When three Texans now tied to Penguin Press had a new book titled “Forget the Alamo – the Rise and Fall of an American Myth” released in June, it gained added attention when “Texas Monthly” magazine chose the book for a review in its June issue. And editors featured its cover illustration in color on the magazine.
This spotlight is the result of a discussion with Dr. Donald S. Frazier, director of the Texas Center at Schreiner University, Kerrville, about the new book’s place in ongoing studies of Texas history.
First, the new book was written by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson and Jason Stanford. And the Texas Monthly issue for June apparently sold out completely at Entertainmart’s magazine shelves in Kerrville.
According to Frazier, this new book about the Alamo was written by journalists, and he said, “They are missing historians from this book. They quoted some, but the authors were picking their sources in a split between ‘left of center’ and ‘right of center.’ My impression was, these authors slept through their history classes. Their book tells nothing new.”
Frazier said in his experience, a new book on the Alamo story in Texas history comes out about once a decade; and he wasn’t surprised by another one.
“This is the latest one, one of at least a dozen.”
He said this trio of authors have perpetuated the theory of white supremacy and classes of people in the Alamo tale, and apparently did so intending to solicit “a present-minded response, one that de-legitimizes the Texas story, for a present-day response.”
As a trained historian, Frazier offered this – “Yes, some who fought and died in the Alamo were slaveowners. Yes, some had bad experiences in their home states. Yes, some were there because they wanted to mess with the Mexican revolution. But the Alamo defenders did not come from any single background or mindset. There were Danes, Irish and Scots, Tejanos, slaveowners and not slaveowners, and some African-Ameri- cans.”
He said, “Even the cover of the book is instructive, using a picture of the Alamo and the book title in a ‘spray-paint font.’ It reveals the real intention of the authors.”
The authors claim historical records in Mexican archival sources, and Frazier said there were and are such records.
“The Mexican army officers had to send reports back to superior officers. And those sources all say there were captives at the end of the battle, and they were executed. The Texians were outnumbered 10 to 1. And all the defenders were inside the mission as it was then, and some were isolated in places. Once the walls were breached, those inside were squeezed out of their positions.”
He said Travis had a fighting force of 150 men; and some reportedly debated fighting their way out to where they expected reinforcements to be. But the Mexican army appeared more quickly than he expected; and there was no time to connect with reinforcements.
“The Texians definitely had a lot of challenges. It was a lot more complicated than will fit on a bumper sticker.”
Frazier’s recent studies
The SU professor called this recent Alamo book “not particularly honest history, but it excels in telling the Alamo’s story over the last 20 years, how the site in downtown San Antonio has been treated since the battle.”
He said he recently took an historians’ tour of the Alamo and other Spanish missions there with about a dozen people, a walking tour that was “hot but interesting.”
They were given maps and diagrams of San Antonio’s Mexican fortifications and buildings in 1836, compared to 2021; and challenged to imagine what that area of the present downtown looked like when Travis and his Texians arrived.
“‘Imagine this without these buildings here,’” he said they were told as they walked.
“We took about a one-mile walk. There were two city squares, first fortified by the Mexicans; but Travis pulled back to the mission chapel area we see today,” Frazier said. “And in the years after, as the Republic became a state, the city grew up around it in one-plus mile stretches of land between the Alamo chapel, and the Plaza de Armas and Plaza de las Islas. One was past the present La Villita and across the San Antonio River, and the other was nearer San Pedro Creek.”
Dr. Stephen Hardin
Fellow historian Dr. Hardin, of Abilene and leader of Frazier’s recent tour, also said about once a decade, normally a journalist, not an historian, writes an Alamo book alleging “all the previous ones are all wrong and I did it right.”
Hardin said via a phone interview that he was interviewed for this latest book, but didn’t know the tone the authors were taking with this one.
He said one of the authors also wrote “The Big Rich” about Texas and oil; and Hardin knew of him from that book.
About this Alamo book, Hardin said, “I’m not a fan of the finished book.”
Asked about Mexican documentation on the Alamo battle, Hardin said, “Yes, there are reliable documents to tell parts of the story. We did know that Travis and his men did not fight to the last man. There were reportedly six or seven left alive. Santa Anna did give that famous ‘no quarter’ order to his commanders. But one local commander, Jose de la Pena, at first spared them at the urging of his seasoned professional officers. But when Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was presented with prisoners, he ordered their deaths.
“In one Mexican account, the Texians died proudly and not begging for their lives; but brutally,” Hardin said. “Davy Crockett was identified as one of the prisoners in one account. But in my book, he was still a hero like all the others.”
Hardin added, from that recent tour, what visitors see now at the Alamo are only two components of the original compound. The Mexican military destroyed most of it after Gen. Sam Houston’s defeat of Santa Anna at San Jacinto; and residents used the rest as a rock quarry to construct other buildings.
Hardin and Frazier compared looking at the Alamo site to seeing Rome, Italy, from what exists today, knowing there are layers of history one doesn’t see because of what it looks like now.
Hardin said this account feeds an ideological agenda from the Left; and there’s a bigger picture. “The timing of this book is not an accident. But in my opinion, it’s being picked apart pretty quickly. The three co-authors are all journalists, not historians. Do we want to get our history from journalists? People need to think, ‘where is this coming from, and why now?’”
On the other hand, Hardin said none of the historians he knows are interested in writing a book to refute this one. “Fallacy and error are hard to uproot, once entered into record. But I foresee a short shelf life for this book.”
Frazier talked about Santa Anna, saying he also wrote a personal memoir – one possible historical source.
“Most people don’t know Gen. Santa Anna was president of Mexico 11 times over the years, despite a couple of exiles outside the country, including one he spent on Staten Island, N.Y., and the French invading Mexico in 1839. He eventually died in his bed. He was always coming back,” Frazier said.