The defenders of the Alamo went down to defeat nearly two centuries ago, but still raging is a clash over the legacy of the storied Texas revolutionary battle that gave rise to the cry “Remember the Alamo!”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation this month to create the 1836 Project, named after the year Texas declared its independence from Mexico, to help counter what Republicans describe as an onslaught of critical race theory and woke revisionist history.
“To keep Texas the best state in the United States of America, we must never forget why Texas became so exceptional in the first place,” Mr. Abbott said at the June 7 signing. “A law creating the 1836 Project does that. The 1836 Project promotes patriotic education about Texas and makes sure that generations to come understand Texas values.”
Central to the historical head-butting is the Battle of the Alamo, the mission turned garrison where Mexican Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna and his overwhelming army wiped out nearly 200 settlers and Tejanos after a 13-day siege that ended on March 6, 1836. Gen. Sam Houston‘s Texas Army avenged the defeat less than two months later at the Battle of San Jacinto.
The Alamo has become a target of liberals seeking to reframe the siege, not as a last stand for freedom but as a struggle over slavery, with the defenders on the losing side of both the conflict and history.
Promoting that interpretation is a widely reviewed book released June 8, “Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of the American Myth,” which was No. 1 on Amazon bestseller lists last week for Mexican history and the history of the southwestern U.S.
Like The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which attempts to reframe the American Revolution as a war in defense of the institution of slavery, “Forget the Alamo” argues that the fallen heroes of the Alamo were not heroes at all.
“The many myths surrounding Texas’ birth, especially those cloaking the fabled 1836 siege at the Alamo mission in San Antonio, remain cherished in the state,” two of the authors, Bryan Burrough and Jason Stanford, say in a June 9 op-ed in Time magazine.
Slavery, they write, was “the single issue that regularly drove a wedge between early Mexican governments — dedicated abolitionists all — and their American colonists in Texas, many of whom had immigrated to farm cotton, the province’s only cash crop at the time.
“Even as the nation is undergoing a sweeping reassessment of its racial history, and despite decades of academic research that casts the Texas Revolt and the Alamo’s siege in a new light, little of this has permeated the conversation in Texas,” the authors wrote.
Swinging back are critics who argue that Santa Anna was no Abraham Lincoln. History.com described him as a “military-backed dictator” who once proclaimed himself the “Napoleon of the West.”
“Texans should read this article in Time and know that the progressive socialist left is disrespecting the Lone Star State,” Texas Republican Party Chair Allen West tweeted. “These disciples of Critical Race Theory have chosen to align themselves with a dictator rather than honor Texas history.”
The racism narrative is hardly new.
In a 2017 Texas Observer op-ed, University of Houston professor Daniel Pena called the Alamo “dedicated to the American fear of the Mexican body, of Mexican invasion, of Mexican agency that firmly and directly contested agendas of white supremacy in early 19th-century Texas.”
Even so, many Texans remain leery of those who mess with the Alamo. In 2018, the state board of education defeated a proposal to delete the word “heroic” when describing the Alamo figures after a groundswell of public opposition.
“Forget the Alamo” was released against the backdrop of a 5-year-old skirmish over plans for a $450 million renovation of the Spanish mission, now nearly 300 years old. The project has become mired in politics.
The San Antonio City Council voted in April to approve an Alamo Plaza redevelopment plan that leaves in place the Alamo Cenotaph, a 56-foot-tall edifice, or “empty tomb,” outside the plaza that stands as a monument to those who died at the fortress.
Council members voted after the Texas Historical Commission defeated a proposal to move the monument. Cenotaph defenders, led by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, squared off against those calling for a “complete” story of the Alamo.
They included former San Antonio City Council member Roberto Trevino, who described the traditional Alamo telling as “bunk.”
“The battle is a significant event, and it becomes a portal by which we can tell a lot of this compelling history, but we also know that the story that has been well-known, well-recognized for all these years is a mythology. It’s wrong. It’s bunk,” Mr. Trevino told the “San Antonio’s Voice” podcast in September.
Mr. Trevino, who lost his June 5 reelection bid, said, “San Antonians don’t want to tell that it perpetuates a lie, it perpetuates the kinds of things that we have worked hard to work against as we tell a complete story.”
George Cisneros, a member of the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, said at a September meeting that the Cenotaph squabble “is not about the 13 days; it’s about race and pigment.”
“They want to preserve their White establishment icon,” Mr. Cisneros said in the San Antonio Report. “And everybody knows that that’s not the true story.”
Taking issue with such descriptions was Mr. Patrick, who asked, “What part of the story is ‘bunk’ and a ‘lie’?
“Did almost 200 Texians not die there on March 6, 1836? Did William Barret Travis, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett and their volunteers not fight bravely against overwhelming odds? Did the battle of the Alamo not lead to Texas’ independence, and inspire millions in America and around the world of what it means to sacrifice oneself for the cause of freedom and liberty?” Mr. Patrick asked in an October op-ed in the San Antonio Express-News.
He said he was “committed to fighting back against those like Councilman Trevino, Cisneros and others who want to erase the history of the Alamo battle.”
“Forget the Alamo” authors and other critics say, “We’ve been telling the Alamo story wrong for 200 years,” but some of the inaccuracies they cite have been published — including at the Alamo.
The Alamo website includes a “Myths and Legends” page by R. Bruce Winders, a former director of history and curator. The webpage says the lore that the battle bought time for Sam Houston to fortify his army is unfounded.
Indeed, Mr. Winders, who left in 2019 after 23 years at the Alamo, suggested that readers “consider all the evidence to come to their own conclusions.”
“Immediately after the Battle of the Alamo, accounts were published in newspapers and quickly spread by word of mouth all across Texas and the United States, leading to some of the myths, legends and tall tales that we know today,” he said. “Some of these stories contain fact but also stretched the truth, while others were completely fabricated.”
Texas Republicans have been accused of trying to whitewash history with the 1836 Project, but they note that the bill specifically cites the state’s multiethnic heritage as well as the “heritage of keeping and bearing firearms.”
State Rep. Tan Parker, a Republican who sponsored the bill, said the measure creates a nine-person advisory commission to “promote Texas history broadly and advises state agencies with regard to civics education available for Texans of all ages.”
“It informs our broad citizenry about key events and aspects of Texas’ history, including the indigenous peoples of this state, our Spanish and Mexican heritage, Tejanos, the Texas War for Independence, the annexation of Texas, and Juneteenth,” Mr. Parker said in a statement this month.
Chance Layton, communications director of the conservative National Association of Scholars, said Texas schools already teach a lot of the history, and he should know: He spent his K-12 years in the state’s Hereford Independent School District.
“All of those are included pretty heavily, at least when I went to public school,” said Mr. Layton, who is 25. “I learned quite a bit about the Native American history in Texas, studied their culture, the varied traditions of the tribe. These things are already taught.”
He said he supported efforts to include more lessons on the early Tejanos who fought at the Alamo and San Jacinto. “I think a lot of that gets left out, and it’s good to bring that forward,” but he disagreed with the effort to create a race-based “alternate history.”
“To say that the whole thing is wrapped in this White supremacist narrative is a load of crap,” Mr. Layton said.
Mr. Patrick and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush feuded initially over the Alamo restoration, but Mr. Bush, a grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, said this month that “the lieutenant governor and I have kissed and made up, and we’re designing a much brighter future at the Alamo.”
“The 1836 plan would bring back the battlefield to the way that it looked back in 1836. And that’s what this whole discussion has been about,” Mr. Bush said on Fox News. “So we are well on our way to some great days ahead on the grounds of the Alamo.”