When Mexican Lt. Col. Jose Enrique de la Pena wrote a 680-page memoir about his experiences in the 1836 campaign against Texas independence, he included a brief passage about Davy Crockett being captured and executed at the Alamo.
When the diary was published in English in 1975, the other 679 pages were immediately rendered unimportant.
Crockett fans were enraged at de la Pena’s account, the movie fans right behind them. The image from American folklore and the silver screen was of Crockett at the Alamo ramparts swinging his Kentucky rifle by the barrel at the oncoming legion of Mexican troops.
It was unthinkable to suddenly change that image to a sullen, surrendered Crockett eyewitness or not.
This weekend, the University of Texas Center for American History is taking a look at those nearly forgotten “other” pages in a daylong seminar called “Eyewitness to the Texas Revolution, Jose Enrique de la Pena and His Narrative.”
The battle over which version of Crockett is correct has raged since 1975. It was resurrected last year when the diary was auctioned off and ended up in the hands of Tom Hicks, owner of the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Stars. He presented it to the Center for American History.
There, this weekend, the argument of authenticity will continue, stirred once again by the popular new novel from Stephen Harrigan called, “The Gates of the Alamo.”
Mr. Harrigan is clear in his interpretation of the de la Pena papers: “I have come to the conclusion that de la Pena, forgery or not, is a document of dubious historical veracity,” Mr. Harrigan writes in his author’s notes. “For me, it becomes less impressive with every reading.”
There were axes to grind in de la Pena’s account, said Bruce Winders, the Alamo’s staff historian. De la Pena was a federalist, and Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was a centralist, he said. They were from opposing political factions.