The final episode of the mini-series Texas Rising, with its “interesting” re-writing of parts of the central canon of Texas history, airs tonight. I’m considering a drinking game based off on noted errors and historical inaccuracies — but I’m not sure I should drink that much on a Monday evening.
I’ve mentioned in a prior post that I don’t mind some distortion in historical storytelling. It just sometimes seems so gratuitous. See, there are so many true Texas tales that seem incredible, there’s really no need to make things up.
Take the villain from Texas Rising, Santa Anna, for instance. Few people know how Santa Anna helped popularize chewing gum in the years after the Texas Revolution. A resilient leader, he not only survived San Jacinto, but returned to power as leader of Mexico several more times in following years.
Living in exile on Staten Island much later, he became quite the celebrity. In Texas: Amazing But True, author Jack MacGuire describes how Santa Anna brought a load of chicles, a naturally sweet chewy substance harvested from trees in Central America. Santa Anna had long enjoyed chewing chicles, even distributing them to his troops to improve morale under duress.
Santa Anna’s companion in Staten Island, Rudolph Napegy, gave some of these chicles to a sometime inventor named Thomas Adams, who was attempting to improve a process for adulterating rubber. Though that experiment failed, Adams noticed his scientists were chewing small pieces for their own enjoyment. So it was that Adams patented his new chewing gum in 1871, and the Adams Gum Company would dominate the chewing gum market for years.
MacGuire’s articles, many published in Southwest Airlines Magazine in the 70’s and 80s, also tell how a Texas horticulturist helped save the French wine industry from a ravaging infestation of phyllorexa in the 1890s; the short but vivid life of Crush, Texas, the one-day town of 50,000 people assembled to watch 2 locomotives smash into each other on Sept. 15, 1896; and how Pancho Villa received $25,000 from the Mutual Film Corporation in 1914 for the rights to film his combat footage — on stipulation all battles occur during daylight hours, between the hours of 9 am — 4pm. MacGuire, nicknamed “Mr. Texas,” packs 36 similar tales into this compact volume.
Another odd Texas tale concerns an unusual alliance proposed between Texas and the Mormons. During the brief tenure of the Republic of Texas, Sam Houston played his cards close to his chest diplomatically, courting not just the United States, but flirting as well with Great Britain and France, to ensure the safety of the fledging nation as it struggled with repeated re-invastions from Mexico.
As detailed by Van Wagenen in The Texas Republic and the Kingdom of God, Mormon leader Joseph Smith contacted Sam Houston in 1844 to offer Texas 5,000 armed soldiers to patrol the land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces, thus creating a buffer between Texas and Mexico. In return, the Mormons would be free from religious persecution in a new Kingdom of God. Houston responded with mild interest but no commitment, playing as coy with emissary Lyman Wight as he was with all interested parties.
Meanwhile, however, Joseph Smith was murdered in Illinois in 1844, and in the aftermath, the Mormon elders decided to head west rather than South. Those Mormons who had already migrated to Texas with Wight remained and established a presence that lasted only until about 1858. By then, Mormons in Texas had either assimilated into the community or moved out to follow the Mormon migration to what would become the Utah Territory.
But my favorite odd Texas tale involves “Sam Houston’s Grand Plan,” as detailed in Walter Prescott Webb’s book The Texas Rangers: invading Mexico in 1859 in order to divert attention away from the sectional dispute around slavery, propel him into the public eye, and catapult him from conquering war hero to the White House.
Houston tried to use the pretext of the border troubles involving Cheno Cortina to raise an invading force. He even went so far as to try to enlist a certain U.S. Army Colonel Robert E. Lee, sent to Texas to help quell the border troubles, to head up an invading army. Lee declined, citing the lack of authority to act in an official capacity, and an unwillingness to act otherwise. So we’ve been deprived of that particular wild adventure, thanks to Lee’s prudence overriding Houston’s exuberance.
I do regret that many viewers of Texas Rising will simply accept the mistakes as truth. But in remembering the first on-screen mistake this newest version made — showing the date of the fall of the Alamo on March 7, rather than the 6th — it is also interesting to note that the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence backdated the document to match Sam Houston’s birthday. Though officially dated March 2, 1836, the document was not in fact passed or signed until the 3rd.
Texas: where myth & truth swap stories to the point you almost can’t tell ’em apart.