Monday, August 29, 2022

the last book I ever read (Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth, excerpt eight)

from Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth by Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford:

We could cite another dozen examples along these lines, but this stuff gets pretty tiresome. Not all such early books were so doctrinaire, though. One or two were actually critical, most notably The History of Texas, written by a caustic Gonzales seminarian named David Barnett Edward. A rare Texas Tory, Edward was no fan of Texans or their revolt. He praised Santa Anna’s immigration policies as “enlightened,” going on to proclaim the Americans had “by their perverse conduct, forfeited every claim to protection from civil law.” Published in 1836, Edward’s book prompted Texas’s first literary uproar, and not only because it plagiarized sections of Mary Holley’s work. Stephen F. Austin termed it “a slander on the people of Texas.”

The Alamo did not figure prominently in any of this work. Where it was mentioned, authors had little to offer beyond what had been in the newspapers. With historians stymied, at least for the moment, writers of fiction filled the void, which by and large was not a good thing; Mary Holley was practically Chaucer compared with this crew. Much of this “literature” consists of trashy potboilers written by outsiders using the Texas Revolt as a fresh backdrop, typically with Santa Anna or a stand-in portrayed as a Mexican version of Snidely Whiplash. The late University of Texas professor Don Graham points out the startling number of early Texas novels used as vehicles for anti-Catholicism, the Texians fighting the “dark designs of priests and the hierarchical and undemocratic structure of the Catholic church.” Forget Santa Anna; the real enemy was Father Tim. The evil priest in 1888’s Remember the Alamo, to cite but one example, is consumed with hatred for Texas Protestants. “If these American heretics were only in my power!” he seethes. “I would cut a throat—just one throat—every day of my life.”

It's a short hop from anticlericalism to overt racism, which would infuse Alamo-based fiction after the mid-1800s. In these books, the Mexican characters are inevitably cruel, dirty, and treacherous. In many they are referred to as “greasers.” An 1856 “historical romance” set during the the revolution helpfully imagines how visitors to Matamoros coined the term: “The people look greasy, their clothes are greasy, their dogs are greasy, their houses are greasy—everywhere grease and filth.” (You know racists are pretty serious when they start in on pets.) It just goes one and on. In a 1909 Texas novel, The Trapper’s Bride, the author calls the Mexican army “savage legions . . . given to every kind of horrible excesses, and whose arms were deeply stained with the blood of helpless old men, feeble women and innocent children.”

No comments:

Post a Comment