The Alamo Was a Lie
**Lies back on couch, folds hands**
I don’t know where to begin. I guess I’ll start with 7th grade, which is when Texas schoolchildren are mandated by law to spend an entire year learning about the history and various glories of Texas. From the Texas Administrative Code (emphasis mine):
In Grade 7, students study the history of Texas from early times to the present. Content is presented with more depth and breadth than in Grade 4.
Students examine the full scope of Texas history, including Natural Texas and its People; Age of Contact; Spanish Colonial; Mexican National; Revolution and Republic; Early Statehood; Texas in the Civil War and Reconstruction; Cotton, Cattle, and Railroads; Age of Oil; Texas in the Great Depression and World War II; Civil Rights and Conservatism; and Contemporary Texas eras. The focus in each era is on key individuals, events, and issues and their impact.
The year’s pièce de résistance (figuratively, literally, obviously) is the Texas Revolution and specifically the Alamo. For many Texans (myself included), the Alamo has been taught, packaged, and disseminated through culture as a nothing short of a heroic, almost blandly virtuous battle against cartoonish evil.
According to everything from public record to pop culture, mythological figures like Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis, and a handful of martyrs fought to the death there rather than yield to forces from oppressive, corrupt, freedom-hating, tax-levying Mexico, which controlled Texas in the 1820s and 1830s.
This was no more ordinary battle. As the legend goes, 200 or so defiant Texans resisted a Mexican siege on the fortress where they were holed up for nearly two weeks, turning down chances to surrender to the 6,000-strong opposition. After they all died, Remember the Alamo became the rallying cry in the decisive battle of the Texas Revolution weeks later and Texas would become its own nation, having defeated tyranny and yada yada yada.
This version of the story is canon. I mean, John Wayne played Davy Crockett in the 1960 movie. And, for reference, here is a glimpse at the official state-run Alamo website that memorializes each of the fighters and tells the varnished version of the tale:
The truth, as it turns out, is way more complicated and much less virtuous. A new book, Forget the Alamo, is a history of the battle itself but also the battle over how the Alamo mythology has taken shape in the public imagination. Written by three Texan historians, it works to debunk some of the loftiest themes of Alamo worship. Here are a few biggies:
The leaders at the Alamo weren’t simple, unambiguous patriots, but has-beens and opportunists.
Maintaining slavery was a central objective of the Texas Revolution.
Mexicans fought alongside Texans at the Alamo.
The Mexican Government was actually pretty reasonable.
Some of the defenders, including major figures, may have actually surrendered.
Okay, But Why Does This Matter Now?
For many, me and Phil Collins included apparently, there is a lightweight element of kitsch to all of this Alamo worship. Some who are more invested may simply wonder, what’s the harm in this myth? It’s settled history. Nine years after the Alamo and Texas independence, the Republic of Texas would be absorbed by the United States. And that’s that, nu?
I have to admit, before starting the book, I didn’t really think twice about the Alamo myth, the stakes, or the meaning since I first learned about it. But the effect of this white-washing is pretty pernicious. In an (excellent) interview with Fresh Air earlier this month, Bryan Burroughs (one of the authors) talks about how the slant in the existing Alamo narrative has made life needlessly difficult for generations of the Hispanic population of Texas which, by the way, is poised to become the majority in the state within the next year or so. Also, for several reasons, not being taught that slavery was an animating force in the Texas Revolution is reckless, especially when you consider that Juneteenth is a holiday with Texas roots.
Over the past few decades, the efforts to bring nuance and clarity to the historical discourse over the Alamo has been met with a fury that makes the current saga over Critical Race Theory look like a breezy disagreement over the designated hitter rule. I’m not done yet, but the book also gets into the mind-boggling lengths to which Texas politicians, school boards, and various Texan apparatchiks have gone to make sure a counter-narrative doesn’t reach the mainstream. As historians have labored to put together a more cohesive version of the real story, they’ve been marginalized, threatened, and alienated.
On Friday in fact, Dan Patrick, noted warrior against cancel culture and the Lieutenant Governor of Texas, forced an event featuring the authors of Forget the Alamo to be canceled at a history museum in Austin. He then crowed about it:
Anyway, that may not have been the smartest move.
Other media: Forget The Alamo excerpt in Vanity Fair.