March 6, 2011—Remember the Alamo! (and Goliad too!)


What more can anyone say?  “Remember the Alamo and Goliad too!” My grandparents Helen and Alphonse Meyer took me to visit the Alamo as almost the first thing to do in Texas when I arrived to live with them in Dallas, Texas after my parents split up.  This move was the first extremely strange transition in my life: my maternal grandmother Helen and her butler named Kermit went to pick me up and take me from my parents, whom my grandparents considered to be neglecting me.   This was in 1966, long before the State of Texas made its is business to interfere in every possible event in every family’s life.  And as unorthodox as this method of making child-custody transfer might sound to the modern reader, it might possibly have been the case that my parents were in fact neglecting me because my mother only showed up in Dallas quite a bit later, not having noticed my absence for sometime.  Anyhow, all of this happened the summer after I turned six.

And so it was then that “Remember the Alamo” became the first “Patriotic Slogan” I ever remember learning.  I obviously had already learned “God Save the Queen” first, but I was very young and don’t remember actually learning that particular salute.  But I do remember my grandparents teaching me to Cheer outloud “Remember the Alamo” although I’m not sure where I was supposed to use this cheer or to whom I was supposed to address it.  I recall my grandfather, “Al”, stopped the family at some particularly significant place around the Alamo and led us in a private family prayer for the fallen heroes.

Though himself the grandson of a British peer of the realm, my grandfather was born in Galveston and steeped in Texas history and patriotism. In his opinion, he insisted it was just as important, if not more so, to remember Colonel Fannin and the March 27 massacre at Goliad as it was to remember the Alamo, because more men died at Goliad, and they died more brutally, having been executed in cold blood.  So this initial tour of South Texas in 1966 also included a trip to Goliad and finally to the San Jacinto Battlefield and the Battleship Texas.

But unlike William Barret Travis’ “I am besieged…I have sustained continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man….I shall never surrender or retreat” February 24, 1836 letter from the Alamo, Colonel Fannin had left no eloquent written testimonial to pass down and post on the library wall.  Nor have dozens of movies been made about Fannin and Goliad, certainly nothing like John Wayne’s “The Alamo“.  This great mythical movie (historians say not a single scene in the picture can be directly related to any document-based “fact”) was completed and released the year I was born in Texas (1960) on October 24, which just happened to be the day my parents arrived in London on the Queen Mary.  This particular cinematic extravaganza just happened to have been made in Texas ONLY over John Wayne’s efforts and objections.

Happy Shahan was a rancher in southern Texas [Wayne’s team constructed an “Alamo Village” near Brackettville in Kinney County, on the old “Camino Real” between San Antonio and El Paso, just a few miles from the Rio Grande and Mexican Border]. ….  [Shahan’s] big break came when he secured The Alamo (1960).  John Wayne had originally decided to make the film in Mexico where he owned land. However, it quickly became apparent he would face a boycott from the Daughters of the Republic and it was politically expedient to make the film in Texas (Rothel, 1990: 13-15).  http://www.buseco.monash.edu.au/mgt/research/working-papers/2006/wp36-06.pdf

It is one of those passing ironies of the interaction of history and myth that Wayne wanted and originally planned to film his Epic of Texas Independence in the State of Durango, Mexico, which to Wayne at least and the other producers looked much more like Texas “should” have looked in 1836 than Texas in recent times ever could have looked.  John Wayne also owned a ranch in Durango and made several other films there.  The point is that the reenactment of history is a matter of politically powerful myth—and apparently the Daughters of the Republic of Texas believed that to make a movie about the Alamo in Mexico would somehow be “taboo”—even though Wayne certainly would have been right in pointing out that, of course, when the Battle of the Alamo was fought, and for the three hundred years preceding the siege, Texas had been politically and legally defined (in European law and cartography at least) as part of Mexico—first as part of the the Viceroyalty of New Spain, then as part of the Empire and finally the Republic of Mexico).

There is some unfortunate documentation in the record of diaries left by certain Mexican officers that Davie Crockett in particular and other nearly legendary heroes may not have died quite as heroically as portrayed in the movies, but the simple truth is that the Texas Revolution started to defend the Mexican Constitution of 1823, and the defenders of the Alamo flew a flag to prove that point.  In 1836 there was no conflict between Anglo and Hispanic (Mexican) Creoles in Texas—there was only a conflict between dictatorship and Democratic-Republican Government.  Any modern attempt to recast the Texas revolution as an Anglo-Hispanic race-oriented dispute have to deal with the fact that the Texas Declaration of Independence was written by the Tecoh, Yucatan-born Mexican Statesman Ernesto de Zavala and that Texas and Yucatan both separated from Santa Ana’s Mexico and formed an independent alliance—and although both Yucatan and Texas applied for U.S. Statehood, somewhat tragically, only Texas was admitted.  Yucatan Governor Justo Sierra O’Reilly made the mistake of trying to seek admission for Yucatan as a “free” state—despite the existence of a Plantation economy throughout the Peninsula—and the South at the point relied much too heavily on the Missouri Compromise of 1820 *(later declared unconstitutional in Scott v. Sanford, 1857) and did not wish to allow “free” states both south and north of the Dixie Heartland.  The Yucatan Peninsula would have made a fine addition to the United States, and the Yucatec Creoles and Maya an amazing enrichment of the United States population (both White and Native American).   It is easy to see how the outcome of the war of 1861-65 would have been different, if it had happened at all, had Yucatan been part of the Confederacy….instead of the most pro-Imperial province of the Hapsburg Emperor Maxmillian’s shortlived “Imperio Mexicano”.

Ernesto Zavala’s house in Merida still bears a plaque celebrating the historical contacts between Texas and Yucatan and is preserved as a historic landmark.  In Texas, there is not only a “Zavala” County but also a building on the Texas State Capitol grounds, just southeast of the South Facing domed statehouse, named after him, the Zavala building—it is the State Archive and Historical Records building.  During the Short-Lived Republic of Yucatan, which declared its independence (without bloodshed) in 1838, two years after Texas, Texas and Yucatan jointly developed a very small Naval force to patrol the Gulf of Mexico between Galveston and Progresso.

Justo Sierra O’Reilly’s travel to Washington applying for admission to the Union is the subject of quite a bit of writing in Mexico, and he is a controversial figure in that he was seeking (among other things) a U.S. alliance against the Maya uprising known as “The Caste War of Yucatan”.  Yucatan’s separatism from Mexico preceded the U.S. War with Mexico in 1846-48, but Justo Sierra O’Reilly’s interest in seeing Yucatan admitted continued even after the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo confirmed the transfer of California, Texas, New Mexico, what is now Arizona, Nevada, and Utah to the United States in 1848.  Yucatan was officially neutral in the war with the United States but many in Sierra O’Reilly’s position supported full annexation and integration, even while the stars and stripes flew over Chapultepec Castle under the immediate intendency and command of one Colonel Robert E. Lee, nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  Some Mexicans regard Sierra O’Reilly as a traitor like Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr in the U.S., but those who fly the (suppressed) flag of the independent Republic of Yucatan regard him as a hero.  Justo Sierra O’Reilly wrote a very disappointed “Impresiones de un Viaje a los Estados Unidos e Canada” which used to be and probably still is in print in Yucatan, although I haven’t noticed it on the bookstore shelves in recent years.   Yucatan’s separatist tendencies survived a long time after O’Reilly.  Empress Carlotta, even in her madness later in life, recalled the especially warm welcome she and her ill-fated husband received in Yucatan, and there was an active separatist movement in Yucatan as late as the 1960s.

One could say that the de facto annexation of Cancun and the East Coast of Quintana Roo as an American colony (at least during Spring break, but for most of the winter tourist season) starting in 1971 was the final death blow to Yucatec separatism—in that one can now hear significantly more English spoken on the streets and beaches of Cancun than one can on the streets of Miami or Miami Beach…

2 responses to “March 6, 2011—Remember the Alamo! (and Goliad too!)

  1. Barbara Anne K-H

    Thanks for this bit of history I did not know. I was aware of the information regarding the Alamo, but not the part of about the Yucatan seeking admission as a free state. That was fascinating!

    • Ernesto Zavala’s house in Merida is marked as a historic landmark and there is a building on the Texas State Capitol grounds, just southeast of the South Facing domed statehouse, named after him, the Zavala building—it is the State Archive and Historical Records building. Justo Sierra O’Reilly’s travel to Washington applying for admission to the Union is the subject of quite a bit of writing in Mexico, and he is a controversial figure in that he was seeking (among other things) a U.S. alliance against the Maya uprising known as “The Caste War of Yucatan”. Yucatan’s separatism from Mexico preceded the U.S. War with Mexico in 1846-48, but Justo Sierra O’Reilly’s interest in seeing Yucatan admitted continued even after the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo confirmed the transfer of California, Texas, New Mexico, what is now Arizona, Nevada, and Utah to the United States in 1848. Yucatan was officially neutral in the war with the United States but many in Sierra O’Reilly’s position supported full annexation and integration, even while the stars and stripes flew over Chapultepec Castle under the immediate intendency and command of one Colonel Robert E. Lee, nephew of a signer of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Some Mexicans regard Sierra O’Reilly as a traitor like Benedict Arnold or Aaron Burr in the U.S., but those who fly the (suppressed) flag of the independent Republic of Yucatan regard him as a hero. Justo Sierra O’Reilly wrote a very disappointed “Impresiones de un Viaje a los Estados Unidos e Canada” which used to be and probably still is in print in Yucatan, although I haven’t noticed it on the bookstore shelves in recent years. Yucatan’s separatist tendencies survived a long time after O’Reilly. Empress Carlotta, even in her madness later in life, recalled the especially warm welcome she and her ill-fated husband received in Yucatan, and there was an active separatist movement in Yucatan as late as the 1960s. One could say that the de facto annexation of Cancun and the East Coast of Quintana Roo as an American colony (at least during Spring break, but for most of the winter tourist season) starting in 1971 was the final death blow to Yucatec separatism—in that one can now hear significantly more English spoken on the streets and beaches of Cancun than one can on the streets of Miami or Miami Beach…

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