López: Things I wish my Texas school teachers had taught me

Texas historian and Rio Grande Guardian columnist José Antonio López penned this column in remembrance of The Battle of Medina. Friday, Aug. 18, 2023, is the 210th anniversary of the battle.

The Battle of Medina, August 18, 1813, is an important Texas history event that began the Texas Independence movement. This effort should bring a sense of honor to Rio Grande Valley Mexican-descent people. That’s because José Bernardo Gutiérrez de Lara led the quest for Texas freedom. He was born and raised in Revilla, Nuevo Santander, today’s binational community of Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Zapata, Texas. (His descendants still live throughout South Texas.) 

In brief, the largest, bloodiest battle ever fought on Texas soil ended the drive. Lt. Col. Gutiérrez de Lara and the Army of the North took possession of San Antonio on April 1-2, 1813. As often happens in times of war, some of the rebels whose families had been murdered by the Spanish took revenge on their captives (e.g., killing the Spanish governor and his staff). As the overall commander, he took responsibility for their actions. Later, the newly established junta relieved him of command. Under a different commander, Cuban-born Álvarez de Toledo, the Tejano Army was defeated south of San Antonio by Spanish General Joaquín Arredondo’s counter-offensive.

(Note 1: Just because the Tejano Army included U.S. volunteers, some historians seek to make the Battle of Medina a part of the U.S. (American) Revolution. That’s a far-fetched claim. Besides, if they’re willing to do that, then logically, they must recognize Gutiérrez de Lara’s 1813 first Texas Revolution. Why? Because both events are inseparably inter-related.      

Note 2:  In reference to Note 1 above, mainstream historians diminish Gutiérrez de Lara because recognizing him would dismantle their shaky “house-of-cards”.  (That is, their contention that Texas history begins with Stephen F. Austin/Sam Houston).

God knows that I wish I had learned about this battle in school, but I didn’t. Yet, it’s not surprising. Facts such as these are left out of mainstream post-1836-48 Texas history.

That’s why as an 8th-generation Texan (descendant of José de Escandón’s Las Villas del Norte), I chose to write about early Texas history. It’s a path that many professors, teachers, and private citizens have taken, and I wanted to be part of that group.   

It’s a challenging task, because mandated Texas history speaks for itself: (l) dismissive of the beginning chapters of Spanish Mexican Texas, (2) disrespect of Mexican-descent Texans, and (3) discouraging the speaking of Spanish. So, after retiring from my nearly 40-year military/federal service career, I set out to help re-establish Texas’ Spanish Mexican roots.  

For starters, nowhere else in history has one group robbed another group’s heritage to embellish its own. Yet, that’s what Anglos have done by hijacking Texas history.    

To explain, there’s no better example of mainstream history habitually using cancel culture and cultural appropriation than downtown San Antonio’s historic buildings.  That is, the Anglos claim these wonders as their own, even though they’re clearly of Spanish Mexican origin. 

Still, some of our strongest supporters are of Anglo Nordic heritage; most notably, Mr. Robert H. “Bob” Thonhoff, R.I.P. (Without the help of these fair-minded “honorary Tejanos”, it would have been nearly impossible for us to share our story.) Thus, I wish my teachers had taught me and students of all backgrounds the following important details:

·       The earliest (1500s) European map makers included most of today’s U.S., as part of “America Mexicana”.

·       Over half of the U.S. was taken from Spain and Mexico; 

From Spain: The Florida territory (including S. Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi); Spanish Louisiana, Spanish Missouri, and land on both banks of the Mississippi River. 

From Mexico: Texas, South Texas, and the entire Southwest (over half of Mexico’s sovereign territory).  

Important! Brutal aggression toward our brethren First Americans allowed the U.S. to occupy land from sea to shining sea. In short, U.S. expansion has always been about empire building at the expense of Native Americans and invasion of its Spanish and Mexican neighbors. It’s “How the West was won”.

·       Texas was born in 1691. Domingo Terán de los Rios – the first Texas Governor. Thirty individuals served as Texas Governors (1691-1821).  

·       New Spain (Mexico) gave U.S. Anglo immigrants their first land grants to co-exist with and help Mexican families settle north and northeast Texas.

·       Moses Austin was a Spanish citizen living in Spanish Missouri when he received his land grants. Upon his death, Stephen merely took over his father’s rights in Mexico. 

·       Daniel Boone was a Spanish citizen living in Spanish Missouri and a Spanish government official.

·       Stephen F. Austin cannot be the Father of Texas, since Texas was already 130 years old when he arrived. He and the Old 300 U.S. immigrants agreed to become law-abiding Mexican citizens. Curiously, most people don’t know that Stephen F. Austin’s reputation is forevertarnished for two appalling deeds: (l) leading efforts to restore slavery in Texas, and (2) heartlessly directing attacks to exterminate Karankawa Native Americans.

·       The damaging effect of the 1936 Centennial. Most of today’s mandated Texas history was developed one hundred years after the Anglo immigrant insurrection in Mexico.  t was a time of renewed bigotry against Mexican-descent Texans. It also led to the building of the monstrosity called the Cenotaph. In reality, that ill-chosen display not only insults Tejanos, but serves as a reminder that the individuals depicted therein are all illegal Anglo immigrants.

·       The many myths wrapped around the Álamo. No one symbol has more mythological masquerades than the “Álamo”. First, it’s a peaceful sanctuary, not a military structure. Second, no soldiers were ever stationed inside. Third, learning about these two facts greatly disappoints first-time visitors who feel deceived into thinking it’s a military building.  

·        When the Anglos decided to unlawfully occupy Presidio San Antonio de Béxar, they knowingly endangered local civilian families who had made it their home. 

·       Simple truths that reject the Álamo myths and legends. Often, we’re told the trespassing Anglos were “defending” the presidio. The problem? It wasn’t theirs to defend. Contrary to the popular myth that only a handful of people survived, many Mexican-descent residents did survive. 

·       San Antonio de Valero (AKA Álamo) is equal in stature to her sister missions of Concepción, San José, Espada, and San Juan.  

·       The so-called Hall of Flags inside San Antonio de Valero is historically inaccurate. Why? State officials and the tourist industry use it to deceive and confuse, rather than to educate. At face value, the exhibit implies that the countries represented by the flags invaded Mexico’s sovereignty in 1836, which is untrue. None of the armed immigrants came to Texas directly from Europe. The dubious display is meant to hide the fact that all the invaders came from the U.S.  

·       The 1836 Anglo Texas Revolution isn’t supported by a natural or legitimate law. Of the 56 signers, only three were Mexican citizens. Afterwards, the Tejanos were shunned and betrayed. Albeit, a Mexican (Lorenzo de Zavala) put the star on the Texas Lone Star Flag. Sweet revenge.

·       There’s no Álamo in the Álamo City. City officials destroyed Presidio San Antonio de Béxar (where the battle took place) and sold the grounds for commercial development. The mission’s camposanto (graveyard) was bulldozed over. Today, the remains of indigenous parishioners repose under asphalt and concrete. The same Anglo leaders tried to erase the Spanish Mexican footprint in San Antonio, but Adina de Zavala prevented them from completing their goal.

·       Clara Driscoll didn’t save the Álamo (Misión San Antonio de Valero) and the convento. Adina de Zavala single-handedly did it herself. Then, Adina started a group to help her preserve the Spanish Mexican roots of the city. (Her organization eventually became the DRT.) As a member, Clara Driscoll convinced her fellow Anglo members to showcase only one single incident – the 1836 U.S. immigrant revolt. Being outvoted, Adina resigned from the group. Years later, Adina said that agreeing to meet Clara Driscoll was the worse decision she had ever made in her life.

·       Anglo immigrants in Texas didn’t write the Texas Declaration of Independence. U.S. citizen George Childress wrote it while living in the U.S. He then smuggled it into Mexico, where he joined other U.S. agents already in Texas.

·       Mexico had abolished slavery in 1829; the first country in America to do so. That means that all African-descent Texans were free, including “Joe”, the slave belonging to Travis. Mostly used as a prop by modern-day Anglo historians to support their flawed narrative, Joe was rewarded by mercilessly being placed back into slavery after the war. Incidentally, James Fannin in Goliad (and other slave-owning Anglos) had no right in Mexico to enslave African-descent people either. 

·       Sam Houston took over a work in progress. Sadly, the Anglos commandeered the Tejano cause, seeking secession from Mexico to reestablish slavery in Texas. That’s something the Tejanos never sought or supported.  

·       Anglo vigilantes eliminated the entire Tejano leadership tier in Texas through ethnic cleansing drives, murder, and forced exile. They did so because they were terrified that Tejanos would regroup after the revolution, reclaim their lands, and fight Anglo bigotry. 

·       Despite the larger-than-life reputation that mainstream white society has given him, David Crockett didn’t do anything heroic in Texas. Why?  Because (1) he was only here for a few days; (2) never personally addressed (wrote about) Anglo grievances against the Mexican government; (3) never signed a document or newspaper editorial; and (4) nor did he ever engage in protesting the alleged injustices that the Anglo trespassers used as a ruse to ignite their slavery-induced 1836 illegal insurrection, etc. After the trespassers were warned, Crockett had ample time to leave, but didn’t. Caught in the wrong crowd, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, he was captured and executed by the Mexican Army.

·       General Santa Anna was within his rights to repel armed U.S. illegal immigrants on Mexican soil, a behavioral trait admired worldwide. For example, he was highly praised in the U.S. for ridding his country of armed trespassers. That’s why he doesn’t deserve the negative reputation he’s been given in this country (mostly crafted after the 1936 centennial). For the record, he spent the rest of his life helping his country and lived to age 82.)

·       Mexican soldiers during 1835-36 were defending their sovereign land and weren’t the aggressors – the Anglos were.  

·       The 1835-36 Battles of Goliad, Álamo, and San Jacinto are part of a chronological chapter in Mexico’s history, not the U.S. The U.S. didn’t take Texas until 1848.   

·       The Louisiana myth. Despite U.S. claims, Texas was never part of Louisiana. France never owned Texas. Nor does the French flag qualify as one of the six flags of Texas. This shaky idea originates with Monsieur de La Salle. He set foot in Texas only once, after getting lost on the Gulf of Mexico. Thinking he had landed in Louisiana, he came ashore in Spanish Matagorda Bay and spent three years looking for the Mississippi River in Texas. His own crew murdered him due to his poor leadership.

·       Actually, the U.S. bought “Spanish” Louisiana from France in 1803. France had just received the land from Spain (also Spanish Missouri and lands on both sides of the Mississippi River).

·       Spain improved Louisiana, including historic 1700s New Orleans French Quarter structures. Spanish officials were still on duty, and were the ones who handed-over the territory to the U.S.

·       Lamentably, the Anglos’ 1848 colonial-style rule over Texas and the Southwest (Mexico’s northern provinces) lasted well into the 1960s. Examples: (a) Many property deeds had clauses prohibiting sale to Mexicans. (b) “We don’t serve Mexicans” signs were common throughout the state. And (c) Mexican-descent Texans weren’t allowed to serve in juries in many Texas counties until 1954.  

SUMMARY. No one knows why our Tejano ancestors were unable to convince the Anglos that pre-1836 Texas history was as important as post-1836-48 northeast-slanted history. However, Mexican-descent Texans are regaining majority group status in Texas. So, it’s time to add these missing chapters, simply because mainstream Anglo Texas history rests squarely on Spanish Mexican blood, sweat, and tears. 

Lastly, taking steps backward is not an option. In the sage words of Dr. Lino García, Jr., Professor Emeritus UTRGV, “We will move the mountain of ignorance one stone at a time, but move it we will”.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Texas historian José Antonio López. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author. López can be reached by email via: jlopez8182@satx.rr.com.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above guest column was painted by Bruce Marshall. Credit: The UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures. The other two images shown are courtesy of José Antonio López.

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