He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future.
Of all the states, Texas has the most politically incorrect past. Unique in American history, it was a sovereign nation for nine years after winning independence from Mexico in a brief but bloody revolt. During its years of independence, the Republic of Texas had to fight for its life against two Mexican invasions seeking to re-conquer lost territory, as well as countless Indian attacks.
Even after it entered the Union in 1845, Texas continued to fight a two-front war against a revenge-minded Mexico and a formidable array of Indian nations—above all, the dreaded Comanche—in order to secure its territory for white settlement. In the midst of this conflict, Texas joined the Confederacy and suffered the added traumas of war, defeat and Reconstruction. And, as thousands of fighting men headed east to serve in Southern armies, the western frontier collapsed under Indian attack. Comanche and Kiowa raiders took advantage of the near-absence of men to launch a final, especially vicious war that did not end until 1875. The Mexican border—as present headlines demonstrate—has never ceased to be a source of disorder, crime, and violence.
All these events are part of an incredibly violent, conflict-ridden past that certainly contradicts notions that “diversity makes us stronger” and that equality is the ultimate good. Indeed, the history of the Lone Star State can be seen as the story of how a very non-diverse and racially conscious group of white people fought and defeated diverse groups of non-whites to take possession of a vast territory and create a successful society. This history—bloody, dramatic, tragic, and glorious—has been a source of great pride for the people of Texas.
But not anymore. Academic historians are using Orwell’s dictum about controlling the past to control the future as they rewrite Texas history. In the new version, instead of the struggle by white pioneers to forge a viable society in what had previously been a failed province of Spain and a failed state of Mexico—whose real rulers were the plains Indians—we have an aggressive Anglo invasion against progressive, multiracial communities. Instead of brave frontiersmen and -women, we have racist slave-owners and swindling land pirates, eager to exploit blacks, steal land from Mexicans, and commit genocide against Indians. One of the leading revisionist historians is Gary Anderson. In the introduction to his 2005 work, The Conquest of Texas, he sums up the “modern” view:
. . . rather than a fight for liberty, the 1835 Anglo-led revolution was a poorly conceived southern land grab that nearly failed. Texans had an overwhelming desire to expand slavery (an institution that Mexico had outlawed) and to use slave labor to increase profits made from cotton production. [All previous history of Texas] . . . is exculpatory history, at least in terms of Anglo guilt.
There is a definite pecking order in this new history based on every non-white group’s level of victimization by Anglos. (In Texas history, “Anglo” means any American-born white person.) Blacks, the champions of oppression everywhere else, lose pride of place to others. First come the Indians. Once known as Native Americans in PC-speak, this term has in turn become politically incorrect because “American” comes from Amerigo Vespucci, a white explorer. Trendier academics favor “the indigenous,” “First Peoples,” or “First Nations.”
A close second are Mexicans. Spaniards, though held in low regard for oppressing Indians, are morally superior to Anglo-Americans. The fact that Mexicans continued brutal Spanish policies against los Indios is seldom held against them. Indeed, as mestizo people, Mexicans are seen by some academic historians as morally superior even to Indians. Miscegenation is ennobling.
Anglos rank at the bottom, of course, but some Anglos rank higher than others. Lowest are the people who helped push back the Indian frontier: the settlers and pioneers of 19th century Texas. In fact, some modern historians avoid terms such as “pioneers,” “settlers” and “frontiersmen”—at least for white people. When I visited the museum at an old cavalry fort in west Texas a few years ago, I noticed that the only term for Anglos, including the first people to farm or ranch in the area, was “immigrants.” Since Indians and sometimes Mexicans were there first, that is the only allowed term. It is also supposed to remind us that we are no different from today’s “immigrants,” whom we presume to call “illegal.”
The German–Texans who settled the hill country west of Austin are somewhat higher on the scale, because they opposed slavery and the Confederacy. Today, some whites try to raise their status by reinventing themselves. The people of Galveston, a coastal city on the Gulf of Mexico, have tried to repudiate the bad old days when they were a slave port by claiming to be the “Ellis Island of Texas,” the gateway for ethnically diverse immigrants from around the world.
Of course, many Anglos can never be rehabilitated. Near the bottom of the pecking order are the Texas Rangers. Many Texans still see them, after the men who defended the Alamo, as the state’s most revered figures in popular culture, but among academic historians the Rangers rank just slightly higher than the Ku Klux Klan. Like the Klan, they are considered a terrorist organization guilty of countless crimes against helpless Mexicans and Indians. In the last decade, at least three scholarly books have denounced the Rangers as perhaps the greatest villains in Texas history.
As the new history gets established, the writers of the old history must be discredited. One target of the PC historians is Theodore R. Fehrenbach (usually known as T.R. Fehrenbach). His Lone Star, written in the 1960s, is still the finest and most popular history of the state, and was made into a PBS television series in the 1980s. Although he was a typical mid-20th century liberal on race, Mr. Fehrenbach is now a “racist” because of his graphic descriptions of the torture and mutilation that Comanches and Kiowas often inflicted on white captives—though he was equally unsparing in describing atrocities whites committed against Indians. He is also scorned for celebrating the courage, toughness, and fighting prowess of the Anglo-Celt pioneers. In the age of PC, Anglo-Celts must have no admirable qualities.
There is another reason professional historians dislike Mr. Fehrenbach: He isn’t one of them. Like Shelby Foote, the Mississippi author of the best modern history of the Civil War, Mr. Fehrenbach is a journalist, not a PhD-holding academic. His books are loved, and regularly outsell anything produced by the professors, which they resent. Gary Anderson, quoted above, says Mr. Fehrenbach has been “long consigned to the unused bookshelf by most academic historians.” This is hardly true. In his award-winning 2008 study, Comanche Empire, Pekka Hamalainen found it necessary to condemn Fehrenbach’s attitude towards Indians but still included 13 citations to his work.
The politically correct view dominates university classrooms and academic publishing, but it is not popular among Texans. One reason is that Mr. Fehrenbach and, more recently, S. C. Gwynne do a better job of looking at the past with common sense and explaining it in plain English. The academic historians not only push an academic agenda; they can get tangled up in their own esoteric and pretentious jargon.
At the same time, Texans refuse to give up their view of Texas Rangers as the great heroes—not the villains—of Texas history, just as Mississippians and Alabamans defend the Confederate battle flag and the honor the Confederate soldier. One reason for the continued popularity of the Rangers has been Larry McMurtry’s fictional Lonesome Dove series about rangers, which was made into popular TV movies. Ironically, Mr. McMurtry is a typical liberal—though hardly an academic historian.
A look at a few recent works and how they were received will help us understand the current state of Texas history and why political correctness is sometimes a hard sell. From a race-realist point of view, they run the gamut from the ugly and the bad to the good.
Phillip Thomas Tucker, Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth, Casemate Publishers, 2010, $21.75 (hardcover), 404 pp.
. . . scared young men far from home attempting to surrender in vain, and scores of escapees running for their lives on the open prairie, only to be cut down by the sabres and lances of Mexican cavalrymen outside the Alamo.
-Phillip Thomas Tucker
The battle of the Alamo is the most famous, the most symbolic, and the most written about event in Texas history. The heroism of the defenders and their deaths, ordered by Mexican dictator Santa Anna, electrified the American people and inspired renewed resistance to the advancing Mexican army. This led to the defeat and capture of Santa Anna at San Jacinto, ensuring Texas independence. The Alamo became a revered symbol of sacrifice in the cause of freedom and of the fighting spirit for which Texas is still known. It has been the subject of thousands of articles and books in the 177 years since the battle took place on March 6, 1836.
Needless to say, any event that celebrates and legitimizes Anglo resistance to Mexican rule must be debunked. That is what Phillip Thomas Tucker tries to do in his 2010 account of the battle, Exodus from the Alamo: The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth. According to Dr. Tucker, everything we have been taught about the Alamo is a myth. The belief that there was a last stand, that the defenders died heroically at their posts, that they killed or wounded hundreds of Mexican attackers—it’s all “based on fantasy.” “If all the defenders were killed,” he asks, “how do we really know what happened at the Alamo?” A good question. We really don’t know that much, but Dr. Tucker, who specializes in military history, does:
Rather than mounting a climactic last stand with a well-organized, tenacious defense, a totally unprepared Alamo garrison was caught . . . completely by surprise. The garrison consisted of citizen-soldiers with little of the military training or experience of their well-honed Mexican opponents, whose attack left them so stunned that they never recovered from the shock. . . . More of a rout and a slaughter than a battle in the traditional sense, the struggle for the Alamo lasted only about twenty minutes, making it one of the shortest armed clashes in American military history for an iconic battle.
Dr. Tucker goes on to claim that most of the Alamo garrison, terrified of the courageous Mexicans, abandoned their posts and were cut down by Mexican cavalry as they fled outside the Alamo’s walls. He says the Mexicans lost only 70 killed and 200 wounded, with many—perhaps most—of the casualties due to “friendly fire” during the pre-dawn darkness in which the attack took place. The myth or heroic resistance arose because:
. . . American and Texas nationalist historians have casually dismissed the truth of the Alamo because the legend has always shored up a sense of Anglo-Celtic superiority over a mixed-race people . . .
This is the larger context of the myth:
. . . latecoming interlopers [whites], primarily from the United States, of the Mexican province of Texas were transformed into the righteous defenders of a white bastion of Anglo-Celtic civilization, while Mexican troops, who were defending their republic’s home soil . . . were tarnished as godless invaders and barbarians. This mythical Alamo justified a sense of moral supremacy and righteous entitlement to Texas at the expense of the Indian, Tejano, and Mexican people. The mythical last stand, in which a relatively small band of white heroes defy the mixed-race horde, demonstrated the moral, racial, and cultural superiority over Latino brown people needed to justify and rationalize one of the greatest land-grabs in American history. [Note the recurrence of the idea of a land grab.]
There is no doubt that the Texans’ victory in their war of independence against Mexico gave them a sense of superiority over Mexicans. And why not? Twenty-five thousand Anglo settlers with no real army defeated a nation of 7,000,000 people that had a professional, battle-tested military force that included many European officers. This humiliation has always been a source of anger and frustration to Mexicans—and now to some American historians.
But what of Tucker’s account of the battle? The few Texan non-combatants who survived, such as the slave of Alamo commander William B. Travis, left contradictory accounts. The Mexican accounts also contradict each other. One thing is clear: Dr. Tucker’s use of the available evidence is highly selective and imaginative.
Veteran Alamo scholars Gary Edmonson and Thomas Ricks Turner, who have studied the subject for decades and rely heavily on Mexican sources, believe that although Santa Anna did achieve surprise, the Texan garrison quickly recovered and put up fierce resistance. The battle lasted much longer than the 20 minutes counted by Dr. Tucker–one hour, possibly longer. There were probably two groups, numbering up to 60 men out of roughly 200 in the Alamo garrison, who tried to break out, but were cut down by Mexican cavalry.
The reports of the chief Mexican army surgeon after the battle, though incomplete, indicate roughly 200 dead and between 300 and 400 wounded, or at least 25 percent of the 2,000-man assault force. Even if over half were from friendly fire—as Dr. Tucker suggests, extrapolating with gusto from ambiguous sources—the defenders still gave a good account of themselves.
Although Dr. Tucker seems certain about every other detail of the Alamo battle, he is vague about the fate of its most famous defender: Davy Crockett. He can’t decide whether Crockett was killed inside the walls, or attempted to escape and was cut down outside, or—as recounted in the diary of Jose de la Pena, a Mexican officer and eyewitness—was captured alive and then executed on Santa Anna’s orders. (Despite a recent History Channel program suggesting that Crockett’s surrender is a new and controversial issue, most students of the Alamo have believed for decades that he was captured along with several other defenders and executed shortly after the fighting.)
Dr. Tucker’s research is too inept to be seen as a serious attempt to provide an authentic description of the battle. His real purpose seems to be to delegitimize the Anglo presence in Texas by trying to downplay the greatest symbol of the Anglo heroism and sacrifice that created Texas.
He is also openly hostile to the defenders. Tennessean Micajah Autry, for example, was well educated and a talented artist, but “his drawings failed to depict the slaves his family owned,” and whose labor, we are told, made his expensive education possible. Another defender was “the pampered son of a wealthy Philadelphia family who sought more wealth and glory in Texas.”
Instead of understanding the deadly risk they were running in rebelling against Mexican authority, the clueless and always land-hungry Anglos “acted as if they were on a lark, after which they would collect the land promised them.” But a few days after confronting Santa Anna’s army of well-trained professionals, “all the confidence, braggadocio, and sense of racial and cultural superiority had long evaporated from the once jaunty Alamo defenders.” Dr. Tucker repeatedly declares that the Anglo defenders’ “ugly racial stereotypes of the Mexican character lulled them into a false sense of complacency,” which led to their defeat.
Exodus from the Alamo has not been a success. Sales were weak, and the academic reception was tepid—perhaps because the book’s assertions are such obvious nonsense. Tellingly, the back cover, which is usually reserved for laudatory blurbs, is blank. The few perfunctory reviews in scholarly journals such as Southwestern Historical Quarterly noted, with mild disdain, Dr. Tucker’s claim that everyone who wrote about the Alamo before him was wrong, but they are silent on his portrayal of the Alamo garrison as incompetent cowards. At Amazon, however, the book’s reception has been hot and hostile. Lay readers are not shy about criticizing the book, often in scorching detail.
Dr. Tucker believes a sentence can never have too many adjectives and adverbs. The resulting tangle of prose almost requires a machete. This contributes to my single-adjective summation of this book: ugly.
Mr. Martin is a 6th-generation Texan, ex-Army officer, school teacher, and backpacker, now looking for his third career. Part II of “The Bad, the Ugly, and the Good” will appear next week.