union).
Applying his own mixture of patriotic legend, historical license, and anti-communist views, it appeared to be a Texas history movie alright, but one based on fiction, not fact. It didn’t take long for prudent historians like famous Texan, J. Frank Dobie, to discredit the venture. When told of the film’s flaws, John Wayne said he didn’t care for historical accuracy. He ignored their counsel and pressed on with his picture. Today, objective historians classify Wayne’s “The Alamo” as a fanciful fable film.
Now in 2015, a new History channel mini-series called “Texas Rising” still demonizes the Mexican Army in order to defend Anglo presence in Mexico’s Texas. It only proves that those responsible for the production haven’t realized that writing Texas history using an Anglo Saxon (anglosajón) pen and viewing Texas solely through a New England lens doesn’t pass the logic test. Scratch just below 1836 and it reveals Texas origins as purely Spanish Mexican. The proof?
(A) On March 2, 1836, when Anglos supposedly created it, Texas was already 145 years old! Texas was born in 1691 with the naming of Domingo Terán de los Rios as its first governor.
(B) In 1836, Texas was not part of the U.S. frontier, contrary to the customary talking points long used by post-1836 historians and parroted by “Texas Rising” writers and producers.
Rather, Texas was a province (state) within the sovereign Republic of Mexico. From the early 1700s, the people of Texas fostered a strong pioneer-spirited vaquero society, nurtured alongside their Spanish, Mexican/Mestizo, and extended Native American kin living in sister states of Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Nuevo Santander. Texas was part of “las provincias internas,” a contiguous vast mass of land that together with the realm of Nuevo México and Las Californias was larger than many countries in the world!
In the words of Historian John Francis Bannon, “The Anglo Americans who came to Texas were not truly pioneers … They found not a wilderness but a society already in existence. Folk of Spanish European origin were already well established…”
However, those facts are rejected outright by Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism, the two major standards used to record accepted U.S. history. That is, they focus only on people, places, and events that feature white, Anglo Saxon Protestant males.
That elitist attitude was naively expressed by Bill Paxton, one of the show’s main stars (he plays Sam Houston). During a press interview, he is quoted as saying, “Yes, we’re shooting the film in Mexico. You know, there’s something about filming in a foreign country that gives the movie a ‘je ne sais quoi’ quality.” (I’ll address his comments later in this article.)
Before we go any further, Rio Grande Guardian readers should know that the “Texas Rising” events are not part of South Texas history because this large triangular-shaped region (Laredo – Corpus Christi, – Brownsville) belonged to Tamaulipas at that time. Thus, South Texas (and RGV) Spanish Mexican residents will not suffer the wholesale wrath of the Texas Rangers (rinches) until after 1848, when the U.S. changed the southern border of Texas from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande.
The first thing viewers will notice when they watch “Texas Rising” is that this well-financed Hollywood-inspired movie doesn’t play the “Álamo” card. Once used as the main model (red meat) of Texas Independence, the 1836 Álamo battle is curiously used only as the movie’s starting point.
Also, the facts below more than amply counterweigh the Anglophile-framed theme of the film:
(1) Mexico didn’t lose Texas to the U.S. until 1848. That makes the 1836 Battles of the Álamo, Goliad, and San Jacinto (including the “Texas Rising” Anglo intrusion) part of a linear chapter of Mexico’s history, not the U.S.
(2) Preceding the Texas Rangers by over 100 years, the Compañias Volante (Flying Squadrons) provided Texas pioneer settlers their first security (police) force; and
(3) (This is equally important.) As to Black/Mulatto slaves and servants appearing in the mini-series, see below to learn their true status in Mexico.
In reality, when Anglos left the U.S. and immigrated to Mexico, they were seeking a better life, not unlike the dreams of today’s immigrants. When crossing into Mexico (Texas), slave-owning Anglos refused to free their slaves as requested by Mexican government officials. So, the main bone of contention between encroaching Anglos and Mexico was slavery.
Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829, the first country in the Americas to do so. Regardless, the Anglos rejected the laws of their host country, fabricated pretexts, and conspired to secede. However, there was a problem. Not born in Mexico, the Anglo expatriates had no legal right to declare independence.
That brings us to the role of slave-owning plotters in the U.S. who were the ones stoking the fire of Anglo insurgency in Mexico. U.S. citizen George Childress wrote what became the Texas Declaration of Independence, by merely copying the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He then illegally crossed into Mexico.
Carefully concealing their premeditated anti-Catholic, anti-Spanish Mexican culture mindset, he and Anglo collaborators tricked Tejano federalists into joining the revolt. Further, to sanction their anarchy, they enticed three unsuspecting Mexican-descent leaders to sign the document. (For the record, of 60 signers, 57 were foreign Anglo U.S.-born, and only three were native Mexican-born.)
(Note: U.S. Anglos will later use the treachery of this same Texas two-step scheme to steal the Hawaii Islands from native Hawaiians.)
Regrettably, shortly after the revolution, betrayal was the rule. First, Tejanos and Native Americans together faced vicious ethnic-cleansing drives. The Karankawa, for example, trying in vain to protect their shrinking territory, were finally exterminated by Anglo settlers who then took their land.
Yes, due to their ambitious appetite for land, the Anglo population in Texas was indeed rising. Conversely, the free-roam Native American population was vanishing into extinction.
As for Tejano families, Anglo vigilantes forced many to move across the Rio Grande. A few returned later. Alas, due to persistent Anglo intolerance, a significant number (also Native Americans) chose to remain in Mexico; where their descendants still live today.
Second, notwithstanding the roles they play in “Texas Rising”, Blacks living in Texas had no cause to fight the Mexican Army. They were free by Mexican law. However, not all were out of bondage, because Anglos used fear tactics to keep them in servitude during and after the revolution.
Albeit, the entire Black population painfully suffered in one of two ways: (a) Families were torn apart; runaway slaves were returned to their previous masters in the U.S., or (b), re-enslaved under new white owners. Having enjoyed freedom in Mexico (Texas), Blacks were not emancipated until June 19 (Juneteenth), 1865.
Depressingly, in post-1836 Texas if you were Tejano, Native American, or Black, it was hard for you to distinguish between evil acts of bandits and those of Anglo vigilantes, slave owners, and Texas Rangers. Yet, “Texas Rising” presents them as heroes. That’s in spite of the horror of slave ownership. Equally ignored is the Texas Rangers’ well-documented antipathy and brutality toward Tejano/Native American populations.
As to Mr. Paxton’s comments referred to earlier, the mini-series events occurred in Mexico. Thus, the distinct “je ne sais quoi” quality he’s looking for is that in 1836 the U.S. was the foreign country, not Mexico.
At best, “Texas Rising” delivers an incomplete message. At worst, it’s a chauvinistic excuse for the Anglos’ brutal invasion of Mexico’s sovereign land. All Mr. Paxton, et al, had to do to learn about early Texas was study the ancient Spanish roadway, El Camino Real. Ironically strange, Sam Houston and fellow Anglos used El Camino Real to move from the U.S. to Texas.
In summary, combatting legends such as “Texas Rising” is an uphill David-and-Goliath battle. Nonetheless, if we stay on our path to recover pre-1836 Texas history, we will win it. Leading the way is our new beacon; The Tejano Monument in Austin. Set in bronze and marble, it emits a profound fresh meaning to the words supposedly once addressed in 1836 to “The people of Texas and all Americans in the world”: Tejana and Tejano descendants refuse to forget that their Spanish Mexican pioneer ancestors are the true founders of Texas.
It’s time to concede that the U.S. was the aggressor in 1836 Texas, not the Mexican Army. Continuing to deny the early chapters of Texas just because they’re written in Spanish and/or don’t fit the Sam Houston model is unjust. It always has been. Acknowledging it now isn’t only wise, but timely. The following is the reason why.
Demography experts predict that Spanish-surnamed Texans will soon again be the majority population, a status they once enjoyed before the Anglos’ arrival. Teaching them a seamless social studies and history curricula in the classroom will finally grant Mexican-descent students their early Texas history ownership, long denied many generations of their elders.
Lastly, in painting a portrait of historical Texas, New England pastel hue just won’t do. Rather, the face of Texas radiates the warmth of the rich brown earth tone barro (clay) of the Southwest; the color not only of the land, but of its people. Ultimately, mainstream historians will have to accept that hard-to-miss Texas founding fundamental fact. Born with both New and Old World traits, Texas is a child of México (New Spain).
Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this op-ed is of the Tejano Monument that graces the grounds of the state Capitol in Austin, Texas. The monument acknowledges and pays tribute to the contributions by Tejanos to Texas history and culture. Armando Hinojosa of Laredo sculpted the life-sized bronze statues that honor the early Spanish pioneers who settled Texas. The statues are mounted on a 275-ton granite base on the southeast grounds of the Capitol. Five accompanying plaques tell the Tejano story, beginning with the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s.