My discovery of Beyond the Alamo seemed like a godsend when I was trying to determine whether the defenders of the Alamo were a bunch of criminal mercenaries, as alleged by our mayor’s mother and others. Although the book didn’t directly answer my question, it provided much useful information and, more importantly, provided more context to my appreciation of why some Mexican-Americans do not revere the heroes of the Alamo.
Subtitled Forging Mexican Ethnicity in San Antonio, 1821-1861, Beyond the Alamo was written by Raul A. Ramos, an assistant professor at the University of Houston, and published by the University of North Carolina Press in 2008. The thing that most impressed me about Beyond the Alamo was that Ramos wrote the story without a strongly slanted political view. He described people realistically instead of stereotyping them as heroes, villains, or victims. This reminded me of my philosophy professor in college teaching us about “historical Jesus.” He laid out a generous portion of facts and his conclusions were narrowly drawn and explicitly described. Ramos is my kind of historian.
The book starts in 1821 because that is when Mexico gained independence from Spain. At that time, the city was called Bexar, and it didn’t take on the name San Antonio until Texas won its independence in 1836. According to a Spanish census in 1820, Bexar had almost 1,600 residents, with 58% Spanish, 20% mestizo (Spanish/Indian), 15% Indian, 6% other (Negro, mulatto, or Euro), and no Anglo-Americans. Despite the sparse population in Bexar, it was by far the most populated city in Texas. The Spanish government counted 2,000 residents in the entire state, and because it was unable to convince adequate numbers of Mexicans to move to Texas, it decided to allow Anglo-American immigration.
Anglo immigration started in 1821 when Mexico issued a land grant (called an empresario) to Stephen F. Austin in southeast Texas for 300 settlers, all of whom agreed to become Mexican citizens and Roman Catholics and learn Spanish. The Austin grant had actually been initially issued by the Spanish government and was later ratified by the Mexican government after Mexico won its independence. Between 1821 and 1828, thousands of Anglo-Americans immigrated to Texas under a number of empresarios like Stephen F. Austin. But between 1828 and 1834, the Mexican government became concerned about excessive Anglo-American immigration and issued severe restrictions, including prohibitions on bringing in more slaves. During those years, most immigration was technically illegal, although the Mexican government did very little to enforce its restrictions. (One could say that immigration by Anglo-Americans post-1830 was like immigration by Mexicans a few years ago – i.e., lax enforcement with sanctuary cities.)
The Texas war with Mexico was precipitated in 1830 by the refusal of Texans to accept Santa Anna’s suspension of the Mexican constitution of 1824. By 1835, however, Texas was no longer fighting to restore the Mexican constitution. Instead, it was fighting for independence – i.e., to secede from Mexico. Other than the Battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto, the most significant battle in the war was the siege of Bexar in 1835, during which the Army of Texas pushed the Mexican Army under Santa Anna’s brother-in-law Cos out of Bexar and sent them packing back to Mexico.
The Army of Texas that laid siege on Bexar in 1835 consisted on 1,300 troops. According to pension records, 80% percent of those troops had lived in Texas prior to the initiation of hostilities (with 50% from the Brazos area of several empresarios), but 33% had immigrated to Texas within five years, which might render them illegal immigrants. About 10% of the troops engaged in the siege were Tejanos.
Unfortunately, the author does not provide a similar description of the composition of the defenders of the Alamo, but he notes that after the successful siege of the Alamo, the composition shifted dramatically in terms of length of Texas residency, “with a marked increase of mercenaries and filibusters.” Only five Tejanos died defending the Alamo because most were in a company under Juan Seguin on assignment in Gonzales.
Regarding the comportment of the occupying Texans prior to the Battle of the Alamo, the author concluded:
“The initial occupation of Bexar made readjusting to life after the siege difficult for Bexarenos. The ambiguous and chaotic leadership structure of the Texian army created a confusing governing system in town. Many Anglo-Texan soldiers were mercenaries from the United States who had no home or family to go to in Texas. Instead, they remained in Bexar at the command of charismatic captains. Unlike the relative racial harmony practiced by long-time Anglo-Texan residents, these recent arrivals into Texas strained relations between Anglo-Americans and Bexarenos. They lacked prior contact with Mexicans and brought with them negative stereotypical views. As a result, the months between the fall of Bexar and the arrival of Santa Anna’s army in March proved unsettling and even dangerous for the local population of Bexar.”
Based on this passage, I think it is fair to conclude that there was not a lot of criminal behavior by the defenders of the Alamo. If there was, the author would have certainly documented it because the principal focus of his book is on the dynamic relationship between Tejanos and Anglos in Bexar.
The last section of Beyond the Alamo is focused on the time from Texas independence to the Civil War. During that time, Tejanos were often disrespected and diminished because many Anglos questioned their loyalty. Although most Tejanos did not participate in the war, the author points out that the same was true of Anglos – “Over the course of secession, a maximum of 3,685 out of about 40,000 Anglo-American immigrants fought in any battles.”
In conclusion, I think Beyond the Alamo does an excellent job in describing the Tejano perspective of the Anglo take-over, but I don’t think that take-over is a good reason for Mexican-Americans to begrudge the heroism of the Alamo defenders, who gave up their lives in defense of freedom against a despot.