Monday, February 15, 2010

Alamo Bookshelf 6: With Santa Anna in Texas, How Did Davy Die? & Defense of a Legend

WITH SANTA ANNA IN TEXAS by Jose Enrique de la Pena (1975, 1997)
In 1955, at the height of the Davy Crockett Craze, this tattered manuscript conveniently surfaced in a Mexico City flea market. The document was purported to be a diary kept by one of Santa Anna’s officers on his campaign into Texas. The manuscript made only one reference to David Crockett, on paper remarkably different from the rest, and in remarkably different handwriting. Still, when the first English translation was published in 1975, that single page ignited a battle that still rages. That Crockett passage, you see, claims that Davy, along with several other defenders, was captured and executed at the order of Santa Anna. 

HOW DID DAVY DIE? by Dan Kilgore (1978)
This slim volume, published when the debunking of American heroes was becoming all the rage, fired the flames of the controversy by rehashing the de la Pena tale and presenting as corroborative “evidence” several other questionable Mexican accounts. Some say that a few defenders surrendered to Mexican troops, and at least one contains a hearsay tale that a man named “Cwockey” may have been among them. Taken alone these other accounts were worthless, but those choosing to believe the de la Pena story elevated them to the level of gospels.  In response to this book, Kilgore, along with Carmen Perry (translator of the “diary”), received death threats.

DEFENSE OF A LEGEND by Bill Groneman (1994)
The voice of reason fought back in this, one of my all-time favorite Alamo books. Bill Groneman demonstrated that the de la Pena manuscript, far from being a “diary” was at best a researched memoir. The page concerning Crockett, if not an outright forgery, was clearly added later, the result not of de la Pena’s first hand knowledge, but gleaned from newspaper accounts surfacing after the Battle of San Jacinto (in which Texas won independence) and intended to inflame American public opinion against Mexico. Groneman points out that several first hand accounts, by witnesses who actually knew Crockett, support the notion that he died fighting.

Much has since been written on this issue, and intelligent people have argued eloquently on both sides, but nothing has been proven. Historians who acknowledge the question is in dispute have my respect, while those who flat-out claim that Davy was captured or surrendered - without addressing evidence to the contrary - get my spiritual-Texan dander up.

See earlier volumes on The Alamo Bookshelf HERE.


James Reasoner said...

Amen! It really bothered me how many people were so quick to accept the de la Pena account. None of us were there, none of us know, but I've never seen any credible evidence that Crockett surrendered.

But then what do I know? When I wrote my one and only non-fiction book, I got a livid email from someone wanting to know how a "mere novelist" deigned to attempt to write something historical.

Evan Lewis said...

That emailer should be horsewhipped. Draw is one of my all-time favorite books about the West. Reminds me I need to review it here.