There is good news and bad news in Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s blocking Thursday of an online panel co-hosted by the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin on Forget the Alamo, a book that thoroughly debunks large chunks of the Alamo myth.
The good news is that it sent sales of the book soaring. Before Patrick’s action and the publicity it provoked, the book, which came out a month ago, was ranked in the mid-500s on the Amazon sales chart — a respectable but not spectacular position. Patrick, a publisher’s dream, drew national publicity that sent it soaring to as high as No. 17 over the weekend.
Sunday it was listed No. 1 in Amazon’s U.S. History category, beating out Isabel Wilkerson’s terrific book Caste.
That’s great for the bottom line of Forget the Alamo publisher Penguin Press and for that of its three authors. If I ever publish a book, I should attempt to get it blasted by Patrick.
More importantly, though, Patrick’s “cancellation” just hours before the event’s scheduled start will lead to significantly broader exposure of the book’s thesis. Those who had registered for the event lost the opportunity to hear the authors. But magnitudes more will have read the book, thanks to Patrick, and many will recommend it and pass it on to friends and relatives.
So what is the bad news? It is that Patrick’s action portends very poorly for San Antonio’s “world-class” Alamo Museum, proposed to be the jewel of the planned $450 million upgrade of the Alamo and Alamo Plaza.
Patrick has pledged, as head of the Texas Senate, to “lead the fight” to obtain the $200 million to $300 million needed for the museum and other pieces of the Alamo upgrade. A significant amount of that will have to come from state funding, over which Patrick has virtual veto power. If, as he tweeted Friday, that Forget the Alamo‘s “fact-free rewriting of Texas history has no place @BullockMuseum,” he’s hardly likely to think the ideas in the book have a place at the Alamo Museum.
Even if Patrick somehow disappeared from the political scene, the tension between the popular perception of the Alamo that has been forged into the creation myth of Texas would be at tension with Forget the Alamo. Many Texans don’t want to hear about slavery as one of the “rights” the heroes of the Alamo were defending, or of the fact that William Barret Travis and Jim Bowie defied Gen. Sam Houston by staying at the Alamo, or that there is substantial evidence that Davy Crockett did not die fighting but was captured and pleaded for his life.
The tension between the myth and the reality is especially strong in San Antonio, the majority of whose residents are Mexican American. Many have memories of school visits to the Alamo (as well as of John Wayne’s 1960 movie) where their ancestors were portrayed as ruthless savages.
The real history is that some Mexican leaders joined in the fight against Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna and that the Anglo immigrants’ victory in Texas quickly led not only to a slave economy but to virulent racism against native Texans of Mexican descent. One piece of evidence is found on the city of San Antonio’s website. From 1731 until March 9, 1837 — one year and three days after the fall of the Alamo — every San Antonio mayor bore a Spanish surname. With the exceptions of Antonio Menchaca in 1838 and Juan Seguin in 1841, it would take 144 years, until 1981, before Henry Cisneros became the next Spanish-surnamed mayor.
That’s a fact. And is Forget the Alamo, as Patrick tweeted, “fact-free”?
Such a statement would suggest the highly unlikely notion that Patrick either read or had an aide examine the book of about 400 pages, including its 16 pages of small-print footnotes and its bibliography of some 112 books and scholarly papers.
As far as I know, Patrick has not cited any factual errors, though I can help him. The authors’ fact-checker — yes, unlike Patrick they hired a fact-checker — missed a couple of geographic errors. For example, Brackettville, where Wayne’s movie The Alamo was filmed, is west of San Antonio, not south. Such an error hardly makes the book “fact-free.”
For fun, I made a brief catalog of facts in the book and their backup for Patrick to consider.
Page 22: Stephen Austin, the “Father of Texas,” was authorized by the Mexican government to recruit 300 American families to immigrate to Texas, but found it difficult if slaves were not allowed. He lobbied in Mexico City for and won a law that compromised the Mexican prohibition of slavery, allowing families to bring slaves, but not to trade them. In addition, the children of slaves would be free. “Austin, exultant, believed his efforts alone had won the day. To those who fretted about the law’s restrictions he insisted it was the best deal possible. ‘No article of any kind permitting slavery in the Empire would ever have been passed by Congress for a time,’ he wrote a supporter.” It worked. Austin quickly filled his quota, mainly with cotton growers. “Of the 1,800 people living in Austin’s colony in 1825, one in four was enslaved.”
Citation: Andrew J. Target, Seeds of Empire: Cotton, Slavery, and the Transformation of the Texas Borderlands (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015).
Page 71: In 1835 Santa Anna’s handpicked congress abolished federalism, the granting of considerable power to the states, and “decreed that all Mexican states would be converted into military departments overseen by the (central) government. San Antonio colonist Ben Milam raised the alarm: “If the Federal system is lost in Texas, what will be our situation? Worse than that of the most degraded slaves.”
Citation: Benjamin R. Milam to Francis W. Johnson, July 5, 1835, Digital Austin Papers, http://digitalaustinpapers.org/document?id=APB4814.xml.
Page 180: A spiritual forefather of Dan Patrick is dismayed in 1897 to learn that the University of Texas has hired a Harvard-trained historian, a native of South Carolina, who had written his doctoral thesis and subsequent book that criticized the Southern doctrine of nullification. State Rep. Alexander Hensley of Bay City “persuaded his fellow lawmakers to require that university regents only hire faculty ‘who are known to be in sympathy with Southern political institutions,’ and to fire any ‘faculty not so in sympathy.’ University regents promised “to hire Texans first, Southerners second, and faculty from anywhere else only when absolutely necessary.” The professor in question, a committee report noted, assured them he didn’t actually teach such things.
Source: Resolution, June 8, 1897, from Twenty-Fifth Legislature, Called Session, in Harry Y. Benedict, ed., A Source Book Relating to the History of the University of Texas at Austin (University of Texas Bulletin 1757, October 10, 1917), 406.
I could go on, but you get the point. While written in a popular style, Forget the Alamo is a serious history book. It is so thoroughly based on the work of scholars that the reaction from historians appears mostly to have been a shrug that says, “So what else is new?”
Patrick’s labeling it “fact-free” is a clear admission that he has not read it. He should. He would learn something.