Just in time for the big-budget remake of The Alamo: not a tie-in, but a learned account of how Texas came to be an independent republic, and then the Lone Star State.
The Alamo fell to Mexican dictator Antonio López de Santa Anna’s troops on March 6, 1836, at the cost of some two hundred rebel defenders and perhaps twice as many attackers—a far count from the endless heaps of Mexican corpses that littered the set of John Wayne’s film version. Santa Anna’s chance defeat at San Jacinto not long afterward fulfilled the efforts of a generation of Americans to seize Texas. More immediately, writes Davis (Center for Civil War Studies/Virginia Tech; Look Away!, 2002, etc.), it spelled the collapse of law and order in Texas, “especially on the outer fringes of settlement, where lawless whites and opportunistic Indians raided settlers. . . . The war left communities largely on their own.” Thus the rise of lone marshals, stalwart rangers, and other legendary figures of the frontier. The realities of the war of independence were far from romantic, though, and certainly more complex than the standard textbook view would have it. Davis skillfully describes the roles of often-overlooked participants in the revolution, such as native tejanos who wanted freedom from Spain and then Mexico, but not absorption into the US. He also extends the chronology of the independence movement to the beginning of the 19th century, when strategists in Washington vied with foreign adventurers such as would-be pirate king Louis Michel Aury to lure Texas away from its beleaguered Spanish masters. In the end, Davis shows, “Texian” newcomers effectively wrested the movement from the tejanos, thwarting their ambitions to establish a Catholic, Spanish-speaking republic and attach Texas to the slaveholding South. Could it have been otherwise? “Almost surely,” writes the author, “the United States was going to expand to fill its continent sooner or later, though nothing is inevitable in history.”
An engaging study, full of odd twists and forgotten episodes.